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Loving the Stepmomster

Obnoxious. At 8 years old, I didn't know how to spell it, but I sure could recognize it when I saw it in action. Boy, was she loud. And annoying. And she had a big bump on her lip. And big hair. And big feet. And really tight clothes on her big, big body.

"Kids, this is Carla," my dad told us with excitement — and with his arm around her waist. She towered over him. Smiling with her big teeth. Giving him a big squeeze. And then it hit me. Us kids were in big trouble.

Those were a few of the thoughts I couldn't help thinking the day my dad introduced us to his new girlfriend. At the time, I only had one question: "What is he thinking?" That we'd instantly accept her? That we'd be as excited as he was? That we'd be happy for him? What about our feelings? What in the world did he see in her? (I guess I actually had more than one question.)

She was nothing like my mom. My mom had class. She had style. She was beautiful. Maybe that was the point. Maybe he didn't want to try again with anyone like my mom, since that marriage ended in failure. Since she divorced him.

I began to dread our usual Sunday visits with Dad after Carla entered the picture. We only saw him once a week, and it was hard enough sharing his attention with my three siblings. Now we had to share him with this obnoxious woman. It didn't seem fair.

Watching them together was embarrassing. They called each other by their last names — only they added a "y" sound to the end of them. We would just roll our eyes. But we never let her see, of course. We were "good" kids. We weren't going to do or say anything to make her feel bad. We'd just call her "the StepMOMster" in private.

I think what really irritated us about her is that she tried too hard. She was too overbearing. Too eager. Too loud. Boy, was she loud.

She used to attend my swim meets and stand up in the bleachers, yelling her head off, jumping up and down, clapping, screaming and shaking her fists. I'd stand on the starting block and hear her voice above all the others. I'd pray that I'd win the race. And I'd hope that it wouldn't be a close one — that I'd win it by a body length. Not to make her proud of me, but so that she'd have less reason to scream like a wild boar. But that didn't stop her.

My dad liked to give me a high-five after my races. That simple gesture would never have satisfied her. Instead, she liked to hug my soaking wet body while she wiggled and jiggled and jumped up and down, forcing my red face to bob into her chest. Between bobs, I'd catch glimpses of others sitting near her in the bleachers, staring. I guess it was a sight.

And I knew the worst part of her ritual was yet to come. I'd politely say, "Thanks, Carla," and turn to go talk to my coach … and she would pinch my bottom. I'd know the pinch was coming, but somehow I was still shocked every time. It was supposed to be a pinch that said, "Great job, you cute thing, you," or something like that. But it was always a little too hard. Her nails were sharp — and long.

The StepMOMster wasn't as excited about life in the morning. We'd pray that we wouldn't have to interface with her before she had her coffee. She could be pretty grouchy. My dad thought this quality was endearing. I thought it was downright mean. Being irritable is one thing. But it seemed as if she would pick fights with my siblings and me. And it made me sad when my dad would stick up for her over us, his own children.

She definitely had her moments of rudeness — and it wasn't just in the mornings. She was impatient with waitresses, mean to cashiers and pompous to anyone if she was in that sort of mood. For example, she drove an expensive car that had an automatic shut-off light mechanism. It allowed you to park and leave your car, and the lights would shut off automatically after 20 seconds or so. One time, a nice gentleman in the parking lot called after the StepMOMster to tell her that her lights were on. She arrogantly replied, "I know. It's a Cadillac."

Carla didn't have a lot of tact or concern for our feelings at times. My mother called her a "loose cannon." I remember being hit frequently by the cannon balls. One day, I confronted my dad about it, and he defended her. I told him that I felt like he loved her more than he loved us kids. And his response was something I would never forget: He said that he loved me very much, but that in a marriage, you must put your spouse first. And that someday, I would understand this kind of love between a husband and a wife. Well, now that I am a wife, I do understand.

The healthiest families are those with a solid relationship between the mother and father. Where the kids aren't the center of the universe, but where they feel safe and secure because of the commitment between their parents. My dad had the right idea about putting his wife first. It was just hard because my dad's wife did not happen to be my mother.

This is one of the tragedies of divorce. God did not intend for children — or adults — to suffer because of divorce, but it happens. The good news is, He heals hearts.

My dad's commitment to marriage is something I grew to sincerely respect. I've grown to appreciate my stepmother, too. I can't imagine being a stepparent. I can only think that it must be one of the toughest jobs in the world. But Carla has stood the test of time. She has stood by my dad through all the ups and downs. Through four kids who hesitated to accept her. Through 25 years of marriage.

Looking back, I can chuckle and know that she really did love to watch me win a race. She really did want to have fun with me and my siblings. She really did care about us. But the one main reason I grew to accept my stepmother over time is this: She really did love my dad. It's that simple.

I love her because she loves my dad. Big time.

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Copyright 2003 Jennifer Clarke. Used by permission. All rights reserved.