There are things you’ll learn in your life, that were you to tell a more youthful version of yourself, stuck in that stunning ephemerality of adolescence, you’d never possibly believe. These lessons, these truths, will be taught from a hundred different teachers, and they will come in voices both recognized, and foreign to your ears. Some will be from those with age-earned wisdom, others from the blissful ignorance of the inexperienced, the young. Some will come from friends, some from family, some from strangers; some will be laced with a tender patience, some will be anger-fueled and burn like napalm. Some will come from those that take care of you, those that put you safely into their arms and leave you there, tiny we will feel in that place. Some though, some will come from those we are charged to take care of, called upon by the universe, by fate, by the softly pleading voice of someone else you love. Some will call you parent, and some will call you the same, but add ‘step’ before it. Some, will come from those that celebrate a birthday today, one of two that see me as an extra-guardian through this life they’ll carve. Today, it is Adela’s birthday, her 15th lap around the great glowing ball of fire in the sky, and she has already taught me so much. She is a voice my young self never saw coming, the lessons from a source unexpected but celebrated, today, and all days. Happy Birthday Adela, we love you more than you know.
The occasion of her birth, the celebration of it today, made me think a lot about what it is to be a guardian, a parent, and it sent my cluttered mind down a rabbit hole as per usual. I started thinking of what it is not to be a biological-parent, as in truth I am not this to anyone that I am raising, shaping, or helping find their way into the world (I think you all know of the beautiful children, Elliot and Salem, I helped our friends Krysti and Sabrina have), but I am a stepparent, and on that subject, I can absolutely speak.
Today, in lieu of highlighting and describing the differences between the two types of parenting, the benefits and the tribulations, I wanted to expound a bit and talk more about the ways it changes us. I will say, and there are a plethora of studies and articles that support this, in many, many ways, I would imagine step-parenting to be even harder than biological parenting. I’ve often described it as all the responsibility, but 1/16th the power. We have a voice, sure, but it most often comes into focus and is heard after 2 or 3 other voices have rang in, we have our ideas on how to raise a child based on the experiences of being parented by our own, but they don’t really get as much potency. This is to be expected, this is normal, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make it hard. The argument could probably rage on for eternities on which role is a more challenging one, but none of that matters, what matters are the ways that being this, biological or step or adopted or foster or temporary or even being a damn uncle or aunt or Big Brother/Big Sister or any form of guardian, changes you.
To care for another, to offer yourself on a constant basis to the well-being and support of another living thing, is a transformative, and revelatory thing. Suddenly, your heart beats not just for yourself, not just to pump blood to the arms and legs that keep you moving, not just to the brain that shapes the words you offer yourself in the quiet spaces beneath the surface, but for these strange others that, in my case, don’t look a thing like me, don’t sound like I do, don’t carry a single drop of the same blood that that heart has been pumping. Suddenly, your world expands, you expand, and you realize that there exists reservoirs within you, that you never knew existed. Filled, they are, with love, with more patience than you thought you could manufacture, with confusion, with joy, with frustration, with a whole separate experience to a whole separate existence that, as I said, the teenage version of yourself would laugh and call you liar for saying you’d stumble into.
We are here to love, I’ve said this since the start of all things creative pouring out of me, that is the whole of it. We are here to offer that love to as many souls as possible on our brief tour of wandering we call living, and doing this will not always be easy, it will not always be fun, but it will be worth it every step of that way.
I am a step parent, and I joke often that if you would have told that teenage me, sitting in baggy Silvertab jeans and probably a flannel I still own, that one day I would grow up to help raise two children that are not biologically my own, and not help raise two children that are biologically, I would have laughed you out of the living room, turned back to Dawson’s Creek, taken another sip of my Surge soda, and eaten another handful of Gushers, or dipped another breadstick into the Handi-Snack cheese.
We just cannot see what’s coming for us, and this is what makes it all worth while. Life will never be some silly dot-to-dot in the heavens, though perhaps behind the curtain of it all, what’s written for us has always been written. Our job is to give that love out, to spread it without ever worrying of its thinness, and to accept the love that is given back in return. If you do this long enough, if you do it with all you’ve truly got, you will change, and those changes will be for the better. Yes, even if you grumble some along the way.
Today is the birthday of a young woman I wasn’t there to watch be born, the 15th time its been celebrated, and I am lucky to say I’ve been there to help celebrate, either as friend or step-parent, for 14 of them. I know I will not be the first to parent her, nor will I be the first for so many things in Sarah’s life, but that will never matter, for I know I’ll be there too, I know I’ll be some part, however small, of the person she turns into. I know that she, and her brother Henry, make it often challenging, often frustrating, but more than those things, so much more, they make it rad, and for this I am lucky.
Be there too, for those in your life, and worry not of the firsts, of the already dones, of the things you may have missed. Just be there, however you can, for whomever you can, and celebrate that fact. Just be there too, and watch as all you thought you’d be disappears into a puff, and is replaced by something so much more.
Just be there too.
You will not be first
but it will never matter,
you will be there too.