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Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

Dear K.,

This letter is long overdue.

It was more than 10 years ago that you met my son’s father and by default, my son, then four years old. My baby!

Just thinking about your arrival in the picture made me nauseous. I had nightmares, heart palpitations and probably too much wine during my self-pity parties. It was not easy for me. I was scared for my son. What if you didn’t like him, or worse, if he was not happy any more once you came around? That is silly, I would tell myself, but we’ve all heard some horror stories about stepmothers (I suppose the same could be said for exes).

You were the dreaded interloper: the other woman. Another woman who could be as important as I am in my child’s life, and just maybe in his heart, too. Another woman who would get to hold him when he cried. Another woman to play with him and laugh at his silly jokes. Another woman who would put him to bed at night (my absolute favourite, sacred time with him) and read him his favourite bedtime stories. Another woman who would console him when he had night terrors. I had already been missing all of these moments with him so very much since his father and I separated.

I had no control over whom his father was dating. I had no control over who would be part of my son’s life. His father always told me that his future girlfriend must get along with and love our child like her own; that was non-negotiable for him. That certainly brought some reassurance to this mother’s heart, but still …

It took almost a year before we finally met in person. I had come to realize you were not just a date or a fling. You seemed to be the real deal and it was finally time.

I was nervous as heck. I had to put my insecurities aside and really see the true picture of your place in our lives, my son’s and, indirectly, mine.

At first, I was unsure how I felt about it all. Was I jealous? Was I scared? ‘Jealous or scared of what?’ I would ask myself. To be perfectly honest, I was probably a bit resentful. Deep down, I knew you were already very important to him. He loved you like you were one of his parents. I knew early on that you had his best interests at heart. Little did I appreciate back then that you and I are a lot alike. Even my son recognized that and he pointed out many times that we were very similar in how we talk, our sense of humour, in the way we pay attention to him.

Slowly but surely my fear of being replaced started to fade. My feelings of resentment and jealousy vanished.

You were caring and attentive to my son’s wants and needs from the get-go. Strangely enough, I realize now in hindsight, that I was reassured by your presence in the home my son shared with his father. I understood you were not in fact my enemy but on the contrary, you had become my ally. You played games with him. You took him to do his first 5K run. You made him healthy lunches for school and made sure he had clean clothes to wear. You created a “getting ready for school” routine for him and a cute checklist that made it easier for all of us in the mornings, in both our homes. You were engaged, involved and never a meddler.

My son would speak to me often about you and what you guys did together. Heck, he even called me “K” a couple of times and he would say he had called you “Mom” too, just out of habit. We would laugh about it.

When you guys bought your first house, my son wanted all of us to move in together and be “one big happy family.” He didn’t quite grasp the fact that his parents were divorced and could not (or should I say would not) live together with his father’s new partner. We all got along so well. That was a sign to me that my son was truly happy, regardless of our separate living arrangements. We were a different kind of modern family. Your own family and friends have welcomed my son into their lives. Your parents treat him like their own grandchild. He’s receiving more love than any other kid I know! That is a mother’s dream for her child.

One of the most memorable moments, a turning point for me, happened when my son was preparing to go away for a month to summer camp and we attended a send-off pool party. Parents were all sitting comfortably under the gazebo, enjoying a cool, refreshing drink and chatting away. The kids were playing in the sun by the pool. You instinctively got up (like any mother should) and went to put sunscreen on my son’s face and his back. Observing the scene, his father and I looked at each other, open-mouthed, smiled and quietly toasted our good fortune. We both agreed in that moment that you were an absolute keeper.

You and I made a pact that day. Regardless of what the future holds for you and his father – God forbid, should it not work out – we will remain close. My son will be your stepson and you, his stepmom, for life. That is a promise I made to you that day.

Flash-forward 10 years. You and his father have since married. You are now officially on record as part of our reconstituted, extended family. For life. Over the years, I have come to know you and appreciate all that you do for our family. You did not replace me. In fact, you complement me. You have your own special place in all of our lives. And, I know that the feeling is mutual. You are more than my son’s stepmother. You are now my friend, too, and I love you, K.!

Now, read this letter again and change the words “my son” to “our son” – he is as much yours as he is mine.

Thank you for being a part of our lives.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Mariette St-Denis lives in Ottawa.

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