Sunday, December 30, 2012

It takes a village

It's a week before Christmas and I'm having a lie-down in my room, pooped from all the pre-holiday prep.  My husband and his teen daughter come in, and I can hear snippets of their conversation.
"I can't get the panorama feature to work," stepdaughter M. says.
"Is that an iPhone feature?" her father asks.
"No it's Instagram," she says. "I want to get this all in one picture."
He suggests she step on a chair to take the picture.
I'm smiling to myself in the other room. I know what she is trying to photograph, and my heart lifts.

She has been my stepdaughter since she was just shy of her third birthday. Since our family is blended, holidays are always extra stressful. The logistics of sharing children with their other parents and everyone's extended family over the course of two days has always been a nightmare. But her father, my husband, has done his very best. He has tried to create traditions for her that don't necessarily involved her getting every single thing on her Christmas wish list. One thing he did was buy her those little lighted holiday houses. Ever the frugal man, he didn't buy those overpriced Dept. 57 numbers. He mostly got these houses at the local hardware store, sometimes after the holiday. He and M. selected them together and over the years they've accumulated. And when she had her own room in our larger home, they sat out all year on a desk, and served as nightlights when she came for her appointed weekends.
When we downsized, and she lost her room, the houses were taken out only at Christmas.

Every year I'd threaten not to put the lighted ceramic village. The village takes up a lot of decorating real estate, and time. Last year, I came up with the idea to put them on top of the wall that divides our kitchen from our dining area. M. didn't seem to notice them last year. So this year, when I heard she was trying to take pictures of them, it made the work to erect the village worth it.

I haven't been the world's best step parent. I always had the philosophy of staying out of the way. "She's here to spend time with her dad, not me," and "She already has a mother, and I don't want to compete with that," were my refrains.

Consequently, M. and I are not close. We get along just fine, but the distance between us has always been clear. But she's 17 now. And, like most girls her age, she has issues with her mom. She's anxious to strike out on her own and head off to college far away from the small town where she lives. I feel for her.

In that small act of her wanting to take a picture of something from her childhood with her father, and by extension me, and share it with her friends, made me decide to change my refrain. And for the rest of that pre-Christmas weekend, things were different between her and me.

She showed me a photo app while we were waiting for ice cream. I shared an off-color comment about a South Park character and made her laugh. We took goofy photos of her dad. Together we selected sushi rolls for dinner. She helped me pick out cologne for my son, her step brother. She shared a brownie recipe with me. We went shopping at stores she likes and she showed me some gift ideas for her father to buy her instead of his usual gift cards. And as we shopped I realized we had more in common than our like for trendy clothes, South Park and sushi. How could I have missed this: We both love the same man; why aren't we best friends?

I'm not going to push the best friends part. But as she heads off to adulthood, I'm going to make certain that if she's interested in being my friend, I'll be ready to order up plenty of California rolls and gab about boys and clothes all night.

And I'll always find a place in our home for the lighted village.

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