“Mom, I want you to pick me up from the airport, not Mike,” my 21-year-old said son before he turned off his phone for a two-hour flight to Seattle.
The pressure was already building before the plane descended. Mike was Tracey’s stepfather and he was owed a long overdue apology. I was back in the middle of the two of them, but trying so hard to look forward. I’d asked a friend to ride with me to the unfamiliar airport. Torrential rain and snarled traffic delayed our on-time arrival.
“Why are you late? Where are you? You’re with who? How come you didn’t know how to get here on your own,” my son asked in an attack of questions when I phoned him all while on speaker.
It was too late for my passenger to not hear the way my son snapped at me. I was so embarrassed. I’d just said how awesome he was. I bragged about Tracey to her because he’d had a difficult time with his biological father but had accomplished a lot in the recent years. But everything I’d just said didn’t matter because Tracey’s own words spoke to who he was in that moment.
It made me sad. He was my son. He was being ungrateful, disrespectful and it had to stop. Tracey never spoke to Mike that way, nor to his own father. Yet I was the one he always called when he needed anything, and I gave it to him without hesitation.
Picking him up from the airport caused tension in my house. Since my husband and I married, we’ve lived in four states and my two older sons lived with their biological father. But my husband always drove me to pick up my boys from the various airports we lived closest to. They spent every summer and school break with us. But after Tracey’s attitude became unbearable, Mike refused to participate anymore.
As soon as I dropped my friend off I launched into him about his tone and rude behavior, although he had been very charismatic with her. Instead of giving me the apology I felt I was owed he continued trying to understand why I was late.
“It’s not your job to understand everything, Tracey,” I said. “Be glad I was able to pick you up. Your siblings needed me.”
I turned my CD player up loud to belt out the tunes of Mary J. Blige. Music was my happy place. He reclined his seat and put an ear bud in. When I glanced over he was mouthing the words to the song too.
Being a wife and mother rarely seemed to get any easier as the years went on. I often feel like the rope in a game of familial tug of war. I could never please my older children when I was in a relationship, nor could I always please Mike, my husband of 9 years. It’s hard being the parent of a young adult who feels like a visitor in his own mother’s home. And it’s nearly impossible to be the wife of someone who believes his voice goes unheard unless he loses his temper — which doesn’t work with teen stepchildren. Neither situation is true, of course this is Tracey’s home too. And of course Mike is heard. But their feelings become internalized, repeated and manifested until they believe them to be true and tension increases.
The reality is most of us have family situations that are tough. Period. So like many people — moms, dads, kids — caught between everyone in a blended family, I’m trying to find my way, and help my kids find theirs, too.
“Nice house,” Tracey said when we turned into the driveway.
“Thanks,” I said, “The downstairs bed and bath is perfect for your grandmother. I wish we were buying it.”
The house was dark and quiet. It was late. I showed him to the room that had been my office for a month. Sheets and towels were on the daybed under a notebook piece of paper colored by his 8-year old sister. His younger autistic brother declined to draw. It read “We luv you” in sky blue crayon and had our entire family drawn on it, even my oldest son who’s away at college. Tracey’s hair was shorter in the picture. My daughter had asked how to draw dreadlocks.
“Be creative, honey,” I had said.
She drew a wig on a perfect golden brown face with straight white college-ruled paper teeth. It worked.
“The kids will be excited to see you in the morning,” I said to Tracey.
“I’m excited to see them too,” he said.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I said and pulled him in for a hug.
He hugged me back while holding one large duffel bag in his hand.
“I’m glad I’m here too, Mom.”
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