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"Goodnight, chickadee," I
whispered, leaning forward to kiss Chloe, my stepdaughter, on the cheek. "Have
sweet dreams, OK? I love you."
"I love you, too. G'night, mama!" she said, rolling
over to give me a sly grin.
Did you hear that, too? That was my heart growing
three more sizes.
It had been several months since Chloe asked if she
could call me mama, several months since we had discussed the issues
"Honey, that is a very special word and as happy as
I am that you want to call me that, it would really hurt your mama's feelings,"
I had told her. I can still see her in the dining room chair, her clear, blue
eyes looking up at me.
"But I won't tell her," she said. "It could be our
A few weeks after that, she had brought it up again.
"Sam, can I call you 'mama?'" she asked in the car, fiddling with a goody bag
from her cousin's birthday party.
I remember turning down the radio and glancing over
at her dad, my fiancé, watching him smile at her in the rearview mirror. "We
talked about this, baby. Remember?"
"But when we go places, I want people to think I'm
your daughter," she said.
Oh, if only there were a word that could adequately
explain how happy I was at that moment in time. It is a moment that I can think
about even now, nearly a year later, and see it in complete Technicolor, with
sharp, unblurred edges.
My memories have always felt like scenes I saw in a
grainy Super 8 movie, with muted colors and shaky angles. Nostalgic, yes, but
I've always felt as if they were memories I saw happening to someone else and
not ones that I'd actually lived.
But this memory? This memory of Chloe telling
me that she wanted people to think she was my daughter? That one is crisp and
clean. Whenever I think about it, I'm right there in my little red Honda Civic,
driving down Highway 74 in my gray and black dress with the purple tights, the
dress I bought especially for Chloe's kindergarten orientation.
As a stepmother, the "experts" say I should feel some
resentment, some anger, some jealousy over becoming a blended family. And while
those emotions have surfaced, I can
honestly say that not a single one of those has pertained to Chloe or her
little brother, Trey. Those emotions were all birthed by my ego, by my anxiety over
meeting the kids' mom and how I was going to fit into all of it.
I have never felt anything but pure love for those
two kids and, despite the many times Chloe had told me she loved me or the
times she had run straight into my arms during pick-ups, it felt completely
justified when she asked to call me mama. It felt like her way of saying, Hey, you treat us like a mama. I love you
like a mama.
Because, at 5 years old, Chloe knows about love in its
simplest context. Love is love, and she knows that she has an abundance of it. She
doesn't know me as a threat to her family, as daddy's "new" wife or as anything
other than "her" Sammy who takes her to school and reads her stories and bakes
cookies with her.
After her confession that she wanted people to
think she was my daughter, we talked again about what a special word that was,
how it was reserved for her mama and how I would always, always be there for her like
a mama. Because despite how good it felt to have that recognition from Chloe, I
knew that if I were in her mama's shoes, it would seriously hurt my heart to
hear. I know Chloe's mom appreciates that I love her children like a mama, but I don't know if being
called that could ever really be justified in her mind, which I completely
never said anything else about it, and the months went by with her sweet voice
accidentally calling me "mama" and then sometimes, purposely, as she pretended to
be a baby and begged for me to hoist her up on my hip.
But when she said it again, just over a week ago,
as I tucked her into bed, I let it go. I didn't tell her to stop, I didn't tell
her that it was wrong or that she wasn't allowed to use that word. Instead, I
hugged her a bit tighter, pushing her blonde hair behind her ears and gave her
some extra kisses.
"Goodnight, baby," I responded, patting her legs in
I may just be her stepmama, but the root of that
word is mama, a short word that
packs a sweet punch of meaning. And if dropping the "step" every now and then
makes her feel happy and secure? Then I won't argue anymore. It's a battle that
I worry will do more harm than good some days. So I'll smile, I'll give her a
squeeze and I'll tuck that reel right next to the other ones in my memory