My not-so-wicked Stepmother

In the steady diet of Disney films, fairy tales and fantasy stories that I devoured whilst growing up, Stepmothers always seem to get a bad rep. And let's face it, they deserve to, right? A feminist would probably argue that this is a hidden misogyny, to always portray women as jealous and spiteful, that a second wife must always have an ulterior motive, that they can't possibly be as sweet and loving as a man's first choice of wife.

The concept is so maligned. Unlike a Stepfather, so often seen as 'stepping up' and so praised and admired, a Stepmother is automatically assumed to be somehow wicked.

My Stepmother was not.

I still remember my very first glimpse of Jackie, the woman that would become my Stepmother and, in time, my friend. She was visiting a mate of my Dad. We were just leaving and my Daddy leaned down conspiratorially and whispered "see that lady, do you think she's pretty? I'd like her to be my girlfriend". My sister and I giggled. Not really able to understand the intricacies of adult dating. Especially after a divorce.

And she was very pretty. I remember thinking she was quite glamorous and rather fun when we went on days out together. A day trip to the London Trocadero. Or maybe a theme park.
But then the reality sunk in. When I felt my Daddy's attention readjust from myself to this new life I'd by lying if I didn't admit that I struggled. It's a lot to take in for an 8 year old and, with the benefit of hindsight, I don't think my Dad dealt with the situation very well. To me, and I think my sister Louise, we'd always nurtured the small seed of hope that our parents would get back together but my Dad carried on with his new life and it felt like he was leaving us behind.

Of course, Jackie got the blame.

Of course, that was terribly unfair.

And I'm glad I realised that in my teens. I think I may have felt quite worldly wise at the age of 14 and I made a decision to make more of an effort. Jackie was pregnant with my brother, Alex and my new sister, Rebecca was at an adorable toddler age with a tinkling giggle. Amidst a difficult time at home with my Mummy and other step-family (a whole other story) I was so excited to have much younger siblings. I wanted to be a proper big sister and I knew I wouldn't have that if I couldn't get on with Jackie.

That summer really stands out in my mind. A changing point in my life. One that I am so grateful for.

I still struggle to comprehend now that she's gone.

It's only been a couple of weeks since I received the call from Becca. My brave and strong Becca. To tell me that her Mummy had died.

It's not the first call I received like that. In 2005 it was me making those calls. Finding the words, trying to spare the recipient any pain, trying not to cry. My Daddy had died. It was my job. My duty.

Calling Jackie was second in horror only to the call I made to my sister Louise. It was awful.

I can still recall her piercing scream. I remember picking her up off the floor and holding her in my arms.

And yet, I don't think I could've got through the next few years without Jackie. In that time, and in the many years since, I loved her just for being herself. Not for the sake of my Dad or my siblings.

I loved her for the strength she showed in the months after my Dad died. For going out and getting a job even when she was nervous and scared.

I loved her for the love she had for her kids. The way she always looked out for them, put them first.

I felt often that Jackie was one of the only people who knew what it was like. That her life experiences meant she could understand what I was trying to say. I could explain to her my hurt and my anger, the hidden rage I could hardly express to anyone else. We'd sit and we'd chat for hours. Not always about the serious stuff.

She'd sit on the step outside her front door to smoke. Even if it were snowing. In my memories though it is nearly always warm. I'd sit next to her, holding a cup of tea and we'd chat and gossip and watch the children playing.

Some evenings we'd get a film from Blockbusters, and big tubs of Haagen Dazs ice cream (strawberries and cream, still my favourite).

I'd collect Becca and Alex from school so she could work. I'd help with cooking their dinner, doing their homework. And then she would get back and I liked hearing about her day.

We planned days out and the kid's birthday parties.

We went to school events and special performances.

She came to visit me at LR shows. We'd giggle about the good-looking knights and it made me so much happier, putting on a show and knowing that someone was there to watch me.

But most of the time she'd just be there. Making a cup of tea. Sitting on the step to have a cigarette.

I have so many, many memories. Each now more precious than I ever knew.

And my most treasured? The one which makes my heart tighten in my chest and brings the tears to my eyes?

I was babysitting for Alex and Rebecca and I'd been there with her getting ready. Choosing what to wear. Giving her a pep talk. When the taxi arrived she ran out to get it but then turned round, ran back and pulled me into a huge hug.

"You know, I love you so much!"

Another squeeze and then off again to jump into the taxi.

I know we both said "I love you" before and after and I know we meant it but that one time sticks out in my head more than most.

Especially now when I know I didn't say it as much as I should have. As I let things get in the way, pregnancy, PND, mothering... it's a day to day task that I often find exhausting. I'm rubbish at calling all the people in my life who mean so much to me. Jackie was one of those. I knew where she was, she knew where I was and we only spoke sporadically and saw each other face to face even less.

I took for granted that she would always be there.

With her laugh that would ring out suddenly when something amusing happened.

I knew I'd see her at big family events, that we'd sometimes chat on the phone. I saw updates on her Facebook and was lulled into a false sense of security.

And now she's gone.

Jackie transformed the loathsome, wrathful stepmother from my Disney-childhood into a character of warmth and love. Her absence has left an emptiness inside me that I never realised she filled.

And I wish, so so much, that I could just speak with her. That I could give her a hug and tell her, one last time.

"You know, I love you so much!"

3 Little Buttons
Annette, 3 Little Buttons said...

Such a touching heartfelt post - this gave me all the feels and a few tears too. I'm sure that your stepmum knew you loved her to bits. Sending hugs and thank you for feeling brave enough to share this on the #dreamteam xx said...

what a beautiful post . I think Jacki knew how much she meant. Just from your description of your interactions. x thanks for writing and sharing #dreamteam

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