Last Sunday, some dear friends of ours invited me over for dinner. I always love sitting and talking with this couple because they’re both a calming presence in my life but also quite skilled at making me laugh. As we conversed in their living room after the meal, the conversation turned to parenting. More specifically, the wife shared a story about her role as a stepmother.
A lot of the sentiments she shared matched Emily’s, and I just shook my head because I wanted to say, “Are you hearing this, babe? It’s not just you!”
Before Emily and I started dating, I had never really taken the time to fully think about the challenges of being a stepparent, nor had I realized just how critical society is of unique parenting roles. Yet, as Emily assimilated into our household more and more, I saw the difficulties and the joys that came with her newly donned title of mother.
And you know what? She was an incredible mom.
She Loved Them From the Start
Emily and I had been friends for almost two years before she met my children for the first time. During that initial encounter, we were helping Emily move out of one apartment by loading up our minivan with anything that wouldn’t fit in Emily’s car. Despite the fact that they were literally doing physical labor for her, the kids still walked away from that evening saying, “Miss Emily is so cool!” Why? Because Emily talked to them and got to know them.
Later that same year, I asked Emily if she’d want to tag along on a trip to Gatlinburg I was planning with the kids. I told her, “I’ll pay for everything — I just want an extra person to keep the kids under control.” She seemed excited, and that made me very happy.
During that trip, I witnessed so many magical moments between Emily and my children. I stood and watched them laugh and play together in the wave pool inside Wilderness at the Smokies. I saw her hold a child’s hand on a ride they felt apprehensive about inside Dollywood, and I heard her tell them stories and answer their ridiculous questions like a professional.
Yes, she got frustrated with the kids more than a few times during that three-day trip. Yes, she said swear words so many times that Eleanor started saying them too. However, I walked away from that trip with a very clear picture of how Emily felt about my kids, and it was clear that she loved them.
From then on, the kids often asked to spend time with Emily. She’d come over for dinner frequently, play board games with us, and sometimes come with us to other places too. Eventually, Emily and I started dating, and the kids instantly asked, “Is Emmy moving in with us? Will you get married? Will she be our other mom?” It was clear they loved her, too.
Each time I saw Emily interact with the children, it made my heart soar. She just had that natural maternal instinct, and seeing her in this type of role was thrilling.
She Made Mistakes Like Any Mom
As I said, Emily was an incredible mother. However, she was also somewhat thrown into it with children already in elementary school. That sometimes caused issues. As I told Emily, though, all moms make mistakes — it’s all part of the beauty of parenthood.
One of my favorite “mistake” stories isn’t really a mistake at all, just a creative idea that didn’t quite work out. If you know my two children, then you know they couldn’t be more different. For example, Meredith is the most adventurous eater I’ve ever met, while Eleanor only has about a dozen “safe foods” that she will eat. This makes dinner time interesting to say the least.
Emily was determined to ensure the kids had healthy relationships with food and their bodies. So, she’d look for ways to encourage Meredith’s adventurous eating and tried to expand Eleanor’s food list. One night, Emily and Meredith decided to make sushi. Emily knew Eleanor wouldn’t eat the sushi, so she decided to try rolling Eleanor’s cheese quesadilla up in a way that made it look like sushi. When she presented the food art to Eleanor, E looked at her and screamed, “What did you do to my quesadilla? You’re a very bad Miss Emily!” I later made Eleanor apologize, but Emily didn’t turn the quesadillas into fun shapes again.
Of course, many of Emily’s parenting “mistakes” were much more minor infractions. Usually, they just involved her discussing more mature topics in front of the kids. This frequently led to Meredith asking many questions, which Emily often handled well. She did not, however, ever really learn to filter what she said in front of the kids… That is why they both said “fuck” in the car the other day.
She Knew How to Bond
My favorite thing about watching Emily’s parenting in action was seeing her develop these unique bonding experiences with each child. She loved finding ways to work their interests into our daily lives, and she would frequently come up with ways to work on her connection with each child.
For example, she knew Meredith had become interested in makeup. So one afternoon, Emily asked Meredith if she wanted to go grab coffee and shop at Ulta or Sephora. Meredith jumped at the opportunity, and the two had a great time. Meredith smiled the entire day, and Emily told me how much she and Meredith laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. I think small moments like this not only helped the children connect with Emily but I think it helped boost her confidence related to parenting.
Emily also loved bonding with the children over something all three of them love: art. She’d frequently come home with quick craft projects to do as a family and sit and color at the table with the kids in the evenings.
After we moved into our townhouse in June, Emily came home one day with lots of paints and rocks. She told the kids, “We can paint these with anything we want, then put them outside the front door.” The kids loved the idea, and I watched the three of them sit down and start painting right away (unfortunately, it was the middle of the work day for me, so I could only be a bystander). The kids probably talked Emily’s ear off that afternoon, but they had so much fun explaining their rock paintings to her and asking her about what she was doing. It was an adorable moment that I hope the kids always remember.
She Knocked It Out of the Park
As I shared during my speech at Emily’s funeral, we had plans to expand our family. However, I didn’t share all the details at that time.
Emily had told me early on in our relationship, “I always wanted three kids, two girls, and a boy. Looks like I got the two girls, so we just need a little boy!” I knew Emily really wanted a child that was biologically hers, and I wanted to make that happen for her. We had started seeing a geneticist to determine whether all of Emily’s health issues had an underlying genetic cause. We hoped to get the answers to all that, then move into asking the geneticist about possible concerns with using Emily’s eggs to make a baby. If Emily’s eggs were viable and the risks were low, the plan was for me to carry the baby just so we didn’t put Emily at any additional risk or make her completely change her medications.
However, I will always maintain that Emily didn’t need a child that was biologically hers to be a mom. She already was one.
Whether she realized it or not, motherhood suited Emily so well from the start. She was so good at it, and the kids loved her. Seeing her bond with the kids brought me such joy and made me love her even more. Because of Emily, my kids got to experience unconditional love and the joy of having a second mother in their lives. They miss her dearly now, but that’s just because they loved her and knew she loved them so much.