It may have been the best $10.54 my husband ever spent.
My deal-detecting husband found buy-one-get-one-free rain gear on an endcap at a big-box store. It was a late summer Friday a decade ago, and we had stopped at the store on our way from Illinois to Minnesota where, according to the weatherman, the monsoon season was commencing.
When one rain suit is $9.99, you can imagine the value is function, not fashion. We looked like duck hunters. Key selling point: plastic pants. This meant we could sit on wet bleachers without getting our real pants wet.
Later that day, rain literally poured out of the sky, and my husband and I sat on a wet, stone field divider with our feet in puddles watching my 16-year-old stepson play football. Cute but rather soggy girls (who were fulfilling unknown purposes) stood on the sidelines in shorts and sandals because, like a true monsoon, the air was warm.
At the end of the scrimmage, we got a wave from the sidelines. My stepson actually acknowledged our presence.
We had driven seven hours, invested in $10 rain suits and sat in pouring rain, and that wave felt like victory.
The handsome red-headed stepchild I had grown to adore had been living six hours away with his mother in Minnesota since the beginning of summer and communicating with his father and me infrequently, sometimes not at all. Lured by a vehicle he could call his own, he turned 16 that summer and he was old enough to make plans and return phone calls, but for the most part, he chose not to.
I missed him, and the depth of my grief surprised me. Before moving back to his mom’s in Minnesota, Adored Stepson had lived with his father and me for three years in Illinois. I had been child-free by choice, and Adored Stepson became an unexpected component of the togetherness I endeavored to achieve with my husband. I avoided the frying pan of late-night feedings and diapers (thank you, God) and jumped right into the fire of teenage pimples and science projects. In return, I was blessed with the sweet gift of witnessing Adored Stepson’s evolution from cherub-faced boy to young man.
The first day I met the boy who would become Adored Stepson, he recounted in detail the plot to Eragon by Christopher Paolini while sitting across from me in a booth at Space Aliens café. He was so cute telling me all the details of a boy who finds a mysterious stone in the mountains and joking about his father’s reliance on to-do lists and bedtime rituals. Over time, I came to enjoy his sense of humor a lot more than I expected to. I liked teaching him about spelling, history and faith. The season he played Little League baseball was pure joy for me. Watching some of my favorite movies Aliens and Die Hard with him the first time, after I had watched them easily a hundred times, was like seeing them with new eyes.
When he left us to live with his mother, I was devastated. Gobsmacked, a Brit might say. Before becoming his stepmother, I might have thought I was immune from such rejection, but, alas, no. We had bonded.
And now I ached to spend time with him. After three years with him full-time, I understood how unrelated people could make up what would be considered a family. Spending time together in laughter and silence is as binding as blood. Phone calls are a poor substitute for the pauses that occur, for example, when the meal is over and no one is ready to clean it up.
Two days after the water-soaked football game and the wave from the sidelines, my stepson agreed to spend the afternoon with us in the practically antique 1983 RV camper in which we chose to travel in order to entertain him better than at a hotel room. His father and I had endured his repeated demurrals, and it was only the second day in four months we spent time together.
Without the benefit of any explanation from him, I took his reluctance to visit with us personally, but I realized while sitting around the campfire talking with him and attempting to read his body language frequently punctuated with vague shrugs and hand waves that his repeated rejections of me weren’t even remotely about me. As important as this 16-year-old was to me, I was just another parent in a crowd of parental units that he would rather ignore.
My teenaged stepson was in a fog of friends, football and fooling around; “father” was not part of his day-to-day consciousness and “stepmom” was even less prevalent. Unfortunately, he was also working on (or not working on) a few more new F’s, in the form of report card failures. After the rainy football game, his father and I attended an open house at his school, and I was dismayed at his lack of application in class; he had the smarts and ability to succeed but he would have to get organized and follow-through in order to actually pull it off.
For months, I had been trying to monitor my stepson’s wellbeing from afar, analyzing sigh-filled abbreviated phone calls, lurking on Facebook and communicating with his older sister. I had even resorted to spying on his cell phone bill, which we still paid. It brought me nothing but frustration, mystery and sorrow.
And cheap but effective rain gear.
The power of prayer
On the long ride home from Minnesota after the discouraging campfire, I thought of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the Enterprise is caught in a Menthar booby trap while attempting to rescue a derelict ship. The more power they used to try to escape, the more entrenched the spaceship became. Eventually, the resourceful characters determined the solution was to turn off all power and essentially drift away, freeing themselves. The answer to their predicament wasn’t to try harder, it was to quit trying.
I pledged to myself I would try to practice a two-pronged approach to coping with Adored Stepson’s absence: healthy detachment and prayer. Healthy detachment demanded that I love and let go. Prayer created the opportunity to “love and let God.” This was a heavy lift for a control freak who would much rather try harder but at least praying was something to do.
This is the prayer I repeated:
God, remind this child of his godly nature. Help him remember You love him and You have a plan for him. Let him get caught when he makes the wrong choices. Save him from the wrong friends and the wrong mate, so he may be saved for the right friends and the right mate. God, please keep him safe physically, spiritually, sexually, emotionally and mentally. Send Your angels to protect him. Amen.
The bargain rain gear was one of heaven’s gifts. Maybe we weren’t comfortable, but at least we stayed dry enough to get us to the end of the game so we could enjoy that wave of acknowledgement. I could only hope—and pray—an attitude of healthy detachment, while not comfortable, would get my stepson through his fog and me to the other side.
I am a stepmother who believes in the power of prayer. My Adored Stepson, now 27, successfully navigated high school and college, calls frequently, follows through on plans he makes to see me and still makes me laugh.