Christina Simon's Blog

Beyond The Brochure

Christina Simon

Christina Simon
Los Angeles, California, USA
March 22
Mom Blogger
Fat Envelope Publishing
Christina Simon is the co-author of “Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles.” She also writes the blog, about applying to private elementary schools in Los Angeles and the ups and downs as life as a private school mom. Christina is a former vice president at Fleishman-Hillard, a global public relations firm. She has a 9-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. Christina lives in Los Angeles with her husband and kids. She has a B.A. from UC Berkeley and an M.A. from UCLA. Christina has written recent guest blog pieces for The Huffington Post, Salon.Com, Mamapedia, BlogHer Syndication,The Mother Company, The Well Mom and numerous other blogs.


Editor’s Pick
JULY 20, 2011 10:15PM

When My Step-Mom Stepped In

Rate: 35 Flag

 Anne and Me 2 At game

Me and my step-mom, Anne, at my son's football game 

I never expected to call anyone my step-mom. To have a step-mom means your dad got divorced and he remarried or his wife died. In my case, it was the latter. My mom died when I was nineteen, meaning that my dad would likely remarry at some point. About two years after my mom’s death he met a woman who would become my step-mom. Two years may sound like a long time, but in “grief time” it might as well have been two months. Is anybody truly ever ready to accept the person who might try to replace her mom?

The circumstances under which my step-mom, Anne, joined our family were highly unusual. We weren’t acquiring a step-mom because our parents were divorced. We had lost our mom after her long battle with breast cancer and were living in a suspended state of permanent grief. When my step-mom arrived, my younger sister was angry and hostile in her misery. I was withdrawn and anti-social. Neither of us was able to see through our blinding sadness to understand the remarkable woman who would later marry our dad.

I didn’t know what to expect when my dad introduced us to Anne. Naturally, I assumed the worst. Still reeling from the turmoil and loss of my mom, I was hesitant about this new woman. My feelings were unsettled. I was suspicious of her motives, despite reassurances by my dad that she had no intention of trying to fill the enormous void left by my mom’s death. 

It takes courage to marry a man whose wife has died and whose two teenage daughters are distraught over her death, especially when you have your own two teenagers who never wanted you to relocate to a new city to be with a new man.  It was an uncomfortable situation to say the least. We made small talk at dinner and pretended things were normal, but they weren’t.  

Every so often there is a rare person whose kindness is so remarkable it impacts your life in ways you can’t possibly know until many years later. Somehow, with grace and dignity beyond her barely 40 years, Anne saw me for who I was, despite my despair and feelings of unworthiness. With patience and warmth, she helped me pick up the pieces of a shattered life, which I assumed would never be possible. Slowly, she helped guide me back to a life worth living, a life filled with the things I wanted to achieve like college, graduate school, marriage, kids, but couldn’t possibly imagine without my mom.

Our house had stuffy air of stillness. It was devoid of happiness or laughter. Nobody visited because we were so checked out, we wouldn’t have known who to invite over. It didn’t matter that it was a pretty house in a beautiful neighborhood.  It had no life left in it, despite the fact that two teen girls and a dad lived there. The reason the house felt as if somebody had died there was because our mom died in the upstairs bedroom. The day before she died, my dad sent me to my boyfriend’s house. My dad called me the following day, on a Monday morning, to tell me she’d died. He instructed me to wait until the coroner had removed her body. I did. We all knew it was coming. Cancer had ravished her body and she was blind, paralyzed and in a coma. Still, the shock of losing my mom at age nineteen was more than I could bear.

After my mom died, none of us had the strength to make any changes to the house, so it remained the house where Mama died. We didn’t talk about moving out the old furniture or getting a new sofa or table to brighten the house or make it more cheerful. Dinner was a sandwich in front of the TV. To move even a single piece of furniture would have been too painful. So we lived in the house and it stayed just the way it was the day she died. A year passed, then two. The house remained the same.

When my dad decided to get rid of some things, he made the unforgivable mistake of selling my mom’s clothes at a garage sale, without telling my sister or me. We found out when we drove by the garage sale. It was heartbreaking. Ignoring people sorting through my mom’s clothes, her favorite dresses, her shoes, we gabbed armfuls of stuff and began loading it in the back of our car. Infuriated, we yelled at people staring at us that the garage sale was over. We couldn’t contain our rage and tears and we didn’t try. We stopped speaking to my dad for a while.

Anne joined our grim mess of a family. Once she moved in, Anne rightly decided to update the furniture, to make the house a home. My sister and I rebelled fiercely, accusing her of trying to destroy our mom’s memory. Somehow, we came to an agreement as to which pieces of my mom’s furniture could go and those that had to stay. My mom’s favorite purple velvet couch was a point of huge contention. It stayed for a while and then we replaced it.

My dad married Anne. My sister and I attended the wedding, grateful that my dad was happy again, but still uneasy about Anne and her kids. I was nicer to our new step-mom than my sister was. I tried hard to show her respect and make her feel welcome. I knew she never intended to replace my mom for that would be impossible. She was there only because she loved my dad. She still does. They just celebrated their 25th anniversary.

Anne never tried to replace my mom. Instead, over time she because the friend and mother figure I desperately needed. She was the first call I made when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. During my very long labor, Anne held my hand and coached me through it, never leaving my side. When the nurse was slow to refill my drink, after 30 hours of labor, Anne let her know it better not happen again.

For the first week with my new baby, she stayed with my husband and me and taught me how to take care of my daughter in the most loving way a mother would teach her own daughter. Putting the baby in the car to drive home from the hospital, Anne sat in the back seat with the baby and me because I was so nervous.

When we got home with my baby daughter, Anne never left my side.

She’d say, “Wrap her like this to calm her down.”

Or, “Want me to hold her for a few minutes?” she’d ask, taking her and rocking her back and forth in her arms.

I think those first days secured a bond between her and my daughter that is still profound. After five days, Anne reluctantly admitted she was tired and went to her parents to get some rest. 

By definition, Anne is my step-mom. But I know the word doesn’t do justice to our relationship. Whenever I refer to Anne as my step-mom, I don’t think it conveys who she truly is to me. She’s not my mom, but she’s more than the image the word 'step-mom' conveys. 

Looking back, it couldn’t have been easy for Anne to create a blended family, When she married a widower with two grieving teenage daughters, she took on a family whose future was uncertain, who was breaking apart, slowly. Her entrance into our family is what has kept us together all these years.

Anne is my kids’ grandmother. My kids don’t call her a step-grandmother. She’s their “Nana”. Although my daughter knows Anne isn’t my biological mom, my daughter often says she gets her hazel eyes from Nana Anne. I cherish the connection they have—that we have.

Author tags:

family, death, step-mom

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This touches me deeply. I can just picture you and your sister declaring the garage sale over. How terribly painful it must have been to lose your mom.
You told the story of Anne coming into your lives so poignantly. All of you are lucky to have each other. ~r
I'm almost in tears at the beauty of this story. I can relate, a bit, as I lost my father (but at age 30, way different) to a different sort of ravage, long-term heart disease. My mother married a man who became my "Anne", my stepfather. He was much more. It is so wonderful to read about situations like yours. Gives me hope in this often ravaged world.
Beautiful. Steps are often given short shrift. I wrote about my stepfather for father's day because he has been better to me than my own dad.
Such things take time and patience. You are so fortunate.
Yes. Tears. Mysteriously tears transform to joy? I read that. Mu wife was an orphan at twelve. He Mother died in a New York City Hospital.

The sad reminder (I never met my wife's parents) came flooding me within.

My wife's Father died before her Mom died painfully from uterine cancer.

Bother parents worked in a Manhattan International law firm. Her Father?

He died two months previous to my wife's Mother very painful (sad) death.

Thanks for sharing this.
You respectfully remind`
a farmer describes
his mother-in-law
as a complete idiot
She's a West Virginia
Farmer's Daughter and
Her Husband is a Saint.
He was sure Fated nice.
I may be a old dentist.
I get a rot-tooth ache.
I'll use a barn door.
I'll tie hemp to tooth.
I yank a one big hoots.
Maybe I remarry lawyer.
I Fated to be lonly recluse.
What a great post. I lost my dad and would have flipped out if mom would have re-married that soon. My teenage ignorance. She remarried while I was in Germany, serving in the army. I talked to the guy long distance, which was hard back then. I came home and liked him right away. He died too, a few years ago and now my mom, 80, is done. But, it she does, she does, I'm a little smarter now.
so deserving of a Cover this is terrific! rated.
This was beautiful and respectful of all the emotions that passed through your experience. I am very happy for you and your relationship.
Thank you all for your wonderful, supportive comments. This wasn't a hard piece to write because I love Anne so much. I just wanted to pay tribute to her.
This was beautiful.

Like you, my wife lost her mother (to cancer) when she was a teenager. Her dad never re-married. He did the best he could, on his own, to raise my wife and her brother. But unfortunately, as I could tell when I first met her, my wife has always been left with a maternal void.

My mother has never been one to be the close “nana” to any of her grandchildren. So, our two daughters have also missed the matriarch bonding that is so important in family life.

You, and your family, are very fortunate to have Anne in your lives.

Thank you for this beautiful story.
My grandfather, Charlie Cavanagh, taught me about step-parenting. He loved us so much and I had no idea until I was a teenager that we were related only by marriage. So when the time came, and I loved a man with 4 young adult children, I didn't hesitate to marry him.

As you so rightly describe, it was not easy. I had a fairly peaceful relationship with his ex-wife and I think that really helped the kids adjust to our relationship. She died of breast cancer 5 years ago and I think it gave her a bit of peace knowing that I would love them all, and like your Anne, I am the their children's grandmother and it means the whole world to me. Relationships are so complex, but I can tell you this: grandchildren are the loving balm and the reward for all the prior familial difficulties.
This is so beautiful and raw and hopeful. The garage sale image just about undid me. I think it is a testament to your mom that you could love your stepmom as much as you do. She sounds like a wonderful woman.
Nana is so good that this tree really bears good fruit.
A beautiful tribute . That your father married well again is also a tribute to your mom. . .
- both your father and Anne have courage. Thank you for sharing this with us.
It's so rare that we read a story about a great stepmother. Anne sounds like a miracle. This was very touching. I'm sorry you had to experience such suffering.
Thank you for sharing this tribute to Anne. My mom died when I was 12 and I wonder how well I would have accepted a step-mom. Congrats on the EP.
This was so well told.
This was beautiful. I bet Anne is so honored by this post.
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Thanks for sharing this beautiful post and tribute to your stepmom...what a wonderful transformation for your whole family. I love that your daughter gets her hazel eyes from Nana Anne...
I'm a step-parent. It's nice to read a success story, thank you.
I'm somewhat in the spot your dad was in now, though it's now been four years since her mother died, and she's a mature woman. However, the worst nightmare I can imagine is for my daughter and the woman in my life being at odds. It happens way too often and doesn't look like any fun.
I am so glad that you wrote this. It is a beautiful tribute to your wonderful step-mom and to you as well. The photo is great too!
My grandson and granddaughter claim to "take after" their Dzadzi (Polish for grandpa) because they can play music by ear and no one else in the family can. Dzadzi is their "step" grandparent :) -- but you'd never know it! Wouldn't it be nice to come up with new terminology for that very important and special relationship?
You've really created a slice of Americana here... beautifully done!
This was beautifully told. What a wonderful tribute to a great lady.
I hope she reads it.
This is a wonderful tribute to the power of loving fiercely.