Another incredible thing happened to me last month, actually on the same day that I married Brian: I became the step-parent of an extraordinary four-year-old boy, Buster.
Of course, Buster has been in my life for some time now, but even so, my marriage to his father has made me stop and think even more deeply about the role I play - and will play - in Buster's life.
Buster lives with us part-time, and we have been sharing a home for almost a year. When we made the move from play dates to real life, I found myself almost immediately confronting a bias that I didn't even know I'd been carrying around with me. See, I knew that raising a child who doesn't have autism would be different from raising a child who does, but - and here's where the unfair bias comes in - I'd assumed it would also be easier.
It's not - or, at least, it's not for me. It makes sense, I guess. Bud is the only child I've ever lived with. Bud and I have been doing our thing together for fifteen years, and everything I know about parenting has grown up around him.
It's like you spend fifteen years raising puppies. You focus all your energy on learning about puppies, observing and interacting with puppies, taking puppy classes, talking to puppy-raising friends, until you finally get to place where you hit a puppy groove and find your puppy mojo.
And then one day, somebody drops off a baby kangaroo at your door.
Now, don't get me wrong. Baby kangaroos are AWESOME. They're fun and cute and they make you laugh and they make your heart swell, but I'll tell you what: baby kangaroos have no interest in playing with your squeaky toys and they are not motivated by your milk bone dog biscuits.
It is, very much, like starting all over again.
There is a whole lot that I have to say - and even more, I'm sure, that I will want to say in the years to come. I'm certain that the wisdom of the blogosphere would prove invaluable to me.
But here's the thing: you won't be reading much about my life with Buster here on the pages of the blog. Because, in addition to learning about the care and feeding of a kangaroo, I am simultaneously learning how to be a step-parent.
Here's what I know so far:
1. Being a step-parent is inherently different from being a parent, and
2. It is not as simple, nor as straightforward, as The Brady Bunch made it look.
As I think about how to negotiate my place in Buster's life, especially in these early years, as he's making sense of who Bud and I are and how we have come to land in the middle of his life, I'm finding that as a step-parent, I need to err more on the side of step and less on the side of parent.
Because here's something I know from being Bud's mother: the mom role is singular. Buster has a mom, and I am not her. I can be a friend, a mentor, and a role model. I can love him, celebrate him, console him, encourage him, redirect him, support him, and challenge him. But I can never try to be his mom. He already has all the mom he needs.
I also need to remember the place I hold as a non-decision-maker in his life. His parents need to collaborate on the big-picture decisions about what he needs and how to provide it. If I have opinions, I can share them with Brian, but only if I understand that, ultimately, I don't get a vote. And I'm okay with that. It's part of the package deal that I signed on to, and, frankly, I got a really good deal.
So, I'll write sparingly about Buster here, but it won't be because he's a minor player in my life. On the contrary, he is central to it. But if I have concerns about overstepping my rights in sharing Bud's story (and you know that I do), I have twice the concern about doing so with Buster. And if Buster's mom ever stumbles on to my writing, I hope that all she will see in it is respect, both for him and for her.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run. I have a kangaroo to chase.