Mitchell has been the hardest for me to connect with of my three stepchildren. We started off on the wrong foot, because when John and I were dating his mother told him that if he was nice to me, it was a "betrayal" of her love. It's pretty hard to come back from that. But, over the years, Mitchell has come to regard me as a permanent fixture, and if for no other reason than acceptance, he has slowly turned his heart toward me. As I have learned with other kids, sometimes you just have to be persistent in demonstrating who you really are. We have had many battles, but at the end of the battles, we always say "I'm sorry," sometimes me, sometimes Mitchell. And after almost four years in his life, I have learned about who he really is, and he has learned who I really am.
Mitchell is twelve, almost thirteen years old. His birthday is less than a week after Thanksgiving. He has Asperger's Syndrome - a high functioning form of autism. He is unusually bright, clever and observant. He knows words and their meaning, often to an astounding level. He has an incredible imagination, and is always building or inventing something using physics and his own unique brand of humor. He is the spitting image of his mother, with a round freckled face and the bluest eyes you have ever seen. And like most Asperger kids, he is unbelievably quirky.
As I've mentioned before in my postings, being a stepmother is quite a task. The process of falling in love with your stepchildren takes time. It is not the instant love of a birth mother or "love at first sight" that is attached to infatuation. And while I know that I love him, I am not sure now just when I started to love him. I know that when he was nine I thought I would have to move out of the house because of our personality clashes. I know that for about eight months, he couldn't bear to be in the same room for me for very long. He glared at me with squinted eyes, and he mimicked me behind my back. Tolerance for one another was a task, respect seemed to be light years away.
But somehow, over the course of three years as his stepmom, Mitchell has come to regard me as more than just an annoying clean-freak, barking orders at him every morning and night. I still get the usual response when I leave his bedroom at night after reading and praying with both boys. I say "I love you, good night." Samuel says, "I love you too!" and Mitchell says, "I don't love you!" with the same cheerful tone as his brother. (Fortunately, John has encouraged Mitchell to say "I like you," if he doesn't want to say "I love you.") Yes, I know - love is one of those words that gets all mixed up and confused when you are a pre-teen boy. I get it. But it is frustrating to hear, "I don't love you!" night after night, for three years.
But somehow, over the course of three years- three Christmases, three New Years - three years of school teachers that he had to tell: "She's NOT my mom. She's JUST my STEPmom" - three years of the flu - three years of Halloween - three years of birthdays - three years of camping trips- hikes - losing a pet - losing a grandpa - starting middle school and much more, somehow, I now have graduated to a new title. I am no longer just "Melissa." Now, I am Melissy.
The change of one simple letter. He changed the "A" on the end of my name to a "Y". Without notice, and without ceremony, he just started calling me "Melissy." And I like it.
I like it because it means I'm important enough for nickname. I'm no longer just someone he has to tolerate. I'm Melissy, maybe a halfway normal and acceptable human being.
And last week, when all the kids got their flu shots, Mitchell grabbed my hand and held on tight. Yes, it was only for a moment, and I know that it was more of an issue of "needing" my hand, than "wanting" it, but I'll take it any way it comes.
The nurse, who always gets a kick out of our "far from ideal family," looked across the crazy exam room and smiled, "You're stepmom, right?" she asked. "Yes," I said, "just stepmom."