Melissa Todd: When the cliche about step-families doesn’t become true


Step-families are meant to be troublesome, anecdotally, yet mine, thus far, has merged into a functioning entity with extraordinary ease. I keep waiting for the trouble to start, the sulks and resentments and petty rivalries: I’ve a 16 year old, after all, and a brand new 61 year old husband, both of them stubborn and opinionated, and eager for my attention. Yet thus far they get on as if they shared genes, rather than just a home.

James was fourteen when my first husband died, a rotten age under the most favourable circumstance. Trying to stay strong for him in those first wretched weeks kept me sane, and I suspect the reverse was true too. He brought me coffee in the mornings, made me dinner, saw me through the nights when sleep seemed impossible. I made a conscious decision not to surrender to grief, nor indulge in mourning. I couldn’t: I had a child to care for and raise.

We were a unit, bound by remembrance and loss. That worked fine, in its own sad quiet way. But then a new man came along, with a tiggerish bounce and relentless grin, bringing in light and joy to our own private mausoleum. James didn’t like that much at first. The new man was only allowed to visit once a week, and James would stay in his room in silent, seething protest.

Very soon, it became clear we would marry. James took little interest in the preparations, aside from the sweet stall and doughnut tower, although he did agree to play his guitar as I glided down the aisle, being as committed an attention junkie as his mother. When new husband moved in, I was convinced James would feel replaced, hostile, isolated, grief-stricken, and I’d feel guilty as hell and caught in the middle.

But six months on, to my inexpressible relief, they freaking well adore each other. Indeed, if anyone  feels left out, it’s me. They’ve more in common than I have, both early risers, perpetually hungry, hard working, sociable, ambitious, good-natured, left-leaning, clever, thoughtful, musical: they cheerfully bicker over obscure punk bands at 6am, even as I moan softly and attach myself intravenously to the espresso machine, praying for solitude and silence, or failing that, an obliging coma.

Clearly new husband is a splendid influence on son, although I’m not daft enough to ruin it by saying so. Precisely when son most needed it, he’s acquired a fine, funny, hard-working, gregarious chap to model himself upon. I fretted I was being selfish for marrying again so soon, but now, I’m confident it’s done James as much good as it’s done me. Possibly more.

And I couldn’t be happier.


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