What the Locusts Ate

Dancing with my husband and my "gifts" at our wedding in May 2013.

Dancing with my husband and my “gifts” at our wedding in May 2013.

What I remember most was how cold it was. Cold to be ignored; cold to receive the dirty looks; cold to listen to the stomping, slamming, sniffing; cold to remember how it was before my stepmom married my father and compare it to the polar opposite of the decades after the wedding. While I have specific memories of hurtful things my stepmom said and did, those were dust compared the vast monument of disinterest and emotional neglect that characterized the majority of how she acted toward me.

I felt rejected not only by her, but by my father, who didn’t seem to do anything except tell me to work harder; and by my mother, who had left me and appeared to be burdened by my brief visits until I grew up and she could relate to me as another adult. I was lonely, awkward, withdrawn, emotional, confused, helpless.

I had strong feelings no one took seriously, and I learned the way I felt was wrong, my pain was nothing in comparison, and emotions weren’t welcome unless they were happy. I decided I didn’t want kids – I wouldn’t be fit to be a mother, since I never had a good role model. I developed a pattern of falling into working with and for people who used position and power to manipulate those around them. I could express myself in writing but not when speaking; therefore, I rarely stood up for myself because I knew I couldn’t argue as well as others.

I seemed to always be hurting about something. Wanting love but ready to run at any perceived rejection, wrestling still with relating to my parents, angry but powerless to address unhealthy work relationships, conflicted by second-guessing my right to feel anything… I seemed so often to be a seething mass of negativity needing soothing by amazing friends much wiser than I.

Redemption is slow. There is rarely just one moment of conversion. Accepting the death of all that pain and fear – and the righteousness I felt by clinging to it so hard as if that validated my feelings – is every bit a process of grief. I hated my emotions, but I also loved them. They defined me. My pain fueled my writing, fueled much of my conversations, fueled much of my need for justice in the world. Can I be as effective without the anger and pain? More important, who will I be without it?

I don’t know. I write this eight months after a wedding, two major re-locations, and a new life as a stay-at-home stepmother. I’m still making peace with the title, and I tease my two girls about being an evil stepmom, but it is part of my life now. My ego wants to tell me how much better I’m doing than my own stepmother did, but the rest of me realizes how ridiculous that is. I still mourn what could have been, and I comprehend more and more the obstacles she faced. I don’t excuse her behavior, but I don’t excuse mine any more, either.

Battling emotions is still a daily struggle. All the dramatic changes and chaos has me stumbling over identity issues. (Remember how I never wanted to be a mom? And then I fell in love – with all three of them.) Redemption, however, is a tide of choosing that eventually turns us over. The pain of brokenness is slowly worn into art; the pain that defined who I was turns over into defining how I treat my girls – or, as I call them on Facebook, my gifts.

In some ways, I feel I lost years of my childhood, that the coldness has followed me into my late thirties and still robs me of joy. But redemption and restoration go hand-in-hand, and the tide of choices I make now are turning over my bitterness. I see the promise of G-d as I am repaid “for the years the locusts have eaten” in the love I have for my stepdaughters. Meanwhile, the love they have for me melts the ice, the fear, the pain – and irrigates the new landscape we’re all walking together.

This article was written for the February 2014 edition of Toledo Streets newspaper, Issue #32.