My adult sons would disagree with me on many points but I think the one issue they wouldn’t dispute is that the best thing that ever happened to the three of us was my second husband, Olof.
This is not to discredit their dad who has been a hugely active and loving participant in their lives (and with whom Olof has miraculously managed not to compete). As for mom, parenthood fortunately seems to be dissipating the kids’ litany of complaints regarding my performance. (For their complete list, email me specifying alphabetical or chronological.)
In my defense, I was a single-working parent for 12 years from the time they were three and five. Let me tell you: it’s a tough gig.
Considering what a bad rep stepparents have, it is a paean to both Olof and to my ex’s second wife that the kids occasionally mused aloud that their ideal parents would be their two stepparents. If only they could get rid of mom and dad!
This might suggest that the stepparents were pushovers. Not so. In fact, neither of them tolerated any grief from the kids and yet were adored. It was a lesson that mom and dad, too busy competing with each other for children’s time and affection during those years, should have learned from.
Olof (who commuted down from the Bay Area for eight years before we married when the kids were in high school) would step off the plane on Friday nights carrying a single red rose for me. On the way home one night, 8-year-old Henri’s voice popped up from the back seat. “Mom, why does Olof only bring you one rose? Why doesn’t he bring you a whole bunch?” I turned to Henri and said, “Because sometimes less is more.”
Years later, at 16, when Henri first had a girlfriend, I happened to talk to her mother who said, “You have raised the most romantic young man! Every time he comes to pick up my daughter, he brings her a single red rose.”
“Wow!” I said. “What a great idea!”
Olof always managed to cut to the core of any issue with the kids. I remember him clarifying the definition of manners to them as grade-schoolers by explaining, “anything you do that feels natural is unmannerly.” This they could understand.
He introduced a lexicon of Air Force and engineering jargon to the household, from “Tango Uniform” (it’s seriously broken), Z.B. (zero balance, meaning we were out of something), and the acquisition of new skills in terms of “capability.” (One became “times table-capable,” “laundry-capable,” “left turn-capable” etc.) Every time we pulled into the driveway, Olof lead a chorus of “Cheated death again!”
When the kids were in college, Olof explained that our investment in their education meant that they needed to be prepared to support themselves when they were done, even if it meant double shifts flipping burgers. (Having spent college summers cleaning toilets at the US Steel plant in Pittsburg, CA (union wages) and roofing in the East Bay’s brutal 100-degree heat, Olof was fairly impervious to complaints about labor.)