Not all stepfamilies have to struggle as they work toward love and unity. My own experience was happy from the beginning. I'm sure my natural mother loved me, and I her, even though I don't remember her very well. I was 8 and my sister was 12 when our mother passed on.
But we didn't have the mother-daughter closeness apparent in some families. I don't remember listening to bedtime stories while being tucked gently beneath the covers or while cuddling on her lap, her cool hands stroking my hair.
When my father announced his plans to remarry a number of months later, I was surprised, but not unhappy.
I still remember where we were and where we had eaten dinner, how the gold-flecked diamonds on the seats of my dad's truck felt under my hand as he told us.
Not having spent much time with my natural mother, I was ready to welcome a new mother, who was home when I went to bed at night and got up in the morning.
I don't remember too much from the first few months in our revised family. Some things do stand out - getting over the awkwardness of calling a new woman ``Mom,'' the Madame Alexander doll with her yellow dotted dress she brought me, and adjusting to a new schedule - which for the first time included regular bedtime hours and church.
And all the new rules!
Having been used to spending a lot of time on our own, my sister and I weren't used to someone's telling us what to wear, what we could watch on TV, and what to eat.
No more mornings of Pop Tarts and Captain Crunch. We were now awakened to a mother who served us oatmeal and wheat toast.
Days of wearing shorts and flip-flops to school were definitely over. My mother made me some outfits that I hated to wear. I didn't tell her, because I didn't want to hurt her feelings. But they were so out of style - especially the green pantsuit with gold trim!
(Junior high is a place where you just have to fit in, or you'll be cast out forever as a ``nerd.'')
All in all, though, changing a few habits and styles wasn't too much to ask of us, and it didn't take me long to adjust to having a new mother.
I'll never forget the time we were making chocolate chip cookies late one Saturday morning. In my eagerness to taste the batter, I leaned over just a little too far and got my hair tangled in the beaters.
My mom and sister were sure it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. I did not.
They made me stand, glaring, for a picture with the beater twisted through my brown hair, full of gooey batter.
And the time our dog, Nemo, was killed by a car during a lightning storm. When I came home from school, my mother pulled me onto her lap to comfort me. I was crying uncontrollably. She was completely at a loss as to what to do.
``I'll do anything,'' she said, ``anything, if you'll just stop crying.''
``Don't...,'' I sobbed, stuttering, ``make me wear...that green pantsuit anymore....''
Poor Nemo was temporarily forgotten. How we laugh about that now!
My sister had a tougher time adjusting than I did, but not really because of the stepmother situation. It was just that hard time of maturing, leaving childhood behind for the new challenges of being a teen-ager.
Looking back, not only did we gain a new mother, we also got a new sister (already married by that time), and lots of wonderful new relatives.
I cherish this new family situation. It seems foreign to think of my mother and sister as stepmother and stepsister. They're simply family.
It was wonderful, and still is, to have a mother who cared for me as if I were her own. What makes and cements a family, after all, are not merely blood ties.
To me, a real mother is the woman who brings a child up with care, love, and respect - regardless of whether she brought him or her into the world.