Monday, May 4, 2009

Step-Wives: The Good, the Bad, and the Butt-Ugly

Step-Wives. Lynne Oxhorn-Ringwood and Louise Oxhorn coined the term in their book by the same name in 2002 to define the ex-wife and current wife of the same man; the mother and step-mother of the same children.

I count my blessings or curse the stars - depending on the day - that I have not one, but two step-wives. Of the three of us, one is good, one is bad, and one is, well... butt-ugly.

When Heidi made her entrance, it was not as a step-wife, but what I termed my "shack-in-law." That is, she shacked up with my then-husband, Rick. As scandalous as that sounds, I should make it clear that Rick and I had been separated for years but were not divorced, due to a lengthy custody battle over our son, Leif. To further complicate matters, my shack-in-law was pregnant with my husband's baby, and had two other kids of her own. Jerry Springer, here we come!

Leif returned home after a visit with his father, referring to Heidi as "my other mom." Livid hardly begins to express what I felt at hearing my son use MY given title in reference to some little trollop who got herself knocked up with my husband's baby. No, "livid" wasn't the word... and I found many other, more colorful words to convey my feelings the next time I saw Heidi.

"Well, when Rick and I get married, I will be his mom or, at least, his stepmom," she said.

"You two are getting married? That explains a lot about why he won't sign off on our divorce... I wouldn't divorce me, either, if I had to marry you!" I shouted. Yeah. I actually said that. Then, I did what any smart girl would do after a comment like that - I ducked. Just in time, too. She's got a mean hook.

Believe it or not, Heidi is the Good Step-Wife.

The past eight years have allowed both of us (mostly me) to mature and focus on what's really important - Leif. Heidi and I speak regularly about Leif's schoolwork, courses of discipline and social calendar. It's not unusual for us to work out solutions together before discussing them with our common husband.

When Heidi and Rick did get married, their collective kids stayed the night at my house so that their parents could enjoy their wedding night, sans children. My kids stay the night (or week) at Rick and Heidi's when I go out of town. Our families barbeque together. We go to family reunions. Our relationship is so functional; it boggles the minds of divorced people worldwide.

Did I mention that while Heidi was shacking up with my ex-husband, I was shacking up with my now-husband? Ah, yes... I'd found my Mr. Wright, and he came with accessories - four of them. When I met Greg, he was a single dad with custody of his four kids. He was light-years ahead of me on the divorce train; he had a parenting plan, for Pete's sake!

I made an effort to play nice with the children's mother. Really, I did. When she told the kids that the reason I worked nights and paid for things with small bills was that I was a stripper (Hello? I was a waitress!), I chose to take the high ground and be flattered that she thought I had the body for it. After all, it must be tough on a gal for her ex-husband to find a younger, thinner woman to raise the children she gave birth to. Gosh, did I just say that in my outside voice?

Guess which step-wife Greg's ex is.

I won't keep you in suspense. I'm the Butt-Ugly one. Know how I know? Greg's ex told me, as in, "If I were as butt-ugly as you, I'd have to get cosmetic surgery so I could look in the mirror."

Naturally, I followed that schoolyard remark up with a much more mature one: "Shut up, trailer trash. You are so... ghetto!"

Yeah, I actually said that. Suffice it to say, that remark resulted in me being labeled a racist, since "ghetto" refers to the inner-city plight of, largely, the African-American population. Of course, Greg's ex didn't want her children living with a racist, and she told him so.

The whole situation was blown way out of proportion, and the defiant, hurt part of me wanted to fall back on Sarah Silverman's declaration: "I don't care if you think I'm a racist... as long as you think I'm thin." The truth is, though, I did care. I am an empathetic and compassionate person. I feed the homeless. I love everyone. Well, at least, I try to.

Why can't I love her? Oh, wait a second... I'm receiving a text message... "You are a lying, crazy b****!" Oh. That's why I can't love her...

Perhaps it's simply that she is so openly hostile toward me, as if it's my fault she got the short end of the divorce-and-custody stick. I didn't even know Greg when all that went down... how could it be my fault? Or maybe it's that she punishes her children for showing any affection toward me. I hate when people mess with my kids' heads.

I remember how I felt the first time I heard Leif call Heidi "Mom." It hit me, hard, in the chest and knocked the wind out me like that misjudged line drive that ended my junior high shortstop career. I've never been so jealous in my life; not over status, not over money, not even over a man. During that long-ago yelling match with Heidi, she asked me, "Why do you have such a problem with someone loving your son? If there's one thing kids need, it's all the love they can get. Does it really change your role as a mother to him if I become one, too?"

Though it took me years to not feel threatened by the love that my son and Heidi share, I am now grateful for it. Leif has not one, but two moms who love him to the ends of the world and would do anything for him. He's a pretty lucky kid. During the rocky in-between years, Heidi extended no small amount of grace to me when I felt possessive, jealous and bitter.

I know a Bad Step-Wife who could learn a lot from her.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article, GM! In patchwork families (a little here, some new ones there) they might look odd and confrontational, but it really is rewarding when you see a small patch of harmonious pieces. It's too bad your husbands ex is the orange and green plaid that annoyingly distracts from the whole cloth, but if it wasn't there, where would the drama be? Well done.