Cold as a stepmother’s breath

Posted: March 26, 2009 in Family, Musings, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Our ability as writers is limited by our own understanding of human nature (Veny Armanno, QWC Year of the Novel, 2007)

The characters I love best are the ones that run counter to type. That surprise and delight by doing the unexpected, while remaining absolutely true to themselves.

By revealing hidden depths, they often unmask hidden prejudices. Think the foul-mouthed, pornography-reading grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine, an emphatic rejection of the halo-effect of aging.

A personal favourite (for reasons which shall emerge shortly) is the stepmother in the movie Juno. Her fast and furious defence of her pregnant sixteen year old stepdaughter is a standout. Satisfying because it thwarts subconscious expectations, trained by generations of wicked stepmother archetypes.

We’ve had a bad rap, we stepmothers. Not all of it undeserved. The mothering instinct is powerful, primeval and little understood by the childless. And therein lies the rub.

It wasn’t until the birth of my second child that I finally began to understand the sacrifice of my stepchildren’s mother. I wept that night, not only for the perfection of my newborn son, but for the absence of my two year old daughter; it was the first night I had ever spent away from her.

My stepchildren’s parents had endured many such nights by that time. They knew the pain of absence and bore it for the sake of their children. They have my admiration and gratitude: for what I have learned from their sacrifice and from being allowed to love their children.

They are grown now, my stepchildren – seventeen and nineteen years old – and beautiful in the eyes of their four parents. Yet when I close my eyes they are still two and four, with milk-teeth smiles, and arms chubby and soft around my neck.

Like all the best characters, I hope they continue to upset the applecart of our expectations. They, and their younger sister and brother are my never-ending story, the one that I cannot put down, that I must keep reading, to find out what happens next.

  1. Kirsten says:

    Hear, hear!

  2. adairjones says:

    This is beautifully expressed. I’m with you completely. Unusual characters are memorable, but it’s the real people who defy the predictable who add so much richness to the world. Bravo to your stepchildren’s parents and bravo to you for honouring them.

  3. andrew says:

    beautifully expressed darling.

  4. brydie says:

    I LOVE MY STEPMOTHER! that was lovely chrissy, i did get a bit teary.

  5. thewordygecko says:

    Love the part about the neverending story of your children.

  6. Lynne Green says:

    I can relate to this from the other side of the coin, that my husband is a wonderful stepfather to our eldest daughter. Stepmums and stepdads seem to get a bad rap in the movies and in literature…I’m glad to see that is changing. Good for you, Chris, for bringing it up.


  7. YEEESSSSS!!!! Made my day, Chris! 🙂

  8. Heather Munro says:

    Your mind is a truly amazing chemical reaction…I love reading your blogs.

    I have to say tho, you seem to have rather a lot of admirers and friends who are at their computers before dawn.

    Thanks for the vote of confidence… it is a hard job.

    • chrisbongers says:

      Thanks Heather, one of the things I love best about writing is being constantly surprised by where I end up. Glad others enjoy the twisted path too. 🙂

  9. Karen B says:

    So beautifully expressed Chrissy. Imagine how wonderful it is being your beautiful step-kids with not just 2, but FOUR loving parents.
    And I agree, there is a ‘secret parents club’ that the childless just don’t get.
    I once read a little thing: “People with children and people without children both feel sorry for each other”. How true.

  10. chrisbongers says:

    That’s gorgeous, Karen. I’ll remember that. xx

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