by Kathleen F. Potter*

This article originally appeared in STEPFAMILIES Quarterly, Winter 1994.

Billy liked his Dad’s house. Billy could have a snack when he was hungry. When he was finished with dinner, he could go play with his toys in the living room. And if Dad was really busy he would forget to send Billy to bed until 9 o’clock. But after Dad married Jane, Jane moved to Dad’s house. Now Dad’s house is different. “Is Jane my mom?” Billy asked. “No,” said his Dad. “Is Jane my sister?” Billy asked. “No,” said his Dad. “Is Jane my aunt?” Billy asked. “No,” said his father, ‘Jane is your stepmother.” “Oh,” said Billy, but Billy did not know what a stepmother was.

After Jane moved in the house, Billy had to ask before he could eat a cookie. But Jane made lots of good cookies. Billy had to take his shoes off at the door. But Jane gave him neat bear slippers to wear. Billy had to take a bath before dinner. But Billy’s Dad would splash and play with him. Billy could not play with his toys in the living room. But he could play downstairs. Billy had to go to bed at 8 o’clock every night, but Jane or Dad would read a book to him. At preschool, Billy told his teacher that he had a stepmother. “That’s nice,” said his teacher. But she did not tell him what a stepmother was.

At recess, Billy told Tommy he had a stepmother. Tommy said, “What’s a stepmother?” But Billy did not know the answer. At home, Billy told his neighbor that he had a stepmother. “Yes, how exciting,” said the neighbor. But Billy did not know what to think. That night, Billy’s Dad read him a story about a boy who wanted to fly. The boy wanted to be special. “But do I have to fly to be special?’ asked Billy. “You ARE special and you cannot fly,” answered his Dad. “You give lots of hugs, and you have a nice loud laugh, and you take good care of your hamster.” “You’re special, too.” Billy said giving his Dad a big hug. “Good night,” said Billy’s Dad. Jane came in his bedroom too. “Good night, Billy,” she said and she gave him a big hug. “Good night,” said Billy, hugging her back.

The next day Jane came home early. “Would you like to go to the playground, Billy?” she asked. “Yes!” said Billy Billy saw Katie at the playground. “Hi, Katie,” he said. Want to play in the sandbox?” “Sure!” said Katie. On the way to the sandbox, Katie asked, “Who’s that lady?” and she pointed to Jane. “That’s Jane,” said Billy, “She’s my stepmother.” “What’s a stepmother?” said Katie. Billy thought for a moment, then smiled. “A special person that helps my Dad take care of me.” Katie and Billy started playing in the sand.

* Kathleen dedicates this story to Justin and Joshua. She writes a child’s story with a message for adults.