Mom laughing with baby
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Suddenly stepparent

I’m not much of a car person, nor am I especially prone to putting a lot of sentimental value on objects, but my car and I have been through a lot together. I bought it when I realized I needed it, when I was tired of waiting until the faculty parking lot was empty to avoid the potential embarrassment of being the poor new teacher whose car barely, but hopefully, started. It’s served me well over the years. 


Despite a dashboard electrical issue and the radio having a mind of its own, it’s gotten me from place to place, job to job, from one crazy adventure to the next. And that was the plan. My 2005 Honda Accord was my first major adult purchase and I took the task seriously. I took my time, I did my research, and I determined the most practical vehicle for my needs (which were getting to and from work safely, without embarrassment).

It was a larger car than I figured I needed, what with me being a single working woman and all, but the extra space came in handy for the occasional colleague carpool and when I decided to up and move myself a thousand miles away. For a decade, it was basically just me belting out pop song lyrics on the open road. 

Then, suddenly, one day, I turned to check my blindspot and caught a glimpse of a car seat in the back. I knew it was there  I had put it there  but my heart still started racing. It was symbolic of a major life change, a change that had developed rather naturally up to that point, but in this moment it seemed so sudden.

I was about to become a stepmom. Officially. Like, I had a car seat in my car. It was happening.

And I was taken aback by my reaction. I mean, how could I be shocked even in the slightest? 

But that’s exactly how I felt. Maybe that’s how some biological moms feel when they sense that first kick. I don’t know. And that’s the thing  I really don’t know. I’ve never read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, because I’ve never been expecting. In fact, at the age of 32, I had been certain that parenthood wasn’t in my future. And I was okay with that. 

But then I met Ben. And Ben had a son. And, well, a year and a half later, I had a car seat in my car and was writing wedding vows that included promises to my soon-to-be stepson. The whole thing was kind of crazy.

But then I met Ben. And Ben had a son.

I’ve heard a lot of parents talk about how you’re never really ready for parenthood even when you’ve planned on it and had nine months to prepare. But you don’t hear a lot about diving into stepparenthood. I think people figure that there are a lot fewer unknowns when you choose to become a stepparent. I know I thought so. I mean, I got to meet my stepson. He was a walking, talking, running, jumping, laughing, goofy guy. We got along, things were good, so what’s the worry? Why the sudden shock? I don’t pretend to know, but I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist either.

Truth be told, the same feelings washed over me again two years later. Again, I was on the road. Again, I checked my blindspot. This time, I saw my stepson, asleep in the backseat. The sudden shock didn’t shock me then, if that makes any sense. I just thought, plainly, “This is crazy.”

And maybe that’s what parenting is. Just living life, cruising along, punctuated by sudden thoughts of, “This is crazy,” and just continuing on down the open road, never really sure of what’s next.

Amy Menzel with her family

About the author

Amy Menzel is a wife, stepmom, teacher, and writer happily living life in Wisconsin. She appreciates the opportunity to learn through writing. Her writing has appeared in the Wisconsin English Journal, at the Three Teachers Talk blog, and in Stepparent Magazine.

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