Every week, White Picket Fence picks a topic. This week’s topic is role models. The following is guest blogger, and future White Picket Fence blogger, Allison Knopp’s take on the topic.
Most people don’t look back on their parents’ divorce with fondness. They aren’t thankful for this splitting of families, the rearranging of lives, nor are they glad their parents are no longer in love. I, however, remember my parents divorce as part of my happy childhood. Maybe I am a weirdo. Or maybe it was because I was five, but I have never associated my parents’ split as anything less than positive.
I vividly remember the day my mom and dad sat my sister and me down to tell us that my dad would be moving out (although this account may not be entirely accurate because I was a small child with a wild imagination).
My first question was: “can dad live upstairs and mom live downstairs?” My mom explained to me that no, it didn’t work that way.
Then I remember turning to my two-year-old sister and instructing her to say bye-bye to Dad because we would never see him again.
My parents abruptly jumped in again saying no, that’s not how it worked either. And from then on that’s just how it was. There was mom’s house and dad’s apartment. There were skiing trips with dad and Florida vacations with mom. I got two rooms – one with bunk beds. I got two Christmases. I got double everything.
But more important than any of that, I got Leslie.
Leslie is my stepmother. I hate that term because it has the tendency to conjure up images of evil Cinderella antagonists or the blonde bimbo your dad married after his midlife crisis. Leslie is neither of these things. Leslie is, well, kind of a badass. Furthermore, she is without a doubt one of the most important role models in my life.
My mother is of course the most important woman to shape my life, and she is both irreplaceable and incredible. But when my dad married Leslie, I feel like I got a bonus mom.
My dad and Leslie married when I was eight years old. Their wedding took place in northern Michigan in the middle of February. It was snowy and dark — not your typical wedding setting — and my parents had rented a huge house that doubled as the venue and lodging for all of their guests.
During the ceremony the five of us — my dad, sister, my soon-to-be stepmother and stepsister — all stood up front. I remember everyone crying (although my dad claims he did not) and I realized that something very important was probably happening here. However, it would take years for that thought to mean anything because I was mostly excited about getting the coolest big sister ever (you guys, she decorated her bedroom windows with glow-in-the-dark paint and had her own phone in her room). More importantly, I was really itching to get out of that dress so I could resume playing air hockey in the basement with my cousins.
After the wedding, and in the following years, I came to realize just how lucky I was to grow up with three (sometimes four, my mom has since remarried also) parents who deeply care about my well-being and success. Having not one, but two, strong female parents in my life helped me to realize there is not just one right way to navigate this world as a woman.
In my time growing up with Leslie, I have known her to play so many roles: business owner, mother, wife, caretaker, cat lover, best friend, boss, bookworm. None of these on their own seem to be very unique or inspiring, but the ways in which she blends and balances each into her life is what really makes me admire her. When I couldn’t find a job right out of college, my parents hired me to work in their office, an opportunity I could not be more grateful for. Almost every day, I would watch and learn as she slid from post-workout shake to new client meeting to making dinner for my dad and I. And, for me, the best part was she didn’t make it look effortless. You hear that all the time, the admiration of how effortless a person makes a hard task seem, but I feel like that takes away from the hard work and passion that has been put into something. So with Leslie, it made me proud to see her sprinting out of the office or frustrated at the end of a long day, because to me it demonstrated her passion for the tasks at hand and how far she was willing to go for her responsibilities and the people and things she loves.
I have also observed in Leslie that a person can be wonderfully interesting without being completely obvious about it. My stepmom is so cool in such subtle ways. She was a violinist and a vegetarian in former parts of her life. She tried three different colleges before she found the right fit. She went from a middle school English teacher to an owner of an in-home care company for seniors. Her career and life didn’t follow a “traditional” path and I’ve learned from her that sometimes that’s for the best and it makes life a lot more colorful.
The most important thing that Leslie has taught me over the last 16 years is that it is completely OK to just be weird and imperfect. My dad often makes the remark that he can’t believe I am not a blood relative of Leslie, and a lot of the time it’s because of the something I have done that can tend to embarrass me. Things like falling so madly in love with a trilogy that I can’t come up for air, avoiding a social or networking opportunity in order hide in my room with a book, or starting an exercise plan knowing this is going to be “the one” only to get bored with it a few short weeks later. But when I am compared to Leslie, I actually feel good about these attributes that could be seen as quirks to some. In her, they are what make me love her, make her fascinating, make her someone I want to be like. And for me, if they are good enough for her, then I’m sure these traits don’t look so bad in me either.
Navigating adulthood as a twenty-something is tricky. It has been my observation that we all feel that there is somewhere we are “supposed” to be, decisions we “should have” made, goals we “have to” reach.
I am lucky to have someone so close who has shown me that all of the “should haves” and “suppose to’s” are pretty ridiculous. Life should be about working hard, caring deeply and living passionately. The path you are traveling while doing so doesn’t have to run parallel to anyone else’s expectations.
In fact sometimes veering off course – by say, getting a divorce – can lead to some pretty wonderful things. Maybe even a role model you never expected.
Has a potentially terrible situation ever brought someone you look up to into your life? What have they taught you?