Next week, my stepson Matthew will graduate high school.
I’ve been in Matthew’s life since he was five years old. As a little boy, Matthew looked like a mini version of his father. They dressed the same, looked the same, and wore matching digital pagers clipped to their shorts (this was pre-iPhone, if you can imagine). But while Matthew’s father was boisterous and social, Matthew was quite shy. He revealed most of his personality through nickel-sized dimples that would appear when he would grin.
I fell in love with Matthew’s father when I was 26 years old. We dated for some time before I was introduced to Matthew and his sister Stephanie, who were very young at the time, but old enough to understand that for the first time in their lives, their father was with someone besides their mother. Those were not easy days. I was always great with children, but had never dated anyone who’d been married before, much less someone with two kids. I approached the situation with caution. The kids did the same.
Matthew took to me faster than his more protective and cautious sister. We bonded over things I knew little about — James Bond movies, cars, baseball, Legos. In an early attempt to bond, I bought boxing gloves and let Matthew punch the wind out of me. After I recovered, we laughed so hard we fell in the grass, clutching our sides and gasping for air.
One day, Matthew and his dad found a beat-up kid-sized Barbie Corvette on the side of the road and took it home, painted it red, and put a battery in it that was a bit too powerful for my taste. Despite my hope that the project would fail (I’m a worrywart), the battery worked and the car was very fast. Matthew would hop in the red Corvette and floor it, and I would watch from the sidelines, biting my nails and praying. He would drive in circles in the front yard, simultaneously pretending to be a race car announcer, “And he’s off! Matthew takes the corner at record speed! And he drives fast like lighting! Matthew makes the last turn and he WINS! Yoohoo!!” Despite my fear, I loved the freedom and confidence that the experience gave Matthew.
In the middle of my relationship with Matthew’s father I moved to Los Angeles to spend time with my sister and work in publishing. I maintained a long distance relationship that was difficult on all of us. For the children, who were likely already confused about the relationships in their life, it couldn’t have been easy. I was working for a well-known food magazine, enjoying my life in L.A, but missing something terribly.
I returned to Austin as much as possible. One weekend I was at the counter at the airport in Austin, preparing to fly back to L.A, when I felt something tugging at my bracelets. I didn’t look down right away, assuming it was Stephanie, who was younger and more affectionate. I finished what I was doing and looked down to see Matthew holding on to my wrist.
“When are you coming home?” he asked, serious expression, dimples hidden.
“In a few months?” I asked, unsure. “As soon as I can?”
“No,” Matthew said, still holding on to my wrist, “When are you coming home for good?”
And that was that. I cried all the way to L.A, pondered my options, quit my magazine job, and moved back to Texas as soon as I could. Matthew is the reason that I knew that my life with his father could work.
Flash forward a decade and some years later, and Matthew has grown into an incredible, intelligent, witty, handsome young man. He’s about to begin his adult life, experiencing college and all that his bright future has to offer. He has a large, diverse family, and we’re all so immensely proud of him that he’s probably a little embarrassed. And that’s just fine.
It’s impossible for me to understand how quickly the time has passed. I’ve watched Matthew grow up before my eyes. I’ve done my best to love my stepson as if he were my biological child, and am so grateful that his parents brought him into this world.
So Matthew, in between graduation parties, final exams, dates with your lovely girlfriend, fun with your friends, please know this. My life was forever changed for the better because of you. Thank you for tugging on my bracelets, and bringing me home.