In the early days of our lives together (and long before marriage made me their official stepmother), I subscribed to the notion that step-parenting required a certain kind of gymnastic ability. As a stepmother, I felt a certain kind of obligation to bend myself into an acrobatic pretzel in order to please my stepchildren. If Child One wanted a poached egg to go with the three course meal I made because she felt the need for extra protein, I would poach an egg. If Child Two wasn't in the mood for the seven-vegetable paella I'd planned for the evening but felt more inclined toward grilled chicken, I would race to the store to buy a chicken. Pancakes for breakfast? No problem. Guacamole with your quesadilla? Let me just run to the store. Always from scratch. Always available at any time. And while I'm at it, let me set the table, clear the table, do the dishes and see what I can whip up for dessert.
My love, I had somehow decided, would be expressed in my total devotion and servitude. They would know that I love them by what I fed them. And that was true. To a certain degree. But it was also an extraordinary underestimation of their character. Sure, they appreciate my cooking. And yes, Child Two would always prefer to have my homemade pancakes than the sticky-sweet ones from the diner down the road. But it turns out that if I'm too tired or too busy to make them, he understands. It turns out that he knows that just because I didn't make pancakes last Saturday morning, it doesn't mean I don't care. In fact, it turns out that even though I haven't made him pancakes for months, he loves me anyway.
As the years have gone by and I've realized that the Steps adore me as much for myself as for my ability to feed them, I've untwisted myself a bit. This may even take the form of asking them to set or clear the table (though doing the dishes took until year five to feel like an acceptable request). Or it may mean ordering in from the local Italian place which thankfully delivers in under 45 minutes. But last weekend, I really pulled off a feat. I managed to get all the way to Sunday with barely a glance at my kitchen.
I'd arrived home from a business trip mid-day Friday. And the 48-hour jaunt to Paris left me wildly jetlagged and more than a little tired. And so Shabbat was take-out Italian. Brunch the next morning was an excursion to Child One's favorite bistro and dinner was a trip to the beach to pick up the teenager from her movie date with friends. Clearly we should take Child Two to a restaurant on the west side so that he would starve while we waited for Child One. Sunday lunch was a hodge-podge of leftovers from the various previously visited restaurants. Which left only Sunday dinner. And by the time the evening rolled around I was inspired to cook up a storm.
The great victory for me was not so much that I had not sullied a pot or pan for almost 48 hours. It wasn't even that I had not run the dishwasher all weekend. The great victory was that I didn't feel guilty.