By Jessica Brown
Editor's Note: Jessica is my boyfriend’s step mom. He told me about his childhood after a month or two of dating and it struck me how difficult it must have been to go through something so traumatic at such a young age. It wasn’t until I got to know Jessica that I began to see another huge piece of this story: that she stepped up for two children that weren’t her own during a difficult time in their lives. She’s incredibly modest, which you’ll see in this piece, but her actions speak for themselves. She’s a remarkable woman who shares her
nontraditional path to motherhood.
I most emphatically did not want to have children. However, here I sit, the mother of two young men in their twenties. Mine was not really a willing choice, it was essentially thrust upon me. But I don’t regret it.
When I was a young attorney, I began to date a colleague of mine who was recently separated. He had two little boys, ages 4 and 6. It was clear to me he loved them very much. He had them half the time. This was fine with me. I did not know if this relationship was going to work out, and besides, being a half-time step-parent was something I could live with, if it did.
As time went on, I met his sons. They were nice people–if rambunctious. They could not (and still can’t) sit next to each other in the backseat of the car without touching each other. They seemed to like me and we got along.
Neither I nor the boys’ father ever really saw their mom; we would do child switches by one of us dropping the boys off at school and the other parent doing pick up. We began to notice, however, that by the time they were seven and nine, it seemed like things were not great at her house.
The school asked my husband to get a cell phone, since they could never seem to get their mom on the phone, and my husband was often not at his desk. The boys frequently would come home from school in the clothes we sent them in the day before. Our oldest son mentioned that the house was “filthy.” I just thought he meant, it was “filthy” the way I describe our living room table when the mail has gathered for a week. It turns out I was wrong.
On June 29, 2005 everything changed. We were away in the Poconos for a short vacation, but we came home on the 29th since it was the youngest boy’s eighth birthday and we knew he wanted to see his mom. When we got home, we were supposed to meet her at a local Chinese restaurant for dinner. She never showed up.
We tried to reach the boys’ mom–but couldn’t. Eventually my husband went to the house but got no answer. At that point he called the local police, who broke into the house to make sure she was not dead or hurt inside.
The good news was that the boys’ mom was simply not in the house. But the condition of the house was absolutely disgusting. There were piles and piles of trash, with rotting meat out in the kitchen. The toilets were clogged and there were no sheets on the beds. The police officer told us that he would not let the boys go into the house to be with their mom even if she was there.
And that was that. From then on we had the boys all the time, and I became their full-time mother. I never doubted this was the thing to do. How could I abandon them? Who would do that?
We eventually found the boys’ mother and she did see them for a while. But never for more than a few hours. In September 2006 she disappeared again and has not seen or spoken to the boys once, although they do get intermittent birthday and Christmas cards from her. We have no idea where she lives or how to reach her.
As far as the boys were concerned, we explained to their teachers what had happened. We also made the boys attend therapy until the therapist told us it was no longer needed. When the boys’
father and I got married in 2006, they were the “best men” so that they would feel part of it. My family accepted them. My parents even took them on
grandparent-grandchild vacations together.
People frequently tell me how awesome I was to take the boys full time. But to be honest, I never felt like I had any choice in the matter. They needed me through no fault of their own, so I did it. I believe any decent person would do what I did.
It has not all been easy. I often doubt how good of a mother I am. And think perhaps someone else would have been better suited. But, I was who they had, and we seem to have made it work.