The Second Kid I Didn’t Have to Give Birth To (Not an Adoption Story)

SistersIt happened again. The waitress took one look at the two girls sitting across from us in the booth and made reference to my two kids. It’s an easy enough mistake to make.

In restaurants they’re hard to miss between the selfie taking, pit tickling, and the upper arm poking. Other than the fact that I look much too young to have given birth to the almost 19-year-old one (not a humble brag, people … looking TOO young is a solid pet peeve of mine), they look exactly like a set of “real” siblings does.

Under the most modern of definitions, my almost 10-year-old doesn’t have a “real sibling” — you know, the kind the government lets you take off your taxes. I’m OK with that. It was a personal decision. But I won’t lie: I’m glad she has M.

Correction: glad we have M. — the teenage girl who barreled into our lives at 13, dragging with her a 100 mile-an-hour chatter, insatiable appetite for bacon and the chocolate chips I keep around for baking and a “take me as I am” attitude I’d yearned for when I was her age.

I’d hired her to be my mother’s helper when I went back to work full-time before my daughter started kindergarten. What I got was a teenager who’d decided to adopt my family as her own and had no intention of taking no for an answer (on anything … seriously, I’ve been trying for years.).

Now here’s where I should mention an important bit of information: she has parents. She goes home (most nights), and they do all the heavy lifting in rearing her. All of it. They’re quite lovely, all the more so for letting us share their second-born. They’re her “real” parents.

I’m not her “real” parent in any sense of the word, unless you count being the one who buys ridiculous holiday-themed headgear off the dollar rack at Target and dropping it in a box to mail to her at college “just because,” putting cat memes on her Facebook page at 2 in the morning, or beating her at countless rounds at Phase Ten (champiooooooon!).

What I am is her second mom. Her quasi parent. The one she talks to about, well, things that don’t need to be shared with the whole Internet. The one who calls her up on Tater Tot night to tell her to come on over and takes her out for lunch just because it’s a Saturday and I feel like it.

I’m that mom because I love her like a second kid.

I’m that mom because she loves my kid like a sister.

I’m that mom because she texts me from college to tell me she just went crazy at Target and I need to watch the mailbox as my kid should be getting a package any day now. I’m that mom because she then proceeds to text me every day for five days before it arrives. I’m that mom because she makes sure to be in her dorm room to Skype when the package finally gets to our house so she can see my daughter open it up. I’m that mom because when my daughter goes to bed at night, she asks to Skype M good night and when she wakes up, she wants to Skype her good morning.

I’m that mom because I’ve gotten to watch her blossom from a loud and silly teenager, the kind I hope my daughter will one day be, into a still loud, still silly, but ever wiser semi-adult, also a kind I hope my daughter will one day be. I’m that mom because I’ve been allowed to play a role in her journey there, thanks to a set of “real” parents who have taken a more the merrier approach to the loving and lifting up of their daughter.

I didn’t give birth to M. I didn’t adopt her. I don’t have to pay her college tuition or make her pediatrician appointments. I get all the fun of having a kid around without (too) much of the heartache.

I’m that mom because the people you love like family don’t always come to you the way you — or the world — expects. And when they arrive, you just grab hold … and hold on tight.


Have you “liked” Inside Out Motherhood on Facebook yet?


This post was written for Netflix to celebrate their new original show about a couple of women (Jane Fonda!! Lily Tomlin!!) reinventing themselves with their own twist on the modern family— Grace and Frankie.

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