After picking up all the ingredients at the grocery store, I spent two hours making the meal. Chicken Paprikash; a Hungarian stew I grew up savouring as a special dinner. It was the first time I made my mother’s old family recipe for my husband and three stepchildren. We sat around the table and I waited for everyone to take a bite.
“What do you think?” I asked eagerly. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but I had.
All three kids sort of shrugged and without looking up said, “It’s okay.”
My husband glanced at me. “It’s good,” he said.
My heart sunk. When they really like a meal I know it. None of them cared much for this dish and in that moment I knew I would probably never make it for them again.
I grew up eating this stew at a young age and on a recent visit to see my mom, I asked her to teach me the recipe. You hear about old family traditions that are passed down through the generations; this meal was the one thing that my siblings and I cherished when we were kids. Other than this, we didn’t establish many family customs in our home. I think this was a big reason for our loose bonds with one another and lack of commitment to the family as we became adults.
As a step-mom, I wanted my step-kids to share this experience with me and love this recipe as much as I did so that I could, “pass it down” to them. Even if it wasn’t true, this meal felt like the only significant thing I had to give from my Hungarian heritage. And they didn’t like it.
I’m the step-mom. I’m reminded of this whenever the kids ask my husband questions about their Irish heritage. He gladly re-tells stories of how he chose each of their names when they were born, or tales of his grandfather who he loved and who fought in the war. They ask questions about their bloodline, as they should. My husband bakes his grandmother’s famous soda biscuits that they gobble up, and I’ve happily learned to make his grandmother’s well-loved hot mustard sauce that’s been passed down.
But I own a foreign French/Hungarian heritage (and if you’re to believe the AncestryDNA kits, apparently I’m 20% Italian). But this is of little importance to them. They don’t carry my name, my blood, or have much of an idea of who I was before they came into my life. And they don’t ask.
They continued picking at their Chicken Paprikash, and I realized that I’d lost my appetite. I hid my disappointment and poured myself a glass of wine. I let the familiar needle drop on the broken record player inside my mind: They are so different than me. It’s just not the same when you’re a step-mom.
Just then our oldest brought his plate to the sink and as he walked away, he stopped and laughed. “That’s so funny,” he said. “I notice I sometimes do that thing you do, you know, where you walk and snap your fingers?”
I gave him a small grin. “Oh yeah.”
“Well I’m starting to do it too,” he said as he left the kitchen.
And just like that my heart lifted a little. In all my sulking I sometimes forget that they have been living with me every day for over six years, and I can see them taking on my mannerisms. It was a small thing but it was what I needed to remember that I am creating new traditions in my family. I forget that they love my homemade lasagna recipe (must be that 20% Italian in me?) and that they’ve made it with me several times. Maybe they will never especially like my mom’s Hungarian recipe, but perhaps my lasagna will be the grand meal they pass down to their kids.
Yes, being a step-mom is different than being their biological mom, I have to establish and embrace a different criteria of bonding. And what I’m learning is that if you love your step-kids enough, you’ll have a house full of new traditions as you grow together.