Still, on more than one occasion, I've found myself questioning my ability to parent, constantly searching for that daggum validation.
Today, I found it. Or rather, it found me.
At this point in my Step-Whats-It-dom, I am on a first-name basis with the school counselor. We used to share emails and phone calls rather often (toooo often!! I told myself). But over the last few months, they have lessened.
That is, until this morning - the first day back to school after spring break... at 11am... when the direct line to my office phone rang. I know that number. I know who that is. I can feel my face getting hot already. Hello anxiety. Hello school counselor. There is nervous laughter on the other end of the phone as she tells me that P's English teacher is in her office, and they haven't talked with me in awhile. What does that mean? How have we not chatted often enough this year already? Then she says, "Courtney... Are you sitting down?"
I literally rolled across my office in my desk chair and prepared to grab my inhaler for whatever startling detail about my step-kiddo she was about to tell me. I stop when she says, "It's good. It's great. P entered one of her essays into a national competition - and she WON. Courtney, she won the grand prize. P is going to Washington, D.C.!"
I wanted to say a million positive things. I wanted to say how proud I was and that I knew she could do it. I wanted to tell her I loved her and I was so happy to be involved in this moment. I wanted to tell her something. Anything! But the words didn't come to me. Heck, oxygen wasn't even coming to me at that point. And suddenly, I realized I was sobbing at my desk. Huge, can't-hide-behind-them, grasping-for-breath, kid-like, gargantuan bucket of tears because I am .so.very.proud. I know this child didn't come from my body, and I didn't carry her for 9 months. I don't know every story, and I sure don't know every wound. But I know in that moment I didn't feel like a Step-Whats-It. I felt like a mom. I'm so proud of her. I'm proud of this girl. I'm proud of who she is, and I'm proud of what she's done, and there aren't enough cells in my worldly human body to be able to express the magnitude of that feeling.
And the thing that gets me the most... The thing that still has me choking on my own breath is that she is being recognized for something she created, all on her own; for an ability nobody on this planet has but her. Even with missing huge chunks of her childhood and experiencing things no little girl should ever have to witness or feel, she was able to create a magical piece of work that not only impressed the people who love her, but a group of strangers who saw so much potential in her that they want to fly her to our Nation's Capital and shower her with additional knowledge and encouragement. She is going to gain an experience so few people have the opportunity to do.
She deserves it. And that is the validation.
[And she's beautiful to boot]