Originally published in Stepparent Magazine 5/30/2019 / Revised September 16, 2023
I never had my own children.
They were my children. The ones I laughed with and played with. The ones I baked for and made new holiday traditions with.
I was never going to birth my own children. It was never going to be in the cards.
So, I made the most of it.
Christmas ornament painting and Easter egg decorating.
Valentine’s surprises and Halloween costume hunting.
This was my one and only shot.
To give back.
But daily I felt them slipping a little further away.
Distance becoming greater.
Gratefulness becoming distant.
There was a tug on their hearts to stay back.
To keep away.
To remain at arm’s length.
I could feel them fading. Their laughter becoming less frequent.
Their childhood dimming.
With a constant feeling of rejection and defeat, I struggled daily to be included as a stepmother.
The weekends I so looked forward to becoming so dreaded.
Me now questioning my plight. Feeling empty and unwanted.
They laughed at me. Mocked me.
And then one day, I saw it.
In true light.
Not forced or coerced.
But rather raw and unrehearsed.
The true reality of what I’d been living.
Played out by mere ducks in my very own back yard.
An impulse buy had brought new life into my home in the form of baby ducks.
My love for them sprang as soon as my eyes dawned their tiny little beaks and flippers.
Without hesitation, I scooped them up and called them mine.
Who knew such little lives could bring such joy.
Before long, two baby ducks became grown.
And grown ducks became families.
And then one day, there sat two mama ducks on their nests.
To say I was captivated by them doesn’t lend due justice.
And just like that, motherhood stared me in the face.
Day and night, I kept watch.
Their ideals of motherhood unfolding in front of me.
One mama never left her nest.
At feeding time, she stayed close and watchful.
The second mama wandered and couldn’t be bothered.
Tears flowed down my cheeks the day they arrived.
The first mama sat smiling when her new babies took form.
The second mama sat quacking as if to hurry them out of her hair.
And as those sweet new baby ducks grew, the first mama stood watch making sure her babies stayed safe.
But, the second mama let hers wander astray.
As if craving that motherly attention, one day babies from the second mama tried to hang with the first.
They too were desperate to be cared for and nurtured.
From the other side of the yard, the second mama appeared. Flailing her wings and poised for a fight until her babies followed her away.
Even mama ducks can feel threatened.
And just like that, I realized what I had been missing all this time.
Jealously is instinctual even in ducks it seems.
And no matter how much the first mama wanted to love and care for those babies that weren’t her own, the second mama was just never going to let it be.
Before long, both of our stories ended.
A rainstorm appeared out of nowhere on a spring day.
We arrived home in time to find a desperate scene.
The first mama found safe with all babies dry and accounted for.
But as for the second, all babies found lifeless with their mother nowhere in sight.
On their backs.
With beaks and flippers pointed towards the sky.
Tears flowed over every single one.
The ending so swift and dreadful.
And shortly thereafter, my stepchildren left for a scheduled summer visit to their mother’s.
And never returned.
Now here lives only Jack and I in a house full of memories.
And a story of what two ducks taught me about motherhood in our very own back yard.
Picture: Mary, Liam and Jack. Picture taken 5/27/2018- 4 days before they left our home and never returned.