“I love lasagna!” Stella says.
It’s a few nights before my stepdaughter’s ninth birthday, and I want to know what she wants for her special dinner. I consult with Betty (Crocker) and Joy (of Cooking), eventually creating my own version of the perfect lasagna. Stella will love this!
I select the leanest beef, freshest tomatoes and priciest mozzarella. I grab a chocolate cake mix and a tub of fudge icing, and tubes of gel frosting for the decorations. At home I boil the noodles, simmer the tomato sauce, carefully layering the ingredients—and bake it for an hour. The savory aroma drifts through our house, and the heat from the stove steams the windows as a homey touch.
Our plates filled with birthday dinner, I eagerly glance at Stella’s face as she takes a tiny first bite, followed by a huge swallow of milk. My smile waivers as she takes an even more microscopic bite—this time washed down with a tidal wave of milk. As I watch this ritual, my blood boils more vigorously than a pot of pasta and my eyes become blurry from more than the steam from all of the cooking.
“Don’t you like it?” I ask.
“It doesn’t taste like my mom’s,” she confesses.
Later, as I’m scrubbing sticky pots and scraping crusty pans, I make an oath to myself. I am never, ever, under any circumstances cooking for this child, again. She can subsist on TV dinners, macaroni and cheese, and Ramen noodles. Nothing I make tastes the way Stella’s mom makes it. Not mashed potatoes, not hamburgers, not spaghetti… It’s pointless to even try.
And then I think about inventing a new ingredient that stepmothers would find useful. I’d call it Real Mom Spice. Stepmothers could slip it into chicken dishes, hide it in salads and even sprinkle it on toast to make food taste more familiar--maybe even better. A staple in every grocery store, it would be stocked behind the red curry and rosemary so stepmothers would know where to locate it without being caught. It would revolutionize the way stepfamilies eat—and promote health, happiness and harmony in countless homes across the country. Maybe even the globe. I would win the Nobel Prize for my contribution and…
“Stella, why are you up?”
“Thank-you for the birthday cake,” she smiles sleepily. “It was so pretty! And yummy!”
Stepmotherdom is a continuous bake-off. One minute, all your best efforts won’t earn an Honorable Mention. The next, you’ve won the Blue Ribbon for just a boxed mix. Whatever the winning recipe, I’m keeping my Real Mom Spice ready.
In 1998, while working as a flight attendant in Phoenix, I travelled back to Iowa to attend my 20th high school reunion. I became reacquainted with a former classmate, fell in love and dated long distance, moved to 9200 feet in the Colorado Rockies to be closer, became a veterinary receptionist, and married in June of 2000-- instantly becoming a first-time wife and full-time stepmother. Although I've published an essay in Midwest Living, my recent literary efforts (writing "ditties" for contests) have resulted in winning everything from a trip to New York City with my sister to a year's supply of fancy tea-- my personal favorite being the chic loungewear designed for nursing mothers (which I won at the age of 45). With my stepdaughter now a college freshman, my husband and I moved into the city where we are remodeling a home on an historic golf course (I don't play). I currently work for Barnes and Noble.