Happy Birthday Jerri

Today is my stepmom’s birthday. Jerri became a part of my life when she said “I do” to my dad. I was eleven years old. 

Dad and Jerri didn’t live far from where my sisters and I lived with our mom. Linda, Debbie and I spent every weekend with my dad and stepmom. That routine became a very normal part of my childhood. 

It was later, when I was a teenager, that I realized that our situation was anything but normal. My friends told horror stories about the animosity between their divorced parents and their intense dislike of their stepparents. I was shocked. And then deeply appreciative. My parents, stepmom, and later my stepdad, never treated each other with disrespect or hostility, which created a secure and loving environment for us. In fact, I have memories of my dad watching us while my mother and stepmother attended jewelry parties together. 

I have not experienced being a stepparent. So I can only imagine what that’s like, to step, literally, into a ready made family. I’m sure there are more challenges and stresses involved, when the person you promise to love and cherish already has children. However, Jerri didn’t create that impression. She rapidly became another family member, a second mom, and later a Mimi to my children. 

Jerri didn’t parent us in the stepmotherly way that fairy tales portray so negatively. She was herself. She modeled strength to me, resilience and confidence. She was and is a hard worker, smart, and deals well with people. When my youngest, Adriel, was tiny, she heard me refer to Jerri as my stepmother during one of our summer visits. Eyes wide, Adriel was quick to protest that I was making that up. It couldn’t be true. My toddler had watched Disney’s Cinderella too many times to believe that the fun Mimi that she adored could be a stepmother. I quickly assured her that I was just teasing. I’m not sure how old Adriel was before she sorted it all out! 

I looked up Jerri’s name. 

“Jerri, you are introspective, prophetic, philosophical, and soul searching. You can also be analytical, critical and opinionated. You think deeply and clearly, have an air of mystery, and can sometimes be solitary and secretive. You live an eventful, exciting life. You are versatile and have the ability to learn easily.

Creative and outgoing, you look for opportunities that showcase your strengths. You are flexible and like to feel appreciated. You look for chances to mix with others socially and to communicate your ideas. You speak well and can easily relate to different cultures and concepts. Your high creativity can lead you to happiness. If you understand your goals, you can make major decisions in life and follow them successfully, without worry and uncertainty. You are able to achieve great things. 

Those words create a portrait of a powerful, secure woman, who communicates well and enjoys successes in life. That’s Jerri. Her strengths and flexibility enabled her to help raise three girls and one boy, the son she and my dad had. That strength also carried her through the difficulties of my dad’s battle with cancer, a battle he ultimately lost. 

My appreciation for my stepmom deepened during those two years that she journeyed so faithfully with my dad. I watched her help my father fulfill his bucket list, care for him, and remain upbeat and positive, no matter what the prognosis, or how heavy her heart felt. She loved him well, and that meant so much to his four children. After my dad’s death, Jerri seized life, as if living now for two. She’s adventurous, running in marathons, riding a motorcycle, skydiving, and zip lining, among other things. I can hear my dad proudly cheering her on, in spirit. 

I’m cheering her on too. Jerri lives her life full on, with passion. She’s an amazing example of carpe diem, seize the day, to the youngest members of the family, to the grandchildren who are all young adults, and to us, the children, who are inhabiting middle age. We can all learn, as we observe her life. 

Happy birthday, Jerri. I love you!