I thought it was a misprint. 14 children. I reread it. My logical mind struggled. I convinced myself “that must include grandchildren.” I was reading the obituary of a beloved Saint Cecilia Elementary teacher – Mrs. Margaret Swanson. She taught both of my daughters in their first grade years.
Mrs. Swanson perfectly struck the near impossible balance of being both strict and sweet. She cherished her first graders and I have no doubt loved them wholeheartedly. I recall her showing extra patience with my spunky Sophia.
It was during Sophia’s year that Mrs. Swanson received her cancer diagnosis. That would be her 41st and last year teaching.
I learned after her funeral that she did have 14 children… and 28 grandchildren… and 23 great-grandchildren. Her husband brought 12 from former marriages and they had 2 as a result of their marriage – his last marriage of 33 years. One of her stepdaughters revealed that Mrs. Swanson always treated all of the children as her own – never wavering in her love and support of each of her children.
My reaction was mixed.
I instantly admired this woman even more upon learning this detail of her life. No doubt we have seen the hearts of teachers. Not only those working with our own children, but too often as of late we are seeing teachers love their students so much that they use their bodies to shield their students during school shootings. Teachers show us everyday the endless capacity to love. And we never doubt it. In fact, we want it.
I then felt shame wash over me. How many times have I succumbed to the judgments held by my clients about a stepparent? How many times have I scrutinized the relationship between my daughters and their stepmom? How many times have stepparents not received the benefit of the doubt and are treated differently?
I know without hesitation what the worry is for parents about stepparents. We worry that a stepparent will reduce the love our children have for us. Yet I know from experience that I launch my daughters into school every year hoping that their teachers love them. I hope they are loved by their friends and mine.
But fear of too much loves makes us draw an invisible line.
Oh, Mrs. Swanson. If only you knew now the rich and valuable lesson you have taught me. Thank you for your example. Thank you for your unwavering and oceanic sized heart. You have taught me well.
Stepparents are often misunderstood, feared, loathed, and made to feel like second class family members. Eventually, in time, that hopefully morphs into love and acceptance. I truly hope that is how Margaret felt- and I know she would want me to correct the mistake in this tribute. She had 15 children. Unfortunately, Sarah preceded her in death, and thus the confusion. Thank you for your kind words. Thank you for your open and heartfelt appreciation.
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