I know every adopted parent waits for this question, and dreads it. Any step parent that has been in a young child’s life expects it too, and as your child slowly learns to talk and think for themselves, you realize that it will come all too soon.

“Are you my mom?”

“Why aren’t you my mom?”

I watched my step son grow and learn. I’ve been in his life since before he could walk. I used to hold him to me and smell his little baby head like mothers do, and wish he was mine. When strangers told me “Oh! Your son is a little miniature version of you! He looks just like you!” I’d smile politely and say thank you for the sake of not having to explain myself to a stranger. Lately, he’s been all about the “whys,” as in: why does he have to nap, why does he have to eat lunch, why does he have to go to the playground, why does he have to brush his teeth, etc. I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t and as we were spending some quality time in his room together playing with his trains, he dropped the bomb:

“Why do I call you Momma Emmy?”

I had to tread so carefully here, as he was young and confused and I didn’t want to confuse him further. He had originally called me “Emmy” but after his biological mother’s first abandonment, he had started calling me Momma, so my boyfriend and I had combined the two to not confuse him if she came back into his life. I decided to make my answer simple, and told him it was just because that was what my name was, and that was what he called me, but then he responded:

“So you’re my mom?”

I felt my world shatter, and suddenly my head was filled with all the things I wish I could tell him, but couldn’t yet. This wasn’t about what I wanted.

“Not quite, baby, I’m your step mom. I’m a type of mom though, and I am most definitely yours.”

He looked so sad that I took him into my arms and held him, and he whispered his next question while hugging me back:

“Why aren’t you my mom?”

I held him tighter.

“Because you didn’t grow in my tummy, but that’s okay, because I love you very very very much.”

He seemed to ponder this for a moment, trying to wrap his three year old brain around this new knowledge, and looked up at me with hope in his eyes:

“Is that your job, Momma Emmy?”

I didn’t hesitate for a moment with my response, as I knew it from the moment I held his small hand in my own that, in fact, it was. For a brief moment I wondered if this question had a double meaning, if he was asking me if I was going to leave too, and was assuring himself that if I told him it was my “job” then I wouldn’t.

“Of course buddy! It always will be.”

Satisfied, and with the attention span of a typical three year old, he leaped up and went back to commanding me to move this train that way, while he conducted the other trains just so around the tracks. I watched him, my baby, and my thoughts whirled around my head like a twisted symphony of pain and longing, but ultimately satisfaction and happiness that we had come this far and he loved me as he would his mother, and saw me as someone of that role in his life. People tell me that someday he’ll call me Mom on his own, and they comfort me with the thought that he grew not in my womb, but in my heart. I hold onto that now more than ever as we wait for the day when our family can grow, and he can become a big brother. But for now, I enjoy the moments when I can hold him in my arms and hear him sigh happily in between a soft uttering of, “I love you Momma Emmy” as he drifts off to sleep at night.

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