Whenever I hear people use the term "red-headed stepchild," I cringe. Maybe that's because I was one. Am one.
Sure, the freckles have faded and the hair has turned brown. OK, gray. But photographs of me as a little boy show a flaming carrot top.
Moreover, my mother was killed in a car accident when I was 2. A couple years later, my dad re-married. That makes me a stepchild.
I don't remember my "real" mother, although relatives on that side tell me I'm like her. I enjoy hearing that, because I get the impression she was a wonderful person. I certainly would like to have known her. But I didn't, and there's nothing I can do about it.
The important thing is that, growing up, I never lacked for a mother -- the woman I've called "Mom" for nearly 48 years.
She was only 20 when she married my father, and while it didn't mean much to me at the time, I've since marveled at that. A beautiful 20-year-old woman, surely not lacking in prospects, taking on a moderately bratty (so I've been told) 4-year-old of her own free will and choice? Who does that?
My mom, that's who.
Those who are quick at math will note that we're only 16 years apart. That's been the source of some amusement over the years.
Not only is she unusually young to be the mother of someone my age, but she's always looked much younger than she is. When people who know her meet me for the first time, they usually say something like, "There's no way you're old enough to be his mother."
To which my dad has been known to reply, "Well, she was only 16 when he was born and didn't know who the father was." Now all of my regular readers know where I get my rapier-like wit.
The other result of our closeness in age is that, as I've grown older, I've gained more of an appreciation for what she did. I'm sure, at the time, she acted mostly out of love for my dad. But that's OK. I love my dad, too. And it's nice to know my 4-year-old self was not a dealbreaker.
But she always did her best to be a good mother, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. And, looking back, I have to conclude that she succeeded.
Normally a woman carries a child and nurtures it from birth, forming an unbreakable bond. The child will love her unconditionally until about age 13, at which point it will hate her for about six years before eventually coming to love her again. Meanwhile, she never stops loving the child, no matter what. That's known as motherhood.
My mom was presented with a fully formed and willful 4-year-old. And she loved him anyway, even though she didn't have to. So thanks for that, Mom. I love you, too.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility," available at Books for Less in Buford and on Amazon. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit familymanthebook.com.