We are all brought up on literary tales of wicked stepmothers. There's Hansel and Gretel - perfectly happy children until their mother died and their father re-married, whereupon, in a famine, their new stepmother convinced their dad to leave them in the forest to die.
Then, of course, there's Cinderella; her stepmother treated her like Mrs Patmore.
The Brothers' Grimm didn't invent the evil stepmother. My unquestionable knowledge of the Tudors, imparted to me by the brilliant Horrible Histories, means that I know that Mary Tudor hated Ann Bolyn, her stepmother. Mary blamed Ann for her parents' divorce, and was convinced that Ann had somehow bewitched her father. And further back in time, the Greeks saw it too; Hesiod saying rather marvellously, "a day is sometimes our mother, sometimes our stepmother". In other words, if you are having a stepmother of a day, you might as well go to bed, shut your eyes, and hope tomorrow comes soon.
I'm banging on about wicked stepmothers because I have just become one. I didn't plan to be wicked; I planned to be chatty and funny and supportive. Not a stepmother, or even a cool 'stepmom'. I was just going to be 'Lottie'.
It was clear though that, when I met boyf's son - who's 24 - for the first time this weekend, he hated me with a passion. He shook my hand and started at me with eyes so cold that I thought he must have mistaken me for someone else. Hitler, perhaps. "Errrrrrr" *tiny scared belch hiccup* "I'm Lottie. Hi."
"Yes. I know," he said.
He sat down and didn't look at me at first. He spoke to his dad, and I sat back, injured. I had thoroughly misjudged the situation. I'd thought that, because he'd said he wanted to meet me, that he actually wanted to meet me.
YOU TWIT! Of course he didn't want to meet me! He didn't even want me to exist!
In those few short seconds of The Handshake, I saw that, to him, I was the woman who had figuratively thrust a knife into his own mother and torn apart his family. I was the whore who had bewitched his father and taken him away.
Which was upsetting, because to me, he was the boy I'd wanted to get to know for three years. I'd wanted to welcome him into my home, wanted him to meet my own sons and inspire them about the Arts. I'd heard so much about him. I just wanted to be his friend. (I know, right? Bellend.)
As my parents split up when I was 14, I have some experience of step families. I know how difficult and complex it is to meet someone who is intimate with your parent. Who is not your other parent.
It's weird shit. And you need to be properly adult to deal with it.
They talked for a while, son and father. I gave myself a talking to and leaned forward. Took a deep breath and launched my best effort-charm offensive. I scraped up every single fact I'd learned about him over the years, and asked him related questions. I pretended to know not much at all about stuff that he was interested in. I even offered him some of my food, for Christ's sakes. I smiled A LOT. And after a while, he softened, his stare become less accusatory, more...well, more like you'd look at a hippo in the zoo. With interest, and a little fear.
In the end, I ran out of questions. There was a silence, and I made a little puffing noise, saying 'Well then, isn't it time....?' and looked pointedly at boyf. I was exhausted. I think everyone was.
We shook hands outside and I said how nice it was to meet him. He didn't respond - but at least he didn't look like he was going to machete me into a thousand pieces.
I hope I can bring him round. I would love to talk to him, properly, naturally.
I wonder when that will come.