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When This Grandma Lost Her 'Step' Status

A dance invitation showed what she meant to a special 8th grader

By Judy Nelson

“Chris wants to make an appointment to talk with you,” said my oldest stepson, calling on behalf of his tall, handsome and extremely reticent 14-year-old offspring.
A few days later, at the appointed hour, the phone rang. “Here’s C.J.,” said Jay.
“Hi,” my stepgrandson said.
“Chris, what fun to hear from you. How are things going?”
I let the silence hang there for a few seconds. Both of us took a deep breath.
“Will you be my date?” he blurted.
“Your what?” I asked.
“My date. For the 8th grade Grandparents Prom.”
This time the silence was because I couldn’t speak. Having grandchildren, step or otherwise, was not something I ever expected, since my only child died years ago.

(MORE: 10 Things You Should Never Say to Grandkids)
While grateful for the privilege, I was very aware of my “step” status in this case, especially since there were two “real” grandmothers in the picture.
Finally, I stammered, “Chris, I would be honored. You will never know how much this means to me.”
Planning For The Big Event
Within minutes, I called my husband, Jim, and arranged a flight to Kansas for us. Next, I planned a shopping trip for a long gown. Fortunately, I checked with Chris’s mom first and learned that the dress code was “Sunday Best: no formals; no jeans.” Thank goodness I did check with her. Just thinking that I could have been the only one who showed up in formal attire made my heart flip with anxiety and relief all at once.
The shopping trip for Sunday Best took me to Talbot’s where the entire store helped me make the momentous decision about which outfit would be sure not to embarrass my 14-year-old date.
However, I was still nervous, so I packed several other options. I asked Chris’s two older sisters if they would review my outfits and also if none were acceptable, if they would take me shopping.
Just before the plane landed, the flight attendant brought by a plate of warm, nut-free chocolate chip cookies. At the first bite, I felt a crunch and looked at the bite I had taken. There, buried in the cookie, was what looked like a tooth.
Nausea swept over me as I wondered out loud, “Whose tooth is that?” 
My husband leaned over and said, “I think it’s yours.”
Gingerly, I felt around for holes with my tongue and discovered a spot that wasn’t right. A “permanent” cap had fallen off, and all I could think about was how embarrassed Chris would be if I came toothless.
By 7:30 the next morning, I was in the dental chair of a family friend who glued me back together.
That afternoon, my stepgranddaughters helped me choose the right outfit, the one approved by the staff and customers at Talbot’s.

(MORE: How to Manage Grandkids' Expectations)
A Peak Experience
Dinner with Chris and his real grandmothers was a stunning experience. This normally shy, quiet non-talker regaled us with stories about the family, school, sports and even his plans for the future. At one point he said, “I guess I’ve dominated the conversation.” Talking all at once, we assured him that we were delighted to get to know him better and to keep talking!
The school gymnasium was awash in decorations to support the theme of “Up, Up and Away,” and the room was jam-packed. The rest of the evening was filled with trying to talk above the noise, picture taking, a dance or two and sipping on the same punch they served at my prom. The pièce de résistance was that the music was identical to my prom night, including Stardust and the Bunny Hop!
At one point, Chris introduced me to his best friend as his grandmother with no “step” anywhere.
I lost it. Fortunately, the restroom provided a temporary sanctuary to regain my composure. Flying home, I reveled in the warm joy of loving inclusion that had no “step” attached to it and thought this was the peakiest of peak experiences.

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But I was wrong.
The next morning I received this email from Jay:
“Thought you would like to know that in his Facebook post, Chris said that the prom had been his BNE (BEST NIGHT EVER)!”
From “step” to “real” was like going from half to whole. Not only whole but overflowing.

Judy Nelson is a certified executive coach, consultant and motivational speaker. You can learn more about her at Read More
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