November 9, 2016, was a hard day for a lot of people. One of them was my daughter. We talked some on the phone between her classes. Texted when we couldn’t talk. By the end of the day, I realized that she needed me to show up. To be there for her. So we made a plan for me to come visit that weekend and take her and a friend out for a post-election therapy dinner.

My daughter is a junior at the same women’s college where I started my college career. Maybe it’s the connection I feel to the campus, the history, the traditions, or maybe she’s just got friends as awesome as she it, but I love being there with them. Her friends have become friends of mine. We share coffee and conversation, and they keep me a little younger and hipper. It was one of these friends that taught me the joy of the gif keyboard.

Probably 90% of my communication with Mallory is done through texting or SnapChat. After her friend Brie introduced me to the gif keyboard, my texting skills went through the roof. No longer stifled by colon-parenthesis smiley faces, I now had an endless library of funny, cute, or snarky clips to shoot back with the touch of my finger.

So, when Mallory and I finalized the plans for me to get to Salem, I went to the gif keyboard for a celebratory clip to share.

Mallory loves unicorns. I need a dancing unicorn. Oh nice! Here’s a guy doing a stupid dance while wearing one of those horse head unicorn masks and then turning to the camera while “UNICORN!” flashes on the screen.

SENT.

Ten seconds later I get a reply.

Mallory says, “OH NO.”

I am perplexed. Oh no, what? I wonder. Does she know unicorn man? Is this a gif of someone she knows and doesn’t like? What are the odds? I had better take another look at this uni-

OH NO.

That’s not a unicorn mask. That’s a horse head with a DILDO strapped to it like a unicorn horn. WHAT HAVE I DONE? I belong in a Buzzfeed list of mothers who shouldn’t text. I’m basically that mother who can’t use the VCR because she doesn’t know how to rewind the tape. Go ahead and submit me for the next slideshow of internet fails, because I sent my daughter a gif of a man defiling the magical unicorn with a giant plastic phallus.

“Oh my god.” I cried with my fingers.

“I totally didn’t see that.” send

“I’m dying.” send

“Crap.” send

“I’m so sorry.” send

She finally got a text back in the midst of my rapid fire. “LOL. I was wondering,” she responded.

“What is WRONG with me?” I asked.

She just quipped back on this post-election day, “We’ve had enough dickheads for one day.”

That Mallory. She’s got her daddy’s quick wit, and luckily none of my genes at all since I’m apparently so blind I can’t tell the difference between a dildo and a unicorn horn on a phone screen.

That’s right. Since I’m her stepmother, she has none of my genes.

Last summer was hard. Mallory told me that she wished I loved her like I loved her brothers. She wished I had mothered her. We cried. She cried for what she had missed out on from me, and I cried for how I had failed her.

As her stepmother, I tried so hard to be a third parent, but never be her mother. She already had a mother, and my priority was always to foster a good relationship between her and her mom. Since her first mom loathes the very ground that I walk on, sometimes this meant keeping myself at a distance a little. For every bit Mallory and I got closer, I feared that it would pull her away from her mother. I didn’t want her to have to feel loyal to me or to ever have to defend me from attacks. It wasn’t her job. I was just trying to protect her.

Instead, I was underestimating her.

There was never a finite amount of love in her heart. There was never an either or for her. Mallory has room for all of us, just like a mother’s heart grows as she has more children to love. Mallory’s heart grew to love me too.

I always loved her as my own. I always held her in my heart in as my daughter. I will mourn the years I missed out not holding her in my arms as my daughter, and I am sorry for thinking I needed to stay out of the way for her. She needed me. She needed me to be a mother.

With that knowledge, I hug her more now. I share with her more now. I text her more now. I text her more carefully now. I can’t say that I love her more, because I loved her with my whole full heart always, but I show her more. And I can move forward knowing that she WANTS that from me. She WANTS me to be a mother. One of two mothers. She has a big enough heart for us both. I am so very lucky.

Mallory and me at the 2017 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham show. This was my piece for that night.

Mallory and me at the 2017 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham show. This was my piece for that night.

And because you all want to see it. I give you the very wrong unicorn gif with the understanding that it was MUCH smaller on my phone screen. Much. Smaller.