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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of “Don’t Try to Walk before You Can Crawl” (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (01/17/08)

TITLE: Cinderella in Galoshes
By Jan Ackerson


During the kiss, I closed my eyes and thought Lord, do I really get to keep him? After a few delicious seconds I surfaced and took in Kent’s lopsided grin. Pastor Tom said “I now present…” and we faced the crowd. I glanced at Tatum, now my stepdaughter, sitting quietly between Kent’s parents.

Since her mother’s death, Tatum had rarely smiled, and she spoke only to Kent and her grandparents. She was just six, but a furrow of worry between her brows made her look like a peevish librarian.

Tatum had picked her own outfit today. My mouth twitched as I imagined the wedding photographs: our wedding party in soft brown and the pale pink of apple blossoms, and Tatum, solemn in her turquoise Cinderella dress and shiny yellow boots.

I don’t want to be a wicked stepmother!

We chose a weekend in the country for our honeymoon; Kent was reluctant to leave Tatum for longer. After the reception, I stood in Kent’s parent’s doorway while he handed over his sleepy daughter. Kent hugged her and she whispered in his ear, then turned wide eyes on me.

I hesitated—should I hug her, too? But Tatum fled to her grandmother. Kent’s eyes said I’m sorry.


Two days later, Kent kissed me awake. “See you at six,” he whispered. “Tatum likes her juice in the blue mug, okay?”

I brewed some coffee and waited for Tatum to wake, absurdly afraid. I can do this, Lord...right?

She came to breakfast rubbing her eyes, avoiding me. After a silent meal, she shuffled into the den and sat in Kent’s chair, fingering an afghan.

“Tatum,” I said, “Go to the bathroom and brush your hair, sweetie. We’re going to have some fun!” I jingled my keys.

She walked past me without stopping in the bathroom and sat in the car, waiting.

I breathed deeply. Alrighty, then.

First stop: Build-a-Bear Workshop. Tatum’s eyes took in the whole store, but she shoved her hands in her pockets. “Do you like this one, Tatum?” I asked. “Does he need a hat? What about this vest?” Tatum remained silent beside me. We left with a bear designed by…me.

Next—The American Girls store. Tatum crossed the street holding my hand, but when we reached the store she took her hand back and rubbed it on her jeans. “Pick any doll you want, Tatum. How about Samantha? Josefina?” She just stood in the middle of the store. Other mothers stared. I led her back to the car.

Next—Baskin-Robbins. “Hey, Tatum! Ice cream for lunch! Cool, huh?” Tatum picked at her bubblegum ice cream, but I devoured mine, taking comfort in the cold sweetness.

When Tatum’s bowl became a blue puddle, I pushed back my chair. “Okay, Tater-Tot. One more treat.” Thirty minutes later we arrived at Club Libby Lu. I’d ordered the Celebrity package—a Hannah Montana wig and a backpack full of goodies. But when Tatum sat in the makeover chair, big tears plopped onto her lap.

“Ma’am, why don’t you bring your daughter back on a better day?” The perky teen who’d been about to make Tatum into a mini-celebrity looked alarmed.

She’s not my daughter…We drove home with the radio blaring. I didn’t bother to hide my tears. I knew I’d have to tell Kent: Tatum hated me.

That evening, Kent put Tatum to bed, then rubbed my feet. “You don’t have to do everything at once, hon. Take it slow, and soon she’ll love you as much as I do.” He stood and kissed my hair. “Be right back—I’m going to read Tatum her story.”

“I’ll do it.” I stepped into Tatum’s room; she turned her back. I perched on her bed and rested my hand on her shoulder. If she was going to feign sleep, she couldn’t very well shake me off. “Good-night, moon…”

I spent the night in restless prayer.

The next morning, Tatum drank her juice, occasionally peeking at me. I mussed her hair, still tousled from sleep. “Tater-Tot, I’m taking my coffee to the den.”

I watched the news. Tatum went to her bedroom. Soon she appeared at her doorway, watching me. I smiled. She ducked back inside. Another appearance. Another smile. She disappeared again, but came back moments later, approaching me with her hands behind her back.

“Whatcha got?” I set my coffee down. Tatum placed her hairbrush in my hand and sat on the footstool.

I brushed her hair in long strokes, each stroke a prayer.

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This article has been read 1393 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 01/24/08
What a lovely story and lots of excellent advice tucked in it.
Sally Hanan01/25/08
Awesome descriptions, and I loved the peevish librarian line.
Holly Westefeld01/25/08
I liked this tender story, especially how the new "mom" prayed her way through.
What I missed, however, (probably thanks to that ol' word count,) was just what the breakthrough was, as it could not be accounted for by time.
Temple Miller01/25/08
Lovely, lovely story from the title through to the last line. I love that the little girl didn't soften through the fun day. And when she did, it wasn't a huge transformation. Very realistic.
Betty Castleberry01/25/08
This is so touching and tender. Great job with the topic. Well done.
Emily Gibson01/26/08
A lovely reminder that no one can "buy" another's heart but we can give ours away free.

Each stroke a prayer--wonderful!
Catrina Bradley 01/27/08
Love it. A reminder that children crave our love and our presence more than presents. So well written.
Karen Wilber01/27/08
Charming story. Wonderfully touching lesson about love.
Patty Wysong01/27/08
What a wonderful story!! I love the opening and the middle, and the end. :-) So full of love..
Dee Yoder 01/27/08
I really enjoyed this story-though it was a little sad-until the end! I like the "peevish librarian" line, too. It put an instant mental picture in my head. The ending is quite touching and tender.
william price01/27/08
One of the biggest differences tween me and you is, when I say I write a stinker, its a stinker bound for the back forty. When you say that, it finishes 9th instead of first or second. I really liked this story. Super emotion, enjoyable, believable characters and a nice ending, besides being extremely well written. God bless.
LauraLee Shaw01/28/08
I like the modern day examples you used. It's very up-to-date with the stores that kids would LOVE. That helped tell the story a bunch, because for a child not to buy stuff from those places shows the child's misery and stubbornness. I love the affectionate use of "Tater-tot." It was the simple tender affection that won her over instead of the outlandish displays of bribery. I cried at the end picturing Tater-tot peek in and out at the doorway. Simply brilliant.
Sharlyn Guthrie01/28/08
This contains some excellent wisdom for step-parenting (and even parenting!) I enjoyed your attention to detail. Realistically, it seems that it would take more time for such a change of heart, but I love the subtlety with which you demonstrated that a change had taken place. Truly masterful!
Sheri Gordon01/28/08
This put a big lump in my throat. Your writing is truly 'masterful.' No one tells a story better than you. And, once again, a very creative out-of-the-box approach to the topic.
TJ Nickel01/28/08
Week after week you dig into a real family issue and create characters that are bleeding to be made fictional-flesh.
Great last sentence.
TJ Nickel01/28/08
oh yeah, your dialogue makes this story work: the internal and spoken words - especially when they stop early or are used to give references beyond the action. Great example of that.
Hanne Moon 01/28/08
Wonderful story, Jan. This brought back memories when my husband and I first married, and I became instant stepmother to his 6-year-old son. Very good at showing how sometimes we can try too hard to win affection when being still is better.
Kristen Hester01/28/08
What a very sweet story. It's also very creative take on the topic. I loved the beginning (I'm such a sap) at the wedding. ("Do I really get to keep him?") I felt bad for the MC, but was happy to see the breakthrough. Tatom will call her mom in no time.
Sara Harricharan 01/28/08
What a day! That was definitely a lot to go through in one day (love the bit with the American Girl place), I felt her frustration and her disappointment. The smallest act at the end, with the hairbrush, that spoke volumes. Very, truly beautiful piece-reminding me of a dear little girl I know. ^_^
Glynis Becker01/28/08
Beautifully tender. And the title is perfect :)
Lyn Churchyard01/29/08
Wonderful, touching story Jan!! The last scene had me reaching for the Kleenex.
Loren T. Lowery01/29/08
Tender and beautifully expressed from both perspectives, the daughter's and the step-mon's. The father's advise is well spoken, but the mother's heart perceives the truth and pierces the truth
James Dixon01/30/08
There were so many scenes and so much characterization packed into this story I was amazed. You are a true Master.
Angela M. Baker-Bridge01/30/08
I also liked the MC wanting to read the bedtime story. She could have gone to bed with an attitude, sulking, giving-up, but instead she recogized yet another opportunity to reach the child and went for it. Her character speaks volume about her commit to God, her husband, and the child.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/30/08
A tender, beautiful story. The hairbrush was the perfect symbol. The little girl was so real that she stole my heart.
Beth LaBuff 01/30/08
I love your story, from the title to the ending. Wonderful, wonderful entry!
Emily Blakely02/04/08
Yours is a story many can relate to, a beautiful illustration of the topic. Thank you, Jan, for your comment on my last article and the reminder about using tense in writing. Appreciate your critique! Emily