Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Birthday Recipe Review!

For my eldest's 11th birthday, she had a very specific vision of what she wanted: a tie dye cake with hot pink icing with birthday flags on top and cake pops. And if you are like me, a stepmom who was feeling like she had to prove her worth... than you know I did just that!

I am a huge fan of the Cake Boss' line of boxed cake mix. If I can't make it from scratch, this is my favorite. And when I spotted his version of tie dye mix on sale, I had to give it a go. This did not disappoint! So much easier than making sure I have the right colors and make things equal brightness (I get a little crazy about stuff like that when baking). 

And as far as cake pops go, we did strawberry cake with dark chocolate (dipped in rainbox jimmies) and I ALWAYS use the recipe from Bakerella! Her site is phenomenal for all things cake pop!


Monday, January 23, 2017

Morning Motivation


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Cost of Not Compromising

Everyone in my life before I met my fiancé would tell you that I did not want kids. I didn't. At the time. I didn't want kids with my controlling, aggressive, manic depressive ex-husband. Taking care of him was a full time job. I used to wonder if I wanted them or had jut resigned myself to not having them because of him. After things got out of hand and we divorced I remember thinking "If I never have kids I saved my babies from a man like him." I justified my choice and I justified my feelings in the most honest and truthful way possible.

Flash forward two years and I met a man and fell in love. He was separated pending divorce because, in the state of Connecticut you must be able to prove you lived separately for a year before proceedings move forward. My baggage was plentiful. Poor self esteem, insecurity, occasional swings of depression and anxiety, and the loss of my perpetual positive attitude. His baggage? Little humans aged 6, 8, and 10.  

There are times, countless really, that I have wondered: if he had just wrapped it up or the ex had just said "no glove, no love", if the shotgun wedding never happened, if fate had brought us together anyway... would the kids I have today have been the same of they had been babies that grew in me? Would they have still be the children I am so in love with? Would we have created a stable home for them from the start where they could grow up to be the same fundamental people but without their self esteem issues, self doubt, and insecurities from the ex? I know DNA matters, I know the science. But I wonder and I dream. 

Having an ex-wife in the picture isn't always like this. I get it. I read every stepparenting book I could find when we first moved in together. But it didn't matter. I met these kids and we were all mourning. All 5 of us. Mourning different things. My fiancée mourned the thought of a family life where he got to see his kids every day. The kids mourned the death of their first family. And I mourned the death of a dream, because for the first time in my adult life I was so deeply in love that I wanted to make a family. I wanted it all. I dreamed and dreamed of our future and this was not it. So we mourned together. 

The 10 year old, she was different though. She was the oldest, the one who they got pregnant with and married for. She was the only one who realized her mother was openly cheating on her father in front of them. Three times. She was the one who heard one of her mother's boyfriends beat her dog nearly to death. She was the one who cried herself to sleep quietly so her little sister wouldn't hear. She was the one who got up in the middle of the night as her nearly crippled dog got locked in his crate and stared down her mother, willing her to do something. She was traumatized by life. 

I found her a therapist. I forgave her resistance to me. I ignored how she remarked that her mother could do everything I could. I went to movies without her when she told me she had plans with her mother . I let her be. I let her mourn. I also taught her things. I taught her about internet safety and about her period. Convinced her mom she needed glasses. Took her for her first haircut in 5 years. Her first manicure and pedicure. Her first trip to Disney World. I was everything her mother wouldn't be, couldn't be, and didn't care to be.

To this day I am not truly sure if she loves me. I know she loves her Dad immensely and that I am an extension of him to her. I go back and forth with it. Some days I think we might be best friends one day. And other days I dramatically envision that one day at my funeral she will realize everything I was to her but it will be too late and unrequited. Oddly I don't think I've settled on a middle ground. I know somewhere deep down she loves me and I also know somewhere deep down she resents me whether I deserve that or not. What gets me is that I can't fix it. My own therapist once said to me "why do you settle for people who don't show you their best but then put all this pressure on yourself to be everything to everyone?" Well, doc, I guess I have inadequacy issues.

Before you scoff at the idea that maybe she doesn't love me, let me explain. Coparenting with her mother is literally like coparenting with a teenage older sister. She is a definitive example of arrested development. She's still the scared, knocked up highschooler so she doesn't have real rules or punishments or even standards of cleanliness. She fake buys her eldest clothes that she wants so they can share them. She fakes everything. I've never met someone so fake and she taught her eldest child by example. So here I am. Does she love me? I would like to think so because of all the kindness I show her. But she has gotten good at faking things too. She's lied to us over and over, ignored our rules, disregarded our advice. This once upon a time 10 year old even (with her mother) destroyed my relationship with her youngest sibling. They brainwashed the naive 6 year old who only now at 8 realizes that I'm going to be her stepmom and that might be awesome. 

I realized not long ago that I am not actually someone who gives endless chances. I do not fully trust my oldest kid. I guess it was a series of things really. Truthfully it was that I realized my expectations of her are to be treated like crap. We had a blizzard up here on my birthday. They were with their mom for two snow days. Her brother and sister made me birthday gifts, albeit they likely took 10 minutes at least it was something. They sent me a voice memo singing (before their mom woke up). When my fiancé picked the kids up after school the next day the oldest only had excuses. She left art she made me at her mother's. She handed in my card by accident with her homework. Lies. "How dare you assume that, wretched evil stepmonster!" you say. Well, my birthday was 20 days ago and I've had the kids 13 of those days. Still nothing. Not even a note or rushed card. 

If psychologically for every negative interaction we have with someone we need ten positive ones to create equilibrium, how does a stepparent ever get back to her happy place? I have had so much negative from my eldest that I forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive only to have to forgive again. And now, here we are. Without trust, without the bond I've worked tirelessly to forge. Is it because she's twelve now and tweening? Is it because she actually treats me like her true mother? Is it that I am too sensitive and honest with my kids? 

I am not sure what it is but I can only say, the struggle won't stop me. I will not compromise just because lowering expectations or removing consequences are easier paths.  I love the kids that much. 
I love my fiancé that much. 

And maybe, at the end of the day that could actually meant that I love myself that much?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ex-Wife Love

On a weekly basis I deal with a woman that I would never interact with if we did not share children. That is the truth. We are nothing alike. As a human beings we fundamentally are different people. Sometimes I struggle to see any good in her at all. Sometimes I think in a different world I could have helped her more. And sometimes still I think that if my fiance loved her once, even if it was in the way teens love each other, than deep down there is or was something so much better and brighter than what I see.

We would never have met if not for my fiance and the fact he made babies with her. I am nearly certain of that. I grew up in southeastern New York and she grew up in northwestern Connecticut. Her annual vacation is to the same beach her mother has been taking her to since she was a small child and I like to travel the world (and the independence and creativity of taking care of trips myself- I pay for my trips with everything from crafts on etsy to credit card rewards points). I have a career as a schoolteacher, she has a part-time job as a waitress. I went to college after high school and have three college degrees, she takes junior college classes here and there to fill up her empty days. She is largely unfilled and my cup runneth over.

I am certain that if we did cross paths, we would only have been friends if I got to know her well enough to feel sorry for her and try to help her. This in and of itself is another one of these fundamental differences between us. She is selfish and I am selfless. She is materialistic and I would rather go for a hike or drive than shop. She is a hater and I am happy; among everything else, she is full of hurt and that is why she is full of hate. I have love brimming out of me while she doesn't even love herself.

On paper, laying it out like that, I seem like I am exaggerating, even putting down. I am not. These are truths. We are nothing alike. Fundamentally when you break down my work ethic and morals, then do the same for her we are opposites. However, I love to help people. I can imagine if we had a mutual friend or if I had lived in the town she waitresses at and enjoyed the place enough to get to know her but the chances I would ever know her as well as I do now if not for this scenario are probably one in a million. In those scenarios and in the real world I have tried to help her.

It was not always like that. When I first came along she was always trying to make my fiance jealous, to break us up, to convince the kids there was something wrong with me. Over time, however, I realized that those are teen tactics, things my students do to each other, because inside she is still the 17 year old who got pregnant from her boyfriend of four months. She is in this sad state of arrested development. And I pity that. When we first met I immediately noticed old scars from cutting on her wrist. I pity that too. When she is angry and lashes out and name-calls the kids or my fiance or me. I pity that as well. I carry so much pity I have reached out to her through the kids, her family, even directly to her. It does not change. We are nothing alike.

One of my greatest daily struggles is the idea that over the last two years I have forgiven her repeatedly without a request for forgiveness. (I once actually told her this in a text message conversation where I had tried to reach out and start fresh. I told her that I forgave her for everything she has done, whether she is apologetic or not, because I wanted to move on.  Her reaction? The next time she had the kids she snidely brought it up to our oldest daughter and said "Who does she think she is? I did not apologize because I am not sorry." and continued to attempt to badmouth me for wanting to just give her a clean slate and fresh start.) And this helps me personally. It helps my own good vibes, my own psychological health. I take care of me by moving on. And while I do not agree with nearly anything this woman does as a mother or how she in general treats other people, I know that I will have her in my life for a very very very long time.

Love is the only answer. I believe that if you can find something worth loving in someone who causes you turmoil, someone you have no choice but to deal with, than you will become much healthier in your own thoughts and your own dealings with that person. I love her because she created my children. I love her because I would not be a mother with out her. And whether or not she treats me with the same respect, well that is between her and whomever she believes is going to give her final judgement.

I can not control another human, I can not help another human who does not want to be helped. I can only take care of myself and my family and this is the easiest way to do so. So my advice to you, new stepmoms or stepdads? LEARN TO LET IT GO. Once you let go of the rage, of the anger, of the jealousy,  of the insecurity, of the feelings that are the makings of everything that a stepfamily comes from initially, you will be so much better and brighter.

Shine on.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Traditions

 I have had to struggle with my stepkids being manipulated and guilted by being told everything is a "tradition" with their mother. Things that were attempts to circumvent agreed upon custody arrangements and designed to not allow them to full enjoy time with my fiance and I. 

You can't truly mess with love. And my family does all things with love. My mother began a tradition of making gingerbread houses years ago. Since my fiance and I have been together the kids have been invited to decorate with my niece and cousins. It has been an authentic tradition that the kids genuinely look forward to. It isn't overdone or forced. It's just everyone enjoying the wonders of the winter season.

 This year, we started a Christmas Brunch tradition. While custody switched every year and the kids won't always be here for Christmas morning, we CAN always plan our Christmas brunch. It was genuinely lovely to see this plan unfold and it warmed my heart so that it bubble over to hear my eldest stepdaughter suggest that we do this every single year "forever"! 

  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Beginning

I decided to start this blog while I was crying. Leaning over my countertop in my kitchen, tears dripping into my perfectly steeped mug of Harney & Son's cherry blossom green tea (with a touch of honey). It wasn't sweet or pretty. I was gross crying. Sobbing, mucusy sniffles, boogers all up in there. Crying because I was tired, exhausted, worn out. I'm sure everyone who counts themselves a mom has locked themselves in a bathroom for a good cry but I'm not sure if anyone short of a stepmom can't even make it down the hall. It. Is. All. So. Much.

Really good Stepmoms are simultaneously seen as less than and doing more than. How can I reconcile that?

And on this particular day, I realized something important. I'm not ever going to be okay with my stepkids love for me being conditional. But it is. They love me on the condition of my relationship with their Daddy. We split up, I never see them again. And I guess when you really break it apart, that's okay in the grand scheme of things. I'm just never going to be okay with it. They are my babies but they also aren't mine at all.

My fiancé and I can't create a world in which they need me. They need their mom. They are just lucky to have me. But we can't create a world in which they feel lucky to have me either. I am everything their birth mother is not, everywhere she falls short or selfish I exceed expectations and am selfless. I'm not inflating either, I'm just honest and self aware (more on that in the future). It's not fair that no matter what I do the fact remains that deep down, at least my oldest stepdaughter but likely all my stepkids, will always wish she was more like me and never accept me for who I truly am in their lives. It's not fair but that's life.

I can speak rationally about all this right now. But at that moment, my heart was broken and my eyes were on fire and the tears just rolled down my cheeks and into that mug of tea like an avalanche of rocks falling into an open sea. They are my family.

No matter what I do, I am never enough. I can't love them so much it fixes what is broken and I can't go on giving away all my love without getting back.
But they are my family.

Step-parenting is so lonely. Am I really alone?

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