Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Never enough time.

I don't think this is a step issue only, don't get me wrong, but the added pressure of perfection creates a higher stress parenting environment. Yes, I go without so my kids can have their needs (and often their wants) met. Yes, I give up my free time and my activities to take care of them. Yes, my fiancé and I put our children first together because we love them deeply and unconditionally. But... and this one is a doozy.... at the end of the day, they aren't truly my children. So here I am doing everything a (for lack of a better term) "real" parent would but in the end, to most of society I simply do not count.

We try to do the annoying tasks like take the dogs to the vet, grocery shop, play musical cars so they can get serviced, install new appliances or paint rooms... whatever is on the agenda we try to do the boring-for-kid stuff or hard-with-a-full-house stuff when they are a their "Big Sister"/Mother's house. This makes sense but then we end up so exhausted that our nights are spent relaxing and snuggling up watching TV or movies. We get takeout instead of going out to dinner. We constantly tell our couple friends that we should hang out soon but can't seem to set a date. We are tired. I joke that I've been tired since roughly 2010.

Last year was hard. We went from two years ago dealing with my finances divorce (which was like me going through a second soul-sucking divorce) and then his ex lashing out because we scrimped and saved to buy a house and take the kids on vacation and she was feeling inadequate. I dealt with repeated crap from her. I was in a perpetual state of stress the entire summer from either her or home buying. All the time I am supposed to be mentally unwinding from 10 months of teaching high school kids was filled with extreme stress.

We decided we needed something to look forward too. Our favorite band was having a mini music festival in Riviera Maya, Mexico. I had a long weekend for President's Day. The world was aligning. We were so excited. I stalked the resort and the band's social media daily for excited updates. As February crept in winter got nasty. Snow on the forecast. Big storm a-coming. Flights canceled. Airline impossible to reach. Booked a connection through El Salvador for a red eye that would get us ahead of the storm. $1000 on a credit card. We just need to get there.

My ear popped on the plane and I couldn't quite hear. No matter what I did it was foggy. By that evening I was coughing uncontrollably and could not sleep. I found out when we got back that I had what had started as a sinus infection that spread. A week of antiobiotics and I was fine. I made the best of the trip. I loved Mexico. We had adventures in Mayan Ruins and underground rivers called cenotes. We laid on the beach. We heard our fave band play three amazing concerts. But sickness stole the destressing of it all.

We got home to a house the kids and babysitter had left a mess. We came home to stress. Wait what? We were leaving stress. And then sickness. And then more stress. What happened to our perfect weekend? What happened to enjoying each other. When did being a grown up mean compromising everything?

I often feel if I am depressed or sad or overwhelmed that my need to be comforted wastes our time. I often feel like it's been the blink of an eye since the kids got picked up by their mother to when we pick them up from school. Our fleeting, precious time that everyone loves to points out ("Well, you wouldn't understand because you don't have the kids everyday." "It's hard being a full time parent." "I wish I got days off with just my husband.") is not a free for all. We are often satellite parenting. Helping with homework and giving advice. We are still parents 100% of the time we just have to leave them with someone else a few days a week. It doesn't make us less than.

My sadness over nights used fixing the washer or days pissed away to naps comes at a big price. It's a catch 22. At the end of the day, my family would be nothing without me and my fiancé. We are the foundation. We are the bottom line. Yet we don't put ourselves first, ever. We used to skip lunch to save money for the kids to go to yoga on the weekends. I gained so much weight from stress and not being willing to take a class or join a gym. I didn't even want to spend the copay it would cost me to see a therapist.

It took us a long time to see the trap we had fallen into. But when we did we knew that we could pick ourselves up. We deserve more. We deserve to treat ourselves with the same respect we show our family. And, on top of everything, we are each other's number one. We are there for each other for every damn thing big or small. So we need to celebrate! Celebrate us! Celebrate our love! Celebrate how lucky we are to have found each other in this twisted world! But most of all celebrate the kindness and courage we put out into the world by raising kids who are loving and loved beyond measure.

It took us a long time to realize it and it still eats at me sometimes when I really crave some alone time or when I am missing him at work and know we wont get to talk privately until after bedtime. But it's as simple as a few stolen moments. A lingering kiss or a poetic text. There is always time for a tiny celebration. Get up and dance already.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Ain't that the truth?!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Valentine's Day P(heart)y!

Recently, my fiance and I planned a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico and after weeks of planning and excitement we found out that my stepdaughter's school was having a formal Valentine's Day dance. We felt awful but explained that, unfortunately, things like this happen. She understood and was really great about it. She was mature and super cool and we rewarded her by allowing her to plan a Valentine's themed sleepover party for all the girls in her class! We made glitter-heart invitations, we made heart-shaped pizza crust for decorating your own pizzas, we decorated with so much confetti I think I will still be finding it after my mortgage is paid off! Everyone's favorite part, however, was the ice cream sundae bar!

We got everything we needed at BJ's Wholesale Club and Dollar General. We got an assortment of $1 candies as well as Valentine's specialties like conversation hearts, white chocolate/red velvet kit kats, meringues, and found super cute paper goods at Target! Best Part??? EVERYTHING WAS SUPER CHEAP BECAUSE WE PLANNED OUR PARTY FOR THE WEEK AFTER THE HOLIDAY! 

(My stepson was "please take a picture of my sundae" excited about his ice cream creation.)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prettt Little Liars Part 2

I know what you're thinking, "there's more??" Well, remember I talked about ex-wife lies and how they effect my littlest stepdaughter. She was 5 when I met her, her brother was 7, and her sister was 9. If 5 years of influence from someone immoral could effect a child so much, let's consider what it did to her 9 year old?

My oldest child was old enough to know that her mom was a cheater. Old enough to see the manipulations. Old enough that when my fiancé told the kids about the divorce she said "it's about time!" Identifying the terrible actions and morals of someone you love is different than realizing you should not follow them. Our relationship has had its tumultuous ups and downs and although we are incredibly close kindred spirits now, it is not without my worries.

At first I thought I could use kindness and love to show her the way. She treated me like her mother told her too-- like I wasn't good enough to be around her and taking another cue from trash talk she was constantly telling me that her mother could do things that I was doing better. Picture an awesome 80s movie montage. The Coasters "Yakity Yak" playing in the background as you see scenes of me cooking, baking, painting, drawing, decorating, crafting, cleaning... in each separate scene there is my eldest daughter telling me how "mom's way is better" and behind her is my fiancé out of her view shaking his head in ridiculous disbelief.

All the while, I'm still trucking along. I'm dealing with my own insecurities about being in a relationship with someone who has three kids and was married for 10 years. I'm dealing with his insecurities about me having had a past marriage from a relationship that had lasted 13 years and was substantially happier than his marriage. We are navigating those feelings. Meanwhile we are fresh on having fallen in love and are trying to enjoy that. We are like a young couple moving in for the first time. And after umpteen times, I am starting to believe this child even with my fiance's vehemence that she never did half of the things I do.

After a lot of quality time, getting her into therapy, teaching her how to journal, beginning a yoga practice with the kids, FINALLY things settled down and we were feeling good. The ex-wife still tries to loom over things and be controlling but she starts to come around in teeny tiny spurts. Then our oldest began her manipulations.

Her: All the girls in my class are wearing Victoria's Secret PINK
Me: You are in 6th grade and that is a lingerie store.
Her: When can I wear it?
Me: Highschool

Goes to Her mother's house for 3 days.
Returns and after giving us laundry we find PINK underwear.

Me: Why do you have PINK underwear?
Her: Mom said I could get them and got me a sweater
Me: But you asked us first and I said "no"
:::My fiance comes down from our loft bedroom after having heard the beginning of the convo:::
Fiancé: Did you know PINK is a slang word for vagina? Your mom bought you a sweatshirt that says VAGINA on it.
Her: All the girls in class have them
Me: I don't care. How many pairs of underwear do you have?
Her: Just those

Goes to her mother's house and returns.
Find another pair of PINK underwear in her laundry.
Repeat last two events x3.

Eventually she either got sneakier or gave up with PINK. She has never stopped being sneaky with clothes, though. Just last week I caught her (now in 7th grade) wearing a child size 8 tshirt to school. She is still growing and her body is changing and for some reason HATES being inbetween sizes so she tries to stick out the kids sizes or the extra smalls until she is completely in the next size even though her leggings look like they are going to burst. She can share clothes with her mother most of the time but is honestly a bigger size then her mother already so she tries to squeeze into stuff. She knows her mother won't punish her. She knows her mother is so insecure that she has no rules or expectations.

Similar situations have occurred for the last year with makeup. Her mother doesn't really know how to put on makeup so she sees no problems with her wearing dark eyeliner on the inside of her eyelashes, over-mascaraed spider lashes and then not properly following up to make sure she is cleaning her face. I sat her down in what I expected to be a bonding moment. Before her first school dance I showed her how to properly use eyeliner and mascara and eye shadow and how less is more with makeup. She questioned me like I didn't know what I was talking about and I found myself (someone who rarely wears make up but knows my way around beauty tools) citing sources of my friends and family to prove to her I knew what I was doing. She still comes over with clown makeup sometimes.

The lies have also come and gone with school work. We have had to take privileges away. Take her off of her soccer team for a season. Cancel day trips. Things that were upsetting to her but not upsetting enough to stop her from skipping doing her homework at her mother's house and then lying about it. We are consistent with clear expectations. We tell her mother when she lies so we are all on the same page. It continues.

There's a huge part of me that wants to chalk it up to adolescence but its too soon to tell. She will grow out of it if it's just a phase, right? I guess bigger than that, I worry she might grow up to be the kind of woman her mother is no matter how long she has had me there as a good influence. What if I can't love her enough to fix those traits? What if I won't ever be able to influence her to be her best because being like her mother is easier? What if she doesn't want to be a better person and that's why we see no change? What if she grows up to be a mean girl? What if she turns out to be someone who would cheat on her husband, get pregnant, have an abortion, and then blame her husband for it all, get divorced, then treat her husband's new girlfriend who is the only good influence on her children like a piece of garbage?

That could never happen, right? She has me and her Dad showing her the right way, right? If that is true than why do I worry so much about the what if?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Pretty Little Liars

I could only imagine that it sucks when your family is split in two. Having two homes means everyone you love isn't all in one place any more. (We tried nightly phone calls but the kids were not allowed to call us but were expected to call their mother no matter what.) In any case, it means two wardrobes, two bedrooms, two safe spaces, two christmases, two birthday parties. In theory this would be fine if they are pretty equal but in practice it is cumbersome. Especially when one house has rules but the other does not.

In our kids homes this is so extreme that our youngest did not stop throwing tantrums in the store with her mother (never once did she do that to me or my fiancé) until we found out and punished her at OUR house! Imagine being me here: this was going on at a time where this woman was badmouthing me on a daily basis. She called me names in front of them and told them that women who take care of kids that are not theirs are "weird" and "have issues" and they should be careful I don't steal them (and those are moderate examples). Yet I could not bear to see the kids being allowed to behave so outrageous. I explained to our youngest child (she was 6 at the time) that babies throw tantrums to get what they want and that when a big kid does it they are trying to bully someone. We made her go to bed early and write in her journal and we told her that she would not be allowed to go to yoga if we ever found out she did it again. She never did.

This, to me, was some A+ parenting on our part. I set aside the issues with the ex-wife, we explained what was happening and what needed to change and we had a clear consequence. She never did it again so obviously we handled things like champs, right?

Well, when she was 7 and then 8 we had to deal with a lot of lying. She began playing one house off of the other. She told us she did her spelling words with her mom and telling her mom she did it with us. We had some open communications with the teacher and she seemed to realize that if nothing else me and her Dad would find out and there would be consequences. Once again we were on point.  #SuperStepMom

Then came the big boy. We saw that our littlest had filled our her reading log from her mother's house for too many days. When questioned she folded like a poor man at high stakes poker. She hadn't read at all. AT ALL. And her mother is the one who told her to lie! What?!!!! When questioned further her sister and brother joined in to tell us that last year their mother filled out the reading log for her on days she was lying. WHAT?!?!?!!!!

How on earth do I fix this?

Remember the kind of person we have here. This is a woman who is continually jealous of me and her ex-husband having a loving relationship and growing together. She is frustrated that parenting comes naturally to me and I have good work ethic and a real job and expectations for people around me. My fiancé and I did what we thought worked best. We tag teamed it. He dealt with the ex and I dealt with the little. The ex lashed out like a teenager caught in her lie telling the kids when they saw her next "Why did you tell on me to Dad? Don't ever get me in trouble with Dad and Melissa again!" The little was sad and remorseful. She wrote an apology note to her teacher and we told her that it should never happen again.

It did happen again. This time when she stood up to her mother and said she did not want to fill out her reading log if she did not read she was told that she had been brainwashed by us and that her youngest child was a stranger to her. The littlest buckled. She caved in and lied and planned to erase it at school but forgot. We talked about how standing up to people we love is hard and that was brave but she can not lie anymore. I text her mother who blamed her littlest instead of taking ownership of what happened.

And the questions that still remain unanswered emerged to us:
How do you teach kids morals when they see examples of and are taught to be immoral by someone they should be able to look up to?
Can we teach them to respect their mother but ignore her ways?
Will we always be able to right her wrongs?

I've been at it for over two years fixing everything she breaks and I'm exhausted.
When does it end?

Friday, February 3, 2017

When life gives you lemons...

Lemonade is simple, sweet, and reminds us that there is always something we can do with any problem handed to us. (If you want to put some elbow grease in and make some lemonade, this recipe's title says it all!)

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