Sunday, April 30, 2017

Summer Memories Jar

Bonding with kids can be hard. As you may have read, it was the hardest thing to do in my life. For me, it made finding my soulmate seem like it had been a cakewalk. Think about that. Here I was, a survivor of domestic abuse, a 30 something who had to find herself again after that 13 year relationship/marriage had ended, somehow waded the waters of the dating pool and found not just a boyfriend but someone who felt like home to me, and amidst all of that I was trying to deal with bonding with kids who had a birth mother whispering in their ear about me and my intentions and lying about their father. I didn't stand a chance. 

Eventually, I stood up, brushed the dirt off of my face, and declared to myself: this is my life and my love. I don't know what exactly that moment happened, but I remember the overwhelming feeling. I was not The Bear That Wasn't, I knew exactly who I was and I was not going to let someone who was feeling insecure or jealous steal my sunshine. 

I resolved to keep being me, keep showing love, keep treating the kids as if they were my own. I reminded myself of quote and poems my Dad had loved when we were young and advice my Mom had given me when I was in high school. Keep loving, even the haters. Keep being you, even if it hurts. 

One of the first things I ever made for the kids were Summer Memories Jars. I am a hoarder of mason jars, so I had plenty on hand. I also use screw on plastic caps for my jars so this was easy peasy as well. I found these great printables online (thank you, sweet world, for pinterest) and attached them. Then I inked names and some artwork on the jars with the year to fancy them up (using black paint pens) and made them a more special gift from me to the littles. My now fiance and I had just moved in together, the kids lives were changing like crazy and finally settling into a semblance of a routine, and sweet, beautiful summer was upon us. I thought this could be one place to house all of their memories. And every Sunday morning they would sit and write down all their favorite memories of the week. This was a favorite pastime in July for the two youngest. By August they needed reminding. Even now, though, they occasionally will pull out those memory jars from a few summers ago and read the contents. 

PS- I also made lovely Summer Binders that year thanks to fabulous, amazing pinterest and you can find the them here! We still rifle through these as well but the littler littles (ages 6 and 8) liked them the most.

Monday, April 24, 2017


"Listen. This is just a dream. But very clever people can hear dreams. So please just listen. I know you’re afraid, but being afraid is all right. Because didn’t anybody ever tell you? Fear is a superpower. Fear can make you faster, and cleverer, and stronger. And one day, you’re gonna come back to this barn, and on that day, you’re going to be very afraid indeed. But that’s okay. Because if you’re very wise and very strong, fear doesn’t have to make you cruel or cowardly. Fear can make you kind. … It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing under the bed, or in the dark, so long as you know it’s okay to be afraid of it. So listen. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this: you’re always going to be afraid, even if you learn to hide it. Fear is like… a companion. A constant companion, always there. But that’s okay. Because fear can bring us together. Fear can bring you home. I’m gonna leave you something just so you’ll always remember. Fear makes companions of us all."
-Clara, Doctor Who

There are millions of people all over the world who take care of children they did not make. The stepfamily role only has a stigma because of humanity, because of insecurity, because unlike situations with orphans or adoption or fostering there are often more than two parents. We have created this conflict. Many societies all over the world raise children in community but we make steps feel less than for the same reason that kids put their peers down. We do it out of fear. 

I would like to propose, and really listen to what I am saying here, that when families divorce and steps enter as adults we deal with our feelings of inadequacy on our own and happily allow other parental figures into our children's lives. In moments of clarity I have been told by the kids birth mother that she is happy her ex found me, she is happy it is me! She has said in moments of a peaceful heart that she is glad they have someone like me. Those moments of peace are more rare than I hoped but I do know deep down how she really feels. And I know what she isn't saying either. When I really listen to the things the kids tell me she says I can hear her real words, "I am afraid I am not good enough", "I am afraid you are a better mom than me", "I am afraid of trying to be a better person." I hear the whispers of her heart and they are the same feelings of being less than that I struggle with, just in different ways. Why do we do this? Why are all mothers so afraid of failing?  

I have found that key to good parenting in a lot of ways is listening. Being there for your kids so they know they can talk to you and really truly listening to what they are saying (and what they aren't). We can build confidence listening and responding to a cockamamie story that has no plot or characters but that our kids spent the morning making up in their heads. I know so much about Ninjago and the characters from the Frozen world and 7th grade lunch table gossip. I just listen. 

I talk a lot, don't get me wrong but boy oh boy can I put on my listening cap and focus in to the most random or mundane thing. And I can hear the whispers unspoken. I struggle with wondering why I don't listen to myself?  What am I so afraid of?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Belated Birthday Gift

Heartbroken again. Our oldest came over the week after my birthday with pieces for a craft that she made and brought to her mom's. Foolishly I thought that she had maybe been bringing over art to give me like she had said. She came back the next week and my fiance asked her about it. She blew him off. The following week she showed him part of a gift she had made me. He told him it was very nice but that here we were almost a month after my birthday and she had lied and not apologized so he suggested that maybe she should give it to me and tell me how she feels. She left it on my dresser a week later (which was Sunday, 5 weeks after my birthday).
This note was on top:

Melissa, I love you very very very x1000 much so I made you a Happy Box to show it. I put pictures, stickers, and other happy things all for you. The box itself I was planning to finish in art class but I didn't get to so I brought it home. I'm sorry its late. I really hope you like it. PS- I love you
She had once found me a little project when I was trying to send my friend a happy care package. It had similar "open me when..." that I filled envelopes with art. As I looked through the box I noticed that while she tried her best, a lot of the stuff wasn't heartfelt. Pictures from a camping trip that her sister and brother had wanted to bring to her mom's to put in a photo album their grandpa had given them and her mom made a big stink about, stickers that were her sisters, notes that didn't seem sincere. And all the while I knew that she had the pieces of this for weeks and didn't put the effort in to give it to me or even tell me about it when it would have saved me from being hurt. Was I being too sensitive? 

We skim through the pictures on her iCloud account and her notes on her iPad occassionally just to make sure she is okay. I had once found lovely Stepmom quotes and poems, as I opened the envelopes I found none of these here. I found instead things like "CHEER UP! SMILE!" I had seen the note she wrote as a text she was working on to me to tell the truth about what happened on my birthday. It wasn't here either. It felt like I was being ungrateful. Is it ungrateful to receive something special but wish it had included how you know someone really feels about you?

Finally I opened the "open when you are mad at me" envelope. The note was very special and I will share it below. However, as beautiful as it felt and as much as it made me cry, I still felt like it was forced. I felt like deep down these words are not true. I am not sure the truth. Did I feel that way because I have struggled with trust from her? Is it because of my feelings of inadequacy about parenting? Is it because my intuition was telling me something? Did I feel this way because I am in a situation where I will never feel the genuine love of a child?

"I love you, thank you for loving me too. I need you in my life. Without you I'd be a liar, acting like the other girls, and many more things. You make everything more interesting and always have so many great ideas. Without you my room wouldn't be as cool, lol, and our house! Also thank you for always being there for me to ask anything and you will answer along with great advice. Thank you for doing so many things that you don't even have to do and thank you for being someone who I look up to a lot. And thank you for being my favorite person. I love you. 

Somehow the words "for doing something you don't even have to" hung in my head. Is it the letter of a tween who finally feels like her family is intact after years of being broken? Or is she awkward sometimes because I do too much and she doesn't need or want that? After everything, could I really be her favorite person? Or like a typical child of divorce was she just saying what she thought I wanted to hear?
The words still spin around in circles in my head.. how do I know if its ever real?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Just Some Easter Dreams Come True

When I was a little girl, my mom and grandmothers baked with us for Easter, we had lots of fun and I can still smell all the wonderful cookies. My niece and littles and I baked some bird's nest macaroons and some egg-shaped cookies for Easter dinner. It was so special to me. I don't have a lot of words when I am this filled up with happy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

'Will You Be in Our Bridal Party?' Gifts!

Well, as you know, me and my man are both on our second marriage. Not only are we embracing everything about our second marriage being our best marriage but we love the idea that we get to decide everything-- all the details, all the fun, all the things we have always wanted. And we are doing it together! 

I made little jars with handmade bracelets and some little paper mache bees and wrapped them in cute basket weave jewelry plates for my Maid of Honor and Junior Bridesmaids. For my bridesmaids I got stemless "Bridesmaid" wineglasses. Annnd for the ring bearer a bear teddy in a box that I wrote on the lid "Will you be our ring bearer?" 

As for the boys, we got little manscaping gifts and little games for my stepson. Of all of these things, the only one I snapped a picture of was the best man gift. It was pinspired but with deadlinks everywhere! We got a shot glass for him when we were in Mexico so paired it with a bottle of tequila and scooped up some paper Easter grass. Then I hand-lettered "Will you take another shot at being my Best Man?" on the lid when you open up!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Petty Diatribes

I have now had time to go back and read through things I have written here in the past. How interesting is it to realize that some of my biggest issues with StepMomming is the other Mom? I have sat on these thoughts for a few days because I wanted to propose to other steps, the idea that maybe 90% of these issues are things that I have no control over, but doesn't that mean if I handle things like a boss I could be in control of 10% of them? I could be 10% happier! 10% happier could be the difference between crying myself to sleep and falling restlessly into dreamland or the difference between wondering if I can handle this all or if I am going to fail and be alone. A sliver of hope and a sliver more of confidence is a lot and 10%, thats a whole piece of pie!

So here are some things worth considering:
  • Who are you allowing to dictate your state of mind? Is it a catty ex or children who are going through a hard time in life? WHY? Why aren't you in charge of your own feelings?
  • Are you judging your self worth based on anything other than who you truly are? Are you allowing children mourning their first family to make you feel less than? Are you allowing a jealous ex into your own judgements of yourself? WHY? Why would you consider your worth based on people who are lashing out in pain?
  • Have you been kind? Have you been brave? If you have acted out of selfless affection all along the way you have nothing to be ashamed of. BUT if you have been catty yourself or lowered yourself to their level... was it worth it? 

I have argued with the kids birth mom, don't get me wrong. However, there are only three reasons I have done this: 1) To defend the kids, myself, or my fiance, 2) To put her in her place, because sometimes it just has to be done, or 3) Because I truly feel strongly about something when it comes to parenting. I have NEVER ever picked an argument with her. I have NEVER ever name-called her. And if I have been that clear in my dealings with her I can only imagine with all the insecurity, pain, and self-conscientiousness that comes with step-parenting naturally this would be unbearable!

In the end, you love a child.
In the end, a child has more people who love them.
In the end, that is all that matters. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

When I Realized I Do Too Much

There is a dark little step-parenting secret that makes society's natural shaming of the role so offensive. Most steps feel inadequate. Most steps feel like they have to do MORE than they would if they were a birth parent to forge a parental bond with kids.

In my experience there are two kinds of steps, with no real huge population of middle ground. They can be summed up as "Yours are Yours and Mine are Mine" and "Treat All the Kids in Your Family as if They Were Your Own". I think the roles are self explanatory. I have been given unsolicited advice from column A multiple times. And it ranges from everything like "they aren't your kids so why do you even care?" to "that is NOT your place" to "your life will be easier if you just let him deal with them". I find that this isn't conducive for a loving relationship. I am not talking about the relationship between parent and child, but in a loving romantic relationship between me and my fiance.

I will be frank here. I am not afraid to state the fact that I am so in love with my fiance that it feels like something out of a book (sometimes a fairy tale, sometimes a seedy romance novel, sometimes a sweet novella of sonnets).  We are deeply in love and that is simply not as common as social media makes us believe. People settle. People settle and that is okay. However, I think you have to identify where your relationship falls on the scaled of I-Still-Get-Butterflies to This-Just-Makes-Sense. If you are in a complacent relationship (and are happy) than it might not work for your new mate to treat your kids as if they were there own or for you to do so if you are the step. I find that most of those column A people, who told me how I should parent and that I don't really count fall into one of two sub-categories: either they can't accept the step parent in their child's life and have issues about it OR they are in a Just-Makes-Sense relationship. Neither of which applies to me.

I treat my stepkids as if they were my own because in 6 months when I marry their dad they WILL BE! Yes, naysayers, they are my kids too. I do not know where the world has gotten all this insecurity from but I am not going anywhere. Not only am I not going anywhere but I am excited about being their stepmom AND about the prospect of making our family bigger! This is exciting to all of us!

Don't get me wrong I still randomly worry about ridiculous far off things like: when my stepson gets married will he have a special dance with me too? when my stepdaughters have babies will they want me there like my sister wanted my mom there? I can't help any of that! Its random and weird but just as birth parents are insecure about sharing parenting, SO AM I! And I am the one who the world thinks isn't good enough, so imagine that uphill climb! I never undermine the kids birth mother, I give them advice to help improve their relationship with her! I am not trying to impede but I am a special part of their lives so undermining our relationship is equally fucked up and hurts them.

I've metioned before that my relationship with their birth mother (I've decided to use the letters BM to reference her for the rest of this piece-- pun intended)  is rickety at best. It's like walking one of those wooden bridges in adventure movies. You know, the rope ones a la Indiana Jones where there is a mighty chasm below and the planks are rotted? I can sometimes take two steps forward and I'm confident I'm gonna make it to the other side but then on the next step my left leg goes through the plank and I'm holding on to dried out old rope railings with all my might and will power.

I work hard to come up with fun things to do with the kids, research and plan, then a few days or weeks or months later BM just decides to take them to do the exact same thing only tells the littlest over and over how "Isn't this the best ride you've ever been on?" "Isn't this the biggest zoo you've ever been to?" "Isn't this the most fun you've ever had at a beach?" So that, of course, when she returns to our house she tells us what BM taught her to say verbatim. Ouch. It hurts even when I know it's coming. BM is lazy and has swooped in and stolen so many of our and my ideas that the kids actually feel guilty about it and the littlest has test high risk for anxiety at her house only.

I quickly get past the juvenile shit with her. And I step forward hoping the next plank will be stronger. The sad truth is she is only happy when she has a boyfriend. She treats the kids better and attempts to co-parent. I can't understand this but don't understand her much at all so I don't dote on it. We just try to get shit done as co-parents while she is in her happy place. Now that the kids are older the realize this stuff. That BM only ordered from a fundraiser because her current boyfriend did. She only let Nana's cat out of the bathroom (long story) because boyfriend suggested it. That she only decided to take them to do certain things because of boyfriend. They also notice that she does things to SAY she did them. An hour in the AMNH or the Met (which is almost a 3 hour drive from her house) or a staged candid picture on the beach. And despite all that fodder how do I react? Do I take it as an open invite to gain an edge up on her? Nope! I tell the kids: stop worrying about mom's motivation! Have fun! Have the BEST time!

Her insecurities don't cease and I can't fix that. But I have realized something important: I CAN fix my own insecurities and my reactions to hers. I reached a tipping point where I realized that I simply do too much. I can't fix her through them. And I can't go so far above and beyond that their expectation of me is nonstop perfection.

My epiphany, much like the epiphany I had that writing these experiences in a blog for other people to read and commiserate with, came with gross tears and pain. On a Wednesday, I got a flu shot and a pneumonia shot in the same day, in the same arm. This was not a really great idea as I found on the internet later. I had severe adverse reactions to this combo and I felt worse than I did when I had had pneumonia. I was afraid I was actually possibly going to die. I told my fiance to check me for breathing before he fell asleep. I tried to go to work and failed. I could barely move. The arm I'd had the shots in was super swollen. It was a disaster. I was out of work for two days.

The next night was my oldest stepdaughter's first formal dance at school. We had picked out the perfect yellow dress. She had accessorized with stuff from both of our houses. I had taught her how to do her makeup and we had picked out a hairstyle that I promised to do for her the next day. Only now, here I was with a dress that needed to be altered with no sign of my symptoms waning and no time to help her. I altered her dress anyway. I had to move the straps in the back to sew up a keyhole that made the dress too adult and take it in. I was in severe pain.

I cried the entire time I altered that dress. I soaked the dress with tears. My vision was blurred and I kept stabbing myself with the needle. I cried so much but I felt like I HAD to do this for her. Did I mention I also did this in complete darkness? My light sensitivity was made so much worse that every time lights were on I would get a horrible migraine-like headache.

When she got ready for the dance, from bed (still in the dark) I did her hair. This time I had to cry silently because I did not want her to feel bad. When she went into the bathroom and checked herself out she said "Oh my god, it looks perfect! Thank you so much!" I told her she looked like Belle from Beauty & the Beast because we had done a half-up bun in her mousy brown hair and her dress was carnation yellow. I told her she looked like a princess and she waltzed out with her Dad. I fell asleep the moment she left but when she came back I woke up to hear all about her night.

The next day, finally feeling a little better, I recounted the whole saga to my best friends in our group chat. It dawned on me then that my behavior was mildly absurd. Why didn't I call one of them to come help me and her? Why didn't I ask my mom or sister? Why did I feel like I had to go through excruciating physical pain in order to complete a task that someone else could have done? Why did I refuse to fail?

Short answer: Because I feel like, as a Stepmom, there is no in between. There is only too much or not enough.

Long answer: See every other post on this blog. I am working on it.

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