Last Day of Summer Breakfast!

With the way my fiance's custody is split we don't ever have the kids for lazy Sunday afternoons, but we always have them on sunshiney Sunday mornings! This is awesome because we can get up and hike or walk or bike or enjoy the Easter Bunny! It is also awesome because we can start sweet traditions like the LAST DAY OF SUMMER BREAKFAST EXTRAVAGANZA! We have come to love this! 

The picture above is last year, with the awesome Cinnamon Roll Cake I found on, you guessed it, Pinterest! I added sprinkles and icing that said "Happy Last Day of Summer". We also used cookie cutter letters to spell out the kids names in cantaloupe and made melon kabobs (we are a family that love kabobs)!

This year we have farm fresh peach pie, apple turnovers, bananas, and pineapple on the menu!

Hurt People Hurt People

I guess in a lot of ways, sharing my experiences require me to air out some dirty laundry. I have been candid (I think) and try to avoid judgement (I think this shows). However, how do you really see what my situation is like without looking at more than the current moving parts? I think it is appropriate, to put things in perspective and hop in a time machine.

This is not a blame game. This is not a way for me to ask you to cast judgement as you look at my experiences. I consider myself an empath, I have a good handle on objectively viewing things and seeing who people truly could be at their best, not just punishing them for their worst. 

I fell in love when I was 18 years old. I was mad for this guy. He was handsome and funny and he loved me right back. I had just graduated high school and he was still finishing up, as he was two years my junior. He'd had a hard childhood. I say hard because I know that it was hard for him not in an relational way to anyone else. He struggled with his parents divorce, with not seeing his father, with loving and accepting his stepfather in ways his sister never did, with inadequacy issues stemming from a family who had anxiety disorders. I thought that coming from a family that was well intact (of my parents siblings-- 5 brothers and 2 sisters-- only one had ever been divorced and all have loving families who welcomed another member with open arms) and kind we could right the wrongs of his past. In a lot of ways, we did. In a lot of ways his problems were bigger than that. 

He had these telltale signs of sociopathy or a narcissitic personality disorder that I ignored for a long time: manipulation, lack of remorse, constant envy, arrogance, anger, recklessness, emotional detachment, exploitative entitlement. I ignored these because I was in the revolving door of a psychologically and emotionally abusive relationship from the start and had no idea. To this day, I can't break my own small cycle of depression and anxiety that is onset when I feel very overwhelmed.

There were occasional bouts of physical abuse. I don't like to focus on this. I spent a great deal of time during my divorce telling people what they needed to hear when it came to manifesting an image for them of my relationship. I don't think any bruise on my body would ever have been as bad as the emotional scars and no one really understands that. It's like a twisted version of E.E. Cummings "I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)" but for me it is "I carry your pain with me (I carry it in my heart)". I don't have another effective way to articulate that but I lived in that place for 13 years and sometimes I can't help but end up back there. Simultaneously, however, I was very happy! I was in love! I was young and thought this was what the "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health" meant. I loved my life. We had a dog who died when he was 8 and to this day he is the best friend I have ever had in my entire life and the time I had them my heart was so filled up. 

I carried guilt with me for not fixing my ex and not saving my dog for a long time. I actually had to really think hard about that sentence to decide if I wanted to say "carried" or "carry". I know that this is not particularly healthy but it is also something that I know I do and have worked hard to get over. I have done this same thing to my stepchildren. Somewhere deep down I decided that it had to be me that fixed everything that their birth mother broke in their lives and as an extension of that I even felt like if I tried hard enough I could fix her. 

I left that relationship with pity and I find myself in that same place of pity with my kid's birth mom. He was not as good of a person as people believed. He had been grouped with my kindnesses. He had found ways to be poetic but I saw through them now. I remember telling him over and over "when you are feeling low if you keep telling me you are incapable of love, if you keep telling me you want the world to burn, one day I will believe it because every single time you say those things I start to believe them a teeny tiny bit more". He continued and I did too. I believed it all and in this one instant that I don't think I want to share the specifics of I realized that our marriage was over. 

When I woke up from my old life that is exactly what happened, I woke up. Everything inside me that stopped growing because I was so busy giving away all of my sunshine suddenly began to sprout and then blossom. I was suddenly the person that I had always known was there. I resented my ex for not being willing to let me shine, to help me shine, to have shined himself because of all the glorious rays of light I had given away to him. How precious is our own sunshine? How often are people willing to work so hard so that you shine? And how dare he have rejected it for his own feelings of insecurity. 

I think in a lot of ways, my situation can be likened to my fiance's past. His ex-wife had traumas in her own childhood that made her feel less than. Though it is not my place to share her life story, I can leave it at that. They also met as teenagers and she was also two years his junior. She has the same narcissistic tendencies, same anxiety, same entitlement, same anger, envy, and arrogance. They were dating for a matter of months before she got pregnant. They had a shotgun wedding. They moved out of their parents homes for the first time, had the excitement of a new family, and before they knew it they had two babies!

My fiance is a wonderful Dad. He was born for that role. But she stole his sunshine. Their life together was filled with staged pictures, arguments with no rules of engagement, and her blaming him for all the problems of her past. When her father died and she became a different person, as I think we always do when we lose someone we love, it was the beginning of the end. Having been together barely over 5 years they had 3 kids and she was only 22 years old. Do you remember what it was like to be 22? I graduated college and spent all my graduation money on a trip to Disney World. I was a baby! I was Jon Snow in a pack of wildlings. I knew nothing of this world.

She had multiple affairs. When my fiance found out about the first one and they had some semblance of a conversation/argument they eventually decided to try and stay together. She wanted an open marriage, he wanted a real one but already knew it wouldn't work out with her. Finally after a decade together they called it quits for real. Except for their eldest child together, the kids do not even have memories of their parents married. A few pictures exist but thats all they have seen. And even with the oldest it is fleeting. They remember things they did with Dad when Mom & Dad were still together but few memories exist in their children's lives of happy times with the whole lot of them. 

In a lot of ways when my fiance left this relationship he was like I was in my own marriage. Only I remembered what it felt like to feel warm sunshine on my face and he had been giving his away to his family for so long I think he got sunburned a few times. In both these scenarios you can hope the exes would rise up, rise above their pasts, move on and move forward with experience behind them, forgiveness in their hearts, and an open mind about what life can be like if you get some real help and really try to change. 

I think it is a testament to my own faith in people and the empath in me that I still hope that for both of them. I cannot stress enough the need to not lose faith and hope in the human race in these situations. Hurt people hurt people. And we forget that when someone has hurt us. The exes in my life have given me no reason to believe that they are trying to be better people. Neither of them have shown me much by way of a glimmer of hope but I can see it there if I look hard enough past the asshole who responds to my emails or the bitch who talks shit about me to our kids. My ex-husband still tries to peacock when he has reason to speak to me, still tries to act like I am overly sympathetic of someone who does not need sympathy, but deep down he is broken still and I hope working on it. My fiance's ex-wife still lashes out and acts like a teenager, and although after two years I have given up on asking her to sit down and have talks with me and stopped giving her the satisfaction of arguing back, I did send some cookies back to her house with the kids and she did text us to say "thanks". 

A Disney-worthy Engagement Anniversary!

On the one year anniversary of my engagement I want to share with you a post I wrote up for the website I founded, Picturing Disney! The article below was published in August 2016. Enjoy!

I am many things.  Three of those many things are: someone who life has broken in the past, a true believer in fairytales (and the heroines that rule them), and a cynical optimist (yes, you read that correctly, I both doubt it will come and believe in happy endings at the same exact time).  So there you have it. I am for all intents and purposes a typical middle American: a hard-worker who loves her job teaching, a dreamer of impossible things, and a lover of love. I will come right out with it: I got engaged in Disney World this summer.  There are lovely details to this story, but they are for me and my family and friends, not the entire internet.  I will share this:

So you may know of me if you have followed Picturing Disney from when I started it (and we were still located at lol) and you may have figured out my personality from the way I write, review, share, and photograph.  Whether this is your first read or you figured this out long ago, let me say... this was the single best moment of my life thus far. 

We came home from Disney World and bought a house! While, I know that seems simple... anyone who is reading this who has bought a house can vouch for me that it has not.  It was the single most stressful process of my life so far (and I am previously divorced and have lost people I love dearly).  I am not demeaning other people or my own pain.  This was just such immediate stress and such a long process that it really was not as simple as "and then we bought a house" might make it seems and I wanted to attest to that. 

Newly Engaged + New House = Party Time

I was immediately in touch with my girl, Monique, at her company Only One Mark Inc! She designed and printed announcements and invites for our celebration!

I used a Shutterfly code for 10 Free Magnets and used the 4 mini square design, ended up with 40 two inch by two inch magnets, used adhesive circles to attach them to the announcements and VOILA! If you enjoy that idea, the magnet coupon has long since expired but you can get a Free Photo Book with this link!

Monique and I designed the cards together, my fiance and I are huge fans of "Up" for many reasons, some are personal and private, others are the same as the reasons you love Carl and Ellie. We went with an Up theme for our announcements and invites and really our whole party (and probably our wedding)! I added a touch of Doctor Who to the back of our announcements because... well, anyone who has watched any 10th Doctor episodes knows I do not need to finish that sentence! Also, the party invites were not flawed at all- they are and were perfect! I just had to block out our phone numbers so haters and trolls won't hate and troll. lol. 

In any case, onward! We moved in and love our home! We were truly a couple that is meant to be. Every happy line from every sappy country song literally describes us.  One of our first projects together was the purchase of a white mailbox so we could do this:

It's even cute when I look at the pictures again! 

Onto the big PARTY! Because that's why you are here! I tried to photo document as well as I could so enjoy my captions and shoot us a message or comment if you are planning and have any questions! We tried to keep it DIY and personal.  Homemade, but with so much love that was the key to our planning. 
The metal ampersand light up ($7 on clearance at Target) and the Hello frame ($5 on clearance at A.C. Moore) are both are battery operated and switch on and off.  I had them at one end of our drink table which was also on the porch when people walked in.
I handpainted "Paradise Falls" on a mason jar then filled it with change.  We put Sharpies for labeling drink cups in the jar as well!

Another awesome frame find was this kickass photobox frame in Target! It was only $7 and has 4 mini shadowboxes on the sides and is a pin board.  I put our magicbands and buttons from our trip in the shadowboxes and other trinkets. Then I used a Carl & Ellie pin we had bought on the trip and a Walt Disney World one I'd had to pin our engagement photo up and put it in the middle of our food table!

I handpainted a big mason jar with a likeness of the Up house and then used cookie pops shaped as balloons to fill it up so that we had our own mini (and edible) Up house at the party!

We served some chips before dinner and fresh made popcorn from a home popper! We got the machine plus the popcorn boxes plus kits to make about 200 cups of popcorn for about $200 on Amazon.  I think that most people end up shelling out around $50 for party snacks, and this is only an investment once.  The next time we have a party, for about $20 or so we can feed everyone awesome popcorn snacks! an investment, yes, but a good one! 

We got popcorn and cookies and of course had dinner... but what do we all love best? CAKE! My mom made us this awesome book! It was perfect and beautiful and delicious (I am literally eating leftovers as I type)!

Favors? ELLIE BADGES of course! I attached a soda cap pin (made with printouts and epoxy on metal) to a piece of white cardstock and then glued a black backing piece of cardstock to secure it and neaten it up.  The Highest Honor We Could Bestow was a huge hit.  

Almost as big of a hit as the "balloons out front marking the house" :)
We couldn't have an Up themed party without balloons on our chimney! 

What's next? Happily Ever After, I think. 

Party Playlist
Up theme
Mango Tree - Zac Brown Band
Falling Slowly - Once broadway musical soundtrack
Laundry Room - The Avett Brothers
Thinking Out Loud - Ed Sheeran
You & Me - Dave Matthews Band
Ghosts That We Knew - Mumford & Sons
Flowers in Your Hair - The Lumineers
Dog Days are Over - Florence + the Machine
Some Nights - Fun.
Sound of Sunshine - Michael Franti & Spearhead
Lava theme
Margarita - Great Big Sea
Wanderlust - Flogging Molly
I and Love and You - The Avett Brothers
Work Song - Hozier
As We Are Now - Saint Raymond
She Got the Honey - Mat Kearney
I Need Never Get Old - Nathanial Rateliff & the Night Sweats 
Marry You - Bruno Mars
XO - John Mayer

Coping as a Coparent

Lately I have found myself wondering about what role I have in my family now that summer is in full swing and their mother is behaving rationally. Am I a placeholder? Am I the mom that the kids needed but only when their mother is acting like a lunatic? Is there room in someone's life for two moms or two dads? Will I ever feel differently about my role? Will I always just be an extension of their Daddy?

I have really considered all aspects of this co-parenting situation. I have tried to befriend and mediate, I switched to expecting reciprocity, I have stopped beating around the bush, I have been honest and straightforward... but it has not gotten me anywhere in improving the situation with my fiance's ex wife. My fiance says that it is because she never actually changes, she just goes dormant for a little while. The thing is no matter how much I think he is right, I still don't know how to handle things. For the last month I have minimized contact but it only seems to make her more hellbent on knowing things about my life.

She asks the kids weird questions about me, reads the kids texts with me, she stalks me on social media, she tried to dominate an entire day of our recent vacation with the kids trying to get in touch with her but her being unavailable. Then she pretends like things are not like this.  I tell myself that she is only controlling my feelings if I let her but how do I separate myself from that? I have considered things as extreme as being a spinster and I have no real answer. At all. And worse than that, like everything else in my family I know deep down that it is not really about me it is about her ex husband being happier without her. She doesn't really care about me, she cares about making his life less happy.

How do you survive in a life where literally nothing is about you? Is that true parenting? The kids use me to fill in gaps from their birth mother, their mother uses me to try and create an unsavory situation for her ex. Even in my own home I look around and see how I created spaces that were not really about me. Made by me to suite my family.

I can relinquish control of what goes on when they are not with me even though I miss them fiercely. I can consider that this may not be the family that I dreamed of but it is mine.

I just wonder if this is all there ever is. Do other parents feel like I do? Will I look back and regret it if I don't have more children? If they kids relationship with their mother improves to a certain point will they not need or want me anymore? Will I regret everything?