Thankful.

November 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Two days ago marked five and half years since my first date with my husband. We have been on such an incredible, vexing, heartbreaking, life-changing journey in that short time.

I caught myself in a moment on Monday. Somehow, this is the first time in the span of that journey that I feel like we are on solid footing. Things with the kids are relatively stable, we live where we want to live, we are in a place where we can start to have real plans and real dreams and real goals.

The skids came out for Thanksgiving and I could weep with joy (and have, in fact) at the success of the visit. There was no testing of boundaries, no struggles with learning how to be in eachother’s space again, no “I’m missing out on Thanksgiving with my mom” tantrums, no pain. It was just this celebration of our love for one another and pure happiness at being together. I don’t know to what, precisely, I should attribute the change. Was it the kids responding to the visible changes in AJ’s & my emotional expression after months of therapy, was it that they are getting older and better able to cope with the transition, was it that they truly missed us?

I wish I could have done a Right Click–>Save As to so many moments over the span of the 5 days they were with us. Like the moment we picked them up at the airport and how we were able to watch them warm to our repeated hugs and smiles until they were hanging all over us and laughing. Or sitting on barstools having coffee (steamers) at the fancy cafe with Olivia and hearing her pour her little heart out to me. Or Andy putting his head on my shoulder, picking up my hand, lacing his fingers through mine, and telling me “I really DO love you.” My heart could not be more full and I’m worried it will spill over and I will forget some of the smaller moments and stop being as completely grateful as I am in this moment.

This may be fleeting. Everything could change tomorrow or next week or next month. But today, I am so thankful for my life.

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Learning how to love unconditionally.

November 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

“How are you feeling about them coming out soon? What are your expectations?”

I don’t know…I guess I’m not sure which kids to expect to pick up.

“Don’t worry about which kids to expect. See past all of that to who you know they are.”

Three weeks ago I had this conversation with my therapist. Yesterday it hit me: I don’t care how they act, I don’t care if none of it is perfect. I love those kids and I want to see them.

(By the way, if you’ve been wondering if therapy might be a good idea, the answer is always yes)

I’ve been on this journey of learning what unconditional love means as a stepmom. Both in the figurative sense, since the kids became a part of my life, and in the very literal sense over the past 6 months since I started therapy and began working on being purposeful about my relationship with them. I wanted to know what it means to love my stepchildren unconditionally and how to go about loving them. I’ve carried this worry with me for so long that I don’t love them enough or in the right ways. I didn’t give birth to them, how can I love them the way a mother should?

Andrew, my stepson, is so challenging. I felt like I fell in love with Olivia almost immediately upon meeting her. She was so young (just barely 5) and completely adorable. I think it would have been impossible to love her. She just came into everything wide eyed and open-hearted. But not Andy. He was so confused and unsure of what to do, who to trust, how to act. He fought, he tested boundaries. I worried that I would never figure out what or how to love about him. He was just hard work.

I worked hard on figuring out Andy. Through all the tumult, I fought my way into understanding him. I had to be consistent, tough at times, kind at others, but always consistent with my presence and my care for him. I didn’t understand what that care was in those early years, I just knew I had to be there with it. Fake it till you make it. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it mattered to him that I was in his life at all, but I understand now that his pushing was him testing my love for him. And thank god I did not waver. Fast forward to this summer and he’s confiding things in me that he won’t tell anyone else in his life. And tears spring to my eyes when I hear his voice on the phone, from 1500 miles away. It has been so much work, but I know him. I know his troubles, his outbursts, those are just expressions of the pain he feels inside. I just want to wrap up that pain and hold it in my heart. I can’t take it away, I can’t make it better, but I can love him no matter what. That I know how to do.

And Olivia, I might have let her drift a little too far in recent years, being so focused on her brother. But I know she is going to come to our house and look for her familiar things and know we are her family here, too. I don’t need to be afraid of how she’s going to react to me since she’s realized she has the power to refuse to talk to me on the phone. I know she’s trying to be a peacemaker, trying to keep her mom happy. And I love her for that. I have come to realize that her pushing back might look different from her brother’s, but it is the same pain and I can wrap it up and hold it just the same.

I love them both so much. I may not get to see them every day, I may not pack their lunches or know the names of the parents on the PTA, but I know these kids. I’m not going away and they’re not going away. They can push and push and push–and they probably will–and I will still love them. Every heartbreaking moment for the rest of my life.

In my wedding vows, I promised to love those two as if they were my own. That seems so foolish now. I can’t love them like a mom does, not at all. I love them like only a stepmom can. I had to work for it, to earn it. I had to fight to get to know them and I as a result I will never take a single part of them or their place in my life for granted.

I don’t love them because I have to or because biology tells me I do. I love them because they are a part of who I am.

holidays and long-distance parenting

November 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Halloween came and went with it’s usual muted pangs of detachment and exclusion.

It’s such a shit holiday. I’ve always hated it, long before any s-kids were in the picture. It’s only fun until you’re 10 years old, and from that point on it becomes this long string of slutty nurses and awkward home decor. There was this tiny bright moment before everything went to shit where we actually got to celebrate the holiday with the kids, complete with costumes, candy, standing in the cold, the whole nine. It was kind-of fantastic, actually, to see such joy on their faces and to be the home base they ran to after every door, eager to show each and every score. What’s not to like about that?

Part of me wishes we had never had that moment. Now that they’re gone, I know exactly what we’re missing. Exactly what we’ll never get to be a part of. Oh sure, we got to buy some pieces of each kid’s costume, but it was a press the Checkout button online kind of participation. Really, the only kind of participation their mom will allow us. But there is no return on the investment. No pictures of their faces, of how they looked in their costumes, no phone call after. I wonder if they missed us at all or if we’re such a small part of their lives anymore that they forget we’d like to have those moments with them.

And, oh, you’d like to think, you’ll get yours, don’t worry. They’re coming for Thanksgiving. But do you know what the shitty part of it is? We’ll be so glad to see them, but they will spend the entire time feeling like they are missing out on their “real” family and on all the traditions she’s built with them. I don’t fault them for that; of course the house you live in 80% of the year feels like their “real” home.

Who is winning at what here, exactly?

I will try my damndest to make it special and happy for them, but I know they will feel those pangs of regret. I just can’t help but wonder if she doesn’t help those pangs along, feeding them little poisonous lines that sow discontent in their minds. It’s not enough to have them all of the time, she has to make sure that she knows when they’re not with her, they’re miserable.

Holidays are so hard. Nothing ever feels like enough because of the simple fact that we aren’t there all of the time. We live across the country. She got what she wanted. Now no one is happy.

Where Am I?

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