Be careful what you wish for.

September 4, 2013 § 1 Comment

If I could go back to my newly stepmommed self (step-girlfriend really, if you’re keeping score), I would tell myself to be careful what I wish for.

If I could say one thing to every stepmom who thinks that her stepkids’ mom is the worst, most alienating piece of shit for sending the crappy, too small clothes or being a control freak about phone calls, I would say be careful what you wish for.

If I could go back to every time I just felt that I KNEW what was going on with shewhomustnotbenamed but needed proof….well, yeah.

I have been trying to explain for years to family and friends who don’t understand how we don’t have full custody that there is a world of difference between a crappy mom and an unfit mom. For years I truly believed that what we’ve been dealing with this whole time is just a crappy mom who was keeping her crazy, unfitness in check just enough to be passable in society.

We’re getting a taste of what unfit mom looks like.

Now that full custody is within our grasp, is possible, maybe even likely, oh it hurts, so much. How could I have ever wanted that shewhomustnotbenamed would start showing to the world just how messed up I knew she was? Did I not realize what that meant?

Soon, I may have to explain to my stepkids how their mom is still a good person even though she is in jail. I might have to take them states away from their half-siblings. I might have to actually have to put in the work to untangle the mess she has made out of their lives and their psyches. I will actually have to dismantle everything they know in their lives. Good God, do you know how hard that will be?

I don’t mean to belittle any stepmom out there who is trying hard, but I am asking you to search your heart. Can you be working harder? Can you find a middle ground, learn to look the other way, fight with your husband’s ex a little less? Decide that maybe part of the problem is what you’re contributing and that you’re choosing to see only the bad parts?

Because if your stepkids’ mom reaches her breaking point, no matter whose fault it may be, no matter whether it was inevitable or not, to see your stepkids’ hearts breaking? To see their world fall apart? Nothing is worth that. I’m here to tell you, there is no satisfaction to be found in CPS having cause to investigate. Nothing to be gained to learn that she was throwing all your gifts away, badmouthing you to the kids, getting drunk at every turn, breaking the law, and god knows what else.

I’m a firm believer that what you put out into this world comes back to you. Even if it was never meant to be, even if it wasn’t true, I wish in those early days I had worked harder at trying, just a little bit, to believe that my stepkids’ mom was trying as hard as she knows how. Because now it turns out she’s as broken as I believed, only she’s not the one paying for it.

They are.

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On how to miss your children.

May 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

I miss them.

Whenever I come to this empty white box to write, those are the words swirling around in my head.

Sometimes it is this straightforward, gut-wrenching, I miss their smiles and I cry if I think about it too long kind-of missing and other times it’s a quieter, ongoing longing, missing knowing how they’re doing and missing their sweet little voices. But I miss them all the same. It’s this pack I carry with me everywhere, the missing them.

We are exactly two years into this journey of long-distance parenting. I can’t even explain the pangs in my heart typing that out. Two years. There are so many things that I have missed in those two years.

It has got easier, I will admit. But it has taken work. AJ and I had to make a conscious effort to take things out of that Missing Them pack that had no business being there, to make it lighter, to make it through. Guilt [did we do enough? are we doing enough? will it BE enough?], regret [if only we had known, if only we had done more while we had the chance, if only…], anger [she manipulated the situation, she is manipulating the situation, she will continue to manipulate the situation]. But unpacking these things, the guilt, regret, anger, and so on, it makes room for other things. Things like hope, faith, preparation. Happiness even.

I feel like I have figured out the right way to miss them, finally. Looking at old pictures and smiling, telling stories with AJ and laughing, sometimes choosing to let the grief in and to feel the void. There is no right way to live across the country from your child, of course, but it’s that whole thing about letting something go so it can return to you. When I stopped focusing my grip so tightly onto what I had lost, something more precious, more beautiful has returned.

I don’t want to live my life in and around the spaces the kids leave behind, walking in sadness with the ghosts of their laughter. I want my life with AJ without the kids to be this incredible, abundant, breathakingly beautiful thing so that every time they walk back into our lives, we open our arms wide to welcome them back into the fold.

I was worried it was selfishness, letting go of my sadness. But it’s not. It’s just another way to love them with my whole heart.

Dark night of the stepmom soul.

February 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

I think we all have reached the point at one point or another, sometimes many times over, where it all feels too big to handle anymore. What did I sign myself up for? How can I keep doing this? There is no way out.

I feel myself teetering on the edge of reason, lately. I am one little leaf blow away from toppling over and wondering when this nightmare of my life will end. I am able to stay positive in the face of so many challenges…for now. But what will be the straw to break my back?

I know that thinking this way is just setting myself up for failure. Reality is, I have grown so much over the last year in my role as a stepmom and wife, I have found a support group that values beyond measure, I have a great therapist if things get too out of control. I do not resemble, in any way, that scared, anxious girl who naively thought that she would just have to brave it out for a bit and then she could get back to real life.  Joke’s on her, anyways. This is real life.

But the fear still lingers, doesn’t it? I am stronger and wiser after 6 years of living in this world, but it is extremely hard to know if the fear is a realistic expectation based on experience or if it’s some sort of post traumatic, self-preservationary reaction. I feel the familiar habits wanting to creep back (check my email, check AJ’s email, check google news, check facebook, check the local paper, look for something to buy on Amazon, check twitter, make lists, keep moving, keep moving, anything to stop the real thoughts from taking over) and it is WORK to keep them at bay. But I have to. I have to conquer my demons so that I am not fighting myself as much as everything else. I can no longer afford to give in and let her cause chaos in my life.

We have some big mountains ahead of us to climb. As much as I do not want to continue to fight, my kids deserve for me to continue to give everything I’ve got. I’m not afraid of the risk—what do we have to lose, at this point, really—but I am afraid that it still won’t be enough, after all this time.

I was given this life because I am strong enough. I’m not going to look in the mirror and cry anymore. It is a new day, and I have the power to make it whatever I want it to be.

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.

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