May 10, 2013

It’s Not Fair.

Posted in Parenthood tagged , , , , , , at 9:21 am by openendedcomment

Mother’s Day hasn’t always been fun around our home.  If you read my blog you know that we are a blended family.  In our blended family, the “other” mom, the biological parent of two of my sons, is severely uninvolved in their lives.  She hasn’t seen them in almost fourteen months and calls about every three to four weeks.  This has been the norm for the past nine years.  She will go in spurts of seeing the boys once a month or so for a bit and then it’s back to several month to a year absences with no warning.    She lives only twenty minutes away and works in our same small town.

This is hard on any child.  Clearly.  This is harder still on my boys.  The eldest has special needs.  He has never been capable of processing her behavior as something that does not reflect on him but rather on her.   It hurts him terribly and despite the hundreds of therapy appointments we’ve driven him to and from and the constant reassuring words we provide that he is worthy and he is good, I worry he still doesn’t get it.  Last week was terrible.  She had called, as she tends to do this time of year,  and he called her back.  During the five short minutes they spoke he explained to her what his adapted sports were and why he loved them (it is his fifth season and the woman had no clue what it was about), he told her how old he was though she kept correcting him and insisting he was older than he is and he again had to defend that he was not a bad son and wasn’t asking for too much for wanting to get a schedule set to see her.  My second son, J, keeps it all in.  He avoids speaking to her whenever possible and when he does he simply says, in his words, “Whatever makes her not mad at me.”

And that is why I hate that woman.

Not for anything to do with me, not for anything to do with my husband or anyone else on this earth aside from how she makes my children feel.  Every time she calls, she hurts them.  Each weekend she doesn’t bother to show and can’t even be bothered to call or cancel, she hurts them.   The dozens of instances she’s said she will be attending a game or a concert or sending a letter or arranging a  visit and doesn’t follow through or show up, I am the parent that picks them up, that shows up, that makes up for and consoles them.   I am the one that fixes what she breaks time and time again.

It isn’t me who does this because my husband can’t or won’t or doesn’t.  He does what he can do.  It is on me because I am a mother and these boys need and deserve to know what a mother should be and for most of us, is.  They need this not only for their well-being but for the wives and children they will one day have. They need to know that what she does isn’t normal and is not at all acceptable.   It never has been.

Nine years ago, when they came into my lives, I went upstairs to tuck all four children in for the first time.  I entered my second bonus-son’s room, placed the blankets around him and began to sing a lullaby.  When I was done, he had tears on his little three-year old cheeks.  When I asked him why, he said he didn’t know mommy’s did that in real life.   That was also the night I told my now-husband then very-serious-boyfriend that I had to know that we were going to be married soon or I couldn’t do it anymore.  I was in love with more than him.  I loved his children, too.

I suppose you’re wondering why this is being written about Mother’s Day when this is clearly not a post about a good mothering moment.  Well, here’s the thing.  She wants the boys for Mother’s Day.  She wants a day to celebrate her being a mother.  I realize I have to let this go and that I shouldn’t be petty and I should support their relationship with her, however flawed, because at the end of it all she is their mom and I am the step-mom.  When it comes down to it, if she does plan to pick them up and spend the day I will tell them to have fun and smile, for their sake I will be positive.  But for right now, here in my little blog-world, I’m going to go ahead and say what I feel which is that this isn’t fair.  I am the mom that does the homework, bandages knees, cheers in the stands, makes them clean their rooms and take their medication, grounds them when they need to be grounded, knows who their friends are, what size shoes they wear, what girl they secretly like, their code words for when they want to leave a friend’s home, what they want to be when they grow up and why.  I am the one the school calls and emails.  I am the one who makes the Doctor and Dentist and Orthodontist appointments.  I am the one who writes checks for year-books. field-trips and camps and makes lunches and cleans puke and does load after load of laundry and makes their favorite meals when their little lives stink and this just isn’t fair at all.  I am sorry for whining and I do realize I am, but every Mother’s Day for eight years has been chaos because of her.  If she shows up  to see them it’s at strange hours and I don’t get to see my own mother or really celebrate with my biological daughter and son.   On top of that, my husband is usually on edge because she’ll have made some awful comment or threat as she picks the boys up rendering him useless until they are safely home.  If she doesn’t show up and sometimes even if she does, the oldest is so upset by her that he takes it out on Mother’s Day in general.  He has broken every single Mother’s day gift I’ve ever received from any of my children.  He doesn’t always do it on Mother’s Day, it could be anytime of year when he is upset with her, but those are the things he destroys.

I have no little vases formed of clay.  No flowers of tissue paper, no cards with names barely etched out in wobbly hand-writing.  Over the years he’s destroyed each one.  His Doctors tell me it isn’t against me but an outburst of anger at her that he doesn’t feel safe expressing to her so he expresses it to the idea of a mom.  They’ve gone on to tell me it is actually a testament to my relationship with him that he feels safe enough in my love to be able to misbehave without fearing I would love him less or reject him for it.  I suppose there is truth to that, but it still isn’t fair.  It doesn’t make it better.  It makes me hate her more…and that is something I will never say to them.

To them I will say what I have always said: Your mom is doing the best she can, she loves you and you’ve done nothing wrong.  I’m sure things will be better soon.  When you see your mom, remember to keep it positive,  to have fun, be respectful and enjoy your time together.

I suppose this is a post for all of the step-mothers and adoptive mothers and foster mothers and aunts and grandmothers and single dads out there who are raising children who may not be your own and loving them as though they were.  This is for all of you who do the work of the women who will be celebrated Sunday and have to turn that celebration over to someone else.  This is for the women who are mothers without carrying a child  but who still carry the load, made heavier by their failings…this is your day, too.  And even if no one else realizes it or says it out loud: I get it.  I know how hard it is.  You are a mom.  You do matter.  You deserve Mother’s Day, too.  Cheers.

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April 16, 2013

No peeing on the playground.

Posted in Parenthood tagged , , , , , , at 12:31 pm by openendedcomment

When your child is kicked out of pre-school after managing to download Robin Williams on YouTube and then reciting a routine verbatim on the playground, it’s time for drastic measures.  Catholic School.  My youngest son was enrolled at Faithful Shepherd for Kindergarten as it was determined by his pre-school teachers, his parents (me included) and anyone who had ever met him that this child needed discipline and structure.  We were (all) horribly wrong.  By the end of the third quarter I was kindly asked to not re-enroll him for first grade.  Now, let’s be clear.  He never hurt anyone.  He never bit, hit, kicked, teased or bullied.  He did not swear (at least not in English)  He did,  however, question everything and for lack of a better way of putting it…acted like himself.  A little boy who will not conform.  He has continued this through fourth grade and, to my delight, has not been asked to leave school since.  Though it’s been close.

You may ask what on earth a five-year old could have done to be banished?  As it turns out, many things.

In Kindergarten, at a Catholic School, religion class begins with the book of Genesis.  As his teacher was reading and explaining all about Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden, my son, Adam,  raised his hand.  Mrs. M. : “Yes, Adam?” Adam:   “Ummm, so you’re telling me that God did all of this in six days, right?”  “Yes, Adam.  He did.”  Adam:  “So, what are fossils?  Conspiracy theories?”

In Spanish class, they were learning their colors.  My son, semi-fluent, was bored.  Bored five-year-olds are dangerous and occasionally annoying things.  He was annoying everyone.  Mrs. O: “Adam, really.  Sit still.  You don’t have to do colors.  You can say anything you’d like, as long as it’s En Española.”  Adam: “Anything?”  Mrs. O : “Anything”  Now, right here I’d have to put the blame squarely on the teacher.  If you know my son at all…even a little…you know that wasn’t a normal conversation.  That was a dare being issued and then accepted.  Adam: “Punta.”  I suppose it didn’t help that when I got the call from Mrs. O, my first reaction was “Oh, fuck. He didn’t.”

The Christmas Pageant at his school was darling.  At least it was supposed to be.  They (the teachers) were bright enough not to give him a speaking part, micing Adam in mixed (and pious) company is not a bright move, but they were dumb enough to place him front row center in the angel chorus.  There he was, along with all fifty kindergartener students, in his little suit with a halo of gold foil sticking up over his head.  As is always the case at these functions, they took a minute or two pre-show to allow parents to snap pictures.  As we were snapping away, in total silence, Adam spoke.  Rather, Adam shouted  “Hey!  Mom!”  I waved  “Mom, look!” as he pointed to his halo “Irony, right?”  The entire parent section burst out laughing as I slid down in my chair.  He wasn’t done.  I knew he wasn’t done.  As the pageant progressed and the little six-year-old Mary and Joseph attempted to get through the show, my not-so-angelic son heckled them on.  The inn-keeper refused to give them a room.  Adam: “Aaaand you’re going to Hell”  Joseph forgot his lines when the Angel Gabriel came to visit and asked if he’d still accept Mary, pregnant and all…Little Joseph “Ummm…I forgot”  Adam: “Yeah, you do, or Jesus would have been a bastard.”   Little Mary, throughout the last scene, had a hard time holding onto Baby Jesus, his plastic doll self kept falling.  Adam : “Mary!  C’mon, you’re killing the son of God”  And my favorite, when the three kings brought their gifts, “Cheap for a King.  They should have brought diamonds or at least got these guys a room at the inn.”    *sigh*   I could do nothing but sit there and wait for it to (finally) be over.

There was also the time he managed to get the entire school evacuated by convincing the other fifty kindergartener children to dump milk down the boiler.  And during the Spring concert, when he “conducted” the whole way through and inserted his own lyrics.  The time he went off about Catholics being vampires, drinking blood…the time he peed outside at recess, and when put on time-out, called the teacher a hypocrite because the school was teaching them about water conservation and he was “conserving water by not flushing.”  So many examples and far too many phone calls home.

Oddly enough, as soon as we put him into public school, he was better.  He still gets in all sorts of trouble, but not to anywhere near the same level.  This is a child who can not and will not be contained by any boundaries of thought.  Church was always a challenge for him.  He’s spoken up at several masses and made all sorts of off-color comments.   Once in front of forty priests that were gathered for my daughter’s first reconciliation.   To their credit, several laughed when he asked if the guys that stabbed Jesus after he was on the cross could ask forgiveness and be absolved, or if they were pretty much screwed.  And though he makes me mental and though parenting him is a daily challenge, I love that about him.  I love that he questions and forms his own opinion.  I love his acerbic wit and the way he can see the humor in just about anything.  I love that his brain works a little bit differently than most people’s and today, as I’ve just gotten a call about a science experiment gone wrong, I need to remind myself of how wonderful his outlook can be.

April 10, 2013

I want to devour the unborn.

Posted in Parenthood tagged , , , , , at 7:38 pm by openendedcomment

I recently ran across a post written by a server at a diner. She was writing about a conversation she’d had with a customer at her restaurant.  She walked up to a mother and her son, age approximately eight, and asked what they’d like.  Boy “I will devour the unborn!”  Silence…silence as this was delivered in the voice only an eight year old male has the ability to produce, high, clear and authoritative.  The entire place went silent.  The mother, looking up at her server with utter humiliation quietly stated “Eggs.  He wants eggs.”

Oh, honey, I’ve been there.

My children have all embarrassed the hell out of me to varying degrees.  It’s as though it is part of the job description of a child  “make your parents want to crawl under a rock.  Preferably at top volume.”  The honest child is the reason for the alcoholic mother.  I’m sure of it.  And today, thinking of that mother’s horror, I thought I’d share some of my little beast’s greatest hits.

Girl Child, at age six, had golden ringlets that reached to her waist.  She had (has) the biggest blue eyes known to man.  On this day as we walked into a Kentucky Fried Chicken  to pick up dinner (my husband’s favorite, don’t judge) she was wearing a pink princess dress, tutu and all…the picture of innocence.  Until she opened her mouth.  In front of us in line was a very, very large woman.  As in Jillian Michaels may not even be able to help large.  Said woman ordered a great deal of food.  My angel, in her angel voice at top volume (it always is when these things happen) said “Mom?  Mom, I thought fat people weren’t supposed to eat fried food!  Why is that fat lady eating fried chicken if she’s so fat?”  Oh. My. God. I wanted to sink into the f-ing floor. I couldn’t run, Atilla the Chicken Eater had already turned around and was glaring at me…so I did my best to stammer an apology, turned to devil-wears-tutus and said “Honey, it’s not your place or anyone’s to tell someone what to eat.  And baby, you know better than to make comments about people’s looks.  It isn’t polite.”   I then looked at my watch, exclaimed “Oh!  We’re late!” walked out, drove to another KFC, got dinner and went home…because honest to God I couldn’t stand there another second.

This same little angel, not a month later, was at the grocery store with me.  A very large (as in body-builder large) man was in the female sanitary aisle.  Now, to me this means this guy is boyfriend of the year.  My daughter rewarded his stellar behavior with the following: As I grabbed my tampax, my dearest girl called out to him “Hi!”…she was darling, and he smiled back.  The she said, all in short order with no pause and in a very serious tone “why are you looking at tampons?  Tampons are only for ladies.  My Mommy says so.  Are you a lady?  You have man clothes, but you do have big lady boobies.  Are you just a big lady? Some men want to be ladies.  I saw it on the TV at my Nana’s house.  Do you want to be a lady?  Is that why you buy tampons?”  OH SH!T.  I stammered (something I’ve gotten good at doing) “Baby, it’s, ummm, it’s not polite to ask people about what they’re buying.”  Mouthed an “I’m so, so sorry” to He-Man and bolted for the register.

Fast forward a year.  You’d think I would be smart enough to never, ever go anywhere in public with children, but sometimes life necessitates it.  My youngest was five.  We took him to a Vikings Football game.  My husband brought him to the restroom, at the Metrodome this is pretty much a large metal trough, and returned fifteen minutes later practically in tears.  As my husband told me through clenched teeth on our way home, the boy approached the trough, dad informed him that he shouldn’t drop his jeans all the way to his ankles as the floor was dirty.  Baby OCD looked around the restroom and demanded to know “Who peed on the floor?!  Which of you peed on the floor?! Are you animals?!”  I share this part as it’s how he got the entire restroom’s attention before dad quieted him down, got him to ready, aim fire and all was well…until a man took position next to him.  Apparently, this guy was Ron Jeremy’s long-lost brother.  The five-year old was impressed.  “Wow!  That’s a HUGE penis! Dad!  You have got to see this penis!  I thought yours was the biggest ever but this is HUGE!  It’s so much bigger than yours!  Dad, look!”  Now, my poor husband couldn’t just run away, his five-year old was in there, mid-stream.  He couldn’t do anything but stand there and whisper “I’m not looking at his penis.  Damn it, hurry up.  Hurry.  Up.  Now.”  Our dear son would not be swayed, he persisted “But, Dad!  It’s the biggest penis ever!  Hurry before he’s done!”  He couldn’t grab the boy and bail, the boy’s pants were down.  He had to endure the other twenty guys laughing themselves sick, wait for baby boy to finish, wash hands and walk away bringing him to me, who was then told the story of the huge penis by our dear son, at top volume…to the delight of everyone in our section.   I married a saint.  This is proven by the fact that our youngest has been allowed to celebrate five more birthdays.

There are dozens of other examples of my children’s mission to murder us…death by humiliation…but three should do for one post.  Remember, the next time you see/hear a terrible child, remember there is a parent wishing they could run and hide…and have some sympathy.

April 9, 2013

A four letter word.

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , at 12:53 pm by openendedcomment

Snow.  I hate that word right now.  Like…hate.  I detest, loathe and despise that s-word.  Today marks the seventh month of winter in Minnesota.  Mother Nature is giving us the middle finger, people I love are going through Hell, my life is chaos and I’m foul…but instead of dwelling on all the crap, I thought that at least for today, I’d try to look on the bright side…find the good.  I need the good right now and when I write things down, they tend to be more “true” or at least seem this way.  It’s worth a shot.

We are going to get several inches of snow.  Bright side: it’s raining before the snow, and we need rain.  I’m getting more wear out of my winter clothing.  Even brighter side, I started my summer-prep workouts four weeks late this year.  My arms aren’t tank-ready and as it appears I’ll have until June before the weather requires a tank top, much less a t-shirt, I’m actually right on track.  Oh, and no sun-burns…not yet.  I can and do burn in 60 degree April within about twenty minutes.  I wear sunscreen everyday and it never matters…I’m still going to fry.  This is also a less sun damage and wrinkles kind of bright side and when you’re on the wrong end of 35, that’s a really big deal.

I never see my husband because he works insane hours and I have to handle 99% of what goes on at home.  Bright side: We don’t fight much because when we do see each other, those petty things don’t seem to matter.  His working this way also means that he feels fulfilled and I’m thankful he finally has a career he can be proud of on all levels.  I also get to take care of things around here my own way, which I actually prefer, no matter how much it annoys me day-to-day.  Bonus bright side:  Bonuses.

I have no social life because I am always driving my children around to sports, friends, sports, school, dates and sports.  Bright side:  I have four healthy and active children.  I’m on the tail-end of this mom-chauffeur thing and I know that I’ll miss it all…someday.  Everyone says so.  Then again, they all also said that childbirth was “a good kind of pain” and that once I got through the two and three-year old phase it would get easier…so we’ll see.

Speaking of children, they have, all four in their own way, been a challenge these past few months.  Bright side: So far, challenges met.  Note to God, Karma, the World: This is not a challenge/dare to make it harder.  Brighter still, I’m pretty sure that based on how we’ve addressed these issues, we’ll be in a better place with each of them in short order.

This past year I’ve been re-examining my relationships with people.  I’ve lost a few along the way.  Bright side: I offered forgiveness and asked for it from the people and situations I needed.  Some worked out, others didn’t, and in the end at least I know I’ve done what I can do.  No more loose ends and way less drama.  Good things.

I’m sure that within a few weeks I’ll be back to complaining.  I know that so many have such larger problems…so many near and dear to me are dealing with things far, far worse.  I hate that I can’t fix it for them and that right now I don’t even know how to make it easier.  I get that I don’t really have the right to complain.  That said, I know I will.  In a month or two I’ll be dying of heat, sun-burned, annoyed that all I do is drive around and work and someone will have royally ticked me off and I’ll fall back into my whining ways…but for today, it’s all about the positive.  And that’s all any of us can really expect, right?  One day and one moment at a time, to enjoy what we can and we what we have…even if today that is the forecast for a foot of snow in April.

March 22, 2013

There is nothing “Second” about it

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , at 12:41 pm by openendedcomment

I know not everyone who reads my blog agrees with me on this issue. OK. But for those that do and for those that aren’t totally sure about the entirety of the issues at hand, this is an amazing video to watch, listen…really actually listen to…and share.

This young man had heard that many opposing same-sex marriage often state the “sanctity” of a biological mother and father in the home is the ideal family. Now, I have my own very personal reasons for calling BS on this. Namely the fact that my ex-husband, my daughter’s biological father, tried to kill me (as in with his hands, not by being a run-of-the-mill jerk) and has had no interest in my daughter for eleven of her thirteen years of life.  Her dad, my husband, has been her dad since she was five and is absolutely better for her and with her than her biological father.  There is also the case of my step-sons, whose biological mother…well…I’d better not. Suffice to say she is not much better.

Anyway, I digress. Some of these “pro-family” types have been running around stating that adoption is a “second-rate” family. Biological is always best. This ticked off the amazing young man in this video. You see, he is adopted. By his dads, who love him unconditionally and are doing their best to raise a good man. You know…like parents do. He took it upon himself to pen a letter to Justice Roberts and his parents, impressed, posted this video to their blog. Which is also pretty awesome.

Watch it. I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that regardless of your personal beliefs on the issue, there isn’t one damn thing about this young man that is “Second” rate.

March 19, 2013

A departure.

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:19 am by openendedcomment

A new Pope was installed today.  As a woman who was raised as Catholic, this should be an important day for me.  It should be a day to embrace my faith and feel more connected to my church and to God.  I know this intellectually but emotionally and spiritually, I feel only confusion…detachment and sorrow.  I want to believe and I do believe in God and in the basics but in the church itself…in and for that I feel only loss.

This Pope embraces care of the poorest among us, he is a scientist and a Jesuit.  He believes in furthering education and humility.  These  are all wonderful things.  He spoke of and has acted on purging the church of the sins of its leaders.  That is a good thing too, and high time.  Today he spoke of love.  Love for those who most need it and love for those who least deserve it.  That is exactly what I have waited for the church to speak of and to act upon.  I ought to be eleated…but I am not.  I am not because though he spoke of love he remains firmly rooted in the archaic notions of women’s role being minimal at best and in women having no place in the church’s leadership.  He is traditional (in the sense of the church) in his stance on reproductive rights and even birth control.  Perhaps hardest for me is that he, together with the church’s leadership, remain resolute in their opinions and teachings on homosexuality.

I can’t agree.  I can understand that these are the church’s teachings, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why.  I’m not talking about other religions who may agree with the Catholic Church on some of these social justice lines, frankly, that isn’t what I’m concerned with.  I am selfishly concerned with my religion and the church I was raised in and more specifically with how on earth I can justify raising my own children as Catholics today.

I’ve asked.  I’ve spoken to priests and to very devout friends.  They’ve all given me the exact same BS lines and quoted the exact same scripture at me what seems like thousands of times.  No matter how often I hear it, I know it is not true.  I know it isn’t true.  The scripture they quote can easily be refuted with another verse in another chapter.  Besides, I do not and have not ever taken the Bible literally.  How can I?  How could anyone with an analytical and developed mind?  Knowing the Bible has been written and rewritten for political purposes over a millennium with entire sections removed and added for various reasons…knowing that the original disciples, the original priests and leaders of the church were allowed to marry and that women did have a larger role in the church for centuries until someone decided they didn’t…how could I?  And this is just the New Testament.  The Old Testament is clearly up for interpretation.  Please, please don’t comment on this part with any “Adam and Eve” stuff here.  I mean, really.  If Adam and Eve begat Cain and Abel, how did Cain and Abel procreate without committing incest?  If you truly belive that “traditional” marriage is between one man and one woman because “the Bible says so” then please explain why half of the Old Testament had numerous wives. If we’re going straight “traditional” as our guide, then Cody and the Sister Wives are our model and…well…please let’s not agree on that, OK?  And why and how on earth is it that the exact same scripture used to justify this hatred was used to justify laws prohibiting inter-racial marriages?  Look it up.  Exact. Same. Scripture.  Frankly, I’m offended.  I believe that God is offended.  The Bible and God’s teachings are those of love.  To use bits and pieces to promote hate is antithetical to Christianity and it makes me sick.  Further, if abortion and birth control are so wrong, why did the church assist with birth control (granted it was rather crude in form, but still happened) for women for centuries right up until the nineteenth when it became a social issue?  C’mon people…get some new material.

I want to raise my children with religion.  I want them to have the peace and knowledge that I do, that there is a God and there was a Son.  That their conscience is more than a conscience and that the traditions of communion and confession are important and true.  That said, I will raise good people.  I will raise children that believe in forgiveness over judgement.  People that understand tolerance and justice on a far deeper level than they know bigotry and hate.  I want to provide the world with four individuals who know how to question and think for themselves while rooted in firm and unshakeable values…and knowing what I know and hearing what I have heard from this place I used to find such comfort, I no longer know how to provide that for them.

And I need to.

They miss the ceremony and the tradition.  Sometimes I do, too.  We walked out of a mass several months ago when a deacon took to the pulpit and eschewed hatred and judgement for many that I love and millions who should find comfort rather than persecution in the arms of God.  I took one look at my four babies and knew in that instant I could not allow them to hear such things.  That even though I had always explained our family’s feelings on the issues after a mass, that by having them exposed in any form to such outrageous statements while telling them to “believe” was inexcusable as a parent.  So we walked.  It’s been bothering me ever since and today, of all days, I miss my church.  In writing this I can understand that I miss the idea of my church…of what I thought it to be for so many years.  I miss the comfort I found as I kneeled and prayed, enveloped by a sense of tradition and the teachings of Christ that I had chosen to acknowledge…of redemption and of love and of charity and peace.  New beginnings and eternal life.  I know that I will never go back, not the way I once was.  I don’t know what I am anymore, clearly not Catholic.  Not really.  To continue to identify as one seems unfair to those that actually are and a departure from what I know in my heart to be right.  I know that for my children I will have to find something different.  A compromise of what I know to be true and what I believe they need in their lives.  I will likely always cross myself and carry my rosary.  I will never waver from fish on Fridays.  As a family, we will still pray before dinner and still say the Hail Mary at the graves of those we love and lost.  I will find something new, someday.  In the meantime, for the church of my childhood and my grandparents, I will pray.  I will go again to the Basilica of Saint Mary and I will kneel before Our Mother and light a candle the way I have hundreds if not thousands of times before.  I will quietly ask that she bless me on this journey, secure in the knowledge I gained at the feet of Father Milano, that no matter what I am taught or told in my life and regardless of by whom, if I take the Spirit as my guide and listen in reflection to the truth of my conscience, I will be on the right path.

And for today, at this moment of what may be great change but still not great enough, my path is away.

February 11, 2013

Married: With Children.

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , , , , at 12:31 pm by openendedcomment

In the past several months (years) I (like every other married person) have had countless conversations about what it takes to make a marriage work.  There are a million books on the subject and each proclaims to have the special sauce/secret recipe/ultimate rules for making it successful.  But they can’t, right?  No one book or one Doctor or one Marriage Counsellor could possibly know what it takes to make a relationship that is unique in every situation apply to all situations.  What about blended families?  What about young couples without children?  What about mature marriages after divorce or death of a spouse?  How could one set of rules possibly fit for such diverse situations?

They can’t.  They never will.

My family is a blended one with three exes and four children, three of whom we have full custody of, one who we share with his dad.  We’ve been married for eight years and have been together for ten.  We’ve been through three custody battles, job loss, family loss, new homes, new careers, a special needs child and are in the teen years with two.  In reflecting on how-the-hell-we’re-still-together I’ve compiled this list. Our rules, our secret sauce.  Use at will.

1.)  Go to bed angry.  I don’t care what the books say, sometimes it’s best to be angry and just sleep on it.  The biggest fights in my marriage have taken place late at  night because neither of us will back down. Chances are, when you wake up and aren’t so God-Awful-Tired things will look better.  If it’s a weekday you’ll have even more distance to calm down while you’re at work or doing dozens of other things.  By the time you see each other the next evening, you’ll either be over it or be too busy with life to really find it important.  If it’s a major deal, send an email and let the other person think about the issue and respond without the heat of in-your-face emotion. But…and this is important…do not sleep apart because you are mad.  Sleeping apart is saying that you’re done sharing that martial bed space with your spouse and that is not OK.  Get in bed, turn your back if you must, shut the fuck up and go to sleep.

2.) On that: It’s OK to talk it out electronically.  If you have children in the house, it’s actually better.  They don’t need to see/hear you arguing with each other.

3.) And on that note: Don’t worry if your children do witness the occasional argument.  It is fine for them to know that adults who love each other don’t always have to agree and that if a relationship is important, you work through the hard times by talking it out with (hopefully) some respect.  I think this is especially important for blended families as these children are already aware that marriages can end. But do try to limit the yelling and details when they’re in ear-shot.  It’s amazing what they hear and repeat…invariably at the most inappropriate times.  My youngest once detailed a disagreement over beard trimmings in a sink.  The way he explained it we (husband and I) both sounded bat-shit crazy, which we may be, but that’s not something the neighbors need to know.

4.) You’re going to fight about stupid things.  Really, really stupid things.  You’re going to do this because you live together and sometimes you’re going to want to hurt that person who makes you nuts and leaves socks in the living room and dishes in the sink but you won’t…you’ll just imagine it, and that, in my mind, is fine.

5.) Accept that your spouse isn’t going to parent the way you do (especially true in blended situations) and that as long as you know when to hold your ground and when to concede, that’s fine.  If the “other” parent is involved, you are not the parent.  You are an authority figure in your home, you do deserve respect, you do get to make rules and you do deserve to be heard.  But…and this is a tricky one…if the other parent is not involved or minimally involved, you are the parent and you need to accept it and behave like one.  If you can’t accept this or don’t want this, you have no business marrying someone with children.  Even if the “other” parent has custody now, that doesn’t mean they always will.  I’ve seen this countless times.  Bonus children are a wonderful blessing and a massive source of conflict.  The children may question your right to have a say in their lives and your spouse may over-ride you.  You’re going to be livid and you’re going to argue about it.  OK.  As long as you love those children and treat them as your own (both the good and the bad, i.e. praise, love, kindness, care along with discipline and consequences) you’re most likely going to be fine.  Insane, but fine.  Worried sick, but fine.  In other words, exactly like every other parent that’s ever existed.

6.) Siblings fight.  Parents who aren’t in blended families worry about this.  Parents with blended families obsess.  It’s perfectly normal.  They aren’t always going to get along and as long as it doesn’t escalate into something dangerous or destructive, calm down.  My sister once broke my brother’s leg and then, jealous over the attention he had in his cast, she bit his good foot.  And they love each other.  They really, really love each other.  These things happen…find me a set of siblings who never fought as children and I’ll find you a purple unicorn with glitter hair.

7.) Don’t let your children’s fights become your fights.  If your children are arguing with each other, it’s natural to want to get involved and end it.  To a degree this is fine.  But only to a degree.  When you and your spouse are pitted against each other by your children and find yourselves saying things like “But, he pulled her hair!” and “She started it!”…you need to knock it off.  Part of how children learn to handle conflict as adults is to handle it in childhood.  Let them.  Save your sanity and wash your hands of it.  Unless it’s dangerous/destructive…then see #5 and be a parent.

8.) Teenagers suck.  Teenagers will fray your nerves to the point you want to flip out on the nearest individual. Unfortunately, this is usually your spouse.  Vent, but don’t yell and please remember that being teens means they’re leaving soon and despite your current feeling, you will miss them.  Terribly.  I haven’t yet experienced this but I’m told it’s true.

9.) If you don’t have sex at least twice a week/four times a month/whatever the book says, it doesn’t mean your marriage is failing.  It means that you’re normal, you’re tired and sometimes, you haven’t even had time to shower.  It happens.  As long as you touch each other, kiss and are available physically and emotionally, all will be well.  We once read a book that said we should be intimate at least four times a week for optimum satisfaction in our marriage.  We (I) panicked.  Four times a week?!?  I mean, maybe on vacation, but…were we failing?  Doomed? Now, my husband and I are both perfectly functional and attractive (to each other) people with normal sex drives.  But for a few months, things had stalled (see 1-8) and we were worried.  We were worried because our friends said they had sex all of the time and we knew we weren’t so naturally, we felt there was something wrong.  We followed the book’s lead and after three weeks we decided that a. we were fucking tired b. being “ready” as in shaving, lingerie, staying up until the kids were all asleep is way too hard to do that often and c. our friends were lying bastards.  We let it go and just pipe up if one or both feels like things are slipping.  Pressure gone, sex life better.  Point is: Relax.  Every couple has their own rhythm and own times when infants, jobs, teens, whatever makes intimacy a challenge.  It always sorts itself out.  If not, don’t worry, there are pills for that.

10.) Do new things.  Together.  Remember that you aren’t as old as life makes you feel and figure out how to try to enjoy life…not just each other, but life itself.  It’s worth it.

11.) Don’t share the bills.  Most couples I know who “share” or “split” bills argue about it.  We made a decision many years ago that one is charge of them, updates the other and both have equal say in how it is handled.  No “his” and “hers” accounts.  Separation leads to questions about “fairness” and that leads to resentment.  This is especially true when one spouse out-earns the other or is tasked with giving the other “spending money” this is not a parent/child relationship, you are partners and partners share the business.   Generally one is in charge of payables and both partners have equal access to the information and resources.   If you must have your “own” access to funds, do it with a credit card that is in your name only and pay the damn thing off regularly.

12. Set goals together, both financial and lifestyle. By doing this you’re working toward something as a team and being a team is what it’s all about.

13. You don’t have to share everything.  Really.  Maybe you’re the type of person who has to tell your spouse every single detail of your day, but we aren’t those people.  We’re happier with the highlights and when both parts of a couple are as busy we are, relaying the work day on a play-by-play level is not only boring, it eats up the “off” time…which makes no sense.  Most people work to live as opposed to live to work.  If you work to live and then spend all of that living time talking about working, what’s the point?

14. Cut out the assholes.  We all have them.  Friends and even neighbors or distant family members who bring drama to our lives.  If someone disparages your spouse to you or, worse still, is disrespectful or down-right mean to your spouse in their presence, you need to get rid of them.  By all means, try to have a conversation about the situation with the offender first, but if it doesn’t get better, cut them the fuck out.  Your marriage comes first.  Your spouse should never have to ask you to do this.  Be a grown up, recognize the situation and protect what is most important to you.  It may be hard, but it is the right thing to do.

15. Embrace the crazy.  There are things about your spouse that are utterly, totally, unquestionably strange.  Chances are that these are the very things that person you adore is most sensitive about.  Love them for it, not despite.  Do this and you are validating that you love that person because of everything they are, not even though.

16. Score cards are fine.  Everything you’ll ever read will tell you not to keep score.  I disagree.  Keeping score and fighting about it constantly;  not a good thing.  Being aware when you’re doing way more than your share and making your spouse aware is a way of communicating before you get to the point of seething resentment.  And that is a great thing.  You’re in this relationship, too, and you also have a right to be supported.  In our home, I’m the one who’s usually accused of “keeping score.”  I do the vast majority of housework, children running and almost all of the errands.  I tend to get pissy.  But, I also don’t want to let these things go to “his” list of responsibilities as I want it done my way.  Needless to say, this has been (by far) the hardest one for my husband and I.  We’re  getting better at it though (as in I’m trying not to be impossible and he’s trying to let me talk about without getting angry at the utter insanity of the situation)  and the more we talk about it, the less anger we feel.

17. Go away.  Get out of your surroundings, even if it’s just checking into a local hotel for the night.  Not everyone can afford (much less has access to the child care it takes) to go on a  two-week romantic vacation or to have “date night” weekly, again, as all the books say.  But, that said, almost everyone can manage a night or two away a couple of times a year.  Take what you can get.  Hole up in a room, order dinner and just be together.  It is worth every penny.  And don’t feel like you have to act like you’re on your honeymoon.  Do whatever you feel you need to do as a couple to rest and enjoy.  My husband once slept for twenty-two hours of a thirty-six hour get-away.  I ended up reading and enjoying a long soak in a  hot-tub alone.  We’d planned for dinner, dancing, hiking, swimming, golf…none of which happened unless you count ordering a pizza to the room as dinner, but the fourteen hours of “vacation time” we had together were far better for the twenty-two hours of sleep he enjoyed and the relaxation I found.  Whatever works.

18. Be adaptable.  Things are going to change, likely more than you (or I) can possibly fathom.  Be committed to changing with each other and refuse to be fixed in the person you married as your ideal as opposed to the person you’re going to be married to three, five, ten or even thirty years down the line.  Sounds simple, but failing to do this is the cause of most marriages ending.

19.  Failure is not an option.  It just isn’t.  If you refuse to allow your marriage to be something that could end, chances are it won’t.  My dearest friend, Glitter, doesn’t use the “D” word in her home.  She uses the F word and the S word…lots…but not the “D” word.  This is her rule, but I’ve stolen it and I’m pretty sure she won’t mind.  Think of it  like Voldemort.  If you don’t say it, it doesn’t happen.  Again, sounds simple, but it’s the little things that matter.

I suppose I should do a number 20 to round this out, but really, that’s about it.  That’s how we do it. We don’t over-think the details and try our best.  We do fight and we do occasionally feel the need to run screaming from each other.  But for the most part, we love and respect what and who we are as a family, a couple and people.  These are our rules.  I am sure there are tons of happy marriages who keep it together by doing the exact opposite of what I’ve written.  No relationship is identical to another and no set of standards works for all couples at all times.  As it should be.  And as the blog states in title, this too remains open-ended.  As our lives change so will our rules, we’ll adapt and learn and hopefully do so for many, many decades to come.

January 8, 2013

My own advice.

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , , , , , at 12:23 pm by openendedcomment

Until I was thirty  I made resolutions…and each year I managed to break them, one by one.  At thirty-one I stopped and allowed myself to just accept the way life is/was and to not put such pressure on myself to change.  Through the past five years I’ve learned that while acceptance and peace are good things, so is the occasional kick in the ass and measure of accountability.  Sometimes, you, or in this case I, just need a Mom.  As my Mom has already raised me and as I don’t feel like fighting with her all over again (teen years were staggeringly bad) I’ve decided to treat myself the way I treat my children.  To expect from me what I expect from them.  If I were to look at myself as a Mother as opposed to…well…me…would I be proud? What would I tell myself to do?  What advice would I give?

1) Get healthy.  This encompasses many things.  Instead of stating I’m going to drop 20 pounds and work out five days a week while cutting all nicotine I’m wrapping it up into one…good health.  My goal is to be better to myself.  To care about what goes into my body and how it functions. 

2) Study and have my work reflect it.   If I am to take a really objective look at myself, I’m not doing as well as I ought to be and that needs to change.  I’m going to learn more about my industry and apply new ideas to my position and company this year.  It’s time to make 2013 a profitable one.

3) Do my chores.  This is pretty obvious..my house is sort of falling apart as I’ve become rather lazy.  I used to make sure dishes and laundry were done and that beds were made before I left for work, but in the past three or so months I’ve let it slip.  Time to get in gear.

4) Go to bed on time.  I need more sleep and there’s just no excuse for this.

5) Take my vitamins. 

6) Give it my all…in all things, even when it’s hard.

7) Don’t swear (I have the mouth of a sailor when angered/annoyed/etc…) 

8) Reward good behavior.  This goes to treating myself well, something I forget to do and something that may seem odd as a goal but one I think it’s time for.  My husband and I don’t even buy each other birthday or Christmas gifts.  We spoil our children, but never ourselves.  In truth, he’s better about this than I am.  If he really wants to go to a game, he goes.  If he decides he needs some new clothes, he buys them.  If he feels he needs a night out, he takes it.  I don’t…I always feel as though it is selfish of me and that is something I have to get over.  Maybe it’ll mean buying myself a new bag, even if my old one really could go another season…or getting a manicure more often…or nights out with friends, just because.  Whatever it is, I’m going to recognize that it’s OK for me to have things, too.

Last but not least…to work on what I started in 2012.  Forgiveness, peace and learning to let things and even on rare occasions, people…go.  To move toward a life filled with the people, values and experiences I choose as opposed to those I feel forced to deal with.  To me, to have that kind of life…that is the ultimate goal.

December 21, 2012

All I want for Christmas.

Posted in Life Lessons, My Five, Parenthood tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 11:06 am by openendedcomment

Dear Santa,

I know it may seem odd to get this letter from me, especially as for the last thirteen years I’ve been you when it comes to gifts and stockings and cookie eating (thank you for that) but in writing to you this year I suppose it’s more about the idea of you…what you stand for…the wonder and the miracle of the season.  I could really use some wonder and what I want may take a miracle, all making you the logical choice for this date.  I know that I haven’t always landed on your “nice” list, I’m the first to admit that to be true.  But from what I understand, you’re a forgiving and jolly sort who can overlook certain things.

This is the season of possibility, of love and togetherness.  Of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” type of things.  I was raised on it.  I believe.  I promise, I still do and as you’ll soon see I wouldn’t be writing if that weren’t true.

This year for Christmas I want something that money can’t buy.  I’m looking for a gift of Christmas itself, of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men.  Of being what we sing and living what we say.  I have prayed each night and every day, I’ve written letters and put good karma into the world.  I’ve asked directly and I’ve quietly waited…and now as all else has failed, I’m trying you.  You who embody Christmas itself and the promise of your most heartfelt desires and deepest of wishes coming true…even if for just one day.

Please, Santa, please…if you can…please let my children have a Christmas filled with family and joy.  Give to my husband the gift of reconciliation and brotherhood.  To my Mother and Step-Father a time of hope and possibility.  To my Dad a time of knowledge that he is the glue that keeps me strong, to my friends the gift of faith and grace that they may know a year without pain, to my dearest friend the gift of return, that some of what she has put into the world may come back to her.  To my oldest friend the gift of health for her Mother, to my cousin and thousands like him, the gift of equality in all things.  I know this list is long and it may seem I’m asking for too much…a few will do in a pinch…but if there is only one thing I can receive, let it be this, the gift of healing and of strength to the Mothers and Fathers and Brothers and Sisters who have angels not on their tree this year, but in heaven far, far too soon.  I heard the bells ringing for them this very morning, all twenty-six have been given their wings. I’m afraid it won’t be Christmas for those left here this year but someday and sometime  it will be again and when that day comes please, please be there for them.

Thank You, Santa.  You made so many childhood dreams come true that even though I fill stockings now, part of me still believes in the promise of you.

Love,

Heidi

December 17, 2012

When there is no reason.

Posted in Life Lessons, Parenthood tagged , , , , , , , at 3:05 pm by openendedcomment

I’ve been reading.  News Sites, Blogs, Facebook…reading everything everywhere and each place I turn it is there.  The stories of children lost.  Stories of parents hugging their children a bit harder, saying “I love you” one extra time and even one picking their child up from school to go to a toy store.  Because they can.

I read another story, of someone criticizing saying “if it takes this to make you hug your child, you’re doing it wrong.” And that one hurt me.  That one actually made me mad.  You’re not “doing it wrong” you were just reminded how blessed you are to have that child and to need to express that love.  To be comforted by small arms and innocence and the hope that is our children.  To need to love them more now than ever is a good thing.  A right thing.

I spoke to a Mother I know on Friday night who was compelled to meet her little boy at the bus stop instead of waiting for him to come into the house on his own because those few extra minutes without him next to her was just too much to bear.  My cousin wrote he had to stop himself from returning to his daughter’s school this morning for one more hug.  I could barely let mine go today. And  none of that is wrong.  It is natural. It is the promise of the possibility for healing and change that we combat what can only be called an act of pure evil with a massive outpouring of love.  Kindness.  Care and yes, smothering affection. As though we were and with enough of it are smothering the flame of evil and hurt burning in those that would commit such atrocities against the very best of us.  There is nothing more right than that.

I hold firm that though I do not and though none of us may ever really know the reasons for last Friday or for any of the other tragedies that occur far too often, that the root of it all is not one gun, one law, one doctor or one game but rather the culture of violence,  tolerance for cruelty and ignorance of illness we have allowed to grow like an insidious vine, cutting off the beauty and life to our most prized flower.  Like the vine, it is not enough to trim it back when it becomes an issue for it only returns, stronger than ever, hell-bent on accomplishing its task.  We must dig it out.  Destroy each fiber and then, as any good gardener must, check and re-check to ensure it never, ever returns.  We have to end this and more than the ending we must care…with tender and vigilant dedication care and cultivate the best we have among us, the children, the future of who we are.  We must provide help where help is needed, be aware of those struggling among us and protect what we old most dear.  Changes must me made.  And change will come.  I believe that. When the grieving as a nation abates from acute shock to an ache and before we file this away as something that happened once upon a time, change must occur.

For now, for today, for many tomorrows we will grieve.  For some the grief will never end.  For them, I will pray.

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