Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time Marches On

Being a stepmom is hard; being a good stepmom is somehow harder. It should be easy. You fall in love with a man who has a child (or children) and when you marry him, you take these kids into your heart as well. It didn't quite work out that way for me.

I saw her first. This adorable blonde headed child bounced into my life 14 years ago and I fell in love instantly. Then I met her dad and my fate was sealed. In my naivete, I thought I could develop my own relationship with her and it would be separate from the relationships she had with her parents.

After many years of pain and disappointment, I've come to realize it doesn't work that way. The hardest to cope with has been how other people's decisions hurt my children, and how I can do nothing to change that. I can only help my kids cope with pain and loss and hurt. I've had to tame that "mama bear" inside me that rears up any time somebody hurts my kids.

We all know the stories of bad stepmoms. The ones who see their stepkids as intruders into their lives and would rather not deal with them. There are others who don't fall far from the stepmoms of Grimms' fairy tales--the ones who actively scorn and belittle their stepchildren and make them feel unwanted in their own father's house.

I've always loved my stepdaughter. I've never tried to replace her mom--it's not even possible anyway. I've always known a mother's place is impossible to usurp and never tried. All I wanted was to forge my own relationship with her, but even that has been a difficult journey.

Now she's less than 7 weeks from turning 18. While I'm excited for her to take these next amazing steps in her life, I bemoan all the other steps we've missed. This coming May she'll graduate high school and in a year she'll be in college. Incredible. And at the same time I know it will draw her even farther away from us, and from my kids.

Kids grow up. They leave the nest. And these days kids have more than one nest to leave. In the day and age where the divorce rate is upwards of 50% it's logical to conclude that many children have mom's house and dad's house, and when they grow up there's a separation from both households. For some it's easier. They can't stand stepmom or stepdad and can't wait to get away.

But for the rest of us, it's very different.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

First Day of School! First Day of School!

Nemo is chanting in my head right now. Tomorrow is it--the day I send ALL my kids to school for the very first time. I'm really not sure which of us is more excited. The kindergartner is really stoked; her level of excitement may be higher than mine. Maybe.

It's unique to be able to send all of them to the same school. Without the opening of the new charter school in Tooele, it wouldn't be possible. I have one 7th grader, two 5th graders, one 3rd grader and, of course, one kindergartner. I got an earful yesterday of the benefits of a "middle school" verses a JR High from the school's director yesterday. It made me remember my own experience.

I attended a K-4 school, then a 5-8 school. I guess that would be considered a "middle school" but to me it felt like an extended grade school. There's no ceremony after graduating 4th grade. We just went on to the next level. And in 5th graded we started changing classes for math and language arts. We had like 3 teachers. We had 4 or so teachers in 6th grade. The experience of 5 or 6 teachers didn't happen until 7th and 8th grades. By then we were ready. More than ready. I never felt traumatized or freaked out by the experience, and didn't experience any of the peer pressure or downright assaults that reportedly happen in JR High these days.

Entering high school after graduating 8th grade did not worry me at all. I felt prepared. Looking back, I think it was the structure of my 5-8 school that prepared me for it. By the time you're 14 and ready to take on the world, having your own locker and going from class to class makes you feel mature and grown up. It's exciting more than intimidating. And that was when I first started writing, so I can't feel bitter about my freshman experience on any level.

I'm hoping these next two years will help my oldest transition into high school. I'm not at all bothered by his missing the JR High experience, though he really was looking forward to spending the next two years with his friend. I can't feel bad about that either. I met the girl once. She deliberately put me into a position of lying to her dad, or helping her lie to her dad, by my actions. I didn't appreciate that and I find it difficult to encourage the friendship. Though I probably won't say anything until he's a little older, I think my son's in a better place if he's not around her influence.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wouldn't you Know it!

So, school starts in 6 days. It's like fate--you just know one of the kids is going to do something. This time Daniel took his turn. No it wasn't like the pipe cleaner to the electrical outlet incident, but in some ways it's worse.

While taking his shower Friday, Daniel decided to take Daddy's razor and cut some of the hair off his head, just above his right ear. And not even in a straight line. It's a jagged kind of bare patch and looks ridiculous. His explanation? "I just like the feel of the soft, fuzzy hair."

Of course, with a shaving razor meant to remove hair, it's a bald spot. There's no dancing around it. To make it less noticeable I shaved the surrounding hair to 1/4 inch and the top to 1/2, but geez. This is the impression he's going to make his first day at a new school with all new kids. My option is to either send him to school as "the kid with weird hair" or shave it all to match and have him be "the bald kid."

I'm hiding all razors and scissors in case the girls get ideas...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Reality Check

It would give my readers (both of them on this blog lol luv you guys!) a false impression of my life if I always posted about how great my kids are and how bright and fun and lively and imaginative. Don't get me wrong--they are all that and more--but there's the darker, underside of parenting that deserves a little light, too.

I'm a human being. I have a defined identity and a strong sense of self. But sometimes I get lost in the needs of everyone else and forget to take care of me. There's a fine line between martyring oneself and making your family a priority. We can't lose sight of that. In the last year I've made my writing a priority, gone to conferences, gotten my first massage and reaffirmed my relationship with God. And it feels great.

But recently I have gotten so bogged down in my daily schedule that I don't write as much as I should. Sometimes my blogs are the only writing I get in, and some days I don't get any in at all. And when I draw away from that crucial part of me, the writer, I lose some of the happiness that makes me a productive member of my family.

Kids are hard work. And it doesn't end when they get out of diapers or start school. I'm not even sure it ends when they get married and are out on their own. Maybe that's why grandparents tire easily. It's not so much age but the emotional exhaustion of worry.

I go to the store in the evenings because I need a break. I need to get out of the house. I stay up later than the kids for two reasons: one is that I like the quiet and the other is I can't go to sleep until my kids sleep.

And now I'm not sure where I was going with this...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Colds

Doesn't this seem like an oxymoron to you? It does to me. I got sick, then the kids started dropping like flies. We're just an affectionate family I guess. The trouble with getting sick is by the time you know you're sick you've already been contagious for at least a week.

So of the 5 kids, one has a bad cough and has been croupy, two have fevers and two aren't exhibiting symptoms yet. We're supposed to go to the lake Saturday with extended family, but I'm not seeing that as being likely right now. I had to beg off last weekend because I was miserable, but fortunately (?) the weather called off the day for everyone.

Cross your fingers. Maybe they're all getting the sickness out of the way before school starts. I could go for a healthy school year.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I think I get it

If I were a wealthy (monetarily) mom, I'd either hire a camera crew to follow my kids around or install video surveillance in every area of my home. Why? Because roughly 7 seconds after my kid says something witty or clever, unless I repeat it to myself, I've forgotten what was said. I'm starting to understand the initial, innocent idea that gave birth to those horrible "reality" TV shows where families have cameras invading nearly every aspect of their lives.

The difference is I wouldn't broadcast. This indulgence would be strictly for me. My children are fabulous resources for clever, natural dialogue--not to mention windows into how a child's mind works.

I guess there's no mystery where I sit on the whole "reality" TV thing. I can't understand what would motivate a rational, thinking person to tear their lives up like that. And it's all so fake. There's this thing called editing where the producers and directors take what really happened and shape it to be something kind of like what really happened, because that makes more engaging TV. I can't even stand watching Super Nanny (though it does make me feel more grateful for my kids). They should just be honest and call it "unscripted" TV, though I at times have had my doubts about that, too.

The problem with having cameras in my home would be whether or not friends and family could stand having to sit through a video presentation every time they visited us.