Friday, October 28, 2005

Toddlerism: Ball Breaker

The Boy, after bringing out a collection of various toy balls (baseball, bouncy, squishy and plastic) with which to entice me into a game of catch, gives me this last bit of advice before throwing out the first pitch:

"Mommy, don't break my balls!"

Thursday, October 27, 2005

My Life's Witness

Why do people get married?

By far, the best answer that I have ever heard to this question came from the recent movie Shall We Dance?:

"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."

Today is my 4th wedding anniversary.

My life's witness is an amazing man with seemingly unending patience and an uncanny knack for finding the humor in every situation (well, he tries to at least). He gives me his friendhsip unconditionally, no matter how much of a bitch I may be. He's the yin to my yang; my court jester; my unknowing (yet accepting) target when my hormones get the better of me; my reluctant confidant when I am feeling catty; and most recently, my advocate during a recent time of crisis. He indulges my rants, my cravings for Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream and my occasional superficial need for a little bling-bling now and then. He's a devoted father, hard worker (sometimes to a fault) and a man of intense moral integrity.

There's an old gaelic phrase -- which I had engraved on the inside of his wedding ring -- "anam cara" which translates into "soul friend." This is my husband.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Friday, October 21, 2005

Stepmother's Rights REDUX

As the fate of my stepdaughter's custody still hangs in the balance (thanks to delay tactics on the part of bioMom resulting in an adjournment until next year), I have to continue to live with the facts, as they have recently been pointed out to me, that stepmothers have NO rights when it comes to their stepchildren. Sure, I can care for her, feed her, clothe her, help her with homework, help her make little crafty things for her bioMom on holidays/birthdays/Mother's Day, pick her up from school when she is sick (or when she has an early dismissal and bioMom FORGETS) or take her to the doctor because of an infected earlobe that swelled around a newly pierced ear and the earring had to be cut in order to remove it ... however ... I-have-no-rights.

Many of the aforementioned duties have become expected of me and, as a SAHM, I have willingly accepted them as part of my over-all parental responsibilities. Still, I can't help but to feel conflicted when I am advised not to claim her on the witness stand as one of "our" collective children or refer to my husband's custodial time with her as "our time." I have no right to do so, apparently. Nor do I have a right to contact the school, or her therapist or sign permission slips for school trips all on my husband's behalf because it implies that I think of myself as her parent/guardian. Well, duh! I may not be her mother, but I am THE mother of the house in which she lives and I do consider myself to be a co-parent along with my husband (and yes bioMom to a certain degree).

And yet, the same people who tell me of my lack of rights also look to me for feedback, input and advice where my stepdaughter is concerned. Such as:
  1. While sitting in my husband's lawyers office this week, I was asked to review a letter outlining a proposed alteration to the existing custody/visitation schedule. I, being a person of very little rights, yielded to my husband to which his lawyer replied jokinlgy "Get a backbone!" Get a backbone?
  2. And her own mother, not a week after complaining about my SD being left at home with "her stepmother" had no problems with dropping her daughter off at our home one day (unannounced) in an attempt to manipulate the custody/visitation schedule. Apparently, I have no rights except when it's convenient for her and her evil plot to destroy us.

How do I respond to being told that I have no rights, and yet still have all the responsibilities as any other parent? How do I do this without completely detaching from this child altogether?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Stepmother's Bill of Rights

I found this purely by accident one day, and wish I had known of it sooner. You see, most of the "rights' outlined below I have already come to decide (even demand at times) for myself but only after many tears, arguments and lots of hard feelings.

  1. I will be part of the decision-making process in my marriage and family at all times.
  2. People outside the immediate family - including ex-wives, in-laws and adult children - cannot make plans that affect my life without my consent.
  3. I will not be responsible for the welfare of children for whom I can set no limits.
  4. I must be consulted about which children will live with us, when they can visit and how long they will stay.
  5. I will not be solely responsible for housework; chores will be distributed fairly.
  6. I will be consulted regarding all family financial matters.
  7. Others may not violate my private space at home, nor take or use my possessions without my permission.
  8. I will never be treated as an "outsider" in my own home.
  9. My husband and stepchildren must treat me with respect.
  10. Our marriage is our first priority, and we will address all issues together.

I have to admit, that I have issue with item #4. As much as I appreciate knowing that some anonymous author thinks I have the right to tell my husband when/if his child is allowed to live with or visit us, I can't in good conscience apply this theory. If roles were reversed, I know that I certainly would not want my spouse to tell me that my son is not allowed to live with us.

Ironically, there is about to be a shift in the custody paradigm and we have every expectation that hubby will be awarded full custody of my stepdaughter within the week. Equally ironic, given the timing of this post, is that my husband expressed the need for us to sit down and decide TOGETHER the terms of the custody agreement and how many days my stepdaughter will actually be with us vs. her bioMom.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Staying in the Moment

"We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten."
~ Cesare Pavese (Italian Poet)

The below was recently sent to me in email. It's bittersweetness is tempered with provocative wisdom from an experienced Mom. As a young mother, I welcome this sage advice and will happily apply it to my life of details. After reading it for a second time, that application began yesterday during naptime/bedtime ritual with The Boy who, much to my delight, still enjoys snuggling with me in the rocking chair before going to bed. And while I am frequently not in the moment during this ritual - usually thinking about what chores I will do once The Boy is in bed -- yesterday I remembered to pause and take in these fleeting moments and commit as much to memory as I could: the smell of his velvety soft hair, the curve of his alabaster cheeks, the way he wraps his body around my expanding waistline with the expertise of the most limber of contortionists, the soft sigh that escapes his lips as he finds just the right spot to settle into. These are the moments I want to remember.

On Being Mom
by Anna Quindlen

If not for the photographs, I might have a hard time believing they ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs and the blackbutton eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the yellow ringlets and the high piping voice. The sturdy toddler with the lower lip that curled into an apostrophe above her chin. ALL MY BABIES are gone now.

I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost-adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like.

Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach., T. Berry Brazelton., Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete.

Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories.

What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations --what they taught me was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all. Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One boy is toilet trained at 3, his brother at 2.

When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit- up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing.

Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.

I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month-old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk,too.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, What did you get wrong? (She insisted I include that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons.

What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, andhow they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.

The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts.

It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were...

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Confessions of a Bad Mommy

Hansel, is 3 1/3 , and not potty trained. According to all "the experts" he is not ready to venture into this new frontier ; hubby and I are ok with this (sorta) and are trying not to force the issue... especially with the impending arrival of his new baby sister which will no doubt, as experts also say, send us backwards a couple of steps. So, no, the lack of potty training is not what makes me a bad Mommy.

Read on...

Rewind to earlier in the week and, in getting The Boy dressed for our 8:30am OB appointment, realizing that his Pull-Ups have remained completely dry overnight (WOOHOO! A sign of potty training readiness!). Casually, I ask him if he wants to use his potty. "No, thanks," is his reply. Even after pointing out that his bladder is no doubt bursting at the seams with pee and he would surely be able to go, he still refuses. Ok, I drop the subject for now and help him get dressed.

Fast-foward to 1 hour later and, while leaving the OB's office, The Boy protests sitting in his carseat because he has a "pee-pee diaper." ANOTHER SIGN! He had never had a problem with sitting in a wet Pull-Up so I see this as yet another positive step towards getting closer to using the potty. Once again I shall refer to the experts who stress that I need to change the offending undergarment immediately thereby reinforcing his preference to stay dry in the hopes it will translate into his wanting to use the potty. The problem? I don't have my diaper bag with me and, therefore, no dry Pull-Ups. So I negotiate with The Boy and promise him that I will change him when we get home. Satisfied by this he happily climbs into his carseat.

Fast-forward to 4 hours later and, while I am goofing off blogging, The Boy happily exclaims "Mommy, I am making pee-pee!" HALLELULIAH! I think. Three major potty-training milestones in one day... surely success is imminent! Immediately I start praising The Boy for letting me know the goings-on in his pants (knowledge that I am sure to be discouraging as he gets older) when I am suddenly stopped dead in my tracks as he proceeds to show me the urine trickling flowing down his legs. My jubilation quickly turns into panic as I am overcome with the horrific realization that I NEVER CHANGED HIS PULL-UP FROM THE MORNING/PREVIOUS NIGHT AND THE FLOOD OF URINE THAT HE HAS BEEN PEEING ALL DAY HAS FINALLY BREACHED THE LEVEE AND IS NOW SPILLING ALL OVER OUR BRAND NEW CARPET!

Shorts, t-shirt, couch slip-cover, legs and carpet all soaked with urine.
Bad Mommy.


Too wet to have him move anywhere lest we leave a trail of urine throughout the house that would no doubt provide hours of sniffing entertaintainment for our bloodhound with his highly-evolved-olfactory-senses (if we had one) but would at best trigger some territorial marking behavior in our two cats, I tell The Boy to STAND STILL! while I retrieve the necessary supplies to correct my glaring failure as a responsible Mommy committed to potty-training. Change of clothes, new Pull-Up, wipes (for The Boy), towels (for the carpet), Lysol & Febreze, slip-cover torn off couch and promptly thrown into washer.

Fast-forward 2 days later after I finally gathered up enough nerve to confess my crime to hubby and, in hearing me re-tell the story, The Boy looks at me and in the most reassuring of voices says "It's ok, Mommy."


Friday, October 7, 2005

Momoirs: To My First Born

Dear Twerp,

As I prepare for the birth of your baby sister, I want you to know how precious the memories of your birth are to me. It was only three years ago, but in some ways seems like a lifetime especially when I look back in awe over how far you've come in such a short time...

~ Your once intelligible babbles are now articulate expressions of self;
~ Your feet, no longer the object of an oral fixation, have now become your Everest as you strive to put on your own socks;
~ Flawless, alabaster baby skin now shows the battle scars and bruises of a healthy, active and curious BIG BOY;
~ "I can do it" is now your mantra as you learn demand your independence;
~ Your penis, once a fascinating plaything bobbing in the tub is now... well, ok some things never change.

I want you to know that as much as I look forward to adding to our family, I also look forward with equal anticipation as to what lies ahead for you and I. You remind me every day that each moment is meant to be cherished for children grow up far too quickly.

You are my shining light, my inspiration, my soul.

You're my guy.


Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Favoritism? Or Loving Differently?

It is my wish that the word "favoritism" never be used in a family ... especially a blended family of step and biological children. I personally find this term to be so offensive and guilt-producing that I cant bear to hear it. Just look at how it's defined:

1: an inclination to favor some person or group
2: unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice [syn: discrimination]

Prejudice?? Discrimination?!?


When I married my husband, there was an expectation (both on his part as well as my own) that I would love my stepdaughter as much as any other child created from our union. And why would we not believe that to be the case? After all, my own stepmother has always told me that she loved my brother and I as if we were her own children. Loving us came naturally to her. She loved us both unconditionally. So, of course I would want to model myself after her and firmly believed that my love for my stepdaughter would come with the same ease as her love for me.

There is one flaw with this theory, however... my stepmom never had any children of her own. She had nothing else with which to compare the love she felt for us; it was the only parent/child love she ever knew.

I became aware of this glaring difference when I was expecting my first child. While going over last minute details with my hubby, I expressed my desire for some alone time after the baby was born -- this meant discouraging visits from friends, extended family, and... my step-daughter (with whom he shares 50/50 custody). My request seemed innocent enough: if we were to come home from the hospital on one of his custodial days I wanted his ex to keep my stepdaughter for a few extra days allowing us some quiet time to get settled.

My husband was instantly hurt by my request. He had always suspected that I did not love his daughter the same as he did and that I would treat her differently than our own children, and BY GOLLY now here I was verifiying his suspicions by wanting some alone time with our soon-to-be newborn son. I, of course, felt incredibly guilty for having had the GAUL to suggest such a thing and tried to explain my way out of it and denied the offensive allegations entirely.

However, I soon discovered that there is absolutely no bond as strong as that between a parent and their bio-children. This is especially true for mothers... for, if we're lucky, we had an actual physical connection with our children for 9 incredible months. (This, I feel, may provide mothers with an even stronger bond than fathers for whom, without a uterus, could not possibly know what it's like to have another living creature growing inside of you -- no matter how many times they may have watched Alien. But I digress.)

The difference between being a
mis-guided vs. an effective stepparent is being honest about the "unique" feelings you have towards your stepchildren, instead of trying to deny them. I will not feel guilty having different feelings towards my stepdaughter than my own child(ren). A stepparent/stepchild bond is socially, not biologically, created. It is not automatic but it can grow over time.

The reality is, my feelings towards my stepdaughter were not the same as my husbands, and they are not the same as my feelings towards my own child(ren). But does this mean that I do NOT care about her? Noooo. I want what's best for her. I want her to be happy. I want her to feel safe and secure and loved and special. And I want to beat the living snot out of anyone who makes her feel less than that.

What matters most is that I love all my children in their own special way. I love each of them differently... but with the same intensity that only a mother can.