Tag Archives: parents

Some Vacation Ramblings

17 Apr

So, I’m on vacation. It’s kind of weird, since I’ve been unemployed going on three weeks now, and usually a vacation is enjoying time away from work. Which I’ve been doing. Since I don’t have a job.

I’m down here in super sunny Orlando, FL with my three stepsisters, my stepdad, and my mom. (Adam‘s coming on Thursday! I can’t wait till he gets here!) Ever since we blended our families together, we’ve been doing the whole Family Vacation Thing, which I’ve gotta say, is way more awesome when there are suddenly five kids hanging around. I can’t imagine anyone ever complaining about having too many siblings.

We got down here two days ago and I wasn’t sure if I was going to post anything, but I did bring my computer and we do have free internet, so here are some thoughts I’ve been having. They are disjointed and disorganized, but at the end there are some pictures!

… Even though I’ve been slathering on the SPF, the Florida sun is strong and I’m well on my way to displaying my mysterious ethnicity. For the record, I’m not actually any kind of exotic ethnicity, but I frequently get asked “what” I am. As my skin tans, my hair lightens, and I have almost-black eyes that confuse the general population into regularly thinking I am some kind of Pacific Islander.

… We’re staying at this resort  and it employs this DJ who, on a daily basis, rocks out to random unrelated hits like these, with some Celine Dion and self-accompanied country karaoke thrown into the mix. He’s hilarious and his presence is just so awkward.

… He also runs what I’ve dubbed Afternoon Contest Time, during which I’ve seen little kids learn and perform the Macarena, Cupid Shuffle, and Cha Cha Slide, cheat shamelessly in a limbo contest, and hula hoop with three hula hoops at once. The kids at this resort are talented, obviously.

… I’m going to DisneyWorld tomorrow for the first time ever in my entire life and I can already tell I’m going to regress into a 10-year-old. I’m giddily thrilled to pieces to ride the teacups, see Cinderella’s castle, and hopefully hug Mickey.

… My stepdad is proving to be absolutely hilarious. I’m sitting here with him and my mom watching Glee (the stupid disco episode – my god, I hate this show) and this conversation between them just happened:

Mom: Did you do those dances back then? I did. I loved them. I knew all the moves.

Stepdad: Up North we only drank beers and killed bears. We didn’t dance.

For the record, my stepdad is from Michigan.

Here are some delightful photos as a reward for making it through my ramblings. Or maybe just scrolling down, but don’t actually tell me if that’s what you did.

Clockwise from top right: Tropical Popsicle/Worst Book Ever/Sandals, Mysteriously Ethnic (and/or sunburned) Self Photo, Strawberry Marg/Original Goldfish, Orlando Sunset

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An Open Letter to Stepmoms

13 Oct

Dear Stepmoms,

I think it’s about time I address you as a whole. There are a lot of you in the world and while many of you are awesome, there’s a reason the “evil stepmom” stereotype exists. And it’s not just because of Cinderella.

I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I do have two stepmoms in my life, which is more than a lot of people I know. See, I have a stepmom of my own and my actual mom is a stepmom to my three stepsisters. They’re on opposite ends of the evil-good spectrum, but neither is perfect.

So, having spent the last several months semi-coaching my mom on how to be a Really Great Stepmom and also having just spent the last five days avoiding my own Terrible Mean Stepmom, I think it’s time I outline some very basic points for you all.

Keep in mind that I’ve been a stepkid for almost 10 years now; I know what I’m talking about.

It’s called a “blended family” for a reason.

If you’re planning to marry someone who already has kids, accept the reality of the situation before you walk down the aisle. What I mean to say is that the kids are always going to be part of the package deal and if you’re not ok with that, you shouldn’t be getting married to this person.

Nothing you do can ever remove them from the equation and you may as well accept this as soon as you can. The sooner you’re able to do this, the sooner everyone else in the family can relax.

You are and always will be The Adult.

If you’re old enough to be getting married – especially to someone with kids – guess what? You’re an adult! Even if you’re inheriting adult kids, you’re still an adult. Even if the adult kids struggle with welcoming you into their lives, you’re still an adult.

You know what this means? You have to act like an adult. You may not have parental authority of any kind, but that doesn’t mean you can’t demand the same respect you would demand from anyone else. It also doesn’t mean you can be disappointed when unarticulated expectations remain unmet.

Just because your new stepkid is pushing your buttons and testing your limits doesn’t mean you should become a doormat just to appease them, nor does it mean you should lash out in anger or resentment.

Demand respect. Require it – but also give it where it is deserved. Stand up for yourself – but stand up for your stepkid, too. Articulate your expectations.

Be understanding, patient, and kind. Be an adult.

“In with the new and out with the old” – It doesn’t work here.

There are two scenarios in which a stepmom is introduced: divorce and death. Both are incredibly painful for the kids. Both are abandonments of different sorts. Both draw a deep line in kids’ lives separating the Before and the After.

Respect that line, but never ignore what came before. If you’re part of the After, you’re either blurring that line or you’re making it deeper. Whichever you’re doing (and neither is more or less okay than the other), you need to recognize your role.

Lots of stepmoms would prefer that the Before didn’t exist; some of them wish it so hard that they begin to resent it. Some stepmoms want to dwell on the Before. They walk on eggshells, terrified they will overstep their invisible boundaries. Both of these stepmoms will fail if they don’t strike a balance between the Before and the After.

To stepmoms everywhere: We know it’s hard for you. It might be harder for you than it is for us, even, but I’m pretty sure that’s part of being an adult, right? You have to take responsibility for your choices – and stepkids are always a choice. You make the choice to have stepkids the second you choose to say “I do” to someone with kids.

All we ask, we stepkids of the world, is that you work with us. Being a step-anything is never easy for anyone. We get that – we need you to get it, too.

On Loss, Hurting, and Reaching Out

8 Apr
Note to Readers: This blog is semi-anonymous. It’s easy to figure out who I am and if you know me personally, it’s easy to figure out who I’m talking about. I wrote the following post a while ago and I think it’s important but I ask that you honor the anonymity of it.

My phone vibrated a little after midnight. I was awake, but debated whether to look at the message or just force myself to sleep. Curiosity got the best of me and I scurried across the cold wood floor in bare feet and a t-shirt to my lit-up phone. It was a bbm.

You’re not by any chance up are you? If you are please call me.

I found her in my contacts and pressed send, not knowing what I’d hear on the other end. Would she be crying? Was everything ok? Was it a drunk dial we’d laugh about or was her heart breaking – again – like the last time I got a bbm like that?

She was crying. Everything was not ok. No one was drunk and her heart was breaking, but not for the reason I’d imagined initially. I was worried he broke up with her – turns out the news was unimaginably worse.

She sobbed into the phone. His dad killed himself today.

It was like the wind was knocked out of me. Crouching in my covers in the dark, I felt that pull of tragic devastation, that ache that spreads from the back of your throat and into the pit of your stomach. Tears sprang to my eyes. I’d never met him, but it didn’t matter.

Suicide is the most shocking act. When someone dies of old age, it’s considered natural. When someone is murdered, their killer is a monster. When someone succumbs to a physical illness, it’s tragic but there’s something to blame. But what do you do when the illness that takes over – and wins – is a mental one? When the person you’ve lost is the sole cause of their departure from your life? What then?

We agreed there aren’t enough curse words in the English language to articulate the pure gut-wrenchingness of something like this. Fuck, shit, goddamnit. This SUCKS. They all sound so trite, so useless, and maybe that’s because suicide, the ultimate act of helplessness, leaves only emptiness and confusion in its wake.

I got off the phone – she was at the subway, it was late in London – and as soon as my head hit the pillow, the tears came. Warm, wet, silent, seeping into my pillow and down my nose. I’ve been lucky enough in my life to have never lost a family member or close friend to suicide, but the tragedy is not lost on me.

Depression runs in my family and those closest to me have suffered greatly (but have thankfully overcome their demons). I’ve seen it firsthand – the pain, isolation, and hopelessness that surrounded my brother. And yet, he’s here today. (You might recall the entire reason I got my tattoo.)

So when someone doesn’t make it through, when someone hits rock bottom and allows the belief that up is too far to go and maybe not even worth it, it’s heartwrenching in the worst way.

It reminds me that I need to be grateful every single day for the people in my life and that I need to let them know how much I care about them. For everyone and anyone questioning it, believe me, you matter so much.

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts – or even just needing someone to talk to – please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are people who care about you. You would be missed.

Family Dynamics: Part One of Maybe a Million

10 Apr

Re-reading this story – it’s taken me a few days to get down – is very surreal for me. I have not once written it in one place, much less shared the experience somewhere so public. I think even my closest friends will likely find parts of this that surprise them. Or that they at least didn’t know for sure. In some ways it’s easier to write it. In some ways it’s harder. I had to make a real effort to be honest with my memories. There were a couple of times I’d catch myself typing some detail and think – that’s not true. Or, at least, you don’t remember if that’s true or not. However, I need to write these stories out because if I don’t I’m afraid I’ll forget and overflow with the changes in my current life. So I’m making room for the changes by documenting the past changes that have formed who I am in the process of becoming. I’m not sure how many posts it will turn into, but welcome to the last 12 years of my life…

I was 13 when my parents sat Frere and I down in the living room of our Chicago house and announced they were getting a divorce. I wore overalls and sat on the couch with my legs curled under me. It was a Sunday. Frere was probably in sweats; he was 11 and boycotted jeans for at least a couple more years. I only remember that my dad did the talking. My mom sat next to him, resigned, agreeing but not. Helpless. I know she was sad, although I can’t remember if she cried or not.

My dad talked but I have no idea for how long. I remember he said something along the lines of “I can’t be married to your mom anymore. I don’t love her anymore.” Frere sobbed into the couch cushions. I sat stoic, staring ahead, absorbing this alien information. My dad made sure to tell us that his non-love for my mom had nothing to do with his unconditional-love for the kids. Frere. Me.

Two weeks before I turned 14, my dad moved four blocks down the street to a one-bedroom apartment. We ordered Thai food a lot and watched Dawson’s Creek every Wednesday evening and every other weekend Frere and I stayed in bunk beds in my dad’s bedroom. The arrangement stayed this way through the next year and a half, during which my mom moved us to a smaller apartment in another neighborhood much more than four blocks away. At the end of ninth grade, my mom finally told us the news we knew had been coming: we had to move out of Chicago. See, my mom was half way through her PhD when my dad decided he couldn’t do it anymore. While competent and brilliant, my mom was also unemployed and waist-deep in education debt. Moving to the smaller place was supposed to offset that, but divorces are expensive and so are kids so after 18 months she needed a job. Not willing to give up her dream of becoming a college professor (something I don’t think I understood then, but have a great respect for now), she applied to all kinds of academic jobs all over the country. At one point, a university in North Dakota flew her out for an interview. Luckily, we ended up in Connecticut, where we have family nearby. I begged my dad to come with us. To move so he could be close to us. In what I interpreted as the greatest rejection of all, he refused. And so began my three years of split custody across state lines, flying to Chicago for 3 days each month and racking up a hell of a lot of miles on United.

When my dad moved out I was just beginning 8th grade. At nearly 14, I was in tumultuous state of mind on my own. In some kind of freakish defense mechanism, I actually don’t remember 8th grade very much. Most of it’s completely blank, though there are snippets of an attempted Thanksgiving here, a fight leaving me sobbing there. A similar thing happened with the visits from CT to Chicago. There are facts I know that fill in what must have taken place, but I actually can’t remember many of the actual events.

My dad never talked about dating other women. I asked, but he avoided the question, saying if anything was serious enough to introduce the kids he’d be happy to tell us about it. A huge divergence from my mom, who treated me as her confidant and best friend through an incredibly hard time for her, I once again interpreted this refusal to share information as a rejection of me. Wasn’t I good enough to hear about his life? The life he so rudely and abruptly separated from me? For most of 10th grade, I imagine we stayed in his small one-bedroom apartment. At some point in my junior year of high school, dad started dating Stepmom and eventually moved in with her. I liked this woman a lot. She made a huge effort. She took me shopping and bought me new makeup for prom. She let me have wine. She didn’t ask about my curfew. I was 17 and she respected the fact that I had a mom already, that I was a teenager and she didn’t try to fill shoes that weren’t empty. She just tried to be my friend. I didn’t like that I had to alternate sleeping in the guest room and the pullout couch, but I figured it was ok since at least I wasn’t in a bunk bed in dad’s room.

Within a year, they were married. At 36, Stepmom wanted kids and a couple of weeks after their wedding, she announced her pregnancy. Baby D was born in April 2003, less than five years after my dad originally announced the divorce. Suddenly, I was more than a visitor in my dad’s house. I was an intruder on his new life. I watched, sitting outside myself and picking fights – in retrospect, I just wanted to be noticed. Then 18, I still didn’t know how to gain the attention I thought I deserved from my dad. He’d moved on, made a new family, and I was part of the one he didn’t feel like fighting for. In retrospect, I wish more than anything that I had been able to articulate that all I wanted was a bigger place in his life. I wish he had been able to know that. Instead, it felt selfish wanting more than what he was willing to give.

They had Baby J when I was almost 20, a sophomore in college at that point. Not too long thereafter, during a visit over winter break for New Year’s 2006, Stepmom confirmed what I’d been feeling for years. After some argument with my dad, Stepmom reached a breaking point. I was invading her family, upsetting her babies, disrupting the peaceful married life she’d created. She refused to acknowledge me as a part of the family, I was invalid. And she told me the way she felt. With scathing words no one should ever speak to another person, she told me I was an ungrateful daughter, selfish, treating my dad terribly. I never appreciated anything they did for me. I never helped out when I visited. I never never never. I sat, stunned into silent tears, shaking with anger and shock, as my dad stood next to her and said nothing. At that point, I got my bags packed, had my best friend J pick me up and spent the rest of the time with her and her mom. I didn’t see Stepmom for over two years. I saw my dad a handful of times, always in public places and always resulting in him angry and me crushed.

Compounding this was the bitter custody and divorce proceedings that lasted till I was nearly 19. What had started as what looked to be a relatively amicable split had resulted in a lot of emotional growth on my mom’s part, which in turn made her demand more. It seems as though the women my dad turned out of his life kept asking for more and he kept refusing. Doctor’s bills, plane tickets, child support – it was all too much. While I knew intellectually that this is not a personal attack on me, it was hard to separate that knowledge from the distinct and constant feeling of rejection. I couldn’t help but wonder…if I’m not worth paying for, worth supporting, then of course I must not be worth my own bedroom in his house or his undivided attention. I got used to it and it became normal.

At some point after college graduation, I made a very conscious decision to let go of my anger. I know that anger is a manifestation of emotional pain, so I made a huge effort to stop being angry and allow myself to be hurt. I think what I managed to do was actually stop being angry and also stop feeling much at all, but it was better than wasting so much energy being mad. Now, I am starting to be able to let myself hurt little bits at a time. It’s all I can handle at the moment. But I’m worried that if I stop letting little bits of hurt in, I will forget – entirely – how to feel. And even after the emotional rollercoaster of my life, I still think hurting is, in the end, better than feeling nothing at all.

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