Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"All My Children Have Paws"

I have so much fodder for the blog now. It's just a matter of which topic to go with first.

Stepfamily Christmases are just bizarre. I don't know if it's ever going to be normal ever again. I'm thinking not. I think this was the most successful year yet, somehow. And yet I still come out of it feeling like everything is just wrong.

We have this cat we adopted when she was around 10ish from a no-kill shelter. I nicknamed her the Queen. She is a bossy old lady who lives to complain. She has moments of affection that are decreasing steadily as she ages. Her quarterly 2 minutes of playtime have decreased to non-existant, maybe. It's enough for her to deal with kittens and a dog. Primarily, she wants to sleep. She may cuddle a little during the day if I work from home or take a nap, but I'm pretty sure that it's only for her warmth or a nice back rest. She rarely exits our bedroom, let alone our bed. When she speaks, it's to demand food, water, or a halfway decent litter box. Sometimes she amusingly jumps in the tub.

That completely describes that cat. And I realized sometime around 3am that she loves me more than my stepkids. A pea-brained cat. She may be soft and cute, but she's still only an animal. I even rescue pets, but I am still aware that they are only animals with needs, and we are there to fulfill them. We can give them homes, care for them, and love them- and we perceive their affectionate moments as love. Which are probably only necessary signs of thank you or requests for continued petting, food, and shelter. I still love it, knowing that I am simply caring for them. I can pretend all I want that they love me back and know how much I alone mean to them. Ha. Yeah. My mom would spoil them more than I ever would.

A coworker told me about how she owned a dog with her family for years. They went on one single trip for only 2 weeks and the dog stayed with her mother-in-law. When they returned, the dog hated returning home and decided it wanted to be with grandma from then on.

Again, I'm talking about animals here. They may miss us, but we're not talking about destiny or soul mates. They are animals.

But when the Queen, after only a long weekend of being gone, climbed up on top of my husband and I last night and wouldn't leave, and then hooked herself to me the rest of the morning... I realized she loves me more than my stepkids do. This cat has shown me repeatedly she has no need for me other than to fulfill her demands, but for one of the only times, she showed us that she missed us and was glad we were back. I couldn't believe it!

I'm sure you're thinking that stepkids are the same- They act cold and just needy but they do love you and just are bad at showing it.

My reasoning is more along these lines- This cat pretty much knows she doesn't need me, especially not me in particular. I don't know why she missed us so much and was so overly affectionate last night. It will disappear today, and in the meantime I will know that she is not betraying me daily. The affection and message from an animal last night was simple. "I missed you, and I'm glad you're back. Please let me be with you." She will go back to being demanding, but that one morning of affection still exists and doesn't go backwards.

Humans, on the other hand, can purposely not like someone, purposely hate, purposely ignore simple truths of how much a caretaker does for them. "Someday, someday- they will get it." Ask my friend who's husband has an adult child from before their marriage who only demands money. Literally. The latest was when the daughter demanded their social security numbers and other identification information to apply for college funding which she was no longer eligible for. My friend was uncomfortable with this and afraid her social security number and other information could be misused, as she doesn't even know this person. I told her about how my parents always filled my applications out for me, which meant that they could do it for her. When they requested that she simply give them HER information so that they could do it for her, she disgustingly refused and stopped talking to her father.

At least my ornery cat knows who gives her food. I'll take the pure affection of my fur-ball children.

Best Cat Mom
All My Children Have Paws

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Follow-Up: The New Plan

A follow-up to my posting on December 4th has been requested, as well. Two posts in one day...Aren't you excited!?  That's what you get when I take a break. It all builds up.

So I wrote that long letter to the kids about my feelings and their actions' impact on me. It did have an interesting result. Keep in mind that reading that letter was a week after also talking to my oldest stepdaughter and telling her I would no longer accept her lying to me.  Because of the first conversation, she was already being super nice to me and trying to win back favor. She always does that. She acts like she's trying, and then I find out about more made-up stuff later even during the time she was trying to act perfect. My husband calls her mom's behavior "a show." I think this kid has completely picked that up.

Also to set the atmosphere, I had been gone for a day and a half at a retreat for all the 7th graders in my church, which my stepdaughter could not attend due to her custody schedule and their mom's disinterest in meaningful away-from-home experiences for her daughter. So yes, I'd just spent the night and 2 days with all the boys and girls she wants to be friends with, some who go to her school.  (The van full of boys I drove also discussed who they like and who they want to ask out. Yeah, she missed that. Hahahaha...) We all went out to pizza afterwards, and she was able to see the kids interact with me some. Again, like soccer, another way in which she can see other kids respecting and even loving me. (I got a lot of comments from parents that their kids loved me or said I was the coolest. Pretty confusing for me considering the ones who live in my house. Makes me feel good and strange at the same time these days.)

So that night was the only time we had, before it got too close to Christmas, for me to read my letter. My husband set them up and asked them to pay attention to everything I said and then I came down when he was ready. Then I read it. I purposely didn't look at them, because I wanted them to feel like they were hearing it away from me, without needing to respond to my looks. And I didn't want to be upset by their reaction, either.

Interestingly, my younger stepdaughter is the one who cried. I don't think she'd realized. She is usually the good one and knows that we get along fine, but I also know that relationship has changed in a negative way and we've lost the closeness and trust we used to have. Something happened before court and I lost her. I miss her and our talks, and worry about whether I can trust her now. She has learned to hide and lie like her sister, though does it much less overtly and usually out of fear.

My older stepdaughter acted disinterested. My husband told me later that she continued to after I left. She acted like nothing was said, that she simply didn't like it, and didn't care. My younger stepdaughter, on the other hand, talked to him about it some. He said that when they went to bed and she saw how much her sister didn't care, she seemed to realize how wrong it was. She turned around and asked him if she could say something to me. My husband came into the bedroom where I was hiding out and asked if she could see me. When she came in, her face exploded into tears and she threw herself into me. She threw herself hard enough to nearly knock me over or bonk me in the head. She cried into me and said I'm sorry and kept crying hard. I held her hand and told her she is a wonderful and sweet girl and I know that everything is hard, and everything is hard for everybody. I don't remember if any other short things were said, but then she left and went to bed.

And the next day, my older stepdaughter continued to act like her better self and the good kid she wants us to see her as. She continued to touch me and act like my buddy, like she did the night before after I spent all that time with the other 7th graders.

I know I'll hear about what the other family thinks or has turned it into, but it is all written down. Words can be twisted but we have proof of what I said. It wasn't about how bad the kids are, but simply how I feel and how I have tried for their sake. How I wish we could have a real relationship but the lying to me and about me to others kills any trust. It wasn't about how bad they are and how I hate them, or whatever we're going to hear it turned into.

They are my family, and I have to try. If I don't try, I will continue to feel trapped. I always aim for progress and change, and I cannot handle stagnant complacency or repeated painful situations when they can be confronted and maybe even stopped. The other family can keep telling the kids that I simply don't like them and just try to make them uncomfortable and unhappy, but I have to be real and not fake. You all know that someday the truth should be known or be clear.  You could even say that sometimes we avoid the truth, but eventually it wins. 

Overall, it made me feel much better. It is always a release to finally tell someone your feelings and let them know where you're coming from and why you act the way you do. I felt better writing it, I felt better reading it, and I felt better finally letting them know what it has felt like for 3+ years. I'm grateful that my younger stepdaughter "got it," and I don't really care that my older stepdaughter is blocked. Not a big surprise. I hope that some of it sinks in someday or that she remembers some of it correctly. Or that when she lies about it to her other family, she'll know the truth somewhere inside.

And if anything, they learned one way in which they can communicate their deepest feelings or hurt to someone else through words and not aggression, screaming, glaring, retribution, or the silent treatment. I know they at least can take that with them.

A Split Christmas

This morning, I received a direct request to post more and bring back the biting sarcasm. (Sorry Mom, but it is one of my strengths.)

December is always a weird month now. We have kids in our lives, which for me would mean ice skating, boutiques, festivals, plays, caroling, crafts, and a ton of other things I can think of where kids can prepare and experience Christmas. Either my parents did a great job of making the season special or those activities just very clearly stand out in my mind. I also had Christmas pageants and choir performances in school at the holidays, something my stepkids had never heard of before I asked years ago. But strangely enough, the custody schedule has only ever allowed us one weekend with the kids before Christmas Eve or Christmas, which switched off every year. It's never enough time to prepare for Christmas with them, let alone try to do Christmas-time activities. We usually somehow squeeze in a play about or somewhat related to Christmas. If we see them for Christmas Eve, then we are able to take them to the Christmas Eve service at church. If we don't, then they don't even get a church service about the holiday and its meaning.

They're off of school right now, and I would be taking them to shows, having them finish those crafts they started and never finished, teaching them to skateboard, or whatever else. Their dad, if he was home with them, would be taking them to parks with their bikes and other equipment. Usually, we take them up North for about 4-5 days to see my husband's large family for a portion of a week. But this year...

Their mom decided to schedule her first vacation week with the kids during the winter, ever. Meaning, my husband had to fight for one extra day this entire month to even have enough time to see his family at all. Her comment was, "I am not forbidding you from seeing your family..." knowing full well that her "vacation" request would cut out any possibility of 2 sets of 10 hour travel time. Because of her generous extra day, we're planning to drive at night and hope that our route doesn't get shut down due to night ice.We may not have time to go to snow, the only snow these kids have ever experienced, given the rushed schedule.  So, the kids get 2 weeks with their mom and stepdad doing nothing, just like the other 75% of the time, with one insane weekend of their big family up North, and an insulting amount of Christmastime with their dad overall for the month of December.

I'm reminded of how sad this is. My husband said it is most of all sad for the kids. I don't know why I feel like they deserve more and should have the opportunity to do more enriching things. Shouldn't I just plain not care, given how much they care about me? I've done all these awesome things with them before, and its not like its had an impact. So I should just want them to sit there and do nothing at their house. It was technically their choice, despite how much we offer them. Saves me money, anyways.

Then I'm reminded that the court had the biggest influence on this. Some people believe that the parent with the most money gets the kids. This is simply not the case, as anyone familiar with a divorce-with-kids situation knows. In our case, it's not a money issue but more of what can be offered. The court chose the parent that would do the least for the children's upbringing. I remembered he tried to express all of the things we do for the kids, what we bring into their lives, at least one time when preparing for court. The lawyer cut most of it out. It has no worth.

Or, this is what I have to figure, that is. My logic is constantly trying to get a grasp on how if he has done nothing wrong, does not abuse them, hurt them or upset them, but simply fathers in an exceptional way, does everything he can to teach them about life and themselves, tries his hardest to see them- then there must be something to courts having a mother-bias or any of the other theories you can come up with about what's going on with the system.

It's Christmastime...and none of this makes sense. A great father not being able to see his kids doesn't make sense to me. A mother trying to deny her children their wonderful father and his family due to her own bitterness and desire to win and control- when does it end, if not at Christmas? If the state and courts and psychologists are aware of the impact and difference in the lives of children who have both a mother and father, even if separated, then how do these decisions even come about? He lives miles from them and wants to see them more, but is denied for absolutely no reason.

I've maybe never been more aware of the evil of people than this Christmas. This is usually when I am pushing myself to have faith in others and remember what joy we can bring each other. I saw a single mom and her girl buy a Christmas tree at Target last weekend. They shoved the little, somewhat sad tree into their little compact car. They weren't talking, but simply smiling. They both got in the car, and I could see them directly from my car. They were just happy to have bought a tree together, to take it home, no matter how small it is or how silly it is that they had to shove it in that tiny car. Any teenager would have mocked it, that's for sure.

Directly after that, a lady came out of the Target Garden Center shouting across the parking lot, "These trees are sh*t. They're horrible. They're the worst trees I've ever seen."

After I bought what I needed and came out, another family was buying a tree. Again, all smiles. One boy was talking endlessly about all the things he wanted to do and the decorations and lights and this and that.... Simply happy to have a tree, again. That it is simply Christmastime, again.

One person sees something ugly and unfit, another sees something that will make everything right and better again.  Where is the middle, the happy medium, the actually mediated solution seeking the best for all? Will it always remain dichotomous, as long as people are just people and can't look to a bigger meaning?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Two Faced or Double Sided

I've heard all of my life that you can do everything for someone, but it doesn't mean they'll change. Some people believe that people never change, others claim they can. I lean towards the latter and want to believe in faith in others, but have seen many people not change. I can't trust that they will. Also, people can easily treat you one way, say that they believe you, and listen to you for hours- but still turn around and tell someone else that they think you're full of it or doing it all wrong.

I grew up in the church. I have worked with youth for a long time. At camps and retreats, you are getting kids out of their element and purposely confronting them in striking and memorable ways to help them "see the light" about themselves and their world, and hopefully faith or God drops in there somewhere behind it or in the middle of it. Christian retreats and camps serve as a wake up call to youth, to confront themselves and confront the world. It's character building, lifetime relationship building, and extremely memorable. We also have a ton of fun- because you can't get anywhere with youth if you don't start with what us corporate adults call "team building" and in youth ministry, we call games.

I can tell you that those trips can make a huge difference. They write letters to family and friends confessing their feelings and asking for help with their addictions and problems. They return home, asking their parents for hugs and to be listened to and promise to change. They look to a higher power, a guidance book (the Bible), and awesome leaders and counselors as role models. Sometimes the camp "buzz" is only temporary. But I've seen it change lives, and mission trips serve as major wake-up calls to spoiled teenagers who for the first time are confronted with a life different than their own where nothing can be taken for granted.

Now I'm in adult world. Married, a stepmom/parent, in suburbia, worry about my house, my job, and wonder how to get out of a cubicle. Nobody confronts anybody. I only hear about adults laying it out clear in church communities. I hear some families still do that- tell their loved ones that they're hurting themselves, need help, or should stop doing what they're doing. But mostly, I read and hear about overacceptance of people hurting people or living a double life. I say it all of the time: "Some people are just like that." I say it because I've been hurt so much by friends over the years, that I've learned that people like that need to be avoided or dropped- not confronted. My inclination is to confront, but I also don't like the frustration and sometimes the heartache.

A former coworker told me her dilemma in an Ikea store line once. She saw 2 little boys hurting their tiny baby brother, who was unaware- not even at the age he could walk yet. She said she was so upset watching this happen and the mother ignoring it, that she so badly wanted to call the police or social services. But her husband told her to not get involved and reminded her of how bad things happen when you "meddle". Bad things happen to you, maybe- because you took responsibility. But what about the good to the people/person being hurt?

I refuse to believe that we are supposed to not meddle. I refuse to accept that people should just hurt others, because it's their perogative, their job, or what they learned from someone else.

Be one person. Be your beliefs. Stand up for what you believe, and don't let others convince you that "both ways" are right or that any type of damage is acceptable. Challenge each other, and stop the continuation of abuse, addiction, or general ignorance with anyone who matters to you. Those people need you, someone, to care. Otherwise, they will teach the next person, the next person, and their kids to continue in their ways and accept it as "just the way things are."

Also, DVR the World's Strictest Parent show on MTV. (Yeah, MTV...I know!). Maybe, find it on YouTube and send it to a couple parents you know... Encourage them to be stronger examples for their struggling pre-teens and teens. Oh, and send some camp info to them as well.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The New Plan

When we have something important to deal with with the kids, my husband and I come up with a game plan. It always works while the kids are in the house, but at some point they have their memories twisted and it's turned against us. We don't care about that other than how the kids are taught to lie about us and are encouraged to only think badly about us and what we do with them or tell them. Another way to put it is that my husband's parenting is not respected by their mother and her located-all-in-the-same-town family, and they do everything to teach the children to not take any character, moral, or virtue lessons from their father because "it's silly" or more commonly, "ridiculous". Because whatever everyone else does...is right. Of course. Being yourself means being thoughtless and living selfishly- didn't you know?

I have my own plans sometimes. I usually revise them a few times before it happens, or it changes on the spot. As I get less upset, I come up with more clever things to do or say to handle a new issue. I, of course, take the female role-model stance. My husband always takes the fatherly stance.

I hit my end with all of the lies. I had to do something to tell my stepdaughter that I would not tolerate her lies to me anymore- while also confronting the lies about me and her little sister's new inability to tell the truth or point out her sister's lies. And, I really wanted to bring it home. I wanted her to internalize it.

I asked her to look in a mirror after I briefly talked to her younger sister about what lying is. I asked her to describe how she feels and what she thinks about herself. I asked her to share what she wants to be and what she wants people to think of her. She had no answers. She just shrugs. I has her sister share her thoughts, before I said what I needed to say. I told her how I see a beautiful girl who doesn't like who she is. She doesn't like how she looks so she wants to hide herself with big jackets and sweatshirts, no matter how hot it is. She wants to be someone else or look different, so she is only 12 and wearing thick, dark make-up. She wants to blend in and look like everyone else, because she wants to be normal. She wants to be normal because she feels like her life isn't normal. She is hurt and confused inside because she has 4 different parents who tell her different things. She has moved so much and has had too many homes, and she wants to hide that she's not normal. So she lies. A lot, to cover up who she is. She doesn't know how to answer or who she is and who she should be, so she lies. She tries to make people happy with her just for the moment, so she lies to get out of the moment, and doesn't care what happens later and who it hurts.

Her eyes teared up the moment I brought up the divorce of her parents. I asked her what people would think of her if she lied to them a lot, for years. I asked her if people who love you ever lie to you- and when she nodded no, I said that they do. I said, "And people who love someone but are lied to for so long- How would they feel? They lose trust in you, even if they love you, it will take a long time to trust them again." I then told her that I will no longer let her lie to me, and she will no longer lie to me. I told her that the thing I hate the most is people who are fake, and lies are making her fake to me. We just told her the week before that she is better than that, that she is not fake, that she is beautiful and smart and has more to offer. So why is she choosing to be fake?  I reiterated no more lies. As I left the room, I said, "And you taught your little sister to lie for you, too."  Then their dad took them to dinner.

He got the gist pretty quickly and later picked up where I left off, very nicely and in his own way. He's not only fantastic at my damage control, but he also sometimes chooses to go the Dad way and nail it home. Oh, I love him. But he doesn't blog, so he can't pick up the story from there. One thing to throw in: She lied to him a few times at dinner.

We discussed everything after he'd dropped them off back to their mom, whom they are learning the lying and fake behavior from- which they talked to us about how fake she is the week before, actually- Just without that word. Then I told him I had started writing to the kids. I have since added to it. It's this long letter I will read to them the next weekend they're with us, on the first night. It started as me telling my husband I don't want to buy them as many Christmas gifts because of all of the events of this year- which means their pile will severely drop off. I am a gift giver type, so I always overdo it and spend way too much. But I want to. I wanted to show them how much I care and think of them..... Ha.

But I decided to write a letter about everything I feel and experience instead. In their words, I describe how hurt I am and remind them of a lot of things I've done for them- since they admit they don't remember or ever think of anything I do. I'm like a ghost that gives them things and takes care of them.  I describe how much I've tried, how much I've cared, and illustrate it. I also illustrate what its like to be me in this position, living with two people who continually act fine with me but then lie to me and about me to everyone else, making me look like someone I'm not. I have written about how I am losing me- because the more you're sad and hurt and allow others to continually hurt you, the more you lose who you are. I wrote about how I want to be myself and not be sad so much so that I can take care of everyone who does love me, love everyone who wants me to love them, and do all of the volunteer activities I do for others where I help other kids and homeless animals. And I state that I want to have a relationship with them, want to be treated like what I am- family- and that maybe one day we can be friends when they stop believing what someone else is telling them but only sees me for me and knows me for me. My husband cried when I read him what I'd written so far.

And that will get us goin' for Christmas. It's the time for caring and sharing. And they think they've already heard what we're upset about....But the tears won't last long. They'll remember they barely see us and move on.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Time Delay

When you're a stepmom, you drink when you know you need it. There are times when you are so upset, about children's doings, and there is nothing in the world you can do about it.

Well, except blog or post on a stepmom's site, hoping for someone to come up with some ingenious comments that will make it all better. Yeah, ok, unlikely. They'll try, but it won't help allllll that much.

Drinks are like anti-depressants or pain killers. I know, not what you want to hear me relate it to, but it's true.  It takes the edge off, as my doctor says.

You need to take the edge off, because there's absolutely nothing you can do. When they are not with you, and you find out all kinds of things that would drive you nuts, you can't do a thing. You can't talk to them. You can't ask them. You can't ask your husband to handle it. You can't tell them to at least think about what they did. You can't give them a note about how much it hurts when they do whatever it is you do. You can't give them a parable, ask them to read a Bible verse, or give them a time out. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

You find out about something terrible. You hear about how your stepkids lied to your face or your husband's face repeatedly, while doing something that took a lot of time, that seemed like a fun family event, that cost a lot of money. Guess what! They didn't care! That's what you realize later when you hear all the lies.

I spent the majority of my life avoiding fake people. I despise people who have to be fake. We all have gone through a phase of being fake, usually in junior high or high school, I would hope, but at some point we start to realize that those people don't have depth or anything to offer us anymore. There's nothing there, or we can't trust it.

I never thought I'd be the pseudo-parent of one. She's just a kid. It still sucks. Junior high is when I came to the realization that being fake just hurts. That the guy who stood up for everybody was my school hero. That lying about yourself and trying to be something you're not just pisses everybody off.

But here I am. With a person who comes over to my house, who I take care of, who I think about all the time, who I worry about, who I talk about, who I buy anything for- Who is completely, and totally fake. She lies like some of the ex-boyfriends I had. Yeah, her continual lying is now relating to ex-boyfriends in my life. That's the point it's reached.

Friends that lied incessantly and boyfriends who hurt me one too many times were kicked out of my life. In this case, I can't kick her out of my life. There's this stepmom concept of distancing yourself from the stepkid portion of your family, but God, how that would hurt my husband.

I'm stuck. I hit my limit. If you're an adult, you know that sometimes one too many lies is just enough. You're just done. Three years of lying after one year of her obsessing over me- and I'm just so sick of it I can't stand it. Remembering how much she followed me around and copying me- just makes how she is now hurt that much more.

I do not have that instinctual love of her as a parent. I am not her parent. I will never have it.

So, with all of this emotion, and the inability to talk to her or ask her dad to talk to her, or do anything... I blog. And drink a lemon drop.