Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How Nice

It's been so many years since my oldest stepdaughter sincerely liked me. I'm afraid to say this, but I think it's coming back.

My proof: She actually is immediately wearing hand-me down clothes from me rather than tossing them behind something so she doesn't have to see it until I find it a month later and ask how it got back there. She is laughing at jokes I make. And she's even repeating funny things I say and laughing, like she enjoyed what I said.

It's shocking. Unusual. Strange. Confusing. Cool. But I'm still wary.

I'd like to say it's new, but it's not. When she was about 8 or so, she treated me like the cool babysitter or the "older" girl. She would wear my stuff, especially when I didn't offer it… And I wasn't always so happy about that, because I'm pretty clear on how gross kids are. Though, I recognized that she was trying to emulate me and wanted to share my things. And my husband knew it was a sign that she really liked me. She would follow me around, too closely often. She would touch me, like by bugging me somehow or play with my hair. She'd lean against me whenever the opportunity arose,despite the fact that I didn't have a clue what to do in response and felt very awkward about it. She'd listen to me earnestly and copy what I said. She would beg me to stay over, stay longer, and try to talk me out of my obligations and reasons for getting back to my life, and my cute apartment.

That all stopped abruptly a few months after my husband and I were married and living together. There's lots of theories about why, but primarily there was strong and steadfast anger and hate flowing from her mother.

You'd think that a child does not simply change how they act. In fact, most people believe that. That children are innocent and pure and never hide their true feelings or quickly and completely change how they act and who they like or hate. Especially when it comes to their only parents. I could see someone thinking that that's much more of a Junior High thing laced with adolescence or High School angst. Sure.

Anyone remotely in my situation knows how quickly a child's affections for you or one biological parent can change. Instantly, as a matter of fact.

Have you ever seen a child change their entire behavior the moment someone else walks into the room? Most children are distracted, playing, busy, something- being themselves in their own little world. But a child who's been convinced that affection from one parent wanes if the child cares about the other parent as well causes that child to change everything instantaneously. Even if the other parent is simply in eyesight. Even their car or other family members of that parent can change their entire demeanor in one second. Their mood immediately changes, their facial expressions, their words, their actions. Imagine a child in the middle of play and laughter suddenly dropping her shoulders, changing her face to a full glare, and suddenly ignoring whatever they were doing. Even being a little violent in their actions. It's maybe hard to believe unless you've seen it.

Things they want even change. They aren't "themselves". But one day, that version can turn into the only version you see.

And that's who my stepdaughter was for about 2 or 3 years. She sometimes goes back into it, and I have a very hard time trusting her. I know that we can have tons of fun and they'll give me hugs before bed, but then the next time I see them, they could be spitting venom. We used to think that consistent behavior was a sign that things changed. Oh, totally wrong. Totally, totally, totally wrong. Consistent children come from consistent parents. If one parent is unstable… Well, you see where that's going. Children can be healthy in divorce situations, but not if their primary example(s) in life is completely or emotionally unhealthy. Especially if the child is of the same sex of the parent who is unstable. Who do they emulate most during the childhood years, before they turn to their peers?

She's now in the pre-teen years, and I forgot that she hasn't even hit 13. She's easier to deal with, work with, and talk with. She's either realized that things aren't changing and acceptance is sinking in, or she has a split personality. Which, is entirely possible. I'm not just being mean. She has tried to maintain more than one version of herself since she was 9. This is her coping mechanism, although it's extremely dangerous. She thinks that in order to get through the differences in the two houses, she needs to be two different people. But I don't know if she realizes that her other side slips out regularly, because she's really not that good at hiding anything. (That training and perfection comes in the teenage years.)

But these new things, or I should say the comeback, is much more encouraging than previous "comebacks". The signs I listed at the beginning of this post are special and herald back to that first year I knew her.

I sure hope it's not just because I'm super sick. My stepkids are always much more caring about sick and elderly people, and a therapist once told me that maybe I could resolve all of the issues with my stepkids by being sick all of the time or acting like it. Ha. No thanks. I make my stepmom title by being adventurous, active, special, and different. Sick, weak, and needy… Aren't my things, ain't my game. Plus, they already have that example…

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