Family Movie Night

Recently, it was a big day in Diego’s life and in the life of our family. It was definitely blog worthy. Ten years ago, Diego entered our family and changed all our lives.  He had been talking about his big TEN birthday all year long. I guess he wanted to be sure that I would not forget that it was a special birthday for him. He really didn’t need to be concerned–his birthday also reminded me just how special his is to our family

I’ve written about Diego before and his special role in our blended family. Lately, the blending in our family is really a huge mess. It’s a lot more grinding, mashing and straining than blending. Last year Olivia left for college while things were tense at home. Erica has been spending most of the time at her mom’s while we try to stay connected and involved in her life. Nico is exercising his independence more and more. Juan and I are challenged to stay united and strong during these turbulent times.

On the eve of his 10th birthday, I asked Diego to tell me about some of his favorite things.  He recited a long laundry list of his “favorites.” Perhaps, in an effort to make up for the absence of record-keeping in his baby book. I promptly memorialized his list here:

Diego's Top Ten at Ten

Diego’s Top Ten at Ten

One of his “favorites” which surprised me a bit was when he said his favorite thing to do is, “Spend time with my family.”  I was surprised because for the last couple of years our family life has been so stressful that sometimes the least favorite thing for me to do is “spend time with my family.” There, I said it.  I sometimes feel that with all the chaos in our family, I am tempted run away and change my identity. But, this was about Diego, not me.  Diego loves it when we are all together, when his sisters are home and they can get along, when his brother stops talking on the computer or doing homework long enough to play video games with him, and when we can all sit down together for a family movie night.

On the eve of Diego’s 10th birthday,  Juan and I sat down and watched Diego’s birth video. One of my favorite parts of the video is when I am in my  hospital room and Juan brings the older kids into the room to meet Diego for the first time. Nine year-old Olivia bursts into tears, six-year old Erica is looking bewildered and excited and five year-old Nico is just taking it all in with a sweet smile. There’s a lot of excitement and chatter, and I explain to the kids that their new baby brother might recognize their voices. Olivia asks, “Did he think he was an only child?” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing! I laughed at the thought of how much Diego would have hated being an only child. In spite of the constant challenges we face in our blended family, Diego still experiences enough happiness that being with his family is one of his favorite things.

The next day with Olivia home from college, and Erica and Nico home from the other parents’, we all went to dinner to celebrate Diego’s birthday.  Afterwards, we went home to eat cake, and have a “family movie night” with Diego’s birth video.   The kids started laughing  at the sound and sight of younger versions of themselves, and of course we all burst out laughing hearing Olivia’s question and watching Erica put her unwashed hands all Diego’s face even when Juan told her to use the hand sanitizer! I looked over at Olivia and noticed that was tearing up and wiping her eyes as she watched her younger self weeping at the sight of her new brother.  Diego was beaming with pride and joy.  I looked at all of us, and felt joy at the sight and sound of us together and happy.  In that moment, I was reminded how this could be one of my favorite things too.

Meeting their brother in 2004.

...And Now

Celebrating with their brother in 2014.

Blogging (Or Not) Between A Rock and A Hard Place

This blog has been silent for so long I think all my readers may have left. If you are here checking in to see if there is anything happening, thank you. And yes, there is stuff happening. A lot. A lot of shifting in my life. So much shifting that that I don’t even know if my blog is relevant to my life anymore. I used to blog mainly about my life in a blended family. For at least the last year of my life, the funny, loving and happiest parts of my blended family life changed. I began to experience loss and disappointment. These feelings made it difficult for me to access those parts of my life where I experienced laughter and love. It’s been rough. Even though I knew deep down that these raw, painful parts of my life needed to be revealed, I felt like I couldn’t do it. I thought, who wants to read about that? Isn’t that too private?

I didn’t’ know the answers to those questions. I still don’t know the answers to these questions. All I know is that throughout this period I have been struggling. But, my struggle would probably have been lightened just a bit if I had a place to share it. Sure, I shared it with my husband, friends and therapist, but I felt like I could not share it here. Somehow, keeping all the hard stuff about my life to myself, while I wrote about my “well-blended life” seemed dishonest. I want my writing to be honest, so I’ve been stuck.

Today I am leaving town to attend a blogging conference, BlogHer 14. I attended for the first time a couple of years ago and left inspired, and motivated. When I bought my conference pass last fall, I was still writing regularly. As the conference approached I began to feel like I didn’t want to go. My husband encouraged me to go. (Maybe it’s because I am easier to live with when I am blogging.) I told him I was hesitating about going because how could I call myself a blogger when I wasn’t blogging? Our lives and the material it inspired didn’t really fit into the “niche” blog I created. As we talked about it, I knew I needed to go and when I came back I needed to write about more than just the nice blended family life. As our kids have grown, my blog and my identity on this blog need to grow too. So, we created this new business card to take with me to BlogHer. It has the new tag line for my blog. I think it fits.

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Then, as if the Universe was giving me an affirmation, I saw the title of one of the BlogHer sessions, “The Blogging Pivot: When It’s Time to Change.” You can be sure I will be attending that session. When I get back from BlogHer and back to blogging, I hope you’ll be here. Thanks for reading. Thanks for staying.

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Firsts

It’s Monday, the 18th day of NaNloPoMo, and I am feeling a bit uninspired.  I looked at today’s writing prompt to get me going.  The prompt is to blog about a post you didn’t publish. I have a couple of those, but not many. Actually, I have many more unwritten posts that I probably won’t be able to publish, for the same reasons I haven’t written them.  The subject is too raw, and the stories are personal not just to me, but to others in my family.

I looked through my blog posts marked “private” and I found this one. When I wrote it my heart ached for my step-daughter.  I felt so helpless, like most parents feel when they see their child sick or sad. At the time, I wrote the post for myself and yet I knew that I would not be able to hit “publish” because like my other unwritten, unpublished blog posts, the subject matter was still too fresh.

Now, after reading this post, I feel enough time has passed that I can finally hit “publish.”

 

As parents, we’ve experienced many “firsts.” We had a first in our house last night. Our first daughter, with her first love, experienced her first broken heart. As parents, it was one of those times watching your child hurt and realizing you can do little about it, except offer some comforting words and the comforting food of a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake.We’ve all been there.  But, somehow seeing your child go through it makes it so much more painful. As we talked about her heartbreak, I found myself amazed at her level of maturity, insight and sensitivity.  The tears rolled down her face and she sobbed, feeling bad for being the one to break the news and knowing that in doing so, she may have broken a heart and ended a friendship.I have been on both ends of the spectrum, and in my opinion it is worse to be the one hearing the message, than the one delivering the message.  Maybe that’s because when I was the messenger I wasn’t as attached to the person, or maybe I just wasn’t as sensitive as our 14 year old daughter. I was also amazed, stunned actually, that we were talking about it. She doesn’t share her feelings easily, so perhaps it’s a testament to the amount of pain she felt that she was able to share it with her dad and I. Or maybe she just has a more open relationship about these things than I ever did with my parents. It could also be when I was a teen, I under-estimated my parents and didn’t think they would understand.

As much as it hurt to see her suffer, I also felt gratitude. I felt grateful that we have such an insightful, loving daughter.  Grateful that I felt close to her in sharing such heartache. Grateful that she confided in me, her mom and her dad. Most of all I felt grateful in knowing that this too shall pass and as beautiful and wonderful as she is, she will experience love again. This is one thing I know to be true. I am grateful to her for reminding me of that too.

 

On the Sidelines–Life As a Step-Parent

You may have noticed a lack of blogging going on here.  It’s true. I have been a sporadic blogger, at best. Not the best thing to be if you are trying to build an audience, and definitely not the best thing for me since blogging is how I release my pent up creative energy. Perhaps that’s why I have been feeling more than my usual stress.

Or not. Actually, perhaps why I have been so stressed lately has also something to do with why I have not been blogging. There has been a lot going on in my family right now. Most of what has been going on is not mine to share, so I won’t. But, let’s just say it has been emotionally draining and has required every bit of my attention. The past couple of months of our blended family life has been consumed with teen drama. I mean real life drama–not the made-up stuff. The drama seems to be leveling off now, at least long enough for me to come up for air and take a look around at what’s been happening on my blog–nothing. Truth be told I have been wanting to write about the hard stuff going on at home, but since so much of my “material” is the stuff of other family members, I am really conflicted about whether I should blog about it at all.  But, this is still my blog, so I feel like I can write a bit about it from my perspective, as a step-mom and a mom.

Parenting during the teen years is difficult, and step-parenting during the teen years is really difficult. I have bio sons and two step-dauthers, so I get to experience both, and lately, it has been really hard to be a step-parent of teenagers. When things happen to my girls-and they are my girls even if I didn’t birth them–I want to to step in and help Juan solve the problem. That is not my job as a step-mom. Too often I have to sit on the sidelines and watch as Juan and his ex-wife try to resolve issues with the girls, sometimes in ways with which I don’t agree. Too often I have to support Juan in his parenting even though there are many times I feel like I would have done it differently. Like the Monday morning quarterback, in my mind, and sometimes out loud I catch myself re-playing his moves, criticising his attempts which appear to cause us to lose ground, and the Hail Mary passes which seem to me like acts of desperation. I am a great Monday morning quarterback, and even though I cheer Juan from the sidelines, I am sure my unsolicitied advice to him is as annoying as that player harping ,”Put me in coach.” The truth is often Juan does listen to my Monday morning quarterbacking, and that in itself is not always a good thing. In fact, with all the challenges we’ve been dealing with lately, Juan does not need to hear me yelling plays from the sidelines. He needs to know that I am here cheering him on, but not telling him what to do. This has been quite a test for me, because I’ve come to find out that I am somewhat controlling, and very opinionated. Shocking, I know.

My challenge is that I am trying to overcome my propensity for offering advice, and learning to keep my parenting thoughts to myself, as our family therapist recommended I do. Even though Juan and I are partners in every sense of the word, step-parenting, right now, requires me to be a silent partner. I can listen to his concerns, and support him in his ideas and approach. Even though I am still struggling with this, I learned that if I leave it alone, it can free me from feeling like I am responsible for helping resolve the drama in our house right now. I can’t fix it–it’s not my job.  That’s creating quite a bit of conflict for me right now, since I often feel powerless and sometimes hopeless.

It’s a difficult place to be in. I’m sure I am not alone, as a step-mom or a parent of teens. In the meanwhile I am waiting, on the sidelines, for it to get better.

Do you ever feel like you have to parent from the sidelines?

Pottery, Leather or an Umbrella? The 9 Year Wedding Anniversary Gift

Today is my 9th wedding anniversary. The traditional gift for this anniversary is pottery. Maybe so you can throw it at your spouse? The modern gift for this anniversary is leather—hmm, much more interesting. I like what my step-daughter Erica said about this anniversary, “You’ve beat your high score!” As two people who have been married before, whose marriages did not make it much past the 7 year-itch, I know she is right on. I realize 9 years married is a drop in the bucket compared to our parents’ 51 and 47 year marriages, but I look forward to reaching those milestones with Juan. That means I will be 90 years old when I finally get the anniversary gift of gold.

When I think about the past 9 years, I am still astounded by all that we’ve shared together. I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me much, because when the groom has two daughters ages 5 and 7, and the bride has a 4 year-old,  the newlyweds have to hit the ground running. Well, forget about running, the bride and groom have to hit the ground sprinting. There’s very little time for even a water break.

In the first year of marriage alone, we began a major house remodel, living in our house as we added on 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a family room. Erica and Nico started kindergarten, and Olivia started in a new school. I became pregnant. We had to buy 2 cars, one a minivan (of course), and another when  I was in an accident that totaled my completely paid for Honda. It was a challenging year. We like to joke that the only thing we did not do was take up drinking to handle all the stress.

I’d like to say that over the next several years, it’s gotten easier and there are fewer worries, but I would be lying. I think that first year married probably set the tempo for our lives together. Life is still incredibly fast paced. The pressures of having a blended family are great. Dealing with three parenting households is very complicated. Still, I think that we have learned a lot in these years together, and while we occasionally forget we are on the same team, we are quick to remind each other. Sometimes, it feels like we have to endure so many challenges as a blended family, that the only way to get through it is to huddle close to each other, knowing that we are in it together—for the long haul.

I like what we heard at Nico and Erica’s graduation the other day, “We need to learn to dance in the rain.” Yes, we have bright, sunny days, and we have  rainy days. But, with Juan as my partner, I know that we will dance through the rain together.

Maybe I should give him an umbrella?

O Happy Day!