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.

Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving Edition

Today is a special edition of Throwback Thursday. In celebration of Thanksgiving, I’m throwing it back to November 2007 and our blended family Thanksgiving.

In our blended family arrangement we often have to share holidays with the other parents. In 2007 Nico was going to spend the holiday out of town with his dad while the girls went with their mom. Before they left for the weekend I roasted a turkey breast and made some of our favorite thanksgiving sides. The other parents arrived and we invited them to stay for our impromptu feast. It was spontaneous and fun and we created a nice memory in the life of our family.

This year all our kids are home for the holiday. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and creating more memories. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Throwback Thursday

There’s a trend among social media users to post past photos  on Thursdays and tag it as Throwback Thursday, TBT or #TBT. I enjoy seeing some of my friends’ past pictures of them sporting big hair, bright makeup and leg warmers, and I am slightly amused by my own teens’ sense of nostalgia when they post photos from last school year and tag it as a throwback. When I think of TBT I am reminded of pictures of my kids when they were young and cute, or photos of me when I was younger and looked it.  Something like this:

Our first family photo, June 2001.

Our first family photo, June 2001.

This photo is in my office. Juan framed it for me and gave it to me as an anniversary gift.  The picture was taken in June, 2001. Olivia was 5, Erica was just 3,  Nico was still 2 1/2. Diego was just a glimmer in our eye. Actually, no. He wasn’t even a thought.  It was actually the first time Juan and I went out as a couple with our kids.  We had already known each other for several months and as single parents with kids of similar ages, we spent time together with our kids, taking them on outings.  But this date was different.

One week earlier, our friendship turned romantic.  All of a sudden I saw Juan in a different light and I realized I wanted us to be more than friends. He was more than willing. We spent nearly every day we could together until the weekend this photo was taken when our kids came back to us from their other parents.  That weekend in June we were invited to the birthday party of a co-worker’s daughter. The party was in the San Fernando Valley, on a sweltering day.  But, it was a perfect excuse to spend another day together with our kids, and a perfect opportunity to come out to our colleagues about our budding romance. Our friends were happy for us. I think our children were oblivious. They were getting their fill of birthday cake and ice cream. When the party ended, we did not want our day together to end.

Juan and I decided we wanted to do something else with the kids.  We wanted to escape the oppressive heat of the San Fernando Valley and decided to head south.  We drove to Anaheim to see if we could buy cheap tickets to a Los Angeles Angeles game.  After over an hour drive we were turned away because the game was sold out. Our kids were deteriorating. They were tired, hungry, sweaty and cranky. So was I.

But,  Juan sprang into action and suggested we head to Downtown Disney. The idea of anything Disney brought the kids to life. By the time we got to Downtown Disney it was dark and the temperature dropped.  Of course, no one had jackets, but we managed to scrounge through our cars and find some mismatched clothing. In this picture I am wearing Juan’s rain jacket Nico is wearing a too-small sweatshirt, and Olivia is wearing a pink velour long-sleeved shirt over yellow shorts. Erica and Juan are cold.  But we look happy. Because we were.

I remember laughing and having a good time watching the kids play in front of this fountain.  Juan began taking pictures of the kids. At that moment I remember feeling the possibility of something magical happening between us, and something special happening between the kids.  We must have projected those feelings because all of a sudden a stranger approached Juan and asked if we wanted him to take a picture of our family.  Juan looked at me as if to say, “What do you think?” I smiled at Juan, and without letting the stranger know that we weren’t really a family, (yet) we  both said “yes!”

That’s what I call Throwback Thursday.

 Do you like to post photos for Throwback Thursday?

 

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?

Smells Like Teen (Christmas) Spirit

My kids are now 7, 13, 13 almost 14, and 16. When my teens were little Christmas was a no-brainer when it came to gift giving. The biggest challenge was restraint. When the Toys R Us Big Book would arrive with the Sunday paper, or the weekly Target ad came out, my kids would circle items on their wish lists. I think most kids from divorced parents may say that Christmas is one of the few times, where divorce and remarriage works to their advantage. With three or four sets of grandparents, multiple aunts and uncles from all sides of our extended families, and two separate parenting households,  Christmas was just a toy bonanza for my kids. Beginning in December I would start fielding calls and emails from various family members, keeping track of who I told what to buy for whom.

Now that Nico, Erica and Olivia are in their teens, Christmas gift giving is still hectic, but it’s more expensive.  Gifts on their lists range from Uggs priced at $200, to Mac laptops, priced at over $1000. I hate to disappoint, but those gifts are just not happening. Sure, I can ask for family members to contribute towards these things, but with so many different family branches and varying degrees of financial resources, I just don’t feel comfortable with this. Besides, in addition to all my responsibilities, being the manager of a gift registry is something I just don’t have in me. Christmas came way too quickly this year. This year, I am stuck reaching for ideas, cajoling my kids to give me some kind of affordable gift wish list so that I can pass along the information to family members, and save a bit for myself.  I would like for my kids’ Christmas not to be a total bust and I’d like to be able to support the many relatives who want to gift them something, and experience their own joy in giving.

So, with only 10 shopping days until Christmas, and only two affordable items on Nico’s list (Hunger Games and plaid shirts), I was happy to see him looking through a catalog the other day. The catalog was from ThinkGeek.com, a site that we purchased some items from last Christmas, and which gifts he really enjoyed. When he was done looking at the catalog and marking items he wanted, I was less than enthusiastic about his wish list. How could I tell family members to spend their hard earned money on this:

Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers

But,  apparently people besides my teenaged geek son like them, because the site says that they are out of stock.

Nico also asked for this:

It’s a Screaming Monkey slingshot

The last item he asked for was the  infectious disease stress ball .  I found it a bit disturbing that the stress ball comes in four varieties of disease: bubonic plague, zombie virus, smallpox and cooties.

Maybe he will get plaid shirts in every color of the rainbow instead.

As for Olivia, my 16 year-old step-daughter, when I asked her for some gift ideas she replied, ” I don’t want anything for Christmas.”  Wow, the spirit of Christmas selflessness, or a surly teen? My initial reaction was skepticism, but I should have known better. Olivia is a good student, with a keen interest in politics and foreign policy, and when I watch her interact with her peers and other adults, she is very friendly, polite and respectful. However, like many parents of teens, communicating with adolescents often involves navigating through through long periods of silence or interpreting unintelligble responses of hmm or mmm. When I suggested to Olivia that maybe her relatives want to give her something for Christmas, she  replied, “Well then, tell them to give a donation in my name to Human Rights Watch.”  In these days of Christmas spending and commercialism, and as I experience these challenging teen years,  I choose to accept her wish list at face value and see it as a gift for myself.  Maybe, all our efforts spent of teaching her to be gracious in receiving and imparting the value in giving, are paying off after all. At least she’s not asking for the Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers.