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!

On Being the Step-Mom on Mothers Day

When I became a mother to my two boys, it was in the typical fashion: wanting babies, making babies, growing babies, birthing babies, loving babies. I bonded with my baby boys quickly and easily, as I nursed hem, changed their diapers, and cared for them.

When I became a step-mother to my two girls, it was in the typical fashion: dating their dad, loving their dad, marrying their dad, learning to love them. That’s right, I said learning to love them. One of the more important things I have discovered along my step-mothering journey is to allow myself time to love my girls. I don’t know that I ever experienced a crystallizing moment in my life when I knew I loved them, but I can honestly say that I have grown to love them. Yes, there are definitely days in these teen years, when they challenge my loving feelings, but I think that is pretty normal, even among fully biologically related adolescents and their parents. During these trying times I think to myself that it was a really good thing that I became a step-mother when the girls were little. It has allowed us time together when they when they were sweet and cute, before they became hormonal teens.

Juan and I started dating when the girls were 6 and 3. I can still remember the first time I saw Erica. She was in Juan’s car, perched up on her car seat holding an empty bottle. She had long since given up drinking from a bottle, but she still held onto an empty Playtex nurser as her comfort. When I asked her about it, she told me “I just like to hold it.” My heart melted a little. I’d like to say that at that moment I instantly fell in love with that little girl with a quick smile and fly away curls, but I would be perpetuating a myth that becoming a step-mother makes you love your partner’s children automatically. It doesn’t. In fact, becoming a step-mother probably has less to do with love and more to do with compassion and endurance. Step-mothering is a test of love. A test of the love you have for your partner, and the love you have for your family and the family you hope to become.

Juan and I have been married almost 9 years now. This year I will celebrate my 8th Mother’s Day as a step-mom to my girls. Every year, it’s a little awkward, and every year it get’s a little easier. On one of my earlier Mother’s Days as a step-mom, I woke to the sound of activity. Juan let me sleep in a little but I could hear the unmistakable sound of kids trying to stay quiet as they started their Sunday morning. The custodial agreement between Juan and his ex-wife stated that the girls would be with their mom on Mother’s Day. It was our weekend together but of course, they needed to be with their mom on this special day. They were excited to go and share with her the handmade gifts they created at school. When I got up I could see that Olivia had two beautifully wrapped packages waiting on the window seat in the living room. I commented on the packages and she said that the gifts were for her mom and aunt. Olivia left a few minutes later calling out to me, “Happy Mother’s Day,” taking both presents, and leaving me empty handed, and feeling hollow. Ouch.

It’s gotten better since then. I know Juan remembers the bitter sting I felt that morning when I realized that all my efforts caring for the girls went unrecognized. It was a painful lesson, that as much as I cooked their meals, washed their clothes, combed their hair and helped them with their school work, I was just the step-mom. But it was also a lesson in compassion for me, and it continues to remind me that as difficult as step-mothering can be for me, step-daughtering for them is just as difficult. Of course, they love their mother, and even through the teen conflicts we endure right now, I know they love their dad. Loving me, is a little trickier. Isn’t it a fantasy of nearly every child of divorce, no matter what age, that your parents will get back together? How do you love someone who is the obstacle from your parents ever getting remarried? How do you love someone who does the “motherly jobs” without betraying your loyalty to your “real” mother. It’s complicated and I am sure the girls felt conflicted, and still do feel conflicted at times.

That morning was a reminder to me that I needed compassion to fill in gaps as I learned to love my girls. Yes, it hurt, but they needed time to get to know me and what our relationship as step-mother/daughters would be. We needed time to grow to a place where they could love me without feeling they were disloyal to their mom. I needed time to know them, and not feel pressured to love them instantly. Different from bonding with my newborn sons, bonding with my girls is prolonged, and seems to be a more back and forth; a shared process between me and each daughter. This process is evolving still today. It is constant shift in what it means for us to be in relationship with each other, especially since now Olivia lives with us full-time and Erica spends the majority of her days with her mom. Through it all, I am loving their dad, loving my family, and I am loving them.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers and step-mother’s everywhere.

On our wedding day, the day I officially became their step-mother.

Mothers Day morning update: Juan surprised me with this link to a video he made and posted to You Tube. Watching it made me realize that through all our years together we have really bonded as a family.  Plus, it made me really cry!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8NmfBNCYeg&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

 

 

Mom’s House, Dad’s House – When Back and Forth Doesn’t Work for Back to School

Today I have a post up at Huffington Post. You might want to check it out by clicking here.

But, put on your earmuffs if you don’t want to hear a lot of divorce bashing from the commenters. I am tempted to respond to all the ruckus, but honestly, I agree, a little. Divorce can hurt kids. It’s difficult, for everyone. Staying married in an unhealthy situation can hurt kids too. It’s difficult, for everyone. I used to think I would never get divorced, but here I am. And I am doing the best I can, as I think we all try to do with our kids, and our families. So, read the post if you want, and leave a comment if you are so inclined.

Happy Un-Anniversary to Me

Divorce and remarriage have been on my mind more often lately. Maybe it’s because all the royal wedding buzz last week reminded me another April wedding, mine. All the talk of the royal nuptials may have reminded me that the date of what would have been my 15-year wedding anniversary to Nico’s dad was approaching. I knew it was coming, but then forgot about it until the day actually passed. I didn’t think about it, until I did.

Maybe divorce and remarriage been on my mind too because Nico, my son, our son, just got back from a wonderful week-long vacation with his dad for spring break. His dad took him to Kauai, Hawaii. That was the last place his dad and I traveled to as a family. We went the summer before Nico turned 2, when he was still a “lap child” and we didn’t have to pay for his seat. The 5 hour flight seemed to go on forever, as Nico, then 21 months preferred my cushy thighs to his dad’s bony legs. Once we landed though, we had a great time on our vacation.

Who knew that four months later our world would come crashing down and we would separate and then divorce? I was devastated. I felt like part of me died. After the initial trauma and grief I realized that eventually I would heal . For Nico, though, I wasn’t sure how he would get through it. Granted, he was only two-years old so he really couldn’t understand any of it, but his routine was upset. Even though I knew that I had given the marriage all I could, and I knew that I couldn’t do it any longer, I thought that maybe Nico deserved for us to keep trying. Was I being too selfish? I kept thinking what it would mean for him? How terrible would be for me to miss out on half his life, as he divided his time with weekly stays between two houses? I thought about how it would feel for him to have the two people who loved him the most, never be together again. What about the lost opportunity for him to have a brother or a sister?

My concerns were real then, but now that his dad and I don’t let the pain and sadness of our former marriage influence (too much) the way we treat each other; now that Nico and his dad’s relationship is closer than ever; now that I am in a happy, fulfilling marriage; now that Nico has a step-dad, siblings and an even larger circle of people who love him, I realize that while divorce can be difficult and sad, it doesn’t have to be tragic. While it is definitely the end of a marriage, the end of a familiar family structure, my divorce meant the beginning of a new way of life for me and it allowed me to create a new way of considering “family.” Nico’s dad and I have settled into an amicable co-parenting relationship, my marriage to Juan is more intimate and loving than I could ever have envisioned, and it has given Nico a brother and two sisters. This was certainly not the way I intended my marriage to Nico’s dad would go when I made those vows on an April date 15 years ago–there was no happily ever after fairy-tale ending. But, the life I am living and the family I am creating now, is its own unique story.

Another wedding