My kiddos left yesterday for a 10 day adventure in Seattle with their dad and his family. They’ve been gone 24 hours and 6 minutes…not that I’m counting. I’m glad that they get to go visit their family and create memories with their cousins. We’ve never been apart for longer than a week, though, and try as I might, I can’t stop feeling a little melancholy at the prospect of being 2,200 miles away from them. To top it off, my stepsons went home today after their last summer week with us. I had a wistful little moment about that, too.
The summer evaporated, like water on a hot griddle–one sizzling, noisy moment at a time. It happened so slowly and all at once.
I feel a little lost.
I’m not one of those people who is looking forward to an empty nest. Ask me again when they’re teenagers, but right now, I adore being Mommy. All too soon I’ll just be “Mom,” and one more inevitable door will shut on their sweet innocence. I want to scoop up the moments I have with them and hide them somewhere that time can’t find them. Every time I snuggle my daughter until her eyelids overpower her will to stay awake and talk to me. Every time my son gives me a knowing smile about an inside joke that couldn’t possibly amuse anyone but us, but that makes him smile so much that even his recluse dimple shows. The way my stepsons crave the hugs of my husband, sinking comfortably into him when he picks them up as if they are feather-light. I tuck those moments away, with determination that I will remember every last detail, long after our children have grown up and left our home.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. –Psalm 90:12
I might be a little lost, but I’ve also found some things.
I may not want an empty nest, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to miss my children. I wrote about the Blessing of Being Alone, and how precious it is to reunite with your family after you’ve been away from them. On the opposite side of that coin is the opportunity to reconnect with your spouse when your kids are away. If you are in a blended family, and you’ve managed to work out the improbable voodoo of coordinating childless weekends, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not implying that there is a silver lining to being divorced. No–I picture the lining coated with that goo you find on the sidewalk when you walk down Bourbon Street at 7 am on a Sunday morning. You aren’t quite sure what it is, but you sure wouldn’t walk around in it in flip-flops. That being said, if there was a silver lining, this would be it. The time I have just to be alone with my husband is pure magic. Sitting in a clean house (hallelujah!), eating food our kids wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, laughing at our own inside jokes—it is a balm for the soul. When our nest is empty, we are only going to have each other. Thank goodness we like each other AND love each other.
On a more practical level, I’ve also found time to go to the gym for as long as I want. I did two sets when I lifted weights tonight. TWO WHOLE SETS! As if uninterrupted gym time wasn’t enough, we’re going to catch a baseball game with friends and have dinner with another set of friends. We’re actually going to remember what it’s like to be social–with real, live grownups, you guys.
*Note to self: do not refer to the restroom as the “potty” and PLEASE don’t ask grownup friends if they have to use it every time you walk past one. Also, please DO NOT refer to yourself in the third person as “Mommy.” Please, Lori. Don’t.*
Blended family or not, I hope you can find what is so easily lost in the hustle of parenthood.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, Mommy needs to take the dogs to go potty.
Last week, we finally had a beautiful, sunny day and our three youngest kids took full advantage of it. I lubed them up with sunblock, pulled swim shirts over their protesting heads, and positioned them where I could still take conference calls, but make sure no one was setting a fire or playing with homemade lawn jarts.
That day, they built tiny boats out of tree bark and rescued imaginary Smurf villages from imaginary floodwaters. They birdwatched, jumped on the trampoline and had a wonderful day. As much as I was trying to just hold it together with a full day of work, making lunches, cleaning up after the “creativity” and managing the day-to-day, I was consciously touched by how much fun they have together. Periodically throughout the day, I’d do a quick skin scan when someone would ask me for something to make sure they weren’t getting eaten by mosquitoes or sunburned.
Fast forward to the next morning, when my stepson asked me to put some lotion on his back because he thought he had a sunburn. I helped him get his pajama shirt off, and HOLY MOLY. There it was. A big, juicy blister the size of a quarter, on top of two little epaulettes of tiny sunburn blisters—one on each shoulder. After nearly passing out, I discovered that in the process of switching from dry clothes to swim clothes and back, he “took his swim shirt off for a little bit.” Umm…how long of a little bit? I tried to recall every time I looked at him the day before. Was he wearing the shirt?!? WAS HE?!?!? His two compadres (my biological children, to make matters worse–amiright, stepmoms?) were fine. No burns, no bites, no problem. How did this happen? Well…he didn’t bother me during the day, frankly. That’s how. He wasn’t the squeaky wheel, asking for twenty different things at once.
My red-headed stepchild (he really does have red hair) is the one who got burned, because he wasn’t actively vying for my attention and I falsely assumed what was working fine for the other two was working fine for him. I am heartbroken that anything happened to hurt him while he was in my care. I vastly underestimated the delicacy of Ginger skin.
I don’t consider myself to be a “helicopter parent.” More of a stealth “drone” parent. I’m watching, but I don’t want them to know I’m watching. Oh, but BlisterGate…it caught me completely unaware.
What did I learn?
They all need to be watched differently, because they all have different needs.
In this case, the need was for swim shirt mandates and extra sunblock, but it made me think about other, intangible things I may overlook that I’m not providing as a stepmom. I’m just too new at this to know what they are or how to offer them yet. I’m adept at providing what my bio kids need because I know them about as well as I know myself.
I give waaaaaaay more space to my stepsons than my biological kids out of a desire to respect their comfort level with the whole stepmom situation. As a result, I’m struggling to figure out how to show and tell each of them how much I love them as they are simultaneously being told the opposite. I wish they could see my heart, just for a second. *sigh*
Aside from giving my little fair-skinned stepson a full body SPF 50 dip every hour the next time he is with us, I will be on high alert with all five kids for ways that they need to be watched (and loved) differently. My husband, a veteran stepson for quite a few years now, assures me that it just takes time, but love will make its own case eventually.
I have time and I have SPF. Bring it on.
I urge you to live a life worthy of your calling. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.–Ephesians 4:1-2
My son said something to me recently that stopped me dead in my tracks. I laughed at some funny comment he made, and he threw his arms around me and said “You laughed! You don’t laugh very much anymore.”
I started to protest, but I realized that he’s right. I used to be silly and goofy and joyful with my kids. That has shifted in the last few years, little by little. The incremental change might be imperceptible, but the overall effect is apparently pretty noticeable.
I guess I know why I’ve changed, but knowing doesn’t help. After I had my gallbladder removed in 2010, I developed a condition called “Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction.” I’ll give you a second to giggle at the name…
Basically, my digestive fluids are held hostage by this little creeper called the Sphincter of Oddi. He doesn’t let pancreatic juice and bile in and out, and the result is pain, extreme nausea, and fatigue. I’ve had two surgical procedures, 2 endoscopies, 3 colonoscopies and about 2 weeks in the hospital as a result. Imagine having the stomach flu nearly every day to varying degrees.
We’ve also had our share of major life events since we’ve been married. You know how you take those quizzes that tell you how stressed you should be based on which life events you’ve experienced? Divorce, marriage, moving/selling your house, death in the family, illness, job changes–it’s a daunting list. Overachievers that we are, we checked a whole bunch off in the span of a few short years.
In all sincerity, I guess I didn’t realize how much I let the weight of my circumstances affect the lightness of my life.
Since my son made that comment, I have made a concerted effort to rid myself of the thoughts and worry that are stealing my joy. It is not easy. I have literally had to tell my friends and family that certain topics are off-limits and replace triggering thoughts with prayer when they try to sneak in. The stomach stuff is a little trickier, but the longer I live with it, the easier it gets to cope with it. Definitely a work in progress.
I’m trying to be present with my family, letting myself laugh and loosen up a little. I ask the kids every night, on a scale between 1 and 10, what my “Happy Mommy” number is for the day. I joke (in my used-car salesman voice) that “I aim for a 10!” but I want their honest assessment. Since I’ve started consciously trying to find my lost joy and laugh with them the way I used to, I’ve scored pretty high. In fact, I got a unanimous rating of 10 two nights ago. *fist pump* It’s a silly way to keep tabs on a serious concern, but it’s working, and to my surprise, I’m not faking it. I truly feel lighter and more joyful. It feels good.
So what’s your number? Summers can be especially tough with the extra messes, busier schedules and lack of alone time. As you strive to be present and joyful for your family, ask God to remove the triggering thoughts and worries that steal your laughter and to replace them with joy. Praying 10’s for you!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope. –Romans 15:13
I’ve spoken to a few of you recently about the special kind of torture that is seeing an issue in your children/marriage/blended family/etc, knowing that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and being 100% powerless to do anything about it. It’s maddening, isn’t it? Here’s this big, hairy problem crashing through your family like a runaway yak, and for a variety of reasons, you are the one person who is least able to intervene and solve it. In the meantime, you are forced to dodge the steaming piles of yak poo this lumbering nuisance leaves behind, while you assess and repair the damage. Talk about adding insult to injury! Not only does it feel like you’re the only one who really wants to stop the yak, you have to clean up after the stupid thing when it goes on a stampede.
If you find yourself in this position for whatever reason, I’d like to share a few suggestions that have helped me. I have to be honest, that some days I am much better at following my own advice than others. I am not immune to stepping right in the poo—believe me.
1) Talking about the yak won’t catch the yak. It will however drive you crazy and distract you from the things running wild in your life that need to be caught before they grow up into yaks. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t breed yaks.
2) Don’t try to reason with a yak. You’ll get kicked right in the face. Did you invite the yak? Are you feeding the yak? No? Then stop trying to analyze its behavior. It won’t stop the stampede, but it will drive you nuts, Yak Whisperer.
3) Let the yak get caught. Hide your valuables, find a comfortable seat a safe distance away, and watch the yak foolishly tire itself out. A yak can’t tell the difference between insanity and perseverance, but it will eventually get its head stuck in a fence. It’s a yak.
4) Give your yak to God. He made you. He knows what you need. Maybe you need this yak in your life for some reason that only He understands. Ask Him to change your heart and bring you peace and stop begging Him to change your yak into a kitten. Seek His comfort, especially when you’re stepping right in the piles. He doesn’t get tired of hearing you ask—even if it’s the same prayer, or just the same word over and over. Some of my best prayers are incoherent babbles.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world. – John 16:33
What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked? I am desperately seeking improvement in my own Yak Management tactics. I’d love to hear from you.
I love competition. I loved being part of a track team and I still love beating my own times when I enter a road race (although those new PR’s are hard to come by these days!). For me, track was the best of both worlds: I could compete as an individual, but I could also compete as part of a team. To be honest, the individual competition appealed to me the most. Beating my own records, analyzing my split times, hearing my name called for coming in first–it was exhilarating. Of course I wanted my team to do well, and I was delighted to contribute to the point totals. More than anything though, I loved racing as an individual—even when I ran against people on my own team. Sounds silly, but in my teenage arrogance it was true.
I may not be tearing up the track in a polyester singlet any more, but let me tell you—my competitive streak is alive and well. I can turn anything into a competition against myself or someone else. Anything. You’re running on the treadmill next to me at the gym? We’re competing. The GPS says I’ll get to my destination in 3hrs? I’ll do it in 2.5. Thirty grocery bags to carry in from the car? Bet I can get them in one trip! If you ever have occasion to watch Jeopardy with me, I’ll just apologize now.
Let me tell you where my competitive spirit can get me into a little trouble:
Parenting, especially in a blended family, is not an individual sport. What might seem like Parenting 101 to you may be something your spouse would never do in a million years (and for very valid reasons). When you add in the complexity of remarriage and a new step-parent relationship, things really get tricky. I know exactly two things about teenage boys: they eat a lot and they like video games. My husband, on the other hand, has vast experience with 3 boys and will tell you that raising a daughter is a pink, princess-filled mystery. What works for my 6 year old daughter will not necessarily work for his 14 year old son. Sometimes I need to tell my competitive spirit, which is constantly screaming “put me in the game!” to zip it, and just let my teammate handle it.
I am the strongest player and the weakest player on our team. I’m the coach and the red-shirt freshman. I’m riding the bench one minute and carrying my teammate across the finish line the next. It’s unpredictable, but it’s exciting. It’s the most important competition of our lives, to beat the influences of the world that want to destroy and diminish our children. We can’t afford to lose.
Let us run with perseverance, the race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1
Carry each other when you need to, but keep competing together.
I have to go. There’s a spelling bee on TV.