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 last post, coupled with this one, ought to give you a good picture of why it has been so long since I’ve posted. Moving and work. Work and moving. The problem is that I had no idea how true the title of my last post would be when I wrote it. We are literally, barely moving. We have had 25 showings in the 82 days we have been on the market. It’s a very respectable number, and those showings have resulted in some lovely (and not so lovely) feedback about our house. The part of my brain that holds the fiery, sarcastic venom would love to share some of the more…interesting…buyer comments with you, but I’ll save them for late night texts, laden with obscure Emojis, fired off in whiny frustration to my parents. Not one of those 25 potential buyers has made an offer yet. So—we plod on, spending hours on end cleaning and improving, and trusting God’s timing, and wondering if we really do want to move now that we’ve finished projects we should have done years ago, and our house looks so nice… but then, all 7 of us spend a weekend in our modest little ranch house and we all remember how precious square footage can be. Plus, building on sounds like such a mess. The sawdust. The hammering. The unusable kitchen and trying to cook for 7 people on a hot plate in my living room. Bring on showing #26, I say!
So, on to the other half of my absenteeism. Simply put: being a working parent stinks. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for my job. I truly love my boss and my coworkers. The culture of my company is uh-mazing. I can wear a suit one day, and my super-cute-but-sweatpant-level-comfy boyfriend jeans the next. It’s not the job. The job allows me to pay for our home and Christian school and violin lessons and gymnastics. It allows me to give to my church and to causes I believe in. It also supports my shoe habit (which has been hindered a bit now that we are in the market for the aforementioned square footage). So, it’s definitely not the job. I manage high-profile, complex projects, and I thrive on the panicky thrill of it. God put me where I am for a reason—even when I thought I knew better. He carefully steered me right where I needed to be and has blessed me over and over and over since. It feels so good to be good at what I do. I hope that doesn’t sound braggy. I don’t mean it to be. I screw up. I have to Google unfamiliar industry terms at least 14 times a day. I just know a good thing when I have it, and thank you, God—I have it. However, being a mom and marketer is hard. So hard.
My husband is suffering from the pungent stink of working parenthood too. My oldest stepson has had two track meets so far this season, and work obligations have prevented my husband from attending both of them. Hearing his son confirm how disappointed he is pours salt on the already raw wound that all working parents have. I can’t stop thinking about it either. I remember how proud I was knowing that my parents were sitting in the stands. I hate it for my stepson, and I hate it for my husband. Last night, I was on a 12 mile run, getting panicky texts every few miles from him that he was still stuck in a meeting and he was going to miss the whole thing. Of course then I started imagining my stepson progressing through his races, realizing on the last one that his dad wasn’t going to make it. My imagination has a flair for the dramatic. I would have loved to show up to cheer for him, but we’re still at the stage of our blended family where a solo appearance from the stepmom might elicit a reaction other than joy. Hopefully that will change someday, but until then, I’m cheering for him in my imagination and will cheer for him in person, next to my husband when we can be there.
Working parents (inside and outside the home, in most cases) can’t do everything or be everywhere, and for those of us who want to excel at everything, that realization is a bitter pill to swallow. We rarely feel 100% present for anything. When we are with our kids, we worry about deadlines. When we are at work, the guilt-song of missing something important to our kids is the soundtrack for every conference call.
Today, after I picked my kids up (an hour later than I promised) from school, my daughter excitedly told me that her 1st grade field trip to a dairy farm is next Thursday. “NEXT Thursday? Are you sure?” I asked her. As she confirmed the date and went on and on about how excited she is for me to go with her, I had to break the news that I will be on a work trip in Los Angeles next Thursday. Her big, beautiful, blue eyes immediately filled up with tears. She tried so valiantly to be cool about it, but her words came out as a tragic wail. “That’s okay, Mommy. I understaaaaaaaaaaaand.” My heart scrunched up into a little knot as the Mom-guilt beat it with a baseball bat. Oh, those heartbroken little sobs. Ugh. It burns.
I wish I had some poignant encouragement for all of you parents out there who are going through the same stuff. You know those “Dear Mom Who Thinks She’s ______ (insert failure of choice)” blogs? The ones that make you want to stand up on your office chair and yell “I’m flawed and that’s awesome! Go me!” Yeah…this isn’t one of those. The push and pull of work vs. life doesn’t seem to get any easier. Ever. Next week, I go to Louisville to Chicago to Los Angeles and back, and I know that every minute, I’ll be wondering what my kids and husband are up to and counting the hours until I get home to the sweet monotony of cleaning my house for showings and packing lunches and listening to spelling words. It’s hard, but it’s reality. It’s okay because it has to be if I want to continue to be the kind of parent who not only provides the necessities of life for my kids, but models hard work to them too. Whether you are a stay at home parent or a corporate road warrior, I’ll pray for you, and you pray for me, okay? All God requires of us is to give our best. If my best is awkwardly crying into my airport burrito while my daughter goes to a dairy farm without me, then that’s my best, and that’s okay. God will handle the rest.
One final note…I can never unsee the “miracle of life” that was the calf being born when I went with my son on that same field trip. The memory is still so fresh and…squishy. I have been mentally preparing for two years to see it a second time with my daughter’s class, but work has intervened at the last moment, like a governor with the 11:59pm pardon.
Now that I think of it, maybe being a working parent has its perks…
Have you ever stopped to think about how weird it is to cry? I mean, how did God decide that the ultimate expression of extreme human emotion would be salt water dripping uncontrollably from two tiny little drain holes in our eyes? It’s just weird. We’re happy and we cry. We’re sad and we cry. We’re in pain and we cry…
What a bunch of leaky sad sacks we are.
I hate to cry. My emotional engine typically runs at one speed, so it feels very unnatural to succumb to something that’s so…natural. The rest of my body is in agreement with me. I know, because I’m allergic to my own tears. No joke—my traitorous eye-terrorists leave little red shame trails on my face. Every. Single. Time. Since I cry approximately once every leap year, this has never been much of a problem—until recently. I seem to cry about everything lately. Happy crying. Sad crying. Stress crying. Pain crying. I don’t know who this emotional lunatic is, but I miss the old robot me.
The past couple of years have been some of the best years of my life, but some of the hardest too. In the last two years, I married the love of my life, became the stepmom of three fantastic boys, quit a job that made me want to give myself a lobotomy most days, started a job at a company that I love and respect, and became even more involved in my church and my community. All wonderful things. In the last couple of years I was also diagnosed with an incurable and wretched GI disorder, I had to all but stop running—which has been a huge part of my life for the better part of 20 years, I have had to learn how to be a stepmom to the aforementioned boys, I lost my grandmother, and my husband and I have had to juggle his self-employment with my new job and all of the stress that comes with both of our career paths, all while navigating a new marriage and blended family. It hasn’t been easy, but every moment was part of God’s plan for us. The happy, the sad, the painful and the downright stressful—all part of the plan. Just knowing that makes everything seem much more manageable, doesn’t it?
Through all of this, even on my worst SOD day, I’ve kept my emotions in check for the most part. I cried when my grandma passed away, and even then the feeling was so foreign that it almost felt like someone else was operating my face. Don’t get me wrong– I love my family so much that it scares me sometimes, but my tear ducts haven’t traditionally felt obligated to weigh in—that’s all.
Today, I wrote down every stressful or nervous or negative thought that crossed my mind during the day. I was amazed at the extent of the thoughts I had. Looking at that list, I realized just how trapped I am inside my own stoicism. I think mothers feel like it’s their duty to keep it all together sometimes. I know I do. When I can’t keep it together, and it all starts leaking out my stupid face, I feel like I have failed somehow, and my “Pillar of Strength” merit badge has been ripped away.
Since my face isn’t really giving me a choice, and since I feel like maybe there is a lesson in here somewhere for me, I’ve decided to just let my acidic tears fall where they may . Maybe the old robot me is still in there, but this new, dribbly, soft version of me can co-exist with it. Being a human is hard, but what a blessing it is to feel things worth crying about, right? It reminds us of what we have to lose, what means the most to us, and the grace we’re given to overcome the hard times. If you’re feeling like you’ve misplaced your robot too, I’ve got a box of Kleenex with your name on it.
Okay, half a box.
Two. Two used Kleenexes with your name on them.
Rip off that hero badge, mama.
I hear other mothers talk about how they limit the time their kids are allowed to use electronics to 10 minutes a day, or only on Saturdays, or only when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars–but only if it’s on a Tuesday.
Friends, I am not that mother. I would like to be, but it is with great mom-shame that I tell you that sometimes I use my kids’ iPads (yes, they have their own) as babysitters, teachers, bribes and the carrots at the end of the stick that is parenting tedium. Don’t get me wrong—we have rules about our electronics, and the kids are expected to follow them. Our rules are just a little…looser than some of my other mom friends’ rules.
In our house “One more word and you lose the Xbox” elicits an immediate and intentional silence that even the crickets don’t dare violate. “Do you want to lose the iPad?” has the same weight as “Do you want to be dipped in boiling oil?” The behavior in question magically vanishes, and my previously unruly child stares up at me with the face of a sweet cherub.
In my kids’ defense, they really are bright and creative and active. Although there are days when I have to pry their electronics out of their white-knuckled grips and drag them outside as they blink up at the sun like little zombies, those days are rare. As all moms do though, I feel that sense of “I’m the biggest failure that ever failed a fail” when it comes to most things (why do we do that to ourselves?) and I aspire to impose stricter limits on electronics. Oh, but then I have an emergency conference call. I have to run across town for an unexpected errand. The dog eats 7 smoke-bombs and starts vomiting neon projectiles (true story). The point is that life gets in the way of good intentions and I hand over the iPads in defeat.
I am not making excuses for myself in the areas in which I need to improve. Life is never going to stop being crazy—we just have to find new ways to cope with it and become the next “better” version of ourselves. One thing that we all have in common is that we want to do our very best for our kids. If my best today is “watch a movie while Mommy picks Legos out of the garbage disposal” then that’s my best, and I have to be okay with that.
I picture my inner critic as June Cleaver. White apron, immaculate hair, perfectly-applied red lipstick… I hate her. She smells like fresh-baked banana bread and judgment, and she is always staring down her perfect little nose, telling me what I should have done and tsk-tsk-ing at my failures. You know what, June? My kids might have permanent grass stains on their behinds (it’s possible—trust me), and they might be able to quote the NFL Bad Lip Reading videos verbatim (if you’ve never seen them, they’re HILARIOUS–but, I digress). They might be missing 2.5 buttons at any given time, and it’s 50/50 if they remembered to flush the potty, but they are loved and they love fiercely in return. Their little hearts are pure and sweet and focused on Jesus—even at their young ages. For every moment that they cause another gray hair to pop out like a turkey timer on my head, they give me a thousand moments of warmth that make June’s banana bread look like a pile of regurgitated smoke-bombs.
It’s not easy going through your parents’ divorce. When you add on a new stepparent and step siblings, life really gets interesting. I am not one to embrace change. I often wonder how I would have reacted as a child if my parents had divorced and remarried. I have a feeling it wouldn’t have been very pretty.
One of things I am most proud of is for the way that all five of our children have adjusted to life in our blended family. We all still struggle in different ways and at different intensities, but I am so proud of them for continually adapting with such grace. (Do me favor please, and remind me of that the next time they are all in the car, arguing about who gets to sit where while I rock back and forth in the passenger seat, pulling out my eyelashes.) The bottom line is that all seven of us continue to develop new, improved versions of ourselves. Our 2.0’s. We work on our “bug-fixes” and make adjustments where we need a little tweaking.
Mommy 2.0 might not be able to get the kids to flush, or to stop running around in the yard in their socks, but she’s okay with that. Who knows? She might even bake banana bread.