Saturday, November 30, 2013

Warped Reality

My hubby and I never thought we'd utter the words "Why can't she just like One Direction?". But we did.

Somewhere in the last thirty days we've gone from having a british obsessed laughy happy teen who is O.B.S.E.S.S.E.D. with the likes of Harry, Nial and some other names I do not know but adorn the walls of her bedroom (every squre inch to be exact) to a girl with tears because she wants to attend some all day shindig with bands who look like miniature Marilyn Manson protégées and her parents are not super excited about it. What the F??

Now, I'm perfectly sympathetic to changing the tone of your tunes as a teen because some boy you have the latest crush on totally wants a chick who knows all the words to Ruby Soho but wanting to dress up like this guy:

for Halloween and calling him your "hero" has struck a not so happy nerve in our house. Oh and don't say that he looks like a guy from Kiss because that will also create a hysteria fueled, eye rolling arguement you don't want any part of. We aren't sure what is driving this change but we're willing to do what we can to curb it -- and quick.
A couple of weeks ago ago hubby and I were sitting on the couch, enjoying a perfectly relaxing evening when we noticed a new post by B on her Facebook.
"OMG..My parents are SO MEAN!! I'm probably going to be in trouble for posting this but they don't understand my EnTirE world revolves around (insert band names). They won't let me go to Warped Tour!!! Who else is going?? MY LIFE IS OVER!!! I'm going to be 14 and a half when it's here!! This is DUMB! They think there will be smoking and drugs and fighting. They don't know anything about concerts - I'VE DONE MY RESEARCH"
Naturally we ignore the rant and keep an eye on the comments. It seems little Miss Drama-Never-Been-to-a-Concert's friends weren't piping up about how awful we were in a timely enough fashion that the post was hastily removed after a few minutes. Oh the need for likes and social gratification. Even with the post missing the hint dropping over tickets for Christmas kept up over the next week or so. This wasn't going away and we needed a plan.
While most parents would stick to their guns and decide the all day band fest is no place for their kid, we chose another path. We have called her bluff. We have now offered to take her and ALL her friends (because EVERYONE she knows is going) that want to go as long as she pays her own admission. All the headbanging, face painted, ear wrenching jam fest she can handle -- as she sits next to her dad and me. For us, we think this phase is about the attention she wants or some boy she's crushing on rather than the true desire to attend this show. Only time will tell if she will back off this or not but in the mean time - we're planning our outfits and stocking up on studded collars -- and ear plugs.
Have you ever been tested by your teen? Did you pass the test or get schooled?
To be continued....


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Great Coat Debate

Did you think we'd fallen off the earth? Been stabbed to death by Mama Ex? Buried in dirty clothes from our stepkids?

No...we just got lazy and forgot to write for three months. It happens.

But yesterday something snapped me (Ruby) back to the land of reality. As I stood there, unsure what to do, I realized that I cannot possibly be the only stepmom (or mom for that matter) dealing with this crisis. Surely all the other stepmom bloggies out there are experiencing the same things as me.

Because it's winter. And winter means coats. And coats are like Kryptonite laced with heroin dipped in hummus for children.

It all started Monday morning, when I saw the temperature was going to be 28 degrees as the kids headed off to the bus. For those of you who flunked Science (like me), 28 degrees means BELOW freezing. As in, "Oh, I think I'll have a glass of water outside, but I can't because it turned into an ICE CUBE."

Hubs and I are usually pretty lenient when it comes to what the kids wear to school in winter. It was this side of 15 years ago that we were the ones schlepping off to school in whatever concoction our parents forced us into. Myself? I can clearly remember going to my 7th grade locker in slush-covered purple moon boots. That's right. Purple. Moon snow boots. And this was way before "Napoleon Dynamite" made them trendy. It didn't really matter to the other kids that I had Doc Martens in my book bag because I had to change out of my PURPLE MOON BOOTS before I could put the Docs on. I was ridiculed and laughed at, and I swore I'd never let my children feel that humiliation.

So, do I force my stepkids into galoshes, hats, scarves, thermal underwear and ski goggles? No. Do I hem and haw all over them, checking for any piece of skin that might be exposed to the deathly elements outside? Hardly. Do I insist that when it's below freezing they at least wear a light jacket?

Effing right, I do.

You would think I asked my 13-year-old step daughter to please cut off her right hand and place it in the donation bucked for underprivileged countries to use.

It went a little something like this:

Me: Hey honey, the temp is 28 degrees right now.You need a coat today.

M: But Ruby! You said I didn't have to because you're picking me up from school today!!!!!

Me: (chuckles) Um, no, what I said was, you don't have to wear your heavy, fur-lined winter coat today. But you at least have to wear your heavy sweatshirt or your light puffy coat.

M: (lip quivering) But...but...but, I DON'T HAVE ANYWHERE TO PUT IT!!!!! WAHHHHHH!!!!!

Me: That's why the school gave you that metal box called a locker, silly.


Me: (speaking softly) Okay, M, here's the deal. When I tell you to wear your glasses at school, and you don't do it, I don't say anything. When I ask you to please not wear the same shirt three days in a row and you do it anyway, I don't say anything. When I beg you to make sure all the shampoo gets washed out of your hair, and then I see you walking around with chunks of Tresseme on your scalp, I don't. say. anything. But this is your health. This is so I don't have to visit you in the hospital while you lose a finger to frost bite. You are going to wear a coat. I don't care what you do with it once you get to school. Hide it behind a trash can for all I care, but you are going to wear a coat, and that's the end.

M: (crosses arms and glares) Mommy doesn't care if I wear a coat or not!!!

Oh no she didn't.

For most stepchildren, this is a textbook bluff. It's easy to say "Mommy let's me do this" or "Mommy doesn't make me do that" because kids figure there's no way for their parent to verify the truth. After all, Mom and Dad want to speak to each other about as much as cats want to take a hot, steamy bath. But in this case, M wasn't bluffing. Mama Ex truly does not care if her children wear a coat in sub-zero weather. Or if they wear their glasses. Or if they brush their teeth. Or change their underwear. (We've talked about this before.)

So how are Hubs and I supposed to respond to this? I know it's not healthy to begin a verbal diatribe on Mama Ex's life choices that have left her broke, miserable and all together unhappy. But it's so damn tempting.

In the end, I took a deep breath and said, "What Mommy chooses to let you do is her business. But Daddy and I want you to be healthy, and that means wearing a coat. This is not negotiable."

And I walked away.

And felt guilty. How is that possible? How can I possibly feel guilty for making my stepchild do something that is right? And will I forever be battling this woman whom I hardly ever see but am constantly being compared to? When she grows up someday, will M look back and remember that her mother would rather be her friend and appease her than to have a confrontation and actually be a parent?
The worst part of all of this is what hit me yesterday. Hubs and I only have the kids two mornings a week for school. This means that the other three days, Mama Ex is sending them out into the cold with no coats. And when they get sick (and they will), WE PAY FOR THE INSURANCE THAT MAKES THEM BETTER.

How's that for irony?

What battles do you fight with Mama Ex that seem to never end? Do you make your stepkids wear coats in freezing temps?

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Courtroom Fantasy Not Worth Having?

Every stepmom has had it once or twice. Maybe even more than that. It creeps into our subconscious at the strangest of times, picking at our brain, begging us to give in. And every now and then, we'll indulge and let it take over.

You know it well. The courtroom fantasy.

For me, the fantasy always varied, but it was usually some version of the following:

Our much anticipated day in court arrives. The sun is shining, I'm having an amazing hair day, and we've pulled a judge notorious for siding with the father. I sit next to Hubs in the courtroom, holding his hand as he calmly hears the evidence from Mama Ex's side.  There isn't much evidence to hear, though. Her side of the story is weak and makes her look greedy for more child support. When Mama Ex gets on the stand, she makes a fool of herself, getting caught in lie after lie after lie. She finally sees what it's like to have no control.

The judge hears our side of the story that we've been living for the last 7 years. He is shown the parental alienation tactics that Mama Ex has subjected us to. He sees with his own eyes how she uses the children as pawns to gain an advantage over the girls' father. He reads the Facebook posts where she refers to herself as a "helpless single mother" and unleashes hurtful and untrue insults at my husband. The judge shakes his head in disbelief.

I get on the stand and give a performance worthy of an Oscar, causing the judge to tear up as I explain (truthfully) how much I love the kids and how our life with them is worthy of at least a 50/50 custody arrangement. And finally, Hubs gives a first hand account of how much he loves his children, and explains poignantly how his time with them has been stripped away by Mama Ex's acts of manipulation.

The judge returns from a 10 minute deliberation and announces that he is disgusted by the evidence he's heard. Mama Ex has been a terrible example for how to co-parent, and by God, she's lucky he's allowing her to see the kids at all after hearing this evidence. He rules a 50/50 custody split (or maybe even full custody to us!) and demands that Mama Ex give back every child support dollar that she's wasted on booze, casinos and clothing for herself. It's a wonderful day.

Oh yes, in my fantasy, this all happens in one day.

And it only costs me $100.00

Laugh all you want, but I swear these are the thoughts that went through my mind when Hubs and I walked into court back in May. And I was surprised how close to my fantasy the reality seemed to come.

We pulled a female judge for the trial, but that was just a small difference. We still put on an amazing case, though it did take 4 days total. Despite those minor setbacks, everything went better than planned. Our evidence was rock solid, just like in my fantasy. My hair looked great and I handled my time on the stand eloquently. Mama Ex made a complete fool of herself, just like in my fantasy. Hubs was amazing as he recounted the stories of what we've experienced.  And the judge seemed to understand all of it, just like in my fantasy.

But the verdict. The ridiculous verdict. As Clark Griswald said, "If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am right now." 

We went from 10% time with the kids to only 25% time. Mama Ex still remains the address of record for school purposes, though she moves at least twice a year. Our child support went up - significantly. The judge also ordered that we start paying for all school lunches for both children. Why? Because in court, we showed that Mama Ex is constantly maintaining a negative balance for school lunches, so obviously, she "can't handle that expense."


Hubs and I were dumbfounded. How is it Hubs responsibility to make sure Mama Ex can handle her expenses? She's not 5. She's a grown woman with the ability to work and thrive. (And before you flip out that I'm complaining about a stupid lunch payment, calm down. This isn't about the money. We are happy to pay for the lunches. It's the principle of the thing.)

After hearing the verdict, Hubs and I spent at least three days just absorbing the reality. We had spent an astronomical amount of money (I'll spare you the actual dollar amount because it will make you ill) trying to get what every willing and able-bodied parent deserves. 50% time with their children. It's not like we live in Uganda. We moved to a home only 1.5 miles from Mama Ex's crap apartment. We're happily married with a nice house and a consistently stable environment. Mama Ex can't even remember the name of the boyfriend she saw last night.

The reality is, we live in a very flawed world. There is some serious judicial bias that accompanies custody cases. Many judges feel that mother's are the best solution for children. Period. Mother's are the ones with the "parental instinct". They fix the boo boo's. They pick out the clothes. They are the stable, nurturing party. Dad goes out and makes the money, and then gives the money to Mom in a "Me Tarzan, me get you and baby Tarzan's food" kind of way.

And it's a load of horse ca-ca.

My husband is capable and willing to do everything a mother does. He WANTS to. He deserves to be given that chance. Why does a vagina = stability and a penis = uncertainty? How is this fair?

I saw a commercial the other day that made my stomach turn. It was an advertisement for an acne treatment for teens. I've seen thousands of ads like this before. Kid has pimples, kid uses product, kid gets clear skin. But this ad was different. Toward the end, a little graphic appeared at the bottom of the screen that read, "Ask your mom before calling to order!"

And then I threw my remote at the TV.

This is the problem. We are living in a society that thinks Dad is, by nature, taking a backseat to his kids' lives. He's coming home from work and saying, "What's for dinner, honey? Were the kids good?" My husband is nothing like this, and I doubt yours is either. Hubs works hard, and so do I. If we ever have children (learn more on that here), we'll certainly both have equal input. We will work together. Hubs was not content being a Backseat Driver Dad to my step daughters. He wanted more. He wanted what he deserved. And when he went to the one place that could validate that desire, the one place that could make Mama Ex see that he a worthy parent, he was turned down.

So stepmoms, go on and have your fantasies about when you finally get your day in court. Maybe you'll win big, bigger than you ever thought possible. If you do, I will cheer right along beside you on a victory well earned. But just know, the odds are stacked against you. Unfortunately, my courtroom fantasy turned into a very hard reality.

Of course, being the mostly positive person I am, I have found the silver lining. Our time with the kids is going to go up, and Mama Ex can't stop that. And with that extra time, we are going to savor every second. Maybe one day, when the kids are older, we'll explain all of this to them. In the meantime, we have to keep moving forward and keep our sights set on the future. As time passes, we can work to improve our relationship with Mama Ex, making her more willing to let us have some additional time. Miracles can happen.

So we'll just keep waiting for it them to show up...
Have you had a courtroom fantasy? Did it work out or turn sour? What is your advice for stepmoms heading into a court battle?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hello, I'm a Stepmom. And I have baby fever.

Stepmoms are in a weird sort of love-limbo with their stepkids - and people on the outside don't really understand it. We love our stepkids to the deepest parts of our heart. We want the best for them, we cry for them, we worry for them, we live for them.

But they aren't ours. And they won't ever be. No. Matter. What.

This realization is one I spend a good deal of time trying to avoid. (Sort of like how I avoid mirrors after I've gone on a three day Mexican food binge.) Besides, it will be my turn soon enough, with my own biological child.

(Oh wait...we've been trying for 2 years and the baby train has yet to pull into my station. Dammit.)

That's right. I'm a stepmom with two stepkids and the intense desire to have a child of my own with Hubs. And it just won't happen. 

At the beginning, I assumed getting preggers would be a walk in the park because, hey, Hubs is obviously Fertile Myrtle. He has two kids and they were both conceived with a woman who was literally told that she would never be able to conceive children. Ever.

We're talking immaculate conceptions, here.

Naturally, when we made the decision to move forward with baby making, I went around telling everyone with functional ears that: 


Everyone, including myself, expected an announcement within two months. But nothing happened. Then a few more months went by. Then a few more. Gradually, people stopped paying attention to my stomach or checking to see if I was having a drink with dinner. They stopped using phrases like "when you have a baby" or "after you get pregnant". In fact, a lot of people just stopped saying anything. Better to pretend like nothing happened.

Because nothing is happening.

Struggling with infertility is hard enough when it's just you and your husband, waiting for a stupid pink plus sign to show up on a stupid plastic thing that ironically looks just like a tampon. But when you throw in being a stepmom, things get infinitely worse...because people think think they have the perfect solution to your problem. 

You already have kids!!!! TA DAAAA!

I recently started to notice that when I spoke to friends and family about my epic failure to get knocked-up, they would inevitably smile and and say reassuringly, "Well, even if you don't get pregnant, you  always have the girls!" or worse yet,  "Maybe God gave you stepkids because he knew you wouldn't be able to have children." And then they stand there and expect me to be all, "You're right. I am really lucky."

But I really want to hold someone's head under water.

Just because I have stepkids does not make my desire to be a mother any less. If anything, it intensifies it 2000 fold. Let's remember I already have to act like a mom and talk like a mom and love like a mom and curtail the college keg stand photos on my Facebook statuses like a mom...but I don't get to be a mom. I don't get to hold my own child in my arms. At least not yet.

Reminding me that I already have stepkids is like pouring a gigantic bowl of salt on a gaping, open sore in my uterus. Imagine you are trying desperately to buy a house, but every house you fallin love with is taken off the market the second you think you have the deal done. Would you enjoy it if I kindly reminded you that God set you up in a totally killer apartment and you should just be grateful?

Exactly. And that's just a stupid house, not the proverbial fruit of your loins.

So just don't. Don't say anything about my stepkids if I confide in you that I'm struggling with infertility. Just be there for me. Tell me you're so sorry I'm going through this and you hope it will all turn out okay in the end. Because in all liklihood, it will. Don't throw my stepchildren in my face. They're human beings, not a consolation prize at the Infertility Olympics.

Oh...and when 34098098234 people announce their pregnancies on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram? I'm likely going to have an effing meltdown. Just hold my hand and be there. Sometime saying nothing says absolutely everything.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The One Word Hubs and Mama Ex Have to Stop Saying -(Like, right now.)

It's only two letters. Two, teeny-tiny, itty bitty letters. But every time Mama Ex or your Hubs uses this word, it's doing more damage to your blended family than Hiroshima ever could. So what's the word?


Don't flip out on me just yet. There are times when using the word "my" about your kiddos is perfectly acceptable. If Mama Ex is sitting at a restaurant with the kids and someone says, "Oh, who are these little darlings?" it's only natural for her to reply, "These are my daughters, M and T." 

I mean, duh.

The problem arises when Mama Ex (or Hubs) uses that nasty little bugger of a word when it implies possession. In my own experience, Mama Ex loves using this word when she is forced needs to text me to figure out drop off/pick up arrangements.

Me: What time should I pick up the girls up tonight? Hubs is running late from work.

Mama Ex: You can pick up my girls at 6:00 at their Aunt Jane's..

No, no, no, no, no, no. Look, I get it. They're YOUR children. Did you honestly think I forgot for one split second I forgot? One problem, though. They also belong to my Hubs. We are a family. All of us are in this together. Drop the "my" and just say "the". I can pick up "the" girls at 6:00 at their Aunt Jane's. 

(Using the "my" word is the emotional equivalent of a dog peeing all over his brand new chew toy. It's just unnecessary.)

You may notice that Mama Ex brings out this word does this when she's feeling particularly vulnerable, or if she feels her parenting style is being attacked. I can remember one time when Hubs mentioned that one of the girls had an infected cut on her foot and he was going to buy something to clean it up. The response was something to the effect of:

"My girls are plenty clean! I make sure they have baths and clean clothes always!"

Clearly, Mama Ex assumed that Hubs was asserting that she wasn't doing a #1 Mom job of parenting (this is a problem we face often). Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth, but she went on the defensive and started using that word to show that the children are HERS, and he's just visiting. Not a great way to encourage a happy dynamic.

Another instance of "my" that is far more damaging than spoken between exes, is when a parent uses the word within earshot of the kids.

Example: "I'm sorry, Mrs. 3rd Grade Teacher, Mama Ex never tells me when my kids have homework so I didn't know she had a paper due."

Using "my" like this indicates to the kids that one parent has more responsibilities or rights than the other. It also just comes off as a lousy excuse for one parent not pulling their weight. Sorry peeps, but parenting is a 50/50 responsibility, even if one parent has more physical custody. Both parents must make an effort to show that they are equally responsible for the health and well-being of the kids. And every time someone uses the "my" language, it undermines that effort.

The hard truth is, you're not going to stop Mama Ex from using "me me me, mine mine mine, my my my" anytime soon if your darlin' Hubs doesn't lead by example. Talk with him and ask that he make a concerted effort to use the term "our" when he's referring to the kids in conversation with Mama Ex. After some time has passed, if she's still doing it, he may actually have to sit down and ask outright.

So the next time you hear Hubs breaking out the "my" bomb, calmly remind him that if he expects Mama Ex to be accepting of blending the families, he has to as well. And soon, all the kids will know is that their family, though broken in many ways, is united in the most important thing of all: love and respect.

If being is a stepmom is a job...when do we get a raise?

I've been doing some major thinking lately.

(And yes, some of the thinking circles around how on earth I can figure out a way to watch 'Downton Abbey' without crying ever. single. episode.)


I've been thinking about my expectations in my career as a stepmom. In the world of normal careers (accountant, sales rep, , 6+ years experience in a position would be pretty great. I'd be at a point where I'd likely be experiencing the following:
  • A substantial raise
  • My own cell phone paid for by the company
  • Respect
  • Praise for a job well done
  • A bonus
  • Additional vacation time
  • Sick days
  • Stock options
  • Christmas parties with lots of booze
  • A hot copy machine guy to stare at
  • Impromptu "Let's get out of the office at 3:00 and never come back" days.
But as a stepmom? Well,  6+ years experience seems to be equivalent to "Intern". With my years of experience, the bulk of my fringe benefits are:
  • No pay
  • A cell phone that I pay for and use to try and communicate with my stepkkids. And generally get declined because Mama Ex hates that they want to talk to me.
  • Some respect. None of which comes from Mama Ex.
  • A little praise
  • A lot of criticism - from Mama Ex, friends, strangers, etc.
  • The never-ending feeling that I don't quite belong and probably never will.
  • The privilege of acting as Chauffer
  • And Cook
  • And shoulder to cry on
  • Hugs and kisses from my stepkids that are never full hugs and kisses. Those are reserved for Mama Ex.
So when does all of this change? When do I get upgraded to "Executive Vice Parent" to these kids that I love so, so much? Is there some magical date in which the tides turn and all of a sudden I get the benefits that I think I deserve? Unfortunately, I think that answer is "no". 

I realize that all parents, not just steps, feel unappreciated some of the time. Maybe even all of the time. In fact, when I've made reference to the fact with friends or family that I do feel taken advantage of at times, it's often met with a chuckle and some version of the phrase "Well, join the club!" The problem is, as a stepmom, I CAN'T join the club. Even if I want to. My corporate card will never reach the gold level. I'll always be stuck at silver, or maybe even that ugly, tarnished bronze color. I'm like Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places", standing outside the restaurant window watching my colleagues live it up, knowing I don't belong.

As I write this, I realize how incredibly selfish I sound. Why should I expect that at some point I will receive anything just for being a parent-figure? As so many people love to say, "Hey Ruby, you signed up for this. You knew it was coming." At the end of the day, shouldn't I accept and understand that, though it's unacknowledged by Mama Ex, my stepkids or the world at large, I am playing a huge part in how these kids grow up. Shouldn't that be enough for me?

Apparently Wednesday is "Ruby Pity Party Day." But hey, we all need those, right?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

5 Rules My Stepkids Won't Like During Summer...(but still need anyway.)

No more teachers, no more books - you know the drill. Your adorable stepkids are officially on summer break. While splitting the summer between your house and Mama Ex's, they're likely expecting three months of lazy days, warm sunshine and constant entertainment.

So let's have a reality check.

As a step mom who is is not used to the week on week of schedule, I'm not used to having the kids around as often as they will be in the coming months. (Not that I'm not excited to have them more, because I totally and completely am.) Translation: summer is an adjustment. We have my two stepkids for a week at a time. It's great, it's wonderful, it's grand. 

But here's the deal: I work from home. As a sales rep, my home office is literally my HOME office. When I do that "heads down, lost in thought" work, it's in my home.

Unfortunately, my step kids see me at home and think, "HEY! Ruby is here all day! She can take us to the park, make us lunch, play charades, make balloon animals and generally entertain us until Daddy gets home."

Um, no.

I grew up in a home where Mom and Dad both worked and were gone all day. Consequently during the summers, my brother, sister and I were left to our own devices. Inventing imaginative ways to pass the summer days was a necessary side effect of summer, and surprise surprise, I survived. But now that I have my stepkids home with me for a week at a time, I'm noticing that having a parent (figure) around, is much different than having no adult in the house. So, we're laying some ground rules that the kids are none too thrilled about. You might consider these in your own household, whether you stay home or not.

1. Sleeping in is a privilege, not a right

One of the major perks of summertime living for a kid is that they generally don't have to get up early. I'm all for this, but there are limits. For example, as I mentioned earlier, I work from home. My day begins at 7:30 whether the girls' does or not. That means I am going to live my day as though the kids aren't here. Making myself breakfast, getting Hubs out the door, feeding the animals, etc. If my dogs decides to bark at the Fed Ex guy at 8:09 am, I'm not going to shush her just because "the kids are sleeping". If there's one thing I learned in college, it's that sleeping in takes effort, because the rest of the world has things to do. Summer does not equal Ruby tiptoeing around the house so the kids can get a few extra winks.

2. No Phone Zones

As I sit and reflect on my childhood summers, I recall very little texting, You Tubing, Snapchatting and Facebooking. (Granted, they weren't invented yet, but still.) My stepkids are out of school, but that doesn't mean they get to become robots. We have several "No Phone Zone's" throughout the day. Meal times are a huge No Phone Zone time. My stepkids eat at the same time as each other. It's called a conversation, and they need to learn how to have one.

3. Boob Tube Boundaries

I used to say "No TV While I'm Gone" for the summer, but the rule is hard to enforce because I can't stop the kids from picking up the remote. So I flipped the rule on its head. The only time the kids CAN watch TV is if I'm out on an appointment for work. Since I do a large majority of my work from home, this means their TV time is minimal. Oh, and Netflix? I disable it if I'm not home. The last thing I need is the kids checking out "Cabin in the Woods" when I'm not here. The best part is, since the kids are so thrilled to be watching TV when I'm gone, I don't have to worry about them getting into trouble.

4. Imagination is worth its weight in gold

If they can't watch TV and they can't be on their phones, the possibilities for easy entertainment dwindles quickly, so I start to get a lot of "I'm bored" and "When is Daddy coming home?" My response is generally, "invent something to do." As a kid, some of the best days of my summer were spent acting out a soap opera with my Barbies, or building a fort in the living room with my brother. I know my stepkids are creative if they just make the effort to try. I don't even care if they make a mess, as long as they're doing something fun. Creative messes can be cleaned up; gray mush for a brain is harder to clean up. If the kids tell me they just can't think of anything creative to do, I put a book in their hands.

5. Take a Look, it's in a Book

I am a book worm, through and through. I don't need flowers for Valentine's Day; a gift card to Barnes and Noble is quite sufficient. So I'm always surprised when my stepkids roll their eyes when I mention heading to the library at the beginning of summer. It's like I'm telling them we're heading to the guillotine. In past years, it hasn't been worth the battle and I've let it slide. No more.

This year each child will read for no less than 30 minutes per day. As an extra incentive, I've offered a special prize to the child that finishes a book series first. Harry Potter, Pretty Little Liars, The Babysitter's Club...I don't care. Just finish a chapter book series and you get something cool.

(I've yet to figure out what that something cool is yet, but they don't have to know that.)
Oh, and each child will explain to me what is going on in their book at the end of each week. If they haven't finished the book in two weeks, they're clearly not really reading.

6. Earn your keep

Chores are a huge part of summer. If my bonus babes get to spend day after day laying around the house, they can certainly fold a few loads of laundry and *gasp*, unload the dishwasher. This house is by no means as spotless as 'Downtown Abbey' and I don't expect it to be, but a 13 and 11 year old can help it at least look respectable. After all, their Dad and I are out earning money so they can continue to have fun vacations, nice clothes and electronics. They can help out. Complain all they want, but help out nonetheless.

The biggest issue I face with summer is that Mama Ex takes a completely different view of how the kids should experience these next few months. To her, it should be constant fun all the time. She doesn't believe in chores, or reading or using imagination and it's a crying shame. But I've learned that I have to ignore what she does at her home and focus on ours. In order for me to keep my sanity this summer as I share my home with the kids, I have to lay out ground rules and establish routine, or we're all going to be miserable...and hot. Not a good combo.

What rules do you put in place to keep your summer sane? 

Friday, April 26, 2013

If Only She Knew: 3 Things You Have in Common with Mama Ex

As Stepmother's,we often feel that we must be at constant odds with Mama Ex, no matter what the circumstances. In fat, sometimes we even view it as a point of pride. We are the anti-Mama Ex. The antithesis of everything she stands for!!!

She likes ice cream? Well then, I guess we friggin' hate ice cream. She hates winter, huh? We adore making snowmen. She thinks Ryan Gosling is hot? Okay, there are some things we're predestined to agree with.

The point is, we stepmothers actually have more in common with Mama Ex than we realize. It's just that we're so preoccupied with winning the battle of "Me vs Her" that we completely overlook it. And do you know who pays the price for our insistence that we're so different from her? Our stepchildren. We train them to believe that everything their mother stands for is the complete opposite of our own thoughts. And kids, that just ain't right.

Don't believe me? Think you're the exception to the rule and are sooo different than her? Check out the list below.

3 Things You Have in Common With HER

You have absolutely no idea what you're doing

When you said "I do" to Hubs, you inherited the joys, perils and confusions of becoming a one day. BOOM. Done. Your life changed forever. And guess what? So did Mama Ex's. She went from being the only female authority in her child(ren's) lives, to sharing it with another woman. A woman she didn't even get to assist in choosing.

Both you and Mama Ex are learning as you go. While you're obsessing about whether it's okay to tuck in your stepkid at night, she's freaking about the fact that SOME OTHER WOMAN is tucking in her kid at night. She has to come to grips with these changes and so do you. Give each other a break. There isn't a handbook for being a stepmom, nor is there a handbook for being a mom that has to deal with the sudden arrival of a stepmom.

You both think Hubs is getting off easy

You love your husband, duh. But sometimes, don't you want to put him in a choke hold and scream, "STAND UP FOR ME YOU BIG DOLT! Tell Mama Ex she's wrong for being so mean to me!"  

Shock of shocks, Mama Ex feels likely shares your pain. Even though she and your hubs are no longer MFEO (that's 'Made For Each Other'. Rent "Sleepless in Seattle"), she still remembers when he used to stick up for her when she was feeling attacked. When  a disagreement arises between you and Mama Ex, she feels that she's protecting her child(ren). In turn, she can only assume the father of her child(ren) will stand on the side of right. HER side. It's probably a complete shock to her when he sets up shop in the other camp.

Generally, your hubs is stuck in the middle of you, Mama Ex, and your monthly cycles. If he's anything like my Hubs, he turns into Switzerland and is all, "I don't know what you want me to do!" You want to kick him square in his baby-maker stick, and so does Mama Ex. 

You envy "the other kind of love"
When it comes to their mom, your stepchild feels a deep, emotional (and biological) bond that you will never, ever, ever, ever be able to replicate. It just is. When your stepchild is low down, super duper sad, or even super crazy ridiculous happy, they will want their mom. They appreciate you and they love you, but in the end, you don't get the "real mom love". And that sucks. Big donkey balls.

However, your stepchild cherishes a different type of love with you. You have different tastes, experiences and talents than Mama Ex, and you offer a freshness to the mom role that your stepkids love, and that Mama Ex can't duplicate.

And someday when they're cursing the stupid genetic gene that gave them small boobs instead of C's, they will blame their mother, not you. And you can take them shopping for a padded bra (after you have a serious talk about self-esteem). In addition, because your husband should generally be handling consequences and punishments, you also get to be the fun one in their lives. Your stepchildren love you for everything you are, but they also love you for the one thing you'll never be: their mom. You get the "bonus mom love". And for Mama Ex, that sucks. Big donkey balls.
So the next time you want to throw your hands in the air in exasperation at whatever cockamamie thing Mama Ex has done, just remember, you aren't that different. You share the love of your (step)children, and really, that should be all that matters.

Monday, March 11, 2013

STOP! 5 Questions to Never Ask A Stepmom. Like, ever.

*Knock knock.*
Who's there?
A stepmom.

No seriously. There are people out there that don't know what to say or do in dealing with step mothers. But they need to learn - cuz we're everywhere, yo. We're waiting at the doctor's office, sweating out to Zumba at the gym, and hearing about our step kid's obsession with eating glue at parent teacher conferences.
Navigating the complicated landscape of a blended family can be difficult for an outsider. So, rather than tell you what to say to a stepmom, I've compiled a list of the top 5 things to NEVER ask a step mother again. Share with your friends, your hair dresser, your cousin and every person you know that has a blended family.

(That's basically everyone, by the way.)

1) "Aren't you just soooo sweet for taking on your husband's kids?"

Um...hold on.These are my husband's children - not filthy rats that we picked out of the sewer. They are a part of my husband and now, a part of me. You might mean well, but by praising me for accepting my step kids, you're insinuating that I married my husband in spite of his children. Wrong. I fell in love with my husband for many reasons, and his kids rounded out the top two. (Number one was his nice butt, natch.)
Think of it this way. Would you ever walk up to another mother and say, "It is so sweet the way you stay with your husband even though he gave you the cutest kids on the planet."

No, because that would be stupid. And it makes no sense. So why would you tell me I'm amazing for getting to be a part of something so fantastic?

I'm a stepmom. Not a martyr. Just tell me I have a great family and leave it at that. 

2) I want to plan a fun night out with you and your Hubs some Saturday soon...which weekend are you without the kids?

Look peeps, I have kids. You have kids. Millions and millions of people have kids. Would I ever stop inviting you out to see "Wicked" simply because you have rug rats? Hellz no. In fact, I might be inclined to ask you out more often simply because you have kids! We all need a break, right?

I understand the logic behind this one. After all, many fathers only have their children every other weekend, so you're being respectful by trying to avoid taking Dad away from that precious time. And seriously, that is sweet. But here's the thing - we are trying to have as normal a family life as possible. And in most households, mom's and dad's occasionally go out with their friends for an evening and leave the kids with *gasp* a babysitter. 

Why can't I do that, too?

After all, part of being a kid is saying sianara to your 'rents every now and again to enjoy a night of junk food and debauchery....while your parents are out doing the exact same thing.

Bottom line - don't worry about trying to schedule around the kids' calendar. We'll make it work, and we're dying for an invite out just as much as anyone else. 

(Also, we might need to borrow your babysitter's list. Step mom's actually don't double as babysitters, if you can believe that.)

3) So, you have step kids. Are you going to try for kids of your own?

Well, are you going to take care of that overactive bladder problem you have?

C'mon people, this falls under the "none of your business" category, too. You must think of a step mother as a normal, average mother. You don't get a free pass for nosy questions just because she's a "step". And by the way? Most step mothers think of their step kids as their own kids, so your question is already insulting before it even comes out of your mouth.

4) Whoa, that waiter referred to you as your step kid's mom. Shouldn't you correct him?

No, I shouldn't. And neither should you. Do you have any idea how many people assume I'm these kids' mother? I get it all. the. time. This happens because people don't know the inner workings of our family. 

The 17-year-old waiter at TGI Friday's sees me and my husband with wedding rings, sitting with two little girls. Logic says, "That's Mom and that's Dad."  I don't need to embarrass the poor kid - he's being paid to bring me ranch dressing, not decipher our family dynamic. (However, I do tip extra when a waiter simply asks the generic question, "Is it okay for this sweetie to have a cookie?")

Occasionally I will correct someone, but it's my responsibility to decide when that is appropriate. Like I said earlier, I don't need a reminder that I'm a step mom. I know what I am. It kills me that I will never be those adorable girls' real mom, even though my heart is positive that they are. Please just let me decide when to correct someone's mistake.

5) What's the latest with that crazy bio mom? SPILL!

Look, I'm a girl. I love gossip and nights of wine and venting. Just not when it comes to Mama Ex.

I know you've heard me say bad (okay, really bad) things about her before. What you don't realize is, I'm seriously trying to stop. Mama Ex is going to be in my life for the foreseeable future. Yes, she does things that infuriate me, but when you encourage me to recite the top 10 list of Mama Ex atrocities (and believe me, such a list exists), you're only compounding the problem. Besides, if it's okay for you and me to talk smack on Mama Ex, how can I be mad at her for saying terrible things about me with her friends?

The good news is, you and I can still talk. In fact, I need you. I need a friend that I can share my frustrations and my fears with. I need someone to be there and remind me that I can do this; I can be a good step mom and a great wife and a terrific friend. More importantly, I need to be reminded that it's okay when I mess up.

The overarching rule of talking to a step mom is this: just talk to us like a normal mom. Ask us questions about our can even drop the "step" word. We think of these kids as our own, so you can too. And by the way? Just like any other normal mom, sometimes the last thing on earth we want to talk about is the kids. So bring over a bottle of wine and let's discuss a topic where no rules Channing Tatum's abs.

What sorts of questions do you hear as a step mom that drive you crazy? Tell me on the comments below or tweet me your answer!

Friday, March 8, 2013

please do not feed the drama machine

When I became a step mother in 2007, I was surprised by the ease of blending together Hubs, my two bonus daughters, Mama Ex and her husband. In fact, I dare say I felt fantastic about it. When I first met Mama Ex, we shook hands politely, smiled and all seemed well. Mama Ex was decent about being flexible and even encouraged the girls be with us on "unscheduled" times.

That was then.

Now it's all gone to hell in a handbag. And not even a designer one.

Mama Ex and her husband separated in 2008, and we saw the effects of the event immediately. Things changed at a break neck pace, leaving Hubs and I with our heads spinning.  

We somehow suddenly became the enemy.  

Mama Ex put a full stop on informing Hubs of any medical concerns (even surgeries), school conferences or anything having to do with the girls' well being. Mama Ex began to date an endless stream of men, and when she was out with them, the girls would stay with smoke-filled homes of neighbors rather than to their Dad's. To top things off, Mama Ex dusted off the existing (crappy) custody decree and began to follow it to the absolute letter. This also meant we were victim to her interpretation of what the decree stated, right or wrong. Zero exceptions. 

Something had to be done.

As a last ditch effort, we picked up and bought a house within two miles of Mama Ex's apartment, hoping that living closer would inspire her to let us have the kids like she did before. It didn't work. In the end, Hubs and I realized the only thing we could do was file a motion to modify the decree to request a 50/50 time split with the kids. 

Mama Ex didn't exactly meet the modification request like this:
                                             Happy Woman Jumping Stock Photo

Suddenly, nasty lies started creeping into conversations we had with the girls. And they could only be coming from one place. For instance, the girls wanted to know why Daddy wished to take Mommy away from them. On more than one occasion, the girls even asked us, in tears, "What if Mommy dies while we're with you? She'll be home all alone and no one will be there when she dies!"

Generally, 9 and 12 year old kids don't worry about parent perishing over the weekend, so it was clear Mama Ex was planting ideas into their heads. But, as a responsible adult, it wouldn't be right for us to explain that Bud Light and several male strangers would surely be keeping Mommy company while the girls were gone.

So, all of this brings me to my point - being the bigger person. Do you ever feel like Mama Ex is constantly bringing out the low blows?  Does she perpetuate misconstrued, vicious and sometimes seriously damaging lies that make your bonus kids question what on earth is wrong with you and their Daddy? Things like:

....Mommy said you and Daddy are lucky because you both have good jobs. Mommy had to raise us alone so she can't get a good job.

...Mommy says you take us to Beauty Brands because you think Great Clips is for poor people.

....My shoes don't fit because Mommy says you're supposed to buy those things because you and Daddy have good jobs.

...Drinking wine only makes you drunk if you drink more than three glasses.

...Our cable got turned off because the pay place doesn't take the kinds of checks Mommy has. She says they'll take your kind of check, though.

If you believe in yin and yang, then for every awful, disrespectful, made-up thing that Mama Ex tells the girls, Hubs and I have to counteract that with being good, respectful, and truthful, right?

But here's the rub...

BEING TRUTHFUL WITH THE GIRLS WOULD MAKE MAMA EX LOOK BAD, which is the one thing we're trying to avoid by being the bigger person.

It's a vicious cycle that even mounds of ice cream can't fix. I've tried.

What's a stepmom to do? I don't appreciate my bonus kids operating under the assumption that Hubs and I have stacks of money we're sitting on. Or that we're somehow responsible for Mommy only having a high school education. Those things aren't true, but explaining why they aren't truthful requires us to say less than flattering things about Mommy. And that doesn't help anyone.

Therefore, as a general rule (unless the lie is so huge that we have to have a serious talk), Hubs and I have come up with a sentence that we feel does two things:

1) It lets the girls understand that we don't agree with what is being said.
2) It doesn't put down Mama Ex.

When a planted whopper comes out of the girls' mouth, we simply say, "I'm sorry that Mommy feels that way, but she is entitled to her own opinion. We disagree with her opinion about XYZ."

And do you know what almost always happens?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Life moves on. 

Our daughters aren't stupid. They're 9 and 12. The relaying of information - true or not -  from parent to parent gives them a feeling of importance and power. They love the drama, yo. And it's like a drug.

(Otherwise the Bravo network wouldn't be in existence.)

By responding to Mama Ex's lies with screams and yells and digs back, we just feed the drama machine. But by simply saying that we respectfully disagree with Mama Ex's opinion, there's nowhere to go after that. Dead end.

And then we go play Uno.

What do you say when a fat lie comes out of your bonus kids' mouths? Do you immediately defend yourself or do you step back and stay clear of the drama machine?