Friday, January 31, 2014

don't hate the player...

I'm no stranger to bizarre questions in my household. Two step daughters at the ages of 13 and 10 are bound to ask some zingers that leave my head spinning. And most of the time they're questions that I should really know the answers to.

Like how to divide fractions.
Or multiply decimals.
Or what phase the moon is in. Yikes.
But every now and again, a question comes out of one of their mouths that is so random, I don't really even think twice about the question behind the question. It happened last night. Hubs, the girls and myself had just sat down to dinner at one of our go-to restaurants. We chatted about where we should go for our Thanksgiving trip this year (we decided somewhere with a beach; that's all Mid-westerners think about) and how excited we were that winter would soon be giving way to spring. Just mindless chit chat. Then, out of nowhere, my youngest stepdaughter turned to me and said, "Ruby? What's a player?"

I looked at Hubs across the table, and he shrugged. I mean, this wasn't an altogether kooky question, but it certainly had nothing to do with the topic at hand. I kind of chuckled and gave her an honest answer based on my experiences.

"Well," I said, thinking of a gentle way to word my answer. "It's when a guy or girl dates or go out with a lot of people, but they are only dating them because they want something from them. Like sex or money or something like that. It's a form of manipulation. Remember when we talked about your friend J that was trying to manipulate you to do her homework? It's like that, but with boyfriends and girlfriends."

She sat quietly, taking in my response, and nodded. And that was it. I chalked it up to her hearing the word at school from someone and moved on. No biggie. A few minutes later, as I laughed at an amusing anecdote Hubs was sharing, she tugged at my elbow and motioned for me to come close. Somewhat distracted, I leaned down to her face and she whispered softly in my ear, "Is my Mommy a player?"

Whoa. She now had my full attention.

A number of questions went through my head, namely "how do I answer this?" I've never referred to Mama Ex as a player, and I know Hubs hasn't either. However, I do know that Mama Ex is notorious for changing guys more often than she changes her nail polish. In addition, she never, ever lets a guy go. One of her ex boyfriends from 5 years ago still changes her oil every three months. Another ex still takes her to the local NFL games during the fall. Her estranged husband pays for the girls' cell phone bills, baby-sits for the girls and pays dental bills. Mama Ex has a long line of men willing and ready to give her whatever she needs when she needs it. One can only assume they're being compensated...

After cleaning up the soda I spit all over the table, I finally responded as honestly as I could to my step daughter's very perceptive question. "Well, honey," I said. "I don't know Mommy terribly well, so that's not something I feel like I can answer. Do you feel like Mommy's a player?"

She simply shrugged her shoulders. Her 13-year old sister, however, had plenty to say."Ruby," she said with a mouth full of french fries and a scowl we've become accustomed to. "Just tell her no, that's what she wants to hear, even though we all know Mommy is definitely a player." Of course this started World War III at the table between the two girls, and we abandoned our discussion about Mommy and instead focused on using our words and controlling our tempers. But the question remained, hanging there. Even now, almost 13 hours later, it's still haunting me. 

Later on it was revealed that Mama Ex recently shared with the girls that she does, indeed, have a new boyfriend and they've been dating since October. I'm sure, since Mama Ex is actually still married (they've been "separated" for 5 years) my youngest step daughter is probably beginning to see the pretty obvious pattern of behavior that is indicative of a "player."

Regardless of my step daughters' figuring all of this out, I've decided it isn't my place to agree or disagree with them. I mean, I wasn't lying when I answered her question. I really don't know Mama Ex well enough to know that she is, in fact, a player. (I mean, two and two is four, but I have no concrete proof.) Even if I did, 100% positively know that Mama Ex is a player, what good will it do me to confirm this to her children? 

When I was 10, I remember my mother gained quite a large amount of weight unexpectedly. I knew it, my family knew it, and my friends knew it. But did I punch a girl in the face at school when she called my mother fat? Um, duh. Just because the girls have figured out a less than flattering characteristic about their mother, it doesn't mean I should be the one to validate the thought. True or not, it would still hurt to hear someone they love and trust (me), say something mean or hateful about their mom. 

I certainly wish I could say that Mama Ex is going to extend me the same courtesy...but you can't have everything.

What bizarre questions have your SK's asked you that put you in a weird spot? How did you respond? Would you have responded to the question like Ruby did?


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Catty got your tongue?

Women are catty and competitive. It's a fact of life. It's built into our DNA. We check each other out at the mall, in the grocery store, at restaurants. We compare clothes, jobs and 401k's.  I mean, I love my friend Jenny, but I need to get the new Michael Kors bag before she does. I adore Katrina, but it has to be said that she has been visiting the Cheeto department at the grocery store a little too often. And don't get me started on Janelle...uh, those pores. She really needs a facial.

And these are the women I truly love.
So I'm sure you can all relate to the quiet, secret and completely in my own head competition to the 357th power that occurs when Mama Ex is concerned. It doesn't happen immediately, either. It's a strange phenomenon that occurs over time, whether you intend it to or not. One minute you're meeting Mama Ex for the first time and thinking, "She seems nice," and the next minute you're watching her pick up the kids and fuming, "Does she ALWAYS have to wear high heels? Cripes, it's Sunday afternoon."

I used to think that comparing myself to Mama Ex was completely my step kids fault. After all, when we pick up the kids from school, it starts immediately.

Mommy got a new purse from her boyfriend this weekend.

Mommy stayed up until 3:00 in the morning with us on Saturday watching scary movies! She is so awesome!

Mommy took us to the counselor when the scary movies scarred us for life. (Okay, this didn't really happen.)

Mommy is going on a date tonight and I think his name is Cristopher!

When the kids are spouting off the low down on what's going on with Mommy, it isn't like I'm going to ignore them. They want to share what their mom is up to, and it's only natural for me to listen, right?

Yes, to an extent.

The problem arose when I realized that the kids were no longer volunteering information about Mommy...I was requesting it. I didn't even realize I was doing it until the other day when I told Hubs that Mama Ex is going on a first date with a pilot tonight.  "How the hell do you know this?" he asked. "The kids told me." I replied. But did they tell me? Or did I pull it out of them.

Yeah, I pulled.

So what harm is this really going to do? Hubs and Mama Ex have a not great relationship, so it isn't like she's going to tell us about her personal life on her own. What if she's dating a total psycho and we don't find out until it's too late and he kidnaps the kids and moves to Montana? The truth is, there's nothing wrong with knowing what is going on with Mama Ex relative to what will affect the girls and their safety. But a first date is really none of my business. And neither is what size jeans Mama Ex wears. Or if she really is a natural blonde. (I know it's a home box kit, I just know it.)

Comparing myself to Mama Ex is actually indicative of a deeper problem. I simply want approval from my stepkids. I know they love her "to the moon and back" (a quote I'm so jealous I didn't think of using first) and I want them to love me that way, too. They look at her as if she's absolute perfection, so if I can get any tid bit of dirt that makes her seem human, it in turn makes me feel better. And there's a word for that.


I should be glad if Mama Ex finds a new boyfriend that flies a plane and has a $20 million trust fund, because the girls will benefit from that. If Mama Ex bakes 50 cupcakes from scratch and become "Mother of the Year" at the school, I should be glad the kids have a mom they can be proud of. But constantly comparing myself to her is just as futile as when I do it to my own friends. I'll never be her, and she'll never be me. (And Hubs is just fine with that.) The kids love us both differently, so we should be proud of our differences and embrace them, not use those differences to keep score on who has the better earrings.

So the next time my step daughters jump in the car after school, I won't go fishing for the skinny on Mama Ex. Instead, I'll ask them how their Math test went, or what fun hairstyle I can help them try tomorrow. I'll focus on getting the good info on their lives...instead of hers. Asking about them will feel so much better than digging for dirt on her - and no amount of blonde hair dye can change that.

Do you ever compare yourself to Mama Ex? How does that go for you?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

5 Lies I Will Never Tell My Stepdaughter

It's fairly customary for me to scroll through my Facebook feed at at least 10 times a day. Okay 20.

At most 30.

But yesterday as I sped past all the baby announcements, comments on the weather and post of self loathing, something occurred to me. My stepdaughters are growing up in an era where every person's opinion on every subject are available to them at any moment. When I was a child, I formed my opinions by listening to the grown-ups that I saw the most: my parents, teachers and religious leaders. 

So in an the age of constant information (or misinformation) overload, what truths and lessons do I want to make darn sure my stepchildren will take with them? It took several sleepless hours last night, but in the end, I decided it wasn't truths I'm worried about...but lies. Big, fat, dangerous misconceptions that have no business in my step children's heads. So I'm on a mission to never teach my stepdaughters (or any future children of my own) lies that could be the difference between a good life and a great life.

Grades are everything.

I'd be telling a big, fat lie myself, if I said I wasn't already kind of guilty of this one. So maybe I just promise to no longer tell this lie. It's a hard line to walk when you want to push the importance of grades, while simultaneously being aware that there's no way your kid is ever going to be asked to give a deep dive into why Romeo and Juliet were destined for an early grave. Grades do make a difference, yes. I mean, if kids flunk 8th grade English, then consequently, 9th grad English will be even tougher. But I grew up in a time where anything below an A was unacceptable. It made me crazy. Rather than listening to what the teacher said, I was thinking, "If I get a C on my next test, that takes my grade to a 89%, which is a B. And I'm dead."

I understand the importance of the basic 3: reading, writing arithmetic. (And I think we should throw science in there, too.) But if my stepkid sucks at public speaking and bombs Speech and Drama, there's no way I'm telling her she's not going to get into college because of it. Which leads me to the next lie I won't tell.

College is a necessity

I'm just going to say it...I'm not 100% sure both of my stepkids will go to college for several reasons. The largest reason among them being that Mama Ex does not believe college is important, and would rather the children find a Sugar Daddy early on to take care of them. With that kind of mentality being pushed at them 65% of the time, it's a tall order to sway them the other way. Hubs and I continually push that college will make getting a well paid job easier, but even that's kind of a lie. Think of all the kids graduating college with $80,000+ in student loan debt that are moving back home and working at Kohl's. A college degree does not mean a well paying job anymore - and maybe it never did. I would much rather push working hard for your dream, whatever that may be. Maybe my stepkid has mad comedic talent and wants to write the next "Friends." Maybe an internship would give her everything she needs to make that dream a reality. Perhaps my youngest stepdaughter loves working on cars and wants to start her own detailing business, and an associate's degree is really all she needs. Bottom line, the "you must go to college" sermon is so 1996. I want to think bigger and differently, and that's what I'll encourage my stepkids to do as well.

Waiting for marriage is the best way to go

My parents' "sex talk" was pretty simple, and said with creased eyebrows and wringing hands. "Sex is when A goes into B, and don't do it until you're married or God will know and you'll burn in hell. Okay? Dinner's ready."

My approach is a bit different based on life experience. I dated the same guy on and off for almost 8 years. We loved each other and had a perfectly lovely relationship - for kids that were 18. But if I had held out on sleeping with him, I don't know that I would've have figured out that we were totally wrong for each other. Sex (or lack thereof) would have become the epicenter of our relationship at that tender age. Every move would have centered around "WHEN ARE WE GOING TO DO IT, ALREADY?" The fact that I broke my parents' rule and slept with him after waiting for 6 months was probably one of the scariest things I'd ever done, but looking back, I'm so glad I did it. It matured me. It made me understand what a real relationship involved. Before, sex was this sacred and scary thing that I could only do with one person. Ever. Once I did it with someone I truly loved and had a great experience, it was no longer scary or evil. I understood it was something special to be done with someone I loved. In college, the boyfriend and I broke up (several times) and when I dated other guys, I could take sex or leave it. It wasn't my reason for dating. I wasn't afraid of it, and I felt in control of it. That's how I want my step daughter's to feel: in control. I want them to understand their bodies and understand what sex is about, so that some a-hole with a red Mustang and a mustache can't use it to manipulate them and get them knocked up. Which leads me to...

You can get pregnant at any time, in any position, fully clothed and while on your period.

I know I wasn't the only one that was told this lie growing up. We all heard the story about the stupid girl that dry humped her boyfriend and somehow the baby juice went through his jeans, past her Z Cavaricci's, through her underwear and up into her vagina where a magical baby was made. IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!!!

Nope. I won't do it to my stepkids. I am a firm believer in facts, not made up lies used to scare and intimidate rather than educate and empower. No one ever explained my cycle to me after 6th grade sex education class. And all I remember from that experience was trying not to laugh when the 65 year old lady said the word "penis" and "ejaculation." At that age, I was so freaked out about this impending period thing that could happen at any time that I wasn't even listening to how a baby is actually made.

(And for the record, it's way harder than they make it sound.)

As a woman struggling with infertility, I want to pass facts and information along to my step daughters. I want them to understand what is happening to their body each month, and why their boobs hurt and what could happen if they have sex at a time when they're ovulating. When I was 18, I thought ovulation was something the moon did around the sun.

I realize there are freak scenarios where people get pregnant on their period, and that is frankly, completely outside the point. If my stepchildren are comfortable enough talking to me or their mom or dad about sex and pregnancy, then they will likely be comfortable enough to talk to us about prevention when the time comes. I was terrified to talk to my Mom about birth control, so I just didn't get any and hoped for the best. I was fortunate that I didn't get pregnant before I was ready, but so many others aren't that lucky.

 If you get a job, you keep it. Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever...

My father worked at the same company for 15 years right out of high school, and only moved on because the company went under. Hubs' father has never worked anywhere other than where he got his first job post-college. He's been there nearly 40 years.

Me? I got a job out of college and moved to another one three months later. Than, nine months after that I moved again. Then two years after that. Then two and a half years after that. I've now been with a company I love for over two years and have no desire to go elsewhere. But it took me 7 years to get here. Now, before you go ballistic and call me a job hopper, I'll do it for you. I was a job hopper out of college. I had a degree, and as soon as I got to my first job, I realized I hated it. I hated being behind a desk 40 hours a week making meager money for a boss I hated. My parents all but flipped out, saying, "But they have dental! And 401k! Don't you dare quit!" So I quit and found something else that had dental and 401k.

My point is, if I had stayed at that job I hated, I never would have to do better for myself. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with longevity at a company. It certainly looks better on a resume. But if you're miserable, aren't you doing yourself and the company a disservice? Yes, you are. I will teach my stepchildren that the first isn't always best. (That lesson works with sex, too, by the way.) I want to challenge my step daughters to keep pushing, to keep looking for the job that will make them feel proud and excited and motivated if the one they have isn't holding up its end of the bargain.

It wasn't easy for me. I was fired from one job and laid off from another. I struggled. I cried. But I learned a lesson from each employer I worked for. And looking back, each one of my jobs prepared me for the next, culminating in a career I actually look forward to every day. And if, someday, the job I currently hold fails to stimulate me the way it does now, I'll be on the search for something that does. If my step daughters land one job that lasts them 50 years, I will be just as proud as I would if it takes them 15 jobs to find what makes them happy.

And that's the truth.

What lies will you never tell you children or stepchildren? Do you worry about the lies they're learning from other kids and adults? How do you handle it?