Friday, February 28, 2014

Things that make me go "grrrrrrrrrr"

It's a normal occurrence for my stepkids to request strange and unusual things from Hubs or me. Like the time my youngest SD asked if she could go an entire two weeks without bathing because it was better for the environment. Or that time my oldest SD asked us to let her have chocolate as an every day after school snack because it helped her "concentrate better" on her homework.

As any normal parent, step or otherwise, we take these requests with a grain of salt. C'mon, they're kids. Of course they're going to ask silly favors to see how much they can get away with. I know I did. One year for Christmas, I tried to convince my parents to buy me a TV for my room so my siblings and I could watch television and "not distract my parents from 'Cheers' or 'MASH' when it's on." I'm sure Mom and Dad got a kick out of that one.

Hubs and I always look forward to what harebrained ideas our young girls will try and pass by us next, but it always comes as a surprise when a grown woman (Mama Ex) wants to join in the fun, too.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who experiences this.

Every now and again, a request (or I dare say demand) comes from Mama Ex that I can only assume was cooked up under the influence of heavy narcotics and maybe a bottle of cold medicine. There was the time she told me I couldn't photograph the kids on their first day of school because that was Hubs' job, and he needed to be behind the camera. Or the weekend she texted Hubs to request that only he hold back the girls' hair when they were vomiting into the toilet because that's his job, and not a stepmom's. Most of the time, we react to these requests exactly like we do to the girls': we laugh, pour an alcoholic beverage, and toast to it all being over someday.

Just last week though, a doozy request came through. Hubs and I had just informed Mama Ex that we are planning to take the girls to Cancun on a family trip in November of 2014. The trip doesn't impede on any of Mama Ex's time, except for the night prior to departure. The flight is super early Thursday morning, so we asked super politely (these things must be handled delicately) if Mama Ex would let the kids come to our house Wednesday night so leaving for the airport would be easier in the morning.

You would think we had asked her if she was okay with us covering the kids in pig's blood and letting them swim with sharks.

Her email response took three days and when it was received, I literally sat in the kitchen with my jaw on the floor. Mama Ex replied, "How dare you do this? You're asking for me to give up my time for a trip to God knows where, and let's not forget they have to miss Thursday during school..which is also my time. You don't get them legally until 2:20 PM on Thursday."

She continued, "Because you have so rudely already told the kids about this trip, I will go ahead and allow it this one time. But in the future, I prefer that you inform me of any kind of trip you and your wife are considering taking the girls on before you share it with them."

Hold. The. Phone.

We now have to run all our potential trips by Mama Ex before we can even tell the girls about them? Mama Ex must not realize that I have, on any given Tuesday, 17 vacation ideas saved on my computer and ready to book. Shall I send her each idea I have? Some of them I haven't even run by Hubs yet. (We're going to Paris soon, he just doesn't know it yet.)

Why on earth would we ever tell Mama Ex about a trip before asking the girls how they felt about it? How ridiculous. 

The real problem here is control. Mama Ex is well aware that if the children already know about a trip, they're going to be pissed if she vetoes it. (We went through this last year with a Disney Cruise. The judge had to step in and force her to let them go.) Therefore, she feels out of control of the situation. Mama Ex enjoys her perceived rein of power over the "non custodial parent" and wants to flex that muscle whenever she can. 

I think what bugs me the most about all of this, is that Mama Ex's Nazi interpretation of visitation come at the expense of the children. Does she legally have the right to keep them from leaving on a trip until 2:20 PM on Thursday? Yep. Is it really necessary to do that? Hell no. But does she want to do it anyway just to stick it to me and Hubs? Duh. And the kids get to suffer.

Here's how I look at it and wish Mama Ex would, too. Co-parenting, just like life, is not fair. Yeah, we can afford to take the girls on an awesome trip and Mama Ex can't. (At least not with a 3 Starbucks a day habit, she can't.) That sucks for her. It really does. But hey, there are times when it really sucks to be us, too. Mama Ex has a friend who takes the girls to almost every single pro baseball game in town during the summer. Often the games land during on our time. Do we have to let them go? Of course not, but it's good for the kids. At the end of the day, if you're keeping your children from fun and unique opportunities for no reason other than bitterness about the unfairness of it all...then you're just bitter. And that gives you wrinkles.

No thanks.

Our response to Mama Ex was, of course, gratitude that she is "allowing" the kids to go have an awesome time. And we tried to keep the disdain hidden between the lines. Moving forward, we now have a new system for ridiculous requests:

Requests by children : 1 drink per child
Requests by Mama Ex: Shots until at least one of us passes out and forgets all about it

What requests does Mama Ex that make you go "Hmmmmm, where did she come up with that?" How do you handle the most outrageous ones?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

don't shoot the messenger (but don't let her off the hook either)

Every step parent knows you aren't supposed to use your stepchildren as a messenger with Mama Ex. And really, why would you want to? I mean, what stepmom wants to hear all the awful things Mama Ex thinks about them from the voice of their your adorable stepkids?

No thank you.

I myself do all I can to refrain from even mentioning Mama Ex's name when the kids are around. Our time with them is precious and over too quickly; the last thing we need to do is wonder about her shenanigans. In fact, if one of the children brings her up, our response is typically, "I'd much rather hear about you, sweetheart. When are volleyball tryouts?"

Generally it works. Children have the attention span of a hyperactive squirrel hopped up on Red Bull, so it doesn't take much to shift the topic of conversation to something that really interests them.

The problem arises when I hear a story about our home relayed back to us by Mama Ex. And it's completely false. Here's an example:

Less than a year ago, my two stepdaughters, M and T were playing in the basement. After a short time, the "playing" turned into systematic torture of one another, as is pretty par for the course. This was around the time that the entire nation was obsessed with vampires. M thought it would be hilarious to turn the lights off and pretend to be a vampire. Our basement has no windows so it is completely dark and quite scary for a 9-year-old kid. As Hubs and I sat upstairs listening, it became apparent that T, the youngest, was not enjoying this game at all. Hubs and I told M if she continued to scare her sister in this manner, we would give her a taste of her own medicine.

And did she listen? 

(That's a rhetorical question.)

Eventually, enough was enough. T was in tears, M thought it was the greatest thing ever. Making a command decision, I brought T upstairs. As M followed a few steps behind her, I quickly shut the door to the basement and turned off the lights. M was downstairs alone in the dark. 

She lost her friggin' mind. 

Screaming to high heaven and bawling like John Boehner, I let her stay in the darkness for exactly 10 seconds. (I counted.) When the 10 seconds ended, I opened the door and told her, "that isn't very fun, is it?" In dramatic teen fashion, she ran upstairs crying and didn't speak to me or Hubs the rest of the night. 

The following day I had a calm talk with M and told her that there are consequences to being cruel to someone, and to remember that it's best to treat others as you wish to be treated. M sniffled and pouted, but the point had clearly been made. I thought that was the end of it.

A few weeks later, Hubs got an email from Mama Ex demanding to know "his wife" was locking M in the basement for hours at a time without food or water or lighting.

I'm not kidding. It basically sounded like this is what we'd been doing with the kids.

My first reaction was to get angry at Mama Ex. She had clearly blown this way out of proportion. Our basement door doesn't even have a lock on it! How could she be so ridiculous? The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I started to pen an email back to Mama Ex telling her exactly what she could do with her questions...and then I had a thought. This wasn't Mama Ex's fault.

My stepdaughter had gone home and told her mother a warped version of the story. Where else would Mama Ex come up with these ridiculous accusations? 

I'd been played by a 13 year old.

My SD isn't stupid. She knows tensions are often, at best, strained between me and Mama Ex. So, while she sat up in her room stewing that I had reprimanded her, she hatched a plan that she knew would work. She could simply trump up the story and re-tell it to her mother, thus getting me in trouble. Thankfully, as the brilliant person I am, I saw through it and immediately deleted my email to Mama Ex that defended my actions. And really, why did I feel the need to defend myself anyway? Mama Ex has no power over me. When the kids are here, the kids are here, with our rules and our discipline choices. Unless I'm beating them with a Louisville Slugger and waterboarding them in my spare time, I only have to answer to one person: Hubs. Okay, and maybe the court if the waterboarding is really happening.

Which it isn't.

Though sometimes...the temptation is there.

What stories have you heard back from Mama Ex that are totally off base? Did you figure out you were being played?


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

crossing the (boundary) line

Becoming a stepmom is inherently full of challenges. As if it isn't hard enough to deal with the fact that you've magically inherited the responsibilities of being a parent (while enjoying the rights of only a babysitter), you're also soon required to learn a new language.

Stepmom Speak.

From child support to parenting plans to holiday schedule, you will find yourself using words and phrases that you never would have before becoming a step parent. And then there's the big one. The mother of Stepmom Speak words that will follow you from now until the end of your days.  The "B" word.

(No, not that one)
(Well, okay, maybe that one, too.)


Before I became a stepmom, the only time I used this word was in middle school when we learned about how states were divided - and even then I wasn't listening. I very rarely came across this word in any real-life situation.. And now it shows up more than herpes at a whore convention.

This is, by far, one of Mama Ex's very favorite words to use (along with the other "b" word too, don't kid yourself). I hear it about everything.

Ruby let the girls watch a movie I don't approve of. That is clearly outside her boundaries.

Ruby told the girls they might have to get braces someday. This conversation is not within her boundaries.

I just saw your email that Ruby is picking the kids up for parenting time tonight? She's stepping outside her boundaries.

On occasion, the term  has been used so often that I've been tempted to approach Mama Ex and quote Mandy Patinkin's famous line from "The Princess Bride." 

"Why do you keep using that word? I do not think it means what you think it means."

To Mama Ex, "exceeding boundaries" is a catch-phrase that essentially means, "I'm not a fan of something Ruby is doing and I don't know how to articulate that."

But by definition, boundary simply means this: a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

Obviously, there's no way to draw that line into what I can and cannot do as the girls' stepmother. There'd have to be some sort of legal document or printed stack of papers that both parents would have access to that would establish what's appropriate for a stepmom to do.....

Oh wait. There is. It's called a Custody Decree. 

Hubs and I just spent a huge wad of money to draft the longest, most unnecessary document in the history of mankind that literally spells out the boundaries between parental parties. They're even easy-to-read sentences like "both parties will respect the others opinions and rules within their own separate houses."  Or, "only a biological parent shall sign legal documents related to the health and well being of the children." Or even, "if a parent is unable to pick up their child for visitation, a responsible adult maybe be sent in their place provided the other parent is notified."

So...does me picking up the kids from school qualify as a boundary violation?


Does me taking my eldest stepdaughter for a haircut equal a boundary violation?


Does me signing a paper that says the girls can have a boob job at 13 qualify as a boundary violation?

Why yes, yes it does.

The problem I'm actually facing is simply this. There are very few legal boundaries established when it comes to step parents. And it drives Mama Ex bonkers. There is no law that says I can't take my stepchild to a horror flick. There is no law against me giving my stepkids a virtual gluten explosion of spaghetti and hot dogs for dinner.

But guess what, Mama Ex? That drives-you-bonkers door swings both ways, and it isn't doing me any favors, either.

I can't prevent Mama Ex from telling her daughter that skipping breakfast and lunch is a great way to lose 10 pounds fast. There is no law preventing Mama Ex from telling her children that college is a waste of money and a manager at McDonald's makes "really decent money." Mama Ex is not violating boundaries by doing any of these things.

Hello, Bonkers? I'd like to join your club.

At the end of the day, both Mama Ex and myself must realize that we have different ways of raising the children. What would be super great and boundary-riffic is if the three of us (Mama Ex, Hubs and myself) could all sit down together like the 33-year-old adults we are, and have an open discussion about issues we might have with one another. But that would require a very important word. 


I'm pretty sure that one is out of bounds.