Monday, March 31, 2014

don't look a clothes horse in the mouth

The sun is shining, birds are chirping and it's not dark at 5:00. SPRING IS HERE! And it's everything I thought it could be. Seriously, the winter of 2014 is not something I wish to relive anytime in the near future. Between the ice storms, 3' pilings of snow and Witches Tit temperatures, this family is ready for a little sun and fun.

Notice I said we're ready...I wish I could say the same for the kids' wardrobes.

Can we just talk about how friggin' fast tweens grow? 10 months ago my stepdaughters' clothes were loose and had that "She'll Grow" look going. Now, their shorts look like underpants and dresses have magically transformed into belly shirts. This isn't going to fly.

My knee-jerk reaction to the kids' request for new clothes was to slit my wrists. Obviously I realize that's a completely inappropriate response, but can you blame me? Everything we buy for the kids ends up never being worn or over at their mother's house and then gets lost. I don't have a money tree in the back yard, and clothes aren't free. In addition, I feel like we're just constantly buying more and more and more clothes for the kids. They need socks, no wait, now they need sandals. They want jeans shorts, oh wait, no, capris are actually what are cool now. Something must be done.

Thankfully, Hubs and I are crafty, and we've hatched the  

2014 Spring/Summer New Clothing Plan:

1) Each child gets two new pairs of shoes for the spring/summer season (of course they can still wear the current shoes they have). One of the pairs of shoes must be sandals or shoes that are wearable to the pool. A reasonable dollar limit is set for both pairs of shoes.

2) Each child gets a $200.00 base to spend however they choose on clothing. If they want to blow all $200.00 on two pairs of True Religion jeans, more power to them. But they must live with the consequences when they have no shorts or tank tops in 100+ temperatures.

3) If they find and bring me a discount, that discount amount is added to their base. 

Example: Child finds a $15.00 coupon for JCPenney in the paper. We use the coupon, but instead of me reaping the savings, I add $15.00 to her base. (Meaning she now has $215.00!!! Yaaay!) 

The idea behind this is, find yourself some more money, honey. Learn to be creative and stretch your money farther. If you learn to be frugal now, it will translate into being frugal later.

4) If Ruby finds the discount, it can still be used, but no more money is added to the base. (I mean c'mon, I want to save moola where I can.)

5) Each child is responsible for keeping track of what they've spent. If they go over on their spending, they receive a $5.00 penalty against their base. This is similar to an overdraft fee at a bank. (Obviously this requires me to keep track of what they've spent too, but they don't have to know that.)

5a) Bonus money can be earned by doing chores, helping the lady across the street mow her lawn, baby sitting, etc. In other words, there is always more money to be made if you want it bad enough.

6)  Hubs and I will offer 33 years worth of free advice on what we would suggest the kids look for to prepare for the months ahead. They can take our advice or not, but ultimately it is their decision on what they purchase.

7) Each child must walk to the cash register and pay for their items at checkout with their money. You wouldn't believe how much this terrifies teens. It's like they think the cashier is going to spray them with mace. Human interaction is a necessity; get over it.

8) If a child takes an article of clothing to Mama Ex's house/friend's house/grandma's house and loses it, that is the child's problem. I don't make the kids keep everything at our house; that's unrealistic. I understand that a favorite t-shirt is a favorite t-shirt. They want to wear it all the time. But that doesn't mean Ruby and Hubs are responsible for that favorite t-shirt. If they can keep track of school books and homework and lunch boxes and cell phones, they can certainly keep track of their clothing. It's all about priorities.

(This rule is age appropriate for my SK's. It's probably not a good idea for a four year old.)

9) When the money is gone, the money is gone. I'm not entertaining the Target shenanigans that go something like, "it's only $7.00 for this shirt. PLEEEEEASE!??" The kids have their money and they should spend it wisely.

10) I love my bonus babes, but they need to look like children and not streetwalkers. Thus, their money will not pay for high heels, half-shirts or jean shorts that look like they've been through a weed-wacker. I'm their stepmother, not their best friend.

This is the first year Hubs and I have initiated this approach to clothing, so it's a work in progress. Rules may change eventually, but the end game is this: the kids are in control of their clothing and their style. Perhaps because they have a say in what they purchase, and they know there's a limit to how much they can have, some actual thought will go into what they buy.

Or maybe they'll just spend $200 on tie-dye tshirts and look like a Grateful Dead refugee.

Either way, we tried.

Do you have any additional rules you'd set forth for clothing? Would your stepkids think this is a good idea?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

mind over martyr

When I became a stepmother nearly 7 years ago, I knew my life would be different. Going from no children, my own apartment and a whole world of freedom to a crowded townhouse, two children and a world of Barney and Dora the Explorer was quite a shock to the system. At first, it all came very naturally. Since Hubs and I were at the beginning of that "head over heels in love" stage, everything with the girls was a joy. Dirty dishes, laundry, picking up their toys...I didn't care. I was crazy in love and even peanut butter in the DVD player was a hilarious story to tell.

That feeling didn't last forever.

It's only natural. The more time that passes, the less you look at your stepchildren as "steps" and the more you look at them as "children". And that's a good thing. A relationship of only rainbows and unicorns is simply unsustainable. Humans annoy each other, and your stepkids are no different.

The problem arises when we, as stepmothers, tend to feel bad, or even guilty when a negative or less than perfect feeling arises about our family situation. Rather than share those feelings and explain that we're struggling, we bury our emotions deep and think that someday, this will all work itself out.

As I've said hundreds of times on this blog before, stepmothers have a it rough. We love like parents, laugh like parents, feel, cry, worry, fear...all like a real parent. But we aren't a true, real parent and we never will be. So when a situation occurs that requires us to act like a real parent, we second guess ourselves. We wonder about our rules and our boundaries. And then, we get angry that we're even having this conversation with ourselves to begin with. 

And that, my friends, is how a tried and true StepMartyr is born.

For example, it's a beautiful day out and Hubs, myself and the kids are playing outside. I know dinner needs to get on the stove, and I certainly don't want to leave all the fun to do it. So I begin to stew about it in my own head with thoughts like this:

I should just do it. Hubs is having fun with his girls. I'm just a stepmom, and he's their real father, so he needs this time more than me.

I'll just cook dinner and leave all this fun. *sigh* But man, they better recognize the sacrifice I just made for them and eat every last bit of this dinner.

I'm sure they'll thank me. Because of me, they get to play longer. Maybe Hubs will even do the dishes. I'm so amazing.

So I leave the family fun and go and cook dinner. And the more I cook, the higher the expectations get. By the time dinner's ready, if someone doesn't throw me a god damn dinner parade, I'm going to go straight upstairs and have a pity party for the rest of the night.

No no no no no no no no.

This is bad, StepMartyrs.

We are JUST AS important in the family as our husbands and our stepchildren. We are a part of the family. Stepmother's are no more obligated to exit playtime and cook a meal than Mama Ex is. Hubs is just as capable of handling chores, clean ups, dinners and laundry as we are. As are the children. The family is a unit, and all parts of that family must work together to keep the unit running smoothly. 

In order for all of this to happen, we as stepmothers must realize that we are two things:

a) not a doormat or a maid
b) not special

I realize that sounds harsh, but we simply can't have our cheesecake and eat it, too. If we wish to be treated like a real parent, we must be willing to accept that our stepkids are going to annoy us, abuse us (in a teenage way) and drive us crazy just like they would Mama Ex or Hubs. We cannot demand equal treatment and then, in the same breath, expect to be treated differently just because we're feeling sorry for ourselves on any given Wednesday.

We must learn to talk about things with our husbands and stepkids, and tell them when we're having an internal struggle. We have to speak up when things feel out of balance, and we find ourselves slipping into StepMartyr-dom.

Here's a few tips:

1) Don't make dinner just because you're a stepmom. Make dinner because your SK's just said they're dying for your homemade Chicken Noodle Soup. Celebrate that they ask for it. Arrange for them to do the dishes. You made it, they clean it. Family shares the load, yo. Oh, and tomorrow? The kids make you their famous Kraft macaroni. With extra cheese.

2) Don't help your SK's with their nightly routine just because you're a stepmom and you have to. Help them with at night because it's a great time to chat with them about their day and strengthen your bond with them. And then tell Hubs it's his turn tomorrow. Follow through on that. If you "just go ahead and do it" the next night because he doesn't volunteer, that's on you, StepMartyr.

3) Don't leave a great game of family Monopoly to make dinner just because you're a stepmom and the kids need time with their "real" parent. Screw dinner and have take-out tonight. Your family needs that time with you just as much as you do.

4) Don't let rules slide just because you're a stepmom. You and Hubs have (reasonable, I'm assuming) rules in your house, and your stepchildren must follow them. Don't fail to follow through on consequences because you're afraid of looking like a wicked stepmother. Kids would rather deal with steadfast expectations than wishy-washy guidelines. 

Bottom line? There's no need to be wicked or silently angry when you're having a difficult moment. Stepmommin' is hard. Share what you've got going on in that overly-analytical brain of yours and I promise, Hubs and your stepkids will thank you for it. 

And then you can go eat cheesecake. 

Do you ever find yourself becoming a StepMartyr? How do you stop it?


Friday, March 21, 2014

go with the flo

Big moments in our stepchildrens' lives happen when we least expect them. Sometimes they occur at school. Or at a friend's house. Or when they're with Mama Ex. It's a part of life. For me, those moments almost always happen when the kids aren't with us at our home. After all, we only have them 35% of the time. It would only make sense that the majority of "the biggies" are more likely to occur when they're with their mother. It's tough, but Hubs and I understand that that's the way the broken family ball bounces (not that we're really a broken family, I just enjoyed that iteration). We roll with it and move on.

Occasionally though, the pendulum swings our way. Hubs was the one who taught T to ride a bike without training wheels. I taught M how to roller skate. Sure, these aren't the hugest of happenings, but we take what we can get. Two weeks ago, though, we landed a monster unexpected life moment at our home.

Aunt Flo came to visit M for the first time. 

And Hubs wasn't home.

But I was.

I'm making it sound much more dramatic than it was. In all honesty, it was pretty chill. M came to me and told me she thought she had begun her period. After a few clarifying questions, we decided she had indeed begun that wonderful life gift of menstration.

The kid has already had about 485 classes on her period since 2nd grade began, so she wasn't overly upset or scared. She was more annoyed than anything else - and boy can I empathize with that. I decided not to make a huge deal out of it by pulling out my hair, throwing a bible at her womb and screaming "AND THE FIRST SIN WAS INTERCOURSE."

Instead,I told her I'd be back and ran to Target. I purchased a few essentials like pads, some black underwear, Ibuprofen...and of course a Carmel Machiatto from Starbucks. 

(Can we just talk for a minute about how adorable the packaging for pads is for teens nowdays? When I met Aunt Flo, all I had available to me were gigantic cotton pillows in huge, bright white plastic crinkle wrappings that basically shouted from the rooftops "LOOK! I'M BLEEEEDING!!" Remember trying to hide those suckers in your pocket on the way to the bathroom? Not so much.) 

When I returned home, I had a quick convo with M, explaining how to use the pads, and that she should mark in her calendar about 28-30 days from now that Flo would be back. And then 28 days after that. And after that. And after that. Forever and for all eternity until she's old and withered. I explained cramping, how to properly dispose of a pad (wrap it up...please) and how to keep "her area" clean and smelling like a daisy instead of a rotten salmon factory. All was well and good.

And then I decided it was time to let Mama Ex know. Aren't I nice? I mean, I could've been a real dick about it and just let M tell her. But come on, this is her daughter and she just had a huge life moment - I'd want to know if she were my kid.

So I sent a laid back text to Mama Ex, informing her that M had begun the monthly crazy train cycle. I didn't go into too much detail, just let her know I bought some essentials for M to bring home, and that she didn't freak out too badly.

And this is what came back:

I've already talked with her about it so I'm sure she wasn't freaked out. We knew it was going to be coming this week. I will be there at 6 to get the girls.

I need to go ahead and employ Mama Ex right now as a fortune teller. She KNEW WHEN HER DAUGHTER'S FIRST PERIOD WAS COMING. Who wouldn't pay $5,000 to know that? I think I have found my meal ticket to retirement.

I'm not going to lie. Her text hurt a little bit. It basically said, "you are a non-issue at this point. You are a stand in until I get there." Which okay, yeah, I sort of am. I'm not M's mom. But she needn't remind me of that. (Like I could ever forget, anyway.) I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe the same level of respect I give her when she tells us about a life moment with the kids we missed? Maybe a, "Darn, wish I'd have been there, but thanks for getting her the stuff she needs. I'm glad she was with someone she knows when it happened." Is that asking a lot?

By the same token, I understand what she was doing. Mama Ex's daughter was with another woman (whom Mama Ex is occasionally threatened by) when one of the biggest moments in a her life happened. Of course Mama Ex is going to try and make it sound like old news. I know it's bogus and M knows its bogus. But it's a maneuver to make Mama Ex still feel like she's in control.

I didn't goat the issue further or repeat what Mama Ex said back to M. She doesn't need to know. She's got enough on her plate with her new monthly reminder that she has a uterus. In the end, I'm glad it happened here. I'm glad I could be here for my stepdaughter and help her through a weird and funky experience. And that's all that should matter.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I have fallen in love with a new website!!  Have you checked out yet??

Wordle: RHSM

Monday, March 10, 2014

somebody's watching me...

When I was little, my dad was very fond of the phrase, "they don't make 'em like they used to." He used it as a blanket generalization for essentially anything about my childhood that differed from his.

He had heavy blankets for the winter months. I had a space heater. 
They don't make 'em like they used to.

As a teen, he'd pick up the phone to see who was calling. I had caller ID.
They don't make 'em like they used to.

His recreational time was used by going outside to play. I had Nintendo.
They don't make 'em like they used to.

You get the point. I used to laugh at my dad for being so out of touch, for not understanding that times were changing and things couldn't always be the way they once were. I so badly wanted him to grow and change along with the rest of the world. 

Until I became a stepmother. And now I totally get it. 

I understand that the world of technology is getting faster and more advanced every day, and to an extent, it doesn't bother me. After all, I, myself enjoy being able to have my email accessible to me at all hours of the day. I think it's awesome that I can use FaceTime to see one of my best friend's in Dallas. But when it comes to my stepkids...I'm not 100% on board with all the accessibility.

When I was a teenager (which was actually not that long ago), I liked boys. Duh. But in order to tell a boy I liked him, I only had about two options to convey that message.

1) Get a friend to tell him in a very sing-songey voice, "I know someone that liiiiikes you."

2) Tell him on the phone.

3) Tell him in person.

All three of those options required either a voice-to-voice or face-to-face connection by parties involved. True, I guess I could have written him a note, but who had time for that nonsense when "Saved By the Bell" reruns were on? No, back in the late 90's, if you liked a guy, you had to figure out a way to grow a pair of lady balls and tell him. 

Such is no longer the case.

My 13 year old SD has had five boyfriends this year alone. Here are some interesting statistics surrounding these relationships:

  • Each boyfriend has lasted less than 4 days.
  • One of her boyfriends she never spoke to voice to voice or face to face because they went to different schools. 
  • One of the boyfriends she had never even met face to face...ever.
  • All five breakups were at the hands of a text message.

Does this sound fun? Am I old and ridiculous? I mean, how can one expect to learn how to have a relationship with someone when they can't even sit in front of them and have a real conversation? Also...what can she really know about these boys that she's dating if she has never even seen them in person or spoken to them voice to voice? How is she even learning how to have a proper relationship with another sex?

And that's where the problem lies. SD has a cell phone. In our home, we have a rule that her cell phone password must always be known by Hubs. He/we can look at her phone whenever we want. We can look at a text message she sends whenever we want. This isn't because we plan to invade her privacy. It is for her safety. Young kids do not always understand the implications of the things they send at the moment they send them. We want to protect her against pedophiles who pretend they're Katy Perry or Zac Efron. We want to protect her against bullying. We also want to be sure SHE is not bullying. 

Up until recently, everything was fine. We would intermittently check SD's phone to make sure she wasn't calling her friends fat whores or sending topless pictures to SUPERHOTXXX. We also keep her phone in our room at night to be sure she's not up until 3:00 every night texting. All was fine. She submitted her phone to us on our random checks without issue. Sure, she used some curse words occasionally, and even lost a few friends by making some bad decisions, but nothing to worry about. We knew kids have to make mistakes to learn.

Then, a few weeks ago, something changed. SD began to erase all her sent and received texts. She erased all of her photos and videos on a weekly basis. She became extremely protective of her phone and wanted us to stay far away from it.

We've asked SD to please not erase her text messages and photos. Specifically the photos. She argues back that there's nothing to be concerned about. Except that there is. Just last week, a friend of SD's SnapChatted a picture of herself in a bra to her boyfriend. She assumed the pic would be deleted as the app promises. And it was. But not before her boyfriend took a screen shot of the photo and sent it to all of his friends, mortifying the poor girl.

Teenagers don't always have the foresight to understand what kind of trouble and life damaging consequences surround phones and technology. It is for that reason that Hubs and I are considering installing a software on SD's phone that alerts us to every photo, text, SnapChat, etc that she sends or receives. This way, even if she tries to delete something, there's a chance we will still see it. We don't want to monitor everything, because she is a good kid and has a good head on her shoulders. However, how many times have we heard about a child who was being bullied so badly via text that they committed suicide? 

This isn't a decision we are taking lightly. If we do install the software, SD will know. I'm not about to James Bond her phone without telling her. We want her to understand that we're not trying to catch her doing something wrong. We trust her to make good decisions. But she may not be able to see past the nose on her face in some cases - and we have to be there to protect her.

Believe it or not, Hubs and I are pretty open to letting the kids make their own mistakes. After all, we did at that age. But the stakes and consequences in this day and age are different than they once were. That picture of me topless on game day in college? Three people have that photo and I know every one of them. If my SD did something like that now, 3,000 people could have it within seconds, and it could haunt her the rest of her life.

We have constant discussions about these things with the kids. Communication is always open, and it always will be. But like someone once said, "just because you have a umbrella doesn't mean it isn't going to rain." 

What do you think? Would you ever use a software to track your child's phone in an effort to make sure all was kosher?