Monday, April 21, 2014

spontaneous combusion

I'm a spontaneous person. Always have been. Sometimes I spontaneously buy myself a new pair of earrings. Or decide on a whim to go to a movie by myself. Sometimes I even book Hubs and I trip to a unique different just to keep things interesting. And this is a good thing. Spontaneity is important in a marriage, in a family, even for an individual. Life can be a series of long repetitions, so breaking that monotony up is vital to keeping us from spontaneously driving off of a bridge.

But as with all things, there are exceptions. Spontaneity is no different. So, are you listening? No, of course you aren't, you're reading. But do I have your undivided attention? Cuz this one is a doozie. And if you let me enlighten you, you don't have to learn the hard way like I did.

Never. Spontaneously. Engage. Written. Contact. With. Mama. Ex.


Now that's a broad subject, so let me narrow it down. Clearly, you are going to have to communicate with Mama Ex at one point or another. But, never, ever, under any circumstances, should you ever communicate with the mother of your stepchildren in the following ways without thinking it all the way through:
  • Texts
  • Emails
  • Social Media
  •  Reviews of her business/job
  • Handwritten anything
I could tell you some really interesting stories from each of those categories, but today I think we'll stick with numero uno. Texts.

The invention of texts was great. It made quick, easy communication simple and quick. Unfortunately, it also enabled every passive aggressive person on the planet to become even more passive aggressive-ier.

At the beginning of my marriage to Hubs, texts from Mama Ex were few and far between, and mostly short and to the point. Little things. "Pick up the girls at 5 instead of 5:30", or, "remember to bring their soccer clothes on Monday," etc. But, when it was discovered by Mama Ex that we were indeed asking for more time with the children through a change in the parenting plan, the nice texts dissolved into a barrage of mean, nasty, passive aggressive texts that left very little to the imagination in regards to how Mama Ex felt about the situation. And about me.

Hubs was always very good about staying above the fray. Mama Ex would text something horribly mean and cruel, such as, "The girls hate going to your house because you don't feed them for two days straight and they starve at your house." Clearly, a lie and clearly, a taunt to get a response back. No matter how many times I begged Hubs to respond with something - ANYTHING - his reply was always, "there is no use arguing over texts. She just wants a response. I'm not giving it to her."

I thought he was nuts. 

Why on earth wouldn't you DEFEND yourself against such accusations? I mean, this person is making up blatant lies about you and telling them to God knows who, and you don't want to at least tell her she's wrong? 

This went on for many months. Mama Ex texting mean and hateful things, Hubs ignoring her. I don't know if she got bored or just tired of the non-replies, but eventually she tried a new tactic. She attacked me in her texts. One day, Hubs received a text from Mama Ex, basically saying, "My girls hate Ruby. She is a terrible stepmom, blah blah blah." Nothing I hadn't heard before, but still, it hurt. I, like so many other stepmoms, work very hard on establishing a great relationship with my stepdaughters, and have never heard one word of complaint from their mouths. I waited for Hubs to reply. Nothing.

Okay, not cool.

I could deal with Hubs letting texts about him fly, but this was different. I'm his wife and this woman is attacking me! Why wouldn't he stand up to me? I won't lie, this was the subject of many fights in our household, but Hubs stood strong. He reiterated each time that replying with a retort would just stir the pot and make things worse. He would reply to her sane texts, and nothing more.

I kind of wanted to strangle him.

So, fast forward to about 9 months later. We're in court, and evidence is being sifted through, bit by bit. I couldn't be in the courtroom (look up the witness rule if you want to be ahead of the game on that one), so I had to hear about everything second hand after the whole debacle was complete. 

And one thing blew my mind. Hubs was right. All along. 

His philosophy on return angry messages to Mama Ex, spewing back her own venom, would have done nothing to help our case. In fact, once, as Hubs read from the vile laundry list of texts he received, the judge sat, shaking her head. She let him finish and then said, "and what was your reply to all of this?" And Hubs could say, honestly, "there is no reply from me." He could even show 7 or 8 texts in a row of Mama Ex's verbal diarrhea, with nothing negative back from him. He never gave into her goading or taunting. He never said one bad word about the mother of his children.

When it was all said and done, we didn't get half of what we wanted in court (ah, the "justice" system), but imagine if Hubs HAD replied the way Mama Ex wanted him to? Even just once. Imagine if he had given in and spontaneously, in (justified) anger, called her a terrible name? Think about it.The family justice system isn't exactly kind to fathers to begin with. They already have more of a "you're guilty until proven innocent" approach to Dads (at least in the midwest). One bad word from Hubs about Mama Ex could have easily been spun into a "potentially abusive man" case by her lawyer. It wouldn't have taken much. And who knows what then? Maybe our custody would have been reduced. Maybe it wouldn't have. The point is, he never responded in spontaneous anger, so she had nothing to hang him on. And, in the end, she just looked angry, desperate and mean, while he looked calm, collected and sane. He looked like the ADULT. Court is all about what's best for the kids, right? So shouldn't one of the parents be an actual adult about things? Mmmm hmmm. 

Smart man, that Hubs.

My point is, in split family situations, you are always under the microscope. Even if your case has been settled and you think there's NO WAY you'll ever end up in the courtroom, always remember that anything can happen. You will be scrutinized even harder because of your "step" status. Don't ever give anyone ammo to make you look bad, especially someone who may really be looking for it. Be strong, be kind and be professional. 

Be spontaneous about those new Michael Kors pumps. Don't be spontaneous about Mama Ex.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Full steam per head

Last week I shared with you the joys of having a moody teenage stepdaughter living in the house, and how, with a little perseverance, I was able to strategically coax her into telling me all about her life at the moment. I considered that a win.

But you can't win them all.

More often than not, that little teenage stepdaughter of mine is tolerable. Sure, she sighs a lot and has a perpetual bug up her ass scowl on her face. But every now and again, she does curl up those corners of her mouth into a Wednesday Addams-like grin, and the whole family celebrates with chocolate and polka dancing.

 And then? Sometimes? She does things that make ZERO sense to me.

So get this...

Last Thursday we had the two girls overnight. As per usual, I informed both of them that they would be taking showers before bed that evening. This was not an option. They moaned and groaned, but knew there was no getting out if it. The 10 year old, smart kid that she is, took her shower immediately after dinner, letting her hair air dry so she could sleep on a somewhat water-free pillowcase.

Such was not the decision for M, the 13 year old.

The child tried to outsmart me. She "did her homework" until 9:15. And when I say "homework," I mean she sat in her room texting while one of her textbooks sat open to the same page for 2 hours straight. 

At 9:45, I headed to my bathroom to begin my nightly routine of makeup removal and counting my gray hairs (which are multiplying by the second). As I passed by M's room, I stuck my head in and said, "Do you realize it's 9:30? You still have a shower to take."

OH MY GOD, stepbloggies. The fit that this kid threw. Huffing, puffing, snorting, snarling, stomping. It was better than a Lady Gaga concert. Unfortunately for M, her plan to make us "forget" about her shower didn't go over like it does at Mama Ex's. I remember things, yo. I'm like a very fashionable elephant. 

She begged us to please consider letting her skip the shower. No dice. I reminded her that the longer she stood whining about it, the later it was getting. That seemed to work.
She got in the shower.

If your teen stepdaughter or daughter is anything like mine, there is no such thing as a "quick shower." No, no. At 10:00, she was just getting out. My eyelids were drooping so I laid in bed, half-listening, half sleeping. You know, just making sure she didn't slip and hit her head on the sink.

The house was quiet. All was calm. And then I heard it. 







I looked over at Hubs who was flat on his back, eyes closed and doing a super awesome impression of a saw mill. By the 8th pssssshhhhh, I could take it anymore and dragged my very relaxed ass out of bed and down the hall to the girls' bathroom.

I'm not quite sure how to tell you what I saw next, because it's haunted me for a week. My lovely, smart, 7th grade educated stepdaughter was standing in the bathroom, in a robe, looking in the mirror as she flat ironed her


Well, actually she was burning the ever living shit out of her hair. Over and over again, she took piece after piece of wet strands, and used her $200 GHD flat iron (which gets cray cray hot), and running it over the follicles until they were straighter than...I don't know, something really straight. 

The steam coming off of the straightener as it pulled through her hair rivaled this:


I immediately grabbed the iron out of her hands and asked her what the hell she was trying to accomplish. To which she calmly replied, "Well, Ruby, you made me take a shower. I need to straighten my hair before bed or it will be wavy. So that's what I'm doing."


Sensing she didn't really understand the magnitude of the damage she was doing, I said, "M, honey. Your hair is wet. That straightener is for dry hair only. You are literally setting your hair on fire. That's what that steam is. Remember how when you microwave corn and all that steam comes out when it gets hot? That's what is happening. I mean, I have a hair dryer you can use that will make this go a lot faster."

And do you know what she had the kahunas to say?

"My friend Maddy says steam is good for your hair. So, yeah."

And then she followed that little sentiment with, "and I wouldn't have to do this if you didn't make me stay up this late to take a shower."

I don't remember a lot after that. Hubs tells me I came back to the bedroom and woke him up rambling something to myself about boarding school.

But this is parenting right? (Sorry, step parenting.) Kids know better than adults at this age. Quite frankly, I could have had an entire manual entitled, "500 Reasons NOT to Flat Iron Wet Hair" and M would have found a reason to ignore it. It's just what they do. This all falls under that category of "she'll figure it out someday."  Besides, after 18 years, I finally understand the pain and sheer disgust my mother felt the day I walked into the kitchen with both of my eyebrows plucked like this:                        

I guess Cosmetic Karma is a beeotch.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

the fresh princess

There's a 13 year old in our house. 

That sentence alone makes me cringe and long for the days when my stepdaughter, M, was a bright and cheery 6 years old. She ate when I told her to, answered a question when I asked it and was crazy for Miley Cyrus (before she become the tongue wagging alien that she is today).

But now? Teenagers be coo coo, yo. One minute they're hot, the next minute they're hotter, then twenty minutes later they're hugging you in the grocery store because you said "yes" to buying them gum. GUM. Like, this gum is suddenly worth a hug?

To a teenager, yes. I don't pretend to understand it.

One of the biggest issues I face as a stepmom helping to raise a teenager is how to know what's going on in her private life. I all but know when she goes to the bathroom during school (the schools completely over-document the children's academic day), but most nights and every other weekend, I'm clueless. Sure, she has Instagram. But cryptic, duck-face selfies with only one eye showing (always with the one eye) that say things like, "I will never get over you. XOXO" can mean a million different things. God forbid I ask for clarification on what a post means. It's like I'm asking her to explain the theory of relativity. And her reply is always the same. "It's just a quote I like, Ruby? That's why it's in quotation marks?"

(Also, everything she says is a question instead of a statement. Can't teenagers just be steadfast in what they're saying? Grrr.)

Anyways, I digress.

My whole point to all of this is, I've struggled to communicate with M the last few months. She's gotten more teenager-y by the minute, and guards her phone like it's a newborn child. (We've talked about this before.)

In the end, I just feel lost and confused and completely out of the loop. I had all but given up on ever understanding her. And then a teeny miracle happened. Remember in my last post when I was taking the kids to buy new clothes via the amazing Sprint/Summer Clothes Plan I created? I finally did that with M. We went out on a Saturday, just her and me, in search of her new spring and summer duds. I envisioned it all going like it used to with my own mom, going to store after store, talking about boys and laughing at the silly fashions.

Stuff like this. WHAT THE HELL.

But it didn't go as planned. As we drove to the first store, M spent a lot of time on her phone, didn't like the music I was listening to (um, Justin Timberlake is awesome, okay?) and kept asking how long this all would take. It wasn't going well. We arrived at Forever 21 and didn't have too much luck. There was a lot me asking, "what about this one?" and "isn't this kind of in style right now?" and a lot of her replying, "no", and "God no."  


Twenty minutes in, and I decided this was just not going to go how I had planned it in my head. I gave up. I just gave the hell up. I can only handle snark for so long from a child that's being ungrateful and snotty. I shrugged my shoulders as we walked out to the car, and said aloud, "I'm starving. Let's go eat."

We settled down in cozy booth at a nearby Bo Lings, and I completely ignored M. Not because I was being childish, but because I refuse to spend time and energy trying to be nice to someone who treats me poorly in return. I mean, how many times in your life does someone say, "please let me spend $200 on your new clothes, and in return, you can totally treat me like I have the plague." 

So we sat there. In silence. I on my phone, her on hers. We ordered and went back to our phones, the silence stretching further and longer than before. And then it happened.

"So, Ruby?" M asked, shifting uncomfortably in the booth. "Did I tell you about this Evan guy?"

"Nope," I replied, head still buried in my phone. "You haven't told me anything about anyone, really." I resisted the urge to start bombarding her with questions and continued to act as if I didn't care.

"Well, he's this guy that wanted me to go to his basketball game last night, remember? Well, he keeps texting me asking what I'm doing right now. What should I say?"

I couldn't believe it. M was asking me for advice. About a boy. This was monumental. I continued to play it off like it wasn't THE HUGEST DEAL IN THE WORLD for me, and offered my advice. And as they say, "when it rains, it pours." M was suddenly talking to me about a friend she was fighting with, her frustrations with Mama Ex and her new boy toy and a whole sundry of other topics.

It was then that I realized (and remembered from experience) that asking a teenager about their life is not the way to go. Teens get asked questions all the time.  

What are you going to be when you grow up? Are you excited about the dance? Why do you have a "C" in Math? Are you going out for basketball this year?

After awhile, those constant questions just become noise and they tune them out. For M, she needed to see that I wasn't there to grill her. I was just there. And in her own time, she asked the questions that were on HER mind, not mine.

After we left lunch, M's mood completely shifted. She was pleasant, communicative, and back to being that bright eyed little girl I met 7 years ago. She let her guard down and we had a wonderful afternoon. It was one of the best days I can remember in recent history.
Until we returned home and she went back to being a teen monster. 

But it was fun while it lasted.