Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Nanny I am Not

I'm pissed, yo.

And it's all Twitter's fault.

I totally <3 Twitter most of the time. Especially when it comes to #twitterstepmoms. Twitter is a place for me to share my bare naked, biased, ridiculous, sometimes witty but mostly just raw feelings about being a stepmom. (It's also a place for me to shamelessly promote this blog.)

I've virtually met so many people that have pulled me through rough times. We're all in this together, learning as we grow. I have grown strangely protective of you all. Every single stepmama I encounter on Twitter I can instantly identify with. You all are like a timeline of my own stepmother journey. Some of you are only in your first year as a stepmom. Some just got a ring on it and are looking forward to the journey down the aisle. Some of you have been at it for 20+ years and have helped me prep for what's coming. My point is, Twitter is a place for help, for venting, and for love.

It is not, my friends, a place for judgement.

I know there are Trolls out there. Nasty, Twitter Trolls that will say anything to get a reaction out of other stepmoms. They make assumptions and judgments about others. I try not to feed the trolls, or even acknowledge that they are there. But sometimes one of I want to eat Popeye spinach and get really big and virtually pummel them into Troll dust. I won't name names, but one particular Troll recently made a comment that took me to the bad place. The Troll basically said this:

If a stepmom is in any way acknowledged or celebrated on Mother's Day, then so should the nanny, because they're essentially the same thing. No #twitterstepmom can explain to me why that shouldn't be the case.

And I basically reacted like this:

SAY WHAT? As a stepmom, I'm the same as a NANNY?

Oh, hell no.

My first instinct was to write a scathing Tweet in response, spewing every naughty word I'm not supposed to say. But I stopped myself. I know it won't do any good. Nothing is going to change this person's opinion and responding will only feed the fire.

However, I do know that this misconception is out there in full force. And stepbloggies, we have to fix it. Not with anger and curse words and fits, but with information. So, here are the reasons that I, as a stepmother, believe I am not the same as a nanny or a babysitter. Feel free to share with others in your life that need some enlightening.

Nannies Get Learned Up

Nanny's are trained to watch over children. Hell, some of them go to school and get degrees for it.I received no schooling or help. No, I had to figure this shit out ALL ON MY OWN. No one gave me a course book on child psychology and calmly explained how to handle kids that weren't mine. No one patted me on the head and sent me on my way, telling me how great I was going to be at this. I just had to hope I would be.

Nannies Get Days Off

Do you really think nannies are taking their weekends off, sitting around worrying about how the kids they watch are going to do in college? Or how they're going to use their own funds to PAY for those kids to go to college? Do you think nannies are reading article after article on how make a lasting bond with these children without causing them any irreparable mental damage? Do you think nannies are spending their Thursday nights boiling over with anticipation for the weekends? Okay, maybe some are, but my guess is most are out living their lives and welcoming the break that they get from the kiddos. And they're probably looking forward to the paycheck that they expertly negotiated in exchange for for watching those awesome kids. Which brings me to my next pont.

Nannies Get Paid...Well

I do not receive, nor have I ever asked for, monetary compensation for my role as a stepmother. I accept payment in the forms of hugs, kisses, smiles and maybe an occasional diamond necklace (that was a joke). I took the role of a stepmom because I fell in love with a man that had children and consequently, fell in love with those children. Never once did I stop and think, "I wonder if this job comes with health and dental and a quarterly bonus if the kids get all A's this semester?"

I do not receive overtime if I stay up until 2:00 in the morning helping my step daughter with her Science project. I do not get an extra $25.00 to stay just a little bit longer and maybe start dinner if that's okay. I do this job because I WANT IT, not because it's helping me reach retirement sooner.

Nannies Get Respect From the Biological Mother

Do you know of a nanny who gets ridiculed and made fun of for JUST FOR EXISTING? Better yet, do you know of a nanny who is hated because she had the audacity to unconditionally love the children under her care? I didn't think so. Nannies are typically welcomed with open arms by the father and the mother. The nanny is viewed as a solution to a problem. An angel sent from heaven. A life saver. Nannies are celebrated for going above and beyond their duties. When I go above and beyond, I'm violating my boundaries and should probably be taken out to a field and shot in the head for our crimes. And I'll never be viewed as an angel sent from heaven.

For a nanny, the happy relationship with the parents comes easy. In fact, you probably wouldn't get hired if there wasn't an immediate connection with the children and the parents. Which brings me to....

I Earned My Job as a Stepmom - Nannies Interview for Their Job

I talked about this in my last blog entry. My relationship with my stepkids was earned over time. A lot of time. It didn't consist of me showing up with a resume in my hand, smiling and saying, "I've got credentials longer than the Bible. Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Oh, and I don't work Friday's and I don't cook."

No no no.

I only had approval from one person when this all started (that would be Hubs). I had to twist and turn my thoughts, habits, values and morals to fit with what these children (and to some degree, their mother) needed. Because that is the role I chose. I love Hubs so much that I decided to throw away all of my preconceived and fairy tale notions of what a marriage would be and start on a very uncertain journey as a stepmom. I earned their love. I earned their respect.

Nanny's Can Quit

If Little Timmy turns out to be a holy terror, Nanny Jane can tell the family to eff off and move on to the next. Not here. Not as a stepmom. I'm in it. All day, every day, for the rest of my life. Quitting isn't an option for me. If my stepdaughter decides to shave her head and pierce her nose, I'm here. If Mama Ex has a meltdown and is disrespectful or  insolent toward me, I'm here. There is no ejection seat. There is no collecting my back pay and showing the family my backside as I walk away. This IS my family now. In all of its craziness and awesomeness, it's mine. And I wouldn't change it for anything.

Does all of this mean I'm entitled to extra love on Mother's Day? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing it certainly does mean is that, at the end of the day, I am NOT a Nanny. I am NOT a babysitter. I am so much more. And to throw a label like that onto me is like throwing water on the Wicked Witch of the West. It defeats me. It melts me. It makes me less capable of doing a good job as a step mother. So just don't. You don't have to like me, but you do have to respect me and my family.

And I will do the same for you.

Friday, May 23, 2014

peel back the label

Hubs and I got engaged in a whirlwind. We'd only dated for three months, but we knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was "it."

Just one problem. He had kids.

Or maybe I should rephrase. The world at large seemed to think this was a problem. I just thought it was fantastic and couldn't wait to tell everyone. But I found that when I would tell people about my new love and his offspring, they'd knit their brows together in concern, wring their hands like a wet washcloth and gently prod, "are you going to be okay with an instant family like that?"

Or, in an only slightly more annoying scenario, they would use over-zealousness to mask concern, going completely insane at the news. There was a lot "OMG! NO WAY!"'s and throwing hands in the air shouting, "you're going to be an instant family!!!!! How amazing!!!" 

Both reactions bug me.

My family is not a box of mashed potatoes. We didn't become a family because you threw a cup of water and three tablespoons of butter on us. I realize I just sound nitpicky and combative. After all, what else are people supposed to call it when a person with a child(ren) marries someone without a child(ren)?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe just a "family?" 

Why do we need special words to describe my husband, his children and myself? If the divorce rate is still holding strong around 50%, I'd venture to say my situation is probably the norm rather than the exception. And you don't see me giving a special labels to families who aren't divorced, do you?

At the root of it, here is why I'm really opposed to the phrase "instant family." IT WAS NOT INSTANT. When I said my vows, it wasn't like some magical pixie fairy floated down from a cumulus cloud and bestowed stepmother love-dust on me. In the seven months leading up to my marriage, I worked my (quite firm at the time) ass off to be sure that my future stepchildren were comfortable with our marriage. More importantly, I worked hard to make I had earned a place in their family and their hearts. I didn't just expect it since Hubs had put a ring on it. 

I have seen my share of women who have married a man with children, and never taken the time to care about the kids or what their existence meant. Kids were simply an unfortunate reminder of their future spouse's past decisions - like a bad tattoo that you just pretend isn't there. And you know what? Even people like that are still referred to as an "instant family." Call me crazy, but I personally don't wish to be lumped together in a big, gigantic misleading label with people like that. 

Think of it this way. By telling me I have an "instant family," you are diluting what it really is - hard work. Relationships with two people are hard enough on their own. When you add children to the mix, that tough part gets even tougher. There is no instant about it. We have fought, cried, loved and laughed our way here. I will earn the privilege of being called a stepmom for the rest of my life. The job is never over. The work is never over. 

So, you ask, what am I supposed to say when a friend of mine is marrying a man that has kids?? 

I would suggest you get super excited, gush over her ring, hug her and tell her that you're excited for her and you will support her in her new marriage. Maybe even squeak a little. Tell her you're so excited for her and her new husband and they are going to make a wonderful couple and have an amazing life together.

But that just sounds like a "normal" reaction to an engagement, you say.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

the naked truth

I love myself some Netflix. Like, an unhealthy amount of Netflix.

It all started with Breaking Bad, then morphed slowly into Sherlock Holmes (holy God, Benedict Cumberbatch is a delicious dish) and then, magically, I found myself getting into documentaries.

It's like a drug. I can't stop. They're just so damn interesting, and usually pretty harmless. I mean, it's cool to learn how coo coo some people are, in the case of "Jesus Camp." And a tornado wouldn't have stopped me from finishing "Man on a Wire." But at the end of the day, these documentaries are just interesting fodder to get me through a boring Wednesday night.

Until I watched "Talhotblond."

You guys.

Watch it. And then go find your teenage SD (or biological one) and super glue her shorty-short wearing booty to the couch and watch it with her. I'm not kidding. Pry her eyes open with toothpicks if you have to. If you can get Hubs to watch with you, even better, though it will probably disturb him even more than you. And if you have a teenage stepson? Let him in on the action, too.

"Talhotblond" is the true story of how the internet, false identites and chat rooms can go terribly, terribly, wrong. I'll be honest, there are some cheesy reenactments that could have been handled better and it drags a bit in the middle. But stick with it. It's an important film, and one that will be sealed into their brain forever.

(In the same way that "Requiem For a Dream" kept me from ever, ever, ever trying drugs. Or diet pills.)

Look, we live in a very new and different world. (I've talked about this before.) It's still even new to us as adults, so imagine what it's like for the younger generation. As teens, they think they have the internet/texting/social media all figured out. I mean, how hard can it be? 

My 13 year old SD, M, always laughs when I ask her, "Do you know every single person from your Instagram?" 

"Of course I know them all," M
replies, rolling her eyes and texting furiously. "I'm not stupid enough to accept a request from someone I don't know."

"You know them, as in, you've personally met every single person on your Instagram account? Every single one? All 579 of them?" I ask back, doubt in my eyes. 

(Incidentally, I knew maybe 65 people when I was her age. And I'm including dead relatives and teachers. And my Sunday School teacher.)

"YES, RUBY!" she responds, then shrugs her shoulders. "I mean, some of them are just from other schools, but I still know who they are through friends. And obviously I don't actually KNOW Katy Perry, but it's her Instagram account."


She doesn't know them. She probably hasn't even laid eyes on over half of them. And quite frankly, who knows if Katy Perry is really Katy Perry? Maybe Katy Perry's Instagram is run by some beer guzzling, 49 year old man with an erectile dysfunction and a complete set of Star Wars action figures. My stepkid would never know.

(No offense to Katy Perry, I'm sure she runs her own account. It's just an example.)

My point is, kids do not think the way we do. And they shouldn't; that's our job. Kids aren't wired to see all the angles because they've never been exposed to them. Here's how I explained it to my SD that I think finally made sense to her:

Ask a three year to count as high as she can. She'll tell you, "egg."

Ask a 7 year old, and they'll puff out their chest and be all, "Ready? The answer is fifty nine billion, six hundred zillion, four thousand and one billion and six. OOH! And one!"

Ask a 15 year old to name the biggest number possible and they'll say, "Duh, there isn't one. Just infinity." And then they'll flip you off and ignore you until they get hungry.

My point is this. As a teen on the internet, you're still in the "egg" phase. You can't comprehend what exists out there. Teenagers don't fathom that sick, twisted people exist and create fake identities and prey on ignorant children.

That's why movies like "Talhotblond" are so important. Hubs and I can preach to M all day long about the dangers of letting strangers, specifically online strangers, into her world. But we're her parents. What the hell do we know? At least through a documentary, M knows we had nothing to do with the information being presented. She knows that this actually happened. And it's served to her on an easy-to-understand and relatively interesting platter. 

With even some curse words thrown in.

DISCLAIMER: There is sexual content in the film. Not visual at all, but it is written. But really, do you think your teenager hasn't heard worse on the school bus?

Give "Talhotblond" a try and let me know what you think. Will you watch it with your SD or SS? I know I am.