It is 3am in my small corner of the world. Not an hour I normally frequent, but tonight the four year old woke up and needed me to lay with her. My heavy heart and busy mind began to keep me awake.
I decided to succumb. Fighting my need to be in these spaces is never being true to my self. That is a thing I’m trying to do lately. Tending to my need to write it out. It is fresh and without the gift of retrospect. I know as time puts days, months and years between these days it will feel and look different.
I used to write Facebook notes which grew into a little blog where I write all sorts of things. Mostly processing my divorce and the toughness of parenting with my Ex. I also post some of our finer moments of being in the trenches of parenthood on my personal Facebook page. I keep being told to do something with all of these things. I made this new space. I have been puttering with it. I had a million ideas for posts about the mundane aspects of parenthood, blended families and raising kids in the current state of the world. I had things to re-post. Yet, this is going to be my first post.
Life always makes other plans. I am going to follow this one. I usually end up in the direction I should have gone. This is brave in a new way. While I write without the anonymity of my friends and family reading this, I have a new social media friend: H’s mom. While she may never see this, she could. Her feelings and thoughts are a force. It is a complicated relationship by nature. Yet, I own this little piece about H and us. Change never came from simply being polite.
So here we go:
It is August. You are almost nine years old and the cusp of third grade.
Your father brought you dressed in a whole lot of pink, with short blonde locks, drinking apple juice out of a Styrofoam coffee cup to meet me one day at my job selling cell phone service. Your frame was different than my little, chunky solid M. Your dad made you laugh. You hung off his legs. You were perfect. He was pretty happy just spending time with you.
It took me a long time to get your Dad and the things he did on his visits. It was filled with a lot of activities simply to kill time. Doing whatever the things that needed to be done (i.e. fixing a car, running errands and treating you to pink frosted donuts on car rides). This was your thing.
I will be honest. I do not always understand this thing between you and your Dad. But I have come to respect it. It is the thing you guys do very happily together. Lounge, run errands, fix stuff and waste away hours with stops involving junk food. You guys do more, but this time alone is filled with this lazy, non-accounting-of-time moments. The only time you two speed up is when there actually is someplace to be. You are each other’s oasis of nothing-much-to-do.
Six years later from when your Dad and I started to date. We are still here. Doing this thing. There has been a lot of ups and downs. Learning curves. Concerns. Worry. Laughs. Milestones. Becoming a big sister. Twice. Tears. Band-aids. Miscommunication. Joy. God, I hope it is always like this. The stormy days are hard, but they make us wiser. The good days are never underappreciated. We have struck a good balance in the time we do have.
I grew up in a modern family. I had a pretty good model to go by. I thought when I married M’s Dad that I would have that thing I never did growing up: A traditional family unit. A thought that gave me pause. I had no idea how that actually would work because I hadn’t lived in that kind of home. So, when M’s Dad and I divorced, I had an idea of what I wanted that life to be for your step-sister. That also didn’t pan out. Which is the only thing that makes me sad. Yet, life is so much better that my first marriage never worked out. I don’t know which mistakes you’ll make it life, but I hope they lead you somewhere good. Mistakes are sometimes the best things that can happen to you.
In our story, the thing I hope you remember from time to time is that I lived your life, H. I lived with my mom who was single and visited my Dad with his new wife and children. I understand a lot of the small things that come with being full time daughter with your mom, seeing your Dad part time, and having a step-mother. To this day, I think I gained far more than I could have ever lost. I’m so glad that my parents ended up apart. My life is unquestionably wonderful because of it. You guys have more love in your life because of it. My parents ending their marriage made something better. I hope one day when you are an adult, with your own family, you will feel the same. Your narrative, however, is turning out a little different than mine. As a former little girl and as a mother who has a child with an Ex– my heart hurts and pulls for you every day. Every. Damn. Day. You are there in my heart, my worry, my thoughts every day– for longer and more often than the three I get to see everyday.
We see each other the least. This unofficial step-mom gig is the pits honestly. I did not understand that part until I started to do it myself. This whole thing we are doing, well, it just is not about me. I chose to have the short stick with almost all things that happen with you because that is how this thing would have to work. I try to make the best of it. I will never get to know you the same way lots of time together allows. Which is okay. That’s our thing. My concerns sometimes just do not matter because you do not belong to me legally. The things I can do to help, solve and fix are limited in nature. It can be a hard thing to swallow. I am a fixer and a people smoother by nature. I hope you know that I have to live in this space, but it would never be my first choice. It just is the only one we have.
This summer just took a turn that was unfair to us all. To you, to Dad, to Mom, to your sisters and to me. I think we all made a mistake. Your mom is lovely person. Just not a lovely person to your Dad, darling. I don’t know what it is like to be 8 years old and hear the one sided conversations you are sitting witness too. Now, your Dad has his own side of this two way road, but I wonder what lens you’ll understand it all with. I promise though, Dad has his own side and feelings and thoughts about what happened. He, like me, can only do so much legally. It is, again, the pits.
I want you to know that going three weeks without seeing you is really hard on us all. And while a three hour drive to visit seems feasible… it is unreasonable for Dad to do it for a two hour visit and to pick you up for your weekends here. He wasn’t given a fair say. He reached out to mom, but they couldn’t agree of terms, H. Which is a whole lot of grown up speak for the fact… Dad can not do everything. He is back to smoking because this is eating him up inside. I know you must be hurting too. And Mom as well. But we all have to sit on these three weeks to see what shakes out at the end.
I had the whole end of summer planned. Beach trips, camp, and a few other things. I was looking forward to a little bit of just having you for the everyday stuff. Often, I wish there was a way I could do some of the boring things with you. Just like your mom does. And Dad does on his time. I would drive you to school. Pack you for camp. Do the homework. Bring you the dentist. Drive you to gymnastics. Run errands. It is a weird thing to covet. But those are things, as your Dad’s girlfriend, I just don’t get to do. Distance, your capable mom, your Dad and your sisters schedule keep me far from getting to do any of the everyday with you.
In fact, before this past weekend, the saddest thing in my summer was that THIS SUMMER I was finally get to do one boring thing. I was suppose to bring you to camp. I rearranged my whole Monday for it when your mom asked. And then, when you ended up going with mom on her work thing, I never had my shot. I had the grace to let if things not meant for me. But I want you to know that I did really want to do that with you, H. It’s a weird, little thing, but I would have really liked to drop you off and see your camp friends for a minute and meet your counselor… just to see you somewhere that was your life outside of my home. I would have loved to pack your lunch and check your camp bag. I would love to have us have time for all the ups and downs that come with parenting and being a kid. I am a talker. We don’t get to talk enough.
Much of my role with you is stepping aside, kid. Letting your parents have you. I get it. I do it with joy. But sometimes I wish it was a little different. Sometimes it pinches when I don’t expect it to. I think it is because my kids get to feel me say, “I love you,” in all those boring things I do. I am unable to give that to you. How will you know with certainty that you are as much my daughter as my flesh and blood? So here it is:
You are my kid. It will never be the same way your sisters are my kid. I will never spend enough time with you. I will never know you as well as I want to. I will never really get to understand half the things your mother tells me about you in the way I would like to. We may never really get that together while you are little. I will always worry when I discipline you if that was in the rule book for mixed families. I second guess our time together a million times over. I am still learning. But, I know, in the end, that we will be okay. I love you. Like a helluva lot.
This is your home. You can come here whenever and as often as you like. We know you have things forty-five minutes away that make up your life. I promise we will do our best to have you be a part of them. However, there are more people in this house and everyone has to take turns. Even the house itself requires a turn. Dad needs to work to make sure we can afford to have this life. Each day in this house Dad and I have to pick who gets their turn doing what. It means your needs are equal with your siblings, Dads, mine, your things with mom, and our house. None of us get to do everything. It means you are the only kid who regularly gets time with just one parent on a weeknight. Your sisters don’t get your Dad exclusively for dinner alone. You are the only one he leaves work early for. He can’t do the same for your sisters because he has to make up the hours somewhere. That’s okay. We bring Grammy instead. We gave you a lot of people to love you and spend time with. We gave you sisters. You gained my whole family. Having to take turns is not an indication of how much we love you or what we want for you. It just is a reality of having siblings, parents who work, and a house to live in. I know that sometimes we all feel inequities sharply. I know your Mom sometimes feels like we do not do enough. That is her job– to advocate for you from her heart. The truth thought is that everyone gains things and makes sacrifices for our home to work, H. That’s part of being in a community and a family. It is a part of life. I hope we model it enough so you can be well adjusted to the ebb and flow of life.
Our lives are built around having tools we needed to be better parents. A house that we can afford, a place to grow up in, family and friends to support us and make memories. We chose to keep the distance the same as it had been between us. Bridging it would have had us house poor and unsupported. Neither were things I found of benefit to you, your sisters, or Dad. We gave up income the past fifteen months so I could stay home for a while with R. She needed more time with me. When I go back to work it won’t be my dream job most likely. You all need me around. It will be something that has the hours, benefits and pay that works. I chose to kind of stash my dreams for things that give your sisters a strong foundation. I gave them as much time as I could while having enough money to support us. I worked jobs that kept me home. And when I wasn’t, they were with family or close friends. We chose differently than Mom. Both ways of life are good. Neither are better than the other. They are just different. We have to make choices that we can live with. I just couldn’t live missing out on my kids being little. I can not get this time back. But, I can start my career when you guys need me less. For me, it seemed worth the wait.
As your unofficial step mom, I have very little say at the end of the day. Dad has more, but less than your mom. It means sometimes, even if when we want to share something with you, we cant always without mom’s approval. Sometimes we get a yes. Sometimes not. But we never plan things without planning on having you. So when you miss things here, it isn’t because we wanted to leave you out. You are a part of this family. You are always here with us in spirit.
This blended family thing is pretty hard some days. No one gave us a road map with what things work and what will not. Your parents are winging it. At the end of it, when you are all grown up your views shift a little. You have more understanding for the complex ways choices play out to form your life.
I hope you are okay. That you have enough faith in us that you don’t doubt your worth, that you are loved or that you are ALWAYS wanted. That this is about Dad and Mom having to work things out for less conflict going forward. We will get there, I promise. It just was not meant to be this time. Your childhood is getting a little speckled, but sometimes life tests us. This year, with mom’s travel, we keep getting tested. The universe is looking or a different answer, but your Mom and Dad have to be the ones who figure out exactly what needs to be learned. Life tends to keep throwing the same lessons at us until we learn something we need to. This one seems like a sticking point and you, H, are kind of stuck in the middle while they figure it out. I tried to help, but I can’t make Mom see things she needs to. And I’m not sure where you Dad should stand his ground and where he should bend. There isn’t one right answer to give unfortunately.
At the end of this summer, as the seasons change, a few things remain certain: I love you. I miss you. These sentiments are shared by your father and your sisters. A asks for you often. She begs for you in fact. I hope everyday that you are doing well. We worry because we don’t really know what is filling your days while Mom is in class. I am sorry that it went this way. It wasn’t anyone’s first choice I promise. I’m not sure why things escalates the way they do. I carry you in my thoughts every day. I can not wait to talk. I’m sure something important will shake out of it all.
All my love,
The Unofficial Step Mom