On Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day started as one woman’s tribute to her mother in the very early 1900s and by the 1920s, even she was irritated by the Hallmark commercialism of the whole thing.  Motherhood and families have changed a lot in the last century – family dynamics are just different.  The divorce rate hovers somewhere near 50%, something that would have been unthinkable 100 years ago (I looked it up for fun, only one in every 450 marriages ended in divorce during the first decade of the 1900s – just .002%).

What this means is that more and more of us are taking on maternal roles with children we didn’t bear ourselves.  Motherhood is more than just carrying and delivering a child or even going through the long exhausting adoption process.  Motherhood means putting someone else in front of yourself more often than you’d like to admit.  It means giving away parts of yourself that you’ll never get back.  I’ve heard people describe it as having your heart outside of your body, walking around.  And the thing is – you don’t have to actually go through labor to have these feelings and experiences.  Many of us have taken on responsibilities for children we didn’t bear but we love just the same.

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I write this as both a stepmother (sort of – we’re not married, much to the consternation of Minion 2 who seems to ask about it daily – last weekend, it was what he should call me when I’m his stepmom – bearing in mind The Boyfriend and I aren’t engaged) and as a stepdaughter.  Labor and delivery aren’t necessary for a loving maternal bond.  There’s not a decision I make that doesn’t take the Minions into account.  They are nearly as much a part of my life as if they were my own.

My dad’s wife, my stepmom, P, is an amazing woman.  I feel like a jerk calling her my dad’s wife, though I was an adult and living on the other side of the country when they became they.  She puts up with so much from my siblings and even myself – let me just say, it can’t be easy when your boyfriend’s bossy, opinionated, vegan (at the time – and particularly difficult), adult daughter shows up for visits.  But she handles it all with grace and humor and laughter.  She takes care of my niece and nephews and makes sure my brothers are where they need to be.  She checks in with me and keeps my dad in line.  She takes on so much, in a mostly thankless position.  Our lives wouldn’t be the same without her.

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, it’s kind of an awkward thing.  Everyone in my Facebook feed is wishing the “real” mothers a happy day, and I know it’s strange for the childless, those without living mothers, and other women like me, who pour so much love into children we didn’t bear ourselves.  I was reading about it this morning, and apparently, these awkward feelings aren’t uncommon.  From Blissfully Domestic, this quote stuck out with me for its truth:  “Stepmoms may not be acknowledged at all, though they try hard to pour into their step families lives. In fact, somehow Mother’s Day often allows outsiders to use the term as a pistol whipping experience to try to make a statement about who the “REAL” mother is.”  From other places on the internet, I’ve found similar sentiments.  From Smart Stepfamilies (a site that is sometimes useful but *really* religious), I related to not expecting the Minions to honor me.  They’re with their mom and I don’t expect them to.  They’re spending the day with her, exactly as they should.  Last weekend, I made sure to have them pick out a card for her while we were out shopping.  But, something that struck me, was “The day isn’t about the relationship with my stepsons, it’s about my husband honoring me for the effort and tears I’ve experienced [as] a stepmom.”

I think that is a good way of looking at it.  I’m not expecting to be celebrated as a mother, but an acknowledgement of the effort and experience would be appreciated.  So, if you know a stepmom, or someone in a stepmom-ish position, wish them a happy mother’s day.  I can almost guarantee it will brighten their day.  I particularly liked the well-wishes on Family Fusion Community‘s Mother’s Day Post: “I hope you know how much you are appreciated for every time you accept the awkward stares, take the brunt of the anger, and for all of the times when you have stepped up to the plate for your step-children.”

As for me, I’m celebrating the day with a quiet house and finals cramming.  Happy Mother’s Day.  

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On Prompted Writing and Impending Doom

I am the worst procrastinator I know.  Well, almost.  The Boyfriend rivals me sometimes.  This weekend, one of two before finals start next week, we did *everything* we could except for study.  We did work in the garage.  I did a ton of laundry and swapped my drab fall and winter cardigans for spring and summer’s candy colored ones.  We shopped for new appliances (seriously, our new washer and dryer will text me when our cycle is done…).  The Boyfriend took down some trees in the yard and fixed the roof.  We saw friends.  We cooked every meal at the house and didn’t eat out once.  I even made two dinners on Sunday.  Unintentionally.  I had roasted some chicken, following a recipe because chicken scares me.  I reduced the cooking time considerably because our chicken was small…  Apparently, I didn’t reduce it enough because after it rested for the ten minutes the recipe suggested, I could have dribbled it like a basketball.  Knives were no match for the rubbery ridiculousness that I had attempted for dinner.  Ugh.  

So – with the last two days of class upon us, I am further procrastinating by typing up a blog post.  Because why not?  (Not the fact I am terrified of my Wills final, surely not that…)  

I saw a daily prompt the other day (the Daily Post is a great resource for those of us who sometimes don’t feel creative enough to peck something out on the keyboard), (S)he’s So Fine, that I’ve been mentally responding to in my head ever since.  Of course, now that I’m doing it, my words don’t seem big or important enough.  What is it that drew me to The Boyfriend when we first met?  We met in 2010, after I had moved to New York and he was in the midst of his divorce.  We met through a group of car enthusiasts.  We knew each other for nearly a year when in the summer of 2011, I spent the day with his roommate at a car show.  The Boyfriend and The Minions were there and I spent a lot of the day walking around with them and holding Minion 2’s hand (as I mentioned in my last post – he and I have been close from the beginning).  A couple of weeks later, we spent the day on the beach, talking and laughing.  There was something about the way he opened up to me on the beach, talking about his family and his life, I knew he was something special.  It came out of nowhere – I hadn’t expected it.  I haven’t stopped thinking about him from that moment on.  He’s an amazing dad, a wonderful partner, and just all around the most amazing person I know.  He is strong, funny, and just a non-stop bundle of energy.  There is nothing he can’t do.  He fixes cars, fells trees, kicks ass in law school, makes a mean baked pasta, and is raising two of the most awesome Minions I know.  We had a really rough April (seriously glad the month is almost over) and I don’t know how I would have survived it without him.  

 

On Awkward Questions

Minion 2 is just about to turn six.  We’ve always been close – he was just three when The Boyfriend and I started dating.  We joke that I fell for him before The Boyfriend.  He’s adorable and charming and a total handful sometimes.  

Lately, I’ve been getting the strangest, most awkward questions from him.  He never directs these things to The Boyfriend, instead always asking me directly about God (he’s in a religious kindergarten, heavy on the god stuff) that I try to deflect with “some people believe that,” trying to leave my own beliefs vague.  Some day, he’ll understand more and if he asks, we can chat then about what I believe, until then, sure, kid, God gives you eternal life and you’ll live happily ever after in heaven.  Another favorite was “where did the kitties come from?”  Yeah…  I tried to deflect it to The Boyfriend who, from the stove, yelled a firm “Nope! All you!”  Um, well…  They came from their mommy.  “Did she poop them out or throw them up?”  I start to squirm.  He’s five.  Why is he doing this to me?  It’s like he knows it’s uncomfortable and he’s actively trying to make it worse.  Not sure what he knows, I ask him if he knows where he came from.  “Mommy’s tummy!”  A-ha!  That’s where the kitties came from too.  

The hardest of these awkward questions came this week while I was driving the Minions home from school.  “Why did Daddy break up with Mommy?”  I don’t know what the kids know about the divorce – I came onto the scene at the end.  I don’t know what they’ve been told by either side (though, I do vividly recall on a road trip listening to The Boyfriend try to explain to the Minions that though their mother says otherwise, their father is not a terrible person and he did not break a promise to her…  That was infuriating but I held my tongue).  All I could say is that I didn’t know – I didn’t know them then – and that I bet his dad would have an answer for him when we got to the house.  

On one hand, I love that he trusts me enough to ask these things.  On the other, I am so scared of saying the wrong thing or not having a good enough answer for him.  Though it’s awkward and kind of tough, I wouldn’t trade these questions or the silliness and laughter that he brings to my life for anything.  I just hope I leave the same impression on him.  

Our Cottage

Unsurprisingly, school has interfered with my blogging abilities this month.  Posts will be intermittent at best until mid-May.  Not that anyone is reading anyway, but still…

When I started this blog, I wanted it to reflect my life – equal parts family life, DIY house projects, delicious cocktails (we’re trying a new one tonight in advance of hosting the neighborhood for a cocktail party next weekend last weekend – so busy!), and probably random rantiness.  So far, I’ve had a cocktail, an introduction, and a rant about family life.  I’m lacking in the house stuff department.

We bought our house last summer after a long search.  Seriously, I think our realtor was happy to be rid of us when everything zipped up.  It was a long process – full of tense negotiations, roadblocks from our legal team, and issues with our rental that we were leaving.  When we finally moved in, I got very sick on our first night in the house and ended up losing that crucial first month to illness.  Having just passed a milestone related to the illness, I’ll likely be posting about it in the not-distant future.  I had such high hopes for moving in and spending the summer putting the house together – I’ve moved a lot in the last several years and moving in is usually a quick process for me.  This time, getting sick messed that all up and the poor Boyfriend had to handle all the furniture set-up and initial unpacking alone.  By the time I felt better, school had started and I didn’t really have the time to dedicate to unpacking or painting or even wallpaper removal (OMG, the wallpaper!  It is everywhere in varying degrees of horrible).

We still have boxes.  None of our walls have been painted.  But, we have managed to complete the powder room on the main level, which was a huge project for us.

When we moved in, it was all country cottage – oak cabinets, oak shelves with heart cutouts, pink-beige wallpaper with tiny flowers.  In short, it was horrible.  I knew it was going to be our first project.  The room is small and it didn’t need that much work…  (Haha, I laugh now.  The beauty of hindsight, I suppose.)  Just before school started, a friend sent me a link to Flavor Paper in Brooklyn.  I fell in love with their City Park pattern.  However, I didn’t love any of their default color options.  Lucky for me, they customize, so I picked my own color (3145 opaque, a deep teal) on a white background to coordinate with the ultimate aesthetic goal for the house, a somewhat more fun beachy cottage look.

I found a chandelier at Wayfair that I loved (I love chandeliers – I got teased a bit about putting one in a bathroom, but, in fairness, the ceiling is perfect for it and since it’s only a powder room, the electrical requirements were less stringent than in a full bathroom), a high-efficiency/low-flow toilet and pedestal sink that I adore and found online at eFaucets for less money (a lot less, actually) than at our local big box home improvement retailer, and to top it off, a beautiful, vintage styled bridge faucet from Vintage Tub & Bath.*

I love that the paper looks like a traditional floral until you get a better look at it.  The Boyfriend’s family was over for a large family gathering at the holidays and a few people passed through the powder room before a cousin and aunt really looked at it and laughed about the parking meters and hydrants.  I had to point out the rats and the pigeons.

It’s such a difference – there is white bead board on the bottom half of the room and all of the fixtures are nice and white – it’s so bright and clean looking compared to the beige that was taking over the room before.  The Boyfriend, being more tech-savvy than I (at least when it comes to Excel and iPhone photo apps) put together a before and after of the room – it’s pretty striking.  We did leave the beige tile – that would have made it too big of a project.

Powder Room Before and After

 

*A note about my links to retailers – I’m not endorsing these companies in any way, just putting their names out there as resources for home stuff.  I happened to have pretty good experiences with everyone I dealt with, but YMMV.

House Rules

We’re going through some adjustments around our house. I have been on the scene for two and a half years and lived with them for two of those, but the Minions and I are still figuring things out. There are days I feel completely powerless and unappreciated in my home and the feeling is not unfounded. I am the odd man out in our house.

The Boyfriend is usually understanding but sometimes doesn’t see things the way I see them. Minion 1 is excellent at turning on the charm around The Boyfriend, just seconds after pretending I wasn’t there or ignoring something I asked him.

To deal with this kind of behavior, we came up with house rules last week as a family. They are less rules than preferred behavioral qualities. Kindness, consideration, cooperation, honesty, and respect. So far, they’re working out alright. The Minions know consistently what we expect, and for the most part, they follow through.

As a reward system, I stole a points card idea from a friend and we keep a running points chart with some unknown prize at the end. If The Boyfriend cooks dinner, he gets a point. If Minion 1 takes out the trash without being asked, he gets a point or two. Points can be given by anyone and don’t get taken away. Minion 2 especially pays attention to the system and faithfully reminds us when he does anything that he sees worthy of points (unfortunately, no points for asking for them). Even without his reminders though, the points system puts us more on the lookout for good behavior and less on the lookout for behavior with negative consequences.

We’re all working on integrating and finding our way in our new family and I think our new system will help with it.