Mama & Step-Mama

***

I remember once feeling superior that my lovely little human never went through the “terrible twos” and giving myself a pat on the back for (so-far) raising an even tempered, happy little girl.  “Oh, I bet that one’s a firecracker!” I’d hear countless times at the grocery store from people observing Ivy’s red hair. And I’d proudly, no, smugly respond, “No, she’s a pretty happy go lucky kid.” 

And then…

My child turned 3 1/2 and some sort of miniature demon has taken control of her to the point that I now look fondly back at potty training as a sort of utopia.

Now, I’m not saying animated movies are, in fact, documentaries based on true events, but if someone were to tell me my child was injected with night howlers by Assistant Mayor Bellwether in Zootopia, I may not question it.

I mean, she hisses at us sometimes.

When she gets really pissed off, she calls me by my first name instead of Mommy.  Let me just say, if you think the effect of calling your children by their full name gets attention, imagine having your three-year-old say to you (in the most dismissive way ever), “Ok, JEN. You don’t have to yell. I’m right here.”

And the tantrums. My God, the tantrums.

Here are just a few reasons for her full on fits in the last week:

  • I picked out her plate for breakfast.
  • I cut her waffles the wrong way.
  • I sang.
  • I said “Good morning.”
  • I wore my hair up.
  • I made eye contact.

I’d like to follow the above with somewhat of a disclaimer, because sometimes I do say, “Good morning!” and she responds happily. But I haven’t yet figured out the rhythm of her mood swings, so every morning is a complete crap shoot and reminiscent of Sally Field in Sybil.*

(Ugh. The majority of you are too young to even get that Sybil reference.) 

Anyway, it’s not just the randomness of Ivy’s moods that are shocking to me these days, it’s also the completely condescending way she executes her responses.

She matter-of-factly claims one of the following every time I ask her to do something she doesn’t want to do: 1) temporary paralysis;  2) utter starvation; and/or  3) hiccups (which, for some reason, she thinks is an illness).

She told me last week that picking up her toys was boring and too serious.

I recently asked her several times to please pick her crayons up off the floor, because our dog keeps trying to eat them. After giving her my ‘last warning’ voice, she put down the toy she was playing with, gave an exasperated sigh, put her hand up, in my direction, and shouted, “JUST GO ON YOUR COMPUTER AND WORK. I’M HANDLING IT!”

Yep.

***This is the part of the post where some people are shaking their heads and saying to themselves, “Uh uh. No way would my kid talk to me like that. That child needs discipline.***

***And this is the part of the post where I respond to the above parents and say, “Screeeewwww you.”***

Three and a half has proven to be my kryptonite in parenting, to date. I had thought it was the first three days of potty training.

I was gravely mistaken.

I like to tell myself that this phase is teaching me patience and discipline in motherhood. But in reality, it’s only teaching me patience and discipline in alcohol rationing.

Because if this keeps up, we’re gonna need a bigger bottle.

xo,

Jen

 

***

When I was five years old, I watched Albert Peece* eat glue at our kindergarten table. I gagged uncontrollably the first time I witnessed it. As the child of a large animal veterinarian, I had seen some pretty disgusting things in my young life by then (those medical rubber gloves go all the way up the arm for a reason, people); but, for some reason, Albert eating glue unnerved me to no end.

Albert would eat glue almost every day during art. He’d roll it in a ball between his fingers and then pop it in his mouth like a Cheetoh. (I’m totally gagging as I type this, by the way.) But I loved art so much that I learned to tune out his nauseating habit and focus on my own paper, scissors and (appropriately used) glue stick.

These days, you know what feels a lot like tuning out Albert Peece and staying focused on my own art? Parenting.  Parenting in the midst of of noise and chaos and nauseating behavior. And I’m not even talking about the actual kids. 

I learned (and wrote about) pretty early on that staying in your own lane is an important key to happy parenting. But let’s be honest, it’s not easy. There are so many distractors from the outside world bringing us down, telling us what to do, how to do it, what to be angry about, what to agree with…

It’s exhausting.

I’m a stepmom to a teenager and a mom to a three year old, and there is so much that I don’t know and have yet to learn.  But there is one thing that I am quite positive about:  I can clearly identify the things that truly drain me as a parent and they have nothing to do with my kids.

1. Chronic Complainers.

I’m not talking about those of us who need to vent. We all need to vent. That is completely healthy and therapeutic. I mean, where would we be if we held it in all of the time? (Rubber walls and meals slid under doors comes to mind.)  What I am talking about are the complainers that never stop telling us how bad they have it, and how busy they are, in parenting. Whether it be social media or in conversation, they do nothing but complain. 

I don’t know if it’s because I have close friends who have gone through the ultimate pain of losing a child, or if it’s because of my own fertility struggles, but I have a low tolerance for chronic complainers, especially when it comes to their children. I’m all for commiserating together and venting while sharing our struggles, but when you choose to do it every five minutes, I lose compassion for you. And I think that’s the saddest part of this altogether, because I do have compassion for the struggles – just not when you constantly cry mama-wolf.

2. “Studies show” reports.

I admit that when I became a new mom, I paid attention to every new “Studies show” article I came upon. Learning about every ‘new study’ made me feel informed and like a good parent. And then I quickly realized that the new study reported yesterday conflicted with the new, new study released today and before you knew it, I was locked in my closet with a bottle of vodka trying to decipher if pacifiers were or were not going to limit my child’s ability to get into Harvard.

Enough!  Our parent’s parent’s parents somehow kept our gene pools going successfully without all of this information, so we can, too.

I still read a few reports here and there and make thoughtful notations in my head, but I no longer give them as much weight (or importance) as I once did.

3. Blind bags.

Seriously, YouTube. I will never forgive you for this.

4. The Comments Section… Of anything.

I recently had a post published on a very public forum and I very hesitantly read the comments section (with one eye closed and a bottle of wine for proactive measures). Luckily, that particular piece was pretty mild, so I wasn’t verbally crucified, but I see it happen every day. And it’s frightening. Had it been one of my past posts on step-parenting, I’m sure I would have been tarred and feathered and I’d be doing an ugly-cry right now instead of writing this.

The comments section of nearly everything these days usually ends up making me feel disheartened and disappointed. It reminds me there are some nasty people out there, which then makes me sad for my children and the nastiness they’ll eventually encounter in school, play and in life, in general.

5. Click-Bate Mommy Wars.

I enjoy reading posts, blogs and articles from other moms. I love that there are some great conscious platforms out there that bring together so many different viewpoints. What I don’t love are some newer platforms that seem to be posting click-bate titled articles purely because they know it will initiate controversy and discord among moms.  There is one network, in particular, that I recently unfollowed because it was clear they cared less about genuine varying viewpoints on parenting and more about starting fires for follows.

Differing opinions are good, healthy debate is good, sharing personal experiences is good.  But please stop perpetuating mommy wars with your ridiculous hook lines and asinine subtitles.  We are smarter than that and we are onto you.

***

Bottom line, parenting can be exhausting. Life can be exhausting. I can’t control the outside world, but I can control how much of it I let in and allow to affect my parenting.

I love being a mom. I am not a perfect mom and it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows, but I love being a mom. So, I’m going to focus on my own little piece of art over here and teach my kids to filter out the useless, unproductive noise of the world as much as possible.

Oh, and I am also going to teach them not to eat glue.

Because seriously, WTF, Albert?

xo,

Jen

*Names have been changed in order to protect the guilty.
**Fake names may or may not rhyme with actual names.

***

“I mean, you were never fat, but…,” a friend.
“Freshman 15? More like the Freshman 30,” a boyfriend.
“Over capacity on elevator! Elevator’s going to break because of girl in green jeans,” a stranger.
“She looks like she’s lost weight, has she? No? Oh, I thought she had…” a family member.

These things were all said to or about me over twenty years ago. It’s funny how I can still hear them all so clearly in my head even today. I know exactly where I was. I can tell you exactly what I was wearing.

No, wait, scratch that.  It’s actually not funny that I remember it.

It’s incredibly sad.

Words can do a number on you, right? It’s amazing how much power they hold, how quickly they can be rattled off and how long they can stay bouncing around inside your head.  Positive, kind words can stick and push you to excel, give you confidence, remind you what you’re capable of. Negative words can shatter your spirit, make you question your capabilities and leave you grappling with self worth for years.

My weight has always fluctuated. I was never naturally thin, but I was never considered very overweight. I have gained and lost the same twenty pounds my entire life (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less). And I have always struggled mentally with my weight and my identity in relation to my weight.

So, as I was going through old photos last weekend, trying to find a particular picture from a trip years ago, I stumbled on this shot:

This is me on New Year’s Eve in 1999.

I remember this night. I remember that dress. I remember thinking I had no business wearing it (and not because it looked like maroon tin foil). I remember worrying that people would think I looked chubby. I remember holding in my stomach a lot. I remember drinking more at the party so that I wouldn’t be so self conscious. And this was during a thin time in the the never-ending hamster wheel of my weight fluctuations.

I look at this photo today and I think: What the f*ck?!

I wish I could go back in time and tell this 20-something girl that she is worth more than the shell that she is wrapped in.

I’ve written about body image before and my struggle with the same, but I want to be very clear: I don’t write about this because I want comments on how you don’t think I’m overweight or how you think I look great or don’t see what I see. As sweet and as kind as that is, I actually want us to learn that it has nothing to do with me needing reassurance and everything to do with why we are talking about it at all.

No matter what size you are, you can have body issues. Let me say that again: no matter what size you are, you can have body issues.  Don’t let people dismiss your very real feelings, because they don’t think you have anything to complain about. It doesn’t matter if you are ten pounds or one hundred pounds away from where you think you should be.  If you feel it, it exists. And there is no quota you have to reach before the number on a scale can do a number on you.

I wasn’t raised in a household where weight and appearance were a large focus. My mom was a naturally thin person and she never dieted or set a poor example with food or body image as we watched.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the way on my own, I decided beauty and weight were important to my self worth. And ever since that switch was turned on, I have struggled to push it back down or snuff out the thought altogether – especially since entering my step-daughter’s life and having my own daughter, Ivy.

I definitely have failed in the past as an example, especially in the early days as a new stepmom. My step-daughter watched me do every “diet” program out there. She overheard me telling my husband multiple times that “I just needed to lose…” and she was there as I joked about feeling like a busted can of biscuits.

Do I think small comments like this can do harm? Absolutely. Especially when they become a running theme in your household.

Months ago, I was attempting yet another new diet and every morning I would strip down and weigh myself, as my three-year old watched.  She has asked what the scale is numerous times, but she doesn’t (thankfully) yet understand what it means.  On about the tenth day of doing this, and looking over to see her waiting patiently to go downstairs for breakfast, a flash of complete shame washed over me. Shame, sadness and anger at myself.

One of the first things I started doing after I had Ivy was make decisions based on these factors: “Would you want the girls doing this? Is this something you would want your daughters to feel?”  And it has helped me so much to be a better person to myself and others. So, what was stopping me from doing this when it came to my own appearance and self-worth?

I finally decided to make a full stop. A full stop on diets, “skinny” gimmicks and the exhausting hamster wheel of “If I just lose this much…”

I decided that I needed to focus on health and less on weight. I spent hours online doing research. And I kept coming back to this Whole30 book.

Ok, I’m going to be honest.  Initially, every time I saw this Whole30 thing mentioned on social media, I thought it was something people were selling. I skipped right past it. But then I started to read about it and the theory behind it – and the main fact that this is not a diet. This is not a quick weight loss challenge. This is a way to learn about and look at food differently.

And it has changed everything for me.

As much as I loved this program, I also kind of hate calling it a “program” and saying it’s name, in general. It makes me sound like I’m writing a sponsored post and I am not. I’m writing to tell you how this has rocked my world and changed my mindset completely. And let me tell you, it took decades to get here, so hell yes, I’m going to write about it.

I am not going to go into the specifics of the program. (Sorry, you’re going to have to take the initiative and learn about it on your own.) I will say that the entire concept is going back to whole foods and eliminating processed garbage filled with sugar and mood-altering chemicals. Yes, mood altering. By eliminating some food groups for a temporary period, I learned which foods affect me positively and negatively – as well as a whole lot of other things about myself.

This is what happened when I did the Whole30:

  • My energy skyrocketed
  • My chronic anxiety lessened dramatically
  • I was diagnosed with PMDD years ago; my cycle came and went this month without the usual horrific mood swings (this one was a total shock)
  • My suspicions that I have a lactose intolerance were finally confirmed
  • My daughter now asks for yogurt and fruit for a snack or apples and peanut butter, rather than chips or chocolate (it’s amazing how when options change, littles quickly adjust)
  • Constant cravings for junk have completely subsided
  • I feel healthy

That last one? Yeah, that is the kicker for me. As the weeks went on in this program, I started focusing less on how my jeans fit and more about how great I felt. There is something about eating whole, healthy foods that makes you feel strong – and makes you think less and less about what number is on a stupid scale.

Did I lose weight? Yep. Am I going to tell you how much? Nope. Because weight loss is NOT why I did this. I started this program with the determination that I would focus on health and not weight. And that mindset is what got me through this and ended up delivering a whole new outlook on life for which I will be eternally grateful. I feel healthy and strong. And I’ll be damned if I ever make food the enemy in my house again. Not for me and definitely not for my children.

Whole30 is hard. It is. If you’re looking for a quick low carb diet that will get you in a bikini next month, don’t bother. You’re not doing it for the right reason. If you want to make a real life change and be more mindful about what you are eating and feeding your children, then do it. You can do it if you do it for the right reasons.

Decades of self-damage do not dissolve in one month and I’m sure I haven’t miraculously solved all of my body issues in thirty days. But I do think that I have finally found a way to live moving forward that feels nothing like a diet and everything like a choice.

The Whole30 may not be for you.  But if you are struggling with body issues, find something that does work for you. Keep looking. Find a way to live that gives you confidence and strength.  Retrain your brain.  Talk to someone, know you aren’t alone. Never stop trying to know better and be better.

Make that choice for you and make that choice for the beautiful little eyes watching.

xo,

Jen

***

Why is my house quiet? Why did I wake up this morning without my three year old, Ivy, staring at me ala The Ring?

The reason for this temporary euphoria is because my 13-year old step-daughter had a sleepover last night. And when big sister has a sleepover, Ivy considers herself a plus one and doesn’t leave her side. So, I have a house with teens and toddlers all sleeping away until likely noon.

Cue birds chirping and mice singing while making me a pot of fresh coffee.

A lot of people ask me how it is to have the girls so far apart in age, and my immediate response is always, “It’s great!” And I mean that. There is nothing I would change about their age difference, because the bond they have is so tight – even with those ten years between them.

This is what our family looks like. These two girls and us. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think one of the hardest challenges for stepmoms may be the constant need to make our families feel whole in a dynamic where our husband or partner had a life before us that included a completely different family. I know it is something I have struggled with, especially in the beginning. It is absolutely normal to feel this way. Hey, the world is changing and what a family looks like is, thankfully, changing as well to encompass all sorts of lovely combinations. However, that doesn’t mean us step moms do not have human moments where we wish we were the first and last wife. The only wife, to be frank. And we wish we shared experiences with our spouse that he did not experience before.

These feelings are perfectly acceptable and no one should be ashamed of them. For some stepmoms, it can be really difficult to get over and past this mental hump. Your husband had a life before you. A wife before you. And I get asked quite often how I deal with it. This is always my answer:

Accept it. And respect it.

Respect it?

Yep.

Let’s be clear, I’m not telling you to throw your husband and his ex an anniversary party every year or have your spouse retell the story of how they met over and over.  *Shudder*  I am saying that it helped – and helps –  me, personally, to accept what was, compartmentalize it and move forward with a healthier perspective. Their relationship didn’t work out, but it did happen. Instead of dismissing it as a failure, so that I can feel superior, I choose to view it as a stepping stone that eventually led them down a better path. And bright side: that path eventually led my husband to me.

In the public stepmom world, we witness some pretty nasty views about “the ex.”

He never loved her anyway.
He was trapped in the marriage.
He was miserable the whole time.

I know every situation is different and there are definitely high-conflict situations where ugliness is being thrown about with reckless abandon.  However, if you are particularly struggling with the fact that your husband had a wife before you, then I urge you to look at it a different way.

Stop focusing on the fact that this woman is your husband’s ex and see her as the mother of your step-child(ten). 

Although I acknowledge my husband was married once before, that relationship had nothing to do with me, so it makes no sense for me to dwell on it or deny it.

And lets think about those ugly comments, in particular, for a moment. Would you want someone dismissing your marriage – whether it failed or not?  I’m pretty sure dismissing a first marriage feels just as lousy as someone dismissing the second. Also, and most importantly, let’s pretend that your step-child(ren) heard you saying those things. Is it okay to take one giant swipe to discount an entire relationship, one that happened to bring a child/children into this world,  whether it was successful or not? Children of divorce sacrifice so much.  Why would anyone want to dissolve or dismiss what may be one of the few happy memories or ideas they have of their parents being together?

Aside from a mindset trapping you in a sea of negativity and making you look petty and bitter, this outlook will also stunt you from growth, maturity and moving on, in general.

My husband had a wife before me. My husband had a family before me. And out of their love, I received one of the greatest gifts ever: a beautiful step-daughter and a wonderful sister for Ivy.  I will not discredit their relationship or past life. And though I certainly won’t dwell on it, I also won’t shut my eyes and cover my ears and pretend it never happened. Just as I wouldn’t want anyone to dismiss my marriage or family now.

If we accept our husband’s past and stop denying that it was real and that it happened, it will bring our mind peace moving forward.  More importantly, we will be a better step-parent for it.

Empathy is huge if you are to get by in this step-parent world. You have to have it or you will struggle constantly. Let’s push down these walls of us vs. them and put ourselves in their situation as often as we can (and, hopefully, they will provide us the same courtesy). I’m not saying this will solve all of our co-parenting issues, but I do promise – this will open a floodgate of newfound understanding, compassion and common ground.

Let’s do it for them and do it for us. But most importantly, let’s do it for our very whole families.

xo,

Jen

***

’Tis the season… of chaos.

How is everyone hanging in there? I always think I have it so together about a month before Christmas and then all hell breaks loose about two weeks out. Shopping is done, for the most part. Baking, not so much. Wrapping? Not a single gift has been looked at since being shoved in the closet or hidden under a down comforter.

Ugh, I dread the wrapping.

I always try to psych myself up for it by convincing myself it will be peaceful, relaxed and merry. I pour myself a glass of wine, turn on the first of my annual gift-wrapping movie line-up (The Holiday, Love Actually and The Family Stone, to be exact) and then commence. Within three minutes, I’m calling the lost tape and scissors unimaginably inappropriate names and I can usually hear Brian from the other room cursing whatever he’s trying to put together.

It’s magic.

I really did think we were on the ball this year. Or, let’s be honest, I thought I was on the ball this year. I am the CEO of Christmas in this house. Brian is my executive assistant.  I know when I say that, it may sound demeaning, but I swear it’s not. I think a better description would be that I’m like a disheveled, drunk CEO who gets business done – but also leaves a trail of chaos in my wake.  And poor Brian is the poor assistant/AA sponsor that has to clean up behind me and get me back on track.

Have you seen Sixteen Candles? You know that scene where the two grandmas are making breakfast and kooky Grandma #1 is flipping pancakes while holding an incredibly ashy cigarette and talking away – all while Grandma #2 is holding a spatula under the cigarette trying to catch the ash before it falls into their breakfast.

I think you can guess whose who in the above scenario.

Anyway, one thing we did get done and off the list was our annual holiday card. We actually got this one done pretty early, because I was tired of laying awake at night worrying that a) it wouldn’t look exactly as I envisioned it; and 2) someone else would beat us to our idea.

That’s so ridiculous, right?  I mean, who else out there wastes time thinking up Christmas cards like this, right?

I’m not sure if you know this about us, but we take our holiday cards very seriously. Not a matching-pajamas-kind-of-serious (I think those are totally cute, by the way) or a nice-family-photo-where-everyone-is-smiling-serious.

I mean serious.

Here’s a few cards from Christmas past just so you fully understand.

 

Unfortunately, we did not break the internet that year.

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I’m kind of mortified how this one actually ended up being a prophecy of sorts. At the time, we didn’t know who the two primary candidates would be.

So, yeah. Christmas cards are kind of a big deal for us.

I’m not sure why we started to really get into them to this level.  I think about four or five years ago, we made a ridiculous one of us holding our pets and people thought it was funny.  And, we’ll kind of do anything for a laugh, so every year after, we decided to up the ante a bit.

This year’s card was, by far, my favorite.  We are huge Game of Thrones fans and so we knew nearly a year ago what this year’s card was going to be about.  I obsess over our costumes and the scene – and even the wording on the cards.  Luckily, my husband is nearly as obsessive as me.  So, we make a really great team in the weird department.

This year, I thought that I’d post some photos of the process.  A lot of people think that we take several shots of all of us together until we get a good one, but what they don’t realize is that we rarely ever shoot everyone in the same shot.  We usually have sessions one by one, so these photos are probably even trickier to do than people think.  This is where my husband gets all of the credit.  He’s a photography genius, in my opinion.  He knows exactly where everyone needs to be in order to have us look like we are all together in the final piece.  And his artistic eye, editing and photoshop skills are phenomenal.

We always shoot Ivy first and once she is done, we all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Ivy’s part is a big part of what keeps me up at night every year, because you never know what a toddler is going to do (or not do). She blows my mind every year – and she usually has the most complicated role.

Talent lunch break.

fullsizerender

What you can’t see here is me to the right, kneeling and showing her how to breathe fire – and her mimicking me.  Hannah is ducking behind the stool to make sure she doesn’t fall.

 

I’m not going to lie, I’m not above bribery when it comes to Ivy and these shoots.  This year I think we got away with just a cookie.  Last year, she got a trip to Target and the toy aisle.

Have you ever tried dressing your two-year old up like Donald Trump? Don’t you judge me! 

After Ivy is finished with her shot, things are a little more relaxed – though my husband would likely beg to differ. I readily admit I’m a bear when it comes to the shots we take and my opinion on if they look how I feel they should.  In my defense, I spend so much time and preparation studying the actual characters we portray and how they stand, what they wear, etc. that it would seem such a waste if we didn’t do it right.  Right?

Case in point: I’m irritated that my Lannister lion pendant didn’t show up in our finished photo.

See what I mean?

But we do have fun, I promise!  Hannah loves getting dressed up every year – even though half the time, she has no idea who she’s dressed as.  This year, she looked over some photos of Daenerys and she was really excited.  (I think she kept that wig on for a full hour after her shots were done.)

 

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It doesn’t look difficult, until you’ve been standing there for 30 minutes with one arm elevated while having your dad and step-mom repeatedly tell you to put your shoulders back, stand up straight and keep your elbow level.  

As you can see, we do these sessions from our house.  So, we clear out our living room and put up the backdrop.  And every year, as we are dressed up like strange characters, I pray that no one comes to the door.  It would be mighty awkward for Cersei Lannister or the Mother of Dragons to be greeting the FedEx guy at 10 am on Saturday in suburbia.

Brian was having a hard time trying to look menacing while also not looking narcoleptic.

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. Am I right, Cersei?

Oddest GoT couple ever.

 

Besides Brian’s awesome photography skills, he also had double-duty this year as he was both Jon Snow and Santa.  It cracked me up how this confused so many people. They thought we brought an extra in for our family card!

Peace out, Santa!

So, there you have it. Some behind the scenes fun!

I hope you all liked our card this year.  I know that our cards can be confusing to people who aren’t familiar with the shows or current affairs we’re covering, but we try to make them just crazy enough that everyone will get some kind of amusement out of them.

As for next year, I can honestly say I have no idea what we’ll be doing.  But I’m guessing 2017 will give us something to work with.

xo,

Jen

So angelic, right? Yeah, keep reading.

 

First things first, I have eaten cheesy hash brown potatoes (leftover from Thanksgiving) for breakfast every morning since last Thursday.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to tell you that, but I thought I should cop to it somewhere.

I feel better.

Moving on…

The holidays are officially in full swing over here in the Farmer household and I couldn’t be happier. What is it about holiday music and movies and decorations that brings such a feeling of utopia to so many people?  It’s almost like earth pumps out uppers into the hemisphere getting most of us high for the entire month of December.

Inhale, people. INHALE.

The downers are getting pumped out in January.

I’m ahead of the game on shopping and decorations and prep, in general, which is shocking.  We already have our crazy Christmas card photo shoot in the bag (one of my all-time favorites, I think) and yesterday, we attempted – and semi-succeeded in getting – a real family photo.

Ugh.

Why is it so hard to get a simple family photo?!  I’m not going to lie – it was a total pain in the ass to get even one good photo of all of us. Not to mention, it was nearly impossible to get all – no, just – four of us together long enough to get a photo.  I’m just going to throw it out there that family photos are hard, in general, to get coordinated.  Family photos, when you have a blended family, seem nearly impossible.

When my step-daughter, Hannah, was younger, we all had a more structured and set schedule of time, so it was easier to plan things like family photos and holidays and trips, etc.  Now that she is older – with dance and school activities and a social life – every week is often up in the air. And when we do have time with her, she’s often tired (man, teenagers sleep… a lot).  And, so, in the midst of the chaos that is co-parenting, I have been frustrated and irritated lately.  Not at Hannah, or her parents, or anyone.  Just at the situation itself.

I’ve talked before about the roller coaster that is step-parenting (here), and a friend just wrote to me this weekend saying that she goes back to that post often to remind herself she’s not alone.  Her message actually made me go back and read it, and I am actually glad I did.  I was especially grateful to be reminded of this part:

 

You can be told a a thousand different times by a thousand different people what a wonderful step-mom you are. And you can still feel sad and angry and like a giant, fat failure.

Because, you are HUMAN.

You do not sign a waiver to FEELINGS when you become a step-parent.

 

The above was a good reminder that we are all human.  I often say, “We are all in this together as much as we are all in this apart,” because this is such a complicated role.  I really encourage you step-mamas to lean on each other.  I promise you that no one is going to understand these experiences better than another step-parent.  Those angry, selfish little thoughts running through your head that you never say out loud?  We all have them. And they are ok.  It’s how you choose to process them and react to them that matters.  And when you bounce your thoughts off other step-parents, you are more likely to process them clearly, feel validation and handle them in a way that is healthy for everyone.

I think the biggest thing I have learned about step-parenting is this:

The minute you think you have one area of this role mastered, the theme park opens a whole new wing of obstacle courses. 

Once you realize the above – and accept it – things do get better.  BUT they will never be easy or perfect. So, cut yourself some slack. Let yourself feel what you’re feeling.  And don’t ever stuff your feelings down below, because you are ashamed that they are not the right feelings.  Trust me, that will only build a volcano of resentment inside that will eventually erupt and hurt everyone.

As for that new wing in our theme park? We are currently entering the The Teenager Activity Phase Maze.  I highly recommend it if you enjoy sadism.

***

Aside from the complication of what felt like herding cats in order to schedule a family photo, can we talk about the chaos of trying to get a three year old ginger pterodactyl to smile?!

I totally had to look up the correct spelling of pterodactyl. I was not expecting that “p” to be there. 

Let me break down to you what ensued just to get that pained, posed smile where she looks like she’s enduring shock-therapy like a champ.  Because it was a living nightmare and I want you to suffer just reading it, so I feel less alone.

-Three year old is prepped all day that today is family photo day.
-Three year old seems cool with it all day.
-Three year old sits on a throne of lies.
-Three year old decides to be a dog for family photo.
-Request by parents is made to stop barking at the camera and panting.
-Giant sized meltdown ensues because three-year-old is forbidden to pose like a dog.
-Bribery is proposed by parents to end meltdown.
-Three year old refuses bribe.
-A threat to call Santa is made.
-Three year old calls bluff.
-A very heated phone conversation with Santa is overheard by three year old.
-Epic sized meltdown ensues (due to the above).
-A promise is made to call Santa back and secure three year old’s spot on Nice List IF three year old apologizes and participates in photo.
-Defeated apology is uttered by three year old.
-Three year old is suddenly giddy at reinstatement to Nice List.
-Several requests are made for three year old to “act normal” for just one photo.
-Parents give up and head to liquor cabinet.

I’m seriously exhausted from just writing that and reliving it in my memory.

I would like to raise my hand in solidarity to every parent out there trying to get a family photo. I would also like to raise my hand in solidarity to every photographer who has to try and get that one good shot of a family.  In this case, it was my poor husband – running back and forth to the tripod.  (He also had to endure me sitting next to him while he edited the photos. At one point, he actually asked me to bring him the bottle of scotch – the BOTTLE.)

So, there you have it.  I have officially broken every promise to myself I made before becoming a parent on things I would never do or say to my child.  Go ahead and judge away. We are all free to judge! In fact, I’m judging you for judging me.

So there.

I wish you all beautiful family photos capturing genuine beautiful smiles and love radiating from each tiny, happy face.

I also wish you a dancing unicorn who sneezes glitter and has four million dollars and unlimited gift cards to Starbucks in his saddle pocket.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

xo,

Jen

 

Photographic proof of our session:

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It’s 11:30 pm and I have been sitting in the dark, staring at my open laptop – and the above quote – trying to figure out what it is I need to say.

I have been restless for a week.  Luckily, work has been extremely busy, so it has occupied much of my time – but in the few quiet moments I’ve had, I have sat in silence, my thoughts turning over and over in my head until I’m exhausted.

I have struggled with writing what I’m thinking, because I am aware that I have somewhat of an audience – be it little or large, it makes no difference when you know people are watching. And so I have grappled between being true to myself – or writing about what people want to read.

And then I remember…

I don’t owe anyone a damned thing.

I am not selling anything. I am not representing anything or anyone – other than myself.  This blog carries on from nearly ten blogs before it – when I had an audience of none – when I wrote for no other reason than wanting to write.

Recently, my sister-in-law said to me, after I followed up a post with some clarifications, “That is ridiculous. You don’t need to clarify anything. These are your own thoughts.”  And my response was, “Well, I would hate for anyone to think that I meant…” 

You know what?

You’ve got it!

Chuck it.

***

During my mom’s last visit, she brought out a stack of papers she found in an old desk of mine from high school.  Much of it was random musings of a teenager – overly-dramatic poems (which Brian and I had a good laugh reading through together), some school papers that included articles I wrote (they spelled my first name wrong in the byline), a start to a young adult book (that I only let my sister read, at the time, and she readily critiqued)…  and mixed in with all of it was a typed up letter I had written to the Voice of the People section of the local newspaper.

 

To whom it may concern:

I have a few things to say and I hope you find it important enough to put in your VOICE OF THE PEOPLE section in your newspaper.

I may be writing this a little late but I still think that what I want to say should be listened to.  It’s about the burning of the flag. Lots of people say that burning the flag is a horrid act. That the flag stands for freedom. A freedom in which men fought and died for. A freedom in which we worked so hard to get. The flag states our freedom to think and live as we please. A freedom to our own color, religion and our way of living. I agree the flag stands for all of this. I agree that the flag shouldn’t be used to get back at the government for something they are doing wrong. I don’t think the flag should be burned.  But isn’t every person who has a prejudice against anyone different than themselves also going against everything the flag stands for also? Every time a person curses another’s color, religion or sex, aren’t they also burning the flag?  Not physically so others can see them, but verbally when they hate those different from themselves.  So what is so different if people burn the flag through a match rather than through their mouths? I think that doing one is just as bad as the other. I think both actions are wrong.  So everyone out there who can say that they think that burning the flag is an outrage and wrong, but they themselves have gone against what the flag stands for, well, just think of the ways they’ve burnt it in one way or another.

Another thing, I am not some kind of ‘80s hippy who wants to go around and save the world. I’m just a fifteen year old kid who wants to be heard and not just seen.

J.B.

 

After reading this letter, I laughed at my then-15-year old self and set it aside. I had forgotten that I used to write letters every so often to the newspaper.  I never mailed one of them – but, as is the same case today, just getting my thoughts on paper was therapeutic.

However, a few days ago as I was sorting through my desk and I ran across the letter, I sat down and read it to myself again. And this time I felt a weight land heavily on my chest.

Make no mistake, I don’t think that letter was profound in any way. I certainly don’t think it had any kind of genius message.  But, I do want to know: why didn’t I mail it? 

I want to grab that 15 year old girl by the shoulders and scream, “MAIL IT!”  I want someone else to have grabbed that 15-year old and told her:

“Don’t be scared. Let them hear your voice. Act. If you believe in something, ACT.”  

Do not let the fear of how you may look sideline the truth of how you feel. 

So, here I am.  Decades later.  With little blue eyes watching now. And I am never going to make that mistake again.

I will say it and I will live it. And I am not going to keep quiet in order to appear gracious and neutral.

In our home, we don’t “tolerate” love – we embrace it.  
In our home, religious freedom is just that – freedom. For all religions.
In our home, your religious beliefs (or lack of them) do not define your humanity. Your actions define your humanity.
In our home, black lives matter.
In our home, we understand it is our responsibility to take care of this planet.
In our home, we understand and appreciate this country is made of a melting pot of immigrants, which include my great-grandparents and likely yours.
In our home, we don’t turn our backs on our suffering neighbors.
In our home, free thought is encouraged.
In our home, science is not just a theory.
In our home, women’s rights are human rights.
In our home, we don’t build walls.
In our home, we break down walls.

And another thing…

Peaceful protests aren’t the byproduct of giving kids participation trophies. They are the byproduct of the First Amendment.

Expressing sadness over a world turned upside down by election results doesn’t equate to “babies” not getting their way.  It equates to genuine sadness.

You don’t get to call yourself pro-life unless you are fighting for ALL lives.  (Perhaps click here for a better understanding.)

I don’t define all democrats by clusters of rioting in otherwise peaceful demonstrations, just as I don’t define all republicans by organized Ku Klux Klan “victory” parades celebrating the president-elect.

***

Listen, this is no longer about an election. I am not denying the president-elect won. He won. That part is over now. And, as I told Hannah tonight over dinner, Donald Trump is going to be our president and we have to respect that.  But I also told her that doesn’t mean we stop standing up for what we believe in or doing what is right.

I may be going to Washington in January to march – and if not there, the sister-march in St. Louis. (I would hope that everyone has read and realizes the Women’s March is not a protest against Trump – it is a march for women’s rights.)

If I do go, Ivy will not understand why right now.

But when she comes across a photo of it in a desk twenty years from now, she will know.  And I will have done more than mailing it in.

xo,

Jen

 

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***

Yesterday. It was nearly 5pm, I was under the gun with a work project. My three and a half year-old, Ivy, was being unusually high-maintenance. The dogs were being insanely rowdy. Our house was (and still is) a mess. Western stand-off music played in my head as I walked from the living room to the kitchen and tumbleweeds of dog hair rolled by.  Ivy’s underpants that I washed and folded three days ago are now scattered across the rug on the floor. Endless mugs of unfinished coffee cover my kitchen island.

When my husband came home, he grabbed the dogs and took them for a walk, so I could finish my work.  I finished up and, as they were still gone, I grabbed a glass of red wine and went upstairs to do something I never, ever do: take a hot bath.  I made a glorious, sudsy oasis (using dish soap, of course, because we have no bubble bath) and was about to step in when Ivy appeared behind me, back from what felt like the quickest walk in history.

“You takin’ a bath, Mom?”

Yes.

She looks over my shoulder and observes my glass, “You havin’ wine?”

Yes.

“Ok. Did you want one of my bath toys?”

I just started laughing. As much as I want my alone time, who can be annoyed with a tiny human offering you her bath toys?

So, she stayed in the bathroom with me – and played with her bath toys from the other side of the tub –  while I just sat there, sipping my wine and washing off the day.

***

Some days are harder than others. For all of us.  But, yesterday as I sat working – still in my pajamas with unbrushed teeth at 5pm – I looked around my chaotic, messy, home and I just said to myself:

Chuck it in the f*ck it bucket.

My husband is right: You’re not expected to do it all.  But, even more importantly, sometimes you don’t even have to do half of it.

  • Laundry: It gets done (on my end) in this house when I’ve officially run out of jeans or good underwear. Chuck it.
  • Cleaning: My husband often sings out “Nothing cleans like company!” when we are expecting people over, because that’s usually the only time we thoroughly clean this home.  Chuck it.
  • Ivy doesn’t seem to be phasing out of her I am terrified of everyone except my immediate family phase. She hisses at people in the grocery store and clamps her hands over her eyes when anyone looks at her. Because I have run out of excuses, I no longer make apologizes. so I basically just look like I’m raising a total asshole  Chuck it. 
  • I’m sure there are moms out there who just read the above and think I am raising a total asshole.  Chuck it.
  • Willow, our dog, is digging holes all over our backyard and nothing seems to stop her. Chuck it. 
  • I’ve killed every plant in this house out of pure neglect because unless you are a toddler telling me you are hungry 57 times a day or a dog nudging me incessantly at meal time, I can’t be in charge of your livelihood. Chuck it.
  • I watched four bananas die a slow painful death on my counter and I didn’t even make banana bread. Chuck it. 
  • We are retraining Ivy to sleep in her bed, because she’s suddenly scared of everything. I have done an army crawl out of her bedroom more often than I care to admit. Chuck it.
  • I owe about 50 friends, family, etc. emails, return texts, messages, etc. and I don’t even know where to begin. Chuck it. 
  • At all times, I feel like I have 50 balls up in the air – and I only catch about 7. The rest land on my head. Chuck it.
  • And, lastly, it is guaranteed I will have more than one person read this post and think, “You think that’s bad, try having….”  CHUCK YOU!

Here’s the thing: as much as we are all in this thing together, we are all in this thing alone. So, decide for yourself what you want to throw in the f*ck it bucket. It’s YOUR f*ck it bucket and you can do whatever you want with it! That’s the beauty.

You may care about a clean house more than I do (for the record, I think everyone on earth cares more about a clean house than I do). But I’m of the mind that as long as you are not living in filth that qualifies for a social services well-being check, you’re a winner in my book!

We all have things that appear higher on the list of priorities than others. And everyone gets to decide what tops their list.  A word to the wise: keep your eyes on your own list.  What matters to others may not matter at all to you – so don’t let other people’s priorities trick you into thinking they should be yours as well.

And maybe consider chucking all of those “How to…” articles in your bucket as well.  Then start a running dialog in your head that begins with “How I…”

xo

Jen

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Please tell me you know what that quote is from. Otherwise, leave now.

Just kidding.

Go look it up and come back… We’ll wait.

Got it?

Great! Let’s move on.

I haven’t had the urge to write for awhile. At all.  This should probably always be taken as a good sign, as I’ve said before that I tend to write when I’m down or going through something.  But things have been going well – and busy – and every time I go to write lately, I fizzle out.  Or a squirrel runs by…

Also, honestly, sometimes I go through these phases where I feel cornered in my writing. I have tried very hard to stay true to my own path in what I choose to write about and, as I’ve also said before many times, I mostly write as a one-off purge. I write what I’m thinking or feeling at that moment, get it out there – and move on.  The minute I start to be “expected” to write about certain topics (step-parenting, in particular), I feel trapped and want to do the exact OPPOSITE.  I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is – and, after some serious soul-searching, I think I’ve figured it out:

I am not just a step-mom.

I don’t know why that matters to me so much to say (or type) out loud.  I don’t think anyone is even accusing me of being “just” a stepmom.  But sometimes I feel pushed into a corner, as if it’s some kind of niche I’ve hit upon, and there is so much more to me – and to all of us step-parents!

So, let me just have a general mom moment here.  Because I don’t go to the grocery store with Hannah and Ivy and think, “This is my daughter and step-daughter.”  In fact, I don’t think of it much at all, most days.  They are just “ours” – all of us co-parents’.

And there ain’t one “step” – and certainly no “half” – about it!

***

We’ve had a busy, busy few weeks – and I’m exhausted.  Brian and I just returned from a much-needed and much-appreciated (thank you, Mom and Tante Janet for watching our little red dragon!) getaway to New York.  We have been there many times together and so we’ve been to pretty much all of the “must do” tourist attractions.  So, when we go now, we both like to explore neighborhoods and go off the beaten path – and we had a great time!

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Brian doing what he does!

 

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Day-Date in Central Park

 

*I do want to note that we did tour the 9/11 Memorial, which I honestly cannot recommend enough.  There is no way to put the experience into words, so you will have to see it for yourselves.  It is so incredibly well-done – but know that you will be emotionally drained by the time you are through it.  Brian and I both were in awe, but also said we never wanted to have to go back – though we will, because there is no way we won’t take Ivy and Hannah. It is so incredibly important.

Since we returned from New York, the panic of not getting Ivy to a pumpkin patch before Halloween set in (so ridiculous, I know) and we headed to Eckert’s Millstadt Family Fun Farm.  Ivy had a blast picking her own pumpkin from the patch (she wanted a green one) and petting all of the animals. We also did the corn maze. (I can neither confirm nor deny if we cheated.)

Check Obligatory Pumpkin Patch visit off the list.

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She was very specific about finding a small, green pumpkin.
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Waiting for the pig races.

 

When looking at these pumpkin farm photos and others, I feel as if people often wonder where Hannah is in most of my Instagram or Facebook photos, and I’ve finally given myself a pass on worrying about it.  The simple truth is that Hannah is a teenager and also a very busy kid – and when she’s not at dance, or poms (she recently made Captain – woo hoo!), she has a more active social life than Britney Spears in 2001.  (Not that she’s doing anything Britney Spears may or may not have been doing in 2001!)  So, to wrangle her for candid photos – much less the mini-sessions I have with Ivy – is pretty much impossible.

It’s very rare that I get Hannah to myself these days – it’s very rare that any of us do! We’re all treasuring our time with our social bug when we can get it.  But sometimes I think back to when she was just 5 or 6 and Brian used to work every Sunday, so I’d have her to myself.  Those were such treasured, fun times.  We had little traditions every Sunday: swimming, shopping and having lunch.  I’d hear all about her friends and ideas, etc.  She’d tell me animated stories and I’d think how fast she was growing up – even back then.

We don’t get much one-on-one time these days. When she is with us, Ivy – of course – wants to be with her sister and vice-versa. I’ve actually learned to savor the small moments Hannah and I get.  When Brian is traveling for work, I pick her up from dance – and in those car rides and the nights she stays over while Brian is away, we pack in a lot of conversations and catching up.

Today was a day to savor.  Brian wanted to get yard work done – and I took the girls for a fun day at Chuck E Cheese’s.  I had forgotten how fun this place is!  Of course, Ivy dove right in.  And the sweetest part of the day was watching Hannah show Ivy all of her favorite games and rides from when she was younger.  And – can I just get an Amen! that you no longer have to deal with all those tokens?!  They now have Play Passes that scan at each game/ride.  (But don’t worry, those glorious, coveted tickets still spit out when you win!)

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She quickly caught on to the appeal of the “tickets”.
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I cannot adequately express the amount of danger Ivy poses while playing skee ball.
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Sisters.

 

We ate lunch, played for hours and came home exhausted.  It was a great day alone with the girls that I will savor – the joy of watching them together always makes my heart burst a little more.  There is such a love between them, a deep and true love. This is why I do wince a bit every time I over-hear someone use the term “half-siblings” – because I honestly can’t imagine any two sisters more whole.

xo,

Jen

 

:: Our day at Chuck E. Cheese’s was sponsored. The fun and quality time we had was priceless! ::

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Wow.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

After writing my post yesterday about the anxiety I’ve been dealing with (and hitting the “publish” button with one eye closed), I told myself that if even one person knew what I was experiencing and made me feel less “crazy” than I would be better off for having shared it.  I had no idea that I would receive so many emails, texts, comments and messages from people telling me they knew exactly how I felt – or had similar experiences with anxiety – or just wanted to tell me that they are here to listen if I ever need them.  You guys are FANTASTIC!  I haven’t been able to respond to every message yet – but I promise that is for no other reason than I want to respond and give you the attention you deserve. Your shared experiences are so appreciated.

All that said, I do want to follow up and clarify a few things that I wrote, so I can move on fully. When I write, I don’t plan it out. I just write. I find that’s the best way for me to write honestly and raw – and if I try to do it any other way, it doesn’t feel genuine to me or my thought process.  That’s why you will see missed spelling errors, etc. I write, publish and then edit – which is a pretty accurate description of how I go about life in general.

I’m such a rule breaker.

Anyway, after I publish these things – I realize that some of it could be misconstrued or translated negatively. And – because of my now well-documented anxiety – I get anxious when I think I might be misunderstood. So, let me clarify some things (if only to appease my own mind):

  • When I wrote “I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids… I didn’t have a whole lot of love to lose,” I want to make it very clear that I was talking about a very personal, self-destructive part of my life that had nothing to do with not having a husband or child(ren) and everything to do with me not having much self-worth. What I meant was, at this time, I didn’t care what I did to myself and I didn’t have a whole lot of love for myself  and that’s why I wrote that I didn’t have a lot of love to lose. I want to make it especially clear that I don’t think you need a partner or children to be “whole” or have a life full of love.  Anyone who really knows me already knows this very well; however, I would hate for anyone to think that I feel you need to be married with 2.5 kids to be happy or content.
  • When I write about being a usually “carefree mom,” it is not my intent to make other moms or parents feel inferior because they do things differently. I honestly think who we are as parents has trickled down from who we are, naturally, as people. I am laid-back (maybe sometimes too much), because that’s how I am as a person in most things (unless there’s a gorilla sitting on my chest telling me the ceiling fan is gong too fast and will fly off and kill us all.*). I’m not saying my way is the right way. I’m saying this is how I naturally am and it has nothing to do with who you naturally are or how you parent.
  • I wrote that I don’t like to talk about my miscarriages anymore. I want to clarify that I don’t want to ever write about them again. That said, if you are having recurrent miscarriages or fertility issues and you want more information on what finally worked for us, please, please message me. I don’t ever want people to think that because I don’t want to write about it, I also don’t want to tell them our experience and help them.  I am more than willing to help anyone who is going through that on a private level. I want to help people.  Talking to other people is what led us in the right direction of getting the right treatment and ultimately having that red-headed firecracker in our lives!

Ok, so now that that is off my chest… thank you again so much for all of your comments and messages. They not only help me, but you are helping so many other people by sharing!  Sometimes, there is strength in numbers – and this is one of those times. Today, in between work and responding to your messages, Ivy and I ran outside and splashed in muddy puddles (ala Peppa Pig) and we laughed our heads off.  I highly recommend taking a moment today to just get out of your office, off your sofa or – simply – out of your own head, and go do something random and fun. It works wonders for the soul!

Thank you also for reading and following this blog. I’ve been doing this for years and years and years – and yet I’m still amazed every single time I get responses from people.  I promise there will be a fluff post coming soon!  Someday…

xo,

Jen

*I would personally like to thank my father, Randy, for putting “that fan is going too fast and going to kill us all” scenario into my mind for all of eternity. Clearly, this anxiety sh*t is hereditary.