Thursday, February 28, 2013

There Is Enough Love To Go All The Way Around Us

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Being a stepmom is a ever-changing adventure. We got through diapers, bottles, toilet training, strollers, the alphabet, counting, home pre-school, kindergarten and more. Now suddenly I find myself in new territory. Doesn't it always happen that way, you just get comfortable with a new phase and everything changes on you.

Two weeks ago I was talking with our little one about my sister and the nice man she is dating. I asked Little One what if she thought, if she thought they would get married. She said, "I don't know, what do you think?" I told her I asked her what she thought. She repeated her question and this went back and forth a couple of times.

Then finally I said, "I think he's a great guy. I like the idea of them getting married." Then she said, "NO! She can't get married! No! No! No!" I was very surprised. "And not your other sister either!"

This behavior was so unusual that I had to do some digging into what was causing it. After some conversation, it came out that she was afraid that if they got married and had their own families they wouldn't have time for her and they would forget about her. That broke my heart a little bit, but I reassured her that they would never change how they felt about her or how much they adored her.

A few days later the conversation came up again. Except this time I was the one she feared might forget her. She said if Daddy and I had babies that maybe I wouldn't love her as much or have any time for her. I said, "Are you kidding me. I'm going to need you around more than ever. Babies can't talk. They can't do anything fun in the beginning." We started talking about all the things she could do that they couldn't do and all the things she would be able to teach them. She seemed comforted. I realized I need to keep reminding her of how much love there is all around her. There are more than just a couple of us. There is a whole community surrounding her, loving her and watching out for her.

It was a good reminder to me that I don't always know what's going on in her ever-developing, growing little mind and heart. If I don't talk to her, I am operating without all the information I need to help her and love her best. One thing I do know is that she will always benefit from being show and reminded how much she is loved. We can work through a lot when that most important truth is on the table.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Taking Care of Self

With my husband out of town and our little one visiting her other parent, I took one day of the entire weekend and didn't get out of bed or dressed until five at night. It felt so good. I slept on and off, did some writing, watched Netflix and rested.

I've been sick again and the schedule every week is exhausting, as fabulous and full of life as it is. So a day in bed was just what I needed. The hours flew by and I felt so relaxed. It was wonderful. I could've felt guilty, I could've pushed myself, but instead I let myself rest. I let myself process a bit all the things stirring around in me. It was a good thing to do.

On another day I took a long walk on the beach with my camera. I got sand between my toes, I stopped to watch the wildlife, inspect shells, check out a sailboat that had washed ashore. I let the breeze blow through me, sat in the sand, quieted myself.

When you are a full-time stepmom, you don't get much time for yourself. I'm trying to learn that every free moment, outside of the time I care for and shower love on my people and take care of items on the "must-do" list, needs to be for me time. I'm trying to remember to read good things that help me keep centered, to think about my goals and dreams for my life, and to seriously and frequently check in with myself, see where I'm at and make sure I'm going in the right direction.

Self care, I am learning is my number one most important job. I have to remind myself of this fairly often. That me time doesn't come easily. It requires sincere effort on my part, but when I do I see myself healthier, happier and more able. These are good reason to make myself a priority. My family likes me better that way. I like myself best that way too.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Golden First Hour After School

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I remember, when I was a part-time nanny during grad school, that the hours of four to six in the afternoon were cause for fear. It seems like it there are going to be any knock-down-drag-out meltdowns, baby cry-a-thons, or other ugly events they were probably going to happen sometime between four and six. Kids are tired, grown ups are tired. It's a powder keg of bad possibilities.

Since having a little one in school, I have quickly learned that immediately after school, as in on our way home, is not a good time to do anything. I've tried the grocery store, I've tried stopping by to say hello to a neighbor, doing art projects, cleaning house...not of these things are good activities to do the first hour after school gets out. (Read between the lines "it was hellish.")

When kids get out of school, they need to be able to just be for an hour. Our little one often plays with her Legos very quietly that first hour. Or she might grab a book and crawl up on her bed. Some days she just needs me to sit with her and have me hold her tight, talk with her and sometimes have a massive tickle session.

So when we get home, I turn her lose for an hour or so, then try to get a few minutes of bedroom cleaning or chores done. Then dinner preparations and homework. After dinner it's time to finish homework, clean the kitchen and living room and then get pajamas on. Hopefully we've given ourselves enough time at this point to have a leisurely time saying bedtime prayers, reading a story and having a chat.

It's amazing how much smoother the evening goes when I give her that first hour of downtime to do whatever she wants. It helps her decompress from the school day, relax after the regimentation of the school environment and to enjoy her space and being at home. I always want her to feel connected and happy about being at home. I think when she has time to just be at home on her own terms, doing what she wants to do, it really fosters that sense of connection I so want her to have.

I've definitely learned that days are much easier when we have quiet free time that first hour after school. My life, her life are much better when we follow that plan as much as is possible. Learning on the job, that is the life of a stepmom.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Valentine Speaks A Thousand Words

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Last Thursday I got the best Valentine I will probably ever get. It captured who I am, who my stepdaughter is and our love of life and each other. Here's what it said.

Dear Mom,

You take me on cool trips. You protect me.

Love, (her name).

We both love to adventure. She would travel constantly if allowed. At least once a week or more she says, "I want to go on a trip right now. On a plane." or "Let's go to the airport. I just want to go on a plane right now." I am the same way. Circling the globe for both business and personal travel, racking up frequent flyer miles, was one of the best periods of my life. I never even stayed in a motel until I was almost seven. She has spent been many places, is a pro at a hotel room and is just about able to pack her own suitcase now. She'll tote her carry on and knows exactly what she wants and needs in it.

The fact she would say you protect me, is a double-edged sword for sure. Sad don't you think that a tiny child would think and speak about needing to be protected? That breaks my heart. But it turns my sad frown upside down to realize that she knows that come what may, I will fight for her and I will protect her if it's the last thing I do. She knows it. I know it.

In such a few short words she captured us. Who we are, what we love and how we love. And it's all so beautiful. This is a Valentine that will stay with me for life. Treasured away. And it a great reminder to keep doing more of the same. Sounds totally fun to me!

Monday, February 18, 2013

I've Lost Her! Oh, Wait, No She's With Mom

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A stepmother panic happens to me fairly often. I am somewhere alone and suddenly a wave of sheer panic comes over me when I think Where is the little one?! Did I lose her? Did I forget her somewhere! Then I stop everything and calm myself down when I remember that she's with her mother.

This first happened to me when she was very tiny and I was in a store and would hear little girls about her age that sounded like her and think it was her, lost somewhere in the store. Now days I panic that I forgot to pick her up from school any time I get really engrossed in a project on a school day. When I rush in to look at the clock I realized it's still two hours before school gets out as I try to get my heart rate back down to a livable beats per minute range.

Every weekend morning she is visiting her mom I expect her to come into my room and she doesn't and I get worried and then remember she's not here. I am here alone. Every time I hear noise from another room I think it's her. Sunday morning I panicked trying to figure out where she was, what day it was and where she was supposed to be. Then again, I realized and had to destress myself.

I'm curious to know whether this happens to lots of other stepmoms. I did have a cousin tell me it happens to her with her own biological children, so I figure I'm not alone. But there is a strangeness to being a mom and having a child some days and not others, don't you think? Has this happened to you? How do you deal with it?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Big Stepmom Lessons

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I cannot believe it's been two months since I was last here. Wow. It has been pretty shockingly eventful, that is for sure. The biggest life changer was gaining custody of my stepdaughter. It's been fantastic, stressful, awesome, overwhelming and just plain amazing.

It's also been a lot of work figuring out our new family structure and life here with school, homework, tighter schedules. It's been a big change and has taken a lot more thoughtfulness and adjustment than I would've imagined. After a few weeks it feels like we're settling into a pretty, simple, happy life here and it feels good. She seems very happy. A few days ago she said she had to pinch herself to make sure this was all real and not just a dream. That charmed me to no end and it made me so happy that the things she's been praying for for such a long time have become answered prayers for her and for us.

Things are different. She is showing sides of herself that I have never seen before. I think it was easy to be happy and behave when it was just for a weekend and it was such an escape from where she was living. But now that reality has set it, there are more angry outbursts, refusals to follow instructions or requests and complaints about things she is asked to do. It's surprising, frustrating and for the most part I get it. That doesn't mean it doesn't bug me though. But we're working through it, learning new techniques and applying consistency to the situation.

So I'm experiencing stepmomhood in a whole new way now. I'm sure that will give me lots of new experiences to share here, lessons for me to learn and great things to come. I'd love to hear how life changed for you when you went from the weekend house to the weekday house if you have any thoughts. Your experience and wisdom, when shared, is invaluable. Have a great day!