Category Archives: Random
Does anyone else find it really, really difficult when your partner wants you to look through photos of his kids as babies that were taken when his first family was intact?
Mixed in are inevitably photos of the kids’ mum, posed with them and smiling, and I see them even though the Lovely Man doesn’t specifically show them to me.
Inevitable, too, are the accompanying stories beginning “This was when we had just had Boy A…” or “That was just after we had bought our house in X-ville.”
“Our” and “we” in these stories never means “him and me”, naturally.
The whole experience makes a sad little underline to my own childless outsider status.
Some days when the photos come out I can handle it, at least for a while. I don’t want the Lovely Man to feel that his Boys’ babyhoods are on lockdown and can’t be talked about or shown off.
Today, though, I’m not coping with it, and I think I need to find a way to tell him.
Does this kind of situation come up in your stepfamily, or am I being over-sensitive?
For people who haven’t encountered the term, life listing is, predictably enough, the process of writing down the goals you wish to experience or achieve over the course of your life.
A different perspective on it might be to ask yourself:
At the end of my life, as I lie on my deathbed, what would I be disappointed not to have done?
What has this got to do with stepmothering, though?
I don’t know about you ladies, but one of the challenges I face in my stepmother role is not letting it descend like a gigantic sticky cloud, obliterating life as I know it and obscuring the person I am outside of supporting the Lovely Man through property settlement negotiations, planning handover schedules and doing the school run.
As women, we have a tendency to dive right in up to our corneas, trying-trying-trying, supporting-supporting-supporting, and while it might give us a sense of purpose, we can easily loosen our grips on the woman beneath who is not solely a stepmother/partner to a man with kids.
And when the kids and/or ex-wives hurt or reject us, if we’ve lost that grip, then who are we left to be?
Thinking about my life list reminded me that so many of the experiences I want to add to my life have nothing whatever to do with being stepmum of the year, in any sense. Some do, and this step-parenting gig has certainly added a lot of richness to my life. But the vast majority of items I’ve listed are about the separate me, the me I was before I met the Lovely Man and still am, underneath.
Looking through other people’s life lists, too, reminded me of all the amazing things I have done already, of how lucky I am to have been able to drink hot chocolate on the top of the Alps, snorkel with sea lions off the Galápagos Islands, watch tiny emerald kingfishers hover over Lake Srinagar in Kashmir, stand inside the Taj Mahal, and steer a yacht across oceans, watching the Southern Cross draw nearer night by night. Even with nothing added to my life lift, I am already so, so blessed.
That I’ve been able to do some of these things with the Lovely Man, my dear love and adventure partner, is itself a wonderful blessing. That some of them I did with my close friend and ex-partner, and that we can still exchange do-you-remembers together about the experiences we shared is also a rare privilege.
All those are very helpful things to remember when sometimes it feels like every conscious thought is in danger of being hijacked by stepfamily life. Think of it as the perfect antidote to stepmother rumination.
I haven’t yet finished my life list, but I’ll post it tomorrow shortly.
What would be on your life list?
I do get a giggle or twenty from the search strings that pop up in my WordPress statistics from time to time.
Lately I’ve seen the usual sorts of stuff:
step mum of the year,
stepford stepmother - which washed up at my Stepmother Mantras post,
loyalty binds in divorce,
meeting your ex husbands new partner etc etc etc
All pretty standard, wouldn’t you say?
Until today, when I found THIS!
“sample house rules for religious stepfamily camping”
Sorry people. You’ve definitely come to the wrong coven.
On our overseas trip earlier this year, the Lovely Man and I met up with some friends, a couple who’ve been together about the same length of time as us, F & G.
Like us, they are a few years apart in age.
The guy, F, works in the same industry as the Lovely Man, so they have a lot in common there.
We all share some interests, but although we’ve been on holiday with them before, I’ve never felt that I knew them very well – they were really nice acquaintances rather than close friends.
When we met up with them this time, I went to give G a hug hello and immediately noticed a stonking great rock on her engagement finger. This thing was MASSIVE – when it glittered in the light I felt like I had been beamed, in a kind of “roo in the headlights” way. But it was very beautiful and tasteful. Exquisite, in fact.
I immediately thought:
Aha! Got an announcement to make then, guys?
And, sure enough, a few minutes of my valiantly trying to avert my gaze into the conversation, they kind of wriggled a bit bashfully and went pink and said:
Oh, and we’ve got some news, by the way. We got engaged!
No shit, Sherlock.
G was obviously a bit self-conscious about her new bling but very happy to relate the story of how F had smuggled the ring into his holiday backpack by completely wrapping it in gaffer tape and telling her it was a piece of work equipment he needed to claim a duty refund on while they were out of the country.
They are lovely people, and I really enjoyed spending time with them. But I couldn’t help thinking, looking at G’s husband-to-be and her happiness, that I wished things could have been so straightforward for me and the Lovely Man.
I never imagined, for instance, that well over two years into our relationship, he would still legally be married to somebody else.
As pleased as I was for my friends, it was all too easy to feel a bit wistful by comparison.
One day, though, the Great Blokey Men went off to do Death-Defying Man Stuff together and so G and I headed out to get lost on the mountain have some adventures ourselves.
We were talking about her relationship with F, as you do, and how happy she was, and how great he was, and how they were thinking of having kids soon, and where they were going to go for their honeymoon… when she totally dropped a bomb.
Haltingly, she told me a story that made me quadruple-take and completely cash in my assumptions about their so-called easy road.
While F may not have kids from a previous relationship, perhaps even more bogglingly, he “co-parents” three dogs with his ex-partner of ten years.
As it all came out – the crazy ex, the way she wanders into their house uninvited, the unscheduled late-night handovers, how she uses the dogs to stay connected to his life, F’s inability to set firm boundaries, the huge amounts of money she guilts out of F for “the dogs”, the way she phones constantly and manufactures dog drama to get attention, the threats to take the dogs away and never let F see them again that paralyse him with fear – all I could think was:
G went on to say how the situation had driven her to the edge of her mind, the constant encroachments and feeling second in her relationship to a trio of spoilt dogs and a vindictive, crazy-making ex eventually landing her in counselling.
She said that her friends and family couldn’t really understand, that they tended to minimise the difficulties of the situation and say totally unhelpful things like:
Can’t you just ignore it?
G even said that she felt terribly guilty at not being able to love these dogs that were so important to F.
Yep, sounds about right.
I guess co-parenting drama is co-parenting drama whether the young ‘uns involved have feathers, fur, fins or feet.
And as much as I love dogs, I can understand G feeling ripped off that despite F not even having kids she is still experiencing the joys of stepfamily life, navigating unbreakable ties formed before she was around and dealing with a trouble-making, boundary-free ex with a penchant for encroachment and manipulation.
At least the Lovely Man’s Boys are worth the dramas. I’d have a VERY hard time if we were going through all that for a trio of naughty, floor-weeing canines.
G was clearly relieved to share her situation with someone who all-too-easily understood the emotional toll it was taking, while I got a timely lesson in the grass not always being quite as green as it looks.
And, incidentally, for the first time I felt like we made an emotional connection that went beyond just doing stuff together.
We’ll be going to their wedding sometime next year. I’ll be looking out for something like this:
One night during our recent Easter holiday with the Boys at my parents’ beach shack, the Lovely Man decided it would be fun to take them out for a traditional country-town Chinese meal, complete with lurid plum sauce and deep-fried everything.
As we drove back home through the darkness to the shack, honey chicken and sundry culinary delights gurgling in our tummies, Boy C piped up from the backseat:
Boy C: Do you know, Daddy, I think you and Mummy would make a really, really good couple. Like, with each other, you know?
Stunned silence from the front seat. The Lovely Man and I both, independently, decided against turning around and saying something like: “Actually, Mummy finally signed the divorce papers this week, so… nuh. Not going to happen.”
The Lovely Man squeezed my hand in the darkness as Boy C continued.
Boy C: Yeah, it would be perfect because you’re just like Harry Potter’s dad and mum, you’d be so well suited together.
More mute gulping from the front seat. Luckily Boy C didn’t seem to want an answer.
Boy C: They’d be a great couple, because, you see, Mummy’s so intelligent, just like Lily Potter and Dad’s so… ummm… so…
Boy B: Active! Dad’s really active, just like Harry’s dad! And they got together and had us, just like Harry’s parents had him.
(For the record, the Lovely Man is devastatingly smart. And the Boys’ Mum was apparently always a bit intimidated by that, despite being no slouch herself. The Boys, especially Boy A, often seem to feel compelled to insist to me how Very Intelligent she is, despite me never, ever saying a word about it or bringing up the issue of intelligence, of anyone, at all, ever.)
Boy A: What do you mean? Dad’s quite intelligent too, you know!
What came through very strongly from this conversation was that the Boys have a need to see the story of their parents’ marriage as special, almost mythic, within the family history. They need a love story, a sense of themselves as part of the family destiny. The divorce hasn’t altered that need; now the mythic love story they tell is just a little more star-crossed.
Harry and James Potter had their son, Harry, and were happily in love until the evil Voldemort killed them.
The Lovely Man and the Boys’ Mum had their three beautiful sons and were happily in love until the Evil Divorce Monster fell out of a clear blue sky and broke up their marriage.
(I could go further and add that Boy A, at least, identifies me directly with the Evil Divorce Monster.)
I can understand the Boys needing this sort of emotional family architecture to provide an account by which they can understand their existence. After all, if the way you see your parents’ marriage is that they were ill-suited and a bad match and their marriage was a mistake, then presumably in kid-magical-thinking terms, that makes you, their children, mistakes that should never have been made.
Then, of course, there are the obvious reconciliation fantasies at work in this little vignette. Those go without saying.
One thing I never, ever, expected to experience in my stepfamily, though, was sitting in the front seat of the car while my stepchildren openly attempted to matchmake their parents based on the Harry Potter novels from the back seat.
How do your stepchildren think and talk about their parents’ marriage?
How do you and/or your partner respond when it comes up?
What’s the most unexpected thing your stepkids have ever come up with?
When members of The Great Ignorant spit these babies out, I’m generally too befuddled and irritated to come up with a snappy response. More snappy than “Arrrh. Errrh. Ummm?” that is.
So in true Girl Scout spirit, here are a few sample one-liner responses for stepfamily FAQs.
“Don’t you forget you’re not their mother, will you?!”
Hmmm, d’you know, I think you must be right about that. I’m sure I’d remember giving birth to them. So I mustn’t be their Mum after all. Wow.
It’s probably too late to do much about it at this point. If I tried giving birth to them now, firstly, they’re a bit big and secondly I’m not sure they’d be into it.
“Wow, an instant family! Aren’t you lucky!”
Well, that depends. You can’t knit a cake, I find.
(I love the total randomness of that one.)
“How can you stand to live so far from your kids?”
So you’d describe yourself as being in favour of kidnapping them?
And, finally, my absolute favourite:
“So, are you planning to have kids of your own?”
We’re exploring all orifices at present.
Although I must relay thanks to Peggy at The Stepmom’s Toolbox for her slightly less confronting suggestion:
“Waiter, another martini please!”
Share the giggles: do you have any Fantasy Family One-Liners? Have you ever used them?
Ok, perhaps I’m being a trifle silly and self-indulgent with this post. But a bit of frippery is good in the middle of the week, and silly is sometimes surprisingly sustaining.
And for me my iPhone is more than a phone; it’s a family member. One that never complains on long car trips. Which gets it extra bonus points.
And yes, it’s true that probably most of these apps are no more applicable to stepmums than they are to Mothers Who Birthed.
But if you have the care of children (not infants – given that I first menaced into the boys’ life when Boy C was five I’m going to let that aspect slide for want of credibility), and sometimes those children, or you, need distracting/managing/pacifying (point me out either a stepkid or a stepparent that doesn’t!), then these apps come tested and recommended.
Exercise. I already wrote about Couch to 5k, but Gateway to 8k and (especially) Runkeeper are also pretty nifty for those times when you just need to escape. Exercise is one of those self-justificatory, don’t-need-a-reason activities that give you a get out of jail free card when you’re about to throttle someone.
Byline. For reading my stepmum blogs. Anywhere. Anytime. And it will cache them for reading even when I’ve got no reception.
Pzizz Relax. This incredibly useful guided mediation tool allows you to have timed power naps and wakes you up refreshed when your snooze is up. Can be used with optional hypnotic suggestions and “Aurora 3D” effects, also known as “binaural beats”, which are said to help induce a relaxed and suggestible brain state. Give Pzizz a go when you’ve been up late with kids who won’t settle, when you can’t seem to stop ruminating about the difficulties of steplife or just when you need to relax. It really, really works. And it’s great for regular self-care.
Epicurious allows you to search recipes based on one or more main ingredient, meal or course you are catering cooking for, a cuisine type, dietary considerations, the type of dish and the season or occasion. You can search by keywords, save favourites and generate shopping lists.
I’m a keen cook, and the thought of stirring industrial-sized vats of the bland gloop that results from eliminating almost every known ingredient or flavouring because one or other of the boys won’t try doesn’t like it nearly does my head in. Epicurious at least lets me explore a range of options.
The boys also love using it to choose recipes; and when they are involved they tend to try much broader groups of foods.
Another free app with a database of less foodie-type meals and a super cool high-kid-appeal slot/fruit/poker machine-style format for spinning up recipes is Dinner Spinner. I’ll mention that a lot of the recipes it links to seem to include cans of Cream of Mushroom soup and leave you to judge whether that communicates “time-saving homestyle deliciousness” or “gloopy 1970s casserole” to you…
Stanza is a book reader. It’s so well laid out that the format is being adopted by other purpose-built reader gadgets. It’s very pretty, with a page-turning simulation that the boys love. And I love being able to download hundreds of classic books with kid appeal for them to read in random moments of boredom or when we’re travelling. For free!
At the moment Boys C and sometimes Boy B are listening to me read aloud The Wind in the Willows. We can’t find our lovely old hardcover edition amidst the chaotic forest of Lego sculptures at present, so it was iPhone to the rescue. And the benefit is that with the lit screen I can read to them in the dark, helping them to settle for sleep that much sooner.
Games. The Boys looooove playing games on the iPhone and we mostly keep it as a special treat, or to palliate annoying waits and car trips. Enduring favourites include Yahtzee, Flight Control, Doodle Jump and Touch Physics; all of which are non-violent and/or cooperative.
Apologies to non-iPhone geeks, but the little plastic and metal phone thingy really makes a big difference in my time with the kids, and I sometimes, quite frankly, wonder how I’d manage without it.
…. that showed up on my Google stats, included here just for interest’s sake.
stepmother fattening guy
I’m drawn to question whether a vengeful searcher looking for a guy who can fatten his or her stepmother? Or is it, perhaps, a girlfriend who wishes her man’s stepmum would ease up on the carbs at family mealtimes?
The searcher found, among other impressively off-point resources for his/her – ahem – unique problem, these posts. Which I’m sure were no help whatsoever, given that they popped up because I was threatening random insensitive members of the public with being fattened up for Sunday dinner!
What a timely reminder for me to be less aggressive in my choice of metaphors.
(Checking out the search strings that bring people to my blog has become an unexpected treat each day. I really shouldn’t giggle, though. For all I know this is a big, awful stepfamily drama for someone. So, if you are the reader entering the search terms above, this is definitely a case of sympathetic laughing with.)
…of my existence isn’t the stepboys.
Or their Mum, either.
As some of you may remember, the Lovely Man and I rent a house in the city where the boys live with their mum.
Our house in our city: well cared for, tidy, clean (unless you look under our bed, anyway).
Our house in their city: not so much.
Aesthetics are usually quite important to me; my taste is for eclectic interiors studded with mid-century furniture, and while nothing in our regular house is particularly expensive or fancy or (mostly) less than forty years old, I love it all.
Our place in the boys’ city isn’t a pretty house; we couldn’t afford to rent anything lush, given that we need to accommodate ourselves in our city for the other 60% of each year.
And the decor leaves more than a little to be desired.
It’s stocked entirely with Ikea furniture and random cast-offs from the Lovely Man’s previous marriage. As tends to happen when at short notice you have to furnish a family house in a city far, far away from home.
(I struggled for ages against asking the Lovely Man what he and his ex were thinking when they chose the fabric for the couch. Really, there wasn’t going to be a way of putting that query that wasn’t going to have offensive potential, whoever originally chose it. Eventually, though, the fear that it might have been the Lovely Man’s cherished pick got the better of me. The answer was reassuring; it hadn’t been his selection. But I guess that’s stepfamily life for you – living with a trillion artefacts of your partner’s previous life.)
We’ve tried to make it comfortable and home-like and to add punches of boy-friendly red, navy and white, but the interior style could aptly be described as “Child Care Centre Chic”. Or perhaps “All About The Kids Shabby Provincial”.
The lounge room is absolutely dominated by toys. Shelves of toys, drawers of toys, piles of toys. Books. Magazines. Comics. Projects. The coffee table is almost always so completely covered with the unholy trinity of books, toys and comics that there is literally no space to put a cup of coffee down.
I find it a hard place to relax or be comfortable. As glad as I am to be there supporting the Lovely Man and hanging out with the boys, the space really emphasises that I often feel like an alien fringe dweller in a parent-child world.
When I’m there, though, the true bane of my existence isn’t the morass of comics covering every surface. Or even the couch.
I’ll give you a hint.
I’m always picking it from deep within the soles of my feet, resentfully “saving” it from between cracks in the floorboards and trying to safeguard complex masterpieces of design from the ravaging hands of other visiting kids.
The Lovely Man is constantly setting himself vast organising and tidying projects related to the toys, books and comics. But it’s the Lego that keeps him up at night.
I thought I was perhaps being oversensitive to the Lego. That the four cubic metres of primary-coloured plastic in the loungeroom was just standard, just what every other kid had.
Recently, though, came a glorious, glorious message from beyond that reassured me that I’m not becoming Cathy to Lego’s Heathcliff. Reassuring me that the Lego really is alive and out of control and looking to take me down.
A couple of weeks back, we offered to let a friend who is between houses stay in the Kidhaus during the fortnight we’re not there. He was given the run of the place – keys, fridge-raiding rights, use of the car.
The afternoon he arrived, we got this text message:
I found the key ok – thanks for that. Nice place, but has a BAD Lego infestation. I will head off to the supermarket for Lego repellant later.
If only. Or maybe the supermarket sells those aerosol roach bombs, but for Lego?
The Kidhaus already looks like a bomb’s gone off. How much worse could it get?
What “stuff” around the house pushes you toward the edge of your sanity?