I’m Just The Stepmom

I’m tired of taking the high road, making the tough calls, putting my family’s needs second. I’m tired of catering to an overgrown child with no sense of responsibility – one who can’t keep her promises when the possibility of a party is in the cards. I’m tired of aching for her child, of stepping in and knowing that no matter how much I love that baby girl, Mommy will always win out in the end. I don’t want accolades. I don’t want applause. I want that little girl to be more important than booze and boys and music festivals. I want that little girl to know that her mommy chose her, and continues to choose her, no matter how difficult or boring and responsible that choice may end up being.

But I’m just the stepmom. While I love her with the same fierceness that I love my own daughter, it will never be enough. So I will always go the extra mile. I will change my set in stone plans to cater to the whims of a 20-something party girl, I will plan a family picnic on our anniversary, and I will spend my summer weekends making sure that child learns to read. Why? Because when I chose her daddy, I chose her. For better or for worse, she is my daughter by circumstance, and I will make sure she knows that every day I choose her again.

Time Stood Still

TRIGGER WARNING: DOMESTIC & SEXUAL VIOLENCE, RAPE

 

May 13, 2005
On a dingy bathroom floor in a house full of addicts, she waited. The test sat on the counter, scarce inches away, yet she couldn’t look. One… two… three minutes passed. It was now or never. Her hands shaking, she picked up her future, wrapped in a disguise of plastic and paper and urine. Positive. She closed her eyes, unsure if she was relieved or disappointed. Time stood still.

January 27, 2006
The hospital was crowded, as if everyone in a fifty mile radius had decided to give birth right then and there. A blur of lights and sleep and strange beeps and frantic calls and pain, oh the pain! She couldn’t quite remember how or why she had ended up in the operating room or why they wouldn’t let her hold her daughter right away or anything beyond the overwhelming agony that every second away from the child caused. A bundle was placed in her arms – The bluest eyes she’d ever seen, the blackest hair, the most perfect little mouth. The world melted away and she finally knew the meaning of her life.

July 15, 2006
She could smell the whiskey on his breath before he entered the room. Her heart beat faster as she clutched her baby closer. One foot out the window, easy does it, twist and turn and grab the ledge … – his hand wrapped around hers and in a single breath she was on the bedroom floor again. The baby bawled in his arms as he hurled accusation after accusation, stepping more firmly on her throat with every uttered syllable. Her life flashed before her eyes and in the moment before the stars became darkness, time stood still.

June 1, 2007
He stumbled in at 9am, drunk, though god knows he’d gone to work last night. She lay awake – eyes closed, breathing regular – hoping he’d think she was still asleep. Their daughter stirred; a heavenly coo from the cradle next to their bed. She jumped up to attend before his clumsy hands could reach the tiny being, but not before a slurred “Stunned cunt, let me sleep” escaped his lips as he collapsed into the pillows. When the darkness overcame him, she methodically packed her belongings and drove to the new apartment across town. Furniture would have to wait, but in that moment, her life started over.

December 17, 2011
The night was young, the music loud, the tequila flowing freely. Across the table, he winked and smiled and she had never felt so sexy. The bar closed, the after party started, and before she knew it, 3am had arrived and it was only the two of them awake. He kissed her, she kissed back, he reached up her skirt. She said no. He stopped. He tried again. The no became more urgent. He conceded and allowed her to drift into unconsciousness. She awoke long enough to kick him and roll over as he peeled her panties off, then returned to the nothingness she had been roused from. Seconds… minutes… ages later, her mind snapped out of the fog, feeling him inside her, momentum building, grunts of pleasure escaping his lips. Her body froze. Words caught in her throat. As he emptied himself into her, time stood still.

July 19, 2013
Eight hours of magic was coming to a close. She thought it was going well, but one could never quite tell with a first date. They placed a bet on the last bowling match – if he won, she had to say yes to a second date. She lost, albeit unintentionally, though she was far from disappointed at the prospect of more time in his company. He walked her to her car; she thanked him for a wonderful day. The sun was setting just behind him, a brilliant cascade of light gleaming over his left shoulder. He hugged her and she could feel the restless energy stirring within him. In a moment of impulsive desire, she pressed her lips to his and held on tightly as the rest of the world became irrelevant.

November 8, 2013
They lay in bed, her head on his chest, his arms protectively cocooning her. He kissed her goodnight, and just as he was dozing off, a timid whisper asked if he was still awake. Now alert, he asked her why. Seconds passed as she took a calming breath and responded with some off-pitch statement about needing to tell him something. With a hint of suspicion, he probed her intentions. Her heart beat faster as she attempted to gather her courage. “I love you,” she breathed, barely audible, as she buried her face in his neck. He gently lifted her chin, gazing into her eyes through the dark. “I love you,” he responded, kissing her tenderly as time stood still.

The Adventures of Anxiety Girl

It was an ordinary morning, around 6am. Anxiety Girl rolled over, shut off her alarm, and closed her eyes to wait for Jedi’s ‘Good morning’ text, just like every other morning.

DING! “Good morning and such!” Jedi greeted her.

“What in the hell does that mean?” she wondered aloud. “He must be getting bored of me. He always calls me babe, or beautiful, or some sort of term of endearment, and he didn’t! I wonder what I could have done to make him stop caring for me so quickly?”

  *  *  *  *  * 

Upon arriving at work, Anxiety Girl received an email requiring her prescence at a training seminar. Her fellow invitees were prestigious co-workers, those who had worked years and years and climbed their way up the ladder to the upper echelon of regional management.

“There must be some mistake. I shouldn’t be invited to this seminar!” Anxiety Girl cried. “Why would they invite me? I’m nothing. I’m going to get there and have everyone laugh and wonder why I was invited because I am clearly so far beneath all these other attendees. I can’t go, I simply can’t!”

  *  *  *  *  * 

11am rolled around and Anxiety Girl hadn’t yet heard back from Jedi, almost five hours after texting him back. Despite knowing how hectic his career can be, Anxiety Girl was perturbed.

“He hates me!” she thought. “It can’t be that he’s busy working… no… he’s definitely ignoring me. I even asked a question to make sure he responded, and he didn’t. I remember when we used to text all day, every day. I miss that. He clearly doesn’t care as much as he used to. Should I even bother driving all the way down to see him tonight? He must still be in love with his ex. I should just give up. I’m not worthy.”

  *  *  *  *  * 

Anxiety Girl’s boss stopped by her desk that afternoon. “I need to see you in my office,” he said. “It’s about that seminar.”

Anxiety Girl’s mind raced. “He’s going to tell me I’m not capable enough to go. I’m a failure. He’s going to fire me because I’m not productive enough. I knew this would happen. How am I going to pay my mortgage? Or afford gas to drive Padawan to school? Looking for a job is terrifying! I’m not qualified to do anything but minimum wage labour – I just lucked out getting a decent-paying administrative job. How am I going to live on $10/hr and no benefits???”

  *  *  *  *  * 

That evening, Anxiety Girl took Padawan to a fundraiser/movie night at her prestigious private school. She parked her ten year old Honda Civic next to the brand new Porche SUV, and waved at a classmate’s mother, who looked away without recognition.

“I don’t know why I try being friendly,” she muttered. “Nobody likes me anyway. They know we don’t belong here. We’re not like them. We’re not people who can afford this school – we’re the poor family who scrimps and saves to send Padawan here, and they all know it. They hate me, and, by extension, hate Padawan. Poor child. It’s not her fault that her mother is such a disappointment. I’m sure that if I wasn’t such a sad-sack, broke-ass, single mom that they would be more welcoming. Why do I even bother attending these things?”

  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

This is an example of my daily existence, and, frankly, it fucking sucks. I’m tired of being sad. I’m tired of feeling unworthy. I’m tired of worrying and stressing and obsessing about everything. So I’m going to do it. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment a week from today and I am going to get some help because I am so done with living like this.

I’m terrified that it’ll be brushed off as nothing. I’m terrified that I’ll be mocked. I’m terrified that I’ll need to be medicated. But more than all that, I am terrified that I will spend the rest of my life feeling like this and will never know how to be truly happy and relaxed.

Here’s to the first step and a new beginning.

It’s Not Easy.

It isn’t easy to love an addict.
It isn’t easy to hear the lies, to know that they’re lies, and to not be able to do a damn thing about it.
It isn’t easy to watch someone you love so hell-bent on self-destruction.
It isn’t easy to hear “I’m getting clean” again and again and to pray every. single. time. that this time, it’s for good.
It isn’t easy to have someone you love steal from you with seemingly no remorse.
It isn’t easy when they sober up temporarily and you see the shame in their eyes, see the weight of their sins dragging them back down into a vortex of self-medication and self-loathing.
It isn’t easy to see them desperately searching for the next $20, the next fix, the next party.
It isn’t easy to realise you can’t remember the last time they weren’t using.
It isn’t easy when you figure out that the only way to preserve yourself is to distance yourself from their battle, to support and love from afar, because getting too close hurts too much.
It isn’t easy to keep your distance, to stop loaning money, to stop enabling.
It isn’t easy not trying to fix the situation, to fix the addiction, to fix the person.
It isn’t easy to watch someone so young and promising throw their future away.
It isn’t easy to understand why they can’t “just” stop, can’t “just” get it together, can’t “just” get clean.
It isn’t easy to live each day of their sobriety along with them, fearing a relapse.
It isn’t easy. Not even in the slightest.
But an addict knowing that someone loves them no matter what… that’s what makes it worthwhile.

I’ve loved a lot of addicts. Some I’m still loving from afar. One helped make my child. Two I’ve known since they were born. One will hit 15 months clean this week. In fact, he’s the one I have to thank for introducing me to Macklemore’s “ Starting Over.” I’ve listened to this song probably 30 times since I first heard it last night. Every time, it gives me goosebumps and nearly brings me to tears.

The part that really sticks with me are the lines:

If I can be an example of getting sober
Then I can be an example of starting over.

Brother, I love you. I’m proud of you, of who you’ve become, and how far you have come in the past year and a bit. Never quit fighting because I know you can do this.

It Takes A Village

How many times have we all heard the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child”? Parenting is not easy at the best of times. Parenting alone is even harder. Why is it, then, that we vilify single mothers who utilise the resources and help available to them?

I have been incredibly blessed with supportive parents. They certainly weren’t happy when I came home pregnant at 19, but once I committed to continuing the pregnancy, they jumped on board. Mom was always there to listen to my pregnant gripes, to answer any questions and to share my wonder at the fluttery little kicks coming from my womb. Dad was always there to deliver greatly-craved green apples or strawberry ice cream in the middle of the night (when my daughter’s father refused to get up) and to indulge with me so I didn’t feel quite so alone. Both my parents were at the hospital to hear my daughter’s first cry and visited frequently during the week she was in the NICU. As she grew older, they always offered to take her for a couple hours or overnight when I had errands to run, wanted a night out, or simply needed some time to myself. When I left her father, they supported my decision, helped me move and helped me find the strength to get a restraining order. When the time came for her to start school and I fell in love with a ridiculously expensive private school, they offered to contribute the extra funding I wasn’t able to afford. My father is retired, and picks her up after school so that I can continue to work my decent-paying 9-5.

 My friends are equally supportive. I can’t count how many times they have played with my daughter, read to her, picked her up when Dad couldn’t, and helped me bake umpteen batches of cookies for school bake sales. This past January, several friends and I pulled an all-nighter to completely renovate  my daughter’s playroom from a boring blue room to a garden paradise.

Recently, I’ve received some flack for “not raising [my] child [my]self” and for “depending too much on others.” Frankly, I think this is complete bullshit. I work an average of 50 hours a week to ensure my daughter has a home, food, clothing and superior education. I wake her up every morning. I help her with her homework. I read to her before bed every night, tuck her in, and sit up with her when she has bad dreams. I watch her Tae Kwon Do class every Tuesday, and make sure that I take her hiking and bowling and to the library on our weekends. I teach her how to help around the house, and, once her chores are completed and allowance has been received, I have taught her how to save and donate a portion. I listen to her thoughts and feelings, validate them, and guide her toward being a better person. I discipline her when need be. I make sure that she always know that she is strong, smart, funny, compassionate, beautiful and loved beyond measure. In my opinion, this is what raising a child is about.

So yes, I am fortunate enough to have wonderful people in my life who love my daughter dearly and do whatever they can to help enrich her life. This does not mean I have passed the torch of raising my daughter on to them. This means, simply put, that I have recognised that through communal effort, we can create a better life for the next generation. Putting up walls and boundaries between our family and our friends may ensure that we, as parents, do it “all on our own.” However, I think this approach denies our children the joy of sharing their lives fully with their extended family and community at large.

Yes, I am proud to be a single mom. Yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished, both as a professional and  as a parent, despite her father’s absence. But I will never insist on going it alone to the detriment of my child. We can all use more love, more friends, more support, and it is shameful that so many mothers do not have the opportunity, or refuse to take it when offered. It really DOES take a village, and I am proud to say my daughter has the best “village” she could ask for.

An Open Valentine To My Girlfriends

Darlings,

You are fantastic. Beautiful. Amazing. Brilliant. Caring. Compassionate. Lovely from the top of your head to the tips of your toes.

Most days, you would agree with me, but today you won’t. Today you’ll drown yourself in self-loathing and wine coolers, because you are a Single Girl On Valentine’s Day.

Somewhere along the line, you internalised the message that valentines from your parents, your children, your friends, your coworkers… just aren’t good enough. You learned to directly correlate your worthiness as a woman, as a human being with your percieved romantic lovability in relation to others.

That, my friends, is a load of bullshit.

I’m tired of the self-deprecation. Lacking a partner is not the end of the world, despite what society at large would have you believe. You don’t have to be upset, or feel guilty, or apologise for being the dreaded Single Girl On Valentine’s Day. People will give you sympathetic looks when they find out you’re single on Valentine’s Day, on Thanksgiving, on Christmas, hell, they’ll pity you for being single on a Tuesday night most of the time.

I know it’s hard to escape the atmosphere of “LOVE IS ALL AROUND US” and “EVERYONE HAS THEIR MATCH”… so why not re-frame the thought? You ARE loved. Maybe not romantically, but just look at the faces of your parents, grandparents, cousins, children, friends, coworkers. You ARE valued.

Who ever said Valentine’s Day had to be just about romance? Celebrate platonic and familial love. It truly is everywhere, in abundance.

And for goodness’ sake, stop with the wine coolers already. That shit is gross.

I love you.

-T

On Love and Loss

“December 24th and we’re through again.
This time for good I know because I didn’t
throw you out — and anyway we waved.

No shoes. No angry doors.
We folded clothes and went
our separate ways.

You left behind that flannel shirt
of yours I liked but remembered to take
your toothbrush. Where are you tonight?

Richard, it’s Christmas Ever again
and old ghost come back home.
I’m sitting by the Christmas tree
wondering where did we go wrong.

Okay, we didn’t work, and all
memories to tell you the truth aren’t good.
But sometimes there were good times.
Love was good. I loved your crooked sleep
beside me and never dreamed afraid.

There should be stars for great wars
like ours. There ought to be awards
and plenty of champagne for the survivors.

After all the years of degradations,
the several holidays of failure,
there should be something
to commemorate the pain.

Someday we’ll forget that great Brazil disaster.
Till then, Richard, I wish you well.
I wish you love affairs and plenty of hot water,
and women kinder than I treated you.
I forget the reason, but I loved you once,
remember?

Maybe in this season, drunk
and sentimental, I’m willing to admit
a part of me, crazed and kamikaze,
ripe for anarchy, loves still.”

“One Last Poem for Richard” by Sandra Cisneros

 

It’s true, I admit it. Boyfriend and I are done. Have been for awhile, actually. While the Titanic sunk beneath me, I stood on the deck praying for a miracle, all the while knowing that deliverance would not arrive.

Everything was perfect, and then it wasn’t. Looking back, I can’t pinpoint the precise moment where it all started to unravel. Maybe it was the first fight. Maybe it was the second. Maybe it was when I stopped buying his groceries and cleaning his house because I only had the time and money to take care of myself. Maybe it was all of these things and maybe it was none of them. My perfect faerietale turned into something I didn’t want. My prince became an ogre… and I wasn’t about to stand for it.

I could do a lot of finger-pointing at his issues with his ex, or his questionable nights out with random girls, or his hidden sexist agenda that appeared five months in. But the truth of the matter is – I miss him.

I called it off. Yes, I’m the bad guy there. It hurts to know that someone you love is not right for you, was not right for you from day one and will never be right for you. It hurts to know that you, once again, gave your whole heart to someone who wasn’t able to treat it the way it deserves. It hurts to know he’s already moved on.

But now… now I need to live my life for me. I need to take care of myself. I need to mourn. And I need to make sure that the next time I give my heart, he’s playing for keeps.