Friday, May 11, 2012

Stepparenting - I'm the "mean" one

My ten-year-old stepdaughter hates spelling. How do I know this? Because her mom recently got her grades from her old school and discovered that her grades were low because she lied about not having spelling homework. When I heard this a flashing neon warning light sounded in my head. Was she doing the same thing to me? Everyday this week she swore up and down that she didn't have homework. After hearing about what happened at her old school, I emailed her teacher and discovered that she had spelling homework this week and just didn't want to do it.

With my husband gone every evening and his ex-wife living in another town, I wasn't looking forward to being the "bad" guy again. Yes, I'm the bad guy because I'm the one who assigns chores, asks for help around the house and hands out punishments. My husband works two jobs and is working on a master's degree so unfortunately, the majority of all parenting tasks fall on me. (He has Fridays off but they are always spent either playing on his computer or on one of his other hobbies. )

After a group discussion between all three parents, it was decided that my stepdaughter would not be allowed to go to tumbling class, play on the computer and watch television that night. When I got home from work, her and I discussed the situation and I encouraged her to be honest with me. What I got was that she wasn't sorry about lying - she was only sorry she got caught. She admitted that she never thought I'd email the teacher.

I really struggle with this kid because she isn't anything like me. She isn't rational or logical and she never thinks things through. She would rather spend ten minutes arguing about how she can't find the extra dish soap than just go down to the basement and get the bottle. Lately, she's been treating me like crap and playing the whole "When's my daddy get home because he's nice" routine. So the night before the spelling issue came up, we had a "Come to Jesus" talk about how much I do for her and how much "Daddy" does.

Here's the list:
  1. I buy her clothes.
  2. I make her meals.
  3. I pay for tumbling and drive her there.
  4. I sign her up for summer activities and I hired the babysitter.
  5. I take care of her when she's sick
Daddy's list:
  1. He does only what asked to do.
I'll be honest, it hurts my feelings that my husband gets to be the hero when he's doing maybe one percent of the parenting. I explained of all this to my aunt (who teaches parenting classes) and she explained that I was encountering was "Kid Manipulation 101". The kid doesn't want to do chores so they respond by rejecting you in an attempt to get you to stop asking them to do things they don't want to do. 

Ah, such brilliant insight. I know our "Come to Jesus" talk didn't really get me anywhere because this morning when I told my stepdaughter that she'd left her wet towel on the couch for 24 hours (it was still wet) and should probably get an extra chore (the whole wet towel issue is really my husband's pet peeve so he should be assigning punishment anyway), she gave me the stink eye. I asked if she wanted a hug since they are leaving for the weekend and she replied that she had to get ready for school. (Nevermind that school didn't start for 2 1/2 hours). It made me mad that she rejected like that and I really wanted to scream about how much I do for her and how she should be grateful to me. I SHOULD BE THE HERO DARN IT! Instead, I picked up my toddler and headed off to work. I took a lot of deep breaths and repeated what my aunt had said.

If I don't react and I stick to my guns, I think my stepdaughter will eventually stop treating me like the bad guy and just accept the fact that I'm the parent she's stuck with. It's hard. I don't want to be the bad guy. I want to be the one who gets the hugs and all that but if I give up now, I'm going to end up raising a spoiled child who grows up to be a badly behaved adult who tortures the people around her. And I can't have that. :)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Your kid is huge!

After thirty long hours of labor, my son came screaming into the world and the first thing anyone ever said about him was - "Look at those thighs! They are HUGE!"

When he was eighteen-weeks-old I had to take him to the local children's hospital for a blood test. There were two phlebotomists working in the lab both of whom were male and fairly good sized guys. The bigger of the two guys actually did the blood draw and he asked me how old my son was and I replied "18 weeks". To which he said "Seriously? He looks more like 18 months!" Then he yells to his co-worker to guess my kid's age. Then this guy asked why I had such a huge kid. Seriously? You want a genetic explanation for why my son is in the 95th percentile? I gave him some ramble about how my dad's family is tall and such, while secretly annoyed about the whole conversation because I know my kid is huge! I had just carried him around the hospital for 20 minutes after all.

When KC was about five months old, he had his second bad ear infection. He was on antibiotics but they didn't work. So over the 4th of the July weekend while my husband was out of town, I had to take him to the pediatrician. (Thankfully we live near a practice that is open 24/7.) When I took him in that Saturday morning I was very sleep deprived, miserable and a little unhinged because of the constant crying. Because it was a Saturday, we couldn't see our regular pediatrician and had to see the one that was working that day. The nurse that greeted us (also not our usual one) was about four foot ten and pregnant. While she was taking my son's vitals she said, "See, babies like you are born to mommies like her because if you came to me I wouldn't be able to carry you." Did she seriously just say that to me? I was still carrying extra weight from the pregnancy and her remark was the equivalent of kicking my while I'm lying on the ground huddled in the fetal position. Did I mention it was totally unprofessional too? I think I made it to the car with my screaming, huge baby before I started crying.

Whenever I take KC grocery shopping, without fail an elderly person comes up to him - touches his hands (thanks for the germs!) and says what a big guy he is or how he should be a linebacker. I have nothing against linebackers (my cousin was one) but my kid is not going to play football if I have anything to say about it and I often wonder if strangers are going to give my kid a complex about his size. All of that aside - the most irksome question that I keep getting asked over and over again is why my kid is huge. Um, because of genetics? Are they asking me for a family DNA profile? Does it really matter?

At fourteen months, the little man is about 31 lbs and nearly as tall as your average two-year-old. He likes to be held more now than he did at five or six months. Which is no easy feet for a gal who is about 5'6 and a medium build. I frequently think that God sent me a child who is almost more than I can carry.

So, if you see me at the grocery store and feel like commenting on my kid's size - believe me, I know he's huge.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Getting Kids to Clean Up - This mom doesn't work for you!

My husband grew up in one of those families where their mom literally did everything for them. The kids didn't even take their own plates off the table after dinner. As a result, my husband was nineteen and away from home on his own when he realized that he had absolutely no idea how to do his laundry. AND HE COULDN'T CALL HIS MOM TO ASK HOW TO! Did I just yell? Sorry! I just get really annoyed at the idea that parenting involves doing absolutely everything for your children.

On the other hand, I was raised to take care of myself almost completely. When I was in elementary school and sick - I stayed home by myself. I did my own laundry, had my own checking account at fourteen and was required to cook, clean and help with any household remodeling. While my friends vacationed in Mexico during senior break, I spent the week repainting the dining room because my grandmother poured peanut oil into a wok, turned it on high and then went to check on the laundry. It was a miracle the house didn't burn down! When the roof leaked I got up and helped fix it in the middle of the night. I hauled 50lb bags of cement because my grandfather said I could do anything a grandson could do. There was almost no coddling and I felt like I was taught a life lesson on almost a daily basis. All of which made me a stronger person but the idea of actually having fun was introduced to me at the age of 20 by a college roommate. I thought life was work, work and more work.

There has got to be a happy medium between my husband's childhood and mine. I don't see logically how doing everything for your child is an act of love. (If you can explain this to me then please comment!) I think if I love my child then I should teach them the value of teamwork, caring about others and learning how to take care of themselves, their families and a home. To me - making my children as self sufficient as possible means that they can have better lives and be less selfish people.

Does it wear me out to have to explain ten times in one day that this mommy don't work for you and why? Um, emphatically yes. I keep explaining what it means to work as a team over and over again. It would be so easy to just say "Go back to your computer. I will do it myself." But I refuse to do that because I want to teach my kids how to take care of a home so one day they don't show up on an episode of Hoarders.

With a full time job, a commute and three kids (one of whom is a toddler that never stops moving) - I literally do not have time to do all the laundry, the cleaning, the cooking, grocery shopping plus all of the other time consuming tasks like getting a dryer replaced because ours died. By teaching my kids to help, I'm teaching them that I am a person with feelings and the value of everyone sharing the load.

I also have one slightly selfish reason. I had several extremely selfish roommates in college who had no problem making a huge mess in the kitchen and then just leaving it for others to clean up. Why did adults behave that way? BECAUSE MOMMY DID EVERYTHING FOR THEM! There I go yelling again. It bothered me to no end having to clean up their messes because they actually refused to. Seriously. They flat out wouldn't do it no matter how often you asked nicely.

My grandmother's only visit to see me in college involved coming by on a morning where I had to work or something and hadn't made my bed yet. She said (I kidd you not) "Where did I go wrong in raising you?" Again, there has to be a balance between the extremes.

So, I'm sticking to my guns. This mom doesn't work for her kids and I never plan to. Hopefully, I end up with three kids who can take care of themselves and are not selfish people.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stepparenting - Why Didn't I See that Coming

I handed over the Cheez-It box to my toddler without really thinking it through and when this happened I was left with one simple question - Why didn't I see that coming?

When I tell people my life story they frequently ask how it is that I avoided the pitfalls that so many of my family and others fell into (wait for the Lifetime movie 'cause I'm only going to mention bits and pieces here!). The answer is simple really. I wanted to live an uncomplicated life so that I had as few problems as this boring soul could handle.

So I went to college (where I didn't party), got a job, paid my bills, dated mostly boring guys and tried to be a "good" girl. At the end of the day, I ended up married to a former bad boy who has a lesbian ex-wife and three daughters. You'd would think that I would have taken one look at his situation and run like h**** especially since my oldest sister who has lived a very "exciting" life warned me too, but alas I didn't. I married the guy and took on enough baggage to fill a 747. When problems arose immediately I asked myself over and over again - why didn't I see that coming?

How is it we can so often see that a situation is going to be difficult but not truly understand how difficult it is until we are in it?

In the first few months we were married, my stepdaughters arrived to stay with us for their 10 week summer vacation. They were't at our non-existent wedding (we didn't have a "proper" one with a reception or anything) and only found out their father remarried because their mother heard a rumor. My oldest stepdaughter who was 10 at the time was naturally very upset. But instead of voicing her feelings - she acted out and took every ounce of insecurity and frustration out on me. If I came home to give my husband of two months a hug or a kiss then she physically inserted herself between us. She refused to hang out with friends and insisted on waiting for "her" daddy. When he came home she jumped up and wrapped her legs around him like a long lost lover.  So in summary, she acted like a very jealous girlfriend and not a 10-year-old daughter. This was not something I ever saw coming.

I encouraged my husband to take her to a therapist and deal with it but he said it was "my" problem and we needed to work it out. I think he actually liked the idea of two women fighting over him. But having seen therapists to deal with my own childhood issues, I knew this little girl was suffering because she felt unloved by her father. That was the real issue. She wasn't included in the wedding and she felt like her dad didn't care about her. I couldn't get my husband to deal with it so I did the next best thing - I gave her twice as much love as I gave her sisters. I also did my best to explain that I was not taking her father away from her. I'm not sure if that was the right way to deal with it. In retrospect, I should have insisted they be included in the informal ceremony we had and pushed my husband to communicate more with his daughters about his life.

Being a stepparent is a much harder task than I ever imagined. I knew there would be pitfalls and challenges but they have far surpassed what I expected. At the end of every day, I try to do my best and follow the advice that my hairstylist gave me as she did my hair on my wedding day - "Love them like they are your own."

Whatever happens, I'm going to be able to look back and say I did my best with these kids. I hope that's what really matters.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I'm "that" Mom

I was talking to my neighbor one day about the trials and tribulations of being a mom. She said that her sisters (all of whom have 4+ kids) never once told her how difficult it is to raise children. Maybe it's a "dirty" little secret that we keep to ourselves but the truth is - BEING A MOTHER IS FREAKING HARD! I use the word "freaking" because I have children and don't want them to think their mother is a potty mouth. :)

I had to go back to work when my son was about 5 1/2 weeks old. I say have to because my husband had three children with his first wife and we really wouldn't have been able to afford child support, plane tickets and summer daycare if I had taken three full months off for maternity leave. When I went back to work, I was 40 pounds heavier than I normally am, still healing from the delivery and dealing with an infant who was far from sleeping through the night. Needless to say - I was in no shape to spend every day surrounded by men who had stay at home wives and very little empathy for my situation.

It took my son almost six full months before he slept through the night and when people would ask me how I was holding it together, I would simply say "I cry in the bathroom at work." Seriously, I would take bathroom breaks to pee out 40 pounds of water and do a little crying at the same time.

When I decided to have a child, I was woefully unprepared for pregnancy, dealing with an infant and stepchildren while working and commuting. My mom died shortly after my sixth birthday so I grew never really knowing the female perspective on life. I had no idea that it was possible to get pregnant and spend 40 straight weeks vomiting all day - every day. I have IBS which only made things worse. There was one spectacular day where I was sitting on a restroom toilet while vomiting onto the bathroom floor. Then I cleaned up the mess and went back to work. Why? Because I'm part Irish and we're raised to suck it up and walk it off.  As if all the sickness wasn't bad enough, every time I went to the doctor's for a check up the scale rose in ridiculous increments. How was that possible when I would spend an entire day vomiting up one sandwich? DEHYDRATION. I retained 70lbs of water and had feet the size of Shrek's by the time I delivered. It took eleven long months and a bout of food poisoning to get all of that water out of my body.

So why write this blog? 1) It's cheaper than the therapy I don't really have time for and 2) Maybe someone out there will come across my rantings and take comfort in knowing they aren't alone.

One Quick Pregnancy Note:

If you are having the kind of pregnancy where you are sick all day long - I'm sorry! I took two different types of medication and was even given it through in IV and nothing made it any better. If you are like me, the only thing that helped was lying down on my left side.