Evolution of a Stepdad

The Man and I have been married for almost three years, and together for about six and a half. He’s been involved in The Boy’s life since he was nine years old. As I’ve mentioned before, he was the one to teach him how to ride a bike, he’s taught him to surf, how to operate the riding lawnmower, and countless other life lessons (including using the plunger the other night!). The ex was around until The Boy was six and a half. Suffice it to say that The Man has been more of a dad to The Boy in his memory.

When we first married, The Man was quick to classify his relationship to The Boy. “That’s my stepson,” he’d say when we were introduced to someone new. It never hurt me or The Boy to be introduced in this way, but it was something I noticed. You see, The Man has a grown daughter he doesn’t see much. And she was very young when he and her mom split up. Then she moved six hours away, but he made the effort to be in her life, made the drive to see her every other weekend, took her on trips, chaperoned her school trip to Washington DC, brought her to the beach in the summer, paid for much of her college and her car, and actually paid more than what he was asked in child support. He sees the other side of the coin, and always respected the fact that the ex was and is The Boy’s dad. He never wanted to replace him.

But over the years, that line has softened. He has grown protective of our boy. He is more comfortable voicing his opinions on his upbringing (while respecting the fact that I have the final say). The two of them have begun to have their own private jokes and rituals. And he often refers to him as “our son,” in casual conversation with others who may not know the whole situation. And I notice. ❤

like riding a bike

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Love & Linens

tea towelFor my birthday, and then again for Christmas, The Man got me gift certificates for a locally owned, independent kitchen store that stocks really nice things that I would never, ever buy for myself.  Early this spring, I was able to finally go in and choose some things to purchase, like a pair of high quality tea towels with some simple stripes in my favorite beachy colors.

I was hesitant to even put them in the kitchen, but that’s what I bought them for, so after a couple of weeks, up they went, and silly as it was, I got a kick out of seeing them everyday.

And then we had a spill on our new glass top stove, and in haste, The Man grabbed one of the new towels to wipe up the spill…

And then one day recently, The Man came in from mowing the lawn or doing some other thing that makes him incredibly sweaty and dirty, and washed up in the kitchen sink, grabbing the second of my new towels before the thought even crossed his mind that these were not intended to withstand man-dirt.  As soon as he pulled away and saw the destruction he had left in his wake, he knew there wasn’t much he could do to bring it back to life.

“It’s OK,” I said.  “It’s just dirt.  We’ll wash it,” I said, knowing full well that it was probably toast, just like it’s mate had been.

A few days later, I saw one of them in his pile of rags to take to the truck to use for painting or other handyman uses. I think I flinched and said something like, “Oh, my birthday towels…” I was totally not intending to make him feel guilty, but just reacting to my silly little towels and their short life span.

This past week, after a change in evening plans necessitated a fast food meal for dinner instead of our planned dinner, we were ready to take our two vehicles home, The Boy in The Man’s truck, and me alone in my little car. The Man called me over to his window before I got into my car and handed me a craft paper gift bag, with a ribbon and contents wrapped in tissue – all this from a man who isn’t big on gifts.

He had gone back to the kitchen store and picked me up a couple of new towels to replace the ones he had accidentally ruined. “I know they aren’t the same pattern, but I thought you’d like these anyway,” he explained, slightly embarrassed.

I can’t put into words how much I love him. Not because he bought me some tea towels, but because he cares enough to notice, and knows how to make it right. Because he knows it’s the small stuff, the “little bit of everything,” that matters so much in the long run.  Yep, I think I’ll keep him.

A Wonderful Visit

This post was drafted in August and I realized I hadn’t posted it yet.  🙂

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Our one and only Fantastic Babysitter (and her mom and baby) came to visit this past week.  She sacrificed a lot to come, and The Boy was so pleased to have her here, as was I.  We spent a long day at the beach, and worked around the baby’s schedule with relatively little problem, able to eat out a few times, and experience the area, thanks to some wonderful weather.

We walked out on the long fishing pier that extends out to the ocean, and Fantastic Babysitter, being afraid of heights, began to get a little nervous, expressing a wish for a hand to hold as she progressed over the beach and then over the waves.  The Boy slipped up behind her and picked up her hand, impressing everyone with his empathy and sensitivity.

Later, he sat on the couch next to me, and we held the baby.  He began to play with her feet, saying softly, “I’ve got your tootsies,” and then “Am I doing it right?” to me.

I watched him as he took every opportunity to sit next to Fantastic Babysitter, sometimes putting his head on her shoulder, recognizing the beautiful relationship they continue to have, even across the miles.

I was so happy to see them together, and was truly sad to see them go.  On their first night here, he began begging to go “back home,” and I realized that we may have to make that a reality before too long.  A visit next summer may be in order, because there are lots of people there he misses, and some I miss, as well.  We have been so happy here, but this visit brought some strong feelings to the surface, especially on his part.  And I don’t want to ignore those.

He’s Baaaack…

I have a sneaking suspicion that the ex and his girlfriend broke up, because he’s decided to remember he has a son of his own.  He texted me in the middle of the week, saying he was sorry he was behind on child support, but that he’s been laid off, and would make a payment by the end of the week, oh, and he’s definitely a go for Easter, and could he call Thursday?

Sure, I replied.

Thursday evening rolled around, and another text that said he was still at work, and could he call Friday instead.

Sure, I replied.

He called while we were out to dinner, and I missed it, so I called him back before he could get to The Boy and start making promises that I would have to deal with when they were broken.

He laid out his plans for picking up The Boy for Easter Break, and didn’t ask for too much travel on our end.  He went on to talk about us bringing The Boy to Florida in May, because he has a friend who works at Discovery Cove, and could get us in free to every park in Orlando.  He suggested The Man and I come, too, and hang out with them for a couple of days if we wanted…

I told him I’d check the school calendar.

When he finally called to talk to The Boy on Saturday, I told him he could talk about Easter Break, but not to mention the other plans until they were more firm.

The unfortunate reality is that even positive contact with his dad has an impact on The Boy.  We are now bracing ourselves and warning his teachers, who have never experienced The Boy post-visit-to-dad’s.

And it has already begun. The slightest up-tick in defiance and rigidity, the constant fear of being left behind… All of the old emotions (and negative behaviors) return with a phone call and a promise.

The ex will never understand his own power.

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Time and Space

After the divorce, The Boy talked to his dad about once a week on the phone.  At least, his dad did most of the talking, unsure of how to get him to respond, and frequently pissed off because The Boy didn’t speak much at all.  Over the years, his contact with The Boy has decreased dramatically, as I somehow knew it would, sooner or later.

The ex hasn’t seen his son in almost a year.  He hasn’t spoken to him since January 23.

People rarely change, unless they invite it, seek it, and educate themselves to effect it.  None of these, unfortunately, apply to the ex.  Unfortunately for The Boy, who will probably always have a strained relationship with his dad, if he has one at all.  And unfortunately for the ex, who obviously hasn’t a clue what he is missing, and won’t be able to get this missed time with his son back.

Luckily for The Boy, I think he notices it less now that he has a step-dad around, full-time.  One who takes him for rides in the truck, wrestles with him, jokes with him, and obviously cares about him.  The Man will never replace his dad, but he sure makes up for what his dad lacks in his life.  And that’s a good thing.  Couldn’t get much better, in fact.

My Boys

I Don’t Owe Him a Thing

When I was first divorced, I bent over backwards to make sure that The Boy spent time with his dad.  And I often bent further than was really fair.  Because I knew if I didn’t, their relationship would suffer.  But finally, I realized that their relationship wasn’t up to me.  It was up to them, and since The Boy is a child, it was really up to the adult in that relationship, namely the ex.  It was most definitely not up to me.

A few days ago, I wrote about the ex’s most recent behavior, asking me for a few “favors”.  My first, knee-jerk reaction was to try to help him out, because if I don’t, he will take it out on his son, probably cancelling his visitation time, and not calling.

But the truth is, that’s pretty likely, even when the ex isn’t pissed off at me.  And lying for him is definitely not in my best interests, nor in the best interests of his own son.  Doing “favors” for him when he hangs up on me is reinforcing that bad behavior.  The truth is that we don’t have that kind of relationship.  We have a business relationship, if that.  Some divorced relationships are cordial and even friendly.  Ours just isn’t.  And because it isn’t, favors are not required.

The simple question is, would he do the same for me?  The answer is no.  The simple question is, would you do “favors” for a person who periodically swears at you, threatens you, hangs up on you, and doesn’t meet his obligations to you?

I didn’t think so.

Book Review: Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Kiss - RodinI know there are a lot of Elizabeth Gilbert haters out there, but I think she is actually a very good writer, and just because her books have been popular does not mean that her writing is mediocre. I find her writing style personable and engaging. I enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, all the while envying her ability to travel like that – would that we could all take a year and visit three amazing places on our bucket list! Some complain that her divorce as portrayed in the book wasn’t “real” enough, even though her divorce isn’t actually the center of the story – her recovery is (and shouldn’t we single gals be supporting each other instead of tearing each other down with “if you think that’s bad” stories?).  When Committed came out, I actually bought it in hard cover (not a planned purchase, just one of those see-it-in-the-bookstore-and-think-what-the-heck purchases).  And I read it and enjoyed it, how it weaves anecdotes with research, and I learned a heck of a lot more about matrimony than I had ever known before. I like books where I learn stuff.

Here I am, on the cusp of getting married again, to someone who is not-scared-of getting married, but shall we say, a little anxious, not having been married since the mid-eighties. And I remembered this book, sitting on my shelf, about a man and a woman facing marriage, and who are also a-little-more-than-anxious about getting married. I decided to read it again, to see if I could gather any insight into my fiancé’s perspective, and explore my own feelings on the subject.

Ms. Gilbert says, “It’s been famously said that second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. It seems to me that first marriages are the more hope-drenched affairs, awash in vast expectations and easy optimism. Second marriages are cloaked, I think in something else: a respect for forces that are bigger than us, maybe. A respect that perhaps even approaches awe.” I tend to agree, although I think hope is the wrong word here. I think first-time marriages are the epitome of naivete (sorry – can’t think of a better word!), thinking that divorce will just not “happen” to them, because they think they are in control, while second marriages are hopefully careful, acknowledging that there are forces within and around a marriage that are just not in our control, but that being aware, and having that experience may actually give us an edge.

I take exception to her terminology and jaunt into singlemomdom, when she uses that washed up old term “broken home” to describe a single parent family. Although she does stress that her point about kids doing better in two-parent homes is actually in reference to the consistency and stability of a family, rather than the actual numbers of parents, I really just wish she had said that instead of the whole “kids do better in un-broken homes” section.

But the stories about the people she encounters on the other side of the world, and how silly her questions may have sounded, and the over-analyzing of the marriage statistics…  It all makes sense to me.  Because I do the same thing when I am anxious about something.  I’m not (very) anxious about my own second trip down the aisle, but as I said, I get it – I completely understand why anyone would be.

Another point that resonated with me was the discovery that early western marriages were in spite of the Church, who wanted no one between an individual and God, not even a spouse. Early western marriages, then, were alliances between a man and a woman, in effect, against the world. I like that.

I spoke with a friend today who is at the beginning stages of her second divorce, and she is obviously bitter about marriage in general.  She can’t be happy for me, although she is trying – and I understand.  She said, “Why can’t you just be happy together?  Why do you have to get married?”  I had no reply, because I understood.  But my question back is, Would your heart hurt any less if you had never gotten married this second time?  Or would it still be messy and ugly, this breaking up stuff?

In any case, this book is a thinking person’s book for anyone, not just those contemplating a second marriage. Ms. Gilbert tackles tradition, cultural differences, expectation, and anything else a skeptic would research before coming to terms with something as important and life-altering as getting married, for the second time.

A Pleasant Surprise

Here’s the shocker: The Boy actually went to his dad’s for a whole two weeks, and they had a great time.  And his dad actually spent time with him, rather than working and foisting his son onto his girlfriend or his mother (of course, he’s been laid off, so I’m not sure it was a conscious choice, but it’s something).  They went sledding, bowling, and to an aviation museum, and I think, just maybe, the ex is starting to realize what a neat kid we made together.

I’m not saying he’s a changed man.  The Boy came home with cat scratches covering his hands, and his boots were left behind.  A hearing is about to be scheduled for nonpayment of child support, and the ex is talking about paying for two plane tickets to come and gather The Boy after we move.  (I don’t really see the second half of that sentence happening because of the first part of that sentence).  But I’m hoping that the ex has come to understand how important it is for him to see his son (more than he did in 2012), and I’m hoping he has come to understand that it isn’t up to me to make sure that happens.

As I said, only time will tell.  But it is nice to get a pleasant surprise once in awhile!

The Boy and his dad

Goodbye, 2012

I suppose everyone has their own year-end list, but mine might be a bit different.

This year, I am thankful for

  • The Boy adapting so well to 5th grade, and making such big strides in terms of independence
  • My deepening relationship with The Man, now taking that next step
  • Finding balance between work and home, most days
  • The love and support of my friends and family, who remain incredibly supportive of our upcoming major life changes
  • You people!  Yes, you all, who are so supportive of my blog.  I LOVE doing this, and while I would still do it if no one was reading, it makes it that much more fun and satisfying that people are enjoying it.

I hope you, too, have much to be thankful for about 2012, and even more to be thankful for in the coming year.

Happy New Year!!

Ohio River