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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Proud

The Man and The Boy are a sight to behold.

When we end up going somewhere in two vehicles (which happens more than I’d like, but what can I do), The Boy will always choose to ride with The Man in his truck.  They talk about vehicles, and The Man makes the stupidest, corniest jokes that only 13 year-old-boys might find funny, and they crack each other up.

They don’t wrestle as much as they used to, because The Boy is quite simply too tall, and they could injure each other easily. But they are quite comfortable with each other, and it makes me smile.

The Man has learned a lot, especially in the last two years. He questioned much more at first, but now he seems to get it. He still gets annoyed, as I do, after listening to forty-five minutes of descriptions of the dome light of every known make and model of car. But he doesn’t lose his patience. He seems much more ready to understand that a meltdown is not misbehavior.

My BoysAs I write this, I am looking out our back doors, watching The Man teaching The Boy how to drive the lawn mower, while sitting up on the back of the seat because The Boy can no longer fit on his lap.

And earlier, I watched him tear up at a news story about a special needs family fighting to get treatment for their daughter. I know his perspective has changed, and I know now we are an “us”.

I am so happy for The Boy, so happy for us. And so proud of The Man.

The Man, The Teacher

Can I just start this post off by saying I know how incredibly lucky The Boy and I are? I know there’s a lot of single mamas out there with kiddos with special needs, and I know that loneliness, and that feeling of hopelessness that you may never find someone to share your joys and burdens. I write this post in gratitude that life, circumstance, karma, or whatever or whoever you may think had a hand in it, helped us get to be this blended family of three.

The Man is a natural teacher and kid magnet.  Whenever we go to the beach, he picks out a couple of kids who show even  the slightest interest in his surfboard, puts them on, gives them a few pointers and lets them fly.  And after about 10 minutes, a whole beach-full of kids wants a turn.  Our little neighbor often comes over to see if The Boy wants to play, and just as often ends up “helping” The Man with his projects around the house, wearing his tool belt, and learning how to use a power screwdriver, under the closest of supervision, of course.

He shows me how to do stuff all the time.  I put windows into our trailer flip all by myself, you know, and I didn’t know how to do that before I met The Man.

He was the one to teach The Boy to ride his bike.  He taught him how to pee while keeping his trousers up.  He’s taught him how to surf and mow the lawn.  The other night, The Man had brought home some m&ms for The Boy and had told him he could have them when he was done practicing the tuba. But when The Boy and I ended the practice session, I was frustrated.  He is so freakin’ smart that he thinks it’s funny to play it incorrectly and doesn’t know when to stop joking around and get work done.  This is something we’re working on, and this lesson just didn’t go right. I was tired of everything and decided to go to bed early.  The Boy quickly grabbed the m&ms and headed to his room.  In his mind, he was done practicing which meant he could have them, while The Man and I both agreed that you only get rewards when you do things the right way.  I gave up and headed to bed, very aggravated and  unwilling to fight anymore.  The Man stepped in and I could hear him speaking to The Boy through the bedroom door. He came to bed and said he had explained that we needed to save the m&ms for when he actually got the work done on the tuba, and asked him to think about it, and also suggested that when he returned the m&ms to the fridge, he needed to come and tell me he had done so.

I was so impressed. The Man had calmly explained the reasoning and left it in The Boy’s hands to do the right thing.

Not five minutes had gone by when we heard a knock on the bedroom door.  The Boy entered to tell me he had returned the m&ms, and I assured him he could earn them the next night by completing our work on the tuba. He wasn’t happy about it, but he wasn’t melting, either, and he had made the right choice, guided by The Man’s words.

This is something that would not have occurred if his dad had been around.  This is something that would not have occurred if I was still doing it all on my own.  This occurred because The Man is a good teacher, and a good parent. I am grateful.

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

Happy Birthday to My Man

DSC00478The Man and I have just celebrated being married for 8 months, and today is his birthday.

If you’ve been following along, he and I have known each other for years, and I started to crush on him pretty hard after I got divorced.  He has also known The Boy for years, and often entertained him when we were on vacation down here with my parents.  He even taught him to ride a bike, and has recently succeeded in getting him to stand up on the surfboard while riding a wave in by himself – such a triumph after years of “lessons”!

He was nervous about getting married, but has since settled in, and enjoys marriage now, as do I.  Quite simply put, he’s my best friend, I love spending time with him, he makes me laugh, and we are good together.

There is also a considerable age difference between us, which has always bothered him more than it has bothered me.  He often wishes I had some grey hairs so people wouldn’t mistake him for my dad (this has only happened a few times, although it is irritating), but I think over time, he has seen that it rarely comes up, and isn’t an issue in the least.

He is a good man, and I am so lucky to have him.  And for the next seven months, he is only sixteen years older than me, rather than seventeen.  Happy Birthday to The Man, The Only Man For Me!

Buddies

The Boy has always relished the attention that The Man has given to him without a thought, most likely because his own dad doesn’t give him the time of day, even in the one week of the year (or less) that he sees him.  The Man was the one to teach The Boy how to ride his bike, and The Man will be the one that shows him how to shave.  He is constantly creating teachable moments with The Boy, and doesn’t hesitate to take him to the hardware store or the convenience store for a little hang-out time.  This morning, he suggested The Boy start his truck while he started my car for me (ice and sleet having covered our windshields, and not having an ice scraper because the old one got busted in the last ice storm).  It pretty much made The Boy’s day.

DSC00878

Tonight, The Man and The Boy had a wrestling match, which they do a couple of nights a week – we use it as a reward, and The Boy adores the sensory input and the bonding.  Later on, he came out of his room and sat with us (an unusual occurrence), and it was a wonderful family moment, giggling and laughing as I asked yes or no questions and they controlled eachother’s heads to nod yes or no in answer.  And he chose to stay to watch some skiing with us, cuddling up to his stepdad on the end of the couch.  And he even invited The Man to have a sleepover in the family room with him tonight since he has a snow day tomorrow…  The Man has fallen asleep, but The Boy is still there cuddled up to him, enjoying having a real dad for the first time in his life.

The Man for The Boy

This morning, The Boy’s transport van was ten minutes early.  If you know nothing about autism, you probably still know that routines are king, and if you mess with a routine… Well, watch out.

I heard the first honk at 6:38am.  The Boy had just decided he didn’t want to wear the pants we had chosen, but wanted to wear the blue ones.  I frantically searched for the blue ones, found them, gave them to him and he said, “Their inside out!”  I quickly turned them right side out, handed them to him and asked him to put them on, while I found a pair of socks to put on his feet myself.  That done, I headed to the front door, opened it, and stuck out a finger (no, not that one, although I was tempted), to let her know we had heard her and were coming as quick as we could.

I returned to The Boy’s room, and told him to go put his shoes on.  I grabbed his poptarts in a baggie, and his bookbag, and tried to hurry him out the door.  “Where are my glasses?” he wailed.  I set everything down, and went into his room to get his glasses.

She honked again.

Really?  Did you think I didn’t know you were there?  I already came outside in my robe to let you know we were coming, but you needed to honk again?

I gave him his glasses, gathered all of his things, and shooed him toward the door.  “I need you to tie my pants!  You’re not going to tie my pants?”  I got him on the porch, gave him his things and tied the drawstring on his pants.  I gave him a kiss and sent him on his way.

When I came in, The Man said, “Really?  Why was she so early, and why did she have to honk twice?”  Exactly.  “You need to call them and tell them they can’t do that to him.  He needs his routine, and they definitely don’t need to be honking like that.”

The Man advocating for The Boy.

Not just supporting me, because he knew I was a bit frantic and anxious from the situation the driver created (which he did, as well, asking more than once if I was OK), but actually defending and advocating for The Boy.

Exactly.

On the dunes

This is a Stepdad

Today, The Man and I got up early and went to the store to get 6 gallons of paint – we were finally going to start painting the house!  The Man has single-handedly remodeled this place, and this summer, we replaced the siding, which was 20 years old.  To save money we used panels that were “seconds” and therefore marked on the corners with blue paint.  Because of those marks, staring us in the face every time we drove up, we were anxious to finish the job, and the exterior paint was almost the last step.

I’ve helped the man do a fair share of painting, in our own house, as well as on a few large jobs he’s had.  But I am not a painter.  I was doing pretty good this morning, but got extremely frustrated after lunch and quit.  I am not usually a quitter, but it was beyond what I could handle, so I walked away.  The Man finished that side of the house on his own, and then moved on to cutting the lawn.

He had asked The Boy if he wanted to “drive” the mower today, so when he was ready, he took him for a few rides around the house before he started mowing in earnest.  I took a few snaps, and came inside to relax for awhile (the sound of the mower tends to put me to sleep).

mowing101

And then I heard voices.  I looked through the back doors and saw The Boy and The Man on the mower.  The Man was directing him where to go, and The Boy was actually mowing the lawn, steering, going in reverse, slowing down, and keeping his lines straight.  It was a pretty neat sight, and erased all of my earlier frustration.

Because this was more than a stepdad showing his stepson how to mow the lawn.

This is a stepdad who understands how fascinated his autistic stepson is with cars, and watches how he pretends to start his own car every time he climbs into a vehicle.  This is a stepdad who took his stepson to his favorite hardware store, and asked them to give him one of the mistakes from the key-making counter, so he could have his own set of car keys.  This is a stepdad who watched his stepson pretending to steer and use turn signals in his truck this very morning, and decided to give him an opportunity to steer something with a real-live running engine, while throwing a hands-on lesson in there, to boot.

This is a stepdad.

Men and Boys

There are things in this world that boys need to learn from adults.  I find that as a single mom, some things slip through the cracks, and I’m surprised when I realize The Boy doesn’t know something (like what the phrase “laughing like a hyena” means).  Since The Man has been in our lives, he has often stepped in to teach The Boy something that boys (and really all growing kids) should know how to do, like ride a bike:

First Time on Two Wheels

Today, we had an up and down day, which ended up being mostly up.  Luckily, we were able to turn around a dramatic morning and spent most of the beautiful day at the park.  When we eventually came home, The Man immediately set The Boy to work, teaching him how to wash Mom’s car:

carwash

The Man even points out to me the times when I am doing something for The Boy that he could be doing himself.  I bristled at this at first, but it didn’t take me long to realize that he wasn’t telling me how to parent The Boy, and that he was usually right.  Now I find his insights invaluable, and these lessons he teaches The Boy are so important.  And even more important is the relationship that comes from these lessons and insight.  This stuff makes me smile. 🙂