Sermons and Step-Parenting

IMG_1654I gave my first talk in my new ward yesterday. It’s up at By Common Consent, if you’re interested. It’s difficult for me to know how much to share with new people; there’s a line somewhere between giving context, and giving oneself away. Of course, my modus operandi in my writing is being an almost entirely open book- but things are a little different in real life. Does one stand at the pulpit and pound a fist and say “Listen up! When I say I know what it’s like to be tried, I know what I’m talking about! And not just in the comfortable way of tight finances or a husband who forgets to pick up his towels!” Yeah… probably not. But sometimes I want to— I’m never dishing platitudes. Maybe that’s just part of getting older? I have less patience with people who love their problems, and more patience with knowing things usually work out, even when “working out” seldom means what we want it to mean. Anyway, that was the gist of my talk.

My husband’s ex-wife attended our ward yesterday. I don’t get nervous when speaking, so it didn’t really phase me on the stand- but it’s part of an emerging pattern of interjecting herself when we have the kids. A phone call each evening (which is what he does when the kids are not with us) is perfectly fine and reasonable, but half a dozen phone calls and twice as many texts in a few hours is a bit over the line. We clearly have some work to do.

I realize it must be very difficult to have another woman have access to and personal time with your children. This isn’t a challenge I’ve been given, but my capacity for empathy is decently calibrated, so I can imagine those shoes being uncomfortable, particularly at first. I want her to know that her kids are being loved and cared for with us.

Learning to be a good step-parent is like anything when you’re learning— you’re going to goof a few times, but sincerity and love go a long way towards cementing new bonds. I’ve never done this before, but I have been a step-kid and I have been a kid of a divorce, and I’ve been trying to remember what I needed; the answer always comes down to love. If I err on the side of love, I think it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

From day one, I decided all children in our new family would be treated and loved equally. There would be the same set of rules for all the kids. They are radically different children, and all five have wildly different needs many days, but it’s possible and necessary to make the family a place where everyone is loved, and everyone’s input is valid, and most importantly, wanted and heard. Despite the fact my own kids are here every day and my step-kids divide their time between two homes, all kids have dedicated space and a dedicated voice here. Taking the time to listen— really listen— has already opened up some unique and healing conversations with my step-kids and with my own kids, as we navigate combining families.

The kids are getting along better than I ever dared hope. They’re 17, nearly 13, 11, 10 and 8. They’re playing together, working together, helping each other, giggling a lot, staying up way too late talking, teasing each other, and now, even solving problems together. Just like siblings. At first everyone was understandably careful, but I see the problem solving and relaxing as evidence of feeling comfortable and safe— and that’s a good thing.

I haven’t been writing about this much because honestly, I haven’t known how to navigate the new interpersonal byways. My kids are used to being part of my narrative, and while I give them veto power now over anything I write about them, they still are used to being part of a somewhat public story. I’ll clearly be more careful with my step-kids’ privacy, but I simply cannot ignore the impact and beautiful part of our lives they are becoming. My husband encouraged me to just write; to do what I do best. So here it is.

For their mother, I want her to know what their father already knows— maybe it will help her feel more comfortable: They are safe and loved here in this newly formed, unconventional family. I will love and protect them as if they were my own. And that’s saying something.

Goodbye House

Goodbye House. Goodbye gleaming hardwood floors. Goodbye white picket fence. Goodbye master bath larger than Little House’s kitchen. Goodbye picket-fenced emerald-velvet grassed yard. Goodbye high ceilings and sunroom Goodbye curving staircase and food-storage room. Goodbye landscape lights and four bathrooms. Goodbye french doors and central air. Goodbye double-hung windows and arched doorways. Goodbye deeply shaded backyard with climbing trees and quail and foxes and deer. Goodbye cul-de-sac where kids could play safely and boys learned to ride their bikes. Goodbye front porch with Adirondack chairs and a birdfeeder. Goodbye deep soaking tub and the kids’ own bathroom. Goodbye dreams and future I planned. Goodbye “we” and goodbye “us”.

And Hello wide-open future and all that it may contain…

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Bury My Heart

My soon-to-be Ex has not realized that there are clocks in the world, and that some hours are unseemly for phone calls. I’ve gotten calls at 1:10 in the morning, 11:30 at night 6:04 am, and at assorted times in between. This morning, he called to cancel his scheduled visit with our children today. It would have been only the third time he’s seen them since October 1st, but hey, some things are more important I guess.

I am determined to get through this without becoming bitter or angry, but sometimes it’s really, really hard. The task of telling the kids Dad has made other plans fall on me, and they have been counting the days until they see him all week. The part that kills me is the little seeds of hope and happiness this extinguishes inside of them. Dammit, it’s not fair! And while I can take a ton of unfairness myself, my heart just cannot absorb seeing their sweet innocence hurt by the idiotic choices of someone they love.

I promise not to let this renting take over my life. I just haven’t figured out where or how to dig the trenches and erect the ramparts.

Reflections on Divorce, Part I

My kids are at my mother-in-law’s house, visiting with their dad for the second time since October 1st. They were overflowing with excitement, and burst from the car before I had even turned off the engine, throwing themselves into his waiting arms on the porch.  I watched, my throat tightening as Abby nestled herself in the hollow under his chin, wrapping her small arms around his neck. Those arms once meant safety to me, too. And now I stand back and watch, mindful of my heart and the minefield of broken dreams between myself in the driveway and him, standing on his mother’s porch.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to us. We were different. He spent ten years convincing me to trust him before I finally married him, and in him I placed my heart, hopes, children and dreams. When I finally gave myself to him, I gave my all. This wasn’t supposed to be us.

Some days  I’m like a second-day party balloon- without enough oomph to reach the ceiling, but with just enough air to linger in the middle, neither here nor there. I am not really married anymore- and yet I’ll never really be single again, either.  I am a wheel out of true, softly gimping along. I cannot see what is next, and I cannot makes sense of what’s behind me yet.

I have three hours while the kids get their time with their dad. He is across town, and driving home seems a waste, so I head to the craft store. I am purposeless, just spinning my wheels and killing time. With a giant hollow ache where my heart should be, the tinsel and Christmas glitter just seem sad rather than festive, and the canned carols in the store only make me feel more alone. I leave my cart unobtrusively by the register, one skein of yarn half-heartedly left on the seat, and walked out the doors into the cold clear night.

The quiet echoes in my head. It’s a lonely quiet, not a solitude.

I’ve always loved the holidays. I love decorating, and would be chomping at the bit to put the tree up before even Thanksgiving, some years. This year, I can barely even think about it- although I know it will happen. I will get the decorations out, I will celebrate with the kids, and when the lights are all out, and I think no one is looking, I will be utterly swallowed up by aching loneliness and the chasm of loss that hides behind my heart.

I know I can do this. I know the “firsts” are going to be the hardest of everything. I know we are all going to be okay- I just have to battle back the desire to see the end from the beginning. It doesn’t work that way. Each day, I must pick myself up, dust myself off, and take another step.  Eventually, I will have walked a mile. Just for today, for today only, all I can do is that one little step.