I try to tell Step-daughter: leaving isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She’ll be a senior this year, and although I don’t think she plans to go away to college, I know it is nevertheless her intention to get as far away from Illinois as possible after she graduates. I think she believes–as I once did–that happiness isn’t possible here, that there’s nothing so boring and ugly as the prairie, and that there have to be better, nicer, and smarter people in bigger cities elsewhere in the country. Continue reading “This road I’m walking on from time to time always leads me home.”
I think it to myself sometimes: wouldn’t it be amazing to go back to high school and know what I know now? The mom of the senior I photographed the other day said it out of the blue and I could only smile and agree. Her kid, meanwhile, looked at us like we were both crazy old people who’d forgotten what it was like to actually be in high school. Continue reading “The Drama”
I took these before. Before he went and danced his ass off. Before he had to try to salvage the evening because she was trying to do a number on him. Before he came home early knowing that they weren’t going to make it very much longer.
Sometimes, when I’m sitting quietly on my couch crocheting and watching West Wing, my mind wanders a bit and I end up rethinking things I haven’t thought in a while. This morning, it was this: wouldn’t it be great if there was some outward sign that a person was poison or evil or generally not worth the skin they’re printed on?
I’m having a difficult week. So are the kids, but we’re all attempting to keep that to ourselves and put on a happy face. Continue reading “These are the times that try [wo]men’s souls.”
I like to think that I’ve finally gotten too old to give a damn. Certainly, I mostly act as if that’s true. When Mom and I are out and about misbehaving and I happen to look up and catch someone staring, I usually smile at them and go right back to our conversation. Who gives a rat’s ass what they think about us? Continue reading “A Little Temporary Descent”
Your 16th birthday was almost a week ago, and I’m still trying to recuperate from the cheesecake. I was hoping you’d go for the vanilla Wal-Mart cupcakes with the ridiculously sweet icing like last year; but alas, this time around, you didn’t hesitate to tell me exactly what you wanted or to express an opinion that was entirely different from my own. You aren’t a cake kid, and Continue reading “Dear Step-Daughter…”
It’s the middle of the afternoon, and I’m exhausted. I’ve been up since way-too-early, and I’ve worked my ass off today.
Although I’ve never been a nap person, days like this make me envy the teenagers in the house who seem to be able to sleep at all hours of the day and night with no thought as to whether they’re snoozing away the best years of their lives. Continue reading “Exhausted, bleach-flavored instruction”
Mama used to say that if only she would’ve had someone to help her pull her wagon, things would’ve been a lot easier for all of us. She meant another adult, of course, but what she got was a couple of kids. We weren’t very good pullers, my oldest brother and I, but our hearts were in the right place. We tried.
Since I starting “dating” my sweet husband in 2015, I’ve thought a lot about that “pulling the wagon” image of Mama’s. It’s apt, actually. Those little red wagons aren’t at all easy to pull, particularly if the terrain is rough or if you get it too heavily loaded. When we were growing up, there were very few patches of smooth ground. And there were four of us, so the wagon’s burden was never light. Some of us fell out sometimes. We got hurt or lost or both.
When Hubby and I got together, his wagon had been stuck in the mud for so long that he’d given up trying to move it. The kids had taken it over and made a useless mess of it; it was no longer fit to move anything anywhere or to keep anyone out of harm’s way. Indeed, they all had cuts and scrapes from the wagon’s rusty edges, and we worried (and still worry) about infections that never fully go away, that could be life-threatening.
My husband is a hard worker and he brings home a decent paycheck. He is also a wonderful man with a huge heart, and for several years before I arrived on the scene, he was dad, mom, and sole breadwinner for his three children. Unfortunately, it was just him trying to do all those things (aside from occasional help from his visiting mom). Like Mama, he needed serious, permanent help to pull his wagon, and the oldest boy (no matter how good his intentions) wasn’t getting the job done.
When I talk to Hubby about that time, he says there was no opportunity for anything except triage, trying desperately to prioritize on the fly and decide who most needed help. I can’t imagine how horrific it must’ve been for him to see all his babies in trouble and to only be able to offer temporary help to the one who was bleeding out the fastest. I’m sure his persistent worrying (over a situation he had no power to fix) is to blame for most of his current wrinkles and health problems.
I knew my husband for 25 years before we ever got together, and I think every day about how much different both of our lives would’ve been if it hadn’t taken so long, if we both hadn’t taken so much damage beforehand. I came in to our relationship with a feeling of worthlessness that was directly tied to how much money I was making. He came in with the persistent and nagging feeling that he was solely responsible for getting these three little people he’d made into adulthood alive.
I’ve said it before, but I think I was born to be a mother. As soon as I walked through the door, I started trying to make a safe home for these kids that I really didn’t know at all except through occasional pictures and stories my sister (in-law) told. At the beginning, hubby gave me $400 a week to buy groceries and the stuff the kids needed. They had to come to me with their requests instead of to their dad. I cleaned, went grocery shopping, cooked actual food, and enforced a go-home time for the oldest’s friends. (Hubby was working midnights, and five days a week, I had to make sure nobody ended up injured, traumatized or dead.) I bought clothes and school supplies, toiletries and tampons. I discouraged Hamburger Helper and fast food wherever possible because none of them needed to continue to live that way now that I was there. Hubby seemed to drop 50 pounds overnight.
My very presence was enough to ensure that within a few months, the kids had new beds and we lived in a nicer house in a better neighborhood. There was also a new school for the youngest two (the oldest moved away when he hit 18) and car insurance for my husband, who hadn’t been able to round up the extra money to start it while he was busy putting out fires. This fall he’s going back to school to pursue a dream and to work toward getting the hell out of the factory.
The point of all this is, the experience of marrying my sweet husband and becoming step-mom to these awesome (if occasionally irksome) kids has shown me once and for all what it truly means to be and to have a partner, how it feels to help someone pull their wagon and to know that they are there to help you pull yours, and how sometimes you can help without bringing a single dime of your own to the table. I would never have guessed. Seriously. That was not at all the lesson I’d spent the preceding years of my adulthood learning.
Even more than a year later, it still blows me away when my husband (or my mom or my sister) points out all the ways that the lives of these three people have changed and improved in the time I’ve known them. I say “I didn’t do anything. I just showed up.”
My husband says “Baby. I love you. You’re so silly.”
*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Partner.
First of all, I love you. You need to know that. You need to see it written down and really take it to heart and believe it, because I don’t say it very often and you tend not to hear schmaltz (You are 13, after all.) I also think that you are reluctant to admit that you share my feelings of affection, most likely owing to the very existence of your biological mother. Please know that — contrary to what you probably believe — I understand that you feel pressure to love your mother…both from her and from the universe at large. I also understand that you’re a teenager, and therefore you automatically want to do that which will annoy your father and me. You think loving your mother will accomplish that, but it’s not true. She’s your mother and of course you love her. What you don’t know yet is that some people don’t get the best moms, and they spend their whole lives wishing they could un-love their mother and undo all the damage she did to them. I’m so afraid that’s where you’ll end up. Please believe me when I say that this is my only feeling on the subject. If you could love her without danger to yourself, all I would have to say is “that’s terrific!” (and to be honest, there are times I could use a break from all your teenageryness). But you choose to love her up close, to spend more time with her than you should, and in so doing, to put yourself repeatedly and needlessly in harm’s way. When you come home from there — after several days of bar food, not sleeping at night, and only seeing her drunk if at all — you’re a total shit to us. I’m sure this is because you imagine yourself greatly inconvenienced to be back again in a house where you are actually looked after and parented. Regardless of how misunderstood you might feel at these moments, your father and I understand a lot more than we let on. We try not to pick up the horrible things you say to us, or even all the ways you act out. We make these allowances (for a little while) because we figure this behavior won’t last forever. Also because we love you. Both of us, not just the one you’re cloned from.
Have you got it? Great.
Now that the serious stuff is out of the way, here’s one of the many reasons I’m writing: Your Axe products are slowly killing me. Yes, I breathe better now that I quit smoking, but I also breathe better now that I quit smoking, if you see what I mean. Where I used to only react to about half of the smells in my environment, I am now subject to all of them, at full potency. When you take a shower and a bath a day and use far more than the required amount of product for both, it makes me think you want me dead and you’ve grown tired of waiting for nature to take its course (or the cat to take his revenge). In retaliation for this everyday attempt to end my life, I have started to rather passive/aggressively do a few things I never did before where you are concerned. First, I no longer go looking for the missing socks and underwear that are not in your laundry basket. This means you run out of both items a few days earlier than usual, and you are forced to make that pouty face because you can’t change two or three times a day. I am secretly amused by this to such an extent that I find it extremely difficult not to laugh like Renfield and wallow joyfully in your misfortune like Kitty Boy in catnip. In addition to vowing never again to search for your missing laundry, I have also gleefully stopped making tea. Admittedly, this used to bother you a lot more than it does now. But be on your guard, kid; I’m looking for something new and innovative with which to torture you as we speak.
Second, I know you don’t share my opinion on this, but Jesus, Spaghettios stink. Granted, this is another one of those smells that I notice more because of the non-smoking thing, but they reeked even when my sense of smell was compromised. But the actuality of the stench is not why I’m bringing this up; please, for the love of god PLEASE, stop making Spaghettios at 3AM. They wake me up out of a dead sleep, and I have to fight the dry heaves. The same goes for eggs, although I love those — when you’re sleeping, happily cocooned inside a fluffy cloud of blankets that smell good, anything being cooked is undesirable. Stop it. Eat when we eat. Sleep when we sleep. You are not a vampire or a drunk, you’re not on mood or behavior altering drugs, and there’s no reason for you to be awake and eating at that time of day.
Third, stop distracting me with stupid YouTube videos. More to the point, stop distracting me with endless and pointless chatter about stupid YouTube videos. There’s nothing for me to learn there, and engaging in “conversations” with you about something that took ten seconds to watch and was virtually incomprehensible does not make me feel as though I’m spending quality time with you. Remarkably, I also don’t find the endless videos of commentary about video games at all interesting. In fact, I’m not particularly interested in the video games themselves. Unless you’re talking to me about Final Fantasy or old school Mario Bros., count on getting nothing but a blank look back from me. Now, if you want to talk to me about the books you read in school or even about South Park and American Dad, I’m there. Unfortunately, it seems like you stopped watching quality, inappropriate television shows a couple years ago, and the truth is, I am still kind of reeling from the loss of my favorite kid’s perspective on the subject. Come back. At least sit on the couch with me for the Trump Show (formerly known as the news) and help me yell obscenities at the screen. I miss you.
Fourth: boy, I will cut you if you don’t start lifting the lid and hitting the bowl. Please note that this is a two-part statement. Both pieces are necessary to prevent my screaming my head off when I enter the bathroom after you. Now, I understand (from my brief time living in the house with your older brother) that this is some kind of a natural teenage boy thing, but come on. I knew you two years ago, and at that time, you were perfectly capable of putting your bodily fluids where they belong. If anything, my presence in your life has made you more civilized, so I seriously don’t understand this recent turn of events. You are not living in a barnyard, boy. Get it together. Otherwise, cleaning the bathroom will become a daily chore that moves over to your list. Heh….you think it’s hard to get your allowance now.
Fifth: if you’re trying to irritate me with your love of sub-par rap music (when I can barely stomach the really good stuff), you’ve succeeded. But you should know that if I keep hearing it playing on a loop at a steady and monotonous drone while you’re otherwise engaged with playing a game and chatting online, then I cannot be responsible for my actions. Your phone (from which the music streams) might just up and disappear. My little brother needs an iPhone, and I know for certain that I can trust him to use it to play decent music.
Finally, please PLEASE make an effort to be the boy I know you can be this year. Last year, you lied to us about homework, you didn’t study until you had nearly flunked out, and you hung around with the only thug in our corn-fed, miniscule town. I know you’re smart. I’ve talked to you. I’ve nearly fallen out of my chair a hundred times from laughing at some hilarious and undeniably smart thing you’ve said or done. I damn near have a master’s degree, I’ve read a shit-ton of books, and I have more life experience than I can stomach; you couldn’t possibly crack me up like you do if you weren’t above average. Please, show your teachers that side of yourself this year. You’re handsome and you’re charming, and nothing in the world could stop you if you stopped trying to stop yourself.
I love you, step-son. Get your shit together.
There are times — few and much too far between — when Step-son, Step-daughter, and I are on our own all day and we actually enjoy one another’s company the whole time. In the months before I married their dad (when they’d been without a mom for a startlingly long stretch), those days seemed to occur more often; now, I’m lucky if I get two or three a year. Last night, I had one.
I’ve been spending a ludicrous amount of time on the computer lately, and they’ve both been undeniably teenager-y. Plus, it’s summer, and it’s been kind of a stretch to get us all in one place at the same time. But last night was nice. I made a real supper, and we sat around the table visiting while we ate it. Step-son just returned from a trip upstate working with his grandpa, and he brought back a healthy sum of money for a kid; we were looking forward to making a nighttime trip to the local Wal-Mart so he could spend some of it.
I remember fondly that oh-my-god-we-have-a-shit-ton-of-money giddiness when I was a kid. I think I’ve written about it here before. But it’s almost as much fun, almost as awesome and hopeful and huge — to be party to it as an adult. Of course, our little family isn’t poor, and we’re a two parent household, even if one of us is only here by marriage. But in the past, the kids have seen some shitty days, and I’m sure they’re a lot like every other person on the planet who’s lived through crap: whether you want to or not, you carry some of it around with you for the rest of your life. If you’re lucky, the bad days behind you only serve to make you appreciate the good ones more.
More than anything, I hope one day that’s how they feel about their lives.
So we’re not in dire financial straits at the moment, but they remember pretty clearly what that was like. And despite their ages, I think they also have enough of the little kid mentality remaining that they see a small amount of money and imagine a thousand amazing things that it could buy. Frankly, I’m pretty surprised we didn’t head straight for the candy aisle (or the ice cream), but the kids went in with a mission. We took our time wandering around and dreaming a bit while we shopped, but we left with an entirely reasonable haul.
After we spent a little of our money on shoes, school supplies, bananas, and the 750th fidget spinner of the summer, we got in the car to head for home. I was just beginning to wonder about a possible trip to Dairy Queen, when Step-daughter spotted the bright pink remains of the sunset half-hiding behind Wal-Mart. I hurriedly turned right out of the parking lot instead of left and whipped the car behind the building. We pulled over and all of us leaped out with our cell phones, each determined to get the best picture. (We do that sometimes — it’s all about the bragging rights.)
Step-son managed to get the most contrast-y and hot pink tones with his camera, but I’d like to think I got more variety. Regardless, as we drove home, they were both resetting their phone’s wallpapers, talking about editing tools, and enjoying the company.
No one even mentioned it when we drove past the ten stinky cow and pig farms on our way back to the house. I’d like to believe that it was a night so perfect they didn’t even notice.