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I’m still having some trouble with this stepmom thing, and I’m struggling to find ways to explain how I feel without sounding whiny and selfish. On the other hand, the months I’ve spent trying to bite my tongue have led only to a mouthful of blood and even the most diplomatic among us would eventually choke on it, too, so I might as well spit it out.

Well. The truth is, I *am* sometimes whiny and selfish. Sometimes, my best efforts at living life through loving get run over by jealous tendencies and unrealistic expectations. I spent the entire weekend in a funk, weeping onto Steve’s shoulder that I missed him, that I wanted something of our own. Other than having the boys for a few weeks during the summer over these past three years, it’s always just been Steve and me. I’m not claiming that my entire identity was dependent upon the “us-ness,” but N’s arrival definitely wreaked some havoc on how I saw Steve and me as a couple, and where I fit in this newly structured family.

It was – and is – hard. N was desperate for a strong male role model. He really likes his stepfather, but the guy is Steve’s polar opposite. We’re in the midst of an idolization phase, where everything Steve says and does is placed under a microscope, studied, and then carefully packaged and placed in a catalog for future reference. In short, N is constantly up Steve’s butt. And when you have a 140-pound human up your ass, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Including your wife.

This, I think, is one of the reasons I get so upset about things that ordinarily – in a “traditional” family – wouldn’t be a big deal. N has been taking Steve’s iPod to school and cross-country practice, and he’s been wearing Steve’s Black Label Society sweatshirt at every opportunity. I bought that iPod for Steve (twice, actually, because the first one I gave him was stolen out of his truck), and I scoured the Internet for that sweatshirt when every one we found in stores was either the wrong size or wrong design. I should mention that I was also broke-ass poor at the time, so it took quite a bit of planning, saving, and opening a credit card account that to this day I’m still struggling to pay off. Even though they aren’t mine, those things are special to me and it really hacks me off when I see the sweatshirt, filthy and tangled, lying in the dust on the garage floor, or when I see one of N’s sweaty, immature teammates listening to the iPod.

It sounds petty. I know this. But there aren’t many parts of our relationship that are just ours anymore. I guess that’s true for all couples with children, but it’s different for blended families. I didn’t play any role whatsoever in bringing those boys into this world. I love them, but they aren’t mine. They aren’t ours. I’d just like to hang on to the things – however small or seemingly insignificant – that exist between just us.

After a few days of my moping around, Steve and I carried out our typical conflict-resolution strategy: arguing via e-mail for about an hour or so, then finally getting to the meat of things and talking about it. He understands; I understand, and we pledged to work on our respective issues. I came away from that discussion feeling a lot better – probably better than I ever have. I feel good right now, and am looking at facing future challenges with a better attitude.

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I’ve started this post about seven times now and still can’t figure out a good way to begin, so I’m just going to let it all come out as it will. My apologies in advance if I don’t make sense – but  I have to get this stuff out of me somehow, and it needs to happen quickly lest I finally succeed at driving myself insane.

Yesterday, I said that I hate being a stepmother. It’s true, and I’m not going to apologize for feeling this way. I hate the disruption it has caused in my life, the distraction it has caused my husband, and the unfair expectations it has placed on me.

I hate that the place that was once my refuge has turned into a minefield. That a question as simple as “do you have homework?” can draw a line in the sand. That gifts I scrimped and saved for to give my husband have now been passed to a person too irresponsible to take care of them.  That I’m supposed to be enthusiastic and supportive of the good things, but can’t have a say when things go wrong. I hate that my dog has to shiver in the cold because she’s too much of a messy nuisance to live in the house, but the other messy nuisance enjoys a nice warm bed.

I didn’t expect it to be this difficult. But then again, how could I have ever expected that it wouldn’t be?  I’m not blaming anyone, because life is crap sometimes and we all make bad choices and simply have to do the best we can – but N has always been somewhat of a train wreck with absolutely no responsibility, no focus, no respect for most people and things. He spent his formative years in terrible neighborhoods in the city, which caused the development of a rather abrasive personality. His immaturity is astounding. His presence in our home has been a cold splash of water, and thus far I can’t say that I’ve found it refreshing.

K1 doesn’t even live with us, yet has the ability to create turmoil from 1,700 miles away. Where N is crude and (detrimentally) resourceful, K1 is overly sensitive and materialistic. And manipulative. I’ve mentioned that his mother changes men as often as some people change underwear, and last week we found that the latest relationship had ended. This time, Monica’s boyfriend had a son around the same age as K1, and the two became gaming buddies. After the breakup, K1 told his mom that this boy had called her a “butt-f******* whore,” among other things, and goaded her into confronting the dad. When the dad reviewed the chat logs from the kids’ game, no such name-calling existed and K1 admitted that he made it up. My suspicion is that K1 is embarrassed by and unhappy with Monica’s behavior and just doesn’t know how to say it. This is just the latest in a series of episodes that have left us feeling helpless and stressed.

K2, bless him, is in kindergarten and much too concerned with playing to cause any real trouble.

I don’t know what to do with all of this. How do I support my husband through all of this, yet stand up for myself? How do I put aside the resentment and try to focus on doing the right thing? Stepparents have it so tough – the world expects them to just put up with it all. But why? How is that fair? Taking a risk of this magnitude shouldn’t be rewarded with misery.

I’m not a bad person. I don’t hate the kids, I just hate the situation. I want to be a good, loving influence in their lives. Sometimes it’s just so damn hard.

I realize it’s still early, and that things can change. I sincerely hope they do. I just want everyone to have a happy, peaceful and successful life. Why does that have to be too much?

Can I be honest?

I hate being a stepmom.

You know how women who say they don’t have a lot of experience with boys mean they haven’t really dated, or even spent a lot of time around guys? I used to be one of those women. I didn’t date in high school and college — not because I didn’t want to; it just didn’t happen. After graduation I had some dates here and there, but nothing significant until I met my first serious boyfriend at work. Steve was the next serious guy after that relationship, and we all now know how that worked out. 🙂

So while my knowledge of the male species has significantly increased over the past few years, I’m still lacking when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of the young male mind. But oh Mylanta, did I ever get a crash course this week. Steve was in Rhode Island for five days for work, and OF COURSE all the planets and stars aligned in such a way that it fell on the exact five days that N would meet a girl, date a girl, and get dumped by a girl.

Within 24 hours.

I picked him up a few hours after cross-country practice Wednesday, as he had texted me to ask if he could hang out in the park with his “buddies.” It was pretty obvious when he got in the car that these “buddies” were not,  in fact, a group of boys but a singular giiiirrrrrlllll. He gleefully announced that this Savannah was his girlfriend, they had made out, she was really pretty …. and that he did not know her last name.

*Blink*

N was thrilled, and it was rather cute. He proclaimed himself “successful,” because he is on the cross-country team, had good friends, was making decent grades, is beginning jiu jitsu lessons and had secured a girlfriend. I believe another term he used to describe himself was “badass,” or “BA,” as all the cool kids call it these days.

He went to bed giddy. The next day I got another text asking to hang out with Savannah after practice. All was fine until I pulled into the parking lot to pick him up. He looked constipated, and it was clear he was deep in the throes of emotional turmoil. “I just hope she really likes me,” he said. “Oh, and the homecoming dance is Friday night. I want to go now that I have a girl.”

Something was up.

He was quiet the rest of the night, spending most of the evening lifting weights in the garage. When he came back in at about 8 p.m., he sat next to me on the couch. “Well, we don’t have to worry about me going to the dance,” he said. “We decided it isn’t going to work.”

And then, “I just hope this doesn’t ruin my reputation.”

Then, “My friends said she was crazy, anyway.”

And, “TJ used to date her. I hope he isn’t mad.”

And on and on. He was so full of angst, he could find nothing better to occupy his time other than cleaning his room, an activity he usually ranks right up there with eating garbage and digging ditches.

I did the best I could. I advised him to not worry so much about having a girlfriend unless he meets a cool, mature girl who shares common interests — someone he genuinely likes. That high school is full of this type of stuff, and it would be over in a few years. That drama is as dramatic as one makes it. And, for heaven’s sake, to find out the girl’s last name before you ask her to be your girlfriend!

Thank God Steve is home. I’ve  been fighting some sort of nasty head cold/mucous/coughing nastiness all week on top of single-parenting an adolescent. I’m wiped out, and spending the rest of the day in bed trying not to think about the next time N decides he likes a girl.

I have three stepsons and two nephews. And while I love all five of those boys somethin’ fierce, I’ve always had a sort of special bond with the youngest, our nephew Garrett. I think it’s because we both entered the family at roughly the same time (he was born a month before I met Steve) and together have learned the ins and outs and dynamics of these people we love but are sometimes unwilling to claim.

Garrett is four and just started preschool for the first time last week. To say that he is mischevious is like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch. This apple is rotten to the core, and having him around pretty much means that you’re either going to be crying tears of laughter or trying to find the nearest safe haven hospital.

This is the child whose father had to hold him by the neck and ankles over a patch of grass along the road because he couldn’t wait to get to a rest area or gas station to poop. Who calmly dropped his pull-up and pants in the middle of his living room, climbed onto a plastic picnic table, did a little dance and sang “shaking my pee-pee at mommy” until his mortified mother could make him stop. Who, after his sleeping brother refused to acknowledge the buzzing alarm clock in their room, crawled into his bed and shrieked “cock-a-doodle-do” until said brother got up.

I think he’s my soulmate.

His latest antic involved some quick-handedness and fibbery. Steve’s brother had planned an afternoon in the woods for Garrett and his six-year-old brother, Jacob, on a recent afternoon and stopped to fill up his gas tank. With only $6 left in his pocket, he told the boys they could each pick out something to drink, but nothing more. Inside the store, Garrett chose a bottle of juice, as well as a package of candy. Shawn (Steve’s brother) reminded him they were only getting drinks and told Garrett to put the candy back on the shelf. “Fine,” he shouted, throwing the candy down the aisle.

When they got back in the truck and were a few miles down the road, Shawn heard “Daddy, open this please,” coming from a small voice in the backseat.

Shawn: “Where did you get that candy, Garrett?”

Garrett: “Mommy bought it for me.”

Thinking it was something his wife had purchased and had lain in the carseat, Shawn didn’t think much of it and they went on their way. Later that afternoon when they got home, he asked his wife where she had gotten the candy. She hadn’t bought it, either.

Shawn: “Tell me the truth, Garrett. When did you get that candy?”

Garrett: “Today.”

Shawn: “Where?”

Garrett: “Speedway.”

Shawn: “I told you no candy! Did I pay for that?”

Garrett: “I don’t know. Did you?”

It seems that every time I begin writing a new post, the first sentence that pops into my head is “there’s a lot going on.” Grammatically, it’s such a boring statement but often I honestly can’t think of another way to lead in to a review of the madness taking place in my life. Perhaps it’s because said madness sucks up so much of my thinking capacity that there’s hardly room left for any other type of thinking? Yeah, I think I’ll go with that.

I really feel like I should have devoted more time and words to K1 and his recent struggles. Believe me, I have a lot to say on that particular subject and how it has been handled. And yet I hesitated. I hesitated because the Internet is a very public place, and I’m not sure how much of that story was appropriate to share. Certainly K1 isn’t the only child to experience anxiety issues, but I have to be ever-cognizant of the fact that he is not MY child. I love him dearly, but he does not belong to me. This is something I was very coolly reminded of when his mother intercepted a very innocent text message I sent him while he was having a particularly bad morning. His mother’s jealousy issues, plus her amazing ability to go from Zero to Atomic Bitch in 0.3 seconds, is even more reason for me to be guarded when talking about K1 and K2. One of my worst fears is that my words and Internet presence (ha!) will be used against us should a custody battle ever arise.

Still, K1 and K2 are a part of my life and that’s not something I can or want to just ignore. Even from a distance they have such a profound effect on my daily life that omitting them from this blog just seems … wrong.

And so I plow ahead — carefully, ever carefully. K1 is doing much better. The doctors and therapists he’s seen have diagnosed him with an anxiety problem. There were several days he wasn’t able to go to school (he’d spent the early mornings crying and screaming), but he’s been able to return and has gotten really good reports from his teachers and the school counselor. Some of the anxiety was brought on by some changes at the school – he gets overwhelmed now that he’s expected to change classes by himself instead of with a group, and because he’s advanced he doesn’t have many of his buddies in his courses. He also quit the football team, which magnified the stress because he didn’t want people to think of him as a quitter.

All of these are things that seem so … not a big deal, you know? They’re things most children handle just fine. I learned though, with the help of my friend Robin over at PoppyMom, that anxiety is strange and that the fear and stress is very real to the person experiencing it – regardless of whether it seems insignificant or irrational. The trick will be helping K1 learn ways to manage the anxiety and go on to lead a normal, productive life. I think he’s on track.

(I still believe that a lot of these problems can be attributed to his upbringing, his home life, and the instability of a certain woman with whom he lives. That’s all I can say about that right now.)

I can’t remember if I mentioned that N has joined the cross-country team at his high school, which is keeping us really busy. He enjoys everything about the team, except the actual running. He’s doing well, though, improving his form and decreasing his time. He has a meet tonight that Steve and I are both attending, and right after that he’s going to a meeting of the local Civil Air Patrol.

This weekend I begin a leadership program offered by our local chamber of commerce. I’m excited – I’m hoping to meet cool people and make some new friends. We start Friday night with a dinner and get-together, and then are scheduled to spend all of Saturday going through a local challenge course, which appears to be an obstacle course on steroids. Seriously. I had to sign a waiver and provide proof of medical insurance, and the course description contains words like climbing tower, zip line, pamper pole and king swing.

Yikes.

I want to stab my eyes out with a pencil.

Not really, because that would hurt like a mofo. But I think it would pale in comparison to the shit that’s going down with this crazy family. If any of you out there are dating a man with children and are considering marrying said man, RUN. Unless, of course, you enjoy drama and angst and dealing with crap that is so totally not your fault and yet somehow the blame always ends up in your lap. Yeah, if you like that shizz, go ahead. Do it. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

K1 had some sort of manic episode at school yesterday, howling and crying so terribly in the counselor’s office that they had to call his mom. After K1 said he didn’t want to live, there was talk of having him admitted to the hospital for a few days for an evaluation of his mental and emotional health. Apparently, his school takes those things very seriously.

We aren’t sure at this point what’s going on, nor do we have any definitive idea as to why he’s acting this way. Oh, we have plenty of ideas. First of all, he’s the most dramatic child I have ever met, so any situation involving emotions is automatically escalated. Secondly, he’s extremely jealous that N is living with us now. He doesn’t fully understand that N’s move here was a desperately necessary thing, nor does he know that N had to give up in order for this to happen.

And third — and perhaps most telling — his mother is an emotional wreck herself. I can’t tell you the number of boyfriends she’s had in the past four years, but there have been MANY. Some of them have even had criminal records. No one disputes that she has a right to date, but she’s been going at it in such a desperate manner that it’s clearly becoming disruptive and damaging to the children. K1 told us over the summer that his mom spends the evenings in her room alone, sending text messages and watching soap operas. K1 makes dinner (usually a box of pasta), and he and K2 eat alone. His mother just got dumped out of her most recent relationship, and from the bits and pieces that I’ve heard, she apparently spends days on end in a depression each time this happens.

Evidently, there’s a whole lot of crying going on in that house.

Obviously, my first instinct is to make Steve get his ass on a plane and go get those boys. Ah, if only it were that easy. As much anger as I’m feeling toward their mother right now, I honestly can’t say that she’s doing any of this deliberately. I know she loves her children. And she does deserve to be happy, and to have a loving relationship. She’s going about it all wrong, though, and it’s starting to take its toll on the kids. Whether she will ever figure this out, though, is the million-dollar question.

Steve doesn’t want to ruffle her feathers. He’s also worried that a custody battle (if it comes to that), plus just relocating the boys and taking them from the only life they’ve known would do more harm than good. But when is enough? What’s it going to take to turn this situation around?

It’s glaringly obvious that the current situation isn’t working. Dramatic or not, when you have a brilliantly smart, pleasant child telling a school counselor that he doesn’t want to live anymore, you have a serious problem. Period. This shit needs taken care of, and it needs to be done NOW.