Excerpt #237 from Life as a Stepmom (or second wife?).
Do you ever jaunt through life thinking everybody probably looks at you with total wonder and awe…only to be brought back with a slap upon hearing that one (or two) of those everybody’s is taking shots at you? Yes? Okay, then you have a good gauge on being a stepmom. I say this to myself over and over ‘it’s not you they don’t like… it’s the role…’. You know, don’t hate the game, hate the playa and all that mumbo jumbo.
I had two such instances in the span of seven quarantine days – yes, I know that actually means it was more like two instances in 587 days. But even with quarantine time warp math, it stung. It stung and I also wanted to let my fingers do the walking with a quick ring-ring, “ARE WE REALLY STILL EFFING DOING THIS?!?!?!?”
Evidently, yes. Evidently, seven years in the picture is still not enough to sway some folks from a weird quest to see me fail or for Rich and I collectively to fail or to take verbal jabs at my parenting style or to stop looking for a chink in the family armor or to stop asking passive aggressive, leading questions to the very kids they are allegedly saving from the horror of our parenting. So, yes, I guess we are still doing this. I’m going to start billing the kids’ biological mother for my for shrink appointments and their grandmother for my downers. At this point, shouldn’t they have to chip in? I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing we haven’t tried in a very fizzled out attempt to remedy relationships.
We have been chugging along – fairly happy in our isolation – and in a fairly smooth sailing operation in our pre-isolation life. With isolation, comes a need/desire/wish for the kids to get out of their element. I get it – I want to get out of my element as well. They are spending periodic days-in-a-row at either of their other two ‘house’ options, grandma’s or bio-mother’s. I did not know I was going to have to send them with a note saying “The kids want to come over to see different walls – not because life at home is anything less than the rainbows and elephants you require for them.” I’m not sure why I was taken aback when they (the kids) reluctantly admitted to having a mostly good time at their grandma’s, but that they were also tired of feeling like they constantly have to defend me (me). Wait now, what?
A few years ago, I would have fired up the popcorn machine and gotten comfortable with bright “tell me more…” eyes. Which is why I was so surprised to hear these words come out of my mouth: You know what, don’t – it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to know what she’s said, I don’t even care. I’ve done all I can to have her see me as more than a ‘value’ to the family and I’m really fine. If she wants to spent the rest of her life trying to find something wrong with how I parent or wife…then really, that’s her choice. It seems like a miserable life, but it’s really her choice. Who was this person? Oh right, me. And I really meant it at that point. I’m sorry you guys have to hear it and I wish telling her to stop worked. I know I’m a great mom to you two and an amazing wife to your dad. That’s enough for me.
No reason, my readers, to load the comments section with suggestions. We really have tried them all. Endless phone calls and pleas, keeping the kids from her, no longer speaking to her, inviting her to therapy, talking thru her friends, praying, having her over more, having her over less, inviting her on vacations, updating her on every move, breath and blood type of the children, removing her involvement, endless, endless, endless. I actually thought we were totally cool until that random statement last week.
Truthfully, it does still sting. Truthfully, an hour later I was trying to figure out how I wanted Rich to handle it this time. Truthfully, I wanted to cancel Easter two days later. But then I saw the anguish in my husband’s eyes as he was reminded that in a combined twenty-five years of marriage, the one place he feels he has failed the most is being able to protect his wife from his own mother. Can you imagine? This man who is the kindest, gentlest, strongest, most compassionate and trustworthy person I have yet to meet – feeling like he just can’t quite grab the brass ring? He amazes me always – and still, he carries this with him. So, no. I will not be asking him to intervene again in another feeble attempt to quiet her misguided words.
I do understand that it’s not me she doesn’t trust – it’s anybody who is married to Rich and mothering her grandchildren. The love child of Mary Poppins and Dr. Spock could come knocking and still be turned away at the door. In her mind, Rich’s choice (and it was a good one – nine out of ten dentists agree) to marry me (or anyone else) meant he chose to take his eyes off his kids. Rather than see us as the combined parenting force of many kids’ dreams – she see us as, well, I don’t really know what. Other than extremely unqualified. Which, hello, I’m relatively sure is the case for every parent in the universe.
I had barely swallowed that hiccup when dose two was served. It was very minor – just a jab aimed at me via a text between the kids’ biological mother and Zoe. Again, I have no idea why it would sting – her involvement in the kids’ lives is minimal at best – do I actually care whether she thinks I’m behind the isolation pseudo-schedule we live by everyday? (Spoiler alert…I’m not. But four weeks in and I’m sold.) Hi, yes, your ex-husband has a mind of his own – and not every complaint the kids have of life in our house can be linked back to something I manipulated in an evil twist to the fairy tale. Again, not the first jab and likely not the last. But on the heels of round one, it about sent me into a full out “MY LAWD PEOPLE!!! YOU DO UNDERSTAND THAT I’M DOING A BANG UP JOB WITH THESE TWO DESPITE BEING A SURPRISE MOTHER, RIGHT?!?!”
And then I remembered.
It’s not me. The arrows are not arriving with my name carved on the pointy end. It’s the role. The role of Stepmother, the of role wife/second wife/leveling-up-lady. It falls into the same category of the bumps in the road with the kids – most of which can be pared down to ‘hey, having a stepmom wasn’t our first choice.’ In every single way, I am living the life that Rich’s first wife could have had – and I’m living it because of so many terrible choices that she made. And, I don’t mean to brag, but it’s a pretty kick ass life. But it could be any woman at all living here, in this house on a hill, with laughter and love and two idiot dogs – it doesn’t matter – whomever is here is taking her spot. So, yes, those jabs…those are actually a quest to self-soothe.
And those leading questions from the other end – probing for some magical leg to stand on – those would apply to anyone charged with raising these kids and partnering with Rich. We could sub in a new woman for each season and none would ever measure up because with each success, the approval target is moved. Why worry?
I just tucked in my 14 year old with a terrible, punny joke. Well, he was already asleep when I thought of it – so I went in and woke him up to tell him. He wasn’t even mad – he thought is was funny and told me he loved me and went back to sleep – tomorrow we’ll laugh some more about it and he’ll say in some pseudo-teenaged-exasperated tone, ‘Yeah, but did you have to wake me up?” Evidently yes, I did. And when he tells stories of me to his kids, I bet they will include how his stepmom used to wake him up to tell him jokes and that he misses that most.