All The Things I Did Not Choose (And The One I Did)

It takes time to get used to living with someone new.

 

Most newly weds have that time – that time that questions: Who are you? Who am I in relation to you? How do we relate to one another? How do you organize your clothes? Wow, is that really how you eat trail mix? 

one of our first family photos ever

It’s quiet, with countless evenings at home, working out the kinks in your new marriage. You only need to worry about one person when it comes to your evening plans.

Add three kids to the mix, and there is hardly time to ask those questions. When I think back on those first days, I laugh. I had to get used to living with four brand new human beings. Though they weren’t brand new to each other. I was the only thing new.

My husband knew what his oldest daughter, O, was really saying when she asked a question. He understood the space the middle child, M, needed when she was upset. He was more patient than I could have imagined when the four year old boy, Z, had a tantrum on the floor. Because he’s known them since the day they were born.

I’ve known them since the day they were 8, 7 and 4. Which is great, but challenging.

Israel and I never had a moment to sit back and just learn about each other in that delicate, slow dance sort of way that people without children get to experience. I remember my first Saturday morning, living here. I heard what sounded like an elephant running down the hallway, toward our bedroom, and then a little but LOUD voice asking “if it was morning.” Lord, help me, I thought. (And the Lord did help me, more than I ever could have guessed.) Sometimes my husband would already be down in the basement working out. Therefore I was all alone when Z entered the room and asked, “Is it morning?” That is a lot of responsibility, deciding if it’s morning, I remember thinking.

When Israel and I were trying to learn each other’s rhythms and habits, three kids were playing outside, wanting and needing attention, and I was still buying all the wrong things.

“Did you know they make family size Triscuits?” Israel asked me after the first time I made the grocery run for a FAMILY. It had never occurred to me. I bought the box of butter with two sticks, not four. I bought the small box of crackers. I bought the 8oz jar of specialty mayonnaise. I had never loaded up an entire cart before. I wanted to scream in frustration with these little mistakes, these little “norms” I was so unaccustomed to. Turns out buying the wrong sized box of crackers can evoke tears and a lot of strange, mysterious emotion.

We were trying to learn to relate, to communicate, and to build on love and trust, with our energy being pulled in every other direction (it sometimes seemed) than toward each other.

This is not to say that people without children have it easier — okay, maybe that is what I’m saying. At least in some aspects. At least for this blog post.

As a woman, I have yet to experience the excitement of a pregnancy, the thrill of wonder as I guess at what my child will look like, or how I’m going to set up their room. I’ve never bought a pastel colored blanket. I’ve never had the responsibility of naming a human being.

I did, however, marry someone with three kids, all of whom came with names already assigned to them. They already had the facial features of two other human beings. Their rooms were already messy with childhood – not one pillow in place. They already had a world of memories I knew nothing about.

The beautiful thing, and what I’ve learned the most in my first year of marriage, is that before I met these four humans, we all experienced a certain kind of brokenness, and a certain kind of loss. I think even these children I met at such young ages recognized that in me, too. None of us knew quite what to do with one another. And because of that, we have now experienced a building up and a bond that is unique and different than anything else I’ve known. It’s pretty amazing that the love and trust DID build up in such a way. Actually, it feels even deeper than I could have imagined, given all of the interruptions and distractions. Every time Israel showed me he loved me, he did it on top of loving his three children. That man has a big, big heart. His children do, too. I’m so thankful that God placed me where HE knew I should be, not where I thought I’d end up. The cracks in our individual pasts have let in a whole ton of extra light, that’s for sure.

Like the quote (at the top), I want this blog to illuminate freedom with every word: the love in our house is free. It’s free to grow, free to expand. Free to live in two different households and free to have confusion and frustration and grace and joy. I’ve seen this love grow with my own two eyes, and felt it in my soul.

Some women get to have a baby. I got to hug three kids and hear one of them say with a smile, “Now you’ll never leave!!!” when we announced our engagement. I got cheers!

I chose to be their stepmom and they chose to accept me.

I’ve come to realize that neither situation is better or worse. In fact, you can love for better or for worse in either case.

I’m so thankful for the life that found me, that came and grabbed me – and the way God calmed my heart and told me to be still when I maybe should have been running the other direction.

Now, I have a lot more responsibility than just telling a child when it’s morning, but I also have a whole world of new memories with these beautiful people I can call my family. I understand the questions they ask, and when they need to be left alone vs approached with a hug or a conversation. I can breath during tantrums (sort of!) It’s the building up of memories and experiences and laughter that keep us moving forward. Now, I know that the kids eat trail mix the SAME way their dad does. And poor Israel is still dealing with my clothes all over the floor (but I’m working on it.)

Everything is brighter!

Love,

Melinda

 

I Used To Be Cool (and other ridiculous things I’ve thought since becoming a stepmom)

“I used to be cool,” I muttered to myself, ridiculously, remembering. 

There was a time in life when all I had to worry about was how much money was in my bank account and how many social events I had to attend that week. I’d change plans multiple times in a day. If someone invited me over, I could make it happen within the hour.

I’d eat breakfast at a different time each day, head out to brunch any time I felt like it (usually with my twin sister… and we’d get black bean loaded nachos in downtown Albq.) and eat dinner, sometimes sitting on the kitchen floor, anywhere from 7PM to midnight.

I went to different breweries every week. I had a booming social life. I could figure out how to get through my day with a slight hangover.

And whatever the word “cool” means (HINT: it doesn’t actually mean anything), I used to be it, at least in some way. Cool, in my own head of definitions, meant free and easy, available and ready for adventure. I remember dating someone briefly, and every time we’d meet up, I’d get there first (because I also used to be early to everything) and I’d have on my jean jacket, boots, signature black nail polish and I leaned against whatever wall was nearby, just waiting. Not a care in the world. And every time he showed up he said, “Man, you always look so cool, leaning against these walls!” As cliche and on the surface as it was: it boosted my confidence, at least a little bit.

I’m pretty energetic, so all of the plans back then rarely seemed daunting. I could go and go and go. I had jobs like farming, chocolatiering and baking. The farmer’s market on a Saturday morning was an hours-long event, usually followed by a spontaneous outing with friends I happened to see there. One night I walked around with my best friend, lost until the sun came up.

“Now, I am anything but cool,” I realize, as I fold superman underwear in the messy living room. 

Now, there are no walls to lean against. If anything, there are walls to hide behind every once in a while when the house turns into a scene from Jumanji. I am no longer early to anything, except work, and actually consider myself lucky if we manage to roll into an event five minutes late. Rather than getting mad, I usually now think, “WE MADE IT!!” Two social events a month sometimes feels like way too much to pack into our busy schedule. Breakfast has to be had by ME long before I ever would have dreamed of waking up, because there are other humans to keep alive and multitasking gets REAL when food is involved. Dinner can’t wait until 10 PM. And there are so many snacks. Until we learn to sit still for more than five minutes, dinner must be held at the dinner table, sitting on actual chairs. Rather than drinking specialty, hand crafted beer, I am pretty happy with a Miller Lite every once in a while.

Brunch sometimes means sacrificing a lot. And there is no way to get through a day even slightly hung over. In fact, that really doesn’t feel like an option at all anymore.

Rather than reading a book in the morning and then getting ready for whatever might come my way that day, I now am lucky if I leave the house with all of the doors shut and locked. We are extra lucky if there are five people and ten shoes total in the car as we pull out of the driveway.

Because now, instead of just worrying about my own person, I am sometimes in charge of three little human beings. And even when my husband and I are both home, there is hardly enough energy to go around.

“Now, there is so much more to life than just being cool,” I smile and think, as I sit on the porch at night, watching a storm with my stepdaughter who can’t sleep. 

I hear multiple times in a week just how uncool I am, actually. Almost everything I did when I first met these stepkids of mine came with an exclamation of:

“That is so WEIRD, Melinda!!”

At least I could respond with, “Thanks!” And hopefully teach them that being weird can be a great, beautiful thing.

But turns out, unlike some people I’d had in my life before, kids don’t give one care about how cool you are. (And neither do amazing husbands.) They care if you listen to what they have to say. They care if you are willing to throw a baseball in the backyard. They care if you remember what their story was about – the one they wrote months ago. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, how you have your hair or what music you’re listening to in the car.

I’ve learned that it’s a whole lot better to have a giant, energetic and love filled life… even if it means dinner should probably be served around the same time every day.

I’ve learned that random, fun nails done by an 8 year old are the best kind to have painted on. Black isn’t my signature anymore.

Establishing stability in my household and showing love by being there is more important than being available every day for a spontaneous brunch.

Hiding behind walls for a breather is okay to do. And not being early enough to lean on one is okay, too.

It took a while for me to get used to this structure. I am so spontaneous and it actually stresses me out to have a detailed plan. I’d rather not know and just hop in the car – tag along for the ride. However, when kids are involved, simply hopping in the car isn’t an option. We have to fill water bottles, pack a million snacks, find the sunscreen, make sure everyone is wearing shoes, go potty, and then a bunch of other things that still don’t occur to me – THAT is what needs to get done before we leave to go on a day trip. I usually can’t find my favorite sunglasses, so I will use the old pair left in the car for emergencies.

There is a new sense of adventure in my life, and it includes three kiddos who have a lot of energy and lot of personality. It’s cool to spend time with them, cool to see them grow, cool to be married to their amazing dad. And somehow, HE looks even more handsome than ever when he wears the “convenient” fanny pack thing he bought for hiking. I laughed the first time I saw him with it on, but I also wanted to give him a big ol’ kiss. He makes dad jokes. He is amazingly cool.

I’m so thankful that as a stepmom, life has shown me what is truly important. I’ve been humbled and vulnerable. I’ve been anything but society’s idea of “cool.”

And that’s pretty cool, eh?

stepmom, stepmother, stepkids
yo

Love, Melinda (who really, really enjoys fun pictures like this)

 

Find Yourself A Stepmom Buddy

Remember that scene in Finding Nemo? Dory and Marlin are lost, in a brand new open world, a little bit nervous and also having the time of their life? The ebb and the flow of terror and excitement and pure joy have left them wondering what in the world could possibly be next.

Then they find themselves with the turtles – a little rest. Yet they have to get to their goal… they can’t stay with the laid back ones forever. Crush gives some advice we all could use, Squirt gives his adorable instructional speech (that Marlin can’t understand) and then Crush says to everyone, “First find your exit buddy. Do you have your exit buddy?”

Source

That’s kind of what being a stepmom feels like.

Only we aren’t finding EXIT buddies, we are finding MARATHON buddies (because one of my stepmom buddies always reminds me, this is a marathon, not a race), our life buddies, our soul sisters who understand a piece of our lives that no one else ever will. And we need to cling to one another much like Dory clings to Marlin… sort of.

I’m lucky to know these two!

I have a best friend and a twin sister. I have a husband. I have a mom. But guess what? None of these people know what it’s like to be a stepmom. I can call them all I want, tell them what I’m experiencing, but nothing is quite as healing or good as talking to other stepmoms, sharing our lives and stories, and knowing I’m not alone.

my very own neighbor!

I’m extremely lucky. I have found stepmoms everywhere! I mean everywhere! The thing is… they came out of the woodwork. I feel as though some came out of it as a direct gift from God. He said, “This friend is for you, Melinda. I’m sending her because you will need her. And because she is AWESOME.”

It just doesn’t always seem like they are, in fact, everywhere.

I often ponder the amazing immersion of “The Mommy Blog” that happened within the last decade. There was a platform to do it and it proved: moms band together. They have support groups. They share baby clothes with one another. They make you feel a little less weird when you’re pregnant and eat something on the “no” list (or so I’ve heard). They plan play dates and make meal charts. They ease into motherhood one kid at a time (with the exception of multiples). And you can spot them anywhere! It’s usually not hard to figure out: women/pregnant women with babies and/or kids. That’s it! Simple.

Spotting a fellow stepmom can be hard. She could very well have some of those attributes listed above. Yet, there’s something different, a little trickier to spot. She is most likely any of these things:

Brave – because she chose to enter uncharted territories with all of the characters already in place. Independent – because she is, in a lot of ways, a lone reed (and often the only one in her household who isn’t related by blood). Loving – because she chose to love the children she finds herself with and she loves her husband enough to have entered the marriage with a package deal. Joyful – because these stepkids are showing her things she never would have seen on her own. Tough – because yes, she deals with all of the heartache that goes along with being a mom and yet receives a fraction of the recognition and might even be mistreated. Humble – because she must put herself second, third, fourth, or even last and still love unconditionally. Flexible – because she has very little control over her life. Patient – because she is dealing with raising children who do not have half of her DNA… which means she will never see her own eyes looking back at her in a tough moment with a kid (I imagine this makes some of those tough situations easier to deal with.) Intentional – because none of this is an “oops” or a “well, it just happened!”… no, this was all a choice, and a good one at that.

I see these qualities in every single stepparent I know. If you look hard enough, I know you will see it too.

If you ARE a struggling stepmom/dad… look in the mirror and remind yourself that you are strong and that God chose this path for you to take on because He knew you could do it.

He also sent you stepbuddies. Hold on tight to these people.

Remember the wisdom found all over the movie Finding Nemo. You are in the uncharted territory called being a stepmom. It can get murky. The sharks will appear and hopefully, after some adrenaline rushes, they won’t be so scary after all. Trust your gut. Keep going. Find yourself a buddy… and put yourself out there to do it if you have to. It will be worth it. (And use Snapchat to brighten up your spirits.)

Love,

Melinda (who snapped this to my stepbuddy on Mother’s Day)

“What a Perfect Family” and What That REALLY Means

As I sit on my back patio and look around, almost every single house I see is that of an “non-traditional family.”

stepmom, step mom, step kid, parents
we’re looking out at the world full of steps 😉

Offhand, I can list more close friends of mine who come from non-traditional families than I can those who come from traditional (one mom, one dad, x amount of their biological kids.) I hear stories now that I’m certain I wasn’t hearing before, simply because I didn’t relate. Now my ears are OPEN.

“My stepdad made me who I am.”

“Thank God for my stepmom. I am so close with her and she helped me through the hardest times in my life.”

“I love my mom and my stepmom. I was always so thankful they got along. It made me comfortable and happy. Now, as an adult, I respect them both because of it.” 

“Both my dad and my stepdad walked me down the aisle. I have so much love in my life.” 

“Blood doesn’t mean as much as love does.”

These people and their stories come out of the woodwork when I least expect it and usually when I need to hear it most. My neighbor is one of the most amazing stepmoms I know. One of my “newer” friends saw my story on my blog and she had such a similar story it was almost spooky. One of my oldest friends told me that her older sister is actually her half sister, but her dad raised them both as his own. My own mother-in-law was raised by her stepmom starting around age ten, when her biological mother died. (She tells me they wink at each other when people tell them they look alike.)

Just three days ago, my husband and I were at an archery shop. The man helping us was just about the most adorable Wisconsin-grandpa-type guy I could have ever imagined. We’ve talked to him many times. We got to talking when my husband was outside packing up the car. I knew this man had kids and I just assumed he came from one of those “perfect” families. That was until I asked how he and his wife met. Welp, they met bowling. “Oh! And by the way, she’s ten years older than me! She had two boys, 14 and 16 years old, when we got married. I love those boys and there’s no difference between biological parents and those who chose to be in their lives. Their kids now call me grandpa!”

I looked at him, tears pooling in my eyes, and I said, “Wow, that’s amazing. My husband is older than me, and he has three kids. I just became a stepmom not too long ago.”

Then he said, with really kind eyes and a gentle voice, “It’s all great. And hey, all the hard stuff works itself out,” as if he could read my mind. Then I gave him a giant hug. God seems to send me these people all the time as reminders to what I know, but sometimes forget: These relationships are precious. They aren’t easy. And all the hard stuff works itself out.

The amount of other stepmoms (and dads!) I’ve found in life so far leads me to believe these three facts about life:

I can NEVER assume someone’s story. It’s probably safe to say that the first moment I laid eyes on all of these women, I thought something like, “Wow, what a cute mom/family. They seem perfect.” Only to find out later that they had all kinds of quirks and stories that were anything but society’s definition of “perfect.” Do you ever see a sweet couple and think, “Lucky ducks! I bet they’ve been together since they were in 3rd grade…” Only to find that they both have previous marriages, children, and they have only been married five years? Yeah, it’s happened to me! And you can bet that when I heard their full story I still thought, “Lucky ducks!”

There can never be too many supportive, uplifting adults in a child’s life. Has there ever been a kid in the history of the world who thought to themselves, “Jeez, I really wish all these supportive adults would just leave me alone and start neglecting me…”… no. No there has not. (At least not until they become really cool teenagers and want all those awesome adults to back off, ha. But even so, they’ll call and thank us for it later, in their 20s.) I’ve seen that kids thrive in community. I look at “step” roles as very similar to aunts, uncles, godparents, best friends of parents, etc. The only difference is that we spend just as much time with them as their biological parents and we know them even better than we do our own nephews and nieces. When I show up as a stepmom to kid events, I see myself as Melinda, the adult who loves these kids and will give them the thumbs up, a hug, or support whenever they need it. I do the same thing for my nephews – and would much more often if I lived in the same place. I do the same thing for other families I know. Parents have extremely important and significant roles, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that too much support just isn’t a problem. There’s no such thing. The only thing detrimental is negative pressure, comments or attitudes aimed at these kids. They shouldn’t have to navigate anything more than their own adventurous “kid” worlds.

Love only generates more love. It gives and gives and gives. An open hand can receive and give. A closed hand, as we all know, gains nothing. Which is why the main theme for Said No Little Girl Ever is that quote I love so much… “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” Kids have a sixth sense. They know when they are “free” and when they aren’t. This has nothing to do with discipline or guidelines or rules to follow at home. It has everything to do with a sense of freedom to love big. The BEST moms I know expand their children’s capacity to love. They don’t hinder it.

Any family can be a “perfect family.” Heck, a group of friends who have gone through life together can be family. And I have really had to check myself as I quickly judge what I can see. I’ve gotten so much better at not making assumptions and listening for the stories. 

stepmom, step mom, children, family

Here’s to all the perfect families out there who have LOVE, RICHNESS, UNDERSTANDING, GENEROSITY and GROWTH on their side. With these, they cannot lose.

Love,

Melinda

A Stepmom on Mother’s Day

As a stepmom, Mother’s Day has it’s own set of emotions that are completely unique. Last year I got a taste of what it was like, and thank God, I had a neighbor who understood and brought me a little gift on my doorstep. She wrote in the card, “I know this is a really hard day for stepmoms.” And I cried. I wasn’t even married yet, so not officially a stepmom, but this friend knew that the emotion was still there.

One of my soon-to-be stepkids, M, had given me a homemade “Happy Step Mother’s Day” card and that, too, brought tears to my eyes. It felt extra, extra, extra special. And it was a beautiful silver lining. But no matter what, it was a hard day, and not only because I do want to someday have kids of my own.

This blog is for those who understand just what those thoughts and emotions might be for a stepmom on such a day. These might include:

humility (I am who I am in these kids’ lives – nothing more, nothing less)

sadness (Boy, this day sure feels lonely)

empty (No child has actually ever come out of my body)

jealousy (I wish I was a mom)

sorrow (I wish I was a mom x2)

hopefulness (I believe one day I will be a mom)

patience (I can wait)

gratitude (I love these stepkids and I am grateful they are in my life)

love (I love them, unconditionally)

anger (Why is this my life?)

confusion (Why is this my life? x2)

and many, many more.

This time I had a whole year to prep myself for this day, and I decided to go about things a little differently.

First of all, I decided to launch this blog for stepmoms on Mother’s Day. Why? Because hey, it just might be the perfect day to do it. I want all stepmoms to know that I am thinking of you, even if I don’t know you. I would send you all an individual card if I could. Sadly, I can’t do that. (Maybe one day?)

What I CAN do is share how this year, negative emotions won’t win. Here are FIVE ideas I came up with and have been praying about and meditating on.

THIS YEAR I AM:

1) focusing on my own mom

Last year I held sort of a pity party for myself. I probably called my mom, but I made the day about myself rather than about her. Shame on me. This year I get to be with my mom, which is an added blessing. But I have spent some time with myself pondering just how special of a woman she is and how lucky I am to call her MY mom.

2) sending out gifts to the moms I am closest to (my mom, mother in law, my sisters and sisters in law)

I’m really bad about birthdays and holidays and sending cards or gifts. Not this year! I felt joy as I focused on them.

3) making sure my fellow stepmoms know they are appreciated

Partly with this blog, and partly with my personal recognition.

4) thanking God that my stepkids exist
So in a way, appreciating the fact that they have a mom. Stepmoms, I know this can be tricky. What if their mom hates you for no reason? What if you’ll never receive recognition from her? What if you literally cannot even send her a message to say, “I appreciate you for who you are”? Welp, all I have to say to that is this: it does not have to be reciprocated and it does not have to be acknowledged out loud in order to be felt in your own heart.

5) acknowledging my freedom
If I was going to be in town and home this Mother’s Day, I’d probably be booking myself a massage, coming home to drink some whiskey with my handsome husband, cooking dinner and enjoying a quiet evening walk. I had that in my plan before this other deal worked out (seeing my mom). Hey, guess what? We’re not our stepkids’ moms. This can be the source of heartbreak and negative emotion, but on the flip side, it can be extremely fun and liberating. In my own situation, I get to enjoy their presence in my life without all of the responsibility of being a mom. Sometimes the biggest decisions about their lives are something I have no part in choosing, and that sort of leaves the kids and me in the same boat (waiting on mom and dad). We have our own unique relationship, and as I’ll talk about more in the blogs to come, this relationship can’t be controlled by anyone else, it doesn’t rely on special titles or names, and it certainly doesn’t rely on something like Mother’s Day.

So CHEERS to you, stepmoms. Cheers to your own moms, stepmoms, and other important women in your lives. Cheers to the stepkids you get to grow and change with. The kids you chose when you certainly didn’t have to.

Thanks for joining me. Said No Little Girl Ever is for you.