26 Years and Counting

ParenthoodGrandchildren are a parent’s reward for not killing their children.

I’m an old parent, and I’ll be the first to admit it –  I’ve been doing this job for 26 1/2 years.  It recently dawned on me, as I spoke with Jolly on the phone when she had a question about Little Guy, that I will continue to do it until the day I am no more.  That’s something you don’t think about when you have a baby:  you don’t stop being a parent when your youngest turns 18 or graduates from college or even when they have children of their own.  Being a parent is a lifetime commitment, and a challenging one at that.

As Jason Robards said in Parenthood:  It’s like your Aunt Edna’s ass – it goes on forever and it’s just as frightening.

The Spin Cycle this week is about what you dislike about parenting.  Jen’s take on it is what you dislike about parenting a toddler or small child, which makes sense because Jen is the mother of a toddler (and hopefully, a second baby next year).  I would be less than honest if I didn’t confess right here that I don’t remember what I disliked about being the parent of small children, if for no other reason than it’s been so damn long since I was the mother of a small child.  And, frankly, there are so many other things I hate about being a parent that watching The Little Mermaid 47 times a week kind of pales in comparison.

When I found out that we were going to become grandparents, I – naturally – let everyone I could think of know it.  Without exception, every one of my friends who is already a grandparent told me that it’s just the most wonderful thing you could possibly experience, but only one person made any real attempt to explain why.  My sister, Whacky-But-Lovable, who already has 3 grandkids, said, “You know, part of it is you just have the time and patience to enjoy them.  I don’t know if it’s age, or experience, or maturity or merely the fact that you’re not directly responsible for them every minute of every day, but I wish that I’d had the foresight to enjoy my kids the way I do my grandkids.  I was just too busy screwing up being a parent.”

I understand that statement today in a way I’d never have been able to when my children were small, because I think the thing I hate most about being a parent is knowing I’ve done so much wrong over the years and I cannot go back and do it over again.

I hate that I had to be a single parent.  It doesn’t matter if the decisions I made that led up to single parenthood were in the best interest of everyone concerned; I hate the fact my family, and my children, became part of a grim statistic.  I hate that Oldest Son had to grow up so quickly because of it.  I hate that I was so busy and so tired and so preoccupied with just trying to hold it all together that my older kids had to sacrifice so much of their childhoods.  The knowledge that if I’d remained married, life for all of us would have been exponentially worse doesn’t change the fact that I hate those things.

What’s ironic is that although I’m no longer a single parent, no longer scraping to get by, no longer too tired, too busy, too preoccupied, I feel The Young One is getting a bit shortchanged.  After all, I’ve been doing this a very long time and there is precious little the kid could pull that would surprise or phase me.  A lot of the parenting I do these days is done on autopilot, and I hate that, too.  But by the time you get to Number Five, it’s hard to avoid.

Once I was no longer a single parent, I found myself in the sometimes unnerving position of being a step-parent.  In many ways, being a step-parent means you have become responsible for children but have no real authority over them.  Very often any attempt at authority – any attempt at anything other than complete passivity, really – is met with resentment, if not out-and-out hostility, from both the children and their parents.  Don’t get me wrong – being a step-parent is extraordinarily rewarding, but it is also extremely hard.  While it’s certainly not true today, there have been times when I hated being a step-parent.

I hate that I ever felt it necessary to yell at my kids.  I hate the times I had to discipline them, even if it was for their own good.  I hate that, as they grew up, I could not make them listen to the voice of my experience (much less learn from it), or keep them from repeating the same mistakes I’ve made.  I hate that I can’t just smack some sense into them, no matter how often I’ve threatened to.  I hate the fact I’ve ever had to use the words “tough love” in regards to any of them.  I hate there are some hurts they’ve suffered that no words I can offer or gestures I can make or love I can give will ever make better.  I hate that I cannot protect them from all the ills of the world, and I hate the knowledge that I shouldn’t even more.

In fact, the only thing I can think of that I might hate more than any of this is if I had never become a parent at all.

I love them more than they will ever know.

How To Torment Your Child On Facebook

With the exception of Oldest Son and Darling Daughter, all of our kids have a Facebook page.  There is a probably a very good reason reason the two oldest don’t have a Facebook page – namely, Beloved and I do.

Jolly, Miss Jacki and The Young One are all our “friends,” a state of affairs that may very well change after last night, when Beloved and I decided to comment on Miss Jacki’s status.

Which was:

Miss Jacki: Wtf  4 hours ago

Me: OMG  16 minutes ago

Be: BTW is it TLA Day?  14 minutes ago

Me: LOL  14 minutes ago

Be: WALSTIB   13 minutes ago

Me: AFU  13 minutes ago

Be: FUBAR  12 minutes ago

Me: WYSIWYG   10 minutes ago

Be: TMI  9 minutes ago

Me: SWAK  9 minutes ago

Be: SSDD  9 minutes ago

Me: STFU  8 minutes ago

Be: ASL?  6 minutes ago

Me: FTW!  6 minutes ago

Be: BRB  5 minutes ago

Me: PIA  5 minutes ago

Be: GTR  5 minutes ago

Me: MIA  5 minutes ago

Be: POW  4 minutes ago

Me: WWJD?  4 minutes ago

Be: FOAD  3 minutes ago

Me: TTFN  3 minutes ago

Be: L8R  15 seconds ago

Okay, yes – so we may have gotten carried away.

Have a lovely weekend, y’all.

It’s Not All Poison Apples

Wicked StepmotherWell, I was going to post a recipe today – my insomnia has been bad again this week, I’m very tired and the recipe I was going to post is very easy (it’s coming tomorrow).  But I’ve had the thoughts for this post rolling around in my head ever since this post last week and I need to get it off my chest.

Being a step-parent is not easy; there are ALL sorts of challenges and obstacles and frustrations that come with the job.  I can certainly understand the desire to not want to do it – trust me, I really, really can – but if you’ve married a man with children from a former marriage or relationship, you’ve got to put on your big girl panties and face facts.  The ex-wife or girlfriend and the kids are a part of his life, and always will be (or always should be) and it’s something that you’ve got to not only learn to live with, but deal with in a mature, responsible manner.

After my little rant last week about Ex-husband and Current Wife and the little games that are apparently being played, I started thinking about how very fortunate I am in another respect.  I’m not talking about Beloved; I believe I’ve made it more than clear that he is not only a marvelous father to his own daughters, but a great step-father to my kids.  No, I’m talking about The Young One’s step-mother.

Good Ex, as he’ll be referred to henceforth, met and married a lovely woman from Trinidad a few years ago, and they have a son who is almost 3.  Now Good Ex and I have had our problems and moments of frustration over the years, but we’ve always done our best to be the best parents we can be to The Young One.  In our efforts to continue to co-parent despite our separation, we’ve discovered that it’s not all that difficult to be civil to each other – we’ve even managed to remain fairly good friends.

Good Step-Mom has been just that – a good step-mom.  In fact, I thinks it’s safe to say she’s been an exemplary step-parent.  Oh, she’s made a mistake or two, but what step-parent hasn’t?  I can say, though, that when I’ve felt that there has been an issue I have had no problems talking to Good Ex about it, and any problems there have been were resolved quickly and with as little angst and drama as possible.

Mostly because she seems to understand what her role in The Young One’s life is, and she makes an effort to fill that role without any undue resentment or emotional baggage.  She seems to understand that Good Ex and I are the parents, and she lets us parent.  She is there for The Young One when he needs her without being interfering or badmouthing me.  She welcomes my son into her home and is kind and loving towards him while he’s there, but never tries to assume my role.

While Good Step-Mom and I will probably never be the best of friends, she does not seem to be threatened by my friendship with Good Ex and I appreciate that a great deal.  I wonder how many second wives understand how very, very important it is for the parents of their step-children to remain on as good of terms as possible, and how important it is that they do what they can to facilitate that relationship –  or at the very least, not to hinder it.  Good Step-Mom is mature enough to understand I am no threat to her marriage – we’re no longer together for a reason.

At any rate, I am grateful to Good Step-Mom and am glad she is part of my son’s life.  She is doing a great job of being exactly the kind of step-parent I myself try to be.  I can only hope that I’m as successful at it.

Mother of the Year I Ain’t, But They Seem to Be Okay…Amazingly

KidsNot to brag or anything, but I have GREAT kids.  Absolutely wonderful, marvelous, intelligent, witty, entertaining kids, and I adore each and every one of them.

Okay, so I’m bragging.  Shoot me.

I never really cared much for children until I had my own.  In fact, I still don’t care much for children except my own.  All right, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but my kids are definitely better than your kids; don’t even bother trying to argue with me about it, because, gee – you’ll lose.  I know everyone thinks their own children are exceptional, but in my case it just happens to be true.

Seriously, though, before Oldest Son was born, I never thought I could love another human being as much as I did him.  It took me totally by surprise – it still does.  Sometimes I look at him and wonder how the poor guy ever survived being a first child and all the mistakes I made, but he did.  A quiet and serious child, and the epitome of the angst-ridden teenager (he was emo before they had a word for it), he grew up into a serious, responsible, level-headed adult who takes an avid interest in politics and culture and has a wicked sense of humor.  We are about as close at it is possible for a mother and son to be.

When I found out I was expecting Darling Daughter, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to love a second child as much as I love Oldest Son, so, again, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t so – I could, and do, love her every bit as much.  My Rebellious One, she often seems devoid of the common sense that characterizes her older brother (and her younger one, for that matter), and I often wondered if I was going to survive her adolescence.  Beloved calls her “Teflon Girl” because she has an uncanny knack for getting herself into situations that you just know are going to turn out badly, then coming out of them completely unscathed – and often smelling like a rose.  The fact that she is beautiful (I don’t have a picture that does her justice) as well as one of the most charming people alive probably helps a great deal.  I kid you not – the girl could sell air conditioners to Eskimos.

I talk a lot about The Young One here, mostly because he’s the only chick left in the nest, but also because not a day goes by that he doesn’t just amaze me.  Three months premature and weighing only 2 pounds 4 1/2 ounces, we were told it was quite possible he would’t make it.  Needless to say, he not only survived but thrived – at least physically.  In fact, he was quite precocious physically; he sat up, crawled and walked way before the norm for a preemie.  But by the time he was two, it became clear there was something wrong.  Perhaps very wrong.

He didn’t talk, for one.  At all.  In fact, he didn’t talk until he was nearly five years old (now you can’t get him to shut up).  He didn’t seem to take much interest in the world around him, although he could focus on one specific activity for periods of time that was frankly amazing for a toddler.  He threw terrible, horrible temper tantrums that no one could do anything to stop until he just wore himself out.  He had (and still does) issues with food – it practically took an act of congress to get him to try a new food, and he would often gag when eating.

I had his hearing tested, I took him to a speech therapist and begged the doctor to have him tested for Pervasive Developmental Disorder.  He refused, saying The Young One simply wasn’t on the autism spectrum, which I felt was bullshit – I still do.  And as The Young One got older, his problems slowly but surely got better – or we just learned to deal with them more effectively.  The temper tantrums gradually stopped, he began to take more of an interest in his surroundings, although it’s just been in the last few years that he’s really begun socializing with kids his own age, and he began to talk (quite a bit, actually…sometimes to excess).  Even today, though, he will begin a sentence then start over, sometimes several times, before he finishes it, but even this is becoming more and more infrequent.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that it occurred to anyone that he probably suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome.  I haven’t had him formally diagnosed, and probably won’t since the older he gets the milder his symptoms become; he is, in fact, at 14, practically asymptomatic and I see no need to needlessly stigmatize him.

I simply enjoy that I can have instant message conversations on Yahoo like this with him and his brother:

Me: So, what are you up to this afternoon?

The Young One: Nothing, really.  Watching Glenn Beck.

Me: Why on earth are you watching Glenn Beck?!?!

TYO: There’s nothing else on.

Me, to Oldest Son: Your brother is watching Glenn Beck.

OS: Well, tell him to stop before his brain rots.

Me, to TYO: Oldest Son says to stop watching Glenn Beck before your brain rots.

TYO: He’d rather I watch Bill O’Reilly?

OS, after I relayed that message: Well, he has a point there.

For other exceptional posts about other exceptional children, visit Sprite’s Keeper and the Spin Cycle.