Some days I fancy myself a modern day Mary Poppins. Other days, I feel like I’m one wire hanger away from Joan Crawford.
Being a stepparent presents a unique set of challenges.
Hear me out.
I get it- no parent is ever fully prepared for what parenting entails. After all, every child is different in their own right. However, as a step parent you don’t have the luxury of foresight on your children's moods as they grow, nor do you have a crystal ball telling you the proper way to respond when those moods rear their heads.
Most days are fantastic! I feel like a superwoman. No, seriously, I give myself an imaginary pat on the back almost every single day. I’ll even air toast my two-buck-chuck to myself in all my pride and glory.
No one trained you for this, yet here you are slaying it!
Bored with nothing to do on a rainy day? Don’t worry, stepmommy has an activity planned!
Teenage gal pal drama? Stepmommy’s been there and she knows exactly what to do!
You like a boy in school, but you’re too afraid to talk to him? Ha! He’s more afraid to talk to you… stepmommy’s got this, hold my wine.
Ah, yes. With age comes experience, and the fact that I have 37 years experience navigating life (and boredom) makes me a seasoned pro when it comes to lighthearted and fancy-free issues! It also doesn’t hurt that I am completely shameless, and don’t mind making a complete and utter fool of myself to cheer up the girls and get their giggle meter going.
But then there are the days when simple tasks like asking to load the dishwasher becomes a verbal invitation to officially kick off World War III. It doesn't happen too often, but when it does I often have zero clue on how to appropriately handle it. I feel blindsided. I feel helpless. I feel a million things that do NOT prepare someone for battle. Instead, I think on my emotions and simply REACT.
They don’t call it a Nuclear REACTor for nothin’!
Things were going GREAT, and I mean GREAT! The older Krista and Kylie got, the more I felt like I lived with my two best girl friends! We related to each other a little more, we got to share clothes, and in this posse I was actually the cool and mature one (which was a really refreshing change from my youth spent as the wild-weird do-anything-for-attention one). It also didn’t hurt that we outnumber Eric, in the female to male ratio, 3 to 1! That’s right, Daddy now had to contend with three fabulous female warriors when it came to debating what should be trivial marital-like spats.
Cloud-9?! Why, yes! That’s where I had been living.
When I was young, both my parents worked full-time jobs, which led me to a lot of free time alone and lots of time staying up late and watching Nick-at-Nite and Cartoon Network until the wee hours of morning. Mammaw instilled in me the adage, “if you’re gonna be a big kid at night, you gotta be a big kid in the morning,” and so I learned to stay up late and wake up somewhat approachable... at least after an hour or so.
It was Tuesday morning, and bright and early I shuffled to the coffee pot to hit ‘grind’ for a fresh cup of tomorrow morning. Eric would be traveling out of town for work, and Biomom wouldn’t be picking the girls up until her shift ended, so for the duration of this Tuesday it was gonna be just me and my two best friends!
And then, Krista woke up.
Immediately I could sense that she was in a mood. My guess was that she had stayed up far too late, fallen asleep on the couch and the almost inhumane crunching and gurgling of the coffee maker had prematurely awoken her from her peaceful slumber, which, in turn, had her waking with flames from her ears and venom spewing from her eyelids.
Today is not the day to give the 'If You're Gonna Be a Big Kid' Schpeel.
Though my mantra is “every day, wake up to a new day,” I struggle. I understand that not everyone is a morning person. I’m certainly not. I had work to do anyway, so I left Krista on the couch and took my freshly brewed coffee and laptop outside to let her wake up uninterrupted and gracefully.
That was 7:30am.
At approximately 10am I received a text from Kylie in the living room asking if I knew where Krista’s phone was.
“I do not.” I texted her back.
It was then that I realized today was definitely going to be a rough one.
I walked inside to see both Krista and Kylie in the living room watching some movie on Netflix about magic hugging shoelaces (and no I’m not making this up). I sat on the loveseat, and asked if the girls had made themselves breakfast yet. Both said no. I then proceeded to ask if they’d like me to make them some.
Kylie responded, “Yes.”
Krista responded a very pointed, “No.”
It’s too early for wine. It’s too early for wine. Coffee, yes, coffee! I need more coffee.
I brought Kylie her breakfast, and told the girls that after the movie is over they’d have to load the dishwasher. It seemed to be understood.
Two hours later and I’m still hearing singing shoes.
“How long is this movie?” I asked, convinced they had started it over from the beginning to avoid child labor.
“It’s almost over.” Kylie explained.
I went back to my laptop, and, sure enough, about thirty minutes (and two more songs about sneaker love) later, the film had finally reached its conclusion.
“Okay girls, time to get the dishes done.”
Krista sauntered to the kitchen and began washing the dishes.
That was easy... I thought…
Until I happened to walk into the kitchen to find that Krista’s version of washing the dishes was simply rinsing them and putting them on the drying rack without the use of a sponge or soap.
“Keeks! What are you doing?”
No verbal response, just a shrug.
“Let me show you how to do the dishes.”
“I know how to do the dishes.”
“Well, obviously not if you aren’t using soap.” I chuckled. “Besides, you don’t need to hand wash them anyway. Just rinse them and put them in the dishwasher. Easy peezy.” I smiled, trying to cautiously pick my battles.
Krista turned back to the sink, this time lathering up the dirty spatula with Dawn using only her hand, then proceeding to place the soapy spatula on the drying rack still drenched in suds.
Last time she didn’t use soap.
This time she isn’t using water.
Krista knows how to do the dishes.
She also knows how to be defiant.
I took a deep breath, and spoke slowly, but sternly, “Krista, all you have to do is rinse off the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Why are you fighting me on this?”
That’s when I got the blank stare followed by the eye roll as she began loading the dishwasher. I wanted to let the eye roll go, I really did, but in that moment the eye roll was the wire hanger that did me in.
“Krista, why are you acting like this? What in your life is so terrible that you have to mope around the house all day? You scuffle around here absolutely miserable. How dare I ask you to do the dishes?! You literally have zero responsibilities at this house. I just let you lay on the couch all morning to watch your ridiculous movie, and the one thing I ask you to do, which isn’t even that hard, it’s the end of the world! Sometimes you act so spoiled and entitled, and it isn’t fair. You're better than that!“
As soon as it fell from my mouth, immediate regrets.
At this point, Kylie came in to help Krista load the dishwasher. About halfway through, Krista went to her room and Kylie finished the job. When she was done I asked Kyz, “Do you think I’m too hard on your sister?”
She gave me a very matter-of-fact, “No.”
“Can I ask you something? Does she get in these moods at your mom’s house too or just with me?”
“She gets like that there too.”
“Is she okay? What’s going on?”
To which I got the infamous Kylie shoulder shrug followed by “I don’t know.”
I left it at that.
Later that evening, Biomom came to pick up the girls, and Krista walked out the door without so much as a goodbye. I felt terrible, but I also didn’t know what to do.
Am I just supposed to let this shit go? Am I supposed to just let her put dirty or soapy dishes on the drying rack so she can get back to watching stupid movies about singing footwear? Am I even allowed to reprimand them? Stepparents can reprimand right? Did I overreact?
I felt perplexed, awful and like the worst human on the planet.
That week was just Eric and I at the house. It was nice to have some alone time with him, but I couldn’t shake my verbal lash out on Keeks. I was sure she was going to hold a grudge on me about the dishes for quite some time. I wished I had one more day with the girls before Biomom’s week just so I could talk it out and smooth things over, but instead I was to sit in waiting for the next several days mentally punishing myself for being a shitty stepparent.
That weekend was my birthday, and the girls came back to our house on Sunday. When they walked in the door Kylie immediately pulled me into the bedroom to discuss something “very important" she had to tell me, which was actually just a decoy tactic to give Krista and Eric some time to decorate the kitchen, turn out the lights and light my surprise cake.
As Kylie led me out of the room, the three of them sang Happy Birthday, and I melted.
I blew out the candles and silently made my birthday wish:
I wish that I could be a part of this happy little family forever.
Then it was time to read the cards. I first read Eric's and Kylie's, and while both cards made me feel all mushy, I wasn't a total bowl of mashed potatoes until I opened Krista's.
I hope this birthday was as Spectacular as you are.
I don't know where (or who) I'd be without you. You saved me from my darkest times, and helped me truly find myself.
I know you will achieve anything and everything you put your head and heart to.
Hope all your birthday wishes come true.
-Pout Pout Fish
If I wasn't emotional already, reading Krista's card literally brought me to tears. Here I was stressing about riding her for being moody and defiant (hence why her nickname is 'pout pout fish') convinced that I was doing something wrong, but in her eyes I was actually shaping her into who she will become someday. Rather than hate my guts, she RESPECTED me for it.
With Kristas card, my birthday wish was already coming true.
(insert swirling heart emoji, here)
Step-parenting is a learning curve, and I guess it’s okay to call out bad behavior when you see it, as long as it comes from a good place. The kids might not like it then, but give it a week or two, and they’ll eventually come around.
Though sometimes it’s easy to get down on myself for having a heat-of-the-moment emotional outburst of frustration (after a long period of button pushing), I am quite a far cry from a full-fledged version of Mommy Dearest whooping her child in a closet with a wire hanger. In fact, apparently my stepdaughter appreciates it- the calling her out on her bad behavior part, probably not the emotional outbursts (which I’m working on).
Now I'm back to being Step-Mary Poppins... as I pull out a glass of wine from my bottomless carpet bag and air toast myself.
~names have been changed to protect the innocent~