Thursday, November 29, 2018

Full Hands

"Sometimes...your hands are so full of "Old" that they don't have time or space to embrace "New". "
(I don't know if that's a quote by anyone famous)

With the holiday season in full swing, I realized I was missing someone from my past. They had been on my mind a lot lately, as we usually shared a lot during this time of year with each other. I looked at old messages from this person, and was tempted to reach out...but something held me back.

Don't hold onto old. 

Today, I sat at my homeschool co-op, talking with some moms, sharing whatever popped into our mind or heart to share. Some of the ladies, I have seen for going on two years. Others, I had just met this semester.

Let go of the old. 

As I looked at them, talked and laughed with them...my heart went back to a conversation I had with my youngest the night before.

"Mama?" 
"Hmm?"
"If you could go back to PA...would you?" 
"No."
"Why?"
"Because...because God called me here. Called us here."
"Don't you miss it?"
"Sure. But here is our home." 

Open your hands to the new.

I passed a mom in the hallway as we left Co-Op. She greeted me like an old friend that morning, and here she was, rubbing my arm forcing me to stop the rushing auto-pilot so many of us go on as we scramble to clean our classrooms, find our kids, get them all in the car, think about what's for dinner as we drive, and get everyone home.

"Hey!"
"Hi!"
"We...need to hang out sometime."

"I know...uh...I'm in town on Wednesdays."
"Okay."
"Just...let me know what's a good time for you!"
"Okay! See you!"
"Have a good night!"

Let go of the old...

As I sat on my couch, looking at my glowing Christmas tree....all three incidents swirled around in my head.

With each year here, God has put more and more people not just into my path, but my children's path as well.

I didn't...I couldn't open myself up to anyone here. I was still bearing my soul to someone back home. I missed many potential encounters for closeness...for interaction...for deep friendships...

Let go of the old...

I thought about the faces of that Co-Op table. I thought about the brightness of the mom's eyes who passed me in the hall. I thought about my neighbors, the people I sit next to at church, the woman who always says she's praying for me even though I have been very guarded in what I say to her.

Let...go...

I realized something. I had prayed so long for community, for a feeling of "belonging" here.

And now I see...God had and continues to put many people in my path. He HAS given me community, and many women who have stretched out there hand to say to me "hey, you DO belong here."

I wanted to stretch out my hand to grab theirs...

...but my hands were full.

Full of people I had been grasping, clinging to...

People that were supposed to be in my life...for a season, and I had foolishly clung to them beyond their time. For many seasons. Even though we both got weary of holding each other's hand.

Let go of the old.

I looked on my social media page, at who was my "friend" on there. I looked at how many were relatively local, how many were from back East. I noticed how little I interacted with those from back East, and how little they interacted with me. They were different people in a different season. I was a different person many seasons ago.
Our hands were full of the old...the old memories, the old seasons, the old people we used to be around each other.

Open your hands to the new...

I realized I had been so busy coveting the old, that I had no room in my heart or hands for the new.

It's nice to have many friends in many places...but if you outgrow the friendship...you're holding onto the old and giving God zero opportunity to bring you new.

New places, new seasons, new people, new memories.

Let go of the old...Open your hands to the new. 

It dawned on me...as the thoughts swirled full circle...

God called me HERE.
God HAS answered my prayers for community and belonging.
Women are extending the hand of friendship to ME, despite my own hesitation.
I cannot keep trying to make the old things...the old people...work in my hands. They're taking up too much space.
I should...I have to...let go of the old that no longer serves their purpose in growing me. I have to let go of the old that I am no longer able to serve in helping grow.

I have to let go...so that I can make room in my heart and hands for the new that God continues to bring my way.
I have to empty my full hands.
I have to be vulnerable to exposing bare hands HERE.
I have to trust God to fill them with worthy friends...HERE.

I have to stop clutching the old with tight fists.
I have to let go of the old...so I can open my hands to the new.

Until Next Time,

~Mama Jenn

P.S.- If the people I'm mentioning still read my blog, please understand...I don't say any of this out of a place of bitterness or anger that our friendship has run its course. I hope y'all hold no bitterness or anger with me. I wish y'all the best as we grow in separate directions <3

Thursday, August 9, 2018

StepMom Undone, Day 18

June 12, 2018

Yesterday, I am embarrassed to admit, I did something I never should have started in the first place. It's petty, and absolutely beneath me, but yet...I still did it.

I checked out my husband's ex-wife's Facebook page. *Covers face in embarrassment*

Initially, I did it because her mom said something about her being able to tell when she's mentally unstable "Because of her Facebook posts". So, to guard and possibly avoid the kids from seeing her at her worst, I would occasionally check her profile.

When I admitted I was doing it to my husband, he gave me that "silly little woman" look and just shrugged. Not exactly approving of it, but not outwardly forbidding me from it, either.

I did it yesterday...but after a few seconds, I sort of felt like I always do, but worse.

I felt ashamed of myself.

Why was I doing it now?

I guess, despite my largely feeling a sense of relief my stepkids are gone...a part of me still wants to make sure they're okay. That she's capable of still taking care of them.

I won't get into the nitty-gritty, but there were several instances in the past where she wasn't capable. Hearing what they've been through, the mom in me wants them to never have gone through it, to begin with. Knowing they have I want to take every precaution to never allow them to go through it again.

What probably hurts the most is letting them go back was that they wanted to go back. Despite knowing how they lived, despite her having moments of incapability...they still wanted to go back.

It saddens me they even have to choose...

When I met my husband, we became friends and sifted through the finalization of his divorce together(or, at best as I could being almost 2,000 miles away). He said so many times he didn't want the choice of divorce...not because of his wife per se, but because of the promise he made to God, and he didn't want his kids to go through what he went through growing up.

I had never been married before I met my husband, but I knew the pain(as both a child resulting from and an adult going through) something you thought was going to be forever only for it to...not be.

I remember wishing I could have both parents in one house like I saw some of my friends have, but never fully getting that wish.

I really wish I knew what causes mostly logical adults to become bitter teenagers after the ending of any long-term relationship...to turn on one another and make the whole process of co-parenting harder than it already is. But, so many fall into it, self included. All the while we think we are "winning" against the ex...at the expense of the child/children "losing". It stinks.

This is one of the reasons why I took myself out of the equation. I kept trying to do my best and what was best for kids, while slowly feeding the elephant of bitterness that was always in the room from a divorce I had no part in. I'll never understand how kids can be treated like objects to be won and still prefer that to being treated like...normal kids.

I will never fully grasp that, or why this whole situation made me angry, and bitter over things I couldn't control, over children that wanted very little to do with me.

For my own sanity, I did block her so I wouldn't continue...but it still hurts.

Despite trying to give these kids normalcy, it still hurts as a woman...as a mom...that they still chose the uncertainty of their biological mother over my husband and me.

Call it whatever you want...but coming to this realization hurts.

We allowed their biological mother to have full custody again for many reasons...but the biggest factor was that they wanted to go. They gladly went.

I really need to stop checking other people's Facebook profiles.

It turns me into a nosey, bitter person that I hate to see when I look in the mirror.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

StepMom Undone, Day 17

June 11, 2018

Last night, I realized that this week, the children and I have no required places to go. No summer camps(yet), no doctors appointments...nothing. While there are some things we could go to, I'm trying my best now to say "Nope, sorry. We're staying home." Especially after the filled to the brim week we had last week.

This morning, I walked out of my room and for a second, I tensed up. I'm so used to my mind going 100 miles a minute. As I moved from the living room to the kitchen, to the dining room, something my son said yesterday in the car came front and center to my brain.

"Hey...has anyone noticed how quiet our car ride is? The radio is way down and I can actually hear it."

The kids started discussing this. My stepkids, for whatever reasons, couldn't control the volume of whatever came out of their mouths. They always started a decibel higher than a normal tone and kept escalating until I escalated(yelled), then they went back to a higher decibel higher than normal. We repeated the process until what seemed like forever all day every day until they went to bed or I quit in exhaustion.

If I dared to even try and sleep in, my coming to the living room would be met with not actual whispers...whispers. The kids would be up- they had to be, no one could be expected to sleep the second either stepchild woke up. If you were in the same room, you'd have no choice- they'd mumble to themselves, play in the closet at full volume, or start calling another child's name until they awoke so they had someone to play with because they always needed someone to play with.

Waking up and expecting silence and hearing this instead constantly was sort of...unsettling. Creepy. It made me super uncomfortable and sort of rattled my nerves before the day even began.

But this morning...as I emerged, the tense feeling started...then went away. Sure there are birds in the trees surrounding our house and actual crickets that could be heard. But beyond that...nothing. No creepy "not whisper...whisper." No one yelling at a stepkid because they were playing and interrupted their sleep. No one calling one of my kid's name on autorepeat until they couldn't take it any longer and forced themselves out of bed to shut them up.

Just....nothing.

Silence.

Kid's actually...sleeping.

The house actually quiet.

The silence of not having stepkids.

Ahhhhh. 

I reheated a biscuit and some eggs from yesterday. Another milestone. No kids who still haven't fully processed we always have food emerging from the bedrooms playing 20 questions about breakfast.
No feeling that I'm sneaking food in my own home because if the stepkids even slightly liked it...they eat it quickly and until it's all gone. No having to turn off the microwave one second before it's done so I don't alarm them food is done and they burst into the kitchen acting like poor little starving kids(I know why they acted like this despite always being provided food here. But after 2 years it was very unnerving to have to still remind them we'll always have food.).

I sat down at the table and as I worked on relaxing, I slowly ate my food, drank my coffee, sipped my water.
I didn't need to rush.

No one was looking at my food or drinks like a vulture, ready to pounce with "Can I eat that/drink that if you don't want anymore?" 's or "I'll take it!" quickly screamed after declaring I'm full(again...don't know why- I always tried to cook more than enough so this wouldn't be a child's version of "Hunger Games").

Just...eating and drinking.

In silence.

At ease.

Relax.

Ahhhhhhhh.

It's so funny how much we take for granted until it's taken from us or we have no idea if it'll ever return to us again.

Then the little things become sacred.

The natural rhythms, once returned to, become holy.

The moments of silence become truly sanctifying.


Friday, August 3, 2018

StepMom Undone, Day 13

June 7th, 2018

Yesterday, my youngest and I met with a family for a park date. The mom is awesome and her kids are great.

However, after watching her interact with her children...I noticed her teeter between a parenting style I'm familiar with and one I was sort of...flabbergasted by. I couldn't figure out why she bounced between one and then moments later, the radical opposite.

I also couldn't initially figure out why when she went to the radical opposite...it rubbed me the wrong way. Her children were roughly the same age as mine, but she was taking more time and depth to explain things than what I thought was needed.

I usually don't get into nitpicking parenting styles, because largely I know it's none of my business and at the end of the day, we're all just trying to raise not crappy kids to non-jerk adults. Plus, we're and I know if I open myself to criticizing someone else's ability to parent, then I can have the tables turned fast and...I've done my fair share of parenting mistakes. I always half joke/half seriously say to my kids their 18th birthday present is going to be 1 year of therapy because I know I didn't do everything right.

So, as long as the kids aren't jerks and the parents are semi-decent people...you do what works best. My opinion isn't going to do jack squat to raise your kids any better than the people who have raised them much longer than my 3-second opinion.

*Steps off soapbox*

Anyways...the more I saw her interact, the more agitated I got. I actually had to stop myself and really say "What is wrong with you?!?"

After the park date and on the drive home, I allowed myself to marinate in thought. Why did that bug me? Why should it?

Then, halfway to home, it hit me.
It agitated me...
...because she was me.

Before I had my stepkids, I was semi-confident in my ability to parent. I knew my foundational rights and obligations. I knew how to get any given point across to each child, I was pretty sure how to love up on each kid in a way they could understand, and I was okay with my kids being a part of most decision-making processes that occurred in our family.

My kids...I may be jaded, but...they're freaking awesome little humans. *shrugs*

Then...I got my stepkids.
"Treat them no different than your own. Treat them as though they are your own."
That's the advice I got when talking with others. I have them the same love, same way to make a point, same ability to help in the family's decision-making process.

Imagine my shock when they did not become awesome little humans. Imagine my horror as I was told multiple times their mother was better, I'm a horrible human being and I'm overbearing.

Imagine my relief when some of their irrational behavior was given a diagnosis...only to feel anger when another woman looked at me like I didn't know what I was talking about because although I was doing her job, I couldn't POSSIBLY know them even a fraction as well because they didn't exit out of my vagina.

Imagine having two groups of children and trying so hard to mesh them into one solidified group...only to be told constantly(through actions, words,etc.) that you must treat them differently, you can't parent them fully, you aren't legally allowed to do...anything.

My friend's parenting style was best described as "walking a fine line of eggshells", and the only reason I knew the name of it was due to the fact that I had to parent my stepkids the exact same way.

I can't speak for my friend(she has a different reason for parenting that way), but I know for myself after 13+ years of doing life with my own children...this parenting style sucked. I HATED having to do it.

I left that park date with two revelations-
1. I never want to be that mom again.
(Again, I'm NOT down talking my friend. I relate SO MUCH to her struggle and have been in her shoes, so I am in NO WAY saying her parenting style is wrong. I know why she does what she does and as a mom when has been there, I get it.)
2. I went a full day without outwardly mentioning my stepkids. Never said their name, never brought them up in conversation. As my friend was sharing her family's story, I was very tempted because our family's story is very similar to hers, BUT I didn't and it felt downright wonderful!




























Thursday, August 2, 2018

StepMom Undone, Day 12

June 6th, 2018

Yesterday, a good friend of mine asked me about my stepkids. She knew of our situation leading up to the end of the (home)school year, but we hadn't been in touch since. I haven't posted much of anything on social media about my feelings since their departure, either, so she was trying to keep the conversation going and asked.
I told her what I had been telling those closest to me who had asked...it's bittersweet.

Despite them wanting to go back and everyone agreeing over it, a small part of me wishes it could have worked out. That it(the whole situation) didn't take the huge toll on our marriage and relationship with my own children that it did. That it wasn't such a huge shift in my thought patterns. That those kids didn't have such an intense chaotic presence about them.

As we continued talking about our families adjusting to a new season of change(she had taken some steps in homesteading, both of us feeling "kinda" done with homeschooling for the summer,etc.) she paused for a moment and a perplexed look crossed her face.
"Do you have somewhere else to be today?" She asked mid-conversation.
"No. Why?" I said.
"You've been checking your phone for the time a lot the past few minutes," She replied.
"Oh." I said, laughing nervously. "I hadn't even noticed I was doing it. Sorry!"
She took a deep sigh and her shoulders relaxed. "It must be nice,"
"Hmm?"
"I was just thinking...it must be nice for you to not have to worry about rushing home to be in time for the school bus or them anymore. To actually have no time limit to rush back home. To sit here and talk with us as long as we're all here."

This woman came into my life knowing me no other way. When we met, I was tense and always bringing up how much time I could spend before having to go to meet the stepkids coming off the school bus.

Today, we had (with other homeschool moms) spent almost three going on four hours at the playground.

I looked at her, her body relaxing as she said these things. I looked at the other moms, some who knew our situation and some who didn't. But all were totally at ease and looked like they had nowhere to be beyond here.

I know it seems stupid, but...I hadn't realized how much of a toll having my stepkids affected all this. How it didn't just impact me and my little tribe, but my extended circle as well. I didn't realize until I saw her body going from tense to relaxed and at ease how much those kids and their circumstances came out of my mouth.
I didn't realize their chaotic atmosphere had spilled so much over into my own presence that it had affected those who interacted with me.

As the conversation flowed and other women jumped in, I noticed as soon as the conversation came back to my stepkids, for some reason I started stuttering and repeating words. My speech and heart quickened. When the hell did THIS start happening?!

I'm no Casanova when it comes to verbal communication, but I never sounded so...nervous or jittery at the initiation of a topic.

I realize now it's been going on for almost a year now. I also realize I'm not the only one whose speech has changed. My youngest daughter has taken to speaking at a ridiculously fast pace. My son has started to project his voice. My oldest daughter has taken to mumbling things under her breath then sarcastically going "Hmm....what? I didn't say anything." My husband has been speaking to himself-loudly, I might add- outside when he goes out to smoke. He'd be practicing what he'd say before coming back in and saying it to me or whoever.

All this because two kids came and dictate conversations- by getting louder and louder, by always rudely redirecting the conversation to topics they wanted to talk about.

I hadn't realized it, but all of us had a default coping communication mechanism to even so much as get a word in.

As another mom shared her struggles with her oldest daughter, she said something that described my realizations perfectly(when referring to her own child)-
"She's like...a vortex. She can enter the room and within minutes, everyone's attention is on her. It has to be. My other children remarked, 'I don't always like it when she's home because she takes all of you and dad's attention.' She has a victim mentality...but it's always about her. Always."

Being about to look back and take a breather, I realized....that was these kids.

I kept thinking once we got them the help they needed for so long but didn't receive due to their biological mother's mental instability...they'd mellow out, demand less, and essentially realize their place in our family. But the more help they got, the more attention they demanded of me, my kids, the school, my husband.

I tried really hard to redirect, to let them see they have priority but not the top priority. I understand they're finally getting long overdue help; but they aren't my #1 priority, as they shouldn't be. My own kids aren't even #1- God is.

However, whenever I(or my husband, or my children, or anyone else) tried to bring this realization to their atmosphere, it never bade well. They have absorbed their mother's victim mentality and selfish craving for attention at all times. As a result, when it wasn't about them, they did whatever they had to in order to make it about them once more.

Being aware of this makes my heart ache. Not only do I feel bad for my stepkids, but I feel bad for my family. We all allowed it and found coping mechanisms to deal with it. We aren't PTSD survivors- we SHOULD NOT need to have coping mechanisms to live and conduct ourselves in our own home!!!

But yet we did.

All because we opened our home up to two kids who we thought needed us, but through actions and words made it known they didn't want our help. They just wanted it to be about them, all day, every day. By any means necessary.

I just...I just can't believe I was so deep in, I hadn't realized it. I hadn't seen it.

I know they need help...but they just can't get it here.

I can't help fix what I didn't break.

I can only pray God helps me to fix my own little family...the ones that want to be here...before we break anymore.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

StepMom Undone, Day 11

June 5th, 2018

My house is actually staying clean!

I had forgotten what it's like to have to clean a room and, for the most part, it actually stays clean.

Remember how I mentioned my stepkids had an energy about them that is sort of...chaotic?
Well, this is another area that sort of follows them around. I know this one isn't their fault, either-based off the many times CYS was contacted by previous landlords everytime they moved, and the accounts of family and my husband of someone's housekeeping skills...let's just say, it was a learned habit.

They(the stepkids) have bouts where they want to clean, and if asked, one out of two will actually try to clean without getting distracted. But for the most part, they would usually leave things wherever and despite two years of reminders, bribes, incentives, etc. they were still treating this house like a dumping ground instead of an actual lived in home.

I tried really hard to extend some grace in this area. I know what it's like to grow up with slobby habits.

But it wasn't just slobby, it was health-hazard disgusting. Even my own children's "messes" are NOTHING compared to my stepkids.

With them no longer here, I have the mental and physical energy to keep up with my home again beyond survival mode. No more mad dart cleaning sprees, only focusing on the absolutely disgusting...now I can slow down, do a thorough deep clean. Days later, it still looks and smells clean. Isn't that great? :D

Yesterday, after an amazing day of re-arranging and deep cleaning w/ my youngest daughter, she asked if we could go to the playground. I habitually looked at the clock, in a panic. I stopped myself. Why did I do that? What time restraints do I have?!

There is no more calculating how much times until stepkids get home from school + drive time + actual time spent at any location, seeing if it's worth going. I don't have to do that anymore!

(Unfortunately, I still wake up in panic mode. I'm not sure how long it's going to take to undo that feeling :/ )

Baby steps, I guess. *shrugs*


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

StepMom Undone, Day 10

June 4th, 2018

This morning's realization:
If I make time for my husband, he'll make time for himself(self-care). If a husband makes time for himself, he'll be a better everything(husband, dad, worker, etc.)

For the past two years, my husband, God bless him, has been placed on the back burner as I have tried to "fix" two kids I didn't break. I have them normal motherly love(which they weren't used to). I gave them structure and routines so they could feel some sense of control over their usually uncontrollable lives. I listened to them and tried to make their concerns and worries my top priority. They had been through a lot- they needed me.

But...this was all at the expense of everyone else. My husband's priorities were the first to go.

The little things I did for him...were suddenly too much on top of my maxed out to-do list. These kids needed a LOT of care, and the things I once found joy in doing for my husband suddenly became burdensome and robbed me of precious time ensuring the stepkids never-ending list of needs were met.

I remember the weeks it started. My husband is a very easy to please man- I hardly see him(due to his job), so the two things I always did to show him my love is-
1. Pack his meals for the week
2. Do his laundry/pack his duffle bag for the week.

I'd even send him a note in one or the other just to remind him I love him or a Bible verse of encouragement for the week ahead. Nothing major.

He never forced me to do it or asked- I just started doing these things because I wanted to. It made his time go a little more smoothly and it made him happier.

As time with my stepkids progressed, these things slowly went to the wayside. The man who would give me a goofy grin as he leaned into to give me a longer than usual kiss and remind me "he could have done it"(but I woke up earlier and beat him to it) was now waking up grumpy and with a ticking time bomb on his mind, as he methodically threw whatever food in the fridge he perceived to be his in his cooler. Once that was done, he'd grumble his way to the washing machine at the last minute because he forgot to do his laundry on his assigned day...then, in a hurry, grab whatever was dry enough out of the dryer, stuff it in his duffle bag, barely graze my lips(if I was awake and at the door to see him off, which happened less and less) and scramble out the door.

I knew I was neglecting him and his simple needs, but I was maxed out serving two unyielding and overwhelming children instead of my husband. Surely, my husband was a "big boy" and could handle these tasks himself...right?

I did his laundry today and I swear, he nearly fainted with shock. "But...but...it's not my laundry day!" he stammered out.
"I know," I said. But I want to do it."
Later that day, as I was furiously cleaning out my son's room and singing along to the pop music of my youth(don't judge me), he stopped playing on the Xbox, came in, and sheepishly asked me if I needed help.

Now it was my turn to nearly faint with shock!

I forgot this was how our marriage used to be...before we took full responsibility of the stepkids. I told him what I intended to do. Within minutes and despite having lingering back pain all weekend, he got his tools out and did what I thought wouldn't get done in weeks. My youngest was called in and we both helped-within a half hour we were all sweaty, but the task was done.

Later that night, he got off the Xbox again and asked me if we could play a board or card game. We played several rounds of dominoes with my youngest(she was the only one home this week). We then watched a family safe show and climbed into bed.

I felt warm and snuggly for the first time in a long time.

This morning, I heard his alarm go off. He started his tasks, but then I realized he hadn't showered. "Don't have time now," he grunted. He started to have a bad go of putting his vitamins in his pill box, spilling them everywhere.

"How about this," I said. "I'll make your meal bag and I'll put in your weekly vitamins, so you can shower before you head to work."
"Pain in my butt..." he goofy grin mumbled as he hopped in the shower."

He left the house practically floating away. Something tells me he's going to have a good work week *Wink*

I feel...I can't describe it fully. But I feel like the world is slowly righting itself again. I'm making my husband a top priority again; he's no longer on the back burner because I'm (slowly) starting to feel like my life isn't a stovetop anymore.

It's small and stupid to some, but...this was my world before the stepkids came. Seeing the look on my husband's face as I did these things reminded me of why I originally chose to do them.

And why I am restarting them again.

I really can't wait for the days ahead...and better ways to joyfully serve my man <3 .