Ticking Clocks

I have probably written about this memory before, so if you’ve heard the story, just bear with me.  If not, here’s a little snapshot of me at 17.

I am sitting in the back row of Mr. Ashley’s Economics class, which I am failing miserably because I pretty much have an 8th grade math level.  So instead of paying attention, and especially because it is now April of Senior year, I am talking to my friends. 

Girl 1: I’m not sure how many kids I want when I grow up.  I’ll decide with my husband.

Girl 2: I want one or two, maybe.

Girl 3: I don’t know, I think I’d like a big family.

Their eyes turn to me.

Me:  I don’t know…what if you don’t get married and have kids, though?

Mouths literally agape, as though I had just suggested the absolute nightmare scenario.  Girl 3, bless her heart, was always kind of the naïve one in the group, and she says, indignant: “But OF COURSE we will!”

And that is the day I realized I am different from the average girl.

Yes, I played baby dolls.  Yes, I played House.  But, I preferred playing School, and I preferred books to anything.  I played those childhood games because my friends wanted to, and I thought I was supposed to.  After all, that’s what filled the aisles of girl’s stuff at Toys R Us.  I always preferred Kevin’s toys…all his action figures had superpowers or cool tricks, and they came with cars and buildings just like my dolls.  So why couldn’t I get them for Christmas?

I asked several people their opinion on being a mother, or living childfree.  I wanted to know if the moms felt they made the right choice.  I wanted to know if those without kids ever regretted it.  Some friends told me their stories, some women commented on my tweet about it, some privately messaged me.  And in nearly every single story, in the end, there was no regrets. This pleased me. It made me feel even more validated in my decisions.

I only ever considered a child though adoption, and this is not only because I was witness to my goddaughters’ birth, which was about the best prophylactic in the world.   I felt like I didn’t need a kid, but if a kid needed me, I could do it.  I would help them.  This is one of the reasons I got into working with children and teens.

But…like I said, I didn’t need one.  I knew pretty early on that kids would be difficult for me for a variety of health reasons.  Just the meds I would have to go off of was scary enough to dissuade me from any potential baby-fever.  So instead, I focused on my “kiddos.”

The constant reader knows that I refer to my stepchildren as such, but they are not the first in my life.  My kiddos are anyone younger than my sister (the queen kiddo) whom I developed a relationship with in their youth.  Bernie was first, because at the age of 13 I took on the role of “back-up mom” in her life.  At 18 came D, my other goddaughter (again, Bernie was first.)  She spent the first few years of her life here in Buffalo with me before moving to NYC for a chunk of her childhood. But I loved the crap out of that baby.  Then one day I got a new job and met…let’s call her Sunshine…I used to.  She was a wild 15 year old with a hard outer shell, but somehow we bonded and she showed me the side of her that was full of compassion and ambition and hope.  Then there were my cousins…Erin, who feels totally comfortable calling me when she is in crisis mode, and knows I can help calm her down.  And G, who, at 11 years old, I call my tiniest bestie…I mean, we play games and share interests and confide in each other…who cares how old she is?  And then one sunny day, came my kiddos.

I didn’t ask for them., they were just part of the package.  I received an anonymous insult once early on (which I’m still salty about….come say it to my face, coward.)  Person went so far as to go to Google, and type in my blog handle along with “dating a guy with four kids? get higher standards,” so that I saw it in my analytics feed.  I mean that is an impressive level of passive-aggression.

So yeah, I got some flack for picking up a whole tribe.  But prior to that, I also got crap because I didn’t have a kid.  How many times did my mother say something referencing her future grandmotherhood?  10,000 times.  And other people, both friends and strangers, had their opinions on it as well.

So, I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.

I think, often, of my kiddo’s mother.  I know she would die for any of them, and I would too, but she has a bond that cannot be broken with each of them.  I’m not jealous or anything, in fact, I am in awe of it.  I never wanted that for myself, but I respect the woman that does. 

I am staunchly pro-choice, again, as the regular reader should know by now, but that doesn’t just have to do with abortion.  I am pro-choice in that every woman has the right to make decisions that affect her body…and whether or not to have a child is decision number 1.  I decided a long time ago that wasn’t for me.  Some of my friends decided the same thing.  Others, they had those babies.  Girl #3 even got her big family.

Me, I got four kiddos who never leave the house without telling me they love me.

I’m all set, thanks.

Sunflower

I don’t write much about the kiddos, even though they are a huge part of my life.  I like to keep a little privacy where they are concerned, hence the initials and a lack of current photos on my blog.  But they are growing into amazing little people, and I just want to celebrate that for a moment.  

This week I spent a lot of time with E.  During the summer, we try to take each kiddo for an extended period…a few days to a week, so that they can have one-on-one time with dad.  When M is here, we hang out periodically though the day but spend the majority of it doing our own things.  When L is here, we hang a bit more, and he likes to go to places like the store or my mom’s house with me.  Still, he retreats to play his game or watch a movie while I clean house or write.  When K was here, Mark had some time off so he was with me to entertain her.  But E was a little different.

Content to do her own thing for a while, she is also ready and willing to do anything else, too.  She even came to take Mark to work with me, something none of the others have deigned to do.  On Monday, we ran errands and such.  I truly thought she would hear the itinerary and say no thanks, but she grabbed her sunglasses and her father’s shoes and got in the car. (Sidebar: she wore these shoes all week, everywhere we went, despite having her own.) 

Tuesday was more fun.  E is a budding photographer.  Nature shots are her specialty…I have included a couple of my favorites below.  I asked her how she would feel about a human subject, and would she be so kind as to photograph me for my future website?

Of course, she said yes.

So we went to the Burchfield Nature Preserve and she took my photo a few times, in different places.  When we finally got “the one,” she asked if we could go hiking.  And so, we spent about an hour wandering the trails, looking out for poison ivy, discovering cemeteries, and trying not to fall in the creek.  Afterwards, we didn’t want to go home, so she suggested we call Kevin.  For the new reader, Kevin is my brother-from-another-mother.  He’s about as close as the kiddos have to an uncle on my side of the family, and they all adore him.  Kev is very good at getting on a kid’s level, be it video games with the boys or letting the girls braid his ridiculously luxurious hair. 

We drive out there and he wants to go explore.  Of course, we are down with the plan.  Also, E desperately wants to ride in his car…she’s something of an auto enthusiast as well.  He takes us up to an overlook in East Aurora, where she takes some photos.  Then we head over to an abandoned developmental center that the county is allowing to be reclaimed by nature, supposedly.  Finally, we ended up hiking along a creek in West Seneca.  It was exhausting, but fun. 

On Wednesday, both of us were tired from Tuesday, so we were very chill.  Still, E was more than willing to help me with some housework, and when Mark got home, we spent some time together on the porch just talking.  Thursday brought with it some more errands, of which E again had no complaint and was eager to accompany me.  Then, Friday.

E mentioned on Thursday how much it sucked that Mark had to work all week.  She said she had a great time with me, but missed her dad.  So, Mark asked off for Friday and got it.  He planned a whole day for her.

She had wanted to go fishing.  This surprised me a little.  Usually when we fish, she is the first to get bored.  She will catch one and be done, or she will catch nothing and get annoyed.  Then she wanders off with my camera to take her pictures.  She is never the one to wake up on Saturday morning and say “Let’s go fishing.“  That’s K or L.  Still, she knows her father loves to fish, and she asked if we could go.  Early Friday morning found us on our way to the Bull Creek boat launch in Tonawanda.  She caught a perch.  She was pleased, but then it started getting very hot.  So, we moved along to our next destination. 

We went to Mississippi Mudd’s for lunch, a sort of funky hot dog stand along the river.  The food was delicious, but the bees were insane.  We ate quickly and then fled.  My fool self got sweet potato fries with honey on them so of course they were swarming my food. 

Afterwards, we went out to Sanborn to visit the sunflower field.  Many photos were taken, and I definitely wore the wrong shoes for the occasion.  Especially when we went out into the U-Pick field.  Mark bought six sunflowers.  A bouquet for me, and a perfect little one for E.  I love sunflowers.  They’re not only my favorite flower, but a recurring omen in my life…I’ll have to write about that at some point, too.

Afterwards, we took her home.  I was sad to see her go.  I had a lovely week with this little kiddo.  I saw truly how much she is growing every day, turning into this beautiful and kind and funny young woman.   I know she would have preferred to spend all her time with her father, but it was lovely getting to share that time together.  I don’t have kids of my own, and I don’t plan to, but I have my step-kiddos, so the motherhood thing is weird for me.  I love them and feel connected to them, but also kind of out of the loop.  So, getting to see just the little day by day things is fascinating to me.  E blew me away this week…so talented, so clever, so compassionate.  I truly love watching them grow.

Kinda like sunflowers.

The Scariest Day

K likes to ask very thought-provoking questions of me on occasion.  Usually, they are head scratchers…what was your best day?  What music influences you? What’s your favorite memory from high school?  What are you most proud of?  I don’t know where she gets them, but it seems like she has a new one every weekend.  This week was “What was your scariest day?”

I don’t know what she was expecting, but “the day I took you guys to the squishy playground” was not it.

The “squishy playground,” as the kids have always called it, is situated in Buffalo Harbor State Park, about five minutes from my house.  They call it such because instead of woodchips or gravels, the playground floor is a squishy material that cushions falls.  One would assume this would provide an added level of safety and comfort for the worrisome parent.  One would be wrong.

It so happened, one day, that Mark had to work on a Saturday when we had the kids.  He tries not to pick up such hours, but it was mandatory, so he went in and I was alone with the kiddos.  M wanted to go to the park.  All the others chimed in, begging for me to take them.

What they did not realize is that I had never taken them anywhere before, alone.  Mark was always there, often also boosted by my parents or aunts or sister.  I figured there would be no harm…after all, it is the squishy playground.  So, I loaded them into the car and off we went.

When we got there, I perched on a bench with a book and let them do their thing.  All was well until I hear someone call my name and find M atop a climbing structure that had to be 15 feet off the ground.  That was the first instance of panic.  He was so proud of himself, and I smiled and gave him a thumbs up, but inside I was screaming.  “GET DOWN.  GET THE FUCK DOWN.”  He did, safely, and I told him he did a good job even though I wanted to throttle him for scaring me like that. 

E says “let’s go for a walk.”  There’s a path that goes along the water, for walking and biking and such, so I figure there’s nothing wrong with a little stroll and let her lead the way.  Again, all was well until I hear “Brig!  Look!” and turn to find L climbing on the rock wall that separated the path and the lake.  Naturally, the other three kids scramble to join him.  Again, I smile and give a thumbs up, but inside…”OMGOMGOMG…the girls can’t swim.  It’s too deep.  There’s no way out.  I’m going to have to jump in.  What if they crack their head on a rock?  Should I take my shoes off?  Should I yell at them to get off the rocks?  They’re having fun…I don’t want to be the evil stepmother. OMGOMGOMG someone’s going to die…”

There was a big hill across from the rocks, so I remembered the old childcare trick of redirection, and suggested that it would be fun to roll down.  All four kids agreed, and raced to the top of the hill.  They rolled a few times.  I smiled and thumbs upped and secretly prayed no one would snap a bone on the descent.  But at least they were no longer by the water.

Afterwards, we went back to the car so we could go pick up Mark.  I thought to myself that I had survived the scary day, where I was on edge the whole time while they were having a ball.  Then, E.  “I’m itchy.”  The darling girl is always pointing out anything that bothers her, from a miniscule paper cut to a big bruise, so I shrugged it off at first.  Then, K agrees.  Then L.  Then M.

By the time we get home they have rashes.  My best guess is that they recently sprayed that hill with pesticide.  I made all the kids shower, freaking out because I broke my one rule “You will be returned to your mother in the condition in which you were delivered.”

When I told K this story, she didn’t find it particularly scary.  Well, you’re not a parent, kid.  Worse, you’re not a step-parent, which brings with it a whole host of possible faux pas.  It’s like walking a minefield, at least it was in the early days.  Now, I’m a little more attune at seeing the traps.  But then, I was terrified.  The only time I had been alone with the kids at that point was in the safety of our house.  Taking them out into the world was a whole other ordeal.  I started to wonder if birth parents feel the same, constantly worried about worst case scenarios befalling their children.  Nope, not for me…another nail in the coffin of reproduction, as far as I’m concerned. 

It’s a few years later and I have spent time outside the house with all the kiddos, and I don’t worry like I did that day.  But to say I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the whole time is a lie.  I was terrified.

So no, K, I don’t have a scary ghost story, or some terrifying trauma that I can call my scariest day.  Just a day at the park with my kiddos, that I was certain would end with a trip to the ER.  It didn’t, and I was grateful, but that fear remained.  I think a lot of step-parents share these fears.  It wasn’t like it is when I nanny…I do not fear the loss of children who don’t belong to me in the way I do the kiddos.  That’s not to say I haven’t had some scary moments with other people’s kids…I certainly have.  I just seem to know how to deal with them, on instinct.  Like a job, because it is one.  But your own children are different.  Would I jump in front of a car to save a charge?  Yes.  But would I beat the shit out of the driver after, should I still be able to walk?  No.  That’s just for my kiddos.

Anyway, I love them.  They have terrified me on occasion, but I love them so much that this terror is a result of that.  K and her questions intrigue me, but this particular one really gave me an almost visceral flashback.  I really don’t think I can illustrate to you the sheer terror and worry I felt that day.  You’re just going to have to take my word for it.

The Scariest Day

Deep Clean

Today the well is dry.

It is January, my least favorite month.  I have no topics to write about because I am exhausted from the whole holiday rigamarole.  It ended last night when we celebrated Sharon’s birthday and exchanged Christmas gifts with her and Kevin.  I ended up with a splitting headache, so when I got home, I went to bed instead of brainstorming blog ideas like I usually do on Sunday nights. 

M is with us this week, which is always nice.  Other than that, there isn’t much going on except me deep cleaning the apartment.  I started with the office, which is a treat because I always end up finding things that I forgot about.  This time around I found a picture a friend of mine took for a college photography class.  I framed it and hung it on my living room wall.  I moved on to cleaning the dining room, but I haven’t taken down the Christmas tree yet, which is the next order of business.

We had the kids this weekend.  I mentioned offhand that I needed to clean the bathroom on Saturday.  An hour later, E calls me to the back of the house and shows me that she did it for me, “So you don’t have as much to do tomorrow.”  When I say she cleaned the bathroom, she cleaned the bathroom.  She even put up a new shower curtain that I didn’t know I owned.  I gave her a pass on her usual chore of picking up the living and dining rooms because she busted her butt in the bathroom.  L helped with the laundry, managing to get five loads done.  M was on garbage patrol, running bags out to the cans for me whenever I needed it.  K didn’t do much, but she did work well with E to clean their room, which is impressive as they are usually bickering when left alone too long.  The boys even cleaned their bedroom, more or less, which I really appreciate.  Of course, I am going to go in there and vacuum and clean under beds still, but they got the ball rolling.

So, you see, there’s nothing very interesting going on right now.  I literally am writing about cleaning, probably my least favorite thing in the world.  But, I am very grateful to my kiddos for helping out.  I don’t even have to ask anymore.  They each know they have a responsibility to the household when they come over, and they fulfil that.  I just hope they do the same at their mother’s.

So, I write about cleaning because the well is dry.  I haven’t written anything besides blogs in weeks, and nothing substantial, not even a poem, for almost a month.  I am chalking it up to the outpouring of words that NaNoWriMo brought me; I went hard for a month and now I need a break.  I am hoping the muse will return soon.  In the meantime, I will clean my apartment and praise my kiddos and wait for inspiration to strike.

Kiddo Christmas

When I was young and I thought of the few kids I knew whose parents were split, I often felt a little bad for them at Christmastime.  I had it in my head that their Christmases couldn’t be as good as mine because they didn’t have both parents with them on the day.  I grew up thinking the nuclear family was “normal,” thus assuming any differential was “bad.”

Kids, right?

Anyway, it wasn’t until I was a fully formed adult that I saw this from an entirely different perspective.  I started dating a man who had four kids.  We moved in together, and for the first year his kids would be getting two Christmases.  I was terrified about everything.  What if they saw though those cheap knockoff toys we could barely afford?  What if they didn’t like my cooking?  What if they felt weird around my parents?  What if they missed their mom?  None of my fears were warranted.  They loved the toys and the food and my family.  No one asked for mom, likely in the same way no one asked for dad three days later when they were back home.  If they have taught me nothing else these past 9 years, it is this: live in the moment.  Love the person you’re with as hard as you can, and don’t worry about tomorrow.  

M tells me he doesn’t really recall much of Hubs and their mother being together.  He was only 5 when they split.  The others remember almost nothing, especially K who was only 10 months when we first met.  So, for them, two Christmases is “normal.”  It makes me think back on my preconceived notions of childhood.  It makes me reevaluate the idea of family that was ingrained in me from birth. 

This weekend was Kiddo Christmas.  My parents and sister came over and we had a little party.  We had snacks and drinks and presents galore.  My theme for Christmas this year was “take a freaking shower.”  Everybody got a towel, body wash, loofah, deodorant, and body spray.  We got four kids in the throes of puberty and I will not tolerate a stinky child.  They also got tablets from the aunts and uncles, cases for them from Bern, and headphones from their father, amongst other goodies.  I’ve heard no complaints. 

This morning the boys are playing Call of Duty on the PlayStation.  E is listening to music on her tablet and K is coloring wither new gel pens.  Everyone is happy and getting along, and it makes me glad that this is the way I start my Christmas season every year.  It also makes me chuckle at my former naiveté, when I was little and thought that a family came off an assembly lime like one of Santa’s toys.  The new “normal” is beautiful according to me.

Merry Christmas.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Recently, Hubs and I watched Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on Netflix.  (Yes, I am aware that this is the second post in a row referencing our Netflix addiction.)  If you don’t know, it is a show where you choose options for the character throughout.  This type of thing was tried before in a Final Destination movie that I recall being highly disappointed in despite the hype.  The buildup was real for Bandersnatch, though, and I was waiting for this for some time, as I have loved Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books since I was a kid.  I still have a couple somewhere, their covers long torn away and possibly missing perfectly good endings as well.  I would read them over and over, trying to find my way to every possible ending before putting the book down.  So, when I heard Netflix was going to try this format, I was excited.  Even more so because their first foray into it would be with a Black Mirror episode, one of my favorite shows.  Hubs and I popped popcorn and grabbed our PlayStation remote and settled in for a good time, and boy did we have it.  It was everything I wanted it to be and more.  We watched it three or four times.  M is here today (for once the sole child in the house) and I was considering going back for a rewatch with him.  That’s how good it was.

But this post isn’t about Netflix formatting or Black Mirror or even CYOA books.  It’s about parenting.

My sister, who is thirteen years my junior, often says things you would expect out of the mouth of some wise old owl.  Just the other day, she says, apropos of nothing, that it seems to her that parenting is a lot like a CYOA book.  It was as though something slid into place, clicking into its spot.  Hubs eyes grew wide as he realized that every single question your child asks every day is another option for a different storyline.  Just then K entered the room and asked to use the laptop.  We honestly had to think about it for a second.  What if we say no, and she resents us? Or doesn’t at all and just goes and finds something else to do, but misses out on something that could have proved useful in life elsewhere?  What if we say yes and she spends all her time watching videos and becomes addicted to screens and ends up homeless on the street?  Or she learns some new information or skill that she didn’t have in her arsenal before?  In the end we said yes and a fight broke out between the girls, not remotely one of the planned-for scenarios, only cementing the obvious: you don’t know how the story is going to go.

M is staying with us for a couple days and also again for a week in May.  In May he will have to go to school, and he wants to walk.  Now, if I were 13 and it was 1996, I would have happily allowed such things, but HE is 13 and it is 2019 and times have changed, buddy.  Mark is less comfortable with this than I am, and that is saying something from a man who has walked everywhere since he was ten years old.  Mark is worried about older kids, cars driving onto sidewalks, cars plowing through stop signs, kid-snatchers, drug pushers, and M falling over his own two feet.  Choose your own adventure:  Let the boy walk home from school and learn independence and responsibility, or let the boy walk home from school and get snatched by methheads?  Don’t let the boy walk home from school so that he never learns to be independent or don’t let the boy walk home from school so he doesn’t DIE?

Obviously, we will let the boy walk home from school for the independence and responsibility bit, and pray all the rest is just the pipe dreams of parents who worry too much.  But you never know, from the smallest decisions, to the big ones, what effect they will have on the lives of your children, and your life by default.  You make a million little decisions for your child everyday without even knowing it, and then you have to hold on for the ride and hope to God the story doesn’t send you back to page 5.

Now I’m going to go hang out with M, probably debate Godzilla vs. King Kong, discuss new Mortal Kombat characters, and try to get some teachable moments in there somewhere.  Maybe watch Bandersnatch.  Maybe go for a walk.

So many options.

black and white decision doors opportunity
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