Friday, December 17, 2010

Snarky Love

The following conversation took place after I had mentioned something about myself (which I don't quite remember now) and MTL had responded with a bit of surprise.

Me: I know I told you about that before.

MTL: Yeah, but that was like, four years ago or something.

Me: (laughs) So how long, in nonliteral terms, have we been together?

MTL: At least ten years, I'd say.

Me: Well, that does kind of make sense. Sunday is ten months. So that puts us at about a year per month, right?

MTL: Sounds about right.

Me: Boy, that could get confusing when people ask us about it. Just think of what it'll be like when we're in our forties!

MTL: "It's been, what, honey? A couple hundred years?"

Me: "At least a hundred and twenty."

MTL: "Yep. Loooooong time."

Me: "When we said 'forever,' we meant it."

MTL: "Yup. And the bitch just won't die!"

The fact that we then erupted into laughter and ended on a kiss says volumes about why we fit each other like a frickin' two-piece puzzle.

We're crazy like that.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Home for Christmas

The other day, as I was driving along listening to the radio as I ran all the many many errands that tend to fill my afternoons, a minor miracle happened.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is "I'll Be Home For Christmas." As much as I love it, however, it's a song that has always been mixed with sorrow for me. Which, really, makes sense. It's a wistful song. For me, listening to it has always made me long for the holidays of Yore, back in West Africa with my parents and all the family traditions and joy of that time of year. This has been true ever since I was in college. Even when I was swept up into my former in-laws' family and welcomed into their homes for the holidays (as well as other times, of course, but you know what I mean) long before I even became an official in-law, even when I was married and forming new traditions--I always longed for Christmas at Home.

I realize now that this is because I had not truly formed a new Home with The Ex, all those many years.

So normally that song would make me think of years long ago, in another time, another place. The other day, however, when I heard that song, I had a completely different response than I've ever had before. Instead of thinking of West Africa and holidays of decades past, my first thought was of my Home with MTL and our children. I pictured our living room with a Christmas tree in the corner, the children opening the presents we've gotten for them, and me snuggling on the couch with My True Love watching it all with joy and delight.

It's a new era for me. I truly have a Home, and it's Here and Now rather than There and Then. And that's where I'll be for Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

This Isn't My Version Of The Fairytale

I never pictured myself as the Evil Stepmother in any of my visions of the future. The Loving Stepmother--great. The Funny and Just A Bit Odd Stepmother--sure. Sarcastic, Snarky, Cynical-With-A-Heart-of-Gold Stepmother--naturally. Evil? Not so much.

And yet, here I am. I suppose I should have seen it coming, and I even did just a bit, but I was truly under the impression that The Dark One liked me well enough--and "like" was just fine. It would have been wonderful to be loved, but that would be pushing it with a girl already in her teens by the time I came into her life, and who is not terribly tender towards parent types to begin with.

When things got nasty three months ago and she ended up moving in with her mom, it seemed as though I was the neutral ground. She seemed to see me as someone she could talk to about certain things she couldn't say to her father. We tried hard to keep it that way.

But since then...since then things have become increasingly difficult with her. I have found myself enraged with her attitude: her use and abuse of people around her, her self-centeredness, her downright bitchiness. I cannot stand the way she treats her father. I have to bite my tongue. I have to not tell her exactly what I think of her. Sometimes a little bit of it sneaks through.

I know, I know. She's a fourteen-year-old girl. And I'm realizing that a part of my reaction is, as MTL so astutely intuited, guilt over realizing how I treated my own parents when I was her age--though it should be noted that I wasn't quite so bold in my mistreatment. I'm the adult in the situation. I can't control her behavior, but I can--and should--control mine.

Today, though, she quite suddenly took several steps beyond the boundary with MTL. The trigger? Apparently, me. Somehow, she has twisted my presence in her father's life into a Grimm's fairytale of evil stepmother and evilly-influenced abandoning father. She is using me as a tool to manipulate her mother and strike out against her father.

It's not all me, of course--she has issues that go back far before I ever was even a blip on MTL's computer screen. But my presence is a weapon she's choosing to wield...and she used it today.

I won't go into the details, but the result is that she is persona non grata here. If she wanted to see how far she could push her father, she found the limit--and surpassed it--today. She isn't to come back to our house. She isn't welcome here for Christmas. She's done.

And honestly? I can't blame him.

Now we're sitting here in the wreckage of what had been a rather good holiday weekend. It's yet another adjustment among all the other adjustments. Where it goes from here? I don't quite know.

I hope that one day we will all find our way back together, to something approaching a more whole family. But for now, we gather up the fringes around the ragged hole torn in our family's fabric, and figure out how the pieces fit again.

As for me, I have to make sure the label does not become the reality, regardless of provocation.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Because I Wasn't Already Way Outnumbered

My brother is moving in with us on Saturday. And we're happy about it.

He's an odd duck, that one, an odd duck of whom I am very fond but also somewhat protective and worried on a regular basis because he's so VERY odd, and while not caring much about what society/other people think about oneself is rather admirable....well, there are ways in which he takes that a bit too far.

But MTL really likes him. More importantly, in a way, and most definitely related, MTL understands him. Perhaps better than anyone I've ever met. In many ways more than I do. And rather than overlooking my brother or rejecting him or finding him annoying, MTL likes having him around, finds him amusing and good company--ACCEPTS HIM.

The Padawan very much likes having my brother around as well, and the boylets adore him.

So since life has gotten a bit rough lately, and he has a better chance of finding jobs and being taken care of to a certain extent and not crawling into a hermit's hole, he's joining our crowd for while.

He stayed with us for almost two weeks a little bit ago, and the situation worked out so well that I started wondering if it was at all feasible to have him move in. But it's not something I necessarily wanted to propose to MTL, especially considering the difficult family history with his parents and his maternal uncles (long story, but it basically involves her taking care of them all their lives, to the financial and relational detriment of MTL's parents). When my brother (I really need to come up with a pseudonym for him) left to take care of business down at my parents' house for a while, and asked if perhaps he could come back for another visit once the business was handled, and MTL said yes...well, that started me thinking more.

And then MTL brought the situation up, and I felt him out a bit, and he was the one to suggest that my brother move in at least until March, when my parents return to the country.

And I fell even deeper in love with that man.

I don't know how to explain it, really. It's that he GETS my brother, with whom I am very close. It's that he would welcome my brother into our house for an extended stay. It's that my brother can be comfortable around us--around MTL--when so often other people drain him.

Even that doesn't quite work as an explanation.

But consider that The Ex never particularly liked my brother--and the feeling was mutual. That The Ex decided very early on (when my brother was only eight) that he was annoying and obnoxious and too weird to have around. And never gave him another chance, not really. They were always polite around each other, but never comfortable. And while my brother never said anything against The Ex when I was living with my brother while separated from The Ex--well, let's say that he listened very well and didn't attempt to influence my decision either way, but didn't seem exactly displeased with the divorce.

So he will be moving into what was supposed to be The Dark One's bedroom. MTL even cleaned out the stuff she'd left behind and sent it to her mother's. She's been back all of one overnight in the last three months, and spent most of that time shut away upstairs watching TV. She doesn't seem interested in being part of our lives.

I won't lie about how that hurts.

But I have to say that having my brother around creates the opposite of drama. And since I already have enough going on dealing with old, old issues in therapy--yeah. I'm very happy about it.

Even if we do sound like we're trying to reach sitcom status.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What Dreams May Come

I rarely remember my dreams, at least for long. When I do, they rarely make sense, other than the occasional anxiety dream in which I am very obviously worried about (usually) work or money or both. I don't even have the recurring nightmares of my youth any longer.

Lately, however, my dreams have been speaking to me. I think my mind is preparing itself for the battle to come: I head back to therapy on Wednesday to work through some old, old issues.

A couple of them have been reassurance dreams, as I see them, much akin to the dream I had ten months ago in which I firmly and contentedly rejected The Ex despite being unattached, lonely, and (frankly) horny as hell. When I woke that morning, I woke with the realization that two important questions had been answered: no, I didn't want The Ex any longer in any way, and no, I wasn't going to go back to him just because of loneliness.

The other night I had a dream in which The Ex suddenly married his girlfriend. For some reason, MTL and I were at the house when they returned from the wedding. I helped the girlfriend/wife put items away, and as we worked side by side I saw that she was already upset and frustrated in her new role. And in my dream, I stood there with my hand covering a sympathetic (and slightly smug) smile and said, Oh dear. I know.

I know. A little passive-aggressive, that. But I woke with the clear understanding that if and when The Ex does remarry, I certainly won't feel hurt--but I might feel a little pity.

The dream that has me reeling still, however, is one that I will mention on Wednesday to my therapist, because it goes to the heart of so many of the issues I still have with insecurity and anger and fear of abandonment, fear of Not Measuring Up.

Saturday afternoon MTL and I lay down for a much needed nap, and I dreamed one of the most vivid dreams I've had in some time. In my dream, four women suddenly showed up at my door: my mother and three classmates from high school. They are all women with whom I have been close at some point in my life. I am still close with two of them (my mother being one, of course) and keep vague tabs on the other two through blogs and FaceBook. In my dream they came tumbling into my house, uninvited, and I felt myself retreating through the rooms as they advanced. They weren't there in a menacing way--rather, it was as if they were intent on simply having a good time in my presence--but I felt invaded and uncomfortable. They were chattering away about what music and concerts and such were the proper ones to attend--vivacious small talk, you see--and I realized that I didn't much like anything they mentioned. And as they rampaged through the rooms, I suddenly realized that this was not my house at all, but my mother's, and suddenly I didn't know where MY space was--the place that was truly mine rather than belonging to her.

I felt small and alone and very, very much on the fringes.

Then MTL woke me because it was time to get ready for the wedding we were attending that night, and as I stood in the shower mulling over the dream, I suddenly realized that these four women are all women whom I deeply respect but who also leave me feeling judged and insufficient on a regular basis. They all lead lives and have views and strong beliefs that vary considerably from mine, in various areas, for they are not by any means identical to each other. But because I do respect them, their opinion of me matters more than, perhaps, it should.

In my view, I don't battle demons. I battle dragons--thus the name of my other blog.

The other night, in yet another dream, MTL fought dragons at my side.

I have some work to do, some battles to fight. But I'm not alone.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Ex-Factor

We are very Civilized.

That's the word a coworker used when we were chatting about Halloween plans and I listed all the people who will be with us for that Event.

You see, MTL and I have, by blending our families, become the center of this trailing extended family involving Exes and others. And since we are amicable and try to focus on the children, we'll all be joining forces for certain events, such as Trick or Treating. On October 31st, our enormous group will consist of me and MTL, our five children/stepchildren, MTL's Ex and her husband and their daughter (MTL's kids' half-sister), and then The Ex and his girlfriend. The Ex's mother, with whom I am still close, may also join us. A massive group of six children and six or seven adults with a tangled web of connections.

Very Civilized.

And we are, honestly. To the best of our abilities, we get along and avoid conflict and try to keep the focus on the children. The Ex and I haven't fought about anything in ages and have become far better at communicating and working through occasional issues than we ever did when we were a couple. It's a level of teamwork that was markedly lacking in that marriage. As a close friend (who knew us when we were together and is still friends with us both) said to me yesterday, The Ex and I do much better when we don't have to take care of or worry about each other as individuals and spouses--we're quite decent co-parents instead.

Who would've thunk.

MTL and his Ex do fairly well that way too, though with different areas of trouble and ease than The Ex and I have. Of course. Their dynamic is different because they are different. But still, overall...Civilized. She and I get along quite well too. In fact, I even "rate" enough to get those annoying text forwards that are the new evolution of the email chain letters--you know, the ones about beautiful women and send this to the ten most beautiful women you know blah blah blah?  Yeah, those. JOY. It says something that we're at that level of amicability, though. And this weekend MTL and I have her daughter with us so that she and her husband can actually celebrate their anniversary.

It reminds me of the whole Bruce Willis/Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher situation. With much the same responses from people who hear about it, really. And I'm grateful, because it means there's so much less drama and the kids aren't torn apart by parent conflict.

But here's the catch. As much as we all Get Along and, I'm sure, will get even better at Getting Along as time goes on, there's still an underlying sense of unease about the Exes. One time when MTL and I were chatting online (we were at work) about cooking and laughing a bit about our respective Exes' cooking problems, I wrote that The Ex did actually bake really good pumpkin pies. MTL said something snarky along the lines of There will be no complimenting of exes! Just trash talk. I agreed. I'm not interested in hearing compliments about her, either. Not total bashing--they're not evil, either of them--but certainly not praise.

There's something unsettling about the existence of another person with which the other has spent a significant part of their lives, with whom the other has children, with whom the other did Significant Other things including the intimate stuff. Neither of us likes to dwell on it.

And I'll admit this: when MTL's Ex calls, which she does frequently, to talk about the kids and work out transportation and all that sort of thing, I have to fight back a little surge of jealousy. There was this one day last week when MTL was talking to her and she said something and he laughed and called her a dork. That's an affectionate term in our family, and I hated that he called her that. Last night she called to check how her daughter was doing with us, and she said something funny and he laughed, and I hated that too.

It's silly. It's petty. I fight it and I don't make a fuss about it and I'm sure it will get easier with time. But it's there.

I'm sure there are ways he feels the same with The Ex, too. I know that months ago when The Ex and I met at a restaurant to go over some legal paperwork, MTL struggled with it. He knew it was silly, but the whole idea of my meeting The Ex for dinner, all by ourselves--it triggered the same sort of jealousy. And the other night when I had a long phone conversation with The Ex about the kids and DramaBoy's school and some behavioral things we've been seeing with them both and Halloween and all that sort of Co-Parenting Stuff, I noticed that MTL stayed close and listened in--much as I often do when he has similar phone conversations with his Ex.

I know that it's good that we all get along and cooperate and co-parent. It's healthier for the children. And that's why we do it: for the children. I know perfectly well that if there weren't children involved, neither of us would have much, if any, contact with the Exes at all.

I don't fear that he wants to be back with her. I know better. I don't fear that he doesn't love me. I know better. The whole thing has very little to do with logic.

That's the Ex-Factor, isn't it? And I--we--have to get more comfortable with it, because it's not going away. Not as long as we have children in common. It's just a part of our life.

But I don't have to like it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


This one? I think it speaks for itself.



conventional wisdom says
we should take it slow
don't rush into things
test the waters carefully
wait and
wait some more

conventional society says
we being crazy
insane fools
we should take a step back
think and
think some more

but i've never been one for conventionality
i'd rather be unique
and when i look in your eyes
hear your voice
feel the beat of your heart
i know
this is more real than
conventional can ever create

so even though we're crazy
leaping off this edge
trusting in an ephemeral future
i'd rather be a fool with you
than sane without

Thursday, October 7, 2010


The first time I hurt MTL's feelings--however unintentionally--I faced a new kind of reality. For the first time my emotional reaction and my apology were based not on fear of losing him (though I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a tinge of that--yay emotional baggage!) but on pain for having hurt him at all.

So this is what I wrote. He'd already accepted my apology, but this seemed to heal the hurt.



i hurt you
and in hurting you
hurt myself
because somehow
you became more than just
someone i know
this connection between us
links us in joy and pain alike

and even though you say
we're okay
the ache lingers like a bruise
and likely will
until i can look into your eyes
get lost in their cerulean depths
kiss your lips
feel your body beneath my hands
the thrum of your heart under my fingers
until i can whisper love in your ear
breath warm against your skin
and sink into the peace of You

until then
all i can do is send my love
and apologies
across the miles between us
fumbling with the words that must substitute
for the reality of how i feel

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


If you read my other blog, you know that I write and post poetry from time to time. There are a few poems that I wrote during the earlier days of my relationship with MTL that I never felt comfortable posting over on D and D. But as I look back at them, I think they may have a place here. I'll be posting them over the next few days.

This first one was the first poem I ever wrote for MTL--and the first poem he'd ever had written for him (that he knows of, at least). Less than a month after we first met, I already knew that he was Trouble for me, if I wanted to keep my heart unattached. Realistically? It was already too late.

Boy, am I glad.



you frighten me
to the core
your eyes see more
than i intend to show
strip away my defenses
peel back my armor
crumble the mortar of my walls
and all with such gentleness
that i scarcely feel it happen

i am naked
in more than body
and find myself yearning
to climb within your arms
rest against your chest
and let your heartbeat soothe my mind

i want to trust you
but hold back
unsure despite your words
for you are something new
and though what i've known
has failed me time and again
it's easier to stay with the familiar
i am uncertain
if i can take the risk of the unknown


when you look at me
i find myself opening
and i wonder
if perhaps i have the courage after all

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why It's Hard To Love

They left again.

As they always do. As they always have. It's a part of the life they've chosen, and all the pain and sorrow they feel at the leaving cannot change the essential truth: they leave me again and again and again, and I have felt that pain since I was a child.

Not just them, you see. Always there was the leaving, with me in tow, friendships made torn asunder and only sometimes fed fuel from time to time, rekindled in later years.

It made me angry. It makes me angry.

And I feel ashamed of that anger.

How can I be angry when their lives hold so much meaning? When they do so much good? How can I be angry when that life gave me a richness of experience that I value to this day? How can I be angry when I know that others have never had the depth of love I have been given since the day I was born, who have also been torn from friends and family, who have suffered tragedy of such dimension that my pain is dwarfed by theirs?

How dare I?

So guilt and shame is mixed with anger and sorrow, and the poison cocktail has soaked the crevices of my heart for three decades. I bandage the wounds but let them fester, ignoring the ache until they crack and bleed again.

I would not let myself fully love, for love means loss. Love means pain. And if everyone always leaves, than it must mean I am not worth staying for.

They always leave.


He bears many of the same wounds, though from different poisons. He too built the walls.

We dared each other to take the risk. And, gambling on the outcome, went all in.

I still panic about it. There are times when I want to reach out and pull back just a little of my Self, keep some in reserve, Just In Case. There are times when I can barely breathe with the momentary certainty that he will throw up his hands and shake his head and walk away.

I was angry this last weekend: they had left, and the anger I cannot admit was welling up into overreaction to everything and everyone else. He came to me, and I found that with him I could admit the truth, and with him I could weep, and he held me, and then he said the words that told me that he understood the deeper truth behind my fear and sorrow and anger and pain: I'm not going anywhere.

He's had to say it to me before. And I know he'll have to say it again. The fact that he even understands that need says so much about why I have allowed myself to love him as I have never loved anyone else--not just romantically, but at all. Some of those wounds are healing.

But not all.

The anger is still there, and it has washed me in darkness this whole week. I have been taking offense to the slightest things, feeling unintended insults from all directions, fighting back a shadowing of despair. Yesterday I had a moment when I had to remind myself, again, of his words. I'm not going anywhere. 

Becoming part of this new Us, this larger Family that reaches beyond just me and him, is a terrifying thing at times. I'm choosing to take more people into that circle that involves risk and loss. I'm choosing to open up my heart to the possibility of pain.

Because they always leave.

Even when they don't want to.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grief Has No Logic

Several months ago I had to lay to rest--and mourn--the death of a dream that I didn't even know I had. Or would ever have. Every now and then, however, it shimmers into my periphery, and I have to once more let it go.

I don't know why it came into mind this morning. But it did, just for a moment, as MTL and I were stumbling around in quasi-waking states getting ready for work. I turned and saw him brushing his teeth, and my gut clenched for a split second.

I will never have a biological child with My True Love.

We will never have a child that is born from us, together, fully ours.

My grief doesn't even make logical sense, really.

First, I don't want another pregnancy. I don't want to deal with a newborn again. There are ways in which I fear it, because of the PPD that shadowed those three long years. I also don't want a vertical c-section scar, as shallow a reason as this is, but that is what I would get: I was told that if I had another pregnancy, they wouldn't want to use the same bikini-cut entry point because three abdominal surgeries have built up too much scar tissue there. And with my medical history, we can't risk labor.

Second, MTL had a vasectomy years ago. Combined with my (much-loved and effective) Mirena IUD, the chances of getting pregnant are so infinitesimal that if it happened, we'd know it was God saying Thou SHALT have a child. So there. And I imagine that it would cause some serious initial issues, since (1) getting pregnant with an IUD is generally a Bad Idea and (2) MTL would be seriously wondering about paternity.

All that aside: we don't want more children. We have five, combined. We have enough.

Apparently there's a part of me that doesn't care. There's a part of me that hates the fact that we will never have a child that is our love made flesh. There's a part of me that, as much as I love my boys, as much as I am growing to love his children, yearns for that biological connection to him and is angry that we will never have it. There's a part of me that resents that other people have that connection to him and to me instead.

My sister just had a child. Both MTL and I have been all aflutter about how adorable he is and getting mushy about babies in general. We both have a soft spot for them. We miss the smell and feel of our babies, all the things about them that go to that mushy center.

(We don't miss the poop or the crying or the sleepless nights, though. We're not that crazy.)

And that part of me, the part that doesn't care about all that, the part that isn't based on logic, is insanely jealous. Not only that she has a baby, but that she has a baby with the man she loves.

I don't have that.

And I never will.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I May Need A Diagram For This One

My sense of Family has changed in the last half year, and in more than one way. I'm still wrapping my head around it. I'm still working out what this new paradigm means for me and my children and all the other people who now trail out in increasingly complex connections to the core.

I used to consider my core "family" to include everyone connected directly by blood, with no remove. My parents, my sister, my brother, my sons. The Ex teetered on the edge; he was connected by marriage, but not by blood. We were family...but not completely. Many times I chose my parents and siblings over him. I didn't fully realize that this is what I was doing, but somewhere in my subconscious I recognized that I had never completely cleaved to him, in that biblical sense that is not so much sex as it is transference of priority and loyalty. Yes, we are to honor our parents. But we are also to LEAVE them and become one with our partners instead.

I never really did that, not completely. I was torn between the two. Looking back, I realize now how many problems that caused in that relationship, how it prevented a fundamental connection from forming.

With MTL, that foundation was formed. Sadly, it's even challenged a bit. My parents and sister don't approve of our unmarried cohabitation, and it has already become a silent barrier rising between me and them. I found myself telling my mother that as much as I love her, she and my father and my siblings are my extended family. MTL and the family we are forming? That's my Family. If I were forced to choose--and God forbid it happens, but there it is--I would choose MTL.'s not as simple as that. Because we aren't a simple nuclear family unit, MTL and our children and me. We come with pasts and Exes and family connections that stretch the links. My boys are with us half the time. His son is with us most of the time, except for every other weekend. His daughters are only with us every other weekend, although with the current tension between MTL and The Dark One we're not sure when she'll be back in our home.

And then on his side there's his Ex, with her husband and the daughter she has with him. On my side there's The Ex, and he also has his girlfriend. Whom I know, as she has been his friend since high school and I used to be quite friendly with her, in the Long Ago.

This weekend brought a good bit of this new reality home--ironic, considering it was a weekend without kids, a weekend when MTL and I could be Us Together for long lovely hours and days.

Saturday was my goddaughter's fourth birthday. Her parents are one of my closest friends and the closest thing to a best friend The Ex has. So MTL and I attended, and before we could leave gracefully, The Ex showed up with DramaBoy and The Widget. And his girlfriend.

So I found myself in a slightly awkward group of four adults, greeting each other, with The Ex eying MTL uncomfortably (they've only met once before, very briefly) and his girlfriend chatting quite comfortably with me and MTL.

I had to hold back the giggles.

Later, MTL and I were discussing Halloween plans in the car (we're planners, peoples) and decided that we may very well end up inviting everyone to just come do Halloween at our complex. It's big, it's child-friendly, and we're the couple at the core of this all. So if everyone would be MTL and me, The Ex (and possibly his girlfriend), MTL's Ex and her husband, my boys, MTL's three children, and their half-sister.

That is, if you were counting, potentially twelve people. And that doesn't even include extended family like grandparents and aunts and uncles and whatnot.

A Portrait of the Modern Family.

At this rate, I may need a flowchart just to keep track of everyone.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Taking the Transitional Step

I was admittedly terrified to take on a second child, way back when The Widget was born. I felt overwhelmed by one; how would I survive two?

It turned out better than I thought. In fact, once the two boys were old enough to truly interact, there were ways in which having two was easier than one. For one (rather major) thing, I wasn't the constant entertainment director any longer. They could keep each other occupied and happy for increasingly long periods of time, only requiring the occasional interference when laughs turned to screams.

But I was done with two. No more kids. Nada. Done. There was no way I could handle more kids than that.

When I started venturing out into the world of dating, however, I quickly realized that it was going to be a bad idea to date men with no children, for multiple reasons. Regardless of how casually I intended to date (ha! in hindsight), if casual turned to serious, I didn't want to get involved with a man who (1) would very likely want to have at least one biological child of his own someday and (2) may not have enough experience with children to deal very well with mine. So I limited myself to men with children. Or child. No big deal to take on maybe one kid someday, right? And this wasn't going to be anything that would happen any time soon.

And along came MTL. A man with three children, two of whom lived with him most of the time. A man with whom I found myself falling in love in no time flat, despite my (admittedly weak and rather brief) flailing about in resistance of fate.

I didn't fool him for a minute, actually. Damn his off-the-charts intuition.

So within a matter of a month or so I was practically living with him when not with my children. Which meant also living with his two oldest kids. And then I found myself ready to introduce him to my boys, something that spoke volumes about where I saw our relationship going. I dated Rebound Guy for several months without ever feeling it was right to introduce him to the boys. I wanted to introduce them to MTL after a couple of weeks, even though I held off a little longer.

And then I stopped even going through the motions of having more than one residence. On my custody days, the boys were with us. On those weekends, with KlutzGirl joining the crowd, there were seven of us crammed into a smallish two-bedroom glorified apartment.

Moving eased up on the crowding considerably--and of course The Dark One moving to her mother's even more so (sigh). But even when we were crowded, I found myself not only adapting to having so many children running about, I actually found myself enjoying it.

That's where I'm so damned surprised. I tell people I never planned this life, and that's the part that I'm really talking about. I could picture myself falling in love again someday, could picture myself remarrying, could picture a new life with a new man. I never pictured myself with all these kids running around. Much less finding so much fulfillment in it.

Because that's what I discovered this summer in particular, when I wasn't working and I took over running the majority of the household. I still don't think I could be a full-time Stay At Home Mom, but for the first time I started understanding how satisfying it can be, when done well. Apparently that's the kind of management I do well--I'm actually better at keeping track of all the Stuff To Be Done in the home than I am on my own damn desk at work (which is already overflowing with papers and books and detritus, a week and a half into things).

Here's the not-so-secret that you don't get until you're in a big family: Three really is easier than Two. Four is easier than Three. Five is a cake walk.

Sort of. There are logistical challenges, but because the kids (especially the four younger ones) interact like siblings already, I barely have to lift a finger to entertain. I even get massive assistance with feeding and tending the boys. I get more done in a day now with a larger family than I did when there were just the three of us.

And lo and behold: I ENJOYED it. I enjoyed making sure things were organized and clean and that the laundry was done and the kids got where they needed to go and the shopping was done and then taking the kids to the pool or the park or wherever. When the day ended and I collapsed on the couch to snuggle with MTL, I felt like I had done an honest day's work. It made me feel good to take care of my family.

It's what made a real difference for me in how I saw MTL's children, too. It helped that we moved to OUR home, yes. That meant I was no longer a sort-of guest. But being in that maternal managing position, having them all there so much more of the time, working and playing and talking with them day in and day out...I stopped seeing them as "his children" and more as "my stepchildren." By the end of the summer, I was referring to them as such. The Padawan straight up gave me permission to call him my stepson, and The Dark One did too (okay, as stepdaughter), though not in so many words. KlutzGirl had been dropping heavy-handed hints that she wanted me to be her stepmother for months, so that wasn't much of a leap.

We aren't legally married, MTL and I, so I don't have that legal position. But I've stopped even putting the words "practically" or "sort-of" or whatever in front of "step." It's how I see myself, and it's how I see them.

With all the stepped-in, step-it-up, step-on-it craziness that entails.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fighting For Forgiveness

There's a difference in me when it comes to arguments. I don't mean a difference from him, though that exists too, but a difference from how I used to be about arguing, like back with The Ex. And Lord, were there lots of arguments back then. Not only did we argue about everything, small and large and in between; we also didn't know HOW to argue.

Because let's face it: arguments happen. Doesn't matter how well-matched a couple is, doesn't matter how much they love each other--at some point there will be disagreement and feelings will get hurt and anger will rise and there will be an argument.

Once upon a time I used to think that the smallest argument spelled doom for a relationship. I came by that impression easily enough: every time I was dating someone and there was a disagreement or argument, it DID spell doom for the relationship. I averaged one brief (and I do mean brief) relationship per year from junior high through high school. Not the best way to learn, really.

With The Ex, I still had that feeling. There was really never that sense that the foundation was strong enough to withstand the battering of conflict. So I did anything I could to "resolve" conflict when it arose. Which meant, for me and for that relationship, being the one to give in, to cave, to placate, to say I was wrong (even when I wasn't, or at least wasn't the only one), to slap that bandaid over a gaping wound so that we could pretend that everything was All Better.

And that, of course, worked so well.

I have learned more about conflict--and resolving it--from a year and a half going through separation and divorce than I did from the thirteen years of the relationship prior. I also learned more about myself, and what I wanted from a real relationship, and how much I was willing to compromise, and how to learn to agree to disagree.

And how to forgive.

MTL and I don't have a lot of arguments. Generally speaking, there aren't too many things upon which we disagree. We're also able, for most things, to talk about stuff without arguing, even when we don't end up at the same place.

But not always.

Our main point of disagreement--and the main source of actual arguments, when they happen--is about the children. More specifically, the issue of Discipline. Now, MTL has helped me enormously with getting my head straight about the concept and in determining how I wanted to approach discipline with my boys. I'd gotten into bad habits, and between PPD and the whole separation/divorce thing and general craziness of it all, the boys were getting away with murder. And I was helping it happen. I've learned so much from him, and things are so much better with the boys than they were before.

But...we don't always see eye to eye. He still thinks I am too easily manipulated by the boys and too permissive and soft with them. I think there are times when he is too harsh. I also think there are times when he has blinders on because it's me with my boys, and I could swear he does similar things with KlutzGirl.

Sometimes it might be handy to have videos around the house so we could check ourselves and see what the other sees, you know?

We had an argument the other night. (It apparently was the night for it, as I found the next day that several friends had fights and arguments with their beloveds the same night. Must have been the moon.) Somehow we got on the subject of Discipline, again, centered on a couple of recent incidents with the boys. It got fairly heated, more so than usual, because we were tired and we'd had such a frickin' emotional couple of weeks. Plus, I was angry that he had been angry about these incidents and hadn't talked to me about it.

Yeah. I was angry that he had been angry. Well, more that he had been angry and hadn't tried to work it out.

Really, this did make sense in my head.

So I ended up stomping downstairs in a huff to lie in my angry misery on the couch watching idiotic late night TV. MTL came down a bit later to see if I was going to come back to bed or not, and we argued some more, and he stomped away upstairs.

And I stewed.

It didn't take all that long, however, before I started thinking more reasonably, despite the anger. The reality is that Discipline and Child Rearing are some of the most frequent points in conflict for stepcouples. Don't take my word for it: check out the excellent advice of Dr. Susan Wisdom (no really, that's her name). MTL and I both want the same things for our children--independence, happiness, and strength of character. We agree on a good bit of how to get there. But not all.

So I lay there and realized I had a decision to make. Keep punishing him by refusing to go back up to our bed? Because that just punished me too. Keep that emotional distance between us? Because that would only widen into a chasm. Wait for him to throw himself at my feet and say he was all wrong? Because that wasn't going to happen. Wait for myself to feel that I should go throw myself at his feet and say I was all wrong? Because that wasn't going to happen either.

Or take that step toward reconciliation? Because reconciliation doesn't have to mean we agree on everything. Forgiveness doesn't have to mean one side is wholly right and the other is wholly wrong.

I went upstairs. He was awake, reading my latest DnD blog post on his phone. I crawled into bed, and our legs touched. Neither of us drew away. I turned to one side and curled into his back. He leaned ever so slightly into me.

We were both still angry. But I told him I was sorry for being so defensive and angry instead of talking things through calmly. We told each other we love each other--even when angry. We fell asleep body to body, anger fading enough to give way to exhaustion.

I woke with his arms around me. He kissed my ear and whispered Brat, the way he does that really means I love you anyway.

I love him anyway too.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lots Of Mush, But No BS

It's a bit hard for me to write about him online. Not because I don't have the words--they overflow, seriously; I could write a treatise on him and how I feel about him--but because it would just sound so damn mushy and starry-eyed and crap. And I think it could come across as naive and fake, as though I am some twitterpated fool due for a very rude awakening when Real Life comes into play.

Not that I don't have my twitterpated moments. I'll admit to that.

I have a friend, a dear friend, who although she is very happy for me and really rather convinced that MTL and I are the real thing, worries that we have rushed things. I can see her point, even though I personally feel we've done things at the right pace for us. Because normally? If this was someone else? Hell yeah, I'd be sitting there going What the hell do you think you're doing???

There are times when I'm also rather insane. In a good way.

(We're going to overlook that little episode back a year and a half ago, okay?)

(No, really. ALL BETTER NOW.)

We openly admit that our story is a crazy one. It's not "normal," though if you can tell me what "normal" is these days I'd be interested in hearing your theory.

But then, "normal" is also boring.

We're also nowhere near perfect. That WOULD be a foolish lie.

Besides, "perfect" is boring too.

We've already been in the trenches a goodish bit, MTL and I. Linear time says we've barely known each other. Seven months, really. Seven months last week since we first started emailing and texting. Seven months yesterday that we had our first phone conversation. Seven months this coming Sunday since our first date.

Yes, really. That's it. Seven months.

It feels like years. And not in the oh my god I've known you forever and you're just a habit sort of years.

(Been there. Done that.)

It's as though there's a part of me that has always known him. There's a core there that formed so quickly that even when surprises do come along (and oh yes, they do come along), there's a deep knowledge that the foundation is solid.

We aren't the same people, though we have huge amounts in common. We are most definitely individuals, with our own strengths and weaknesses and opinions and points of view and interests. But more often than not there's a balance there. Rather than being identical, we're...well, we're like puzzle pieces. We fit into the same area. Our edges click and fit. Our images, so to speak, blend together. But we have our variations. If we were identical, then we'd just be the same piece to different puzzles. Instead, we're our own parts of the same bigger picture.

How else do I say this? How do I explain how even in moments of stress or disagreement or even anger, there's a connection there I've never had before? That there's a sense of wholeness? That every time I see him or talk to him or hug him or lie next to him or even just see words on a screen that he typed from wherever he is--it's like coming home.

You see what I mean? MUSH.

I never knew this is what Love and Relationship was supposed to be. This partnership. This give and take. This solid ground from which the storms of life are faced, not without being moved, but without being broken.

I don't use the name My True Love lightly. It's not just a label I gave him on a whim.

I know not everyone's story is the same. And that doesn't mean they are better or worse than we are. Just different. I also know that seven months ago I met the man with whom I will spend my life, and I am richly blessed. So much more than words will ever say.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This Isn't What I Planned

I don't know whether to hug her or bitch slap her. I don't know whether to cry or scream. I don't know what to do, and I feel helpless, and that's too often the reality of this all.

I can only imagine how he feels. He's her father.

I'm just her stepmother.

I was naive, you know. Sure, the idea of suddenly being the [step]motherly figure in a blended family of seven rather than the single mother in a family of three was scary. But I figured I could handle it.

And I did and do, really. It's amazing how I've stretched and flexed and learned how to work in this new paradigm. It's miraculous how much I've come to love it.

The naivete came in thinking that it would be how I pictured it all. Secretly I believed we'd bring KlutzGirl to join us, and we'd be all seven together most of the time. The naivete came in thinking that because I've been working with teens for a decade and because I was also once upon a time a teenage girl, I would know what the hell to do when it comes to The Dark One.

Here's reality: I feel helpless. So does MTL. And we've been hit by a full-fledged nightmare. Teenage angst, anger, and manipulation to the nth degree.

Last night was the breaking point, for both of us. After hours of talking and crying and talking again, we finally decided to let her go.

Let her go. Because despite our true belief that we were making the right decision for her by moving into this district, she can't live with it. And despite our true belief that by letting her go to her mother's and go to school there will not make her happy in the long run and will end in tears, we have to let her try it.

I kept hearing that old aphorism in my head last night: If you love something, let it go.

It's what we're doing. It's what he's doing. Even though it tears him to pieces, even though he fears that she'll believe he's just getting rid of her, even though he doesn't want to do this.

He loves her that much.

It's trial by fire for us. There's the pure gold glistening through all this muck. All this shit. The light at the center of this darkness. Going through all this hasn't broken my love for him and his love for me. I love that man more deeply now than I did yesterday, and yesterday I loved him more deeply than the day before.

I never pictured this. I'm having to learn, all over again, that life does not go according to plan.