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.