Step parenting is hard

I broke my own rule the other night:

When Joe is disciplining my son,

And I don’t agree with what he’s saying

Or how he’s saying it,

I support him at the moment in order to provide a

Unified front,

And bring it up with him later,

In private,

In our bedroom,

After the kids are tucked into bed.

That’s the ideal.

But it didn’t work quite that way on Friday.

Me, Joe and my six-year-old Victor

Went to a circus-like burger and malt shop for dinner,

Magenta and azure murals of dancing cartoon figures on the walls,

Us glaze-eyed from a long week of school and work.

My boy wasn’t listening:

“Don’t run,”

And he’d run.

“Don’t put your burger on the table,”

And he’d put his burger on the table.

The more he didn’t listen,

The more Joe fixated on him not listening:

“If I have to talk to you

One more time,

You won’t get a root beer.”

Victor tried to climb into my lap.

“Mom, I get a root beer, right?”

“Not if Joe says you don’t,”

I said wearily.

It went on like this for a few minutes:

My boy lapped at his water like a dog,

And Joe told him not to.

My boy blew bubbles in his milk,

And Joe said, “Stop.”

I tried to restrain myself,

But I finally couldn’t.

My mouth just opened and

Brightly, I said to Joe,

“Let’s talk about what Victor’s done right today.”

Joe’s gaze swung across the formica table top

To me,

And then he and I started going at it:

“You need to lay off.”

“But he needs to listen.

It’s a safety issue.”

“But this isn’t working.”

“He’s doing it on purpose.”

“No he’s not. He’s six.”

“Well, something needs to change.”

“Does it? Is something wrong?”

And on and on.

So here’s the underpinning of this

Conflict:

Joe doesn’t love Victor like he’s his own son.

Victor has a dad,

And Joe has children.

Those roles are filled.

Same with me.

Joe’s kids have a mom;

They don’t need another one.

We both love our step kids;

But not in that

Blindly unconditional way we do our own.

When Victor doesn’t listen,

I assume he’s just a distracted six-year-old

Developmentally incapable of following

Every

Single

Direction

He’s given.

Joe sees some insolence,

Some intention in the behavior,

That would

Never

Occur to me.

The thing is,

We’re both right.

And sometimes,

We can both admit that.

Step parents can offer a lot:

They aren’t befogged by unqualified love–

Their objectivity can clarify the most

Confounding parental delusion.

Joe and I can do that for each other–

Not every time,

But enough to be hopeful.

Somehow,

On Friday,

It happened:

We had a productive conversation about

Step parenting

At the moment of disagreement,

In front of one of the kids.

I truly witnessed Joe’s face

Soften

With hurt feelings as he described how

Victor ignores his attempts to

Ask what happened at school

Or at wrestling practice.

And he listened

Non-defensively

To my points about

Developmentally normal behaviors

That don’t always need to be

Disciplined.

Afterwards,

It was Joe who was the lightest of all

Walking out of the restaurant,

Jokey with Victor, and flashing

Grateful looks in my direction.

So it worked

This time,

And for today.

Maybe it was the malts.

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150th anniversary of Civil War; Also anniversary of first marriage

Photo: civilwarhome.com

April 12.

In the throes of planning my

Second wedding.

I saw a headline about the

150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War,

Which reminded me:

Seven years ago,

Destination wedding in London.

Giggling,

Drunk,

In a London pub,

Over the fact that I was getting married on the

Date the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter.

Now,

With three weeks to go before I marry Joe,

It irritates me that I would be writing about my

First wedding.

The implication being that I’m somehow

Not over it.

(Although when you have kids together,

You never talk about “being over it.”

You just figure out how to

Get along day-by-day.)

In planning this wedding,

Joe and I both say it occasionally:

“At my first wedding…”

At first I cringed when I said it,

Or smiled apologetically at Joe,

Who was smiling apologetically at me.

Then it just became a joke.

The apologetic smile turned into a smirk.

We’re weathered.

We’ve lived.

We’re vintage.

Bought once new and discarded,

Only to turn up as a

Find

On the rack

By someone who

Gets

The little details:

The fine stitching,

The unusual buttons.

When you have kids together,

These exes will

Always

Be

Around.

Sometimes you wish they would

Go away.

(Or in a moment of face-twisting anger and fear,

Worse.)

But they

Never will.

Interactions with my ex are

Calm and even

Friendly

Now.

Still,

I can hope that April 12 someday signifies the

Start of the Civil War only,

Which it was long before

Me and my

Dramatics

Came along.

Marriage the Second: In which our heroine wonders what business she has trying this again

Oh, and our marriage license came in the mail yesterday, too.

It was like a scene out of a sitcom:

Joe and I in a pre-marriage counseling session,

Reading through the vows we had written,

And then somehow getting into a huge fight

About who does the laundry

And how

And when

And who puts the clothes away

And how

And when.

I could feel the corners of my eyes drawing back,

Snake-like,

And I might have been hissing

As I accused

And reared back

And struck again.

The minister,

A young guy who looks like Joe would with a beard,

Watched and listened—

I forgot he was there.

I imagine

His alarmed eyes flicking back and forth between us

Before he finally interrupted:

“Okay, okay,

This is good.

This is obviously something you need to talk about.”

Walking out to the car

Two strides ahead of Joe,

I made a decision to

Glower

And silently contemplate what business we,

Who have both failed once at marriage

And can’t even cooperate on laundry,

Have trying to do this again.

But as soon as we closed (me: slammed) the car doors,

Joe suddenly and uncharacteristically started

Talking (purging)

About his history,

And the harsh refrains that play in his head.

I softened in the driver’s seat,

Listening and asking questions.

This was new information to me.

(Will there always be new information?)

We stopped at an Ethiopian place by our house

And ordered a veggie sampler

And held hands across the torn plastic tablecloth.

“Babe, I want to be the

Best husband

You’ve ever had,” Joe said,

And I started to laugh and cry at the same time.

We went home and went upstairs to our bedroom.

And Joe turned off all the lights

But one,

And I fell asleep to him

Putting the laundry away.