09/8/2008 6:53 PMWe’ve all heard the cliché about what happens when you assume things, but in reality, the world is full of people eager to stick their feet in their mouths.Something happened the other day, which followed on the heels of a similar occurrence that happened last week, and another one last month, and the month before, which reminds me of something similar that happened 15 years ago when I was about three months postpartum. I had been slowly regaining my composure after the trenches of childbirth and colic with my second baby and was out enjoying an hour of shopping when a beanstalk of a salesclerk approached me to ask when I was due. Granted, I was still sporting a bit of baby fat, but was so embarrassed I couldn’t even respond with a cheeky reply about being due to punch her in the face or something equally mature. Instead, I sheepishly mentioned my baby was born three months ago, made a beeline for the door and went home and cried.Thanks to spending about $8,550 in gym memberships, $3,200 on yoga and $500 on pilates DVDs since my postpartum days, it’s been a while since I’ve been mistaken for being ‘in the family way.’The assumption I’m now taking offence to is not embarrassing but equally awkward. It’s the constant inference from salespeople or the public in general that I’m my stepdaughters’ mother when we’re out together. Casual references are one thing, but the direct ‘go ask your mom,’ or ‘you’re as pretty as your mom’ comments (believe it or not, someone did say that. Mind you, we were at the Ex) from people who assume I’m the mom are troubling. Labels are a sensitive issue for stepfamilies, especially in the beginning. It took my sons a few years to begin referring to their dad’s wife as their stepmom and I would argue most kids, regardless of age or circumstance, need a bit more than witnessing the swapping of a few vows to entrust an otherwise stranger with the awesome responsibility and honour of being a parent of any sort. The title of a stepparent is one you ease into slowly as you build trust and develop a loving relationship. And the title of mom, well, each blended family has to decide for themselves the qualifications of that moniker, but for us, we’re pretty fine with my initial title as 'Rochelle, my dad’s wife,' and now, as time passed, 'Rochelle, my stepmom.' My point is, labels are sensitive for blended families and it's all the more awkward when salespeople or well-meaning strangers unknowingly hold up a mirror and make you stare right into the heart of that sensitivity.With nearly half the population involved in a blended family, I think it’s no longer safe to assume every adult is biologically related to the children with whom she or he is caring for.
08/8/2008 4:33 PMI was never good at math. My struggle began in Grade 2 with multiplication tables and culminated in a disastrous introduction to Algebra in Grade 9 that planted me firmly in a desk during the month of July for summer school. The slack was too heavy after that so I downgraded to General Math (the dummy class) and eventually graduated high school with a mark of 55. That was then.The math skills I’ve had to learn as a separated parent and wife of another separated parent would make even Pythagoras proud. It all stems from the 60/40 rule: I pay for 40 per cent of all expenses relating to my two sons while their dad pays 60 per cent; and my husband pays for 60 per cent of all expenses relating to his three daughters while their mom pays 40 per cent. It seems like a pretty basic mathematical formula, but when you’re preparing to send one kid to university, one to high school, one to junior high and two to elementary, it gets complicated. Add to that a host of guitar, dance and gym lessons and there’s a whole lot of scheduling, registering, calculating and cheque writing going on. Like most separated parents with any sort of cost-sharing decree, our 60/40 rule can be applied to all expenses and even the minutia like haircuts, hot lunches and friend’s birthday gifts can get sieved through the formula. And while a plan is necessary when children are being raised in two different homes, I find a level of generosity and willingness to set the math aside is mandatory. The last thing a kid should ever hear is “I already paid my share” or “It’s your (other parent’s) turn to pay.” Kids grow weary of hearing their parents fight about money, and if every hot lunch form becomes a back-and-forth runaround, they’ll likely come to the conclusion that cold sandwiches aren’t so bad.In the end, figuring out the math is the easy part. It’s all the other stuff that gets complicated.Speaking of complicated, there’s a few birthdays around the corner. I’m an old-school mom whose heart would break if I couldn’t spend at least a portion of my kids’ birthdays with them. Fortunately it’s always worked out for me. On the flipside, my husband has his daughters half the time and consequently has them for half their birthdays. This Saturday happens to be the littlest one’s birthday and since it’s our week, we’re planning a party. I invited her mom. This is a new endeavour as relations have been chilly, so to speak, all around and at first blush seems like advanced insanity. But at the end of the day, it’s not my birthday and it’s not my party.We’ll see how it all works out….
06/20/2008 4:35 PMIt’s unforgivable that I haven’t blogged in ages. First my computer died. Then the Red River Ex came to town. Puppy classes began. Basketball and dancing lessons ended. And so life goes when you’ve got a mix of five kids and a couple of dogs.So here I am typing on a brand new computer, the queasiness in my stomach from riding The Fireball at the Ex has subsided and I’m looking forward to a weekend of camping.Next week my youngest son graduates from junior high, my eldest has finished his first year of university and the three girls will complete Grades 1, 2 and 6. Lots to celebrate. Perhaps not of equal significance but nonetheless cause for celebration is the fact that my puppy is finally going poop-y outside, mostly. She still thinks the girls’ room is a litter box and is now barred from going in there, but otherwise has gotten the hang of going outside. It’s such a relief to not be constantly crawling around on all fours scoping out the source of the poo smell wafting in the air. Things are looking up.Hubby and I are coming up to five months of marriage and things are almost as good as ever once again. I remember before getting married feeling prepared to tackle the challenge ahead and confidant it would be a smooth transition. Wrong. I guess there are some things in life where it doesn’t matter how much your head prepares, your emotions will take their own sweet time arriving where your head wants them to be.I recently read that when remarriages fail it’s rarely because of the couple falling out of love and usually because of external issues and pressures facing the marriage. This encourages me because external issues can always be fixed; heart issues not so much. I think back to my first marriage and see how the break-up was the result of growing apart and falling out of love. Not much you can do about that. I mean, at one level I believe love is a choice, but I also believe people change, grow apart and fall out of romantic love. Now, with my second marriage, I feel I’ve married someone I can love and laugh with for the rest of my life, but requires one hell of a commitment to not letting the external issues get the best of us. So, with pen in hand, the other day Hubby and I listed all our issues and are figuring out ways to overcome them.For starters, we’ve decided to narrow the gap between our two sets of kids by becoming more like a united couple raising kids instead of running parallel households. This means I need to get off the sidelines more often and onto the field in parenting his kids with him. Up until now I've been cautious about getting too much in the girls’ faces and have strived to give them space and time alone with their dad. However, we’re starting to realize that my hesitation and fear of crossing any boundaries with the girls has caused too much division is ultimately not conducive towards our end goal of creating a blended family. Boundaries are probably one of the biggest issues facing stepfamilies and I've realized the rule books are more just guidelines and every unique family needs to establish unique boundaries. Whatever the case, I think my time has come as a stepmom to roll up my sleeves and get more in the game.Another area where we’ve covered some ground is our understanding and acceptance of each other’s ‘Sunday afternoon moments,’ you know, the ways you like to spend your downtime. For me, I’m happiest sitting outside with a good book and an hour of quietness. He, on the other hand, is an 18-hour fireball of commotion and on a typical Sunday afternoon is simultaneously painting the living room, building a patio, talking on his cell phone, coordinating the drop-off of 18 tonnes of gravel and refereeing a fight between his two youngest girls. Bridging this gap calls for some compromise, a bit of acceptance and when all else fails a trip to the nearest hot yoga studio.One by one, as we resolve our issues, we're creating room to breathe more life and love into our marriage. And as a bonus, the air we're breathing no longer smells of dog poop!
05/26/2008 11:38 PMEighteen. That's how old I was when I brought my first baby home from the hospital. I was uneducated, broke and living in a one-bedroom suite furnished with an assortment of odds and ends bought at a second hand store. But I was hell bent on giving that baby a good life. Still am today.That baby just finished his first year of university, has a good job, a lovely girlfriend and a bright future. Still, I worry about giving him a good life. I was sad when I divorced his dad, wondering if it was contrary to my commitment to giving him this good life. I was anxious when I remarried and became stepmom to three little girls. Would my kids be okay? Am I still giving the best of me?Maybe that's why I have a hard time setting rules or being firm with my sons, especially the eldest, because, well, because he's an adult. And for the most part an amazingly responsible and admirable one at that. It's not that I expect the moon, just some cooperation and consideration. And maybe from time to time a bit of help around the house. Unload the dishwasher. Pick your clothes up off the floor. Put your backpack down someplace other than the front entrance. A call once in a while letting me know your work schedule so I'm not up late with worry. Pretty basic stuff.One friend of mine who is wise beyond her years confessed that her parents threatened to charge rent past a certain age if she treated their home like a hotel. She offered this as a solution to my complaints that I'm frequently playing maid to my 19-year-old.I don't think I could ever charge my kids rent, at least not as long as they're in in school and working diligently towards building a future. But maybe, just maybe, I'll re-establish some house rules and then send them out on a text message.I've heard it said before and it's a line I absolutely hate, but maybe I'll find a way to rewrite the old adage, "My house, my rules."
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