Mom in the passenger seat

I’m unsure of the exact moment I stopped grabbing the “oh &#$%” handle or stomping the non-existent brake on the floorboard as she drove. I’m not even sure when I stopped turning down her radio so she could pay better attention while driving. But I must have because today I found comfort in my new seat in her life; the passenger seat.

When she reached over to turn the radio up saying, “oh this is a really good song” instead of turning it down, I just listened to the words. For a moment in time, I stopped what I was doing and revisited the feeling we all can remember as a teenager. Those times when music was the only thing that “got” us and the words touched our souls. For a parent, it is like a window into your child’s heart. I wonder how many parents realize that, that their child is letting them in even when it seems like they are drowning us out.

As she drove with one hand on the steering wheel, instead of nagging and insisting on two hands at ten and two, I focused instead on her tiny painted baby-pink fingernails. She has these perfectly petite little fingers that hold delicate turquoise rings. Loosely hanging from her dainty wrist is a black and white H.W.L.F. bracelet. A bracelet that to some means nothing, but to us, means she loves Jesus and is proud of it. So proud in fact she bought them for her brothers and friends too.

She sang and intermittently interjected little snippets of life she just had to tell me, and I tried to not get caught taking a photo of her driving. She said, “mom, you do that every time!” and I just smiled because she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know the feeling a mother has when she is living in one of those stand-still moments. A moment where nothing major is happening, but your heart is clicking and storing away these mental photographs for a memory you’ll treasure always. A memory that includes her button nose barely clearing the steering wheel, and her teeny-tiny jeans with holes in the knees.

I wonder if she ever looks at me the way I look at her. You know, the way you look at someone you are inspired by, and fiercely protective of? There is effortless beauty and confidence in much of what she does in life, just naturally. She releases and loosens the hair tucked behind her ear and it just falls gracefully framing the same sweet face I can recall wiping tears from as a toddler. Just for a moment it is just the two of us of again and she breaks my visit down memory lane by saying, “this song reminds me of you and dad” and as I listen to the song (Josh Ward, Together) I realize, she does look at me the same way.

The simple moments, those are the ones that don’t just catch you off guard, they take your breath momentarily. As I watch from my new position beside her, it brought on those sweet tears that fill your eyes just enough without falling. The tears that say, “wow, God, this is you blessing me” and just taking it all in. It’s almost as beautiful as her side profile as she confidently takes on the open road in front of her, not just in this truck today, but in life in general.

The passenger seat is where I’ll spend the majority of my years as her mother from here on out. It is where I will support, listen and guide from a new view, perspective and as a bystander. It is where you can still see the full picture, but are no longer in control. It’s the waiting room at the doctors office, the phone call that they’ve made it safely, and sometimes the bare minimum when it used to be an over abundance. It’s the supporting role and no longer the lead.

It’s a beautiful place to sit as you are reminded this is their life, their choices and you’ve done exactly as you were meant and trusted to do. You’ve raised someone who is capable of making decisions, and not just surviving but excelling on their own. It doesn’t come without some sadness and moments of worrying just as you have before, but it comes with a peacefulness of knowing they’ve got this. They are in the drivers seat of life, and though they are buckled in safely, it will be a beautiful, crazy ride with a proud mom in the passenger seat.

Sorry, I’m just not that into you.

Let me preface this with saying there are many moms I love and adore – and genuinely enjoy spending time with. However, a group of cliquey moms, that is an entirely different story.

I’m a writer which means I am always thinking – if you could see the cyclone of words, ideas, thoughts memories etc., swirling in my head – you’d get dizzy. It also means that I feel emotions deeply, what impacts others impacts me. I don’t even have to know them, it can be a stranger, it can be a commercial even, if it involves emotions I’m sucked in faster than an unmatched sock while vacuuming. Also, being a writer means that I love to be alone. You can’t be alone in a group!

An acquaintance invited me once to a mom thing – and I just blew it! Shocking right?! I have this inability to b.s. my way through anything, I can’t be a fake to save my life and my facial expressions give me away every dang time. Truth is, I’ve done the trying to fit-in thing, and I’m just not a fit-in-able kind of girl let alone a club-cliquey kind of mom.

Fitting in is too much work for me. The energy it takes to be “always on” and pleasing is exhausting. My soul craves authenticity, messiness and side-splitting humor derived from lessons learned by making actual mistakes. If you are not a mistake maker or a recovering mistake maker, how could we ever chill on a couch trading mom stories together? We can’t! Here are some reasons I am in a solo mom clique. If you are anything like me, we should chat.

I leave dishes in the sink, laundry in a pile on the floor and we live in our house. I can’t have just anyone pop over uninvited!

My house is full of teenagers and then some, dogs, a husband that thinks where he takes off his clothes equates to a laundry basket and me… who sometimes ignores all of that and will leave it until tomorrow. Do I take pride in a clean home, oh you bet your sweet tushy – but will I leave it to spend time with my family – or savor a few moments of solitude, you better believe it. We are not a “for show” type of family. Our kids raise farm animals and my daughter has poop on her boots, our boys play sports and leave anything with wheels lying around the house and prepare yourself, our dog poops on the kitchen floor when it is to dang cold outside for his princely paws.

I’m allergic to b.s. and drama! Like, I will break out in hives and most likely say something I will totally regret.

Lying irks me beyond belief and I can spot someone who lies a mile away. Even adding to a story to make it more exciting, nope can’t handle it! So when someone is b.s.-ing their way through anything I am not liable for my reaction. It is like there is a meter that goes off and I just short-circuit. The word drama itself – is irritating. The definition is an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances. But here is the thing drama today is not exciting or unexpected. Just turn on Bravo or E!, and you won’t need drama. Problem solved.

Shots, Shots, Shots of…coffee???

I’m not a huge drinker so the mom groups of the like – I can’t hang. My daughter asked why I don’t ever just go out and be wild… oh honey! let me tell you. Did that, did that real well, and even bought the t-shirt! There is a time and place for a good time but I’m forty-years-old and taking shots isn’t exactly exciting anymore. It was more exciting when I was 20 and it was illegal. Or that one time I made hot chocolate with creme de menthe and took it to our sons baseball tournament – and couldn’t figure out why I took a nap in the car for a couple hours!!!! Yep! That happened, total mom fail but in my defense it was completely unplanned and so warm and delicious.

I’m a lover not a fighter. A positive Polly not a negative Nancy.

I used to be a fighter. There was immense enjoyment in calling people out, using my words to hurt or anger someone who had done the same to me, but not anymore. It is funny what living life, making mistakes and being human does for a person. Now, I just want to be happy, love others, include the outsiders, encourage and motivate people. Zero Judgment what-so-ever. Other women are not my competition and if it turns into one, I will bow out gracefully and let you win my friend. It must mean more to you if it’s important enough to fight for. Oh, and negativity! I just can’t. I’ve had a crappy life before and I mean reaalllyyyy crappy. If I can find positive in that pile of crap, so can you! You can do it, I believe in you!

Don’t tell me what they said about me, tell me why they were comfortable talking about me to you.

Susie will always have something to say about Sally. What I want to know is why you are telling me? And, how much of what I have shared with you, have shared with someone else? If they talk to you about someone else, they will most likely talk to someone else about you. That ain’t cool Karen! I think this past year was the most I’ve said, “I don’t want to know” and “It’s none of my business” ever in my life. And it is empowering! Not to mention, that I would most likely end up being friends with the person you are talking badly about because I am a huge fan of the outsiders, the underdogs and the misunderstood.

Good food for thought too is that the person you are gossiping about, the horrible thing you heard (keyword: heard) they did. It may just be something I’ve done in my past too. And, yes, I know you’ll say it is different because you love me – but is it really all that different? Really? Nope! Aren’t we supposed to love everyone and not judge anyone? How about you just put those stones down and you can thank me later, okay? Okay.

It’s not you, it’s me!

If there was a group of moms who supported instead of judged, talked to and not about and just loved God and their husbands while doing their very best to not raise crappy kids – that would be my group. Oh and loves food, comfy clothes and hallmark. And cusses sometimes, has peed their pants laughing at least once and has made mistakes. Yep, that is my mom group. Care to join?

The real-talk kind of mom.

Personally, I envision my children as adults rather regularly, and some of those days are full of confidence and some of those days are frightening! I mean, let’s be honest here. Gage can cook a full meal, yet become annoyed with the task of sweeping the hallway. Cole loves to be in the mix with adults and young children, yet making him go outside and play with friends his own age – can literally open Pandora’s box. And, Gracie, she can basically do anything, and do it well, like really well – but failure, making mistakes, not understanding something, will throw her into a tailspin.

They may be teenagers today, but I’m raising more than that, I’m raising someone’s future spouse, parent, employee, friend etc. And, sometimes I think that our job in preparing them for success in these areas is forgotten.

Uncomfortable or not, I answer their questions.

The first time Gage asked as he giggled from the backseat if I liked hot dogs or tacos when he was younger, or when Gracie asked what rape was, I learned to be prepared to be uncomfortable. Gracie and Gage are two years apart, and their questions kept me (still, actually) on my toes. Some were silly, some were good, some were completely inappropriate, some I didn’t know and had to research, and some were embarrassing to answer, and took an act of god in keeping my composure. But, I did it because if they were comfortable enough to come to me and ask the question, there was a reason they were, and I had better be comfortable enough to answer it, honestly. Trust me, three teenagers keep the questions ever flowing and super awkward.

We talk about everything – ev-er-y-thing!

When Matt and Cole moved in, they didn’t talk about anything, and I do mean anything. The first time Gracie talked about her period, Matt was squirming and unsure if he should run out the door, or throw up. It was hilarious because for us it was second nature. Cole had at one point made a flippant comment about being among the kids in the world with one testicle. Matt laughed it off and told him he had two testicles, and they went on about their day. Literally, went on like nothing. I was in shock, telling him he needed to check, do something, but he swore he was certain he had two testicles. In his defense I remember that Gage had two testicles from changing his diapers, and that super awkward moment when he was two or three years old and called me in during bath time to inquire as to what that dot was between his legs – it was just a mole. It was also the last time I saw that area, thank goodness! But, I could see how seeing it once would make you assume it was still the same.

Now, while Cole is now every bit my son, then the idea of asking him to drop trou so his stepmom could investigate his nether regions was not appealing to either of us and he adamantly refused to let his dad. So… with football coming up and his need for a sports physical – I did what every other mom not wanting to see that region does, I took him to our pediatrician! One uncomfortable appointment with the pediatrician later, led to an even more uncomfortable visit to a urologist, and then a subsequent surgery retrieving an undescended testicle. You want to guess who talks to me about everything now? Yep, you guessed it, Cole! And, Matt too actually.

I think before saying: “You’re only a child, you don’t know.”

In my childhood home you were raised to be seen, not heard, to be pleasant not pretentious and that respect was given, not earned. Like with most traditional norms in your family that you were raised with and despised, you counteract those in your own family life. Some households may see that as not requiring vegetables, I on the other hand require open communication. The words “you’re only a child, you don’t know, or “you are too young to understand” will never leave my mouth. Because, I wasn’t too young to understand a lot of things, and even as a child, your mind still processes feelings, and emotions such as self-worth, love and acceptance.

I’m not their mom, I’m your mom.

What Susie’s parents let her do doesn’t matter to me, aside from possibly encouraging that friendship to continue. I’m not in the parenting business to make friends, and I am okay not doing what other parents do. My children need to know that sometimes the right thing, is not what Susie and everyone else is doing. Sometimes the right thing is the least cool thing to do. It’s not going to a party where everyone will be drinking, or where a parent allows that. Sometimes, it won’t be extending a curfew just because a friends parent did. This is teaching them that it is okay to be and do different, that going with the crowd isn’t always going to be beneficial, and that thinking for their self is more important than what others think of them.

I actively choose to give them a voice.

You’ve heard the saying “oh no, I’ve done something wrong, my dad is going to kill me if he finds out” and “oh no, I’ve done something wrong, I need to call my dad” well, I could never call my dad – and I refused to let my children down by continuing that as a mother myself. That is a priority in our relationship, confidence in them knowing I’m always a call away, no matter the situation.

We as parents learn something new every day, so how does it make sense to think that while raising our children we aren’t raising ourselves as well? I try to not suppress their voice, in fact I encourage it.

Open dialogue builds confidence. I’ve never been the type of parent who thinks I know more even when I think I may. Giving them the floor so to speak and allowing them to share what is on their mind, in their hearts, in a safe environment – is colossal in developing confidence. This voice will be what protects them, asserts them, what lands that job, what saves a life, what defends themselves or a friend, what talks someone out of a bad situation and most importantly the very voice that empowers and speaks love to themselves throughout their life.

I Pick my battles.

My husband loves many things about me, but this is not one. Picking my battles and saying yes more than no, are two things he and I differ on greatly. He is a “no” first kind of parent – he even said no to the boys to going to youth group once, before he realized what they had asked. We joke that if he were offered a million dollars, he would say no without even thinking because it’s like second nature to him.

I try for the most part to live with a motto of “I say yes, unless there is a reason to say no” and it has worked. This halts a majority of lying, it fosters respect and communication, and it teaches trust. When Cole first came to live with us, I said the words “I can’t stand up for you, if I can’t trust you, and I can’t say yes to you, if you’re showing reasons I should say no” until I was blue in the face and it has changed his ways almost completely. The little things can add up, and the big things can seem so minor when you break them down. So, I’ve learned to pick and choose what battles are necessary and why I am saying no instead yes. If I am saying no just because I can, it is the wrong answer. In my opinion the more we say yes in situations, the more opportunity we have for communication, lessons, mistakes etc.

I don’t hide all my mistakes or hardships.

It is essential that our children know that we make mistakes, that we do not have everything figured out and that sometimes in life things go badly. This is where they see you work through those hard times. Especially if your mistake is with them, they need to see you take responsibility of that, to not let pride keep you from being an example. Taking ownership, compassion and making amends are key factors to healthy relationships. You are who they will mimic when life gets difficult. If all your children ever see is sunshine and roses, what are they going to do when it rains, and that flower dies? They won’t just be ill prepared for the real word, but chances are they’ll feel like their childhood was a lie.

Parents who tell their children, “do as I say, not as I do,” aren’t giving their children enough credit. Children, especially teens still see, still know and still will most likely do as you did because that is natural. You can’t say don’t, then do it, and expect them to simply listen. That is where communication comes in, the “why” before the mistake is sometimes the magical deterrent. Also, personalizing the mistake, showing them that all humans makes mistakes, and that nobody is perfect, helps too. There is great power in saying I did this…, and this happened…, it was bad because…, I wish I hadn’t because it cost this… or caused this…, so when I say don’t – it is because I don’t want that to happen to you. You’ll have much better odds that way, versus just saying “because I said so.”

Religion vs. Relationship with God.

The greatest blessing of my childhood was being taught about God. As you become older and see the bigger picture in life you also see that all the answers you need are in the bible. Being raised catholic left a bad taste in my mouth in that not all things made sense, and being forced to believe what my family believed didn’t feel right, so I made a goal to not force a religion but instead introduce a relationship with God.

Going to church now more regularly, when they are old enough to understand what a relationship with God means is important, it shows that someones struggles may not make sense to us, or be visible to us, but that we still love them without judgment, just as God does us. It shows that we will have difficult times, but we are never alone. They are old enough now to ask questions, to put his scriptures into daily life and to see what true forgiveness means. That God, forgiveness and love all are part of the bigger plan.

Age appropriate responsibility.

Teens right now get drunk to hang out and have fun, have sex to be accepted and do drugs to numb and escape life. I want my kids to see that you can have fun without having a drink. That sex is more than how to “feel” loved and to live a life that never needs to be numbed or escaped. Their life can already be difficult with a variety of outside factors, but adding in these variables, only causes worse situations. There are reasons you get a license at sixteen, it is to get to a job. There is a reason you can’t drink until twenty-one, it allows brain development. And, there is a reason you wait to have sex until you’re married, because it creates an emotional and mental connection, it seals a covenant and promise and because it causes children!

Do I think that my children will wait until they are 21 to have their first drink, or until marriage to have sex? The drinking – no, but will I try and explain the importance of why they should until I am blue in the face? Yes. Teens these days are in a rush for everything which takes away the excitement. If you drive at twelve, what fun is sixteen? If you drink at fourteen, what fun is twenty-one? If you have sex at sixteen, and meet the man/woman of your dreams at nineteen, what are you giving them that is just theirs? With age becomes responsibility and if we rush these, the lessons are nullified in a sense. It is okay to hold hands before you kiss, to practice before you excel and to take small steps before a giant leap.

No, you already have a mom.

I still the remember the first time my stepson asked to call me mom, and I very curtly said no. The verbal playback from how I heard my response come out, the tone, the very evident feeling of repugnance behind it, and the visual of his reaction when he received my response – is a moment that I wish I could erase, for us both.

In the beginning we both felt like we were fighting for a place in his fathers life and neither of us were giving in. Imagine having your child ask if their friend can stay the night, then another night and another night – then moving in. Forever. During a single night sleepover, kids are endearing, quirky and fun even. If they misbehave or river-dance on your last nerve, you can breathe through it knowing they go home soon. But, when they never go home, because their home is now your home – that’s rough.

Listen, I know as you’re reading this you’re thinking I sound like an evil stepmom and let me tell you, I felt like an evil stepmom too! Additionally, I felt like I was being bullied, being a bully, being tested and testing, and failing miserably. Did I mention he was my son’s best friend? That I met my husband because they were best friends? I fell head over heels in love with a man, and gained a son – that I wasn’t head over heels in love with. At first.

If I am being honest with myself, I knew when he asked to call me mom, my answer was not coming from a kind and loving place. I knew I was coming from a “you already have a mom, and you are her responsibility, not mine” type of place. And, a place of “you are too much “work” for me.” Which translates to a child that they are not important enough to love. Because, would we not put in all the effort, every tireless hour, every bit of heart aching pain to help our biological children? Over and over again? So… essentially our own biological children deserve our unconditional love, but not a child who was not born from us? That’s awful. And, that was how I felt. At first.

One of the biggest misconceptions about being in a blended family is that you blend well. Think of an actual blender, the settings are: Blend/Stir, Shred/Beat, Grind/Puree, Mash/Chop, Liquefy/Whip, and Frappe/Mix. Those are some serious options just to blend something smoothly. I mean shoot, if I am making a margarita, I throw all the stuff in and press all the buttons praying they do the trick — and I’m quite certain that is exactly what I did in the beginning as a stepmom. And, with the lid off at least 50% of the time, because some days I wanted to make a mess, this uprooting in my life was a daily grind where I was being beat, shredded and liquefied to a point of tears. At first.

Babies and toddlers, they are one thing. They’re pliable, naive, and still young enough to create that sweet bond with. But at seven, their mannerisms and personality traits are primarily already set in place, and none are from you. You didn’t spend the past seven years teaching them how to walk, talk, count to 10, sing the alphabet, how to write their names and how to say I love you mommy. You weren’t able to share the values, morals, and lessons that you taught your own children either. Instead you inherited someone else’s values, morals and lessons all wrapped in a cute kiddo who you have to simply just accept because if you don’t you’re a horrible person. At first.

There was a day early on that made me very aware of the manipulation that could exist in the world of “I don’t want my dad to date you” (which was a super fun place to live, not at all). We were in the drive through at Carl’s Jr when my stepson saw an attractive girl taking our money at the window, and he says “my daddy calls her beautiful every time he talks to her “hi beautiful, thanks beautiful” every time” and he flashes this look and laughs. And, I laugh too (as I’m texting his dad asking who the girl at CJ is) through the moment and play it off. He just wanted me to leave, and he was too young to understand that by hurting me, he would hurt his father. But in that moment, none of get that – were all just fighting for scraps at the dinner table. He would flip flip though very rapidly, one minute he would try to break us apart, and the next he would want a hug and ask me if he could call me mom. Things I can now look back on and see very clearly. But then, I’ll be honest again, I didn’t have the type of heart that reminds itself this is a child, they do not mean it, it is their backstory causing this – in the moment. In the moment, I was mad, I was affected and I was annoyed. To me this kid was a disrespectful and needed discipline, at first.

A few months later, he asked to call me mom again, and this time we were not alone, it was in the car with his dad and both my children. Before I could respond, they both said “No she isn’t your mom.”, And, while his dad looked at me with that look of what do we say, when he heard how quickly my kids blew his son off – he was hurt too! It was a no win situation, and things were still choppy – but this time was little different, and I felt stuck. When a child asks to do something that another child in the same household does, it’s because they want to be the same, to be included, and to feel like part of the family. I was told once that if a child asks to call you mom or just does it on their own, and you have other children in the home, you are setting yourself up for failure by saying no – because you are then ostracizing your stepchild. Great! So basically I’ve been ostracizing him since the beginning, and now if I cave – my kids will be mad. Who do I please? Who is more important? Honest people will say their bio kids come first, goodhearted kind people will say it should be equal and so will your spouses. But that doesn’t always happen at first.

Just a side note about this, everything I’ve experienced as a stepmom, my husband has experienced as a stepdad too (my daughter who is 16 calls him dad now too actually). My two had their father involved at first – and he hated my husband for sheer fun. For me, it was a little easier in that my stepsons mom was really not in the picture. At that time her involvement and communication was minimal at best and she lived in another state. Basically, I was his mom, whether we liked it or not. His physicians, teachers and coaches all knew me as mom because none had ever met his “real” mom. So, as I am saying no, you can’t call me mom, they are telling him talk to your mom, and this poor kid is confused.

It was very clear my stepson was nothing like me, but there were definitely things about him that I started to love. He was and still is so great with little kids, he gets down on their level and is patient and kind with them. He loves to be with adults, and would prefer to hang with them then go outside and play. And, I learned very quickly (thank goodness) that he just craved love. He needed and wanted so much love – and here I was being an ass and saying no. Saying I have no room, no extra love to give, sorry not sorry. I couldn’t stop focusing on how much re-work I was having to do with him. Simple things like brushing his teeth, taking a shower, doing his homework, not lying (oh my goodness the lying!!!) his constant need to be glued to his dad at every moment – it was almost too much, almost every day. He was on an IEP in school because he needed help in most areas and my children were none of those things. They were good kids, easy kids. Because they were my kids. Looking back now I can see that while I did have really great kiddos, we let a lot slide because we don’t notice it the way you do with someone else’s child. And, that is what they are, someone else’s child – at first.

Around his first birthday with us as a family, I had a feeling he was going to again ask to call me mom. I knew this because his mom hadn’t called him in almost a year at this point. My husband asked me one thing when we first started dating, and that was to never contact her, that she had made her bed and to just let it go. Well, if you know the me from 7 years ago, letting anything go was a joke. So, one day after watching my stepson sit by the phone waiting for it to ring, I lost it and I broke that request. My insides were literally burning with fury, and the inability to understand and I wanted to know why she didn’t love him enough to call??? And, then I wanted to know why I care all of a sudden? Was it because I needed her to step up and be his mom so I didn’t have to, or was it because she was missing out on a phenomenal kid who just wanted her to love him? The real answer was a good mixture of both I suppose, at first.

I remember writing his mom, and I pissed her off (maybe you read the blog If I could have a word with you , which is all about that and technically my first love letter to my new son in a sense) and rightfully so because who was I coming in acting like I knew it all. But, after that talk, I took my children aside and had a talk with them. I asked them why they were so against him calling me mom, and I explained to them why I felt like the next time he asked, I wanted to not only say yes, but have them okay with it too. It was a great talk for all of us, and we walked away from that knowing that if he asked again, I would say yes, and things might be different, but nothing would change my being their mom.

I tell this story because not every stepparent/stepchild relationship is easy. There are times where both are wrong, both are hurt, both are guarded and both are selfish. Aside from writing about stepparent related stories and situations I don’t use the word step to describe him, he is just my son. His is not a stepbrother, he is just a brother – and even though his mom moved back here two years ago, I’m not his step mom, I’m just his mom. He hasn’t stopped calling me mom since, and I’ve worked my butt off to earn that title, and he has my love unconditionally and equally always. We still have our moments, he will be 14 in a week and I will tell you that back then, I never thought we’d make it here but there is something really special about resilient love – and God knew we both needed the other. We just didn’t realize it at first.