“But I’m STARVING to DEATH!”

It’s official!  Joe and I have made it seamlessly through our first two months of marriage.  Well, maybe “seamlessly” is a stretch, but it has truly gone much smoother than I would have expected.  Blending two families into one (and fitting all of their junk and our junk into one big pile of junk) is not an easy task.  But after two months, the rooms are pretty much set up to the kids’ liking and every day more things are finding their place – even if their place is in the yard sale pile.

And every day we are each finding our “place.”  As can be expected, there is resistance on all of our parts in little ways – even with Joe and me.  So far though it seems the biggest resistance is coming from my sweet boy.

My son was only four when his father and I got divorced.  Since then he has had to grow up faster than most kids.  He was fixing his own breakfast and getting dressed on his own from very early on.  He is a very responsible kid, so I have not had to stay on him much about things.  He does his work (most of the time) and he does his workouts and even if given the option to stay up, he usually chooses to go to bed at a reasonable time if he feels tired.  For years now he has come home from school and fixed his own snack and done his work without being prompted or supervised.  He has been the man of the house with a lot of independence for almost nine years, so this is a big change to now have three more people in the house – and more rules.

The thing he seems to be having the most trouble with is the food rationing.  While that sounds rather harsh, it’s the best way to describe what we have been doing.  We have told the kids that there are certain snacks and foods that are reserved for school lunches – prepackaged chips and cookies, Gatorades and chocolate milk.  My boy just CANNOT get this.  Every single day he asks, “Can I have a Gatorade?” or “Can I have a chocolate milk?”  And we are still finding Oreo wrappers and chip wrappers in the basement playroom each night.  When you tell him to make his own chocolate milk with milk & chocolate syrup, he looks at you like you have punched him in the gut.

I think he would like to come home to something like this every single day...

I think he would like to come home to something like this every single day…

I have a hard time cracking the whip on this because I realize that he has had to adapt to a lot of changes in his short life.   At the same time, I know that my knowledge of this is being taken advantage of…  He knows that I will cut him slack, so he pushes the envelope.  He acts like he’s starving all of the time although we have told them there is limitless cheese & crackers, peanut butter & crackers, cereal, fruit, Easy Mac, etc.  But he is smart enough to know that no mother can stand to hear their child say they are “STARVING TO DEATH.”

This week all four kids have been at basketball camp.  When we took them all on Monday for sign in, I put $20 in each of their accounts for food.  That may not sound like a lot, but it costs about $3 total for a lunch (with a drink) and we sent them each with a Gatorade, a pack of Oreos and some Nabs in their bags.  My son came home on Tuesday and said, “I have $1 left in my account” and the sitter said that each day on the ride home he was eating his Oreos and Nabs in the car.

He spent $19 in two days!!!  Even the rest of the kids were shocked.  They all had about $12 left.  In an attempt to persuade the remaining three to be frugal, we told them they could keep whatever money they had left in their account at the end of the week.  I gave my boy $5 more (I had intended to give each $25 anyway, but wanted to see if they could make it) and sent them on their way.  The girls were thrilled because they wanted to make it through the week on the original $20 so they could get $5 on Friday.

My son?  Not so much… He apparently blew right through the additional $5.

This morning as I was walking to my office from the parking garage, my son called.  He was frantic, “Mom, remember the $5 you owe me for pulling weeds last weekend?  Can I get it for lunch?”  Yes, he actually believed that I would leave work and drive to the camp to give him the $5 (insert laughing mom here).  I told him that I was walking in to work and he would have to ask Joe.  Joe had two $20 bills and four $1 bills, so he gave my son $4.  Again, the other kids kept saying, “Seriously, WHAT have you been buying to already spend $25??” His response? “Just let it go!”

Tonight we are taking the kids to a baseball game.  In an effort to save some money, we are ordering pizza and a 2-liter of Mountain Dew to have before the game so that we can just get the kids one snack each at the game.

I am already waiting for the backlash from my boy – the shoulder shrugs, the deep breaths, the mumbling, the talking back. He just does NOT seem to understand that our family has completely doubled in size, so the cost of food has doubled as well.   He has always been so thin that I have encouraged his large eating habits.  I still do, but I want him to eat smarter now.  Buying snacks at camp and then eating the snacks he took to camp on the way home is NOT smart eating.  It’s a waste of money.

Anyway, we are obviously a constant work in progress, but the important thing is the past two months have been so easy for all of us, with just a few minor hiccups (it’s amazing how unhappy people try to spread their unhappiness).  Thankfully each attempt to cause misery only makes our family stronger.  Our focus is on God, our relationship with each other, and getting the kids through this time of transition.  Nothing else matters in the least.

And it’s obvious that the kids are adjusting well… When we are all spending time together, the constant smiles on their faces and the calmness in their spirits prove to us that everything is going to be just fine…

#truth

#truth

…and Joe and I agree that the past two months have been the best days of our entire lives.

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Blowing off some steam…

Well this should be interesting.  I am going out in the land of the singles tonight… without my husband.

I say “land of the singles” because although I have been with Joe for a year and a half, I am already shocked and amazed and how much I do NOT miss that “scene.”  We are merely going to get sushi, but it seems that no matter where we go the “scene” follows us.

But sweet Joe saw my obvious meltdown last night and realized that I needed a break from reality.  He has to work tonight, so he told me to have some fun.  So that’s all it takes?  I just have to have a complete anxiety attack/mental breakdown and Joe wants me to “go have some fun!”

I’m actually impressed that he is “allowing” this (yeah, my close friends are chuckling at THAT right about now).  The last night we did not have the kids, we went to Yard House together to meet some of my girlfriends.  It was a Thursday night and it seemed like everyone in there was part of a “hunt.”  Joe went to get us a beer and by the time he could get back there were three men who had essentially circled my friend and me like they were coming in for the kill.

Let me be clear – my ring is not small and it is very sparkly and cannot be mistaken for something other than a wedding ring.  Plus my disinterest in talking to them was abundantly clear, but the sad thing is that a couple of the men who were trying to talk to us were also wearing wedding bands!  One of them even had the audacity to ask for my friend’s number.  What is this world coming to???

I looked my husband in the eyes and said what most of the people in there were sadly hoping to hear from any warm body, “Take me home.”  And we got out of there quickly.

My amazingly fantabulous husband has nothing to worry about tonight though and he knows that.  I am so appreciative that he recognizes that I need to blow off a little steam after this week and the sadness that followed it.  He has a softball game, but I have to admit that I would be happy if it rains so that he can join us tonight.  He’s my best friend and I enjoy him being with us… even when it’s just the girls.  My friends adore him too and always comment on how they enjoy being our third wheel.

I would also like for him to join us tonight because his kids went back to their mother today too and he may need me tonight just like I needed him last night.  It’s quite an adjustment to go from having your kids 24/7 to not knowing where they are or when you will get to talk to them.

The absolute best part of the night is that I don’t have to go home alone… and I will not be going home with promises from a stranger.  I will be going home with the most amazing man that God has gifted me.  A man who I look at and can still clearly see the senior who I had a crush on in 9th grade.

Last night I wrote that I wasn’t feeling very lucky…

Best day ever.

Best day ever.

… but right now I know I am the luckiest woman I know.

Los Pantalones Del Fuego

I am definitely not perfect… of this I am acutely aware. But if there is one thing I am NOT, it is a liar. I am absolutely honest to a fault. I learned a long time ago that as someone with expressive brown eyes, there really is no point in trying to lie. I had to accept the truth that a poker player I will never be. I know I will never be perfect, but no matter how imperfect I may be, I know I should always strive to be a good person. And good people should not lie.

I have a hard time understanding how some people can lie as easily as breathe. And how confusing to have to keep track of your lies and who you told what so that they don’t catch you. I would have an absolute panic attack trying to keep up with my lies. I would have to create some sort of app for my iphone that kept track and cross-referenced my lies so that I wouldn’t worry about it nonstop.

I have dated people throughout my life who have lied to me continuously and I was too naïve to even think that they were not being honest. Over the past few years I have become much better at figuring out who to trust and who not to trust. As a general rule I chose to just not trust anyone. Admittedly that is not the best attitude to have, but now that we have two teenage boys in our home it is probably a pretty good policy to have.

As a friend of ours who has three teenage daughters told us one night, “They are all liars. Just know if anything comes out of their mouths, it is lies.” And we are learning this is true… in small but upsetting ways.

So why DO they lie? And where in the world do they learn such behavior? Joe and I strive to live honest, open lives that are full of trust and love and communication. So why do we find the kids lying to us about small and insignificant things? And if they lie about something as small as, “I didn’t text you back because I didn’t see your text” (when you saw the read receipt and can see on the phone bill that he was texting friends at the very same time), then what else are they lying about?

I think a lot of this culture of lying is learned behavior. So many parents are unaware of just how much their kids hear – driving in the car talking on the phone or talking in another room while the kids are home. The kids hear one thing being said and then another being said and they process it all… They hear their mom telling a story about their dad that they know isn’t true or they hear their dad lie to a customer about why they can’t meet that afternoon. How can we expect our children to tell the truth if they see us being less than truthful?

The worst is when I hear about parents who encourage lies to the other parents – seemingly as an “I’m on your side” thing, but it is teaching the child that lying is okay. What may seem like an innocent little white lie, “You can call your dad back in the morning… I will tell him you were asleep,” essentially says to your child, “It’s okay to lie to dad if it’s convenient for you to do so.” As a parent, you need to model the behavior that you want to see in your child. They are like puppets and they learn from what they see in you.

One of my friends going through a divorce told me about a talk she had with her four year old that I thought was good. She said that she told her daughter, “If either your father or I ever say to you, ‘Don’t tell your mom’ or ‘Don’t tell your dad,’ then we have done something we know is wrong and the first thing you need to do is tell the other parent.” I think that’s a good rule of thumb for a divorced family. If one parent doesn’t want the other parent to know – where the kids spent the night, who spent the night, how late the kids stay up, what someone said – then it’s probably something the other parent needs to know.

This has been on my mind lately because the other night, my sweet bonus daughter said, “Valerie, you lied to me.” I looked at her baffled because I know that I never lie and asked her what she was talking about. She said, “The other night I asked you if we had any ice cream and you said no.” I made a quick inventory in my brain of everything we have in the freezer and I said with confidence, “We DON’T have any ice cream.” And she said, “Yes we do. Come here.” She led me into the pantry and showed me some peppermint ice cream in the deep freezer that may have been there since the 1900’s (not really, but that’s fun to say).

20130624-084112.jpg

We would have to use an ice pick to chop that ice cream out of the deep freeze!!

Joe and I both had a talk with her about how we will not lie. I explained that the ice cream she was talking about was so old it was stuck in the freezer and that if we HAD ice cream I would tell her, “Yes, we have ice cream, but you can’t have any right now,” before I lied and said, “Sorry, we don’t have any.” That is just not how I roll. There are some parents who don’t like to be the “bad guy,” so they would rather lie than just tell their kids “no.”

I think the kids all know that Joe and I are true to our word. As you have heard me say before, our home is a home of open communication and no fear. We want to teach our children that words may lie, but actions will always tell the truth. They will grow up and know whose word to believe based on how they see us live.

 

Nothing Ever Changes…

TEENAGE BOYS………………………..  I really don’t know what more to say.

If you are blessed to have one of these in your home, then you can go ahead and give me the empathetic smile with a head nod to let me know that you feel my pain.  If you are blessed enough to have TWO in your home, then you don’t have to say anything because I can probably tell just by looking at the fear and exhaustion in your eyes as you rock in the fetal position in the corner.

You will understand this pic if you have teenage boys in your home...

You will understand this pic if you have teenage boys in your home…

These two creatures who inhabit my home make my head spin on a daily basis.

Shooting squirrels...

Shooting squirrels at our cabin

They are amazing to watch because they are such a difficult to understand species – they are paradoxical.

One day you are BEGGING them to speak to you.  Wishing, hoping and praying that their iphone may die so that they will have to take their ear plugs out to ask you for a charger.  And just maybe, if you are lucky, you can find out how their day at school went during that microscopic window.

The next day they WON’T SHUT UP.  Lately this has been a constant stage for my son.  Every time he speaks though, I tense up completely.  Here is a typical way a conversation starts:

My boy: “Hey mom, guess what?”
Me: “Is this something I am going to want to hear?”
My boy: “Probably not, but you won’t believe it…”

All the while he has a mischievous grin and is eyeing me to read my uncomfortable body language and to see the blank look in my eyes as I try to look unfazed.

Same mischievous look, but the topic of conversation has definitely changed

Same mischievous look, but the topic of conversation has definitely changed

Most recently he decided to tell me all about his school project.  On the face that seems like an innocent conversation, but it was a health project.  Apparently they got to choose any topic they wanted and my sweet little boy chose…. gulp, GONORRHEA.  And since he chose that topic, he has been reveling in filling me in with every revolting detail while I sit and try with every ounce of my being to keep the mask of interest on my face.

What an unsavory topic, but he got an A+

What an unsavory topic, but he got an A+

I should be happy he wants to still talk to me at all, right??? RIGHT?????? (ugh)

His attempts to disturb me are nothing new though.  I will never forget having a very serious heart to heart with my kids one day about their future.  I pronounced the importance of education while trying to influence them to choose a respectable profession.  At the end of my scholarly conversation I said, “Now what would you like to be when you grow up?”  My sweet little boy quickly said, “A tattoo artist… no, a bartender.”  Even at 6 years old he knew how to push my buttons.

His newest obsession is fishing.  He can NOT get enough of fishing.  I get text messages every day begging me to take him to Dick’s Sporting Goods store as soon as I get home from work.  Although that is only a few miles away, it is down Capital Boulevard which is beastly to travel between 5 and 7pm.  Usually I just get this text:

No, that's obviously not his real name...

No, that’s obviously not his real name…

I would much rather both boys fish every afternoon than sit inside and play video games or watch television.

Who wouldn't want to hang out in this room all the time????

Who wouldn’t want to hang out in this room all the time????

The problem with fishing is that we have to just let them go and trust them.  It allows them an independence that can be frightening for a parent.  This boy who I spent years trying to protect and shield – who has relied on my for pretty much everything – wants to go off on his own.  He wants to chart his own territory.  I should be proud, but it scares me.

They could be anywhere?!?!?!

They could be anywhere?!?!?!

How do I know what he is getting into?  They seem to know so much more than we knew at their age… How can I trust him to make good decisions when his priorities and thoughts differ so much from my own?

A good example of our differing thought processes happened this week.  Next Monday is the last day of school.  I decided that I want to head on to the beach with the kids on Sunday so we can stay an extra full day, so I told the kids (proudly holding my imaginary mom of the year trophy) that they could miss the last day of school.  My son immediately stomped on my pride as he said, “But MOM, I WANT to go to school on the last day.” 

For days now I have felt bad that I was robbing him of his last day of school – WHAT KIND OF MOM DOES THAT???? Then it hit me…

So I asked him, “Do you want to go to the last day of school because of fights or something?”  And he said, “YEAH!! There are supposed to be tons of fights and a huge food fight in the cafeteria… Last year the principal got on a table in the lunchroom to stop the food fight and I don’t want to miss that this year.”

I'm pretty sure I looked at him just like this...

I’m pretty sure I looked at him just like this…

Teenage boys just think so differently than we do…

Last night after I got home from work I was standing at the kitchen sink watching a crew of boys outside lighting smoke bombs.  They were standing close to the house by a cement bird bath in the grass, so I asked Joe, “What are they doing?” Joe simply smiled and said, “Probably putting the smoke bomb under the frog in the bird feeder to make it look like it’s coming out of its butt.  That’s what I’d do.”  Just as he said it I watched the boys do that very thing.

Does this pic really NEED a caption?

Does this pic really NEED a caption?

I was shocked that my sweet husband would even think like that!  Then it hit me:

Apparently little boys turn into teenage boys who turn into adult boys… all the while nothing ever changes.  That thought brings me comfort because if Joe turned out to be the man that he is today, then I shouldn’t worry about our two boys too much.  I have faith in the men they will eventually become…

…even if it’s a tough road to get there.

Yeah, maybe they never really change....

Yeah, maybe they never really change….

It’s Like Summer Camp, But NOT….

I certainly do not profess to be an expert at blending families, nor do I claim to even be semi-pro; however, I believe there is comfort when you are going through a new experience in knowing that someone else has walked that road before.  It’s comforting to know that you are not alone… someone else has done it and has come out at the end of the tunnel (relatively) unscathed.

I DO feel like a professional in single motherhood.  After being a single mother of two amazingly strong children for almost nine years, I had gotten the routine down to a science.  I went through all of the stages that single moms go through – the highs and lows, the strength in independence and the depression in loneliness, the happiness my ex moved on and the disbelief he had done so, the joy in knowing my kids had a stepmom who is good to them and the helplessness in knowing my kids had a stepmom who was with them when I was not.  I had times of almost an inner joy explosion (or so it felt at the time) when I walked around my house that my two kids and I moved into and I recognized that it was MINE… and that there would be no anger and insults in my house.  And I had times of crying myself to sleep at night because I felt despondent in the dating scene (hanging out in bars with my girlfriends, online dating, church singles classes) and knew with absolute assurance that I would never meet the right man for my children and me.  All that changed…

My children playing in our new yard on the first day in our new home.  They were 4 1/2 and 18 months.

My children playing in our new yard on the first day in our new home. They were 4 1/2 and 18 months.

My same "babies" on our wedding day.  They are now 13 and 10.

My same “babies” on our wedding day. They are now 13 and 10.

A week ago tomorrow I married my forever love.  It’s not the fairy tale you envision as a child since Prince Charming never came riding up on his steed with two kids on ponies in tow.  There was no fanfare and there was no ball… we were married on our church land in the woods with only our immediate family present.  And it was more than I could have ever dreamed.  The next night we spent our first night in our home as a family.  This is where the true fun begins…

Our wedding day!

Our wedding day!

This was the first time we had all been under one roof together overnight.  Both Joe and I felt strongly about not sleeping over with our kids.  They had been through enough trauma in divorce to push adult issues on them.  Because I had been divorced for many years, we did introduce Joe to my kids pretty early on.  My kids were not at the impressionable stage where they are possessive over their mom and resentful of anyone new… they were DYING for me to meet someone.  My sweet girl asked me one day, “Mom, are you EVER going to get married?” to which I replied, “ I WAS married once honey…” and she looked at me incredulously and said, “TO WHO???”  Shocking, but true.  She was so young when her dad and I got a divorce that she had always known Dad and Amy together and always known me, well, single.

Joe and I waited to introduce me to his kids until we were absolutely sure that they were ready and that we had a future together.  So after about five months, I met his kids.  We took it slowly and I did everything in my power to not infringe on their time with their dad.  He has 50/50 custody of his kids, so we spent our time together when he did not have them.  We barely even talked on the phone if he had his kids and they were awake… it was important to us that they not feel like I was stepping on their toes.  They knew I had kids, but we did not introduce them for another month.  The anticipation and excitement of meeting each other was more than they could all handle, but they enjoyed hearing stories about the other kids.  We eased into it one night by having Joe and his kids to dinner.  It was like a homecoming…  The kids got along fabulously and although we have had minor hiccups they have accepted each other with open arms.  I think the way we handled everything from the beginning has helped us get to where we are today.

I truly believe that too many single parents try to force their new love onto their kids before they are all ready.  Having a new love interest is exciting and you want to share everything you can with that person, but your kids are the ones who have the true potential of being hurt.  As a parent, you don’t have the luxury of thinking selfishly.  It’s all about the kids…  And in beginning a blended family, if the kids ain’t happy, then nobody’s happy!!!  Too many parents forget that.  Joe’s kids have asked us why we waited to tell them about us, but when you are honest with children and tell them that you were merely trying to protect their hearts, they respect that.

Back to the present… so our first night together went off without a hitch!  Well, with only a few minor issues…

We have room at my house, so Joe and his kids are moving in with us.  We are going to have to do some maneuvering so that our home becomes OUR home – changing rooms, giving things to Good Will, etc.  Until then the kids are sharing one bathroom – yes, four kids and ONE bathroom.

“What is this??? Summer Camp?” My son asked (quite loudly) on Night #1 when we told the kids that they will have times when they need to take their showers.  The funny part about his response is that he takes a shower at the same time every single morning ANYWAY, so it absolutely does not affect him… but as he said, “Mom, you and I both KNOW that one day I may oversleep and miss my shower time…”  Like a typical teenager, he doesn’t mind taking a shower at the same time every day, but when someone says he HAS to take a shower at the same time every day it becomes a deal breaker.  One week in and he is still asking how long we have to have this “summer camp shower schedule,” but he’s asking the wrong person because I LOVE SUMMER CAMP.

Camp is fun!!!!!

Camp is fun!!!!!

And if the blending of our families can feel like summer camp every day, then SIGN ME UP!!!!  We are not foolish enough to think that it will always be flowers and unicorns and happiness, but we are smart enough to know that we can do this!  We have four absolutely fabulous and resilient kids between us who thrive daily in our love and laughter and smiles.  They come in for a group hug when they see us hugging in the kitchen.  They laugh at us when they see us kissing in the family room.  They dance with us when they catch us dancing while cooking dinner.  And at the end of the day, if we can all sit around the dinner table together thanking God for the amazing day and for abundantly blessing our new family, then I think our new normal is the healing we all need in our lives…

…and maybe more families should go to “summer camp.”