Thursday, July 30, 2009

Our Joy on a Dark Day

It has been a day. So many of us are facing despair and just have to remember to keep breathing. Things like jobs and homes and what happens next are not what they used to be.

I have one sister and her family of five plus two large dogs, moving from her New Hampshire home into the Montecito home of our parents due to the loss of her husband's job seven months ago. My other sister is trying to sell her Orange County home and relocate to Santa Barbara. She has two school aged children and two daughters just leaving for college. Her heart has moved out of her current house but she can not move the rest of her self until her house sells. Her teenage daughter plays volleyball at the varsity level and is in the market for a potential college scholarship, like her two older sisters. She can't just leave one high school and move to another mid season. She is torn. They are hurting.

The American Dream as it used to be imagined does not exist as a formula anymore. Going to college does not guarantee you a job when you graduate. Working hard does not equate to job security or a secure home life. We have to look at the world differently. Looking instead at each moment that we are breathing, each meal that we consume, each night of comfortable rest as a blessing. We can create, fully taking in the moments as precious, regardless of the state of our 401-K s and our job description.

We can look to our family, our community and find a new place to be and a new way to contribute. What we have is each other. We have the Earth, we have our creativity and our imagination. We have opportunity for extreme change and the option to adopt a radically new way of existing with each other and with our planet that does not involve large corporations, three weeks of vacation and barely making ends meet.

We may have to get there by a very rough road, but we can more than survive, we can thrive in a world of our own creation, unlike anything we have yet experienced.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rule Number One

My sister Stephanie thinks that I should write a book or a guide of some kind on how to be a good stepmother. Part of me knows this is true and part of me feels terribly guilty because I have not always been good at being a step mom to my girls. This summer, Cadence, my oldest, and I came really close to the worst thing that can happen in family situations such as ours. A small blowup turned into my husband's worst nightmare as I came up the stairs at 11 PM one night to find Cadence throwing her essentials into a bag while muttering "I just can't stay here any more".

The conflict between us had been going on for years. What I discovered that night was that what caused and exacerbated the conflict was that we were both very hurt by each other's seeming lack of caring and that we BOTH wanted and needed very much to feel the love coming from the other. We were mirroring the same pain. Being fighters, strong, edgy, fierce types, with whom you might never wish to mess with under inopportune circumstances, our pain caused us both to shut down our hearts from the risk of wanting love and not getting it, and go straight to the fight at the drop of a hat. And this is how we existed for about five and a half years.

The breakthrough came when I realized what needed to happen in order to change Cadence's mind about leaving. I said, "what can we do to make this situation better for you, so that you feel like this is your home?" She didn't answer from her heart right away. She went on and on with her cold barrier still up for a while, until I let mine down completely and said, "I love you and I do not want you to leave. What can I do to make this better for you?" Slowly, her walls came down and I saw a child in need of my love. Let me repeat that. A CHILD was in NEED of MY LOVE. Even though Cadence is technically an adult, almost 21 now, she is still a child at heart and her wounds are childhood wounds. The solution to our conflict was simple, for me to receive love and warmth from her, my child whom I did not carry for nine months, nurse or who's diapers I did not change, I needed to first provide to her the unconditional, unwavering love that a mother provides, without strings or restrictions. Period. As the adult, it was up to me to offer the love up first in order to receive it mirrored back.

It is in this skill that I redeem myself. I am good at loving. I am good at nurturing. I told Cadence that night, "Now that I know that you want and need my love, you will have it ALWAYS. No matter what." Now I know.

I am still not perfect and do not claim to be the perfect step parent. I received some great skills from a very special therapist that have helped me get through the stuff that used to send me into a dark, cold, cranky place. One technique I now employ is humming. When my fiery girl is in a bad mood, I used to engage in argument, miffed that she was so bitchy towards me in the first place. Now, I when I see that she is having a moody moment, I let her words hang in the air and instead of responding to every comment that used to lead us into argument, I hum. Hmmmm Hmmmm HMMMMMMMMM. Not even a specific tune. Sort of a quirky hum. I I feel totally at peace, allowing my beloved to have her mood without trying to rationalize or change her. It's working. I don't take it as a personal attack any more and she doesn't feel attacked by me when what she really needs is my support.

If a manual is to evolve from my experience, I will begin with the first rule for a potential step mother.

Rule #1.
Love your (step)child. Make a list of the things you love about her. Spend time together to get to know all of him, his quirks, her gifts, his magic, her pain, his needs, her talents, his heart.
Take real time to do this before marriage. Love your child. For when you marry, the child is yours, if only every other weekend, the child, and her heart are your responsibility to care for so find the real, true love in your heart for him.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Just Another Summer Day

I dragged the kids to the beach today. I insisted that we take London for a nice walk without her leash. Aidan tried to boycott the outing but I was not going to fold. I had promised London and she was looking forward to it.

The kids ended up having fun. The beach has lots of white, smooth rocks that resembled eggs and they made a dinosaur nest. They surrounded the nest with footprints of Titanosaur, Brachiosaurus and Utah Raptor. They also added some cave man footprints for a realistic touch.

London found a spot in the sand that was perfumed with a decomposing flesh smell, her favorite. She started with a little rub behind each ear then went full in, rolling and wiggling to cover her entire back with eau de stinky beach.

Alex found a piece of bamboo and asked if he could bring it home to make a flute by whittling holes in the length of it. The other kids picked up sticks too. When we got home, they decided to play Chumash Indians. I brought out some twine and Henney feathers. Kieran came to me and asked if she could put a crystal in the end of hers to make it into a medicine/talking stick, to help her tell stories. We found a Tibetan dual terminated crystal quartz that fit and we wired on a turquoise stone and an amethyst too.

Aidan made a bow out of his stick and created some very dangerous arrows out of some bamboo skewers I bought recently at World Market. Indy and Alex both made fishing poles out of their sticks.

The kids told stories. Later I tried to get the kids to try on mustaches for some fun pictures and although Alex and Aidan put one on for literally a second, they wouldn't keep them on for a picture. Indy liked hers so much she kept it on for the better part of the afternoon.

Because the house wasn't really messy enough, I suggested we get the paints out. The kids painted some beautiful works ( Kieran, a mare and a foal, Aidan, a bullet train, Alex, a pokeball and Indy an unusual floral abstract) on small canvases and I pained my version of the main chakras on a large canvas I envision as a mural, with contributions from all my loved ones during the course of the summer. No wonder I'm so tiered.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Aunt Shelley

When Aunt Shelley shows up, anything is possible. She loves to say "yes!" "can we make stuffed animals?" "YES!" "can we start a band?" "YES!" "Can you put a sign on the door that says The Ugly Dolls in session. Do Not Enter!!!! ?" "Absolutely!!!!" Aunt Shelley is creative and fun. She lets us make messes to make magic. We paint, we create, we pick all the lemons off the tree. She leaves the laundry unfolded and the bills unpaid. She doesn't turn on the TV or the computer. She does take a nap, but only for an hour. "Can we make T-shirts today Aunt Shelley? Paint masterpieces on canvases? Make a movie?" "YES! Of course! But, I will need a nap afterward."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sorry Mom

When Aidan was still a preschooler, about age four, he and I were waiting in the car one day for Kieran to get of school. I had a book to read to him. It had a chapter about firefighters and Aidan asked me why they were wearing masks on their faces and tanks on their backs. I explained to him about smoke, and the dangers firefighters face by inhaling it and how they have to wear special gear to protect themselves from it. Then, out of the blue, my four year old blurts out, "I'm sorry Mom!". "Sorry for what?", I asked.
"I'm sorry, because when I grow up, I am going to smoke".
After a long, shocked but amused pause, I replied,
"It makes me sick, so please don't do it in the house."
In these pictures, I permitted indoor smoking because it was smokeless. He is six now and says he has changed his mind about being an adult smoker. He just likes to smoke pretzels. Unfiltered.

We Are Family....I got all my sistas with me!

We were young when our parents married. Nina, the youngest, was 6 and Julia, the oldest was, I think, 15 or so. Stephanie, Stacy and I were somewhere in the middle. We had all been through divorces and marriages before. For Nina, it was her first time having a step parent. For all five of us, it marked the first and only time we would find family through marriage as stepsisters.

The seven years they were together were happy for me. We lived in Manhattan Beach and seemed to play a lot as a family, spending full weekends on the beach chasing waves, building cars in the sand. We played softball at the park, having enough people to form teams. When Nina would come on the weekends, she would bring the latest records, like Saturday Night Fever or Rick James and we would make up dances and have theatrical performances after hours of rehearsal. One summer the Sister Sledge came out with "We Are Family" - I got all my sisters with me....... it became our theme song.

Nina lived with us for a year when I was in eighth grade and she was in seventh. It was balm for my soul because I was so close to my older sisters and had never been at a school without them (The year Steph went to Jr. High, they made it a middle school and I came too!). I was so happy. Over those seven years, we grew roots that intertwined. My heart knew their names, all of my sisters.

As I was distracted by the excitement of High School, their marriage was collapsing. They all slipped out, my stepfather, my stepsisters, seemingly undetected. I don't remember ever saying goodbye.

I am 40 now. Stephanie, Stacy and I have lived these years with the ghost of "where are Nina and Julia?" in our hearts, often speaking the words aloud to each other, Googling, when that became an option, but to no avail.

In October of last year, Nina and Julia's father passed away, and several months later my mom received a call from some authority, informing her of his passing.

We were all on Facebook by then, so Mom tried again to find Nina and Julia and this time, we succeeded.

Nina has married an incredible man. She has two beautiful kids, who look just like their cousins, OUR kids. Julia has married a wonderful man who adores her. We are filling in the parallels of our lives and picking up where we left off, choosing to never divorce again. We are reconnected as sisters, always.