Thursday, May 5, 2016

On this Mother's Day...

I haven't posted in awhile. Not because THIS isn't important, but because it IS IMPORTANT. No, it is not the most important thing. Of course not. I would be hard-pressed and bring much grief upon myself if I were to think so.

"Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Here, Lewis is discussing marriage, beginning from the premise of falling 'in love'.)

But, there is a word God has put on my heart and I would/will be consumed with Holy Fire if I did not share it. What is the important thing is that we think rightly about roles and the people in them. We each are flawed and ruined, though we can find favor in God's grace. This Mother's Day, every Mother's Day, is for every single woman who despite her flaws and insecurities and trepidations chose and chooses to stand up and be a parent, the best parent that she can be. That's it. It's about grace and love and forgiveness. Bio-Mom is not better than Step-Mom, and Step-Mom is not better than her. We are not better than Adopted-Mom or Lesbian-Mom or White-Mom or Black-Mom. We are all MOM.

If you are Mom and you are trying--you are mom.  Everyday I try endowed by the grace God gives me. He has honored and blessed me. So, I pray away bitterness and contempt and jealousy and dissensions.

Thank you to all the parents who have worried and prayed and paid...and I'm not just talking about money.

Thank you. 

And to the children, whose lives I was elected to influence, I hope you know simply that YOU ARE LOVED, first by God and after that know that you are loved and seen by many. And this matters. Yes, it does. Because this world is cruel and cold and calculating. But, LOVE--adults and children--is not dead.

"Being 'in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this QUIETER LOVE [my emphasis] enables them to keep their promise." C.S. Lewis

Let's take this further. God is speaking always about this/that LOVE; love as a force, an entity, alive in our hearts as we entreat vulnerability and sacrifice.

"If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:2

"Let all that you do be done in love." 1 Corinthians 16:14

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Rock and the Hard Place


"It's like being stuck between a rock and a hard place."


Photo taken in Blowing Rock, NC April 2013, Family Reunion
     
     I'd wager a guess that most of us have heard and/or used this phrase. Never a good place to be, is it? Typically I prefer warm, soft, and fuzzy as opposed to rock-hard. And who wants to be stuck or trapped?
     Of course, in true "The Calling of a Step-Mom" style, I began thinking about what this phrase means for step-mom. After mulling thoughts around a bit, the light bulb of epiphany turned on. The trickiness of being STEP is that we are forcibly being placed between the rock and the hard place.

Many people, especially biological/birth parents tell STEP two things:

1. Being STEP is practically the same as being the birth parent.
OR
2. Being a step is not the same as or as hard as being a (biological) parent.

Why is this problematic? Because these two things--options--are the ROCKS.

Step parent Sample Scenario:
I'm so frustrated today. Teenage SK is acting out, being moody and making me feel as if everything I say is an issue. At bedtime, there are no hugs or I-love-yous. There never has been. I feel disconnected and a bit sad.

Sample Address to Step-parent via Rock #1:
STEP, what you are feeling is no different than what parents feel in general. Having a teenager comes with ups and downs, so just suck it up; biological parents must come to terms with their growing child as well.

Now let's filter the same step scenario through Rock #2.
What you are feeling doesn't compare to what bio parent feels. You do not have the same capacity to love this child. Imagine feeling distance and a change in connection between bio and child. STEP, you have no idea how it feels to experience the drama that is growth of child.

Alright, where to begin?

Response number one lands step in a place where she is robbed of lamenting the challenges specific to being step-mom. Various psychological studies support the fact that the ambiguous nature of being STEP and the "outsider" effect the role often spawns incites depression and anxiety in a large number of women in the step-mom role. 
http://www.theguardian.com/eduction/2010/mar/23/stepmothers-psychological-effects-research This particular article is written by Lucy Tobin, psychologist and step-mum. For some reason unbeknownst to me, this particular link may be broken. I will correct it soon, but in the meantime I suggest you Google it :)



The bonding and gelling many parents experience and establish with their kids is non-existent for step, he or she is coming into a ready-made family with hopes of being able to bond, while daily facing the task of balancing acclimation, attunement and sensitivity to the kids needs, marriage, interactions with extended family, etc. So when hormonal teenage SK lashes out, step doesn't have "she used to hug me every night" and "she drew me a picture that says I-love-you-daddy" feel good memories to fall back on. Oftentimes, seemingly normal interactions simply feel like REJECTION. All in all, there's just a dynamic to being step that is other and distinct from biological parent, not that either one is better or worse, just DIFFERENT.

Response number two places step outside the bounds of emotional reception and sadly achieves the very thing I alluded to above: that being step is lesser, not enough, deficient,  sub-par. Instead of steps and bios being different but sharing space on the same plane, the second response situates step on some other plane, a plane that pales in comparison to bio-plane.

Being sandwiched between these two rocks is the hard place! Either the functioning of step is reduced or it is eclipsed. 

Being step overlaps in experience and responsibility with parent while also being wholly different from it. My book is all about delving into the HARD PLACE, acknowledging it and establishing the fact that step need not be stuck or trapped there. The existence of steps has excavated a new site, a new PLANE. One in which we must acknowledge and discuss intelligently. For the goal is to bring about knowledge that empowers all participants of blended families and step-families to see, value, and acknowledge one another--particularly all the adults to the benefit of the child or children. 

Remember, The Calling of a Step-Mom, is not "Woe is me" languishes. Yet this writing is "Here I am. Here we are. We are people and all that comes along with being a person," in light of being obscured and seemingly ambiguous.

If you understand any part of this post, please respond. If you have never thought about these things before and are inspired by this post, please respond. 

Humbly Pressing On,
Alex

Friday, June 20, 2014

Seeping into the Background

Are you are step - parent who has ever worried about being reduced? Reduced to less than who you are as a person, less than what you embody on a day-to-day basis?

Oftentimes I think people read these step - mom blogs and think, "This person surely is bitter."

Ewww, bitterness, that's the bad label--no one likes a bitter person. But, I just had an epiphany! Sometimes that air, that tension, that emotion, those tears welling up, those lips and muscles quivering with frustration (or any number of emotions), is much more than the manifestation of bitterness.

Very few persons embody roles characterized by and imbued with overwhelming ambiguity and an almost amorphous quality. As STEPS we often have to hold our tongues, bottle our thoughts and SEEP INTO THE BACKGROUND.

Isn't balance one of the hardest states to attain? Aren't many human beings currently seeking it? Balance, the great quest, the great conundrum,  and a thing/a state NOT necessarily born in many of us. In my role as step I'm constantly evaluating, speaking up, active in my love for my step - kids but ever mindful of my status, my non-status, my "I'm not their blood relative." 

Sometimes I am certain of what I think,  what I feel, but it does not serve my status well to give voice to such thoughts most of the time--tongues we twist, tie and bite, vying for that illustrious BALANCE.
Sometimes we seep into the background because our hand is forced by the ambiguity of our status. "Mother" and "Father" take the foreground, no matter what--despite inadequacies, bad decisions, and foibles of character. Yet, there are STEPS who, equipped with those same inadequacies and foibles (like every human being), approach their step-kids with the utmost respect, appreciation and care, but their moves of love and patience towards the step-kids are trumped by biology. STEPS reduced to second-class, sub-par inhabitants of the home merely because attached to their title is that infamous prefix, STEP

At the end of the day the process of SEEPING is tiresome, sad and frustrating...that is all.
If you understand what I mean, please respond.
Humbly Pressing On,
Alex

Friday, February 28, 2014

Misplaced Modifier

"I can't work until 6 o'clock on Wednesday, remember? I will need to pick up the kids by quarter to 6."

"Oh, yeah, I totally forgot! Can't leave your kids waiting...you're a great mom!"

In my stepmother mind:

Yes, that is correct. I certainly have to pick up the kids but they are not my kids--even though I have interactions with them that mirror interactions I would initiate with my own progeny.

I go out of my way to say "THE kids" as opposed to "MY kids." The difference is subtle yet difference still remains. Some people might protest and charge me with being absolutely ridiculous: What difference does "the" or "my" truly make? On the other hand, several bio-parents might be thinking, "Damn right! She better say 'the' kids; they're not hers!"

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the STEP language game.

There's a subtle yet powerfully effective double standard weighing on the shoulders and mouths of step-moms everywhere.

Scenario #1:

Mom, Judy, is sitting on the bleachers at Timmy's soccer game engaging in a bit of girl talk with the other moms. Judy proceeds to say that Timmy needs to be a bit less like his father and quit procrastinating with getting his homework completed after game time. A ways down the bleachers, step-mom Jane comments on how stepson Tommy probably needs to devote a bit more time practicing soccer so he can improve at goalie position.

Mind you, I have created fake names, but the framework of the scenario is indeed a real one. I have witnessed Mom Jane's comments be received back within the circle of parents with understanding and camaraderie. Even if one or more of the parents think Mom Jane's comment off-putting, her statement is still one that CAN be made. On the other hand, step-mom Jane's constructive criticism of Tommy is admonished. She is met with the statement, "Um, he is not your son; you shouldn't be so rude or critical." (Moreover, most steps probably wouldn't say anything at all. The STEP language motto becoming, "Keep your head down and your mouth shut!")

Incredulous? Disbelieving? Sound ridiculous?

As soon as I say, "Oh, my stepdaughter..." I immediately become marked and ultimately discredited in a certain way (the marking being polarizing). Then my statement is followed by a series of questions: Do you have any kids of your own? Do you want to have kids of your own? Are you planning on having any? AND I am thinking: So, can I finish talking about my plans with my step-daughter this weekend now? Or can I not talk about that until I pop out a baby? And what if I do not ever have kids of MY OWN? So what?

"That's my girl."
"He looks just like me."

Step-mom cannot say this, especially CHILDLESS steps; this language of possession as it concerns another human being(s) can never be broached by step-mom. What can step-mom say? What is her field of statements?

"She doesn't look like me."
"His mannerisms are nothing like my own."

WHAT CAN BIO AND STEP SAY ALIKE?

"I love her!"
"I enjoy his laughter."

I may not be able to claim my step-kids in a very literal sense of claiming: I was outside of their conception and birth, outside of their naming, and still I exist outside of seeing myself reflected back in their faces. Yet I love them and enjoy them and celebrate them. Language has coloured me evil, but my language NOW is LOVE. A pure love when considered that the deeds that I perform in honor of these children are indeed for them, having literally STEPPED into a situation overwrought with complexity, complication, and strife. A situation that requires courage, bravery, and selflessness.

Step-moms be encouraged in your magnificent ascent to LOVE. Love, simply. And for those who know step-mom, spur her on in her bravery in order that she may continue to thrive through a role that has long been entrenched in a site of isolation, limitation and misunderstanding.

Do you have any experience with the STEP-language-game? If so, please share your experiences for the edification of us all.

Humbly Pressing On,
Alex

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Call for Answers

Greetings friends! I have been very busy working on multiple writing projects--one of which is The Calling of a Step-Mom book. With this blog post I would like to do something a bit different from what I have done in the past. I would like to invite each of you to be active participants in my step-mom project. 

Beginning today, I am going to post a prompt which I will leave up for one week. I would like each of you to respond to the prompt either in the comments section or via email. Keep in mind that responses can be as brief or as extensive as you'd like for them to be. An answer may consist of a word, a phrase, or an essay with beginning, middle and end (I will never discourage someone from writing an essay). 

Week One Prompt: Who is Mother? In other words, what do you think of when you see the term "Mother?" (If you were explaining "mother" to someone who had no prior knowledge, what would you say?)


Be candid.

Humbly Pressing On,

Alex

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Calling of a Barista

 I must take a moment to deviate from all things stepmom in order to discuss a topic that has irked me so much that blogging about it seems to be my civic duty. Presently, many of us know what's understood on the street: Don't tick someone off who's preparing your food. If a waiter or waitress does their job and does it well, leave a tip (even if they don't do so well still leave a tip; perhaps just reduce the percentage), and do not treat others in ways that you would not want to be treated, relatively speaking.


Okay, we've got the basics covered.


So, here's 5 things to try and avoid when interacting with a barista (and trust me, these things happen quite often).



1. "You can't be tired. You work in a coffeehouse."

Seriously! This is the equivalent of telling a doctor that he or she cannot be sick...just because they're a doctor. Influenza doesn't know that "John Smith, PhD" is a doctor, and the flu will infect all who get in its way. The same can be said for FATIGUE. I am a wife, stepmom, and a writer and oftentimes I am ragged and sleep-deprived when I arrive at work because my life is filled with roles and responsibilities that surpass the bounds of an urn filled with lava-hot-energy-liquid! Lastly, (everyone say it with me) there are times when a person experiences a level of fatigue that no amount of coffee or caffeine can counteract. I NEED A NAP!!!



2. Dearest Patron, please do not "ssshush" me at the drive-thru window because you decided to conduct an important conference call in your car...RIGHT WHEN YOU DECIDED TO GO THROUGH A DRIVE-THRU! Repeat after me: The function of a drive-thru is to enable and promote fast and efficient service wherein my barista MUST clarify my order and relay to me how much I owe so as to complete the supply & demand transaction. The barista is doing his or her job to greet me and "try" to give me the items I ordered. I, on the other hand, am being a complete jerk-face when I "ssshush" them and hold my finger up in their face. I solemnly swear I shall do no such thing from this day forth.



3. "I have a Grande Caramel Latte on the bar!"
    "Oh, is that my drink?"
    "Possibly, what was your order?"
    "I had a Tall Soy Chai Latte over ice."
    "Well, this Hot (not iced) Grande (not tall)
    beverage IS NOT YOURS!!!"
   

This is the first part of the exchange and there is already a problem. When a barista calls a beverage at the hand-off-plane it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to know what it is that you ordered. (I don't know what you ordered or what it was that Bobbi Sue told you that she wanted when she discovered that you were making a "coffee-run.")


   "Well, where is MY drink? I have been waiting for a minute."

 



eeeeerrrrwaaaaeeeerrccck, (this is the sound--according to me--for REWIND!) Sir/Ma'am did you not see the long line, so long it's snaking around the entire coffee shop and parking lot before you walked in? And after you walked in you stood in that long, snakey line until you placed your order. And if you can dig deep into your short-term memory, there were about TEN people in line in front of you, which means that when you step to me inquiring about your latte, and the people who ordered in front of you are still waiting on their drink(s), yours isn't done yet.


4. "BEANZZZ!"

I know that it's October, and everyone is doing their "get your scare on" thing. The AMC television station is playing a host of Halloween-appropriate fare, and the new season of The Walking Dead just began (I'm excited). I love scary movies, but I do not love ZOMBIE CUSTOMERS!

"Well, when we come into the coffeehouse we're tired. We're there to try and wake up!" I cannot dispute you here, patron. Actually, many baristas acknowledge this aspect of our business. Yet there is a difference between being tired and crowding in with other ZOMBIE CUSTOMERS, as you all close in on the bar area, fail to respond to friendly greetings and inquiries, and bore into my soul with your hollow, blink-less stares. It's scary. It's uncomfortable. Instead of thinking about "Brainzzz" you all are thinking about espresso "Beanzzz," and barista is compelled to stab you through the eye with the steam wand...in defense, of course!!!

Take it from me, when you arrive pick up a newspaper and read it. Or talk to some of the other customers you might know. Look at your cellphone. Talk to me for goodness' sake, because Lord knows I'd love to actually talk to you (I am NOT being sarcastic) as opposed to you glaring at me for 5 minutes. Glaring at barista does not make barista move faster. Barista is already moving fast as humanly possible; we're just busy.
Zombie silhouette courtesy of clker.com, free Zombie clip art
5. "Uggggh! I cannot believe what YOU just made me do!"

"Ma'am, here's your Tall 180 degree White Mocha...have a niceeeee, ummm, ohhh...are you okay?" As the lady is pulling the drink into her car (in the drive-thru), she manages to smash the cup against the side of her car. (This happens because she is trying to finish a text message while simultaneously trying to secure her beverage). Liquid explodes from the cup turning hot, frothy milk into a geyser of steamy shame. Then she glares at me with the quintessential, "Look at what YOU made me do!" face.

Ahahahahaaaaaaahah!!!

I'm sorry. Reader, I am being insensitive. I should feel bad for this lady; her coffee drink was really hot.

Ummm, NO.

If customer is so preoccupied with his/her phone, gadget, device, conference call or--heck--is that deficient in hand-eye coordination that the retrieval of product from the drive-thru window is an impossibility, then don't come through the drive-thru!


Congratulations! You have just completed the, "How to become a better Customer (and better participant in society)" training series.
 
Thoughts, comments, or questions--please respond to this post if even one small talking point resonated with you.
 
 
 
Press On, all my customer service workers, Press ON!






Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cheers to the "Wicked?"

Well, I had my first official professional-writing-endeavor-rejection. In short, I sense I am being told I am too provocative or confrontational. The business-side of me can certainly understand how various websites and publications must safe guard against what might be deemed defamatory and/or liability-inducing content. Yet, the academic, scholarly side of me sets its feet, throws its head back, and sends forth a “Rebel Yell” (thank you, Billy Idol). So, the content I originally crafted will probably never see the light of—publication—day, but I will certainly share my unabridged thoughts in the blog-o-sphere!


Recently, I stumbled upon a couple of articles that made me angry, and for those who know me, this is a big deal. I am not easily angered or disturbed. Let it be known, when I say “articles,” I am not talking about writing found on someone’s personal website. I am referring to articles published in high-volume print and online magazines, promoted and stamped with celebrity names and statuses. Let’s just say these articles are in the mainstream not the periphery.


Fuel for the rage tank…



“Something’s got to give, and neatness should be it. If the situation is desperate and the kids are growing subspecies in their space, get Dad to go in there and organize a cleanup. Life is messy, and it’s even messier when you choose a man with children. But remember: it’s better to have a man with kids than one without kids who flosses his cat’s teeth.”


“You’re better off being wicked.”



These are direct quotes taken from Rosemary Rogers’ article 12 Things a Stepmother Should Never Say, featured in the May 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.



Like The Matrix, I cannot tell you what the article is; YOU must read it for yourself. Formulate your own opinions then grace me with your thoughts. In the meantime, read on to see why I am so outraged.





An Excerpt from my formalized retort:

Rogers’ eight admonition glosses over the real, on-the-ground, experience of the stepmom role in the blended family. For example, prior to marrying me, my husband and his mom instructed his kids to see me as a figure of authority and trust. Therefore, it is necessarily part of my role and responsibility to care for, interact with, and discipline—as necessary—the kids as set forth by me and my husband. I relay important information about the kids and my interaction with them to my husband. There are several issues involving the kids, accountability, and discipline of which he takes the lead, because particular instances call for his direct involvement. Yet, overall, as adult friend, guardian, and parental-figure (whichever term “we” land upon to denote the role of stepmom) the implementation of accountability, discipline, and respect are enacted. Moreover, it does not mean that I or the kids think of me (myself) as their Mom simply because I hold them accountable in ways that are healthy for children, and this includes picking up after themselves in appropriate ways. Heck, even some babysitters ask kids to pick up after themselves! Think about it.




 There are several existing and emerging blogs and websites that propose helpful suggestions for the healthy formation of blended families. I am not suggesting that all articles, writings, and postings on stepmom and blended family have to deal only in positives. In other words—when taken on a case-by-case basis—there are likely to be drama-ridden, if not harmful, actions taken on behalf of SOME stepparents (stepmoms) that sow to the detriment of healthy blended families. Commentaries made in response to SPECIFIC “bad” behaviors and habits are necessarily important to stepmom conversations. However, a problem exists in the fact that retorts addressed to SPECIFIC situations, dynamics, interactions, and behaviors have been taken up as POPULAR, MAINSTREAM, GENERALIZED discourse lumping stepmom into a perpetual valence of reproach, repulsion, revile.







Stepmom articles do not anger me because they offer admonishments—NUMEROUS PARENTING ARTICLES ARE FRAMED AROUND ADMONISHMENTS. Anger arises because such articles are sardonic and antagonistic while being reductionist. There are huge differences between offering advice and broaching a topic with generalized disdain and sarcasm.


I cannot emphasize enough my overall argument that the social and cultural landscape is overwrought with STEPMOM TALK that is lacking the nuance of which discussions of stepmom require. These articles hint at the complexity that is stepmom and the stepmom/stepchild relationship then completely abandon complexity and nuance at the cost of relegating stepmom to the bowels of confining, ill-addressed boundaries and role-specific ambiguities, which are never teased out.


Stepmom is a role that is and will be donned by numerous women: all sorts of women with varying idiosyncrasies and foibles of character. Every family unit is different, particularly in contemporary society where the face of family changes daily. One thing that one woman in the role of stepmom does may look very different from what I  say or do, which may also differ from what the woman living next door to me says and does. Reader, are you with me?





Women and behaviors exuded while operating in the role of stepmom are VARIABLE, while the ambiguity, obscurity, and complexity of the role itself remains the same for every woman—the obscurity of stepmom, as role and identity, is CONSTANT. 


If we accept all of what I just posited as a new frame or lens by which to discuss stepmom then we avail ourselves the opportunity to work within various concepts, conceptions, and ideologies and find areas of resistance, enlightenment, awareness, and reform. Whoever wrote the article around which I framed my retort will not subject me to contrived absolutes. (Obviously, I am aware of who wrote the article—insofar as I know her name, but my writing is not about the author(s). My writing is about the discourse purported into the social scene.) 

The title of Rogers’ article so perfectly illustrates what my blog is building upon: the “lack” (or blocking?), so to speak, of language which keeps stepmom outside certain forms of recognition, ownership, possession, agency. Think about the weight and all the implications of churning out an article that lists things a stepmom should NEVER SAY, when we are so behind in our discussion of what it truly is to embody such a role! Furthermore, the discussion of language is merely entryway into a bounded-ness that goes beyond language. Stepmom is the embodiment of ambiguity, interim, oddity, and—as I hope my book will support—is itself (the role) indefinable.  


                                             (A new frame or frames...)



Stepmom has been lost for too long. Actually, stepmom has never been FOUND. I am not trying to tell stepmom who she is supposed to be. I am only digging to excavate a site for stepmom to be…to glean sight into how the role oscillates, and the effect/affect such a state has on human beings.



We have arrived somewhere. I do hope YOU, reader, will walk across the threshold with me. Stay tuned for my next post, which will outline the differences between “Assimilating” and “Blending.”

Humbly Pressing On...