Monthly Archives: March 2008

Help Me Rhonda!

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When I need encouragement,When I need advice,When I have unpleasant thoughts, That really isn’t so nice…There’s someone I can count on, Who can make me think again-Cause no one checks my attitude, Quite like my sister friend…We tell each other all the news,We watch each other’s back,We lift each other’s spirits,And we catch each other’s slack[Rhonda], when it comes to true friends,You’re the leader of the pack!                      

 ~Unknown  

            She was a godsend to my life.  I couldn’t believe another person existed on earth that was going through what I was.  I had the good fortune to meet Rhonda through a coworker.  It was Fall Break and I wanted to check out the grand opening of a popular department store in my neighborhood.  Browsing down each aisle I ran into Patty, an acquaintance from work.  Her friend Rhonda was with her that day and she made the fateful introduction.  Almost three years have passed since then.

            Rhonda has been invaluable to me.  Not only does she help me process my feelings about my stepmom journey, but she is a natural encourager as well.  I trust her emphatically with my bad thoughts because I am confident that she will not judge me for being candid with my feelings.  I can vent to her because I know that she empathizes.  Sometimes she just listens.  Sometimes she offers at advice.  She does not always think that I am right and tells me so.  I need this.  She has a special way of getting me back on track by reminding me of who I am. 

            She encourages me to keep trying with Eliza even when her generous gestures are often rejected by Kierra’s mom.  Rhonda is a good role model for me because she loves Kierra unconditionally.  She continues to inspire me to be the best person that I can be. 

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Do You Really Know?

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Isn’t it funny how life provides us with teachable moments that we seem not to notice?  They are readily available if only we will take the time to explore them.  I was discussing a poem with my students called “You Don’t Know Me.”  The poem was written to address misconceptions that people held about the writer.  This poem stayed with me long after class was over.

            Once upon a time I really thought I knew Eliza.  I received a lot of insight about her character from the tactics in which she used to harass us.  Plus, I knew quite a few people who had grown up with her.  I also knew that she had successfully frightened off a couple of women whom my husband had attempted to date after their divorce.  Of course, he had already provided me with many intimate details of her background.  I knew that she was an incest survivor, she had birthed a steal born baby at age 15, and that she spent some of her teenage years in the foster care system.  

Over the years it became apparent that she suffered from low self-esteem and was very insecure.  She was hurting and therefore wanted everyone in her path to hurt with her in the true fashion of misery loving company.  She had the manipulative tendencies of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve.  And she could and would lie at the drop of a dime.  Her sense of reality was beyond distorted.  Much of her life was lived in denial. Her behavior was quite unbalanced. After much research I felt qualified to label her with borderline personality disorder.  She certainly fit the profile of a person with BPD to a tee.  But now I see that it was rather pompous of me to make such a call, considering that I am not a mental health professional.

Due to our circumstances—her incarceration and our primary custody of the children, I have been forced to get to know her. I spend a minimum of two hours per month in her company. Not to mention the letters that we exchange. Don’t think I have completely changed my thoughts about her, because I haven’t, but I am starting to.  She does have some serious issues (don’t we all), but I have to admit, she does have an endearing side to her as well.  And for the most part, I think that many people fall into this category—although their issues might not be as extreme as some of the ones that she suffers from.

            It used to bother me greatly when others who knew her in some form or fashion would declare how nice she was.  Nice people don’t do the things she has done I would reason.  Therefore I made it my mission to educate people about her actual lack of niceness.  In my mind she didn’t have a nice bone in her body—she was the epitome of evil.  Truth had to be stranger than fiction because some of the things she has done to us can only be described as downright bizarre, morbid, and creepy. Instantly I placed her in the “crazy lady” category. 

After rereading the poem I realized that I might benefit from taking a closer look at my own thoughts.  It wasn’t because I discounted what my husband and others had shared with me.  I had experienced too many of her unprovoked acts of terrorism first hand to do that.  But not everyone held the same opinion of her as we did.  That piqued my curiosity.  She had to have some amount of good in her.  Deep down I knew she did not know how to deal with her life and some of the blows she had been dealt.  Furthermore I knew that my husband was a human being with his own limitations.

            Truthfully I enjoy some of the conversations we have during our visits. Perhaps if she and I had met under other circumstances, we might have been friends.  I am sure that she does not show her “crazy” side to those she loves.  Had I been her friend, I might have even sympathized with her plight. Perhaps I would have viewed her as the victim and us as the perpetrators.  Everything looks different from varying perspectives.  People are multilayered.  Maybe that ugliness is only one layer of Eliza. 

           

Whose Idea is it Anyway?

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            A couple of weeks ago one of my girlfriends sent me an e-mail about an

upcoming event for young girls in our city.  I read over it and thought that

Kierra would benefit from attending this event.  The event falls on BM’s

weekend.  So I forwarded the e-mail to BM stating that I thought it would be

a great opportuntiy for Kierra.  I also offered to pay for the registration fees

and asked her to get back with me to let me know what she thouhgt.  BM

 never responded.

          Last weekend there was an event like the one I mentioned before for

women.  Kierra had called my husband to come over.  BM was going to this

event and wanted Kierra to go with her.  Kierra did not want to go but BM

insisted.  Kierra knew about the event for the girls and wanted to go with

my girlfirend’s daughter.  Normally we do not ask or make suggestions for

Kierra when she is with her mom.  We all have been working on Kierra’s

attitude.  She has reached teenage status and for the most part a pretty 

good kid.  Kierra has some self-esteem issues, mainly because she is small

and not as developed as most of her friends.  This event is designed to boost

the self-esteem of young ladies.  I understand that this event takes place on 

BM’s weekend and that she may have had plans for Kierra, but she could 

have been courteous enough to acknowledge the email.  BM just ignored my

email altogether.

          I guess I should not have been so surprised.  Over the years this has

happened quite a bit.  I’ll have a conversation with Kierra about taking her

somewhere and through her excitement she may mention what I planned 

to do with her.  Shortly thereafter BM would have taken her before I could 

ever get the chance.  Or I might make a suggestion and BM would come up 

with an absurd reason why Kierra could not participate.  Then three 

months later she “comes up” with this bright idea, the same one that I had

mentioned to her before.  It’s really nerve wracking.

          How many of you have seen the movie Stepmom?  Do you recall the

scene where Isabel (Julia Roberts) asked Jackie, BM (Susan Sarandon) if she

could take Anna (SD) to a concert on a school night?  Jackie belittled Isabel

for even suggesting such a thing.  On the evening of the concert, Isabel

dropped the kids off only to learn that Jackie was taking Anna to the same

concert.  Then she laughed in Isabel’s face and thanked her for the idea. 

HOW RUDE!!!  Isabel was on the verge of tears.  I have felt this way far too

many times when BM has done the same to me.

   

If Possible…

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I have been trying diligently to have a cordial relationship with Eliza. Why?  Even I ask myself this.  Her antics over the years have truly tested our marriage. And not that I was the damsel in distress in need of rescuing, because I was always willing to spar with her.  And in my opinion all my reactions were, well reactive (the DHX has a very thought provoking quote about this). Is it because I want to make the impossible possible?  Or I am extremely tired of the animosity? Do I want to be at peace with self and world?  Do I want to befriend the enemy?

I have tried fighting fire with fire, killing her with kindness, and ignoring her. But I found that the best approach is to do what I am comfortable doing and that is being me.  I am kind, loving, genuine, confident, compassionate, and strong.  This is what I want to share with her.  The little voice in my head says that she doesn’t deserve it.  This little voice then recalls all of the things that she has done to us. But so what? I am not always the nicest person. And sometimes I don’t “deserve” kindness.  Nevertheless, that is when I need it the most.

I, too, want the kids to be comfortable.  I get along swell with the little one; he loves me, and this I know.  Though with Ethan, I’m not so sure. Our family poses such a catch -22 for him.  I haven’t done anything in particular for him to dislike me, yet loving me would probably feel like he is betraying his mom. I can see this dilemma in his eyes. I guess that is the real reason I try so hard to keep things civil between she and I.  I don’t want him to have to feel that way. I know that our past has created this burden for him. I just want to do anything that I can to keep their tender hearts from bleeding, so I use Romans 12:18 as my personal mantra if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

Life in The Village

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Over the last couple of years I have grown to realize that the no doubt clichéd African proverb it takes a village to raise a child is quite true.  I think parents in general are very territorial and protective of their offspring, much like our animal friends.  Because we grow, birth, and bond with our children, we assume that they belong to us, and only us. Sometimes we are reluctant to share our kids with others, sometimes the other parent even.  It is almost like asking a three year-old to share their favorite toy. 

Growing up I had one toy that topped all others.  I vividly remember my Cabbage Patch doll, Adah Marie.  I would comb her hair until it gleamed, change her clothes at least three times a day, and keep her impeccably clean.  I even put lotion on her chocolate-colored face.  Adah was the one gift that I never shared— for who else would treat her like I did?  She was my most prized possession.

When I became a parent, it was not much different. I didn’t want too many people holding my son, fearing that they would drop him, handle him too roughly, or pass their germs to him.  I even made an excuse when my aunt asked to keep him so I could get some much needed sleep.  I could not bear being without him for a few hours. He was my living, breathing Adah.

As he grew older I slowly began to lessen my eagle grip.  It didn’t mean that he wasn’t mine anymore.  It just meant that others could be apart of his life, too.  His circle was widening as was my perception.  I had learned to share.

I came to see that everyone played a role in his life.  I had to build trust that others would care for my son, perhaps not the way I would, but adequately enough.  There would be no way that I could prevent him being in the presence of others and possibly being influenced.  I could only hope that the majority of his encounters would be positive interactions.

  His circle grew to include people such as teachers, dentists, doctors, babysitters, and coaches to name a few.  While I can meet his educational needs through home schooling–I don’t know how to fill cavities or diagnosis health problems.  I can’t take him every where I go or teach him how to make a defensive play. But I do know that I need every single one of these people for the wellbeing of my son.

            So when I received an Easter card from Eliza thanking me for relaying a message to her from “our sons,” I was dumbfounded. It was quite a generous gesture on her part—especially considering that she is the “mama bear.”  Her words acknowledged the important role that I play in the life of her sons.  I was the stranger in the village who had finally been recognized for my contributions.

What’s In a Name?

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            Ommy—a strange word I know.  In case any of you readers are wondering, this is not what my step sons call me.  They call me Morocco, as I believe they should.  Actually Ommy is how I think of myself.  I am not their Mommy, but for all practical purposes, I am their “other” mommy.  In the wake of her absence I am the one who prepares meals, does laundry, signs permission slips, attend parent conferences, helps with homework, mediate arguments, prepare snacks, dispense medicine, buy gifts, host parties, arrange outings, plan vacations, assign chores, chastise, share stories, and all of the other chores that mommies do that I am probably forgetting. 

            Occasionally I fantasize about them calling me something other than my first name.  I’ve pondered the possibilities and decided Ms. Morocco is too stiff and formal, Mo too casual, Rocco too boyish Mom—to untrue, but Ommy sounds just right.  But most of the time I have no qualms about them addressing me as Morocco. It makes me feel proud when the little one, Evan, introduces me to others as his mom.  Although his teacher and the rest of the school staff know that technically I am just his step mom, they always refer to me as Evan’s mom.   I know that I will have this job for many years to come.

I use to feel obligated to correct strangers when they automatically assumed that I was Mom.  I did this out of deference to their Mom.  Plus, I didn’t want to offend my twelve-year-old step son because he is a Momma’s boy.  Simply put I didn’t want him to think that I was trying to take her place.  And if I didn’t correct people, I felt fraudulent.   It was like I was masquerading around in a “Mommy” costume.

 But after awhile, I stopped.  It became too tiresome to notify every stranger that we came into contact with.  I was constantly saying, actually I’m not their Mom, I’m their Step Mom.  My husband was the one who reminded me that it was okay to take some credit.  In his eyes I had earned it.