The trouble with being a step-parent

May 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

I am lost for a place to write at the moment. I am between journals, between online blogs, have no real sense of urgency (nor desire) to write and, what has surprised me the most, is no great apparent need to write. I had always envisaged my heart, mind and soul getting sucked into some great big black hole should I ever stop writing, like when the alien Queen in Alien 3 (or whichever version it was) gets her whole body sucked out into space through a one inch hole in the spaceship. Alas, life fails to meet my dramatic expectations once again and I am surprised and almost… annoyed (?) to discover that my life has not failed without writing, that I have not crumpled into a magnificent heap on the floor, that I have not suffered some staggering emotional breakdown after failing to produce any half decent writing in almost twelve months. Life goes on without me; my own included apparently.

What I realised this evening (and what has spurred this latest attempt at self communication) is that, well… it’s hard to articulate, but it was all about change. Some things have changed quite a bit in the last twelve months. Others have not. Not at all. Not a single bit. Not even partially. Not. At. All. Well, no, come on, that’s me being overly dramatic again. Most things have partially changed, even only slightly. But this – and YES, this is going to sound like a broken record so if you don’t like it, don’t read it! – this whole children thing, maaan this is still taking some getting used to.

I think people who either have their own kids or have no kids at all truly fail to understand the enormity of this life change. I could almost say that it’s a fact that anyone who is not a step-parent does not understand how this feels and what it is like. When Adam and I talk about it, we usually end up arguing. And I cannot bear to argue about his kids, so we don’t talk about it, so I don’t raise it to begin with and for me not to raise it in a conversation or have it spill out of me in a verbal sense then it usually means I have to eradicate it completely from my mind all together. I have only just realised this evening that I’ve been doing a really good job of that for the last few months without even consciously thinking about it – until tonight. I have two friends who are in similar situations to me and my “family” and I know that they both understand the madness going on inside my head at times. The first friend is so, so much less selfish than I am (and almost to her detriment) and she is far more willing and capable of being the most wonderful and loving step-parent she can be. The second friend is much more rational, level-headed and reasonable than I am (plus she only sees the kids for a few hours once a week at the moment). Every time I am having a major issue I know she will either totally back me or gently put things into perspective for me. Many times I have walked away with better understanding or a reason or a purpose after gushing to her about my latest drama.

The latest is not so much a drama, just one of those otherwise totally insignificant moments that just gets up and smacks you in the head for no apparent reason, so much so that you go, ‘WTF, what was that for??’ and then a moment later you get it and you go, ‘ohh….. OHHHHH.’ So anyway. Adam and I had a lovely, lovely day together today. We had the kids last night but they were sent to their mother’s house early this morning and the peace and quiet after they were out of my bedroom was… well, totally blissful. For anyone who missed the status update earlier, my morning was spent in a sun-flooded bedroom with my naked partner while we lazily shared the Sunday Times and cups of tea and the massive goose & duck feather doona on our bed. We had a cooked breakfast in the backyard and then went back to bed for a bit – because we could :). Eventually we got up again and drove into Kings Park, did Jacobs Ladder (once and only once) and then went for a walk through Kings Park and a meander through the gift shop next to Frasers (a-m-a-z-i-n-g shop by the way, even for locals). Then we came home and tinkered with the cars for a couple of hours, eating cheese on toast in between, and once the sun went down we retired inside with two glasses of incredible Three Hills 2005 shiraz and the local newspapers at the dining table. A little while after we started preparing dinner – gyoza (steamed pork dumplings) and stir fried veg – with Miles Davis in the background and an otherwise quiet, clean and very, very peaceful house.

You see where I’m going with this?

8pm. The kids arrive. Adam’s ex-wife’s voice rattles through the front of the house to where I am standing in the kitchen about to start stir-frying. I had hoped it was going to be a drop-and-run but apparently there is conversation to be had, always something to talk about it and it’s always loud and too fast. For no apparent reason her voice grates on me this evening and it annoys me immensely that she is even here, that I have to hear her ridiculous voice right at that very moment when I was having such a wonderful evening. A voice inside my head gets up on its high horse and takes in a deep breath to start arguing her cause against me but I don’t need to hear it; I’ve heard it all before and this is not about comparison. This is me having a moment in my own home and it doesn’t need to be justified, it doesn’t need to be fair, it’s just how I feel at the time and that’s all there is to it.

So I flick the vegies into the wok and they hiss and spit satisfyingly as I toss them around. Kids enter and little Miss is wearing new pyjamas that say “I Love Justin Bieber” on them. They are ridiculous and I can’t believe she is wearing them, however she is thrilled to bits so I pretend they are gorgeous. I hate the forced-ness of it all and the falsehood adds to the cheese grating that the ex-wife’s voice is doing to me. I am half listening to her conversation with Adam and half paying attention to the high-maintenance vegies in the wok in front of me. Suddenly the TV is on. There is noise, inane babble about dinner and goodness knows what else which I am trying to ignore in addition to the TV noise, and I am meanwhile extremely annoyed that my Miles Davis has been overturned so I grudgingly turn off the music. I serve dinner and Adam wants to eat in front of the TV – my biggest pet hate. Sure, I say. So I sit at the table and eat dinner by myself while MasterChef bubbles away in the background (I loathe no other TV show like it).

In the space of minutes my environment, my whole sense of self and my relaxed and peaceful state of mind is out the window. My insides are grated with the ex-wife’s voice. The TV is on for the first time during the entire day (without anyone asking, of course). I am surrounded by children – and sneezing, sniffling ones no less! And I am sitting by myself at the dinner table. Resentment doesn’t come creeping in, or oozing in – it floods, like a tidal wave or Japanese tsunami. I feel bitter, highly annoyed and extremely, extremely resentful. MY NIGHT HAS BEEN RUINED.

Of course it hasn’t, and I am well aware of my dramatic tendencies, but that’s what it feels like when one minute you have a peaceful, quiet home to yourself and the very next minute you have two children and an ex-wife in your house. The change in environment, in atmosphere, in my emotional stability… it’s like a light-switch being flicked. It is immediate and personally invasive and these are the feelings that are unique to step-parents in this situation.

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