Category Archives: Step-parenting

1000 paper cranes

My 17-year-old stepson, Frizz, is intent on folding 1,000 paper cranes.  This means there are paper cranes of all sizes showing up all around the house, increasing in numbers day by day.  The first day was cute.  He carefully placed a large crane on our dinner table, followed by cranes decreasing in size – like a little paper crane train.  Then a few more appeared in the living room, folded in bright construction paper.  Soon the little train on the table grew to include their extended family.

Every day Frizz has continued his folding adventure at his desk in his room.  And I wonder two things – what the heck are we going to do with 1,000 paper cranes, and when is the kid going to get a girlfriend?

My Week Without Kids

This article publishes in the Press Democrat on August 10th.

The kids are visiting their dad this week. As a result, the house is strangely quiet. The TV, which is usually blaring with bright pictures and loud voices from attention seeking sitcoms, has been off for days. And the Internet speed is curiously faster without video games tying up the bandwidth. The living room is free of clutter, and the food in the kitchen is intact for much longer than usual. In fact, our food bill this week was much lower than usual, and it’s been really nice to cook for two rather than five. Our calendar is looking pretty bare this week, and the cash in my wallet is staying put instead of being handed over to kids who need new clothing, a soda from the store, money for half-done chores, or whatever their fancy of the moment happens to be.

I was asked recently if I missed my kids. Without hesitating, I said absolutely not. It was only after I said it that I realized maybe I shouldn’t have been so enthusiastically quick in my response. I love my kids. I love that I have them with me the majority of the time. But after a long summer of bored teenagers taking over the house, I love that they are at their other parent’s house for 7 glorious days.

It’s been a really long summer. My son, Taz, has taken to video game marathons while I’m away at work. Despite the sunshine outside, his comfort level takes place in his darkened bedroom, chatting away with friends on his headset. When he’s not doing that, his butt is planted on the couch watching TV. Dirty dishes are piling up in his room even though he’s been told food doesn’t belong anywhere but in the kitchen. When I come home from work, he’s usually back upstairs in his room, talking loudly into his headset while his friends shout back through the television. Meanwhile, the downstairs TV is still on with whatever kids show he was watching earlier, the living room totally destroyed and the kitchen showing blatant signs of whatever he ate that day through the food on the counter and the garbage on the floor.

But the noise from my son is overruled by the pounding beat coming from upstairs. Frizz, my stepson, has taken to listening to club music at extremely loud levels at all hours of the day. From the moment he wakes up at 2 pm till late in the evening, all that can be heard throughout the house is bump, bump, bump, bump. I’d like to strangle whoever thought it was an excellent idea to buy a teenager a sub woofer for his tiny room. While we are at work, Taz and Frizz compete with each other as they try to hear their own sounds above the others. The other day, Taz’s TV was on full blast, as was Frizz’s pounding music. This was what I got to come home to. The kicker was that Frizz was also wearing earplugs to drown out the noise. Tired of sounding like an ancient broken record about keeping the noise at a level that is respectful towards everyone living there (just writing that out makes me realize what an old fogey I’ve become), I fought the noise in the most mature way I could muster. I figured out just how loudly the downstairs surround sound could play my personal mix of Coldplay music. Apparently pretty loud – at least loud enough to drown out all the other music.

In the midst of all this is my daughter DQ, who is suddenly very much in puppy love with a boy who lives near us, and wants to spend every waking moment with him. Take a hormonal 14-year old girl, add in a 14-year old hormonal boy, factor in the summer break right before entering high school when both have a lot of free time on their hands, and mix it all together. The sum of this equation supersedes any stress that videogame marathons and subwoofer competitions can induce by about a million.

So when it came time to drive my kids several hours away to stay with their father for 7 whole days, I couldn’t throw their stuff in my car fast enough.

In the time they have been gone, I have enjoyed a few lazy days by the pool with a magazine in my lap and a cold drink within arm’s reach. I have gone to bed early every night, and woken up refreshingly early every morning. Mr. W and I have even enjoyed a couple nights out on the town.

In a few days, my kid-free staycation will be over. By then, I will be ready to take back the reins. But until then, I think I will enjoy this brief interlude from motherhood while it lasts.

If I were queen

I was trying to describe my stepson to my counselor the other day in a way he could understand my frustration.

“Everything he does is an act of protest,” I told him, describing how Frizz hadn’t cut his hair in 9 months, played music at ear-splitting levels, preferred his falling-apart shoes over anything new his father bought him, and locked himself in his room rather than joining in with the family. But the counselor wasn’t understanding. Each level of defiance I shared was met with a murmur of approval, as if he were impressed with how Frizz chose to fight us.

“And then there’s his Wiki-education,” I complained. I told the counselor how Frizz spent time researching half-truths on the internet, treating the world like one big conspiracy theory while simultaneously contradicting actual proven facts, and sometimes even himself.

“Fish is dirty,” Frizz had told me one evening as I laid a beautifully cooked piece of salmon in front of him for dinner. Because his appetite is huge, I had given him the biggest portion. Instead of thanking me, he described all the studies he’d come across that said fish live in polluted water, therefore absorbing every bit of bacteria they swim in – bacteria we were now eating. He swore all this was true, even after we told him this particular fish was farmed and not wild, so it wasn’t anywhere near polluted water. The previous week his arguments had been against toothpaste because it contained fluoride and was poisoning us. And when he abandoned his perfectly cooked fish to search the fridge for something different to eat, I had to refrain from smothering the fish with toothpaste and shoving the damn thing down his throat.

Instead, I pointed out all the foods he was willing to eat that could also be considered dirty – like genetically modified foods or all the questionable ingredients that existed in the convenience food he scarfed down on a regular basis. I thought this might defuse the situation, secretly pleased he was now eating the salmon since making something else proved too difficult. Instead, he argued against every point I gave him because at 16 years old he knew way more than I ever could in my mere 34 years.

I added strangling to my list of things to refrain from.

However, I didn’t refrain from snapping, telling him off for acting like he was the only one who could be right in his routine game of one-sided debate. That was the reason I gave him, but inside it was because my feelings were hurt when he insulted my dinner.

It had been the first time I’d ever called him on his shit, and I told the counselor how I felt it showed progress in our comfort level with each other. I got a tiny bit of satisfaction when the counselor validated my hurt feelings and agreed that Frizz’ behavior was rude. But it was temporary because he didn’t agree with my definition of progress.

“How would you have handled that if Taz had acted that way?” he asked me.

“I would have taken his plate away and told him he didn’t have to eat it, but there was nothing else he could eat either,” I admitted.

“So why didn’t you do that with Frizz?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

And once again we were describing power struggles.

I recognize the lack of power in Frizz’ life. In 4 years, the kid’s parents have split up, his mom moved from this house and into the house of another man, his father started dating and ended up in a serious relationship with me, he went from an only child to sharing his house and status with two other kids, he gained a step-mom, and add to that the pains of growing into his teenage years and preparing for college.

The kid is going to grab at the reins every chance he gets. Hell, I would too.

And honestly, most of his actions of protest has been directed at his parents and not me. For the most part, Frizz and I have a mutual respect for each other and he’s generally kind to me. But the strength in his stubbornness scares the shit out of me, causing me to react defensively instead of proactively whenever he directs his protest at me. I can’t just be frank with him, blunt in my expectations like I can with my own kids, because it still feels like there’s a need to walk on eggshells around him.

I didn’t really want to talk about power struggles or how I could change my tactics to not be so passionate in my response. What I really wanted was for the counselor to help me learn how to force Frizz to conform and join the family. It was a very mature and realistic way of thinking. And I weakly kept tattling on all the ways Frizz was totally difficult.

Of course, it all lead back to power struggles.

Next session, Mr. W and I go in together to learn how to parent our blended family as a united front and avoid power struggles with the all the kids. Me? I’m holding my breath until then to keep from strongholding any child who doesn’t do it my way.