Fear of a(n Evil) Stepfather

by Carolyn Edgar

My teenage daughter often stops by my office for brief visits. During one of her recent visits, I found myself telling her about one of the couples I follow on Twitter, who are planning their wedding. 

“Ugh, I guess, whatever,” she said, or words to that effect. “I mean, I just don’t see the point in getting married.” 

This isn’t the first time she’s expressed those feelings. I understand why. During the time her father and I were together, we didn’t exactly model marital bliss. What she said next, though, shocked me. 

“I hope you and ____________ [my current boyfriend] never get married.” 

My kids get along great with my boyfriend. He likes them, and they like him. He does “guy stuff” with my son, like wrestling and playing basketball, that I can’t do or have no interest in doing. My boyfriend talks to my son about all those “guy” things my son no longer wants to share with Mom (although my son uses me as a sounding board for the advice he has gotten from my boyfriend). My daughter says he’s “cool,” and he gets extra cool points for treating me well. 

But I have only been seeing my current boyfriend for less than a year. We’ve talked about marriage – as a concept, as an institution – plenty of times, but we’ve never discussed the idea of getting married to each other. So the fact that my daughter brought up the subject of us getting married seems a little odd to me. I guess it’s the influence of movies – in the movies, two people who get along and care for each other in a romantic relationship, are by definition head over heels in love and destined for the altar. 

My daughter’s comments were even more pointed than, “I hope you don’t get married.” When I asked why she hoped ___________ and I never get married, she said,

“I don’t want a stepfather.” 

The kids are 100% in agreement on this “no stepfather” thing. A few months earlier, my son told my boyfriend that his Mom didn’t need another husband. “It didn’t work out so well the first time,” my son said. 

My boyfriend and I concluded “don’t marry my Mom” was my son’s way of warning, “Don’t hurt my Mom.”  Later, I asked, and my son confirmed “don’t hurt my Mom” was what he meant. Judging from my daughter’s remarks on the subject, it sounds like she and her brother have talked and agreed that one father – even if they don’t see him very much – is enough.

In the abstract, it’s easy to understand why a stepfather would be undesirable. In literature and movies, and especially on TV news, stepfathers are violent, cruel, and abusive. The evil stepfather is almost as common a trope as the wicked stepmother.

But it is still hard for me to comprehend why the thought of my marrying this particular man – someone who is not violent, not cruel, not abusive – is so scary to them. 

“It would change things,” my daughter said. “My attitude towards him would change.”

I could see from her facial expression that the very idea of it was upsetting her. There was no point in continuing the conversation, especially since it’s not even a possibility at this point.

“No need to worry about that, since it’s not something we’re considering,” I told her. “If we ever need to, we’ll talk about it again.”

 “Ugh,” was all she said in response, making sure she got the last word – or noise – in.

Original to CocoaMamas

Childhood Independence and Child Murder

A few weeks ago, my son asked for permission to walk around the neighborhood by himself.

When pressed for details about where he wanted to go, he couldn’t state his planned route, and couldn’t name the streets and avenues he would be walking.  I encouraged him to lower his sights from taking a stroll around the block to just walking to the corner, crossing the street by himself, going to the next corner, and coming back home.

Even this abbreviated route gave me pause. I live in a very busy section of Harlem. My teenage daughter goes out alone with her friends, but my son, at 10, is not nearly as street-savvy as she is.

But I let my son go on his excursion. The joy on his face when he returned, safely, was palpable.

“I did it!” he shouted.

The illusion of independence fell with the news of Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Brooklyn child who was murdered and dismembered by a stranger the first time his parents let him walk home alone from summer camp. My son greeted me with the news when I came home from work:

“Mommy, a boy my age was taken and killed.”

My son knew all the details of the case. He even compared it to the case of Etan Patz. A family friend, Lisa Cohen, wrote the book After Etan, about the abduction and murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York City in the 1970s. My son learned of the Patz case through Cohen’s book. Two cases, a generation apart, sharing eerily similar details.

My son made the connection.

“Guess I can’t go out by myself anymore,” he said.

My son is two years older than Kletzky and four years older than Patz, but he sees the two little boys as “his age.” As a mom, it’s hard not to hear a story about an abducted and murdered child and not think of your own.

Cohen wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News, in which she encouraged parents not to change their parenting solely because of the Kletzky case. Because I know Cohen not just as a writer and filmmaker, but as a caring mom, I spent a few days thinking about her op-ed. I thought about how scary news stories about child murder help parents explain “stranger danger” and many other evils.

When I was in middle school, an old perv in the apartment across the street from my bus stop would shake his penis out his front window at us schoolgirls waiting for the morning bus. We told our parents, and for a few weeks, our dads waited with us for the bus. But we had to keep taking the bus to school. We had to learn how to deal with it – and to stop looking.

And so I decided Cohen was right. Kletzky’s death, though tragic, was no reason to stop letting my son go out alone in the neighborhood. I talked to my son about not living in fear. But I also decided he needed to know his surroundings better.

Now, I make him listen to and repeat subway announcements. I point out to him the subway express and local stops. I grill him on neighborhood landmarks. I have told him how to know when he is facing north (uptown) and south (downtown).

Recently, I let him go to the neighborhood drugstore by himself. I made sure  he knew what to buy, reminded him to count his change, and gave him responses to some basic “what to do if” scenarios. I was nervous until he came back safely, with correct change and no horrible experiences to report.

It’s too soon to let him go completely. He admits he’s not ready to take public transportation by himself. We have time to prepare.

The best we can do as parents is arm our children with information and the tools to develop good judgment. We have to teach them to be responsible, and ready them for independence. We can’t always protect them from the consequences of their choices.

And we can’t destroy ourselves with guilt if the bad thing we are afraid might happen, actually does happen.

Hair Weaves For Little Girls

I don’t know if it rises to the level of an epidemic, but lately I’ve seen a number of little girls – as in, girls under the age of 12 – wearing hair weaves, wigs and lacefronts.

As black women, our hair issues begin at birth. We black mothers study our girls’ hair texture, waiting to see if those fine baby curls are going to “nap up.” Some of us start putting that baby hair into plaits, cornrows and ponytails as soon as our baby girls are able to sit up. If there’s not enough hair to comb, we brush it as best we can and put a headband on our girls’ heads, so everyone will know the baby is a girl and not a boy (strangers still get it confused, though).

I didn’t really know how to take care of a girl’s hair when my daughter was born. My mother did my hair until I graduated from high school. Although I didn’t relax my hair until law school, I wore it pressed from age 12. I had decided my girl’s hair would stay natural, but I had no idea how to style natural hair.

I was lucky to find a wonderful babysitter, a Mexican woman who taught herself how to care for my daughter’s hair. She styled my daughter’s hair in elaborate beaded cornrows and two-strand twists. Even after my daughter started school and we no longer needed her babysitting services, our former nanny still styled my daughter’s hair.

It never occurred to me to consider letting my daughter wear her hair out, loose, free. I was brought up that only white girls and girls with a certain hair texture – what we used to call “good hair” – could wear their hair out all the time. I shunned the term “good hair” but was still trapped in its mindset. I believed not combing my daughter’s hair would result in it getting tangled, matted, and eventually falling out.

I said complimentary things to my girl about her hair. I told her how wonderfully thick and curly her hair was and how much she should admire it. I bought all the right books and said all the right things to combat my girl’s jealous feelings towards classmates whose blonde and brunette locks swung down their backs. But my actions spoke to a different belief – that her hair wasn’t the right texture.

My daughter and I began having hair battles. I kept her hair washed, conditioned, combed and braided, but I could no longer fit trips to the nanny into our schedule, and I didn’t know enough cute natural hairstyles.

I gave up and took her to the African braiding shop. I thought I’d found the answer to all my prayers. Their cornrows were so perfect! Even without extension hair braided in, the style would last at least two weeks. With extension hair braided in, they would last even longer.

And so we continued down that steep, slippery slope of “your hair isn’t good enough.”

Continue reading “Hair Weaves For Little Girls”

Mistakes and Blessings

Issa Mas of Single Mama NYC got many of us single moms on Twitter thinking when she tweeted:

“Such a strange thing, to have the best thing that ever happened to you come out of the most mind-boggling mistake of your life.”

It’s a thought I’ve had often, trying to reconcile the incredible mistake that was my marriage, with the amazing blessing of the kids that came out of it. I can’t regret my marriage because I’ll never regret my kids. But I’m often torn. When I think of the moments I should have left before the moment I finally did, I’m reminded that if I had, I would have my daughter but not my son. When I think of how foolish I was to have unprotected sex with him so early in our relationship, I remind myself that my reckless choice resulted in the girl who made me into the fighter I am today.

Even now, I’m torn by how to feel about my ex-husband’s lack of involvement in our children’s lives. On the one hand, I’m relieved. When he’s around, he stirs up anger and anxiety. My son can’t stand his father, and my daughter deals with him by keeping her iPod on and tuning him out. But when he’s not around, I feel badly that there’s no parenting balance in their lives. I worry about my teenage daughter not having that relationship with her father to anchor her so she won’t seek out love from random boys and strange men. I worry that my son doesn’t have a role model to assist him with the transition from boy to tween.

Yet, despite how often I beat up on myself for not being perfect at this motherhood thing, I recognize by the only standard that matters that I’ve somehow done pretty well. That standard is – the kids truly are alright. My daughter is motivated and driven. She isn’t a high achiever because I demand that of her, but because she demands it of herself. The standards I set for her in elementary and middle school helped, but as she prepares to enter high school next year, she has an even better handle on what she needs to do to prepare herself for the next level – whatever that is for her – than I do.

My son is probably more confident than he has any business being. His self-assuredness is sometimes dangerous. As one of his teachers told me, “Randy thinks he doesn’t have to study and can just figure it out, which just doesn’t work when learning a foreign language.” Well, sometimes it does, but not consistently. Everything my son loves about himself – his bookishness, his nerdiness, his love of Harry Potter, his hatred of haircuts – makes his father uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, my son wants nothing to do with someone who can’t appreciate his greatness.

I’ve learned tenacity and the power of demanding what you want from my daughter. I’ve learned the power of self-confidence from my son. Time will tell what it is they’ve learned from me, but I know they both know how much I believe in them.

So yes, it is strange how such incredible blessings came from such a terrible mistake. And no matter how crazy it gets sometimes, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kids and Money

A few years ago, while visiting the home of a friend, I noticed a book on her kitchen counter about raising kids without a sense of entitlement.

It made sense to me that this friend would have such a book. She and her husband, both professionals, are doing well financially. I didn’t think to copy down the name of the book, because I didn’t think I’d ever find myself in their situation. I was still suffering the financial constraints of the newly divorced. “My kids know we operate on a budget,” I said to myself – and by budget, I meant we generally were living paycheck to paycheck. It never dawned on me that my kids would see our situation as anything other than a struggle.

Fast forward five years. My oldest child, my 14-year-old daughter, is now a teen. Like many teens, her tastes exceed my budget. She wants to wear designer jeans. Shopping is a hobby or a fun pastime. She also loves good food (no Mickey Ds for this kid), concerts and Broadway shows.

Nothing wrong with any of that. I raised her to have good taste. Still, there are practical limits to how much of this I can fund. Continue reading “Kids and Money”

Single Mommy Blues

It seems we mothers spend a lot of time – and ink – talking about how hard it is to be a mother.

Numerous books, parenting blogs and websites are devoted to the topic. On playgrounds and playdates, mothers huddle together and talk about how incredibly difficult this motherhood game really is.

And yet the voices of some of us mothers mostly remain unheard.

The point of this post is not to compare notes to see which moms have it worst. Mothering is hard. It’s hard whether you’re single or married, whether you’re successfully co-parenting with a cooperative ex, or doing it all by yourself, whether you have the help of a village or only the help you are able to pay for.

But I want to talk about the special hardships faced by single mothers who are doing it alone. Really alone. Without the help of a reliable spouse, co-parent, or a network of friends or family members who pitch in whenever possible.

For several years after my divorce, I sacrificed having a personal life for the sake of my kids. Weekends were consumed by soccer, gymnastics, baseball, softball, tennis, golf, ice skating – you name an activity, we probably tried it. Dating? Hah! I wasn’t ready. Focusing on the kids was a great way to avoid thinking about how badly I’d flubbed the whole “picking the right partner” thing.

I didn’t become SuperMom because I wanted to. I did it because I lacked an alternative. I live in New York City. My family is in Michigan. My ex-husband was – and is -absent and uninvolved.

I had the help I was willing to pay for. I paid full-time rates for part-time babysitters to ensure I had someone to pick the kids up from school and care for them on half-days and school holidays. The extra expense killed my budget, but my work schedule was too demanding to enable me to rely on afterschool programs.

Recently, I tried co-parenting with my ex-husband, an experiment that now seems short-lived. His last overnight visit with the kids was New Year’s weekend. He is too unreliable to keep a regular visiting schedule, and I don’t have the energy to deal with the litany of excuses.

Although single parenting would be tough even if I worked at home, my demanding executive job makes the juggling even more difficult. Plus, in addition to my day job, I do speaking enagements and lectures. I write, for this blog and others, on my own time.

I even finally started dating again.

The writing, the dating, the lecturing, and some occasional exercise are things I do for myself. But they take away from the time I spend with my kids. I can no longer devote every weekend to their activities. And I feel incredibly guilty about it.

For example: my son is a natural baseball talent. Yet I don’t have time to take him to a baseball coach to work on his skills. I don’t have time – or a good enough pitching/throwing arm – to take him to the park and help him work on his catching, fielding and hitting. I haven’t found time to have him try out for a travel team – and even if he did, I’m not sure I would be able to haul him around from game to game.

His father, who played baseball in high school, takes no interest in his son’s baseball development. I get angry about this sometimes, and then I realize being angry is futile.

Well-meaning friends tell me to stop beating up on myself. They tell me to focus on the fact that, all by myself, I have raised smart, independent thinkers who are thriving in some of New York City’s most competitive schools.

I do acknowledge my blessings. But still, I’m tired. So please forgive me for indulging in a bit of whining.

Mothering is hard for all mothers. It is especially hard for us single women who are parenting completely by ourselves. And because we’re so used to doing everything all by ourselves, we don’t ask for help easily. Or always know how to accept it graciously, without constantly thanking the person who agreed to step in for us. Or apologizing for being burdensome.

So if you know a single mom who parents by herself, maybe you can offer her a little help. If your kids are friends, maybe you can offer to pick her kid up from school and host a playdate at your house. Or you can invite her kid to a weekend playdate or sleepover. Let her be the last parent to pick up her child from the birthday party. Because whether she says it or not, she values every single moment she gets to spend by herself. But she may not feel she has the right to ask for that time.

And try not to get too annoyed when she keeps saying “thank you.”

Do Black Mothers Raise Daughters, Love Sons?

I’ve seen and heard the saying, “black mothers raise their daughters and love their sons” repeated enough to know that some people actually feel this way. Sonja Norwood, mother of Brandy and Ray-J, even weighed in on the question for Essence last year.

My 14-year-old daughter has accused me, on many occasions (usually when being denied something she wants), of liking her little brother better, or loving him more. I would be lying if I said I never treated them differently. I never thought that saying applied to me, though, because I think that I treat each of my children in accordance with their particular needs. 

But a recent conversation with a woman I know gave me pause. My friend admitted that she does more for her son than her daughter “because he needs more from me.” She asserted that her girl is more self-sufficient, more reliable than her son, even though he is older, and that her son “needs her more.”

That may be true. But is it fair?

Maybe girls are just more responsible than boys, period. My daughter is more responsible than my son, but I assumed it was mostly due to their age difference. My daughter is almost 5 years older than my son. She’ll be a freshman in high school in the fall, and he’ll just be entering 5th grade.

Truthfully, my daughter was more responsible at 10 than my son is now. For instance, at 10, my daughter started riding the public bus to school by herself. She had paid close attention to how we got from point A to point B on the buses and subways. She didn’t need instructions on how to get to school. She needed instruction on how to avoid trouble on the bus. I told her, “Sit near an older black lady, in the front. She’ll make sure nobody messes with you.”

My son, however, freaked out the one time I thought I would have to put him on the public bus to go to school. His school bus didn’t show up, and I couldn’t take him to school because I had an early morning meeting. It’s a straight shot from our house to his school on the nearest MTA bus, just as it was for my daughter. I told him all of this.

He cried.

“I’m not ready!” he shrieked. I sent him to school in a taxi instead.

Because my daughter is more responsible than her brother, I expect her to be responsible all the time. When she’s irresponsible, I get angry because “she should know better!” When my son is irresponsible, I chalk it up to his immaturity. When my daughter is petulant, whiny, tantrum-prone and defiant, I can’t stand it. When my son acts that way – well, he’s still a little boy. My daughter feels and deeply resents the difference.

My daughter says I “baby” my son and that I “forced” her to do more at his age than I force her to do. I deny it. But maybe it’s true. I admit I sometimes forget she’s still a kid. Or that I, too, can be petulant, whiny, pouty and tantrum-prone. Maybe my standards for her are a little higher than they are for him. That’s a balance I need to evaluate and correct if necesary.

I don’t think I “raise” my daughter and “love” my son. I do make distinctions between them based on their age, what I perceive to be their respective level of maturity, and their personalities. I think it would be unfair if I did anything else.

I check myself to make sure I give them equal time and affection. And as my son approaches his 10th birthday, I am giving him more responsibilities, such as household chores. He is fast approaching his teens, and I know it’s time to stop treating him like the baby of the family.

Still, I suspect there always will be an imbalance of some sort. Imbalance doesn’t have to mean unequal or unfair. The burden is on me to make sure that even if I’m not treating them the same, that I am nonetheless being fair.

Cheaters as Relationship Gurus

Popular gossip/entertainment site The YBF made a splash yesterday when it posted a YouTube video from Mary Harvey, Steve Harvey’s ex-wife, in which she talked of Harvey’s infidelity during their marriage, including his affair during their marriage with his current wife, Marjorie. The ex-Mrs. Harvey also posted a salacious letter from one of Steve Harvey’s jump-offs.

Not surprisingly, this revelation spawned comments ranging from “I knew he was a low down dirty dog! How dare he try to be some kind of relationship guru!” to “Yawn, old news, old girl needs to move on.”

It is old news, in a way. Steve has admitted his cheating ways. It was already known that his current wife was his side piece. He’s not the first nor the last man to cheat, to marry his side chick, or to say he can tell women how to avoid low down dirty dogs because he was once one himself.

Although Harvey’s relationship books are best-sellers, there are those who resent his emergence as the media’s African-American relationship expert.

Can a person with multiple divorces under his belt seriously be considered a relationship counselor? Or, as Harvey argues, should we listen because of those past failures?

In my opinion, the fact that Harvey is a (reformed) cheater neither qualifies nor disqualifies him as a relationship expert. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship has ideas and opinions about relationships, based on their own experiences. And all of those people are capable of giving both good and bad advice.

I write about being divorced, so I am often asked to write about marriage – particularly, about lessons learned. I managed to partner with and marry the one person on this planet who was incompatible with me in every single way imaginable. Apparently, this is because I am an overachiever.

The biggest lesson I learned about marriage? Don’t marry the wrong person. Or, as I said to a friend shortly after I filed for divorce, “Choose better.”

I can’t tell people how to know he’s Mr. Right, because I’m still trying to figure that out. I have some ideas on how to know you’re dating Mr. Wrong.  But I don’t claim to be the Mr. Wrong expert. One person’s Mr. Wrong is another person’s Mr. Right or Mr. Cool For Right Now.

All I know is this: you are the expert of you. No one can tell you what’s best or worst for you, except you. The only thing another person can do is provide some guidance that might help you make the right choices for yourself.

Which leads me back to Steve Harvey. The fact that he cheated on his wives and has been divorced a bunch of times doesn’t mean much to me. The advice he dispenses should be judged on its own merits.

That said, I’m not a huge fan of his relationship advice, and not because of his own relationship history. I read his book “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man.” While I do think he makes some good points – such as the importance of establishing standards for how you expect to be treated early in a relationship – I don’t care for his “men are simple” brand of relationship advice.

I don’t think men are simple. I think men are wonderfully complex human beings. Harvey says men need loyalty, support and sex. Don’t women need the same things, too?

For the record, I also think the aphorism, “why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?” is deeply flawed. It assumes sex has no value for women except as currency in trade with men.

Men and women alike should be smarter about and embracing of sex and their own sexuality, which doesn’t translate to strict “wait till the third date” rules. Other people can give you guidelines, but you have to establish your own rules about sex and intimacy.

As for Mary Harvey, the ex-Mrs. Harvey? I feel badly for her. You don’t save letters, emails, and other evidence of your ex-husband’s infidelity this many years after the divorce, if you have truly moved on. She appears to still be in a lot of pain over her husband’s betrayal of their wedding vows.

If telling her story helps her process that pain and helps other women in the process, then her revelations are a good thing. If she’s still coming from a place of bitterness and vengefulness, she will need to heal for her own sake, no matter what she writes or posts on YouTube. Only she knows what her motives are. I wish her well.

The Reluctant Co-Parents

When my ex and I divorced, one thing we spent no time at all discussing was custody and visitation.

The divorce judgment included a supervision order.  He wanted no part of supervised visitation.  So he vanished.

For the better part of three years, we heard little from and saw nothing of my ex.  I was ok with that.  I put my big girl “S” on my chest and handled my business like the Supermom I figured I had to be.  I juggled publishing parties, parent-teacher conferences, soccer games, baseball games, gymnastics and ice skating lessons for two children of different gender at different schools, often with conflicting schedules.

To manage all of this, I relied on the kindness of strangers and friends alike, but not nearly as much as I should have.  Mostly, I wore myself out.  I felt like the worst mom ever, because I was never 100% available for either child.

And then one day, my ex took me to court.  The specific relief he sought wasn’t available.  What he really wanted was to see his kids again.

I was not averse to that, in theory.  I was ready to get out of the Supermom business and back into the Carolyn business.  My life was nothing but work and the kids.  I found myself getting excited when my kids were invited to birthday parties where the parents were served wine and beer, in exchange for our staying to help out.  Drinking wine with grown-ups at kids’ birthday parties was pretty much my only adult outlet.

I found myself resenting my kids, and I knew something had to give.

We spent two years in and out of court.  Nothing was resolved.  My ex still refused to participate in supervised visits in any meaningful way.  The judge wouldn’t allow visitation until she was satisfied that the supervision order was no longer needed.  She couldn’t get that satisfaction, since he refused to participate in supervised visits.  We were at a standstill.

Meanwhile, the kids were getting older.  They were now able to speak for themselves, instead of needing a social worker to speak on their behalf.

I, too, was getting older.  And lonelier.

I finally pulled my ex aside in court one day and said, in effect, let’s just work out an arrangement, because you’re never going to get what you want here. 

Perhaps because his failure to settle the divorce had turned out to be such a poor decision, he was more willing to listen this time. 

And so two people who could barely exchange a civil word with one another, who had engaged in the stereotypical Family Court shouting matches, who had dealt with orders of protection during the marriage and divorce, and who still refused to disclose our exact addresses to each other — became co-parents.

It has been a struggle and a blessing.

My ex and our children are getting to know one another all over again.  At first it was fun, more like a mini-vacation than a regular part of life.  But when the kids asked me, on the eve of their third Weekend at Dad’s, “why are we going to Daddy’s again?” — I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey.

My ex and I never agreed, even when we were together, on house rules, strategies for discipline, or any other parenting decision.  The decision-making mostly fell to me.  So he tends to ask me what he’s allowed to do and not do, like he’s the babysitter. 

I told him recently, “I can’t micromanage your parenting.  When they’re with you, I have to trust your judgment as their father.” 

Those were the right words to say.  I’m not sure I really do trust his judgment in all cases.  But this co-parenting thing won’t work unless I allow him to parent when the kids are with him. I have no reason to think they’re in danger when they’re with him.  I need to relax and let go.

I do selfishly get to plan a social life around the weekends when he will have the kids, like most divorced couples do.  I have taken full advantage, and then some. 

I’ve felt a little guilty, like: Did I agree to co-parent with my ex just to get a break from the kids?  But then — what’s wrong with getting a break from the kids? 

The kids have told me when they really wanted/needed/preferred to spend time with me versus going with their father.  It’s a delicate balance, respecting their wishes versus preserving their father’s right to see them on a regular basis.  I’m sure I’ll get the balance wrong at times, right at others.  It’s only been three months.

My son will turn 10 this year.  Puberty is right around the corner.  There are things his father will need to tell him that I can’t (or would have to look up). 

My daughter turns 14 this year.  Her father has already had the “boys” discussion with her from, as she put it, “a boy’s perspective.”  She said it was useful hearing basically the same things I’ve been telling her, but from someone who could talk about how boys think and feel.

I’m still a fairly reluctant co-parent, but growing less reluctant with each visit.

The Least Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s four days before Christmas, and I’m in full Scrooge mode.  That is, if Samuel L. Jackson were playing Scrooge.  My dialogue with myself in my head about this time of year would make a Sam Jackson character proud.

In years past, I’ve blogged about fighting Christmas depression because I couldn’t afford a big, splashy, keeping up with the Kardashians kind of Christmas for my kids.  Last year, we were all blue because it was our first Christmas without my Mom

This year, I still miss my Mom, but my mood is attributable to  something else.  It’s partly a rejection of crass holiday commercialism.  I could afford to spend a lot this year, but I don’t want to.  It seems pointless and wasteful to blow thousands of dollars on stuff just because I can.  Even if I focus on buying things the kids ostensibly need, as opposed to want, it feels wasteful.

People have suggested focusing our energy on helping others, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen.  The last time I mentioned that idea to the kids, the resistance was overwhelming.

So no.  Not until they’re ready.

But it’s more than rejecting commercialism.  The end of each year signals a new beginning, a time to re-assess and re-group.  A time to set goals and make plans for the New Year. 

This has me feeling overwhelmed.

2009 and 2010 were filled with unexpected changes. Some were good, like dating again, and having my ex-husband resume a relationship with his kids after a four-year absence.  Some, like losing Mom in ’09, were obviously not so good. 

But all of these changes, both expected and unexpected, are permanently life-altering.  Everything requires adjustment.  You’re going along one path and then BOOM!  Life knocks you off course and upsets all your expectations. 

Radical changes create new opportunities, but also require new rules.  Change is exciting.  It’s also daunting and scary — scarier, somehow, than my divorce nearly seven years ago. 

So here I am, once again, trying to understand and figure out this next phase of my life.  How to co-parent with my ex.  What’s next for me, career-wise?  What DO I want to be when I grow up?   Relationship-wise — what do I really want?  Everything is open to re-examination.  Including  whether to remain in New York or explore other possibilities, such as living abroad.

And one thing that will be continually redefined in the coming years, especially as my kids grow older, is the meaning of Christmas.