My Modern Familia

Modern Family

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One of my favorite shows on television is Modern Family.  I enjoy the fact that the family on TV is not your traditional family, just like mine.  We are  a modern family too…a modern blended family….yours, mine, his, hers, and ours.  My family seems to have a lot of similarities with Phil, Claire and the rest of the familia Dunfee. My husband Juan could be Phil’s twin when it comes to his love for the IPad, and Claire and I seem to have the control freak connection going on. Not to mention the way the teen and tween sisters relate to each other and our own girls, Olivia and Erica’s love/hate relationship. Our kids seem to appreciate the similarity because we all usually  enjoy watching the show together, except for Wednesday night’s episode.

For those of you who don’t watch the show, or haven’t yet sat down to watch your DVR version, here is your SPOILER alert.

Wednesday night’s episode involved the three kids surprising Phil and Claire with breakfast in bed in celebration of their parents’ wedding anniversary.  Phil and Claire are also celebrating their wedding anniversary in bed, but they were not sleeping, if you know what I mean. The sight of Phil and Claire frantically grabbing at the sheets and the kids dropping the breakfast tray as they shrieked in horror at the sight of their parents, had Juan and I laughing out loud.

Juan and I thought the episode was hilarious. Erica, on the other hand was, well, mortified. She just sat there, shrinking into her chair, trying to make herself invisible.  When we realized that the awkward noises in the room were coming from Erica, who was squirming in embarrassment, Juan couldn’t resist. He made all kinds of remarks, which made Erica more uncomfortable, then he tried to reassure her with this exchange:

J:   Don’t worry, this could never happen in our house because Diana and I never have sex.

Me:   Nope. Never.

Erica:   Thank God.

J:   And I haven’t had sex with your mother in over 10 years.  Don’t worry, we only did it twice. (Chuckle)

Erica:    DAD!!!!

Me:   HeeeeHeeeHeeee!

Erica left the room in embarrassment. Now, we are not prudes and sex is not taboo in our house, but to a nearly 13 year-old girl, the last thing she cares to talk about with her older than old parents is SEX! The next day when Nico and Erica came home from school, Nico, who hadn’t seen the episode, was talking about the show. He said episode was the talk of the 7th grade. Nico asked to see the episode which has been lovingly preserved on our DVR. Erica ran from the room. Juan and I stopped what we were doing, sat down to watch, and begin to torment Nico. Bwahaahaa!

Mommy Melt-Down and a Teachable Moment

One of the most important jobs I face as a mother of two boys is to help them become men. Independent, strong, sensitive, caring men, who are good, capable citizens, and can cook, clean, and do their own laundry.  One of the jobs I face as a parent in a blended family, and co-parenting with the other parents is completing and communicating the hot lunch order.

Let me explain.  Our shared full-custody with the Nico’s dad and Erica and Olivia’s mother has evolved to a week on/week off arrangement. When the kids were younger we would split the week between the two houses. Now that they are older, the kids want to stay longer periods of time at each house. Nico’s hot lunch order form is submitted to the school on my off-week. I never know if his dad has ordered it during my week. The hot lunch order for Erica falls on my week. I order it for her, and if I can remember, I email the order to Erica’s mom.  I am pretty organized but, it can sometimes feel like a Herculean task to keep the lunch orders straight.  So, on days like today when the lunch order slips through the cracks, and I am frantically trying to make breakfast, and I am making last-minute alterations on Nico’s too tight uniform pants, because he left his other ones at his Dad’s house, the atmosphere is ripe for a melt-down. A Mommy Melt-down.

Nico is a wonderful 12 year-old boy. He is loving, kind, smart and funny. He moves at his own pace, but sometimes that pace is not fast enough for me.  When, 10 minutes before we were supposed to leave the house, I realized he hadn’t gotten himself dressed, we couldn’t figure out the hot lunch order and he came back empty-handed when I asked him to get the bread out of the refrigerator, I lost it. I reverted to parenting from the 1960’s. Humiliation as a motivational tool. When Nico’s eyes filled with tears, I dug deeper. “Why are YOU crying?” Ugh. Not one of my finer parenting moments.

How many times did I hear that as a child and know that no matter how hard I tried to keep from crying, those words only turned on the water works even more. Here I was parenting in the same style I had grown up with. My parents are loving, good people. But parenting as I was growing up was  different from today. I don’t even think they used “parenting” as a verb. I think it was called disciplining. Haven’t you seen Mad Men? So, in this New Year, where I try to have more compassion, faulting him for his tears, not living up to my expectations, isn’t exactly compassionate is it? How can I expect him to always remember the hot lunch order or his uniform, when I  have trouble in the shifting between two households? If he can’t find his way around the kitchen, and assert some self-sufficiency, whose fault is that? Mine. (Well, his Dad’s too.)

I need to do a better job.  When I am in the kitchen cooking, he can help.  And if the uniform pants don’t come back from his Dad’s or the hot lunch order isn’t communicated, I need to help Nico figure out what to do to fix it. Sure I can take it on myself, but then I am not doing my job either because I fail to teach him to do things for himself.  I will be setting myself up for another mommy melt-down when he doesn’t behave like the self-sufficient, independent young man I expect him to be but have failed to help him become.

Tonight, I will sit down with Nico and tell him I’m sorry for this morning’s meltdown. I will tell him I love him and what I expect of him.  I don’t think this would have been part of the 60’s era parenting style, but it’s a new era, and for me personally it’s a new year, a year in which I try to live out compassion in all that I do.

Anxious Advent

An Advent candle burning on the fourth day of ...

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Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. I grew up Catholic and heard about Advent in church on Sundays but I never really understood it, until I became Episcopalian. I gained a better understanding of the liturgical calendar and now understand that Advent is the beginning of the church year. It is also a time, when we as Christians, experience a period of waiting. Waiting for the Christ child to be born. Yesterday’s sermon distinguished the waiting in Advent as waiting in expectancy,waiting for something good to happen,  rather than waiting with anxiety. Perhaps like a child waits for Christmas morning, rather than as a traveler anxiously waits for a plane’s departure. It seems like the waiting I do is usually waiting in anxiety…waiting for the kids to hurry up and eat breakfast, get dressed so I can get them to school, waiting in traffic so I can get to the office, waiting for the elevator so I can make it to a meeting on time.  Waiting in Advent–waiting with expectancy–is a lot more appealing, however shifting gears for this type of waiting is a challenge for me.

 This season I will try to celebrate Advent and its “waiting” by practicing “stillness.”  Right. “Stillness” at any point in my working-mother-of-four-kids-in- a-blended-family-life is nearly impossible at any time of year. But in this season of gift buying, party planning, and hall decking, stillness takes a Christmas miracle.  Nevertheless, every year I try to practice Advent stillness with our own family ritual of candle lighting and a family meal. Each Advent I make a wreath from fresh greens. Around the wreath I place three purple candles, representing hope, peace and love. The third candle is pink, and represents joy. In the center of the wreath is a white candle, the Christ candle.  On Sunday evenings we light the weekly candle and have dinner as a family. Celebrating Advent and practicing stillness in our busy household has become  more difficult as the kids have gotten older, their schedules more demanding, and our custody arrangements more complicated.  Last night was epic Advent fail.  Erica was not home. Diego had to be at church to sing for the Advent service. No family meal. The greens for  my wreath were still in the bag.  I became anxious trying to become “still” for Advent.

As I thought about what went wrong I realized that while I was practicing Advent, I was practicing it with anxiety.  I realize I can still do the “business” of  Advent. I can make my wreath, light my candles, and prepare the family meal, but rather than doing those tasks with the anxiousness of getting it done, I can do it with the stillness in my heart, taking in the moment, with the expectancy that something good will come of it.

Freaky Friday

Have you seen this movie? It’s the Disney tale of a teenage daughter and her mother in classic parent/teen conflict who experience a body switch for a day to help them understand each other. That part about the parent and teen conflict? That is my life lately, and it is not easy to write about. The past few weeks I have posted about the fun times in my life, and called those posts “Fun Fridays.” This Friday is not fun. In fact, it’s completely not fun. 

Yet, as difficult as it is a parent trying to negotiate your way through teen drama, the Freaky Friday experience let’s me catch glimpses into my own painful experiences as a young teen. That terrible trying-to-fit-in-I-want-to-hang-with-the-popular-girls-please-cute-boy-like-me-stage.  It reminds me how it felt to go home to parents who couldn’t’ possibly understand what it meant to be in middle school and feel the peer pressure and the academic pressure to keep up. How it felt to be the only one in the universe with parents who were so strict and old-fashioned that I couldn’t wait to get out of their clutches. As I am witness to all her teen anguish it pains me to see her hurt, and yet I find it hard to overcome my own resentment and impatience at her self-centered, disrespectful behavior. It’s even more troubling for me because I am only the step-mother, and my role is limited.  I am there to support my husband, her father, in raising her. My own mothering instinct kicks in and I feel the need to discipline, and intervene so that I can maintain some degree of calm in the midst of this storm, and protect the rest of the household. 

I feel badly for her, guilty about my own feelings of impatience and anger, sad for my husband who is doing the best he can, loving her in this storm, and feeling unloved in return.  I almost wish we could have that Disney moment.  A moment filled with clarity after the parent and daughter, having  switched places and after returning to their own bodies, each gain valuable insight and a deeper appreciation for each other. But our own version of this movie has just begun.  Even though her father and I have been through our own adolescence, and we should be able to understand her, in the heat of the battle we forget what it’s like. And because, she is still weathering her own adolescence, and has yet to experience the “joys” of parenthood, she cannot understand how it feels as parents to be deemed irrelevant and considered the cause of all that is wrong in life. 

In the Disney movie the mother, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, and the teen daughter, played by Lindsey Lohan, work out their differences and you are left with the impression that they will have a good relationship. But, I fear what every parent of a teen must fear, that in real life it may not always work out so happily. Look at Lindsey’s life now? I only hope that this too shall pass and my Freaky Friday experience works out like the Disney film version.

Mischief in my Life

This is Mischief.

Like a lot of parts of my life, Mischief showed up without being part of my “plan.” I always thought that I would someday have a puppy, maybe a golden retriever or a yellow labrador.  But Mischief is neither of those breeds. In fact, we are not certain what she is, part lab, part pit bull? And she certainly wasn’t a puppy when she joined our family 7 years ago. Mischief was the loved pet of our good friends, Jenn and Tom. Actually, Mischief was Tom’s dog. Tom rescued her from the streets when she was just a puppy. When Tom married Jenn he had to find a home for Mischief because Jenn was allergic to dogs. That’s where we came in. Juan and I were just married. It was a crazy time.  We were just beginning our blended family, and I really didn’t want to add something else to the mix, especially a dog.  But Juan always wanted a dog like Mischief. So, before I knew it, we added another member to our growing family.  She has been a wonderful addition.

When we took custody of Mischief she was already an adult dog but had the playfulness of a puppy, without the destructive chewing habits. She has been gentle with all our kids, yet fierce enough to cause the UPS man to reach for his pepper spray when he comes to our door.  She has had enough energy to outlast us in games of fetch, yet she is also content to sit lazily by and watch the squirrels run across our back fence. She also has this weird habit of putting her paw in her mouth, like she is sucking her thumb.

Over the last couple of years Mischief has begun to age. She has grayed around her muzzle. She moves stiffly and constantly needs to be let outside during the middle of night. We found out she has Cushings disease which causes her to be hungry, thirsty and grow tumors. It’s not pretty, but she is not sufferring. Until lately, when she has begun having difficulty keeping her food down,and she has begun losing weight.  I am afraid the end is near. Juan will take her to the vet tomorrow to hear her prognosis. I am not sure what to expect. But then again I didn’t expect her to be a part of my life in the first place.  I guess that’s just how how life, and death, can sometimes play out. Whatever happens, I am happy to have had Mischief in my life.

Date Night With My Husband

Last week I told you about my date night without my husband. Thank you for your comments, it really was a special night for  Nico and I.  Last, night was special too because I had a chance to have a date night with my husband, Juan.

When Juan and I met and started dating we already had kids–Olivia was 5,  Erica was 3, Nico was almost 3. Between our jobs, the kids and our custody arrangements, Juan and I didn’t have the typical courtship. We dated on our “kid free” weekends and sometimes, because we worked together, were able to have lunch together during our workday.  We dated for 2 years before we got married, and once we got married,  our date nights and lunches became pretty infrequent.  Add the new baby in the mix, and  let’s just say we were pretty much settled into a routine where date nights meant getting the kids to bed, renting a movie, opening a bottle of wine, and falling asleep in front of the TV.

BUT lately, things have begun to change.  For the better.  Except of course, if you are a high school girl with her own social life.  You see, Olivia is now 15, and in my book, that is Babysitting Age.  Add to that fact,that Diego is now 6, and the other kids are pretty self-sufficient, and that means that I can leave the kids for a few hours occasionally and go out for a date with my husband.  This works out pretty well for us, except when it infringes on Olivia’s “plans,” then it doesn’t work out as well for her. Oh well….A happy husband and wife, makes a happy family life. Or something like that. Still, we try to be careful not to “burden” the kids too much with self-sufficiency, and responsibility. Ha! (Anyway, I digress, and that’s a whole other blog post.)

So last night, Juan and I enjoyed our date night and went to The Yard House where we sat at the bar, just like grown-ups, we had a drink,  and went to a movie. When we came home we said good night to Nico, kissed a sleeping Diego, and relieved Olivia from her Facebook childcare responsibilities. Then we tried to watch a recorded episode of Mad Men. That is, until I fell asleep in front of the TV.

Juan and I enjoying some adult beverages during an adult night out.

Date Night Without My Husband

Yesterday, I told you that my husband Juan took our son Diego to a sleepover at a local museum.  The girls, my step-daughters, were with their mother for the night. This is one of the challenges of having a blended family–keeping a master calendar on who’s where and which parent are they with. We have been at it for nearly 8 years now so we have our routine worked out, but it can become quite hectic when the other parents travel and we get off schedule, which happened this weekend. And which is why I happened to find myself alone with my 12 year-old son Nico on a Friday night.

One of the things I struggled with in my decision to remarry, was how it was going to affect my son. Nico was barely 2 years old when his dad and I divorced. For the next three years it was just Nico and I. And while the divorce was painful, and I struggled to make it as a single working mom and, Nico was the brightest spot in my life.  We did everything together. I got to a point where I felt really comfortable in my role as a single mom. Nico was my best date.

And then I met Juan. We dated, fell in love and decided to get married. Nico got two sisters in the deal and later his brother.  With each change to our family we talked about it. He is such a low-key kid, I have always been concerned that as our family grew and life became more hectic, Nico would fall off the radar.  When Nico was 6 years-old Diego was born. He was concerned that Diego would not be his brother. Erica had explained to him that because he and Diego did not have the same father, they would only be half-brothers. I assured him that yes, would be brothers. Today, they are not only brothers, but wonderful friends. Nico and his sisters also have a special bond, especially with Erica, since they are in the same grade, at the same school. So in this Brady Bunch type household, it’s rare that I can carve out an opportunity to recreate one-on-one time for Nico and I.

Nico noticed it too. A few days before he learned that we would be alone on Friday night. He told me, “Wow Mommy! (I love that he still calls me that.) We haven’t been alone since Juan took the girls to the Father/Daughter Dance, before Diego was born. What are we going to do?”  This night called for something special. We talked about what we wanted to do and of course, ice cream was at the top of his list. And a movie. We had a wonderful time.  He is a pre-teen, so I don’t know how much longer he’ll want to  go out with his mom for a movie and ice cream.  But for now, I’m happy to be his best date.

Nico and I on wedding day.