Friday, November 30, 2012

Mothers and daughters - Part 1

People who know me know that my mom and I have a difficult relationship.  I have seen her 3 times in the pas decade, one of them recently.  I have two main reasons for not being close to her, the first is that we are just not compatible; we have very different personalities and would not hang out together if we weren’t related.  The other is that my mom, until recently, was part of a dysfunctional and abusive cycle lasting at least three generations, a cycle I have been determined to break out of.

The first thing they tell a recovering drug addict or alcoholic is to avoid the people they used to associate with who were part of the habit/problem.  For me it was the same, if I wanted to break out of the cycle, I had to stay as far away (physically and emotionally) as possible from the people still in it. 

I come from a long line of women who got pregnant young, had severe daddy issues, and who were alcoholic and/or abusive to their daughters.  A quick summary:

My great grandmother: When she was young she came to Canada with her parents, her father then abandoned the family to return to Ireland leaving them to fend for themselves. Was furious and generally horrible to her daughter when she got pregnant at 15, attempting multiple times to get her to miscarry.  She would go on to treat her daughters with contempt for « dishonoring the family »

My grandmother: Got pregnant at 15 in the 50s by a married man.  This man divorced his wife and married her.  They were both alcoholics with severe mental health issues, him a paranoid schizophrenic, and her bipolar.  The got divorced, then remarried, then divorced again. He abandoned the family twice.  She never got over it, and never got treated for her mental illness.

My mother: Left home at 15, pregnant at 19 by a man whose divorce wasn’t final and she didn’t know had been married. Both alcoholics with substance abuse and mental health issues.  They never married, and I’ve never known my parents as a couple.

All three of these women were an important part of my childhood.  My great grandmother was only in her 50s when I was born.  My great grandmother was wonderful to me; I would only realize how she treated my grandmother once I was an adult, long after her death.  My grandmother and I were never close, but I loved her and learned from her mistakes as much as I could.  My mother, well, things were harder for us.

One thing I was certain of, I would not repeat their patterns.  I did everything possible to avoid unplanned pregnancy and became the first person in that family to finish high school in the normal timeline.  I started working as soon as possible to gain as many skills as possible to avoid having to go on welfare.  When I decided to break away emotionally, I cut off contact and moved closer to my saner family.  Throughout the years, my mother and I re-attempted contact a few times, but she had never really gotten her life together, and while I had forgiven her long ago, and I understood now that she had done the best she could with what she had and that she gave me all she could, I could not have that toxic cycle in my life, and I could not clean up her messes for her or watch her destroy herself.  She understood, even though it hurt.  She was proud in a way that I had the strength to break out.

A few years ago she started therapy, and started working on her issues in earnest.  She no longer drinks the way she did, and she has her life mostly under control.  She told me that the isolation I had caused her was a good thing because it forced her to focus solely on herself.

This past year my grandmother died.  It was hard for my mom, and my grandmother had many regrets, most of them regarding my mother and I.  When she was hospitalized, we were going through some pretty heavy stuff with the kids, and I made the decision not to go see her one last time.  We had not seen each other in over a decade, and had spoken on the phone for the first time in about 8 years a few months before.  I decided that I had to take care of my present family, I made my choice.  I explained it to my mom and grandmother, and my grandmother understood and even stood up for me to any other family members who made comments about my absence.  The only thing my grandmother asked of me was to see my mom, to try again.

I talked it over with my BF and he agreed.  She could come down for a couple of days.  My mom was overjoyed at the chance, and assured me that it would not be like before.  Nonetheless I was stressed in the week leading up to it.  I even broke out in hives.  I’d be lying if I said the thought of cancelling never crossed my mind.  But I am a firm believer in second chances, especially when they are earned.  She had been working on her life for almost three years now, it was the least I could do.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012



It’s funny the oddball places that you learn important life lessons.  I learned this one in elementary school choir.  I loved choir, and eagerly skipped off to every practice to sing my little heart out.  Unfortunately, I was terrible, to the point where once I was deemed old enough to not be completely destroyed emotionally (about 8) they kindly asked my mother if she couldn’t encourage me to quit. 

This experience taught me two important life lessons.  The first was that being passionate and devoted to something does not necessarily mean you will be good at it, we all have our limitations.  The second was how to sparkle on demand.

One of the first things the choir teacher told us was that you should never smile with your mouth while singing, as it can deform the pitch and note etc., so we had to learn how to smile with our eyes, and the rest of our faces.  She would say "don’t smile, sparkle".

It may seem silly, and a completely useless thing outside of singing, but it has served me well.  I had trouble with it as a kid, so I used to practice in the mirror.  I learned how to make my face look genuinely happy on demand.  The one thing that always gives away a fake smile is that the smile is limited to the mouth, the eyes and face don’t follow.  By learning to « sparkle » I learned how to control the rest. 

The first and most frequent use of this is pictures, I often get the comment that i am photogenic, that my pictures always look so happy, so sincere.  While a lot of them are moments of sincere happiness, some are sparkle.

The second use is less frequent, but in my opinion more useful.  I am prone to depression and anxiety, and when it’s just a mild attack, I consciously sparkle.  I make my face be happy when I’m not.  Numerous studies have proven that smiling on purpose helps people with depression since your body is apparently stupid and doesn’t always know the difference.  Also, when you sparkle, people are happier to be with you, which often results in good times and real happy smiles.

I’m not saying that it’s a cure all, but when it’s just depression tapping on my door trying to find a way in, sometimes the sparkle scares it away.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Monday, November 26, 2012


I’m just going to say it…I am NOT a Christmas person.  I never really have been, even as a kid I didn’t get all excited to decorate and the Santa at the mall always gave me the creeps.  It certainly didn’t help that my first 20 were with a highly dysfunctional family or that my birthday is the day before Christmas.

Because of my birthday being so close to Christmas, I’ve only had 3 actual birthday celebrations, my first, my 8th and my 16th.  My mom’s side of the family always did their Christmas gathering the 24th, so my birthday was pretty much ignored.  The holidays were pretty much comprised of family arguments, and my mom crying.  The result of this is while I don’t go all Bah Humbug, I can’t get myself to be excited or jolly at this time of year.

Since moving closer to my family, who are all very pro-holidays, I make an effort.  I respect the fact that as much I really don’t care, other people do.  I have even gone so far as to play Santa for the kids.  My BF, well, he is pretty much the same as me, his birthday being less than a week before mine.  If it were up to us, there would be no decorations, no obligations, just time to relax. 

Last year, things were easier; we didn’t live together, so other than being present, nothing else was really required on my part.  This year we had a dilemma, do we go balls out and fake it for the kids, or do we keep it minimal and risk the kids’ disappointment.

We gave it a lot of thought, and decided that faking it would send them two wrong messages.  The first would immediately reinforce the message that Christmas is about stuff and decorations, neither of which is in our values.  We are pretty minimalist, and try to focus on people and experiences rather than stuff.  The second message would be later in life when they are old enough to realize we were faking and that would send the message that you need to conform to what society expects, again, not in our values.

So I made a small tree out of tinsel that we will use to put the gifts under, and they have made some decorations that we will put up, and we will do to all of our Christmas parties where I’m sure everything will be Christmassy and merry.  We are letting other people buy them the big consumer items they want, we are sticking to smaller, more educational or useful items.  At home it will be minimal and all about the people and time spent together.  They may find the difference between our house and their mom’s to be huge at first, but in the long term I think they will appreciate the honesty and the traditions we will start together.  At least we hope so.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Precious moments

This morning I woke up, hit the snooze button, and spent the next few minutes relishing being in bed, alone, after a great night’s sleep.  I was fully aware that i twill be my last such morning for a while, probably January at least. I love it when you are actually aware of a moment being precious and you can relish it fully.

My relishing was abruptly ended with a fat cat jumping on the bed demanding to be pet, then the other cat, wanting his share of attention too, and at that point I figured that I may as well get up.

This past week has been pretty great.  After a weekend filled with people (my mom, the kids, etc) I got to spend the whole week alone and drama free, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  Other than the required texts related to picking up the kids tonight and planning the holidays, I had no contact with the Ex.  I spent my evenings either in super productive mode, organizing everything in sight, which is hard for me to do with other people around, or in total lazy mode getting into bed at 6pm snuggled up with the cats and a good book, but the wonderful thing was that I could do what I wanted.  Other than work, I had zero obligations this week, and it was wonderful.

Tonight I pick up the kids at their mom’s, tomorrow morning I have to get up at 5:30am for SS2’s hockey practice (Which thankfully his grandpa is taking him to so though I do have to get him up and ready, I don’t have to get all 3 up and ready and at the arena).  Then the BF gets home Saturday night and the following weekend the holiday parties begin.  From then to January i twill be rushing, and planning, and logistics hell.

But this morning, that few minutes alone, in silence, it was simply wonderful.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The giving of thanks

Here in Canada, thanksgiving is in October, but hey, my mom’s side is American, so I figure, why not, one can never be too thankful right.

My new year’s resolution was to try and be more grateful for what I have, and though I am far from perfect in this regard, I think I have much improved and I almost hate to say it, but all those people who claimed you can become happier by actively being grateful, they were right.

So here is my list of things I am grateful for

·         My BF, who really is the best possible partner/teammate I could have.  He may not be perfect, but neither am I, and together we usually bring out the best in each other.

·         My friends, though we have many miles between us, they are still just a text or phone call away when I need them or they need me.  Long distance friendships are more difficult to maintain, but for these gals, it’s totally worth it.

·         My step kids, who accepted me into their lives almost immediately and have given me a new purpose in my life,.

·         My Dad’s family, because I have never regretted moving back here to be closer to them.  They are an incredible support system.

·         My sister’s family, because they too have always made me feel a part of their family, especially my sister’s mom, who even though she could have easily been jealous, or even just ignored me, has said that she loves me every time I have seen her since I was 6 and always believed in me.

·         I am thankful that my mom has finally gotten her life mostly together and that we can be a healthy and positive part of each other’s lives.

·         My BF’s family, who have become another family for me.  They have all embraced me and my role in my BF and step kids’ lives.

·         My step kids’ mom, who even though she drives me absolutely crazy as a person, I have to recognize that I wouldn’t have my wonderful step kids without her.

I didn’t really have a plan when I started this post, but I do find it interesting that all of the things I’m thankful for aren’t things, but people.  It just goes to show that money and things are very low on the list of important things in my life now.  I wouldn’t want to give up money and things mind you, but I am glad to see that my focus has shifted to what’s really important.

I just love it when you unexpectedly learn something good about yourself J

Mama’s Losin’ It

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four more years

I have to admit, at first I didn’t pay as much attention as I usually do to the US elections this year because frankly, at the beginning, it seemed like a no-brainer for me.  Of course they would choose Obama over Romney, no contest.

Then, as things went on I honestly started to get more and more worried.  While one side of me was realizing that Romney may actually have a chance at winning, the other side kept saying, no way, they can’t possibly be considering this.

I admit, Romney has his good points, much like our own Stephen Harper, he’s good with money.  As much as I dislike the Conservatives here in Canada, I have no shame in admitting that Harper was the best choice to get us through the financial crisis.  The main difference is that in Canada, we are very attached to our individual rights, and no matter how much someone in power may want to, public opinion isn’t going to let them take any rights away once we have them.  It’s just the way we are, once we have fought for and won a particular right/freedom, it’s unthinkable for us that someone would take it back.

I guess you could say that I am very Canadian, though on my mother’s side, I am first generation Canadian.  You see, my mom is American, even though she has been living in Canada for over 30 years, she is proudly American and has never gone for a change in citizenship.  Her family is from the Bible belt, and even has a few soldiers in the US army.  I grew up knowing that I always had the option of moving to the states, and of becoming American, and my uncle still tries to convince me.  Alas, I am Canadian.

I completely agree that the economy is a priority in any country, and I sure love being in a thriving economy where my work opportunities are plentiful. In politics, as in life, I am a very liberal person.  I believe that as long as you’re not intentionally harming anyone, do what you want.  I don’t presume to know what other people should or should not do with their lives, and I greatly appreciate when people accord me the same respect.    

That being said, personally, if I have the choice of having a government that is so-so with money, but will uphold my individual rights and freedoms, and a government that is great with money, but will try and intrude into my personal family life, I choose the first, no hesitation.

Maybe it’s because I believe that it’s those basic freedoms that allow for me, as a woman, to have any sort of financial say in my life.  It’s the very basic rights that previous generations had to fight for, like voting, working, access to education, and reproductive choice that have allowed me to be an independent working woman at all.  Take all of those away and we go back to being stay at home baby machines, and frankly, what does a stay at home baby machine care if the government is in a deficit or not.

They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely; I say it goes a step further, with increasing degrees of power; you get increasing degrees of corruption.  All governments are made up of many human beings, and not all human beings are immune to corruption.  This does not make them evil people necessarily, because we don’t know what led them to their corruption.   They could be power hungry greedy people by nature as easily as they could have an extreme situation in their lives that caused them to accept a bribe « just this once ».  My point is that no government is 100% free of corruption, whether that be financial, moral or another kind, and if I have to choose between a government that is going to cost me financially, or one that is going to cost me the right to choose how I live my life, the choice is an easy one for me.  That was the choice I made during our elections.

So I had a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the idea that some Americans would put money so far ahead of basic rights on the priority scale.  How could anyone, especially a woman, want to put people who believe that there are different levels of severity in something like rape.  I know that I could never consider voting for someone who straight out tells me that they know better than me what is best for my body, life and family.  How can someone who doesn’t even know me or what I’ve lived through possible be allowed to define whether or not my family is a valid one.

One of our pas Prime minister’s, Pierre Trudeau, once said « there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation", adding that "what's done in private between adults doesn't concern the Criminal Code"  He was referring to homosexuality, but I think that it pretty much sums it up.  Government is there to decide on the big issues, economy, industry, foreign policy, war, etc.  There is no place for government to decide what goes on in my home, or how my family is composed, or what I, as a responsible adult, decide to do with my body.

And I am beyond relieved that enough Americans agree, and that none of our American sisters will have to watch the rights our grandmother’s fought for get taken away.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Xylophones and mothers

Conversation a few weeks ago at my place

Me : (Hangs up cell phone) Question.
BF : What?
Me : How do you feel about Xylophones?
BF : (Looks at me puzzled) What do you mean?
Me : I mean, how do you feel about Xylophones? As in, would you like for us to have one?
BF : (still puzzled) Xylophone as in the musical instrument? What kind of Xylophone are we talking about?
Me : A six foot long wooden one.  It’s from Africa.
BF : Why are you asking me this?
Me : Because my mom wants to give us one?
BF : Why?
Me : Because she thought We’d like it.
BF : She’s going to mail a six-foot Xylophone?
Me : Of course not, she’s bringing it.  Oh, by the way, my mom’s coming to visit, you finally get to meet your mother in law.
BF : With a six foot wooden Xylophone?
Me : Yup!

And then he walked off mumbling something about genetics and it being hereditary.

A few hours later

BF : Is your mom seriously going to show up with a six foot Xylophone?
Me : Yah, why?
BF : Where are we going to put it?
Me : I dunno, but it would be rude to  refuse it.  I mean how many people would go to the trouble of lugging a 6 foot Xylophone on the bus.  Plus, I haven’t seen her in years, and it’s her way of showing she cares.
BF : With a Xylophone?
Me : A Xylophone from Africa!
BF : Did she go to Africa?
Me : Of course not, who comes back from Africa with a huge Xylophone?
BF : The same person who carries it on a bus.
Me : Don’t mock, it’s not nice.
BF : I’m not mocking, I’m confused.
Me : Do you want me to call her back and tell her we don’t want the Xylophone?
BF : No, because then I’ll be the jerk son in law who doesn’t like her gifts.
Me : Then why are we having this discussion?
BF : I give up!

So my mom’s coming to visit, possibly with a Xylophone.  I’ve seen her twice in the past decade, so I’m kind of freaking out, but not about the Xylophone.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Where we are

I must admit, the past couple of months have been pretty rough for our little family.  At one point I took a step back, realized that I while I may not be drowning; I was flailing, and decided that I needed to take action.

I went online, and started searching for resources.  I admit, I was a little disappointed by the resources available.  Most resources about being a stepmom kind of assume that you have/want kids of your own and focus on the blending of the families, which is not the case for me.  The stuff I did find, however, was pure gold.  I must admit that just the realization that I am not alone has done me as much good as the meeting with my lawyer.

A couple of articles that particularily helped were:

I also bought myself a copy of The Happy Stepmother by Rachelle Katz, and A Career Girl's Guide To Becoming A Stepmom by Jacquelyn Fletcher.  The first I chose because it was one of the 2 most recommended books I saw.  The second because when I read the description I felt it would be a good match.

I think a lot of people make one very bug mistake when it comes to self-help books, they tend to focus on book that are all the rage thinking that it must have the answers.  Me, I tend to read the descriptions (and the preview pages when possible) to see if the subjects apply to me.  There is no sense in me buying a book that spends most of its pages talking about balancing my kids with his, when I don’t have kids, or one that focuses on difficulties with the step kids when that is a non-issue for us (for now at least, I’m crossing my fingers and touching all the wood I can find on that one).

I guess you could say that most of October was spent on recon by my BF and I.  He went to see his lawyer too, as well as made calls to all of the social workers, doctors, etc. that are involved with the kids.  We both wanted as much information as possible to get a really good idea of where we stand before going any further.

All of this mostly just confirmed that we are on the right track for the most part, and that other than the babymomma drama; things can’t get much worse than they have been.  She can’t get any more child support than she currently gets (which is a lot, 40% of my BF’s net paycheck, not including the health insurance he pays for them), she can’t touch anything of mine, and as much as she may threaten and bluster, she has absolutely no grounds to prevent him seeing his kids.  This pretty much covers our worst fears, so this confirmation has really gotten rid of the huge elephant in our home.

So I guess now that we know where we are, we can start thinking about where we want to go.