Nine years ago I was a single, working girl who wore strappy high heels, visited Starbucks twice a day, had fancy salads for lunch from Bravo, and read volumes of books in my evenings under the roof of my parents’ house. (Not everything can be glamorous and I wasn’t one for the night life unless it involved a good book and a warm cup of tea whilst snuggled under my covers.)
Then I met a guy. And in the vein of being real, a year later I had his baby. Another year after that I had a second of his babies. A year and a half later, I had a third and quit my job to take care of these little rascals we kept producing. (Was it the water? I’ll never know…). Did I mention he had two children from a previous marriage? I promise it was not as Jerry Springer as it sounds and that there was a wedding in there somewhere, even if the word shotgun comes to mind when it is mentioned.
Thank you, Jesus, for your grace and forgiveness and for using our messes to bring you glory.
To sum it up, I was single with no kids and then had three babies in four years and inherited two (totally awesome) step-daughters in the same amount of time. I went from having a full time job to staying home full time. Today I am mom to Noah (age 7 ½), Caroline (age 6), and Katherine (age 3 ½) as well as step-mom to Hannah (age 16) and Abby (age 15). I was somewhat hesitant to share our real when Courtney asked as I personally find it almost terrifying at times.
I would rather stick pins and needles in my eyes than wake up before ten a.m. so that right there should speak volumes about our days. We are a slow to rise, late to bed family. It is not unheard of to see/hear our children up at ten p.m. playing rambunctiously and sawing logs well past nine in the morning. Breakfast these days is whatever everyone can serve themselves as I quit breakfast duty almost as soon as I weaned them all off the breast. I am more of a lunch and dinner mom. Sometimes I wish we were more productive earlier in the day and it sure would help during the school year when early mornings are quite literally the bane of my existence. During those months we quite simply put, survive. (I am optimistic that this is our year to shine in the a.m. hours, but only time will tell the sordid tale.)
In fact while on the topic of our “routine” I hesitate to say we have one. Are we talking about the routine we have when it is just me and the little kids? Me, the little kids, and the big kids? Or all seven of us? Our routine varies depending on how many members of the family are taking part in the routine on any given day. Our “routine” is going to pick up Hannah and Abby for the weekend or for a few days or for a few hours depending on the schedule and then taking them back to their mom, which is hard on all of us because we miss them when they leave. Our “routine” is that Derek is usually at work (someone has to bring home the bacon as these kids don’t pay for themselves), but most Sundays find the house bursting with the activity of seven people getting ready for church in one bathroom. Our getting ready for church routine itself is a testament as to why people need Jesus.
As a step-mom to two teenagers, things can get “real” real fast. Hannah, our oldest, is learning how to drive. It is an exercise in faith to hand over the keys to the car (and our lives) every time we go somewhere so she can “practice.” I am constantly fretting about an accident and telling her to “slow down.” (Thirty-five is an acceptable speed limit for highway driving, is it not?)
After harping on her constantly about paying attention to what she is doing and being cautious, I backed our van into a low lying, but large piece of concrete today while parking. I am sure it won’t be mentioned next time we get into the car to practice just as I am sure I won’t spend a hundred dollars at Target on nothing next time I go in there with my little ones, one of who is bound to be wearing a tutu over her swimsuit with her Disney Princess snow boots. I am a mom who chooses my battles carefully and I choose to go to Target, wardrobe issues be darned. I also choose to say, “Drive as I say, not as I do.”
Being a step-parent means I literally share the joys and burdens of parenting with three other parents. Wanna get real? Try parenting from another parent’s perspective all the time. I respect and admire Hannah and Abby’s mom and refuse to be that step-mom who breaks the rules and says, “It doesn’t matter what your mom says, go ahead and get that tattoo! It looks awesome!” Luckily, she and I share the same fundamental thoughts on parenting and have great communication. Every once in a while I get blindsided by a moment of indecision, not being one hundred percent certain of which answer I should give or if my opinion is truly needed or wanted and wonder if I should just look the other way and raise my own kids. I never end up going with that thought simply because I love Hannah and Abby as if they were my own (until they come home all tatted up) and could never imagine just not caring. But it is real that sometimes I think I should let the “real” parents parent.
As for parenting children I actually gave birth to via natural channels (when I worked I signed up for Aflac and the Aflac representative was constantly referring to my births as through or by “natural channels” as opposed to unnatural channels I don’t know, but it always made me laugh and cringe in equal parts)…
A few weeks ago the little ones and I were in the car on a particularly long jaunt and my three year old declared she had to go to the bathroom. I stopped at a Burger King and the four of us ventured into the place where every mother’s soul goes to die: the public restroom. I hate taking my kids into public restrooms so much that I have stopped actually going into the stall with them. It is better if I don’t see them licking the toilet seat, but know that when they brush their teeth (when, not if, we have some code of conduct) they will brush away the germs. Mother of the year, yes, here I am. So I stood outside the stall waiting for Katie to be done
touching every surface and playing in the toilet water
going to the bathroom when she said, “Mommy,
let me out. I can’t open the door.”
I calmly reminded her she needed to unlock it first, but she just responded with, “I can’t.”
While I was trying to describe to her how to unlock the door, my seven year old decided to take matters into his own hands and he crawled under the door and into the stall. (Why didn’t I think of that?) Before he could unlock the door, Katie let herself out the same way he went in. As their bodies slithered on the germ laden floor, I contemplated just throwing their clothes away when we got home and bathing them in a bathtub full of Purel. After a sketchy (at best) hand washing session we were on the road again, but not without leaving a few speckles of my brain matter behind.
While my life has changed drastically in the last ten years I cannot let go of one vice: reading. Bravo can keep their fancy salads and I certainly do not miss wearing high heels every day, but without a good book to end the day with (or if I am being real, to dive into throughout the day for intervals of solitude and sanity), I would never survive. I need to read words, to live vicariously through others and in other times almost as much as I need fresh brewed iced tea or diet coke to fuel me through my day. (Okay, and Jesus too. I need Him the most, but I am always putting more worth on caffeine than the Holy Spirit to get me through each song and dance. Real.). So while some women feel the need to create something in the forms of crafty projects, I must escape into the pages of a novel for that sense of inner sanctuary. (Real: I am terrible at reading things that would truly encourage me during this time of life and instead opt for fictional tales that serve no purpose beyond entertaining. Babywise? Nope, never read it. The New Strong Willed Child? No thanks. I know I have strong willed children and prefer to escape their strong willed-ness, not delve into the why’s and wherefore’s of it.)
The single girl in the strappy high heels sipping her venti black iced tea must be laughing all the way to wherever it is she goes without her very own entourage of kids who will inevitably need to use the bathroom when she gets there. She has no idea how good she has it, how simple and carefree (and clean) her life is. She also has no idea how great the messy, real stuff is she has coming in the future.
Show Your Real is a bi-weekly series of guest posts centered around the concept of authenticity. The goal is to encourage each other to expose the reality of our lives- good and bad- and to foster a sense of community that goes beyond the often suface-cy interactions of social media. We invite all of you to participate! Please comment, link, and hashtag to spread the showyourreal love. If you would like to contribute a guest post in this series, please email me!