Category Archives: Stepmom Life

My Booty.

My name is Amie, and I’m all about that bass.

It’s probably genetic. When a bass line comes on in my Aunt D’s car, she “neck-dances.” It’s always been one of my favorite things about her. My sister performed ballet en pointe for years and killed it. Even my 10-month-old kicks and grins when certain songs come on. Rhythm is a life force in my family. So when Shannon, my jazz dance teacher with faux red hair and a cigarette-frayed voice, responded with laughter to a routine I choreographed, it cut me. She asked how much longer I’d continue, given that I “didn’t have the body of a dancer.” I suppose I don’t, but I didn’t think that’s what jazz dance lessons were about. Especially for a twelve-year-old.

Shame is a thief, and that day it stole my moves. I quit dance at the end of the semester, horrified at the thought of taking my not-dancer body back to the mirrored wall that ridiculed me for an hour every Tuesday. I quietly retreated to piano lessons and choir accompaniment, where I could hide behind a baby grand while someone else was visible out front. But you can’t keep this girl from dancing, somewhere. I broke a toe while dancing in my room one Saturday afternoon, high-kicking right into my bookcase. (My best friend didn’t believe I’d actually broken my toe and came over to see. She promptly fell over laughing and even took a picture of my bandaged purple toe.) One of my dad’s colleagues saw me dancing in my car once and described it to my dad in such a way as to prompt him to later ask me laughingly if I had been high. I even danced in the minivan on the way back from New York three days ago while my family slept. Although, to be fair, that might have been as much a failing of my lucidity after sixteen hours in a vehicle with three young children as much as the booming bass of my music.

Regardless, here is a truth about my booty. It is a two-hand grab, and it likes to get down. It doesn’t twerk or grind, and it isn’t a real-life version of Elaine Benes. But joy in me has always spilled out physically, and lobotomizing that aspect of myself never worked. Probably because it was put there by God, made in his image (see Zephaniah 3:17, for example). So as part of my radical, shame-be-damned, self-acceptance journey, I danced at my mother-in-law’s wedding last Saturday, the first time in public since Shannon’s comment seventeen years ago. I threw off body shame and hit the dance floor with my daughters, sisters-in-law, and husband. When given the option between shame or true self, I finally chose myself.

I’ve learned since having daughters that body shame is passed down. If my daughter is told she looks just like me but then hears me complain about my awful thighs, what does she learn? She looks at her just-like-me thighs and labels them “awful.” And if she’s anything like most of us women, body shame will not only keep her from dancing, but also destroy her self-confidence. So on Sunday night I grooved out onto the dance floor. My daughters need to see me dancing. They need to know there’s an alternative to shame. They need to see everyday courage. They need to know it’s not about how you look but who you are. I’m all about that bass, and I hope they will be too.

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Why We Are All Good Enough Already

When I was inducted into the Mommy Club, I had no idea the dues included massive heaps of guilt. I generated enough all on my own, but I also found myself accepting it from others. “You’re doing an all-natural vaginal birth, right?” a lesbian chiropractor, a stranger, asked when fate crossed our paths at Dave and Buster’s. “You’re putting her in daycare? Wow, I don’t even trust daycares anymore,” said a brazen acquaintance I saw at Walmart. I could continue with comments about our formula supplementation, the length of my maternity leave, and a thousand other “issues” (that of course are not issues).

I was accepting the guilt with a weak self-defense – and a sinking heart – until I heard a father quoted on the radio one day. NPR is my #1 preset, and my curiosity was piqued when they interviewed an author who wrote a book about the experience of parenting in America. When asked what her favorite finding was, she talked about asking a man on a plane, “Do you ever feel like a bad father?” He said, “Absolutely not. I am the standard.” He explained that he went to work each day, helped with the kids, and took care of himself and his wife emotionally. Who could ask for more than that? So no, he never felt like a bad father. The author said she was so struck by his conviction that she had “I am the standard” printed onto customized bumper stickers and handed them out to all her friends and clients.

The most guilt I have felt is over feeding my baby. For several reasons, I haven’t been able to produce all the milk she needs. Everywhere, including in my own head, abounds the pressure to exclusively breastfeed, but my body just won’t allow that. Certain days I would hold my daughter and start crying that she couldn’t get all she needed from me. But when airing my sorrows to a friend one night, she commiserated and then said, “Maybe think of it as ‘just feeding,’ nothing special. Just feed your baby.” That, coupled with the belief that I am the standard, has Scotchgarded my motherhood from (most) guilt. I provide all the breastmilk I can and supplement the rest. I read to my baby. I dance with my baby. I enjoy her awakening spirit. I pray for her daily and for my man and me, that we will parent her with wisdom and grace. I change her diaper, feed her, take her out with me. I am the standard.

A superb book I just finished, Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, quotes a French mother, wife, and lawyer on the issue of guilt: “I never wonder whether I am a good enough mother because I really think I am.” That, my friends, is a confident woman. I want my daughter to think like that, talk like that. So it’s up to me to show her. I no longer wonder whether she has the right mom. Because I really think she does.

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Filed under It's a Girl!, Stepmom Life

It’s not the lesbians I’m worried about.

Three of my FaceBook friends posted an article about a Disney Channel sitcom, Good Luck Charlie, whose last episode is airing in February. In the penultimate show, a same-sex couple will be introduced, apparently Disney’s first. Two of my friends found the article appalling, and the other included no additional comment. (See it here.)

I’ve seen the show before; I have a 10-year-old daughter-by-marriage. She’ll make up her own mind about same-sex couples soon enough. Some of her friends, acquaintances, and favorite celebrities will come out while she’s in high school and college. She’ll hear her parents’, friends’, and pastor’s opinions about homosexuality. She’ll see it in the media. Something that she feels or sees will resonate with her, and she’ll decide which of the many sides of the issue she wants to be on. Most children watching Good Luck Charlie will be in the same situation.

What is much more appalling to me is something insidiously quiet in our culture: the treatment of the title character’s (straight) father. He is a buffoon character, speaking, gesturing, and coming to realizations much more slowly than his wife. She has made plans for the family without consulting him and steamrolls over his disinterest. The first time we see him in the scene, he is in front of the television, ignoring his daughter playing a few feet away. When there’s a disagreement over who’s coming to their house, he says, “Are you sure [that’s her name]?” His wife replies, “Am I sure that I’m right and you’re wrong? Always.” And when the door closes behind the couple in question, Dad pops his forehead with his palm and says, “Taylor has two moms.” His wife again ridicules him: “Wow. Nothing gets past you, Bob.” This is the wretched part of the scene; forget the lesbian couple with a few seconds of the sitcom’s hours and hours of airtime over the past few years. The problem is that my 10-year-old and others like her are learning that dads are lazy, moms are allowed to be rude, and women are smarter than men. The beliefs are so accepted that canned laughter fills the air after the mom’s snarky comments. I’d wager my 10-year-old isn’t learning much about same-sex couples in the scene, but she’s learning a lot about heterosexual ones.

If we want to argue about relationships, marriages, and the business of who’s-romantically-involved-with-whom, perhaps we should notice the unfortunate and detrimental ways heterosexual marriages are depicted onscreen. What has “traditional marriage” come to mean in our culture? I wonder how my daughter would define it.

If my daughters learn one thing about marriage from me, I hope it’s this: build one that belongs to you and your husband alone. Structure it the way that works for you. Find out what respect means to him and how to show it. Tell him how you want to be treated. Help each other see more clearly and love life more rigorously. Don’t let anyone condemn you for being unprogressive if you want to stay home with the children, or have no children, or have twenty children, or have a husband who stays home with the children. It’s your game, your rules. Be traditional. Be untraditional. Be semi-traditional. But for God’s sake, be careful what you teach. Dads are not dolts. Moms are not dictators. If “traditional marriage” amounts to anything like that, let’s throw it out and try again.

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Filed under Once Divorced, Twice Married, Stepmom Life

Bodies

For the first time ever, I was a mom for spring break. My man and I took the kids to an indoor water park for a long weekend and had an incredible time. Because I am female, I spend as much or more time as the men looking at other women’s bodies when we’re all on display in our swimsuits. My reasons differ, of course: I compare myself to them, see where I fit in the array of physical femininity, and try to decide how happy (or unhappy) my man is with my body, based not on what he tells me but on how I appraise it compared all the others.

That’s totally sick, isn’t it?

But I spent upwards of 24 hours engaged in exactly that, and it was maddening. Usually those thoughts happen on such a subconscious level that I continue about my business barely registering them, but this time was different. I had my daughter with me, and the thought of her thinking those things broke my heart. She’s dazzlingly lovely, and I want her to know it. I want her to know that she’s perfect the way she is. She so beautifully reflects her dad’s gorgeous Italian traits set on the smooth, olive-toned Native American skin she got from her mother’s side. She can choose to treat her body kindly or not, but it’s a perfect snowflake of a body that should never be disrespected by anyone, including her. Which is precisely what I was doing to mine.

And the thing is, every body I saw was “imperfect” compared to the cinematic, airbrushed ideal. Flabbiness was everywhere. Cellulite passed me every few seconds. Moles and discolorations marked almost everyone. My body is no better or worse than the others I saw. In fact, underneath our skin we all house the same snowflake perfection I identify so easily in my daughter. Some women treat their bodies more kindly than others – I have to work on this too – but God-designed perfection is our common trait. Besides, my body does so many wonderful things: it walks, dances, swims, makes love, stretches, hugs, laughs, twirls, and bends. How could I be anything other than deeply thankful for a body like that?

I hope, down in my core, that my daughter never forgets she’s beautiful. Jealous girls and lonely boys might try to convince her otherwise, whether they use words or not. Her dad’s voice, mom’s voice, and stepmom’s voice will be drowned out on occasion. So for my own part, I’m trying to be preemptive. I’m trying to remind myself that I am perfect and beautiful, and I’m trying to listen to my man and my dad tell me the same thing. Maybe if I can remember it for myself, I can role model it and help my daughter remember too. She’s worth it, and so am I.

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Cake Batter

I officially became a stepmom on 8 March 2013. It is no secret that I am brand-new to this. One week after we got married, I took my babies to baseball practice. Tee-ball fields and softball fields look exactly the same to me, so our car ended up as far away as humanly possible from the appropriate field – a mistake their “real” mother would never make. A couple of weeks later, I made French toast for my man and his kids that was unrecognizable toast-wise. Or French-wise, which is particularly disappointing, as “French” is literally in my job title. And we’ll ignore the fact that I didn’t recognize the terms “Suite Life” or “Upward” prior to last summer.

But none of that seems to matter to anyone but me. It doesn’t matter to them that I can’t keep up with the (whopping, massive, unending piles of) laundry or that the tracked-in grass stays where we leave it for days on end. No matter what the house looks like or what dinner tastes like, we all laugh and talk and enjoy each other like families do. No one complains about my ignorance. Come to think of it, no one really notices.

I feel kind of like cake batter when it comes to stepmotherhood. All the right ingredients coincide, but it’s going to take some time before I become the real thing. Until then, I’m savoring every moment of this most blessed journey. Every time I see the booster seat in my rearview or the butterfly socks in the laundry, my heart dances. At work the other day, I found a lone game piece in my purse from one of our family favorites. When I smiled and mentioned my find to a coworker, he/she said, “Ha, well, you’ll get over stuff like that real quick.” I wouldn’t bet on it; I lost a lot to get here. But God has restored so much, lavished so much. So, as long as they’re willing to walk forever to get to the tee-ball field, I’m willing to give myself the same measure of grace as I evolve into a proper (step)mother. Cake batter eventually becomes exactly what it’s supposed to be. I will too.

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God’s Ears

I have this thing with names. The thought of giving a blessing or honoring someone or telling a story with your baby’s name is precious to me. Many names are on my Love-It List, but as long as I can remember, my favorite name of all has been Kate. Growing up, my most beautiful Barbie was Kate. My favorite paper doll—yes, I played with paper dolls—was Kate. Just last year, I asked on FaceBook what my pen-last-name should be if my pen-first-name was Kate. It’s the perfect name—simple, elegant, and timeless.

So when I got pregnant in July 2008, I was beside myself with excitement. I kept thinking, Kate’s here! She didn’t stay long enough for me to know by way of scientific confirmation that she was a girl, but I know anyway because moms just know. When I daydreamed about what the rest of her name could be, a Buechner quote kept resurfacing: “Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries…or bring about your own birth.” Having for years worn that definition of grace like a pair of contact lenses, I knew my daughter could have no other name. She was something I could never deserve, something only God could give me. My then-husband let me take the reins with naming, so I chose Anna Catherine. Anna means “grace,” and Catherine means “pure,” so my baby girl would be named “pure grace.” Which is exactly what she was. But she’d go by “Kate,” of course.

Unfortunately, Kate faded from me on Sunday, 14 September. I cried steady, silent tears, sitting with my back against the tub. I was a heartbroken mother whose daughter had been taken in the night. I hadn’t protected her, hadn’t known how. I did the only thing I could: I crawled back into bed and prayed. At first, I heard nothing, but the tender presence of the Holy Spirit comforted my heart. Then I had a powerful, inexplicable urge to look up Isaiah 49:16, a verse I did not already know. Bewildered, I opened my Bible and read: “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands…” My name. Kate’s name. The tears came again, but this time for an entirely different reason. The verse reminded me that I am so precious to God that when he looks down at his palms—or, perhaps, Jesus’s—he sees my name. And in a small way, I had the same thing going with my Kate. The veins in my right wrist, I had noticed as a child, form an unmistakable K. After that night, it became a sweet reminder. Kate was gone, but her name was written on my palm, so to speak, and God makes all things new. God restores.

Over time, he has restored my heart. Time, I believe, numbs pain, helps a wound scar over maybe, but God actually heals. Certainly, sadness hits me unexpectedly sometimes, or with unexpected force: it was the saddest and most unfair day of my life, being at once Mother and Not-mother. But God has guided me through the process of letting my daughter stay with him, of not begrudging the laws of nature that sent her his way. For too long, I carried her as a millstone around my neck. I feared that not thinking about her might mean she never existed. As her mother, it seemed to fall on my shoulders to acknowledge her fleeting presence. But God has taken my heart from that prison of grief into a position of grace. I do think about her occasionally, but in a peaceful, heavenly way. I imagine her spinning giddily in a white cotton dress in a field of lavender, so drunk with joy she dissolves into giggles. I imagine her sitting on Jesus’s lap, enamored with him, asking him questions with the ethereal wisdom that a heaven-born child must possess. I imagine her smiling when she sees me, if you do that sort of thing in heaven.

And tonight, when it was time for a little earth-born girl to fall asleep, she wriggled onto the couch next to me and settled into my arms. She looked into my eyes with a beautiful face lit by a grin and laced her fingers with mine. She and I do not share DNA. I do not have memories of her in the womb. She does not belong to me in the way she belongs to her mother. But she loves me, and I love her, and we both love her father more than we could tell you. She and her brother have become a part of my heart, and as I look forward to many years with the man I love, I feel doubly blessed to be their friend as well. I never knew life could be this good, this full. But when God restores life and fulfills promises, he doesn’t do a halfhearted job of it. Speaking of promises, those letters the veins in my wrists so clearly form happen to be their initials—hers and her brother’s. As someone who does not believe in coincidence, only divine winks, you can imagine how this hits me. Especially since her name is “pure grace,” too. And she goes by Kate.

If you ever wondered whether God listens when you cry out, whether he knows who you are…he does.

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Filed under Broken Beauty, Jesus Loves Me, Stepmom Life

Mothers’ Day

Chances are you think your mother is the greatest of her kind. Me too: mine is beautiful, wise, compassionate, and seriously smart. My mom has spent hours and hours of the last two years on the phone with me while I cried or complained or unloaded fear and hurt. She never turns down a hug or says she’s too busy to listen. She works to make sure everyone in the family has what he or she needs. As I write this, tears of gratitude spring to my eyes, for I am blessed with such an amazing mother. I love that a twenty-four-hour period is set aside for my family to give her an extra dose of special treatment. Mothers Day is a sweet time.

Mothers Day church services are a different story. To those of us who aren’t mothers, it can feel a little like not being tapped into a sorority. The beginning of the church service I was in last Sunday was like this. One of the pastors asked the mothers to stand as he thanked them on behalf of all of us. “Ladies, you make significant sacrifices through the years, and we rarely recognize it. You have answered the highest calling a woman can have: raising children. We want to bless you and thank you for your service to us.” He said other things—he spoke for five or ten minutes—but that’s the gist. My issue with this is not that it’s necessarily untrue: my own mother does some serious sacrificing, and she deserves appreciation for that and so much more. So do all mothers. Across the world, women spend their days cleaning up spills that no one else sees, mending tears in clothes, administering medicine, crying as they rock their children to sleep for hours on end when the little one just won’t cooperate. Mothers are strong, so strong.

But I do not believe that raising children is a woman’s “highest calling.” If that’s true, a sizeable demographic will never reach its female potential. In this subset, some have chosen not to have children for very valid reasons, and some have chosen against wifehood, as well. Some want desperately to have children, but for a reason that mystifies the doctors, it isn’t happening. Some have had surgeries rendering them infertile. Some have hormonal abnormalities, chronic illnesses, or other medical factors that bar them from motherhood. Some have watched in horror as their dreams of motherhood ended abruptly in the bathroom. For some, this holiday is a reminder of the loss of life or the inability to give it, not its celebration.

However, there is much more to the concept of “mothering” than giving birth. Some women who have not and will never bear children have left an indelible mother’s mark on the little ones in their lives. Aunts, stepmothers, grandmothers, nurses, teachers, big sisters, babysitters, family friends—these women and others like them have the same capacity for “significant sacrifice” and “service” to children* as the women whose biological offspring are involved. Mothering, I would argue, is the art of cherishing and guiding children, an art that does not require a functional reproductive system. Mothers encourage. They spend time with children. They cause smiles and laughter. They provide for children’s needs and wants. They teach. They love. Women with unused wombs are just as capable of these functions and eager to fill them as their childbearing counterparts. Many of these mothering-women have played important roles in my life, as I hope to in the lives of others.

So maybe the entrance qualifications for the Mothers-Day sorority can be modified. Rather than honoring only biological or legally adoptive mothers, perhaps we can include all mothering-women who nurture and care for the world’s younger people. While only one woman births us, many, many women along the way help us become who we are. One such woman in my life was A.M., a family friend who spent a lot of time with me during my childhood. She took me out to dinner (and as a good Southern girl, I almost always picked Cracker Barrel), she took me mini-golfing, she invited me to spend weekends with her in her apartment. Many evenings she made us hot dogs and we talked and laughed while eating in her kitchen. A.M. reached out to me: she loved me, cared for me, and looked me in the eye when we talked. I knew I was important to her. And there is no greater gift a mothering-woman can bestow than the message “You’re significant. You’re special. There’s something wonderful inside you that I love to watch and be a part of.”

For A.M. and all the other members of the mothering corps out there, whether you are biological moms or moms of the heart: thank you most sincerely for the love and guidance you so freely give, and a very happy Mothers Day to you.

*Although I use the word “children” throughout, certainly some women mother us when we are already old enough to have children and perhaps grandchildren of our own.

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