Tag Archives: stepmotherhood

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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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

Love Wins.

The church my man and I attend has real people in it – people who have excelled and fallen short in their efforts at relationships, being Christians, and life in general. In an environment like that, I shared my story out loud for the first time last Wednesday night. An unexpected thing happened: as difficult as it was to admit some of my more embarrassing mistakes, I became so proud of Jesus. So proud that my God is the kind of God who pursues diamonds in the rough. So proud that my God accepts me as I am – and you as you are – because he revels in the journey we’re on. So proud that my God is in control of the whole thing.

It’s like this. Addiction was a fourteen-year way of life for me – from 1996 to 2010 – and it sometimes nips at my heels even now. I didn’t reason my way out of it or will it to stop; you can’t treat addiction that way. Instead, I went to the office of a counselor hand-picked for me by God. For some, that sounds extreme I’m sure: couldn’t it just be a happy coincidence? But here’s the truth. I ended up finally making my decision to get help on a Wednesday that Dr. Morgan happened to be sharing the walk-in intakes, something he doesn’t always do. I arrived at the Health Clinic during his office hours, which are fewer than everyone else’s due to his research activities. He happened to be the one to take me back, even though several other counselors were available. His approach to counseling proved almost exclusively cognitive, in the sense that we looked around my brain and applied logic where I wasn’t. Given that I live my whole life in my brain, the method felt tailored for me. It’s all these reasons, and a few others, that assure me God oversaw my healing process, even when I wasn’t consulting him. He put me in the right setting to recognize what I was doing, why, and how to stop it. Then, he gave me the strength to change. If you’d ever seen me binge, you’d know: only Jesus can do that.

When I got married in June 2007, sexual dysfunction ignited my addiction, causing whatever shards of self-esteem I had left to dissolve in the heart-wrenching pain of loneliness and anger. My body was too wrong, too large, and sentenced me to a sexless marriage. Every failed “treatment” plunged me into further despair, and I looked to food with renewed zeal each time. I reached a low after my third miscarriage; not only was my body oversized, not only did it reject my then-husband, but it also made a farce of my dreams of motherhood. My destructive behavior had no limits: I binged, entered an inappropriate relationship, wallowed in self-pity and hatred, and ignored God’s invitations to surrender. I couldn’t see a way out of the dark and depression; for a while, I didn’t even want one. And even still, when I’d had enough, when I shrugged and said, “Fine, You win,” there was Jesus. Even when I’d turned Him down. Even after my divorce. Even when the old patterns lured me back. And now I can’t even see a shadow of the wife I was for so long. I have eyes only for my man, and I thoroughly enjoy him – loving him, living alongside him, sharing an intimacy with him that is exclusively ours. I have been made entirely new. Only Jesus can do that.

I shouldn’t be here, in this place of lightness and joy, after the places I’ve been. I spent years destroying my body, being unable and unwilling to stop abusing food. I’ve been through the loss associated with infidelity. I’ve felt the pain of my babies fading. I’ve walked through the disappointment and rage of (supposed) infertility. I’ve tried to soothe myself, to protect myself when I felt assaulted by the storm, only to wake up drowning in further waves of pain. But I’m here – joyful, peaceful, and free. Only Jesus can do that. I am married to the sexiest, strongest, kindest man God ever created. I am mother-by-marriage of two beautiful children that look just like my favorite man. I am mother-by-blood of a 34-week-old pregnancy miracle who is about to forever change my world for the better. I am blessed to live in a lovely home with a wonderful family that makes my life a joy beyond words, beyond anything I could’ve made for myself. But even if I lost everything tomorrow, I have been shown that my God is greater than the gifts he gives and the pain I endure. Whatever I live through tomorrow, He has the answers. He meets my needs. He loves me and speaks tenderly to me and remains faithfully beside me no matter where we go. No matter what happens, there’s Jesus.

That’s all I ever needed to know, really. I’m loved, I’m of priceless worth, and there’s always Jesus.

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Filed under Addiction Recovery, Broken Beauty, Jesus Loves Me, Once Divorced, Twice Married

What Else to Expect When You Weren’t Expecting

A few more things occurred to me after I posted last time. It’s like when someone asks your opinion and you can’t think of anything to say and then a day later, you have sixteen different responses. You know what I mean.

6.) You might spend an inordinate amount of time gazing at your torso. Every time my baby moves, it hypnotizes me. Of course, all I see from the outside is a slowly shifting mound of alien head, but it’s mind-blowing. Weird too, because Anna is majorly attached to my bladder, a.k.a., her dribble-practicing apparatus, stability ball, and best friend. She naps on it, squeezes it, flips over it, and probably coos sweet nothings to it. Naturally, I’m thrilled to be growing such a resourceful fetus, but there are times I tell her, “I swear, if you touch that thing one more time, you will have hell to pay. With God as my witness.” About that time, she’ll somersault visibly, and then I forget I was in the middle of an important disciplinary lecture.

7.) You might cry at commercials. For real. Publix had a commercial around Mother’s Day featuring this little girl in pigtails and a pink striped shirt. She and her manifestly pregnant mother were making lunch in the kitchen. Mom says, “You know, I used to tell you secrets when you were a baby. I’d hold you so close and whisper in your ear. No one could hear it but us.” Mom smiles as they continue making lunch and having a love fest. A frame later, with Mom’s attention elsewhere, baby girl gets right up next to the bulbous belly and whispers, “You’re gonna love Mom.” I am literally tearing up as I write this. (Honestly, though, that commercial is hardcore even for the non-pregnant.) Pregnancy stirs up these waves of emotion that feel so big they consume at least six cubic feet of the air around you. P.S.: Be ready for anger to feel that way too if someone interrupts your nap, pulls out in front of you, or eats the last one of the things you crave most. It’s intense, even if you normally aren’t.

8.) You might be surprised how much time you spend discreetly passing gas. Or trying not to. I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, but since no one told me, here’s another friendly PSA: you might morph into one gassy heifer. Luckily for me, I have a five-year-old stepson, so passing gas in my family is merely part of a comedy routine, a way of life. On the other hand, I spend my workday exclusively with teenagers. If I ever non-discreetly pass gas, I will have killed my respectability for the rest of the semester. But hey, that’s what maternity leave is for: reputation restoration after the pregnancy hijacking of your body and personality. It’s like pregnancy amnesia for your community.

9.) You might give your baby the hiccups. My pregnancies have not been successful so far, so when the slightest thing feels different, I duck and cover. It happened the other day after I gulped 20 ounces of Coke in about 4.6 seconds. Don’t judge me; I was very thirsty. Not long after I finished, my belly started a rhythmic bounce that perfectly matched the bass line of “Blurred Lines.” It was during the school day, so I looked around surreptitiously to see if my students noticed. I slid behind my desk and banged on my keyboard, furiously researching my mistake. Was she in distress? I went to WebMD and discovered that I might have rapidly mutating kidney cancer, or maybe little Anna had the hiccups. I sighed with relief and gazed at my torso again. I swear she echoed, “Mama!” up my esophagus in between frustrated spasms. I said, “Yeah, well, knock it off with the bladder antics.”

10.) You might feel even more affinity for your man than you did before. I’m sure you think your man is the best, blah-blah-blah, but I know that’s not true because I married the best. While I already had a crush on him when we got married, now that we have a burgeoning little one that is the result of our love for each other (and my insatiable attraction to him), it feels like there’s something completely magical between us. We made a little person! A half-me, half-him person! Probably she will be the coolest person of all. I anticipate some hard times as we adjust to Anna’s rhythms and re-create our own, but there is no one on the planet I’d rather Anna have as a father. He’s strong and manly and loving and generous. She is so lucky. And so am I, to have them both plus two other half-hims. It’s an embarrassment in riches, really.

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Vocabulary Lesson

Tim Hawkins is a comedian who has a great routine about the religious-y terminology “hedge of protection.” He makes fun of how we ask God to surround people with landscaping in a knee-jerk way because we’ve heard it so many times. His response is, “A hedge? Is that really the best we’ve got?” I think too many words in Christianity are overused to the point of being annoying, “hedge of protection” serving as a great Exhibit A. So I asked God to show me what some of these words meant.

As a result of that prayer, I can tell you that “God’s perfect timing” means something like this. My family and I purchased some fruit trees on sale at the home improvement store last Saturday morning. We hadn’t been home five minutes – literally – when a station wagon full of college students pulled up and said they’d like to perform a random act of service for our family. They had a list of possibilities within their ability, one of which was “planting trees.” Of course, my husband could have easily planted the trees. But just to prove his interest in every detail of our lives, God sent us a crew to make the work lighter. If we’d stayed any longer at the home improvement store, we would have missed them. If they’d chosen another neighborhood, they would have missed us. Various things could have come in the way. But nothing did because that’s how God works. He knew when we’d be home, knew when to dispatch them, knew whom to send. That’s perfect timing.

Similarly, I can tell you that “provision” is like this. Teachers get paid monthly, except for a five-week pay period that starts after our September check. Budgeting for a family (and on a smaller income than most with master’s degrees) is frustrating enough, but budgeting for a five-week period is intense. So when we realized we hadn’t paid tithe for September, I was sweating. If we paid it, our bank account would suffer. Yet it was a commitment we’d made to God and to each other: we wouldn’t miss a paycheck, no matter what. So that Sunday, three weeks ago, I wrote the check and gave it up. Because finances are so emotional for me, I was nervous as I watched the money leave my sight. Then, on Monday afternoon, my husband brought the mail to me in the kitchen. It included three checks that together totaled the amount we wrote the check for the day before. That’s provision and, quite frankly, perfect timing too.

And “miracle” is how the doctors with scientific, provable fact end up looking ridiculous when God bends the laws of nature. Three factors assured me and everyone else that if I ever had children, they’d result from marriage or adoption. First of all, my body wouldn’t produce progesterone. Even when we tried to artificially stimulate production with oral and topical forms, nothing worked. I couldn’t support a pregnancy if I couldn’t get my body to either produce or accept progesterone. Second, PCOS itself makes conception and full-term pregnancy difficult for many women, due to hormonal irregularities and cysts. Third, the volume and placement of scar tissue were insurmountable. If that wasn’t enough, I have three previous miscarriages to back up the veracity of the doctors’ claims. No one told me pregnancy was “unlikely”; they told me it was impossible, even if we could solve one or two of the obstacles. And yet here I am, as big as a house these days in my seventh month of pregnancy, with a brand-new life getting herself all ready for her birthday. Something outside the natural course of events has happened here. God taught me “miracle.”

If I believe in a God who sends me tree planters, checks in the mail, and miracle babies, then I can certainly believe in his love for me. He loves me in a way I don’t understand and don’t deserve. He loves me in a way that only he can. As he teaches me new words, I keep reminding myself that if I keep talking to him and refusing to worry, I will live peacefully and joyfully. Sometimes awful things happen to me and to the people I love, but we have this real, live person who is in control of the whole show and who loves us passionately, completely, eternally. And that is what I think “grace” is.

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Meltdowns

This pregnancy has a dark side: it’s churning up the noxious stuff, the stuff that reminds me what a train wreck I am. You can work around it for years, and then this teeny person, who doesn’t even have a voice, starts conjuring things in your mind. Apparently, I am carrying an intuitive little girl. Or maybe it’s the hormones.

When I went through addiction counseling, I made – and kept – all sorts of promises that allowed me to live in freedom for the first time ever. The promises gradually became habits, my modus operandi, and everything improved. My health, my appearance, and my confidence soared. No longer did my brain resort to the addiction cycle to cope with everyday life. I was in charge of my behavior, no diet necessary, and Jesus bolstered my strength to live in his provision. I felt and looked so wonderful that I attracted a very hot man who married me a year after we met.

Then I got pregnant. Of course, joy flooded me: it was impossible! A miracle! And of course, I still know that to be undeniably true. But there was a singsong voice in the back of my mind too, like Clare Dunphy on Modern Family, that said, “You’re gonna get fat.” I pictured my former marshmallow-esque body. I pictured my very hot man not wanting me anymore. I pictured myself buying huge clothes. And, to make matters worse, I realized as the weeks went on that my neat and helpful counseling promises weren’t working. When four or more hours spaced out my meals, my blood sugar dropped, and I became weak and dizzy. Twice I fainted. When I didn’t eat ample carbohydrates, massive headaches hit without warning and were followed by crippling nausea and fatigue. The baby was simultaneously breaking all the rules and producing purple stretch marks on my midsection to boot. I started saving for a Mommy Makeover.

One thing I’ve learned: my healing never comes until I dig into the ugliness and write about it. When I see it on paper, I can name it and deal with it. So I’ve spent hours recently writing about my addiction – how it looked, felt, sounded. I’ve gone back to journaling and letting my introspection explain myself to me. And it’s rough because somewhere underneath it all, I am still a train wreck. I am still all the things I once was if I’m not constantly vigilant.

I asked my man tonight, “Who in his or her right mind would give me a baby?”

Without missing a beat, he said, “Jesus.”

“Well, I am seriously doubting His lucidity,” I replied, quite seriously, before melting into tears again. Sometimes I am so excited for Anna’s yuletide arrival that I can barely breathe. Her pictures are so heartbreakingly perfect, and her butterfly-wing movements feel so delightful. Other times I think, “What the heck am I going to do with a baby?” My man assures me that no one is ever ready; they just grow into it as time demands.

My consolation in moments like tonight is thinking about my last decade of life. I have experienced too much, enough to break a person, but Jesus has brought me through it all. I shouldn’t be singing this way, shouldn’t be joyful or in love or blessed. After addiction, sexual dysfunction, miscarriage, divorce, lost friendships, and more, I should’ve been crushed. But Jesus didn’t allow that.

I also think of my personal constellation, my stars that point me home and draw grace for me. My mom teaches me sacrifice, my dad teaches me trust, and my sister teaches me how to be a friend. My friend A.K. teaches me how to listen, my friend K.S. teaches me patience and faith in Jesus, and my best friend teaches me unconditional acceptance. My stepchildren teach me to play. My man teaches me to be both strong and kind. Anne Lamott would call these people my “tribe,” but they are also Anna’s. So when I hit the inevitable moments of not-enough, they will tap in for me, and so will many others. Anna does not have a perfect mother, but she will never lack love. God told me early on she exists to display his glory. And he will never not be enough for me, my husband, or our family. What can I say about such wonderful things as these? If our God is for us, who can ever be against us (Romans 8:31, NLT)?

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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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