Oh, My Soul- Casting Crowns

If you are like me at all through your child loss journey you NEED to hear this song. It is a Christian song which is something I have a very hard time listening to now because it angers me….but this…..this is something you need to listen to. It opens that window to your soul that you thought no one was looking through and speaks to it. It actually helped me feel hope in my faith and known in my circumstances. I LOVE IT!!!!!

An Open Letter to the Woman Who Knows Nothing About Baby-Loss

People warned me that life in this new category of “still motherhood” would bring about some of the worst things. One thing I heard continuously was that people would say the most atrocious things to me as it pertains to my son or our reality as a forever incomplete family now. It’s been a little over 9 months since I gave birth to Adam and I will admit I have heard some pretty dumb and insensitive things. People not thinking before they speak and thinking they have the perfect words to console me when they fall disastrously short has become a common trend. Yes, there were some looks of “what the hell?” during those moments but for the most part I let them roll off my shoulder. After all, another thing people continuously told me was that everyone will try to understand but no one has any idea what you are going through except for someone who has actually been through the exact same thing, so they really just don’t get it.

Well, I have encountered some feedback that is what everyone said it would be, atrocious. It is eating away at my happiness and filling me with an anger that is consuming my thoughts. The “feedback” which were some awful thoughts on the way my family remembers my son was posed to my husband. So initially I wanted to freak out on this woman. Then I thought I would remain respectively quiet -that respect being for myself, not the woman with the opinions. But now that it has been a few days and I still find my mind caught in some hateful battle and I am seeing how negatively these thoughts affect my interactions with my family, I have to speak up about it.

So here ensues my first ever “Open Letter.”

An Open Letter to the Woman Who Doesn’t Know Anything About Baby-Loss:

I have tried to push your words out of my head. I have bit my tongue at your thoughtlessness and selfishness time and time again. I have looked the other way when I feel irritated by the things that come out of your mouth. But I can’t do that this time. When you told my husband to stop taking our children (his biological, my “step”) to the cemetery to visit their little brother because it was bad for their mental health, and when you said that visiting on memorial day or his birthday was understandable but that the rest needed to stop, and when you called us selfish parents for “not thinking about the kids” you basically asked for this.

When did how we remember our son become your business? When did offering your thoughtless opinion on our visits to the cemetery become acceptable to you? Where in your mind did you find that it was okay to tell a grieving father, mother, and brother and sister exactly how to grieve a loss that you know NOTHING about? I truly can’t fathom how these thoughts came into your mind and out of your mouth thinking, “yes this is a good idea. Yes, I am qualified to share these thoughts.”

I know my husband already told you to mind your own business but you didn’t get it. Adam is our children’s little brother. Documenting our time at the cemetery with him is in no way unhealthy or traumatic to the kids. It is how we, as a family, remember him and is always a positive visit. Our photos and time spent there is something you also know absolutely nothing about. So, let me tell you about our cemetery visits. We go to the cemetery (the kids have ZERO problem with this and actually enjoy it) we get out of the car, go to Adam’s headstone. I clean it off as well as the decorations while my oldest child, Doodle, makes her usual observations about how nice it looks to which I positively respond. Then her little brother (the living one) greets his little brother with some variation of “Hi, Adam.” Then they go and look at all of the other babies and tell them hi. They play in the grass in the baby section, which I love. Because if you stopped to think about it, which you haven’t, how those babies who are looking down from heaven must love that! Having other children laugh and giggle and tag one another while running around in their resting place is the most perfect visit to the cemetery in my mind. We used to read stories, in which case Doodle would read the story to practice her reading skills and Bub listens happily asking a million questions about the story. Then I tell Adam I love him and how handsome his headstone looks and I walk back to the car. Doodle and Bub say their own personal sign of affection to him, unprompted by me I have to add, and they walk to the car. Generally as we pull out of the cemetery gates they turn around and say goodbye to their brother again and tell him “sweet dreams.”

Because of what life has handed ALL of us my children have gotten comfortable with asking questions about heaven and death. This is good thing because they will deal with a lot of death in their lives. But Bub getting excited to take a picture at a headstone, no matter if the headstone is Adam’s or a great-great grandparent is not an issue. It isn’t bad for his mental health. Never in our visits to their little brother do I (nor my husband) feel that our children’s mental health is at risk. And if we did, we would rethink our approach to remembering Adam. And that is key. WE would rethink OUR approach. This reality our family of 5 now is a part of is just that: ours. You, while clearly a part of our life in some way, are not a part of this part of it. How we decide, as parents, to deal with the death of Adam and how we feel is appropriate to remember him with our kids will not be moderated by you. There is no place for your opinion when it comes to remembering our son. You don’t know how it feels. You don’t know the first thing about it or about life after losing a child.

I don’t mean to be rude, but I do mean to be blunt: Where it concerns the cemetery, Adam, or taking pictures we do not need your input. We are perfectly fine with how our children have dealt with and accepted Adam’s loss and how they have a healthy understanding of death and heaven as a result of that.

Obviously, we wish that at 6 and 3 they didn’t have to deal with burying a sibling, but they have. So we move forward from there, because that is where they are. We will visit the cemetery, we will take pictures with his grave, we will do whatever in the hell we feel is healthy and adequately remembers our son/little brother because this is ours, he is ours. None of this is yours so keep your extremely small minded opinions to yourself.

We are doing a great job of life after Adam without your thoughts on the matter.

Sincerely,

A really pissed off “still mom”

And just because I’m feeling spiteful, here is every photo I have taken (with my phone) of the kids at the cemetery. 👊🏼cemetery. 👊🏼

What it’s all About…

When it comes to step-parenting….there is a lot going on. Not to discount full-time parenting, because we all know that is a crazy world too. But step-parenting is obviously a little different. We have a lot of the same challenges and some different ones. For example, step-parents are bitter-sweetly tasked with splitting their time 50/50 or 75/25 or however you have decided to do it. This means, step-parents get a break, every week just about. Full-time parents have a different story, you have your kiddos ALL THE TIME! Which is wonderful and exhausting. So, when I say there is a lot going on for step-parents, don’t think I have forgotten the wondrous work of full-time parents, I haven’t!

Like I mentioned in my last post, however, sometimes (who am I kidding, all of the time) it just feels like we don’t have enough time to do both the things we need to do and want to do before sending the kids off for a weekend at their mom’s. So we have to be even more intentional with our time than if they were at our disposal 24/7 because, put simply, they aren’t!

So what am I getting at here? I have been kicking myself over and over for not teaching Doodle and Bub some things that I think are important skills for every kid to have. Such as, how to appropriately act in a social situation with people you know and don’t know. And how to handle yourself when something happens that you don’t like. (The later of the two is something I have been slowly working on with Bub, but it just never seems to stick!) My problem? I need to be more intentional with my time with my children. Continue reading

Confessions of a Step-Mom

I’m not very good at being a Step-Mom. It’s true. I’m just not. I’m too selfish, too lackadaisical, too arrogant. I want to be the one and only: the mom.

I’m not very good at sharing these tasks and responsibilities…and I’m not very good at watching my husband share them either. To me, and to many blended families I’m sure, I think my husband and I are the best option for the kids all of the time. Obviously, they need their mother and vice versa, which is why I say I’m not very good at being a step parent. I know they need their mom, and they have a steadily active mom who loves them with everything she has. BUT that doesn’t mean I don’t think I love them better or that we as a family unit aren’t better for them. That’s the selfishness and arrogance.

I also hate that there is never enough time to do the things we need to do!! There is never enough time to do the basic things, like chores, playing with all of the Christmas gifts that sit unopened in the bottom of the closet, or take all the hikes and long walks we want to.

On top of that it seems like there is never enough consistency to teach them important life goals and have them stick. For example, I really wish Doodle knew and implemented appropriate social habits like looking people in the eye when they speak to you, responding with a polite greeting loud enough for the person you’re greeting to hear you, and smiling when someone compliments you. I wish so badly she did these things! But it seems like there is just never enough consistency for her to really get into this habit. Between moving from one house to the other, each house with different expectations, it seems as if nothing ever sticks!

I’ll tell ya, I have been trying to teach her how to chew with her mouth closed since I moved in with my husband, TWO YEARS AGO!!!! And every single time she comes home after being away a few days it is as if she has never heard the concept in her life. It makes me want to pull my hair out and hers!

I love being a parent, don’t get me wrong, but it is not easy. Especially when you have to give up the parenting responsibilities half of the time and just hope and pray the other family values the same things that you do and will teach the same set of skills that you are trying to teach.

And then, sometimes I am lazy. I think, tomorrow we will do (insert task here)…then tomorrow comes and we have to do homework, go to t-ball, or tutoring and it doesn’t get done. Then the next day they are off to their mom’s and we didn’t get to do the activity I had planned on. The real doozy is when they go to their mom’s and they do the activity I had put off at their mom’s and they are no longer interested when they come back home to my husband and I. It’s very discouraging and definitely not the fun part of parenting. That’s my fault though. I need to get into the habit of doing the things I want to do with the kids the first time I think of them, because they have two families and four minds working at how to entertain/please them.

 

AHH. Okay, rant over. But if you are a step parent or if your child has step parents it is likely that we are all thinking the same things and for the same reasons: We love our kids, we want our kids to be with us all of the time, and we are selfish for them.

 

DISCLAIMER: As a blended family we all respect one another’s role within our blended family. I respect the children’s mother as their mother and she respects me as their step-mother. I am not saying she or her husband are not good parents, just that it is easier to parent if you don’t have to share half of your time! So hold the argumentative thoughts, that is not what I am aiming for.

“Where’s His Stone?”

This morning while I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get myself and my two kids ready for school, work, and granny’s house my 4 year old was sitting at the breakfast table eating Apple Jacks and talking to his sister.

Both of their gazes shift to the display case that we keep all of Adam’s things in and Bub looks at me pulling my boots on over my socks on the couch and asked, “Where is Baby Adam now, Mary?” They (nurses etc.) said these random questions would happen at the most random times. And from sitting in line at the grocery store trying to get Bub to stop telling the people behind us that we are buying this garden decoration for his “baby brother” to now, they were absolutely right.

One thing I didn’t realize, however, was that I would love the questions. Never have I been hurt when one of the kids bring up Adam. Sometimes, I have to really think hard about how to answer their questions (like ‘how did he get out of your belly’) but I try my hardest to be honest with them and explain things at their level of understanding. (except for that question. We’re not going down that road yet!)

So today when Bub asked, “Where is Baby Adam now?” my response was simple, without looking away from my boot I said, “Well he’s in Heaven, Bub.” To which Bub replied, “Where is Jesus?” And the conversation went something  like this:

“Jesus is in Heaven too.”

“He is in Heaven with Adam?”

“Mhm”

“Is he next to him?”

“Yeah I bet he is next to him. Probably holding him right now.”

“Where’s his stone?…Is it next to him on this side or on that side?” I thought about this for a minute before I realized that Bub was talking about Adam’s headstone. They are always very aware of the other babies in the cemetery around Adam and they often run around from stone to stone visiting each one and asking their names or commenting on their flowers. So, naturally, in my 4 year old’s cut-and-dry-mind, Jesus must be next to Adam somewhere in there if he is in Heaven too, because everyone else over there is in Heaven.

So how do you answer that to a 4 year old? He asked, “Is his stone next to Adam?” again because I was thinking too long. I told him that Jesus’s stone was far away but that he had a stone. (Silently proud of myself for the pun…you know the stone was rolled away yada yada.) So Bub’s next question was, “Is his body down there too?” Well….okay then. So I ended up trying to explain the ascension to him at which time my 7 year old asked, “How can Adam being running and playing up in heaven if he is just laying down there all…?” She immitated the seriousness of Adam’s face in his casket and put her hands on her belly with her eyes closed. The Lord loves to see how I answer complicated questions!

So THAT question led to a brief explanation of Souls and that everyone has one and our body is only a temporary house for our soul, that when we die our body goes in the ground and our soul goes up to Heaven. After assuring that Adam did indeed have a soul too, they were both satisfied with this answer and just as randomly as the topic came up, it ended just the same.

Which leaves me here, now, sitting at work feeling some kind of weird happiness at their questions. Why their questions bring me such this weird feeling of happiness is not very clear to me but I do know one thing. I worry that they will forget him every day. That as life goes on he will become less important to them as the recentness of his loss fades away into years. It really bothers me and worries me where it probably shouldn’t. I will keep his memory alive as best I can and I am sure that specifically for Doodle, she will remember him for the rest of her life. The big task will be keeping his memory alive to Bub who was only 3 when we lost him. But days like today, when he randomly brings him up and wants to talk about his baby brother make me feel good. Knowing I have at least one more day of not having to remind him who the baby pictures in the display case are brings me a happiness that is not easily explained.

It’s a Real Tough Thing

My three children are the best things in my life. They are the best things to ever happen to me and they bring me so much joy you wouldn’t believe. Even while some days might be harder than others, I wouldn’t trade a single one of them. Sometimes, though, it’s a real tough thing being a step-mom and a mother to an angel but not a mom to any living children. It’s hard for so many reasons. Because of that, sometimes I find myself wanting to rip my hair out, scream my head off, and hug them so tight all in a minute’s time.

I love my kiddos all the same amount, but that love is felt a little differently at times. Sometimes I feel like I need to prove myself in showing my love to my kids, sometimes I feel like I want to recoil and not show them my outward love because they have said something intentionally hurtful. Then sometimes I want to engulf them in my love and stare at their little faces forever. The last one is where I find myself most often but when the other feelings strike it can be a real tough thing to fight and level them out.

Not unlike any other typical 3 and 6 year old, my kids can say/do some of the most hurtful things. Lately, the most hurtful thing I experience (often) from my 3 year old is the fact that I don’t fill his “Mommy shaped spot” in his heart. It has always been a bummer to me, because I love him like he is my own, but after the loss of Adam the fact that I can’t be his “go to” and his “one stop shop” for that spot hurts so badly. I understand it, don’t get me wrong, no one trumps “Mommy” and no one ever should, but when you are dealing with loving someone so much you would literally do anything for them, the fact that you aren’t everything to them sometimes gets to ya’. In these times I have to catch myself. I have to refrain from curling inside myself and shutting myself off so that I can’t be hurt. The most true thing that I know is that the more you love the more you can be hurt. And These kiddos can pull ALL of the heartstrings right out of me!

I also try to remind myself of all of the ways they interpret my actions when I want to scream my head off or recoil my heart. I remember being a 6 year old girl, but I don’t remember the emotions…..and boy are there emotions!!! So I find myself having to back peddle sometimes and put myself into Doodle’s shoes. To be honest, this changes my actions the most! I never want her to think she isn’t good enough or that she isn’t loved and cared for. (Same goes for her brother.) Sometimes, she needs the strictness because she is 6 and 6 year olds aren’t always the best listeners. But I never want her to think of me and think of negativity. All in all, I want her to talk to me about what is going on in her life and express her doubts, fears, sadness, frustrations, and joys with me. I want her to know that I am a safe place for her to land.

Days like today, when I feel like I showed too much frustration while getting the kids ready in the morning and had some complete #momfails, I feel like I’ve struck out. I feel defeated and like I have failed in showing them just how much I love them. But then I remind myself of things like last night. Last night Doodle asked me to climb in her bunk bed with her and watch, “some movies.” So we climbed up there, she turned a movie on and turned her back to the screen. She scooted her head up onto my chest and curled her body into mine and started talking. She asked questions, shared her day with me, and talked about whatever came to her mind. Eventually she said she couldn’t fall asleep so I told her to turn around and watch some TV. (She usually falls asleep with the TV on.) She rolled over, scooted back into me and let me be her “big spoon”. She left the TV off and fell asleep snuggled up to me. I remind myself of moments like that; where my heart is so full and happy, because it reminds me that we have come a long way. It also reminds me that just like their mom, I am irreplaceable in their eyes. And even while I don’t fit the Mommy spot in their hearts, I do belong in a spot in there somewhere; a shape all my own.

“Dapping” and breaking your comfort zone

Tonight my family attended a banquet in honor of our First Grade Cheerleader completing her first season of PeeWee Cheer.

My daughter is a very shy girl. She often misses out on great, exciting experiences because of her fear. I say “fear” because to her (as to many young girls) the social aspect of life is scary….especially when you add self consciousness to the list! She has both…

As a mother, and just a female who has been there, I hate seeing girls who are worried about their appearance or approach too much to have fun. I wish every girl knew just how wonderful and amazing and UNIQUE they are. Let’s be honest- girls are mean. girls can judge. girls point out your differences. For whatever reason that is how we are wired. If I could take that wiring and rewire every female brain to things such as acceptance, love, encouragement, confidence I would start tonight!

In hindsight I now see what I wish my daughter could see. I see that no one else is as concerned about my socks as I am, or about how I walk to the front of the classroom. No one else cares if my bag of chips is loud when it opens at the lunch table or if I spill my drink on the floor. I was the only one who cared that much, and honestly I was so worried about how I looked that I never even looked at other people and noticed what they were doing! That is not how I want Doodle to grow up.

So in an attempt to expand her comfort zone (or maybe even throw her out of it) my husband and I decided to put her in PeeWee Cheerleading! At first, Doodle refused to consider the idea. After 1,524,678 questions we finally got her excited about the uniforms! (baby steps, people) I ended up being able to coach her team which I really think helped her feel comfortable at first. But once the season started and we had our first practice….

Oh. My. Goodness!!!

This shy, self-conscious girl I had come to know was amazingly one of the loudest, most outgoing girls on the team! She transformed into another person completely. My husband and I joked at first that we were sure that she thought she didn’t have an option once she started. Nonetheless, when we encouraged the girls to cheer louder, her voice sang out with the rest. When we practiced our jumps, she was right in there trying her hardest with the rest of the girls, oblivious to how she measured up to everyone else. Watching the smile gleam across her lips and see the confidence beam out of her was one of the proudest moments I have had as a mom as of yet.

I will be truthful, we took a huge gamble. UGE as future President Trump would say. But in the end it paid off big time. The girl who came out of cheerleading was by no standing the same girl that went in.

So my message to bonus parents and parents alike- take the risk! Encourage, support, answer questions until you’re blue in the face. Be excited about the experience. Honestly, I think our excited anticipation for Doodle helped build her own excitement-which made a world of difference. And above all, remind them how beautiful and perfect they are….Often. And be specific. “Doodle, you impress me with how well you brush your hair in the morning, you are beautiful….even with your bed head” “I’m proud of you” goes a long way. It is probably the thing I say to the kids most after “chew with your mouth closed”.

Every day I spend loving and learning from these kiddos makes me a better parent. Some days the lessons I learn are from my failures. But when we have nights like tonight where Doodle is running around playing with all of her friends, I feel a huge sense of joy and that rare tickle of success. Today, we celebrated a huge success as parents of a proud cheerleader. No matter what tomorrow brings we will celebrate the lessons learned and the love shared!