To Brandon & Mariah, with all my love

Like many little girls, when I was younger I loved to daydream about what my life would be like some day. Who will I marry?  Where will I live?  How many children will I have and what will their names be?  Like other type-A, highly organized people, I had my path set out before me: graduate university in my early twenties, get married by my mid-twenties, and start having babies

The kids and I at the pumpkin patch - 2013.

The kids and I at the pumpkin patch – 2013.

(probably 2-3) by my late twenties.  Now that I am older, I have learned that life certainly doesn’t always work out the way we plan.  But sometimes, the unexpected can be just as good, or dare I say, even better.

When I met my husband about eight years ago, I had never dated a guy with children before.  Many women were hesitant to do so, but never having had the experience, and having a particular love for children, I found the fact that Brad was a father endearing and sweet.  I eagerly accepted Brandon, 3, and Mariah, 7, and spent many of our first weekends together playing rounds of Disney Monopoly and other kids’ games.

Our family, early days.

Our family, early days.

For the first few years, being a “stepmom” was easy.  At the time, Brad only had the kids every second weekend.  I stepped back when it came to discipline and let Brad and his ex, Julie, take care of that.  I didn’t have the day-to-day responsibility of helping with homework (although I loved to help Mariah learn how to read), carting them around to various activities, and making sure their household chores were done.

But all that changed about three years into my relationship with Brad.  The kids’ mom had a career change and asked us if we were interested in splitting custody of the kids (we’d have them one week, she’d have them the next).  I was reluctant for such a sudden change, but Brad saw it as an opportunity for what he really wanted – far more time with his kids, and so we agreed.

Suddenly, our fun-filled weekends of games, play time, and activities, with the kids turned into a much larger responsibility.  I was no longer just the “fun” stepmom with an endless supply of craft ideas; I was now a real parent with rules, a hand in discipline, and my very own set of expectations.

Toronto trip

Toronto trip 2009

That first year, as a new “mom” was rough.  As all new parents know, having kids is a life-changing, huge sacrifice.  It seems like your whole world is turned upside down.  You no longer operate under your own schedule and your own priorities are never, ever first anymore.  I was the primary breadwinner at the time too, so that meant spending a lot of my hard-earned money on things the kids needed (until this point in my life, all my extra cash went to shopping for clothes and beauty products!)  Most parents have at least nine months (or longer while they plan pregnancies) to wrap their heads around this idea – for me, it was different.  It seemed, I was thrown into motherhood overnight – and to make things even tougher, I was raising someone else’s kids.

Camp Kipawa

Camp Kipawa

There was definitely a lengthy period of adjustment for both me and the kids as we got used to living and being with each other in an entirely new way.  I vividly remember the day we hit the breaking point.  The kids, as kids sometimes do, had been fighting non-stop and just generally acting miserable.  I was filled with resentment and feeling unappreciated for all the sacrifices I had made to have them living with us.  I was at my wit’s end and as tears of frustration streamed down my face, my husband (boyfriend at the time), looked at me and gently said, “You know, Kel, there are guys just like me out there with no kids, you could go and find one.”   While I perfectly respected and loved him for the option of “setting me free”, the thought of leaving him tore my heart into a hundred pieces.  It was in that moment, that I had a major, life-changing realization:  if I was going to love Brad and have a future with him, then I had to 100% accept his kids and love them and treat them as if they were my own.

From that day forward, that realization has helped me to become a better, more loving and accepting stepmom.  It’s a unique kind of love when you’re raising

Family game night

Family game night

kids that are not biologically yours.  I don’t have the inner, maternal “bond” that many mothers develop while their babies are still in the womb, but I do love these kids the same as if they had my own flesh and blood.  I have the same expectations for them and want to teach them all the things I would teach my own babies (although sometimes it’s easier said than done, considering they bounce back and forth between two, very different households). And while I never held them in my arms while rocking them to sleep, changed their diapers, or experienced many of their “firsts”, we do have a very special history together chalked full of precious memories.

K&B-106

Dancing with Brandon

Don’t get me wrong – there are still days when it is extremely tough – especially now that one is a teenager and the other thinks he is a teenager.  I still have extremely high expectations of how I think they should behave but am learning that kids will be kids, and for some things at least, I have to let it go.  I am learning to deal with the fact that I have to do excessive, endless loads of laundry, that I’m practically a personal taxi service, and that no matter how many times I tell them, they will never remember not to leave their shoes in the middle of the entranceway beside the front door.

For Brandon and I particularly, it’s been a challenging road at times.  For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why he insisted so much on pushing my buttons, and why I just couldn’t control my temper with him.  So many times, I ended up screaming and yelling at him (and he back at me), and then crying my heart out with pure frustration and guilt.  After much work, and advice from our family counsellor, I am learning how to be a better stepmom to Brandon. One thing I have realized just recently is one of the reasons Brandon and I have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye: we are actually a lot alike.  We are both tirelessly stubborn and like to have things done our own way.  We like to control every situation and aren’t very good at listening to others when we are fired up about a topic.  But while this has its obvious challenges, I have to admit, there’s a small part of me that’s proud he’s a little bit like me.

I was honoured to have Mariah as one of my bridesmaids.

I was honoured to have Mariah as one of my bridesmaids.

It’s funny now when I look back at pictures of the kids from that time when Bradley and I first met.  They are so little in those pictures – the amount they’ve grown and have changed, absolutely floors me. Then it hits me ~ I have been around for half of Mariah’s life, and Brandon probably remembers very little about life without me.  It makes me immensely happy to realize this, immensely happy to know that I am truly a real part of their life, and them of mine.  Not only that, but it makes me incredibly proud – I think of how much

Canada's Wonderland

Canada’s Wonderland

Brandon has progressed on the ice, from a little Timbit, who couldn’t even stand on skates, to a kid who dreams of playing in the NHL.  I think of Mariah’s smile as she lights up the stage at her dance recitals and dances so beautifully it makes me cry.

It’s true, I may not haven given birth to these kids, and it may not be at all what I thought I wanted out of life, but now, looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  From two, adorable little faces who smiled shyly at me the first time we met, I have learned so much.  I have learned that it doesn’t take flesh and blood to be a parent.  I have learned that parenting is by far the most challenging job in the world.  I have learned that there will be ups and downs, and some days you will feel like you just can’t go on, but that other days, your heart will spill over with love and pride, for two small beings that you can’t imagine your life without.  And most of all, I have learned that they are mine – my son, my daughter, who I love very much and who forever will hold a very dear place in the depths of my heart.

 

 

Advertisements

Childhood Adventures

While chatting in the lunchroom today, some of my colleagues and I got to talking about childrens’ toys and memories of things we played with when we were small.  I shared with them how my 2-year-old niece loves to imagine that she’s cooking and will play for hours with her plastic food.  My colleague commented that her 3-year-old loves nothing more than stirring an empty pot with a wooden spoon, envisioning whatever concoction is on the “menu” that day.  As we sat there sharing and discussing, it got me thinking about my own childhood, especially all the imaginative play I used to do and before I knew it, I was flooded with such wonderful, heart-warming memories, I just had to share.

girl on swingWhen I was a kid, my parents owned a home that was close to 100-years-old.  Just off the living room at the front of the house, there was a very small, old porch that never got used.  The porch was probably only 3 ft. by 4ft. but as a child it felt like my very own palace since my parents had taken the time and effort to transform it into a little “house” for me. Inside, I remember a tiny, wooden table with a homemade tablecloth, that my Mom had sewn, draped over it.  There was a small cupboard ( made by my Dad?) stocked full of white plastic dishes with tiny pink roses decorating the edges.  Due to the house’s age, the windows were old – cracked white paint on the ledges with an endless supply of houseflies always meeting their fate there on hot, summer days.  My Mom had also sewn some tiny curtains and hung them on the windows, making the place feel like a real home.  I can picture my little doll’s high chair sitting next to the table and the steep wooden steps that led outside, with a screen door that slammed shut as I raced out of my playhouse into the wonders of our enormous backyard.

Outside my tiny palace, our yard was safely protected by a tall hedge that my parents meticulously trimmed each summer.  I can vividly remember the smell of the leaves on that hedge and how easy it was to find wee ladybugs crawling amongst them. We’d carefully pluck the insect from the leaf and turn our hands gently as it crawled around our fingers. In one corner of our yard, stood a massive ever green tree (so huge, it must have been well over 100-years old itself!)  The trees’ sharp needles smelled of pine and reached to the ground creating a tent-like space underneath it to play in the shade.  Further along, was our swing set –  the one I’d spend hours on, pumping my legs to go as high as I could, and shamelessly singing at the top of my lungs.  Next to sandboxme, my brother dug for hours in his sandbox (again, built my Dad) that came with it’s very own lid to protect it when it rained.  Past the sandbox, was my parents’ garden.  It was huge and when we were kids it bloomed with all kinds of vegetables – green and yellow beans, peas, carrots, potatoes, even pumpkins, and along the back our very own set of brambling raspberry bushes.  Oh, how those raspberries smelled during picking season! Next to the garden, was my “Dad’s” little shed, neatly painted brown and white, stocked full of his tools and other supplies, and always smelling like gasoline and old things.  Then there was our patio deck.  It raspberrieswrapped around our house which made it huge enough for me to imagine it was my very own stage.  I’d take my little boom-box out to the deck and spend hours dancing and singing, imagining my very own audience in lawn chairs spread across the grass cheering me on.  Even now when I think about it, I can smell burgers on the BBQ and hear Madonna and the New Kids on the Block blasting from those tiny speakers.

As if our wonderful yard wasn’t fun enough, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house situated at one end of a dead-end street.  This meant that all the neighborhood kids could safely play out there, with very little worry of any traffic.  In the summer, we rode our bikes, up and down, up and down, up and down that street, sometimes venturing a few blocks  away to the park to play on the tire swing or to take a turn down the slide, so hot that the metal would burn the skin on your thighs.  Other times, we’d spend hours collecting sticks, old 2x4s, and whatever else we could get our hands on, to build our own forts in the ravine at the end of the street.  In the spring, when the ditches were full of water and the air smelled like mud, we’d tromp along in our rubber boots rubber bootsimagining some kind adventure only a child can imagine.  In winter, we’d invite all of our friends and play such rowdy games of “road hockey” that even some of the adults on the street would come out to play. It wouldn’t be until well past dark and we were completely exhausted that our mothers would finally call us in.

Thinking back to this time as a care-free, imaginative child, I feel so very lucky that I had the childhood I had.  These playful and heartwarming memories only lead to remembering more joyous times in my youth – my beautiful, lavender bedroom stocked full of toys and books, my tap-dancing space in the basement, laying on the couch on days home sick from school, watching cartoons and eating chicken noodle soup made by Grandma.  I am so very blessed for each and every one of these memories, and now it brings such happiness to my heart when I watch my own nieces spend hours playing games they’ve made up, and going on adventures only a child can imagine.