My children from another mother

I don’t think any little girl daydreams about being a step mom. They do have a terribly bad reputation after all, especially considering how the Cinderella story ended up.  And it certainly was never on my bucket list. But here I am; step-mother to two grown up “children”, who came into my life courtesy of the man I love.  I often get asked by friends and other people what it has been like. (Sometimes people I don’t even know, when I mention that I have two step-sons). I always say that it has been okay. We have good days and bad days. Like parents of one’s own children, I guess.

I know a few people who are in a similar boat to me, second marriages, step-kids etc. But the main difference is that they are all every second weekend step-moms. No full-timers. Big difference it seems. Every second weekenders do only fun stuff, and never seem to deal with the day to day living together issues. They become the cool step-parent. Not the piss-us-off step-parent.

The boys were young when I met Gary, 12 and 14 to be exact, and definitely in the throes of being moody teenagers. I often joke that I am grateful that they were not girls, as boys are somehow easier during this torrid, hormonally volatile age. I was young too. All of 28, and certainly did not have a clue on how to be a parent, and having children was not exactly on my agenda yet. I am also not the easiest person when it comes to being affectionate with people, or letting people into the complex space that is my head and heart. So to say that I embraced my step-motherhood with open arms would be a blatant lie. After all, I didn’t grow up in a household where saying “I love you” every five minutes, or talking openly about one’s feelings was the norm. At best, I have stumbled along, and have learned to love these boys, albeit sometimes at a distance. I have tried as well as I know how, within the walls that I have built around me, to be an okay step-parent. I do consider them as my family, and would never change the fact that they are a part of my life. I do sometimes wonder if it would have been easier if they were both ten years younger when I met them. It certainly is easier to endear oneself to a toddler, than it is to a teenager. And vice-versa!

In the early days of our relationship, Gary’s ex caused a fair amount of shit trouble for us, as exes are often wont to do, especially when children are involved. Every second weekend, the boys would spend time with their mom, and we would have to deal with sulks and mood swings. I even met up with her once to have a chat, which ended up with her telling me things like I will never be their mom, and that I must never expect the kids to love me, because they won’t, and that they will never listen to me etc. It was an interesting meeting to say the least, and I will admit that I did feel somewhat jaded by the whole process.  I did even for a brief moment consider walking away from the relationship with Gary, as I was not sure that I was up for all the baggage I was about to have explode on my doorstep. (Lucky for me, she left the country about 2 years into our relationship, and these days, she even sends my kids Christmas presents. A total 360 from that first meeting. As they say “time heals all wounds”.) I was too young to be a mother of teenage boys, who were already some-what jaded and broken as a result of the divorce. But I believed in the relationship enough to stay, despite sometimes being completely out of my depth. And kids can be manipulative, nasty things. They can also be kind and sweet and loving. I can safely say I have experienced both ends of the spectrum.

It’s a funny thing being a step-parent. And the family dynamic that ensues is very different to that of a “normal” family. Sometimes I feel excluded, like a third wheel, like an intruder in Gary and his boy’s happy threesome. I have sometimes struggled with what my role should be in the boys lives. A friend? A mom? An authority figure? A role-model? To be honest, it is complicated. But maybe it’s just me. My inability to let people get close to me, to let people into my thought-processes. I am sure that if I had had children of my own, before becoming a step-mom, I may have approached things differently. It is not that I have been crappy to the boys, in fact it is quite the opposite, but I know that I am definitely guilty of not letting them get too close. Or maybe doing enough “mommy” things for them. I know that I can be hard, and uncompromising, and children need a little bit of slack sometimes. I only fully realize this now that I am a mother of my own children. I have never gotten involved in disciplining or deciding what was right or wrong for the boys to do. That is not my place, that is their father’s role. I often bite my tongue when I am angry with the boys for something, but maybe I should be letting it all out, as that is what a “normal” parent would certainly do. It is easier for me to cocoon myself away and avoid dealing with stuff. I hate conflict, and would rather bottle up my emotions than have to actually let people see my weaknesses. So there are times when our relationship is strained. And there are times when it is good too. But I guess that also applies to being a “real” parent. Right?

As the boys have both become adults, I am proud of what they have achieved. (Craig is a lawyer, who graduated at the top of his class, and Stuart is busy completing his engineering degree). I have watched them grow from boys into men, and I can honestly say I would never change my situation for all the gold in the world. They are intelligent, confident young men, who occupy a very special part of my heart. I love the fact that they love my babies, Alex and Caris, unconditionally, and they will always be there for them, and that they have embraced these two little people who also compete for their father’s time and affection. They are great boys, and I am fortunate to have them as my family.

Music, Chocolate and Surgery

The Easter weekend is typically a time when all inhabitants of the little province called Gauteng head en-masse down to Durbs.  It is also usually when the temperatures up here on the escarpment tend to plummet into single figures on the thermometer, so it certainly makes sense to escape winter’s grip for an extra few days! It is also the one long weekend of the year that sadly boasts the highest road death toll in South Africa, hence I am not a big fan of travelling anywhere on the Easter weekend by car. So we stayed home, and had four glorious days of no work!

The weekend started off with a trip to the Vet at 6.30PM on Thursday night. What I thought was just an itchy patch on Fangio’s back, turned out to be a big sore, and was on the verge of becoming septic. With the prospect of all vets being closed for the long weekend, we all piled into the car and off to the vet, who was luckily still open. The vet shaved off a big patch of fur to clean up the wound, as Alex stood by saying “you are such a good boy Fan-jee”. He loves going with me to the vet, and loves it even more when his friends the dogs get to drive in the car with us. The vet sent us home with a three week supply of anti-biotics to make sure the infection clears. (Oh joy, giving medication to dogs is just as bad as giving medication to toddlers. )

On Sunday night, we went to see The Eagles at “Soccer City” Stadium. They were absolutely amazing, and certainly still know how to get the crowd going, despite being in their sixties! Gary and I were having such fun singing along, clapping and dancing, despite some funny looks from the woman sitting to Gary’s right. If the truth be told, The Eagles are probably a little before my time, but I have grown to love them as they are one of Gary’s Favourite bands. (And shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I am secretly in love with Don Henley).

We were about ten rows from the front, so the sound and vibe was brilliant. They opened with Seven Bridges Road, and their harmonising was just fantastic. Their voices were still pitch perfect, considering that they have been performing for over forty years. They also performed a few of Joe Walsh’s solo songs, and of course some of Don Henley’s too, such as Boys of Summer and Dirty Laundry. (So I got to see close-ups of him on the big screen!) Hotel California was left for the encore, and they ended the show (perfectly) with Desperado, one of my all-time favourite ballads. This concert will definitely remain one of the highlights of 2012 for me!

On Monday morning, the Easter Bunny visited Alex and Caris and left chocolate eggs hidden all over the garden. (yes, I know it should have been Sunday, but Gary plays golf on Sunday mornings, so we asked him to come a day later 😉 …) Alex had an absolute ball, and was so excited searching through the garden dressed in his pyjamas and his “wellie boots”. Armed with his basket to collect all the goodies, he had a wonderful time looking for treats behind trees and under bushes. I just love the excitement and enthusiasm that exudes from him at this age. (We later had the family round for lunch, who all brought more bunnies, eggs and jelly beans, and now we have enough chocolate and sweet things to last the rest of the year!)

Just over 18 months ago, I went to see an orthopaedic surgeon about numbness and pins and needles in my right hand, and I was diagnosed with Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. This is where the Ulnar nerve becomes compressed at the elbow, in the spot commonly referred to as the funny bone. I was about 6 weeks pregnant with Caris at the time, so decided not to do anything about it. It is not painful, but it is a pain, in that my two last fingers were going numb more and more often. So after having a neural transfer done a few months ago to test the nerve response, and confirm that it was indeed trapped, (and waiting a few more months for Caris to grow up a little) I had the surgery to release the nerve on Tuesday. It was a short procedure, and I opted to have a block instead of general anaesthetic, so my recovery was quick. (Other than having what felt like someone else’s dead arm attached to me for 8 hours while the block wore off).  Alex was very impressed by the big bandage on my arm, and all he wanted to do is see the stitches and know if it is bleeding. Caris, however, was most unimpressed that I could not pick her up. (I forgot that ten months is the peak of clingyness.) It takes about six months for the nerve to recover, and hopefully by then I will stop dropping things!

And just like that, the Easter weekend waved goodbye, and left behind a rather icy Joburg.

Sliding Doors

Remember that movie from the late 90’s, Sliding Doors? The tag-line on movie poster said: “What if one split-second sent your life in two completely different directions?” I am sure that everyone has found themselves at a cross-roads at least once in their lives, and taken a specific path, only to wonder at some point, “what if I had made a different decision?”

This weekend just passed, we had some old friends of Gary’s around for lunch. They live in Australia now, and I have not seen them since our wedding. The first time I met Trevor and Barbara, was the day after mine and Gary’s first date. They left the country to go and live in Scotland shortly thereafter, so I have never really had the opportunity to get to know them that well. Gary has known Trevor all his life, they met in primary school, and are still best of friends, even though they don’t get to see each other much these days. When I went to bed, I couldn’t get that movie, Sliding Doors, out of my mind, I couldn’t help wondering how my life would be, if either of us had made a different decision, after that first date.

As everyone sat around, reminiscing about days gone by (as you do when you see someone you haven’t seen in ages) I was reminded of the life that Gary had before me. How these friends represent a time in Gary’s life that I am not a part of, a part where he was in love with someone else, married to someone else, having babies with and making a life with someone else.  It is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. Even now. And as much as we have a strong relationship, we have a family together and love each other tremendously, the thought of it makes me feel somewhat uneasy. Which is what made me think of that movie. What if, in a split-second, we had somehow taken different paths.

At the time of Sliding Doors’ release, in 1998, I was involved with someone who, in the end, hurt me very badly, by having an affair. (Who incidentally arrived outside my house with a marriage proposal pinned to the side of his car, on the morning Gary and I went for breakfast after our first date. Long story.) In 1998, Gary had been married for 12 years, and had 2 boys, aged 11 and 9. I am not sure if getting divorced was even a fleeting thought in his head at that time. Even in a made for TV romance, it would be hard to believe that these two paths would cross, and continue along one path together. Did destiny intervene and set the wheels in motion for us.  What if Gary did not get divorced? What if I didn’t find out about the affair and stayed with “Mr Wrong”? What if we had not gone for lunch that day? What if these friends of Gary’s had not liked me when they first met me, and had discouraged him from pursuing the relationship? And I shudder to think, What if my babies did not exist as a result?

Thankfully I do not need to know the answers to these questions, and I am so happy with the way things have worked out. I am glad that we both chose this particular path, and that the what if scenarios exist only in my imagination.

I love you Gary, and I am so glad that we picked the same sliding door.