Wild River Review
Wild River Review
Connecting People, Places, and Ideas: Story by Story
May 2010
Open Borders

Everybody, everybody, so so sorry I haven’t posted in a week or so now (I know, such a bad clich├ęd and overused blog line), but I’ve been busy traveling for work and, frankly, licking my most recent wounds. After all, it never feels good to have your 46-year-old donkey kicked by a troubled 11-year-old. And even though I know I’m the adult, it grows increasingly difficult to remember that when I need to the most. Like in trying to get past the things that C said to me last weekend – namely that I was about as important in the scheme of our blended family as, say, a hangnail that won’t heal or a drawer full of wooden nickels. 


Besides, even we bloggers need a break from time to time. Were I able to pipe in some hold music like, say, the elevator-ed version of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida (because “hold” music is never the real thing), I would in a heartbeat. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to click to this site and hear Chris Martin’s silky undertones? Can’t you just see him, bopping around on the virtual stage like a human grasshopper? Feel the pounding of the drums and the haunting hum of the piano? Doesn’t it make you want to crawl inside the notes and let them carry you off, like some prince on a white horse in a fairy tale dream made real?


Doesn’t it? DOESN’T IT?


Big sigh.


So this weekend, again, we had C.  Again (did I already say that?). This time, she brought her trusty girlfriend S with her (“twins separated at birth,” is how C refers to them–it’s only slightly cute). And while she and S were sleeping on Saturday morning, Dan and I took the dogs for our usual walk. Only when we got back to the house, we were greeted by two excited little girls and the smell of something burning.


Turns out, C and S were awake and, instead of waiting for us to come back, had decided to make toast in the toaster oven (something C has never attempted in the four years she’s been coming to visit us). Here’s where the story gets a bit garbled for me, but from what I could gather through their childlike retelling, the paper towel they used to grab the finished toast from the oven somehow caught fire and they had to quickly douse it out in the sink. Of course, it was over in a flash without any greater incident. Still, they tried to call both Dan and me on our cell phones once it was over, but we didn’t hear them ring ’cause they were on vibrate. (We bad.) So, C did something almost as frightening as setting the house on fire:


She called her mother. (gasp) (gasp again) (gasp again and again)


Yep, the same woman who, just four months into our marriage, refused to let C visit us for almost five months because (among other false accusations) my husband raised his voice to her. Imagine: A parent actually yelling at his child. Definitely punishable by law, don’t you think?

As Dan and I listened to C’s words, now coming out of her mouth in super slow motion, I looked at Dan and he looked at me and, even though neither of us are mind readers, I could tell by our bookend looks of horror that we were thinking the exact same thing: If Mommy Dearest prohibited C from seeing us because Dan spoke a few decibels louder than usual, we could only imagine how she’d react to a situation that involved actual flames.


Dan spoke first: “You did WHAT?”


C: “I called my mom.”


Dan: “But why? Wasn’t the problem solved? And didn’t you feel proud of yourself for solving it?”


C: “Yes, but I wanted to tell someone.”


C’s friend S: [Nothing. She didn't say anything. All weekend. Not one word. Stunned into silence. Nada.]


Dan: [Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God....] He didn’t say this out loud but I could see it running along his brain like the days top headlines on cable television…


It’s in these moments I have learned, in my some 48 months of excruciating step-parenting, to excuse myself–less I start defying the sound barrier with my own screams. So, I immediately did what I fear I’ll likely be remembered for doing often and best: I went to the bathroom. And I stayed there for an excessively long time in the hopes that by the time I came out, the crisis would be over. And the house would be filled with love and raucous laughter.


What I got was somewhere in between (skewed more to the former). When I finally did surface, some 15 minutes and four Oprah articles later, Dan and C were upstairs behind closed doors in her bedroom having what I later came to learn was a “come to Jesus” talk about what really happened two years ago, when we couldn’t see her. (To which I say: Hallelujah and finally.)


And S was standing in the kitchen looking like a wax statue–saying and doing nothing (poor kid). So, naturally, I invited her to have some hot chocolate and watch an age-appropriate movie on cable. After all, I would never leave a kid in a bind.


I really don’t know what else to say about all of this except having kids is a lot of work, I now know firsthand. I don’t profess it’s any easier for bio-parents – probably harder in so many ways – but at least when you’re the parent, you have the freedom and flexibility to do what must be done. And you know that, if nothing else, your kid loves you. They have to–it’s the law of nature.


When you’re the stepparent, you can try and try and be loving and kind and embrace the not-your-kid with all the gusto you have inside and be as diplomatic as any world leader and still, often, it won’t matter. You’ll never win. Ever. If the kid loves you or even just likes you, the other parent won’t and she’ll act accordingly. And if the kid hates you, well, you’ll have to wrestle that cat for a very long time.


Which is why I am always grateful for pizza and new boots and having really good hair–and an imagination that lets me believe Winnie and Elvis, our rescue dogs, are devoted to my wellbeing. Would throw over a pound of raw prime rib dangling from a string of pure beef sausage to see me smile even just for a moment… And that’s all I’ll say about that. At least, for now…

In the meantime, I’m gonna talk to my editor about ushering in a little music. Until next time…


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