Stepping Up to Step-parenting

I suck at parenting. I admit it, I’m a bad mom. I could make a million excuses for my failure. After all, I didn’t give birth to my daughter. She came into my life as a bright and bubbly 9-year-old fourth grader with a fully formed personality and a real mom to whom she is profoundly attached.

I always wanted to be a mom, and because I like kids, I always believed I’d be good at it. Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that I suck at parenting. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, depending on the way you look at it), I’m not alone. The truth of the matter is that most parents suck at parenting. I know very few parents who are actually good at it. Most of us are just winging it.

We manage to feed and clothe our kiddos, and we try to make good choices in terms of their education. When it comes to the hard stuff, though, we all pretty much stumble around blindly. What separates those of us with the potential to become good parents from those who will perpetually suck at parenting is our ability to accept that our children are unique individuals, separate from us, with their own lives to live. They’re not extensions of us. Our own identities should not be inextricably tied to our kids, yet I see that in so many parents. I see it in my daughter’s mother.

I’ve often joked that my past reads more as a cautionary tale than a fairy tale. My recent foray into parenting is proving to be no exception in that regard. I read a wonderful blog post recently, An Open Letter to My Daughter’s Stepmom, that made me realize how far my daughter’s mother and I are from being a good co-parenting team. Unlike the Mom/Stepmom pair in that letter, our relationship was adversarial from the beginning, and it’s grown progressively worse in the months since our daughter came to live with her dad and me.

I don’t want to be the enemy. I don’t want to be the demon who has stolen a mother’s daughter. All I want—all I’ve ever wanted—is what’s best for a bright little girl who was unfairly dealt a bad hand. If that makes me the enemy, so be it. If teaching our daughter to be independent and to think critically about the things that people (including those she loves most) say and do makes me a demon, so be it. If the fact that our daughter has thrived in the months she’s lived under our roof makes me the source of all evil, I can accept that.

I may very well suck at parenting. But if my willingness to put an innocent little girl’s needs above my own and my ability to distinguish between her identity and mine are any indication, at least I can take comfort in the fact that I have the potential to become a good parent. Someday.

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Itching to Stitch – Part III

Part of my charm is that I’m undaunted by large projects. The bigger the better, really. My proclivity for massive undertakings does present certain challenges in terms of balance, however. This particular project has proved to be more of a full-time job than an evening pastime, I’m afraid. I’m not getting much of anything else done while this project consumes my time, but it’s been fun to watch our wedding tapestry evolve from a cartoon to a nearly finished piece.

Here’s a quick look at the evolution of a needlepoint tapestry.

House of Reamy

Center monogram pattern designed by Marlene of New York Needleworks.

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As I approach the home stretch on this needlepoint project, I’m already thinking about my next big project, which is to set up an online store for my jewelry. And of course I have tons of ideas for jewelry that I’m anxious to create.

 

 

 

Real Estate Nightmares

My husband and I are shopping for a house. We’ve been living in Lakewood, CO for a little over a year now, and the more familiar we become with the Denver metro area, the more we appreciate our current location. We have easy access to a fabulous green belt and miles of both paved and single-track bike trails. We’re close enough to downtown Denver and the tech center that my husband’s commute to work isn’t intolerable. Yet we’re far enough removed from the rat race that we don’t feel suffocated by humanity (or the lack thereof, as anyone who has ever been stuck in Denver’s rush hour traffic can attest). We have easy access to everything we need in terms of shopping; and perhaps most importantly, our daughter loves her school.

Given our satisfaction with our current locale and the outrageous rents in our area, buying a house makes good financial sense. Finding the right house for our family and lifestyle, however, is proving to be a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, we’re not in any hurry to find the perfect home. In fact, we’re really sort of enjoying taking our sweet time.

I’ve always been fascinated with houses—so much so that I’m pretty sure I’m meant to be a realtor, interior designer, or general contractor. I’ve bought and sold three homes thus far, and I enjoyed the process each time. It helps, I’m sure, that all three purchases and sales went off without a hitch. I’ve heard plenty of real estate nightmares from friends in the industry through the years, but I’ve yet to actually experience one first hand. I suspect that’s because I go into the process with my eyes wide open.

After owning and remodeling three very different homes (one old, one new(ish), and one mobile), I’ve learned a great deal about evaluating real estate. I know the subtle signs that can indicate hidden mechanical or structural problems. I immediately recognize the difference between professional craftsmanship and that of a weekend warrior. I know which changes can be easily and cost-effectively made versus those that can be prohibitively expensive. Basically, I can look past the cosmetics of a house (good or bad) to determine whether a house has good bones and is priced appropriately.

It wasn’t until my husband and I started looking at houses that I realized how much I’ve taken those skills for granted. We’ve had a couple of run-ins with real estate “investors” lately that are at once amusing and horrifying. Both investors took novel approaches to flipping homes in our neighborhood. I like to call it the ‘lipstick on a pig’ principle. They invested their entire project budget in cosmetics and blatantly neglected to address some of the most basic structural, mechanical, and local concerns.

Not surprisingly, neither investor managed to get anywhere near the original asking price. In fact, one of those homes is still on the market, and I suspect it will be for quite some time. The price on that particular house has been dropped more than $60,000 since we first walked through it, and it’s still priced a good $120,000 over the average sale price for the neighborhood.

Sadly, both homes will eventually be occupied by someone who failed to see past the sleek cosmetics to the crumbling bones or the fact that their dream house is grossly overpriced for the neighborhood. Those poor buyers will undoubtedly pay too much for a house that is only going to cost them even more money when the deferred maintenance disguised by new flooring and fresh paint finally reaches a critical breaking point. Or worse, they’ll find themselves upside down in a house that won’t gain a penny of equity unless they intend to live there for twenty years or more.

There’s a common belief among the fix-n-flip types that haphazardly installing new flooring, stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, and a fresh coat of paint is all that’s necessary to fool most buyers into overpaying for a house. Add that belief to the willingness of certain unethical or inexperienced appraisers to grossly overvalue houses, introduce an inexperienced or naive buyer to the mix, and you have all the ingredients necessary for that buyer’s downfall.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a mom now, but I can’t help feeling a certain degree of maternal protectiveness for all the young and inexperienced home buyers out there. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting into real estate sales for years, but I’ve never been fully committed to making such a dramatic career change. For every bad fix-n-flip I see, however, I feel a greater sense of urgency to educate and protect young buyers from making terrible mistakes. I can only imagine how many other poorly flipped houses are lurking in other parts of the city, just waiting for an unsuspecting buyer to stumble into the fiscally fatal trap of the real estate nightmare.

New Year; New Resolve

WP_20150102_002I stopped making New Year resolutions in 1998. That was the year that my home was burglarized and vandalized by a ring of teen-age thugs roaming the streets of Anchorage, AK. You can’t know the violation of that sort of thing unless you’ve experienced it personally.

I arrived home from work one day and realized immediately that something was wrong. My apartment smelled like bleach, and although nothing registered as being obviously out of place, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. As I looked around, the first thing I noticed missing was my saxophone, which I kept on a stand near the hearth of my fireplace. The moment I realized that someone had been in my apartment, I went to the hiding spot where I kept my gun. It, too, was gone. At that point, panic set in, and I called 911.

After reporting the burglary, which the dispatcher took with an almost bored demeanor, I started to take stock of what was missing. My home hadn’t been ransacked, exactly, but a lot was stolen—all of my jewelry, all of my lingerie, my leather jacket, my saxophone, my entire CD collection. My gun, ammo, and all of my target shooting gear, from paper targets to shooting glasses and earmuffs. Yet, to a stranger walking in my door, nothing appeared out of place.

Drawers were shut, closet doors were closed. Nothing, besides the lock on my front door, appeared to have been damaged. It was only upon closer inspection that I began to discover the malicious acts of vandalism that accompanied the theft. I couldn’t figure out where the smell of bleach was coming from until I opened my closet door to look for my ammunition. It was then I discovered that someone had poured Clorox all over the clothes hanging in my closet and then carefully put the empty bottle of bleach back in the laundry closet where it belonged. Every stitch of clothing in my closet was ruined.

I thought it was strange that they didn’t steal my computer. Later, I discovered they tried to destroy it instead by pouring milk all over the keyboard and tower. They put the empty carton of milk back in the refrigerator. I had a Bowflex at the time, and they partially cut all of the cables on that machine. Either they weren’t strong enough to cut the cables entirely, or they hoped I wouldn’t notice the cuts and the cables would snap while I worked out. The final act of spite I discovered is that the burglars took the piece of paper on which I’d written my resolutions for that year and placed it carefully, face up, in my toilet. I haven’t put any New Year resolutions in writing since that year.

When an officer finally showed up to take my statement (hours after I’d called 911), the second assault came when he looked at me accusingly and asked what I did to make someone hate me so much to so maliciously attack my home. I hardly knew anyone in Anchorage at that time. I’d been living there for less than two years, and all I ever did was work. I didn’t know anyone outside of my coworkers, and I knew very few of them well. I realized in that moment that I would get no help at all from the police. I never felt more alone.

About two years later, the police splashed the nightly news with reports that they’d busted a ring of teen-aged burglars who had been wreaking havoc in South Anchorage for over a year. I called and spoke with the lead investigator to tell him I believed that I was probably one of their first victims. He said he’d look into it, but of course I never heard from him again. I don’t doubt that some of the things stolen from me were recovered in that bust, but they never bothered to match the goods they recovered with the traceable items I’d reported stolen. My tax dollars at work…

That burglary was a turning point for me in many ways. I became even more isolated and withdrawn. More distrustful; more cynical. I refused to become more fearful, however, so I did three things with the settlement I got from my insurance company: I immediately replaced my gun, I adopted a 3-year-old 100-pound Giant Schnauzer named ‘Ricky’ who would be my constant companion and protector for the next eight years, and I used the remainder of the insurance settlement to make a down payment on a house so I could get out of that apartment (and out of south Anchorage, which was plagued with gangs).

Life went on. I lived in Anchorage for seven more years after that incident. Happily, for the most part; but I never did make many friends there, and it never really felt like home. Were it not for Ricky (that’s him, pictured above, enjoying a dip in his favorite creek at his favorite dog park in Anchorage) and my job, I’d have been an almost total recluse in those years. Although I still set certain goals for myself, I never wrote them down again because the image of my New Year resolutions from 1998 staring up at me from the toilet is permanently etched in my mind.

WP_20150102_003One goal I set in 2004 was to move back to Colorado in 2006. I achieved that goal, and I’ve resided in Colorado ever since. Ricky was almost eleven years old by then, and suffering from terminal cancer. He died May 26, 2007 and left an irreparable hole in my heart. Our feline friend and companion, Jade, died suddenly and unexpectedly six months later. I’ve often wondered if her sudden death was partly because she missed Ricky. It is my sincerest wish that he’ll come back to me someday soon in a fresh, healthy body, brimming with the thrill for adventure for which he was so well known. I see much of Jade’s sweet spirit in Rose, so if Ricky returns again, our little triad of entangled souls will be complete once again.

I’m not starting 2015 with any specific resolutions, but I have resolved to be happier and healthier than ever this year. My life has been on a sharp upward trend for the past two years. I married my best friend in 2013, and I gained a beautiful stepdaughter and a wonderful extended family in the process. My husband’s career is flourishing, which has in turn given me the space and freedom to reinvent myself professionally. I don’t know yet exactly what that’s going to look like, but I am confident that this is the year my new profession will begin to take shape.

My dearest girlfriend just got engaged to the love of her life on Christmas Eve. Jenn and I have been through a lot together in the seven plus years that we’ve been friends, so I couldn’t be happier that we’ve found our happily-ever-afters at essentially the same time. Her first date with her fiancee, Austin, was just three days after Matt and I got married. Interestingly, Austin grew up in Alaska. It’s funny how life plays out and how small this world that we live in really is…

Happy New Year, friends and followers. May 2015 be a wonderful year for all.