Stepparenting is a hell of a drug. Actually, if it were a drug, it would probably be LSD because it takes everything you thought you knew, distorts it beyond recognition, and messes with your head all the while. The only difference is, LSD is probably more fun. I don’t know because I haven’t tried it, but that’s what I’m told by people who lived through the 60’s. Stepparenting, on the other hand, I have experienced, and this week has been a weird one, full of a lot of ups and downs. I actually felt better about it than I have in a long time after this weekend. We had fun, the kids weren’t fighting relentlessly, and my partner and I seemed to be on the same page. If our entire lives until the kids are grown, went like last weekend did, I would be happy with it.
Yesterday was when it got weird again. It was the stepkid’s birthday, which meant that his mother came to get him for a couple hours after school, bringing him back at bedtime. I’m uneasy with her coming to our house in the first place because she’s just been so hostile toward me ever since I moved out here. Nobody would feel ok with a person who’s basically their bully coming to their house. My partner took the stepkid out to her car at the curb when she came to pick him up, so that was nice. There’s just something about her standing at the doorway of where I live that makes me feel extremely uneasy, and he spared me that, which I appreciated.
While he was gone, we ate a simple dinner with my kids, and then my partner and I set about doing some work downstairs, moving furniture mostly. Like most people who are moving furniture, we weren’t dressed very nicely and the place was a real mess. Before we knew it, the doorbell rang, and there was my partner’s ex-wife with her new boyfriend whom we’d never met before, along with the kid. While technically, she didn’t do anything wrong, is that really a way to introduce your new partner to your kid’s other parents? Like, hi, here we are on your doorstep. Nice boxes and messy clothes. Nobody would like to meet someone new like that. I cannot imagine what she was thinking. We didn’t even know the boyfriend was in town (he lives in another state) and he wasn’t in the car when she picked the stepkid up. Although this did explain why she didn’t want to keep him overnight when we offered to let her do that. The boyfriend being there is a problem since that’s the only time she makes the kid sleep in his own bed. What could possibly go wrong?
Anyway, I didn’t expect to feel as weird as I do about the whole situation. I guess I just always thought she would someday find out some of what she put us through. I had assumed that she would end up with somebody who had kids, since most people do by the time they reach her age. I had pictured her dating some guy who had kids who either didn’t like her or she had no authority over, and dealing with that guy’s ex-wife, who will be a flawed human being with a set of quirks a mile wide, just so that she could get a taste of some of what she put me through.
I just remember feeling so demeaned by the fact that I had to make sure not to sneeze or cough in my own home while my partner was Skyping his son, because even that evidence of me being in my own apartment at 7 pm on any given week night was enough to set this particular ex-wife off into a tirade that would last for days (I’m still not sure where else she thought I’d be at that hour on a weeknight. I’ve never worked more than 40 hours a week.) It really messes with your head when your existence is so offensive to somebody you can’t just cut out of your life, that your partner literally hides you from them in the interest of self-preservation, while all of society cajoles, “She’s just hurt. Her husband left her. Give her time.” I don’t know if I will ever truly get past this. The fact that she won’t have a conversation with me and figure out how we even move on from here doesn’t help.
As it turns out, though, she didn’t get the dose of her own medicine that I always thought would eventually come. Instead, she ended up with someone who does not appear to have any children, and is living as much of a carefree life with this person as one can when one has 50% custody of their own kid.
I guess I resent the fact that my partner and I are expected to be implicitly supportive of this relationship when she made it her life’s mission for years on end to interfere in and antagonize ours. I honestly don’t want to watch the kid on extra days so she can go out of town again with this person she’s known for four months, when my partner and I have gotten away once by ourselves in four years. Of course, my partner doesn’t see it that way. He just wants to see his son, which I get, but at the end of the day, the outcome is, we’re helping these people to have the relationship that her presence deprived us of, and I have absolutely no idea how I am supposed to feel about that.
I’ve done so many mental gymnastics over the past 18 hours or so, and the only conclusion I’ve come to is this. It’s really easy to be at peace with a situation when the person who is your adversary of whatever sort, has nothing that you want for your own life. I was really at an ok place with the idea of this exact ex-wife because what I know about her is that she is in her 40’s, lives in a rental apartment, has horrendous credit, and basically does craft shows for a living, which isn’t exactly a lucrative career. I know that her settlement from the divorce and house sale is all the money she has in the entire world and that it’s less than one year of my salary. I know that she drives a car I think is ugly, has what I consider bad taste in clothes and makeup, and wears Bath and Body Works products that are popular among high school girls. While none of this makes her in any way a bad person, it just proves the point that not one thing about her life is something I would want for my own.
Then that delusion was ripped from my mind on my very own doorstep. There she was with her boyfriend, dropping off the kid with us so my partner could deal with his anxiety and stress over having to sleep alone, while they were off to have a kidfree night together. In the immortal words of my Drill Sergeant back at Ft. Leonard Wood, “ain’t that some shit?” As it turns out, those people driving off in that mini-van to that rental apartment have something I kind of do want! They have time alone to grow their relationship. She has a supportive ex-husband in my partner, which affords her something I will never have with any kind of regularity, and since nobody exists in a vacuum, and that’s my home, too, that this kid spends about half his life in, it feels a whole lot like in some tangential way, I’m being forced to give this person who has been nothing but awful to me, a level of support and balance that I myself would kill for, but stand roughly a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting.
I have absolutely no idea how to get past this, but the best I can figure is to put it in perspective. Like with most other things, I chose a different life than many people, and I had good reasons for that. I didn’t get to party in college, because engineering is difficult, and publishing was important. Consequently, I have a respectable paper count, few student loans, and no idea how to play beer pong. My partner and I couldn’t be carefree and take a million vacations while we were first dating because I was deep in my research, working on my thesis, and trying to get my foot in the door with a respectable employer so I could provide for my kids long term. I accomplished those goals.
In truth, what we’ve spent on our house these past few months would have paid for as many vacations as the ex and her boyfriend have taken, but even though vacations are fun, I would still choose our house a hundred times over, given the option to reconsider. Every time I drive up the street and see our house as I come home from work, I think to myself how we worked so hard for this, and earned every brick of it. I actually love paying our mortgage every month because it’s equity! Paying rent was starting to feel like getting mugged. I know as well as a person can, that when you’ve earned something and earned it hard, nothing could be sweeter. I also know that this life we chose is the right answer in every practical way. These kids need some stability. For all of them, ours is the only home owned by one of their parents. We are the ones who are there, doing what needs to be done, faithfully, and without fail. When they need someone to get them college recommendation letters, internships, a good word put in with the right people, I am the one who can do that for them because of the way I have established myself, not by going to Vegas every other month, or having as many dates with my partner as I would like to have, but by being as good an engineer as I can be, and devoting resources to the things they need to be devoted to.
That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, and it usually isn’t. When my oldest was born, and I was only 21, I made myself feel ok about the fact that I basically had to sacrifice my youth at the altar of parenting, through the knowledge that when she graduated high school, I would only be 38 years old, and that’s still young enough to have fun. I would be able to get parenting over with early and then have a good time when I had the money to do it right. I still believe that in a lot of ways. The best is yet to come. Maybe my partner and I didn’t get to take a million little trips together when we were a brand new couple, but we did get to go to Vegas together this past summer, the only vacation I’ve ever taken as an adult, and it was amazing.
We have committed to taking a vacation together every year, no kids. We need that. We are finally in a place to do it. We have our home. I have a good job. He’s been in business for as long as I’ve been alive. We don’t have extravagant things and we don’t get to do nearly as much together as we might want, but we have at least two date nights a month at the good movie theater where no kids are allowed and they make the best veggie burgers in town, and we can take at least one vacation a year. We have a lot going for us. A lot. It’s not about being better than anyone else, because that’s really subjective, to the point of being impossible to quantify. It’s about perspective, and the reality is, I like a whole lot about what we have built for ourselves.
I love my partner. I love our house. I loved Vegas, and how my partner showed me around and we did so much that I had never done before. I love bridge design, and being a public servant. I love making enough money to support my kids no matter what. I love my paper count. I love that I look fucking amazing in everything Express ever made, and that I finally mastered eyeliner years after I mastered Calculus. I love that my partner is taking me to see Thor:Ragnorak in a couple days. I love that I took the PE exam and it feels like a million pound weight has been lifted from my shoulders and it’s all going to be ok now. It’s all ok. It has to be. There isn’t a choice.