Sunday, July 31, 2011

(Step) Parenting

"Thanks for not being evil," Tori recently said to me.  This was a very nice compliment to a Step Mother!

Being a step parent is a very delicate balance between being a "friend" and being an almost-parent.  You never want to make the mistake of trying to be an actual parent -- at some point the child will remind you that you are, in fact, not her parent, and that you should mind yer own bizness.

I have been very lucky that in my relationship with Tori, it has not been too difficult to figure out what my role is in her life... and a little more difficult to determine what her role in my life is.  Contrary to popular belief, creating a blended family is not as easy as pouring water onto oatmeal, and voila:  breakfast!  The child and the step parent have to figure out what their relationship is going to look like, and how much trust and respect are to be given to each other.  Even something that seems simple, like "what are we going to call each other?" is complicated.

But this balance between being a friend and an almost parent extends well beyond the child-step parent relationship.  It is also a tough spot to be in with the other parents -- the "real" parents.  Even if all the parents work together well (which we do), there are going to be differences in what is seen as appropriate dress, music, movies, shoes, language, behavior, manners, etc.  The hard part of being the step parent, is that you never know when you should interject your own thoughts, or when you should just keep quiet and cringe when you think something isn't going as well as it could.

I have probably been too vocal in my step parenting.  I'm a pushy person (no? really?), and when I think I'm right, I am bullish about getting my way.  Not the best technique when you are wading through the choppy waters of raising a child, and are supposed to be the bystander, not the leader.  There have been many arguments because of my inability to see beyond what I feel is the "right" way.

Ultimately, it's most important for all parents/pseudo-parents to remember that the final goal is to assist a young person in becoming a balanced and productive member of society -- in spite of his or  her parents' mistakes.  And we are going to make mistakes, big ones.  And that's okay (this is the hard one to accept).

I am happy to say that, even with all the struggles I have had trying to figure out how this whole parenting thing works, and what my role as a step parent is, Tori is turning out to be a wonderful young woman, and I'd like to think that I've played a small role in that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Red Means Stop

Back in April, while on my way to pick up Tori at Whole Foods for her to spend the weekend with us, I made a right turn.  I was eager to be on time to pick her up, and the traffic heading with me had a left turn arrow.  There was no oncoming traffic, so I knew it was safe to make my turn.  Zip through it I did!


I was momentarily blinded by a bright light.  Had god suddenly come down to prove his existence to me?  Had my life just flashed before my eyes and forgot to include any of the details?  No.  It was the red light camera taking a picture of me and my FCT vehicle (the actual plate number).  Damn.  Did I mention that my light was red?

A few weeks later, after hoping and wanting the flash to be god or my blank life flash, much to my chagrin, the ticket came in the mail.  $287.00.  Seriously.  Double damn.

Now, this is a problem.  I don't have the money to pay the ticket.  And I won't have it in a month when my court date was scheduled.  Plus, I was to be out of town on the day of reckoning, so I couldn't be there to try to get the fee reduced.  The only other option, request a hearing via letter.  Which was the option I chose, after reviewing the options with my parents.  A few weeks later, I get a notice of my new court date.  July 27th at 5 p.m.

I call my parents (again) and get their advice.  Shoulder I ask the judge to reduce the fine?  Should I offer my labor to the Community for free?  Well, the other option was to ask for a trial.  My Dad (the former judge), thought that we could fight it if I asked for a trial.  This was the plan, and I was comfortable with it.

We arrive at the court on the new day of reckoning, and watch people being processed through Traffic Court like a cafeteria line. 

     "What do you plead?" 
     "How many tickets have you had?"
     "One ten years ago."
     "Do you want to pay a reduced fine or traffic school?"
     "Traffic school."

"Oh, so this is pretty easy," I think to myself.  I won't have to present the argument that my Dad was planning on trying in my trial.  I can just ask for a traffic school!

Not so fast.

After the cafeteria line was over, they wheeled in a desk that faced the judge's bench.  And the officer who had authorized my citation sat down at one end of it.  The judge called the "trial" into session!  Trial!  Trial?  But I'm not ready for trial!  My Dad isn't here to argue the fine points of law for me!  Triple damn.

Panic?  Well, no.  Change in plan.  I'm going to present my Dad's legal argument without him, and with only a preliminary understanding of what the actual argument is.  Best plan?  Probably not, but I will never know if I don't try!

I listen as other drivers try to argue that the light was "yellow when I entered the intersection...  Well, I thought it was, anyway."  And, "it was raining, and I didn't feel it would be safe to stop for the light."  And see the judge's boredom and wonder how many times he hears this.  I do not want to be another person stupidly defending himself by trying to convince the judge that the light was a different color when he drove through.  That's not my argument anyway.

Now it's my turn.  "Hope Adams."  I am sworn in.

I listen to the Officer give the accounting of his review of the video of my transgression (yes, video), and his subsequent decision to issue me a ticket.  Then the Officer, Judge, and I all watch my FCT vehicle drive right through the red light.  Not promising.

The judge asks me if I have anything to ask the Officer.  I do! 

     "Where you at the scene of the incident?"

Good.  My Dad's argument is going well so far.

     "Do you have anything you would like to add, Ms. Adams?"
     "Yes, Your Honor.  I object to the Officer's testimony as hearsay.  It's my understanding that I have a right to face my accuser in person."
     "Your objection is rejected..."  roar in my head.  Now what?  This isn't what happens on 'Law & Order'...  "there is not enough evidence to support an argument of hearsay."

Quadruple damn.

All I can do at this point is accept traffic school and court costs totaling $190.00.  Or, at least that's all I can do without 3 years of law school to fully understand my argument of hearsay and how it applies to video surveillance of intersections. 

Well, I saved $97.00, and got my day in court (as unexpected and poorly presented as it was).  I hope that there isn't a next time, and I am doing my best to ensure that there isn't.  I stop fully for all red lights (much to the annoyance of some drivers behind me).  Isn't that the purpose of the cameras anyway?  Hmmm..... I think no, but that's another topic for another day.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Does this room ensemble make me feel complete?

"IKEA:  The Life Improvement Store!"

Really?!?  So all my life has been missing is the perfect sofa?  Or bed?  Or, if I bought some new lamps, I would feel like a whole and balanced person?!?

Oh man.  I wish I knew this sooner.  Maybe if I had had the perfect bookcase, I wouldn't have had to work two jobs to get through college!  Imagine, with the right desk, I wouldn't have had to go through any teenage angst!  Having a stylish modern bed frame would have meant that Will would have never been unemployed for the past year, and his back would have fixed itself!

What are they really trying to sell us?  Do we really believe that having fashionable furniture, rugs, lighting, and fast food will improve our lives!?  Sadly, this seems to be what so many of us are striving for; instead of working on finding a balance and harmony in our lives, we are trying to finding a balance between egg shell and cream colored fixtures.

Not having money to spend on extras like furniture, clothing, or shoes, I think that I have started to learn to differentiate between true happiness and balance in my life and relationships, and trying to fill these voids with stuff.  Before reality set in, we took great joy in remodeling a bedroom, buying new furniture/curtains/fixtures/bedding for said room.  Now, I find greater joy in taking an early morning walk in the sunshine with my husband at my side.  I am more proud of the beautiful smile and sharp wit of my step-daughter than I ever was of our new cars/bed/sofa/tv.

We, as an American culture, are going to continue to suffer great sadness and anger as long as we continue to connect our happiness with our belongings.  I'm not a proponent of becoming forest-wandering, naked wood nymphs.  I am amazed at the technologies we have developed, and think that we should continue using our intelligence to fix our myriad of problems.  But we need to stop and ask ourselves, "Do I need this super-sized burger meal?  Will this $200 pair of boots make me happy?  What's really missing in my life?"

That is the question, isn't it?  What is really missing from my life?  Take away the cultural mores of acquiring more and more stuff.  What is it that all people need?  What do I believe is the purpose of my Life?

Tip:  Answer these questions truthfully.  Then figure out what type of person you want to be to accomplish getting what you need.  Then BE it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ode to My Mother in A Sharp

Some of my friends are not as fortunate as I am... many have lost their mothers and aren't able to thank them for being such wonderful people.  My Mom has always been an amazing person to me; I am sad that I didn't let myself truly get to know her and love her with all my heart for the first 18 years of my life.  It is fortunate that my Mom is patient, and must have known that I would let go of the negative propaganda I had been fed all that time.

Her life has always seemed like a grand adventure to me, and I count myself lucky that she has decided to share her love of travel and life with me. 

Age 2
My Mom was born in 1948, in the middle of the Booming generation.  And the middle child.  She also has a cleft lip and palate, and struggled with the same orthodontic and surgical nightmares that I have.  I have not seen a picture of my Mom between the age of 3 to 30 in which she smiled a true smile with teeth showing.  She's always had the same awkward Mona Lisa all-knowing smile, starting with the picture of her rolling a huge melon across the lawn at age three, her middle school pictures, and senior picture.

She was born in Salem, Oregon, but her stories start in Saratoga, California.  She lived next to a fruit tree orchard, and used to watch the immigrant children work in the orchard.  She and my Aunt Sherry have birthdays that are 1 day apart, and they had to alternate birthday cakes; and it was one of the few things my grandmother could make well.  This year was my Mom's cake year.  And she was excited about eating the cake!  But, she couldn't forget about the other children in the fields who didn't get to eat cake.  So, she went into the house, to the kitchen, where her just-frosted cake was waiting on the counter.  Out the door, down the block went the cake.  She gave hers (and her sister's) birthday cake to the hungry children on the other side of the fence.

Age 10
My Mom moved to France when she was eleven.  They lived in a itsy-bitsy-tiny town outside Paris called Wissous (say Veee-sooo).  We were forced to walk to this little town in the early 90s, but that's a whole other blog (watch for "The Forced March to Wissous," coming soon).

No one in the family spoke a word of French, and no one in the village knew English.  The elementary school was separated into boys' and girls' sides.  And the toilets were holes in the ground with water constantly running through them.  She had to learn to speak, write, calculate, and study in French.  She was forced to use a fountain pen, that got ink all over her fingers, all over her papers...

One of her favorite things to do was to wander around Paris -- by herself.  She visited the Grande Palais and the Louvre (I would write more places, but my French is rusty), and bought herself bread and fromage from the local stores.  She fell in love with the city and the people, and has shared her love with a reluctant (if not snotty) daughter.

She moved back to the states after another 2 years in Holland, learning Dutch and eating herring (well, maybe not that!).  There are many stories in between, including a car angel, and being left behind in California with $50 when she was 18. 
Age 21
All of her experiences are what make her who she is today.  She is strong-willed, assertive when necessary, opinionated, and fair.  She sees beauty all around her, and does everything she can to make sure that her loved ones experience the same.  She and Jim have taken me to New York, where I laid down in the middle of the World Trade Center buildings; sent me to Russia, where I learned the meaning of being an American; traveled with me to Paris, London, South of France, and all over Scotland; and they cheered me on when I decided to go to Australia for the millennium.

Now, they are sending my husband and me to Mexico for a much-needed vacation.  How does one possibly express one's amazement and eternal love to someone as wonderful as she?  Well, I hope that I have several more decades to try and show her.

Happy Mother's Day

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We've Come a Long Way, Baby!

"Boys will be boys."

Apparently this means that a 13 year old girl has to sit there and take it when a 13 year old boy holds a pocket knife blade up to her neck and says, "I otta slit your throat!"

It didn't start with that.  The knife was a sort of crescendo of the little "harmless" comments that had been hurled at me for months.  Every day I had to start off my afternoon being greeted by the young man with comments like, "I'll be you're so tight, you squeak when you have sex."  The girl who sat in the seat across from me and in front of my offender would either giggle awkwardly or ignore the comments.  I would sit there like a stone in my seat, the heat (and red) rising to my face as I felt a mix of rage and fear.

Not only did my admirer make lewd comments, he would also appraise my body, my outfit, etc.  And he did it with a look in his eye that would make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  No, he was not like the boy that liked me so he would pick me and my desk up and move me across the room as a joke.  That was funny.

I was afraid of this boy.  I was initially somewhat nice to him when school began; after all, he was the new boy in school.  But, I didn't speak to him after he started saying those horrible comments, and I barely acknowledged him with a glance when I had to address him during class.  I hoped that he would stop making such embarrassing and strange comments if I ignored them.  That had always worked with my bullies in the past.  For some reason, it encouraged him to make even stranger and more explicit comments about sex and my body.

Other than the girl across from me, no one knew about the special attention this boy paid to me.  A teacher commented once, "He seems to have a crush on you," which was a horrible thing to say, I thought.  I finally broke down at home the evening after I felt the cold point of the knife against my skin.

My Dad went into the school and talked to the principal the next day.  The principal called in the boy, and the boy admitted to having a pocket knife.  The principal had the boy hand it over to the him and then dismissed him.  The principal looked my Dad in me in the eyes and told us how boys are simply boys -- I guessed that meant that you can't expect much from a boy other than they will be stupid and dangerous without any repercussions.

My Dad asked me if I was okay with leaving things with the knife in the hands of the principal and the boy told to leave me alone.  I didn't want to draw anymore attention to myself, so I told my Dad that I didn't want him to make it worse than it already was by insisting the boy be punished.

Now that I am the step Mom of a 14 year old girl, I have to wonder if she's encountered anything like this, and what she would do differently than I did.  I'm hoping that it's no longer acceptable to harass girls with words or pocket knives...  or, will boys always be allowed to be boys?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rewriting History?

How much power does one word have?  Depends on the word, I suppose.  "Orange," for example, doesn't cause people to cringe with guilt.  But is there one word that you have regretted saying and wished you could take back?

I spent my early childhood in Boulder, Colorado.  Boulder in the early 80's was a nice place to live.  It was still a hippy-ish town.  It hadn't quite yet been discovered by the well-to-do-head-in-the-sand sect.  As open-minded and liberal as Boulder liked to pretend to be, it was still a pretty closed community, although less so then than now.  To give you a picture of what the people of Boulder looked like, in my entire elementary school, there were probably 10 students who were not white.

One day, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I was riding the school bus home.  It's was a beautiful sunny day, and spring was about to turn into summer.  All the children on the bus were happy and cheerful, including me.  I was gleefully joking around with my a boy around my age that I had just started talking to on that trip home.  He and his family had lived in the neighborhood for a few months, but he and his brother had kept to themselves on the bus.

I don't remember how we actually started talking or how we ended up laughing so hard we were crying.  I just remember feeling joyous and lighthearted.  Then, without warning, the strangest thing happened:  the ugliest and most vile thing I can ever imagine spewed from my mouth...  "N*****!"

I was overcome with shame, but worse was the look on my new friend's face.  I had never before in my life seen so much sadness and disappointment come across another person's face.  And I was the cause of it!  By uttering one horrible word, I had turned a magic moment into an agonizing silence.

I still have no idea where that horrible utterance came from.  My family never used the word, and we had even had discussions about racism and not using that word.  And I certainly didn't think that this boy was in any way a N-.  Later on in life, I learned part of the message I had given this boy:  "You are a black person, and will always be black before you are a person."  What a horrible thing for me to communicate to as an innocent child to another innocent child!

I apologized to the boy for several days after that incident.  And he never made eye contact or spoke with me again.  Not that I blame him.  I couldn't take back that one word... ever.  But I don't believe in changing history, either.  I am that little girl who hurt another person in a way that I will never fully understand.  But I certainly learned quite a few important lessons from that day.  We can't change we have done to each other; even if we erase a hurtful and meaningful word in books and replace it with one with which we are more comfortable.  History and the horrible things that have happened throughout time cannot be changed, no matter how hard we rub with an eraser.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Monkey in My Head is Screaming

How do we deal with rage?  There are have several very well known people that have turned to bombs and guns, with horrific success if their goal is to rip apart other people's lives and destroy their own.  My mind first wanders to the Columbine shootings, probably because I lived in Colorado at the time, and my brother was one of the first responders.  But there are many other instances in which seemingly ordinary people took their inner rage out on other people who they didn't even know.  Now there's the most recent events in Arizona.

But this post is not going to be an evaluation of the most recent tragedy -- there are several people who are taking care of that for me.  No, this is about inner rage and finding a more positive way to expel it.  My brain thought of a new way of dealing about my own rage:  picturing a monkey.

The monkey just popped into my head recently as I was fighting to keep calm and collected during an argument with Will.  Keep in mind that this was a monkey.  Not an ape (a pet peeve of mine, a later blog perhaps).  Chimps, gorillas and humans are apes.  This was a smaller monkey with a prehensile tail and sharp canine teeth.  And boy, was this monkey pissed!

The monkey (no name as of yet) was screaming and hooting and swinging from something.  I wasn't picturing anything from which he could swing.  He was flinging bananas, tomatoes, and feces.  Yes.  He was flinging shit.  And the angrier I felt with the situation, the louder and more frantic he became.  So, I focused on him.  I pictured the various fruits and shit flying through my mind.  Disappearing into the darkness.  The more I thought about him and his rage, the calmer I became (not a reaction that Will was looking for, by the way).

Soon, I found the burning rage wearing out as the monkey wore out from his tantrum.  I began to feel better.  The anger dissipated, and I could once again focus on what needed to be done at that moment in time.  And every time things would start to escalate again, I told myself, "The monkey in my head is screaming," and all would become calm again.

Now, I understand that some people may find this crazy.  Especially the shit part (how nasty to have shit thrown about in one's head).  Perhaps one could try a different animal.  Elephants have great ways of expressing their anger, too.  Rampage and stomp on anything in your way!  Hiss and arch your back like a cat!  I find this option much better than being an ostrich and sticking your head in the sand (do they really do that?), and letting the rage build and build until you feel that you have to go postal.

As a culture, Americans are told that anger is bad, and that it must be swallowed and hidden away.  No wonder we have so many problems with digestion and sleep.  What if we were to take time in elementary school and let kids know that anger is normal and can be dealt without trying to kill it (or others)?

So, here's my suggestion:  next time you feel rage about something, take the time to focus on the anger rather than bury it.  Give it a form and let it vent.  Maybe this would be a safer and saner world if we all could have screaming monkeys inside.