Thursday, March 26, 2015

Confessions of a Childless Wonder: I am the Evil Step-Monster

In spite of all of my jokes and the fact that I say I'm not ready to be a Mom, I was almost a Step-Mother once.

When her father and I first got together, he said he didn't want to introduce her to me until we were much more serious, a decision that I understood, accepted and even respected him for.  Not to mention the fact that I was honestly a little bit intimidated at the idea of dating a man with a child.

He changed his mind and introduced me a week later.  She was seven at the time and the first night I met her she cried as her father drove me home because she wanted to stay and spend more time with me.  Looking back at all of his other less than stellar behaviors, I can't decide if he used her as a pawn or if his utterly clueless parenting style was just something that brought out the nurturer in me. 

My parents divorced when I was 8.  Saying I gave my mother stress and bullshit is a huge understatement; when I was a little asshole, it was always to my mom.  My mom is and was what every mom should be, and though we both have said and done things that weren't always right, she is still my rock and the person I know without a doubt will always love me unconditionally.   I know this because I pushed and I pushed hard, if anyone has a reason not to love me it would be her. 

My dad was different.  Simply put, he was harsher with the corporal punishment than my mom was when it happened so it didn't happen often.  My father was incredibly proud of his children, and most of the time it seemed like it was for merely existing as we were.  My paternal grandfather died when my father was 7, somehow I think part of my father's joy came from just being able to be there with us as long as he was (it didn't hurt that we were incredibly smart, talented, artistic, and beautiful children, but I digress). 

Both of my parents took responsibility for their children.  Both raised us and provided for us, though sometimes I feel like my mom is still raising me even as I push thirty.  There is no nice way to say that for everything my Dad did, sometimes it was painfully obvious that he had no idea what he was doing with two little girls.  I don't fault him for that because I'm sure every opposite sex parent feels those awkward limitations sometimes. 

His daughter adored me, and almost immediately I could see some of the same cluelessness and awkward limitations that I remember my dad having; Somehow I felt I had a place in both of their lives and my ex was more than happy to give it to me.  It wasn't long before he deferred everything to me; I gave her medicine, provided food, bought clothes, assigned chores, enforced rules and made decisions.  When I tried to ask him or involve him he'd brush it off and tell me whatever I decided was fine.  Sometimes, it was easier to make decisions and tell him about it later than it was to encourage him to do what needed to be done and clean up the mess he made doing it.  As much as I hate the "Dopey Dad" and the "Dad Hate" that seems to be so prevalent these days, I feel comfortable saying he is one of the reasons those ideas exist.  There were times he was more of a child about things than the actual child was.  I often felt like I should paid for babysitting when it came to dealing with him instead of the partner of a man with a child. 
Sometimes, I despised the role I had in her life.  I was 24 and had taken precautions not to have a child, yet there I was "parenting".  There were times when I hated my ex because he left decisions concerning her up to my better judgement because he didn't know what to do; I was terrified I would make the wrong decision for a child who wasn't mine.  I was resentful when we couldn't go somewhere and do something because it was his weekend and he refused to get a sitter for an hour or two (which I would have considered admirable if it meant that he was actually going to spend time with her instead of playing on Facebook or watching a movie that wasn't appropriate for her on tv).  I found myself angry at him for expecting me to love her and care for her like a mother when he wasn't doing those things as her father.  I often resented him for expecting me to give a child that wasn't mine the best I had to give consistently, but he couldn't be the partner I needed and deserved even half of the time.  There were times when after a weekend he ignored her and she was being difficult that I would shut myself in my room with the door closed until he took her home.

I was subject to so much judgement from people who thought I was overstepping, who didn't agree with the decisions I made, who thought I had no right to feel like I had a kid of my own or who thought I resented her when the truth is that I resented her father.  On the other hand, I had the people who thought I shouldn't be doing everything I was doing because I wasn't her parent and who thought I was being taken advantage of.  Sometimes, being a "stepmom in training" felt like all guts, no glory.

As frustrating as dealing with him could be, there was still plenty of good times, beautiful moments, and love between us.  When she got sick or hurt I was the person she came to for comfort.  There were times when we sang Taylor Swift songs with the windows open and the radio turned up as loud as it would go in the car. I'd look back and she'd be singing her heart out with her blonde hair blowing in the wind onto the seat behind her creating a tangled nightmare she'd come to me to brush out later, and with the most beautiful, seemingly untouchable grin from ear to ear.  I was so proud in those moments when I got to see her use a skill I had taught her, or I heard her apply something I'd tried to teach her to another situation and share what she'd learned with someone else.  I didn't realize how much I loved her until I had to let go.

The relationship ended long before it actually did.  For a long time, I stayed because I felt like I made a positive impact on her life.  I felt like I was a buffer between her and her father's sometimes stupid and irrational temper; He had a tendency to get mad and verbally unleash his frustration on the thing nearest him, usually me or her.  As long as I was there, it wasn't her.  Maybe that was my rationalization for staying just a little bit longer, somehow I believed being there for her was the right thing.

When the relationship actually ended, I didn't think I would ever see her again.  I hoped and prayed that she heard me all of the times I told her all of the wonderful things she is.  I hoped that whatever impact I made on her life was a positive one. When her mom heard about the break up, she invited me to continue to have a relationship with her.  I tried to continue having a relationship with her and we talked and texted.  She missed me a lot and I missed her so much that sometimes on weekends my house would be too quiet and I'd turn on the Disney Channel. 

After awhile, however, things started getting strange.  I grew uncomfortable when the messages I was getting from her started to resemble the ones I got from her father in frequency and tone (where are you?  Who are you with?  What are you doing?).  I'm ashamed to say that I got scared; I was scared that he would find out we were still talking if he didn't know already, and I was afraid he would use it as an excuse to harass me.  Part of me was upset because I'd left her father to get away from behavior like that and it was continuing with her and I considered maybe it wasn't really her behind the text messages.  I was sometimes getting upwards of a dozen calls or message notifications during my work day. 

When my ex sent me messages telling me to jump off a cliff, accusing me of stealing from him, and calling me a hooker and prostitute I contacted the police.  They advised me to continue not responding and consider a restraining order.  Things finally were quiet and I could deal with what comes after the end of a relationship.  I still see him slow roll past my house in his work truck sometimes, but things are pretty quiet.

Until a few weeks ago when she called and left a message saying she just wanted to talk and she missed me.  All I could do was cry.

I can't be a part of her life because it opens a doorway for him.  I'm ashamed of myself, because for all those times I thought I loved her like my own I'm not doing for her what I would do for my own children.  I've always believed that if I ever had kids, I'd never leave them.  Divorce is simply not an option for me because I don't know how my parents gave me up to each other over and over again.  But when I was old enough where reproduction was an issue, part of the reason I tried to be so careful is because I don't think I could handle handing my baby over to anyone, even their own father.  I thought I loved her like my own, but when push came to shove I pushed the door closed for my safety. 

I think about her almost every day.  I feel like a monster because she is just a child who loves me, but I can't be a part of her life and there is nothing I can do to help or make her understand that. There is no way to say to a child: I'm afraid your dad will hurt me for talking to you.  Someday, she might not love me anymore and the good things will be tainted by the rejection I've been forced to show her and the stories she'll tell will be of her Evil Almost Stepmother, but I hope not.

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