I write a lot about my stepsons (ages 14 and almost 16), put a funny spin on their antics, but the truth is, being a stepparent is bizarre and I don’t always look forward to their visits.
Don’t be looking for a feel-good realization at the end of this blog entry because the reality is what I’ve already said: I don’t always look forward to seeing them, especially when they’ll be here for two weeks or longer, and it takes a lot of positive talk to prepare me mentally for their visits.
They’ll be here today around 5:00 or so. My first concern is always that my husband will get to the pick-up site safely and then home safely. He’s my main concern in all of this. My second concern is that I won’t have an ache in the pit of my stomach for the next 13 days of snorting and chewing with their mouths open and reminding them to brush their teeth and take showers and to think about people other than themselves.
It’s non-stop doing and talking the minute they walk in the house. There is no quiet unless they’re sleeping or playing a video game or reading, and even then they are a heavy presence in a fragile quiet that can be and is disrupted in starts and fits, and it sets me on edge all the while they’re here.
We have three dogs who like the boys just fine, but aren’t used to roughhousing or being “on” 24-7. The boys have their own dog for that and so I remind them to let our dogs just groove the way they always groove – a message that mostly falls on deaf ears. I’m glad they have a dog they love, even though he’s a total lunatic dog who has taken on the hyper personality of the boys’ mother. They try to show me the hundreds of stupid cell phone photos they’ve taken of their dog (Keaton sleeping, Keaton eating a rawhide, Keaton snoring, Keaton licking his hind end) and I simply tell them I don’t want to see any more photos. It seems rude of me to not care, and I struggle with this guilt all the time, but I can’t will myself to give a shit. I’m not talking about one or two stories. I’m talking constant, consistent, insipid.
It’s like that when Kevin talks incessantly about video games and how good he is. He talks very fast and I can’t understand a word he says and I simply tell him I’m don’t give a damn about video games and he needs to stop talking to me about them. Again, I feel guilty, but not enough to care. I love Kevin and want him to eat fruit and vegetables and tell me his thoughts on the world and life, not how many people he kills or blows up on a video game. It’s stupid and I hate it.
I’ve written humorously about how they don’t use tissues and they inhale their snot. The truth is, I hate this, too. Very much. It literally makes me nauseous listening to it. But when I tell them to get a Kleenex, they act like I’ve hurt them somehow. This is because at home, their mother tells them they are the center of the universe – EVERYONE’S universe – therefore everything they do is pure and good and if they don’t want to use Kleenex, well, that’s OK.
I realize much of their behavior is typical of teenage boys, and I’ve learned the difference between typical and atypical. My expectations really aren’t that high. They do the dishes when asked and they don’t complain. They pick up the dog poop and don’t complain. They are good travelers and don’t complain.
So what’s my complaint? Why do I have such a problem with their visits? It’s this: Even after 11 years, I feel like strangers move into my house, invade my space, a few weeks a year, strangers who are being raised in a far different environment than they would be if they lived with us full time. The lifestyle they embrace, their priorities, the expectations of their mother are not the way we live our life here, and so I’m torn between feeling sorry for them for having to learn two different ways of living, and feeling sorry for me for having to repeat and repeat and repeat every time they’re here our rules and expectations.
I’ve been told by their mother than I’m not a “real” parent to the boys. Bitch. What she doesn’t realize is that being “real” is the only way I know how to parent. She chooses to be their friend. I choose to be their authority. I also choose to maintain the peace I need to stay true to myself, and that means telling them when I don’t want to engage in their silliness, to remove myself from the room when I’m feeling smothered by testosterone.
Nine hours and my world turns upside down for two weeks. Two very long, very stressful, very trying weeks. Yes, there are fun moments, there are loving moments. But mostly it’s difficult. I can’t find the balance.