Tag Archives: Parenting

The evolution of a stepmother

Da Man has entered the house.

Da Man, otherwise known as the Adored Stepson, turned 20 yesterday. He’s no longer a teenager. He knows it. And he wants everyone else to know it, too. He probably would like to be referred to as “Da Man” ever after on this blog, but he’s forever the Adored Stepson.

When we celebrated his 13th birthday with a new bike and a spaghetti meal at Bucca di Beppos, he was a foreign creature to me, but a friendly one. I suspected he was on the verge of big changes, and I considered myself fortunate he was a boy instead of a girl (I was a pubescent girl once and I never had the, um, honor of living with my stepdaughter during that transition). In fact, it was a gift to witness Adored Stepson’s evolution from boy to man.

The growth chart inside Stepson's closet marks the obvious. The unlabeled mark on the right? I think that's my height. Stepson aspired to be taller than me until suddenly, he was.

The growth chart inside Stepson’s closet marks the obvious. The unlabeled mark on the right? I think that’s my height. Stepson aspired to be taller than me until suddenly, he was.

We could talk about all the ways he’s changed since that momentous birthday seven years ago — the hair, the girls, the muscles, the sense of self — but that is a story told best by the one who experienced them. How, instead, has the stepmother come of age in the dawn to dusk of a teenager?

My Adored Stepson, he is a unique individual, an unexpected component of the Togetherness I endeavored to achieve with my Beloved. I enjoy Stepson’s sense of humor a lot more than I expected to. I liked teaching him about spelling, history and faith. The season he played Little League baseball was pure joy for me.

And I learned I’m a lot better at talking about sex than my parents were.

When he left us at age 15 to live with his mother, I was devastated. Gobsmacked, as a Brit might say. Unexpected grief washed over me in a way that taught me how special he was (is). I might have thought I was immune from such rejection, but, alas, no. We had bonded.

Fortunately, things get better. This is how teenagers are. They change.

What didn’t change was my desire to have a child of my own. Having a stepchild proved my theory that children require a lot of time, effort and emotional investment. And the responsibility! Uff-da! I am, for example, the sole reason Stepson will never enjoy gazpacho (lesson learned: Never force a 13-year-old to eat cold tomato soup).

Now that he is 20, I look back on his teenage years like a mountain climber: “I did it! I survived!”

But of course, like a biological parent, a stepparent’s job is never really finished. It just evolves.



Philosophical grab bag

Friday potpourri …

  • “I can’t wait until my moustache touches my beard,” said my Adored stepson who, at nearly 20, is still obsessed with his body hair.
  • Speaking of being overvalued: OpenTable, the online restaurant booking business, is worth $2.6 billion? With a B? Does that strike anyone else as excessive? Apparently Priceline is making a lot of money helping travelers save theirs because it’s paying $2.6 billion in cash for OpenTable. Every time I hear about another tech company valuation, I scoff. I mean really, are those stupid Facebook ads actually selling anything other than page likes?
  • Talk about expensive. Did you know Tostitos Hint of Lime tortilla chips have 150 calories per serving? And that a serving is six — yes, only six! — chips? We’re a nutrition-label obsessed household right now; Adored stepson is counting protein grams in order to support his weight-lifting regimen. Of course, my guacamole grew irresistibly tastier when I realized how few corn chips I could allow myself.
  • Here’s the real scandal: Women in India are risking their lives when they have a bowel movement because some maniac is raping and murdering them by attacking them when they are pooping in an open field, according to a story I heard on National Public Radio this week. Why are they defecating in a field? They don’t have a toilet at home. In fact, one of every 2 people in India defecates out in the open, the highest rate in the world. Makes you appreciate the four bathrooms in your home on your list to clean, huh?
  • As long as we’re counting our blessings … I wore a necklace I haven’t worn in a long time today. I have enough necklaces that I could wear a different one every day of the month, but I got to this one in my rotation today. It is adorned with tiny cubic zirconias, set in such as way as to see both the pointy bottom and the flat top of the stone. Curious question: Why is the flat top of a diamond the top? Why isn’t the pointy bottom featured (as it is in this necklace)?” Is this true of our good blessings in life, too? Are there “unattractive bottoms” that would be just as appreciated if only they were on display?


Apparently, tonight’s dinner was pretty good.

I made a simple meal of spaghetti and meat sauce (Italian sausage + brand-name bottled sauce). As we discussed college roommates, shared refrigerator space and my Adored Stepson’s plans to rent a house with some of his buddies, he remarked on his dietary plans:

“Next year, I’m going to eat spaghetti like it’s a job.”


One of 8.3 million incoming college freshmen this year

Our little birdie flew the coop today.

We moved my Adored Stepson into his college dormitory, hoping he’ll actually go to classes when they start on Tuesday.

It’s the way colleges do it nowadays, I guess. At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where Caswell is going to school, they offer four — yes, FOUR — days of minglers, entertainment and acclimation activities in advance of classes in session.

I believe a lot of purple body paint may be involved. Purple is UW-W’s school color, and there’s a football game scheduled in Saturday’s 90-degree weather.


But I’m not involved in any of that. My role today was pack mule.

We got up before the crack of dawn because my Beloved is an early riser, and so everyone else in the house has to be, too. And he wanted to beat the lines and the heat.

When we arrived at 9:15 a.m., here’s how the line looked:

Every SUV and minivan in the southern half of the state beat us to Move-in Day.

Every SUV and minivan in the southern half of the state beat us to Move-in Day.

Things moved quickly, and soon we dumped all of Caswell’s worldly possessions on the lawn in front of his dorm, where controlled chaos was in full operation.

No unattended vehicles! No move along!

No unattended vehicles! Nothing to see here. Now move along!

With the help of a couple of sweaty volunteers, I had to lug hampers and linens up five flights of stairs only twice.

It was 76 degrees at 10 a.m., but I could have sworn it was 90.

His dorm room is … “smaller than I expected.” That’s a direct quote from both Caswell when he saw his room for the first time and his roommate an hour later.

Welcome to the real world, boys.

But the view is nice:

It's really quite lovely. No sarcasm.

It’s really quite lovely. No sarcasm.

Also, across the hall is Meghan and Amy’s room. Which may provide some nice views, too, I don’t know. Yes, Stepson is now living on a mixed-gender floor.

We helped him unpack a little, including making his bed, finding an outlet for the fan (ahh!) and plugging in the refrigerator.

And then we left.

Caswell didn’t want us to leave. I swear. It wasn’t me. He walked us out to the car, gave us big (sweaty) hugs and squared his shoulders to return to the chaos (and hormones).

As we were leaving town, hopeful but a little wistful, too, we drove by what were clearly the party houses. Tables were set up in the front yards with rows of red plastic cups decorating them like it was a holiday:

"Red Solo cup, I fill you up."

“Red Solo cup, I fill you up.”

In the words of Toby Keith, “proceed to party.”

Good luck, little birdie. I know you can fly.

Party in a bag: Some assembly required

In college art class, it wasn’t the charcoal drawing or the acrylic painting that I loved, it was the found object sculpture.

Found object sculpture describes art created from undisguised, but often modified, objects that are not normally considered art, like toilets or empty pop bottles. The memorials around the country made from World Trade Center girders would be a form of found object sculpture. I used a broken television in my college found art project, and as I recall, it spoke “good concept, poor execution” to my professor.

I’m not a sculptor, but I still appreciate the challenge of assembling aesthetic beauty from odds-and-ends around the house. I use these skills in creating an epic frittata from leftovers, for example, and I used them today in creation of a mini party for my Dear stepdaughter.

It’s her birthday later this week, and we met her for dinner. Her gift arrived over the weekend, so I cloaked it in wrapping and a recycled bow in the perfect color. Birthday card? Check! I had one in my stationery drawer. Delivery mechanism for the cash portion of the gift? I got all origami on the bill, and inserted the president’s smiling face into a tiny oval photo frame for which I hadn’t yet found a use.

Hmm, what to use for a stand-in to birthday cake? How about this fabulous package of white chocolate-macadamia nut cookie mix that’s been lurking in the cupboard? Whew, I’ve got butter and egg in the fridge. Handily, my mother-in-law had some time on her hands during her visit today, so whipped it up and put the cookies to bake in the oven. Disposable container in the perfect size for a dozen cookies? Found this in the package saved from a selection of deli meats. Birthday candles? Ta da! In the junk drawer. Lighter? Yes, there’s one floating around in the bottom of my purse.

cookieTo haul the whole kit and caboodle to the restaurant where we met Dear stepdaughter? How about an adorable reversible shopping bag I’ve been keeping in my gift closet for just such an occasion?

Our dinner was perfect, including the off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday” over the lighted cookie.

Like a work of art.

Nothing so rare as a day in June

Today was one of those rare, wonderful days when everything falls into place.

Except I stained my white jeans with a single drop of coffee on the way to my destination — too late to change, nothing else appropriate to wear anyway. But that was the only disappointment.

Well, it rained this morning, too. I hate it when it rains, and they don’t need more rain around here. But that and the coffee — those were the only nuisances today.

Well, the muffler on the Jeep fell apart again on our way to dinner. One minute, it’s putt-putt-putt and in an unexpected spurt of a second, it’s BLARING EXHAUST RIGHT UNDERNEATH THE PASSENGER SEATS! WHAT?! I SAID THE MUFFLER BROKE!! So the coffee and the rain and the really loud muffler were the only things that could have ruined the day.

But they didn’t. They didn’t matter at all. I washed out (most of) the coffee stain in the ladies room, and the sun came out when it eventually stopped raining and my Adored stepson kind of enjoyed crawling under the Jeep after dinner to (successfully) MacGyver the muffler into relative silence.

What went 100% according to plan today was stepson’s freshman orientation at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The information was what we needed when we needed it. The speakers were fun and fast-paced. Everyone was so nice and friendly. The food was … well, the food wasn’t bad. We were impressed.

I am so, so grateful. Because this is the one university we didn’t formally tour, and our drive-by viewing in cold, gray March left much to be desired. And I was so worried my stepson wouldn’t like it, and here we would be, stuck with it.

But it wasn’t that way at all. Our orientation experience, for both parents and student, surpassed our expectations. Best of all: All the credits he earned taking college courses in high school transferred to UW-W, and he landed all the classes he wanted in the time frames he desired this fall.

Like it was meant to be.

Probably because it was.

“Eventually, all the pieces will fall into place. Until then … laugh at the confusion, live for the moment and know that everything happens for a reason.”

Curves of kale and cars

kale and rhubarb

The kale in my garden is ready to be devoured. Look at those lush leaves of brassica oleracea, ready to be sautéed in bacon grease and served over a bed of polenta. Mm.

That big green leaf? A bit of rhubarb, also ripe for picking, destined to made into a crisp. I think the prayers last spring worked.

I’ve looked all week for a suitable submission to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge on “curves,” and I found not one but two curvaceous options. The curly kale is lovely, of course, but so is the sight of my Adored stepson waxing the car.

car wax

See how the wax looks like a work of art before it’s wiped away? And how about those hairy arms? Stepson probably doesn’t remember yearning for body hair four years ago, but he got his wish.

I didn’t discover curves; I only uncovered them.

~ Mae West