Tag Archives: stepparenting

Mothers as ghost busters

Mother Day Sign

Last year’s Mother Day sign at ye olde Church Sweet Home.

It’s Mother’s Day. Despite how weird it will be in the middle of a pandemic, whether you’re with or away from your children, I’m wishing you as much happiness as you can squeeze out of this lemonade situation.

As I casted about for a good topic for a holiday like today, I thought, of course, about writing about my mother, whom I won’t get to celebrate with but cherish especially now after a little health scare earlier this year and now a novel coronavirus that is especially harsh on people of my mother’s generation. But I’ve written about her many times, including this post on another Mother’s Day.

As I pondered alternative subject matter, I thought of a This American Life episode I listened to a couple of weeks ago. In the “Call Me Maybe” segment of Episode 697: “Alone Together,” contributor Sean Cole talks about the relationship he’s refined, mostly through weekly phone calls, with his stepfather Ed after his mother died.

“I call Ed. We talk,” Cole says. “For this specific need I have [a ritual to remember Mom], it turns out he’s the perfect person to call. Maybe you’ve got somebody like that. A personal ghost buster when there’s something strange in the neighborhood, when things are looking their worst. That person who will know what you’re talking about even if they can’t understand what you’re saying. And all you’ve got to do is call.”

I admire that “personal ghost buster” line because:

  • a) it’s a great veiled reference to Ray Parker Jr.’s lyrics for the movie that only kids of the ’80s would get,
  • b) it’s a good description of everything a good mom should be,
  • c) that’s what my own mother is, especially in these ghostly times,
  • d) and yet Cole is describing his stepfather. As a stepparent myself, I aspire to such lofty heights.

I hope I am someone to call now who will know what you’re talking about even if I can’t understand what you’re saying (though I know very well my talkative and charismatic husband spends the lion’s share of phone time with my stepchildren, and I can hardly get a word in edgewise). And naturally, I wonder what role I’ll play in the future in my stepchildren’s lives if I should outlive their father. Sean Cole’s story of Ed gives me hope that I might be remembered and called on Mother’s Day and other days.

“If you’re seeing things running through your head,
Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!”

~ Ray Parker Jr., the songwriter (and philosopher)


Why being a stepmother is like ‘Survivor’

My Adored Stepson sent me a text and called me today to wish me happy Mothers Day.

I survived 40 years without giving Mother’s Day a second thought (other than to thank my own mother), so I’m still a little surprised — and pleased — when I’m thought of on Mother’s Day.

Best gift of all: My 18-year-old stepson, after living the past three years with his mother in Minnesota, is graduating this week and spending the summer with his father and me before he goes off to college.

Some mothers of teenagers, let alone nonbiological mothers, might be appalled by this turn of events, but I’m delighted. My Adored Stepson inherited many of the characteristics I like in my Beloved, so I enjoy his company and am considering time with him this summer to be a gift.

But stepping into the role of stepmother hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes, it has been … well … how do I say this … bang-my-head-against-a-wall, heartbreakingly difficult. Days like today, when I get to engage my stepson in a Mother’s Day conversation about his last day of work, tomorrow’s business class exam and ethics of $3 T-shirts made in Bangladesh make all those other, less satisfying moments worth it.

In honor of Mother’s Day and the season finale of the 26th season of “Survivor Caramoan: Fans vs. Favorites,” here’s a list of ways being a successful stepmother is like winning “Survivor”:

1. Outwit, outplay, outlast. If you can’t outwit and outplay a 13-year-old, you’ll never outlast one.

2. Do not be the leader. Leaders get voted out of “Survivor,” and bossy stepmothers are unlikable all the way around. I learned early on that I had no role as disciplinarian, and thank goodness, my Beloved was up to the task.

3. Don’t be a follower either. Children — biological or step — learn how to push their parents’ buttons. If you let them get to you, they win.

4. Be nice but don’t be too young, too pretty or too stupid. Having to compete for your spouse’s attention helps no one. Be yourself. Be sincere. Help with homework. Care.

5. Keep your emotions in check. Dawn’s crying jags on this season’s “Survivor” are a little too much. Yes, the actions of my stepchildren have made me cry. Crying is good sometimes. But not on camera or under the hot lights.

6. Being a good cook helps. If you can’t be a good cook, tend the fire. My tastes and my stepson’s tastes do not jive. Thankfully, my Beloved is a good cook. And I clean up after him well.

7. Lighten up. On “Survivor,” lunatics get voted out but people like to keep funnymen around. In the end, the comedians are often the “fan favorites.” In my step-dynamic, Caswell tells the jokes and I laugh at them. In the words of Martha Stewart, this is a very good thing.

8. Avoid lying. Blindsides make for good tribal councils, but blindsided contestants tend to hold grudges when it comes time for the final vote. That goes double for stepchildren.

9. Win immunity challenges at any cost! There have been a lot of challenges in this season’s survivor requiring contestants to stand, balance, hold on or hold their breath the longest (I found that challenge involving the metal grate and the rising tide really uncomfortable to watch, but Brenda didn’t panic and ultimately won). Similarly, sometimes the best tactic for a stepmother is hold on longer than she ever thought she could.

10. Don’t monopolize the challenges either. If you’re seen as huge threat, you’ll be voted off. Stepchildren don’t like threats to their security either.

Enjoy the “Survivor” finale tonight! And happy (step)Mother’s Day!

Ahh, it’s football season again!

Cas had his first football scrimmage this morning under beautiful clear skies and crisp August temperatures — perfect for football.

As the game began and we were sitting in the enormous high school bleachers, Tyler said, “Ahh, football season.”

Brett Favre played for the Vikings for the first time last night, and the Bears have a pre-season game tonight. Indeed, it’s football season.

Cas has been having two-a-day practices all week, and he has shin splints, but I noticed as I shook him awake this morning that his shoulders are broader than they used to be. He’s exhausted every night (he fell asleep on the living room floor last night), but he’s towards the front of the pack in runs at practice, instead of bringing up the rear this year.

Right now, he’s playing first string for the freshman team and second string for the sophomore team. This is good news-bad news, since the freshman play on different nights than the sophomores, so if he actually dresses for the sophomore team, we’ll be going to two games a week. On the other hand, his cousin plays on the sophomore team, so we could watch him in any event.

Cas is playing center. As described to me, this means he’s big and smart. I guess the big and stupid guys play line, and the little and smart guys play other positions like running back and quarterback? And the little and stupid guys don’t play football at all? I don’t know — I just try to follow his jersey number in the mass of arms and legs that end up in a pile on every play.

Ahh, football season.