Monday, March 22, 2010

Building thanks

I am starting week two of a 30-day challenge to say only positive things to and about my husband.

The challenge encourages vocalizing thanks and praise for all the good things your spouse does - large and small - every day.

I have always believed in focusing on the bright side. When life is particularly challenging, the bright side for me is often found in the smallest pleasures of everyday life. However, it is still far too easy to fall into the trap of negative thinking.

Making a conscious effort to be grateful and vocalize thanks to your spouse every single day forces you to seek out the positive. Some days, it's a bit of a stretch; but I have found something positive to say every day to C. or to my friends and family about C. The result is an overall increased feeling of goodwill, love and affection for my husband.

I believe this practice can be applied to every aspect of life, and I plan to challenge myself to do just that. Work. Stepmotherhood. Commuting. Even the kids' mom (yikes, that will be a challenge; but it will be worth it if it will help me let go of some anger related to her).

Here's a little jazz positivity break to get you in the mood:


The Sunny Side Of The Street Lyrics


Friday, March 12, 2010

Counting by fives

I have reached an age where I have begun to count my life in five-year blocks.

Today, I am 35 years old. I was born in a blizzard and arrived at precisely 9 a.m. (my mom and dad called precisely at 9 a.m. today, as they always do) -- smack dab in the middle of a decade my parents describe as one of the most depressing (on a national scale) in their memories. Maybe my arrival was a bit of a bright spot (I'd like to think so).

Thirty-five once sounded so old to me. I am trying not to think of the societal pressure placed on women my age. That's a challenge, when even friends I haven't seen in ages find it acceptable to ask me if I am pregnant yet, seeing as I got married seven months ago and I am "of a certain age."

All of that aside, I thought it might be a fun exercise to look back at the big lessons learned in each phase of my life.

My life lessons from seven blocks of five:

* I learned how to breathe, crawl, see, grab, yell. I discovered the joy of music and I danced before I walked.

* I learned about love and family, mom and dad, and sisters.
* I learned self-expression and lived in my imagination.

* I felt my first big heartache when my best friend Jennifer moved away after Kindergarten. I cried for days.
* I learned that people laugh at you when you express too much emotion when I read an essay about my new best friend, Eryn, aloud to my second grade class.
* I learned what it meant to be physically hurt when I split my chin open at 8 (used my chin as brakes after flying over my bike handlebars); and again when a girl jumped on my head from the rainbow monkey bars in fourth grade (four broken teeth and I bit through my tongue).

* I experienced the first death of a loved one, our family dog Chinook, when we had to put her down. The second loss came five years later when our next dog was poisoned by the neighbor and died in our family room.

(Trust me, there were happy moments, too -- but these stand out very clearly. I suppose this is the half-decade when I learned that life isn't always fun and games and sometimes hurts.)

* I learned the joy of travel and experiencing new places on many long road trips with my family. The journey has often been as interesting as the destination.

* I learned that books could take me anywhere I ever dreamed of going.
* I learned how to follow my own path when my sisters went away to college, and I found my own voice (which was sometimes counter to everyone else's opinion, and often still is).
* I began to think about the idea of God and started to form my philosophy of life.
* I broke a boy's heart for the first time, and another boy broke my heart for the first time.
* I developed one of the best and most enduring friendships that has been a huge gift in my life (thanks, Cathy). Our entire group of friends at that age helped me feel wanted and accepted and they each taught me something different.

* I learned the various ways cars crunch and crinkle when hit. (Five accidents between age 17 and 21 - two were my fault).
* I learned what failure felt like; as well as redemption (thanks to four hours per day of summer school; Algebra 2 and Trig - joy)
* I fell in love for the first time.
* I developed another wonderful and enduring friendship that is still so important to me today (thanks, Kari).
* I learned how to sprout wings and explore the world and my own mind when I went away to college.
* I discovered (first at 13, actually, and again at 18) the wonder of international travel -- and how big the world is, but small at the same time.


* I entered the real world and learned the value of hard work.
* I learned how to take care of myself from cooking to rent to student loans.
* I learned that it's best to keep a healthy line between business and my personal life.
* I learned how to travel alone and relish it.
* My first nephew was born and I began to experience the joy of children in my life.


* Two more nephews were born and my heart grew even bigger.
* I experienced two of my biggest heartbreaks during this time period (same guy both times). The amount of learning and growth that stemmed from that unhealthy relationship sometimes still astounds me.
* I experienced the loss of a close family member for the first time when my grandpa died. My other grandpa passed a year after that and one grandma passed last year. The other grandma is still going strong at 94. I learned the value of history and family, and coming from somewhere from all four of them.
* I followed a winding road both personally and professionally, and I began to learn to value the experience and care less about my "status" (in all senses of the word).
* I grew up so much during that phase and became the most true version of myself yet.


* I became a homeowner at 31 and learned the value of doing it on my own. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
* I experienced the deep love and affection of my dear family and friends and realized how much they have all been cheering me on all along.
* My fourth nephew was born, and my heart grew even bigger.

* I learned what real love looks like (finally) and married my best friend and the best man I know. He has shown me a new world and has taught me so much about myself, love and the world. He is the best gift I have ever received.

* I became an integral figure in the lives of two children who are teaching me new things each and every day (and my heart has grown even bigger).

I cannot begin to express the level of gratitude I feel for the important people in my life (love to all of you). Each one -- from my parents, sisters and nephews to my wonderful husband to my friends at all stages of life -- has brought something unique and special to the world and to my life personally.

I am so happy to be alive. I am so happy to be in the now. I look forward to the next half of this decade of my life -- and more counting by fives as I go.

By random coincidence, this is also my 35th blog post.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stepmom little thing meditation

I have to start this post by saying how wonderful I think Sandra Bullock is. She is a stepmom to three children (who have two separate moms). One of those moms is an ex-porn star who was recently jailed for tax evasion. Nice.

It was a nice "little thing" for me to see Sandra Bullock win her Oscar this week and to silently celebrate that we stepmoms have a role model and advocate in the celebrity world. Maybe she can help throw some chinks into the armor of the wicked stepmother myth. (Although a quick Google search that pulled up articles about "Stepkids think Bullock is a monster" proves the media-razzi sure aren't helping the fight.)

The life of a stepmom is rarely simple. It can be thankless and full of pressure. Pressure to do right by children in spite of their mother's best efforts to turn them against you (and often your husband); pressure to be sweet and perfect in order to dispel the wicked stepmother myth. You can give and give, only to receive scraps in return.

In my own life as a stepmom, those everyday "little things" often save me. They are what keep me going.

The stepmom little things that come to mind:

~ A handmade card I received from my stepdaughter that said, "I Love You"
~ My stepson saying at piano practice Monday night, "I'm glad A.J. is here"
~ Both kids yelling "A.J.!" when I come downstairs in the morning; they are actually glad to see me
~ Knowing in my heart that I am serving as a different kind of role model for them; teaching them self-sufficiency and responsibility
~ Knowing that I will always treat the kids with respect and authenticity and will never play with their emotions (as some others in their life do), and that they will appreciate that someday
~ Giving my stepson a time-out last night while C. was at the store -- and it worked, and he apologized for his behavior. It was a victory moment for me - turns out, I am an authoritative parent. (I took a quiz.)
~ Watching my stepdaughter ride her bike alone for the first time -- sharing a 'first' in her life.
~ Watching the kids thrive with the new goal-setting system C. and I implemented at our house.
~ Hearing my stepdaughter read her first book (with just a little help from me) last week. (The edge-of-your seat story of The Red Hen.)

~ Getting a good report from my stepson's new school that he is behaving well and doing well! (Curses to the old school for giving up on him or any child as a lost cause.)

There are a lot more, and I hope I will always stop to remember those moments and small victories.

There are a lot of challenging moments as a stepmom. I have already been through moments of great despair as a stepmom. It is way harder than anyone tells you it will be (and I think most biological parents would agree with that statement, as well). Yet, this past year has been the biggest year of growth in my life. Those two little ones are, in part, responsible for that -- and I thank them for that.