Happiness, interrupted

We are home, and it was almost a really lovely trip.

Tomorrow we will get up early and resume our normal routine; the children will lag and I will attempt to hustle them through breakfast and then we will walk to the bus stop and they will go to school and I will spend the day working and hoping that I do not get a phone call from school to tell me something that I do not want to hear.

As for me, I am exhausted. I am glad to be home because next to Otto, I love my bed most of all, and I am so tired I want to sink down into the mattress and sleep for a week.

The school visits (as I previously mentioned) were eye-opening and seemed to go well. The visit to the aquarium was loads of fun; I’d been steeled for meltdowns that never came because both kids were too busy running around and pointing and giggling. True, you have to sell a kidney before it’s all said and done—admission tickets, parking, tickets to the 3-D show, overpriced aquarium food, and don’t forget that you cannot get out without going through the gift shop!—but it felt like wonderful and worth-it extravagance.

We discussed the relative merits of bringing various creatures home with us to live in our bathtub. I was all about the leafy sea dragons, but Chickadee wanted various fish and finally decided that with a bigger bathtub, we could have a beluga whale. Oooookay. Monkey spotted the sleeping, floating sea otter and declared “It looks like someone threw a backpack into the water.” When I pointed out that the “backpack” was in fact a sea otter, he was delighted. “Let’s go see my friend the backpack!” he trilled. “I want a backpack for the bathtub!” So Monkey may have won, because I can probably arrange to throw a backpack into the tub, whereas the whales and sea dragons are a bit harder to come by.

Our whirlwind morning of looking at houses was fairly well-tolerated by the kids, I thought. The house plot continues to thicken. There are so many factors at work, here, not the least of which is that Otto needs to have his house under contract before we make an offer anywhere. So even if we found the PERFECT HOUSE, it wouldn’t matter, because someone else could buy it before we can make a move.

That’s oddly comforting, because we have yet to find THE house that we both feel is the perfect one. The house I fell in love with a while back is still on the market, perhaps because it costs too much. We both like that one, but it Has Issues. In the meantime, the house next door to that one has ALSO gone up for sale, and we like that one as well, and it costs a lot less.

The second house does not have a pool. The first one does. I’m a friendly person; I reason we can buy the second house, befriend the neighbors, and they will invite us to swim in their pool! Perfect! But the second house also does not have a tub in the master bathroom, which has been high on my list of Wants for a long time, mostly because when I holler, “Calgon, take me away!” my current master bath answers, “You idiot, unless you want to bathe in the sink or figure out the world’s first bubbleSHOWER, shaddup.”

Another house we’d liked turns out to have some water seepage in the basement, and as the realtor tried to insist that it probably was no big deal I turned seven shades of purple and Otto informed her that I’ve already done the flooded basement thing and we were not interested in doing it again.

One house was too small but easily expanded, and had a second, separate garage. Now, I don’t know if I can explain to you what that’s like, for Otto. For him, with his cars and his tools and such, a bonus garage is… well… it’d be like if I walked into a house with a closet full of expensive shoes where the shoes came with the house. So that was a possibility.

One house was a pretty nice setup, but a smaller lot than we want and also a ranch (and I am opposed to ranches when it comes to being able to send the children Elsewhere), but it also had a separate garage and something about it caused Otto to become quite attached to it, although I am unconvinced. We later had a debate wherein he tried to convince me the size was fine, and I tried to convince him that he is underestimating the impact going from bachelorhood to 4-person-hood in his house is going to have, and that in such a case, arguing for a smaller house is a losing proposition.

And for some reason the realtor took us to a house that was perched on the edge of a ravine, because nothing says “family with young kids” like a yard where one wrong step results in a merciful death by head trauma just prior to being washed downriver.

After househunting, we spent a lovely afternoon with Tammy and her husband and Liz (a frequent commenter here, but sadly blogless) and her husband and one small boychild with dimples about two knuckles deep. My children fell all over themselves to entertain Liz’s beautiful son and torment Tammy’s dogs, and I mostly ate a lot of the very delicious food Tammy made and exclaimed like a moron over all of her mad decorating skills. (“Did you make this? Really? I LOVE THIS. I WANT ONE! How about these? Did you make these? YOU DID? SHUT UP! Can I hire you?”)

In short, reread all of the above: It was a fabulous few days.

And I have been joking for months that Chickadee and Otto will have their come-to-Jesus moment; that everything has been so great between all four of us, but I know she cannot possibly just slide into this life-altering family change without challenging him. She has already been acting out with me (and at school). So it’s not as though we didn’t know something was coming.

I guess assuming that it would take the form of “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! YOU’RE NOT MY FATHER!” was naive.

Still, you can hardly fault me for being taken a little by surprise when—after a string of marvelous days, and no incident I could think of—we discovered that Chickadee was not content to settle for a bit of backtalk.

I may yet tell you what actually happened, but right now I cannot talk (or write) about it without bawling, so let’s just suffice it to say that instead of spending our last night together reflecting on our nice time with the kids, tears were shed and children were by turns indignant and unrepentant and I went from starting to feel a little less overwhelmed by all of this to sliding down into the pit where things are dark but oddly familiar.

I am accustomed to my daughter being infuriating, frustrating, and heartbreaking. And yet, somehow, I had no idea the fear that would grip me, watching her do perhaps the one thing that would clearly communicate to Otto “I want to piss you off. Oh look! I did and I’m glad.”

Otto says we’re okay. I am not okay. My daughter is not okay, and it is my job to make her okay, and I have been trying to, for years, and I obviously suck at it.

When I look back on this trip, years from now, I want to remember the aquarium and the giggling during bocce and the children’s odd fascination with kudzu and the house with the wavy floors and the cliff for a backyard and I want Otto and I to be able to talk about what Chickadee did yesterday and laugh about how awful it seemed at the time and how it was a rough adjustment but it seems a million years ago, now. But I am so afraid that I will forget the rest and instead, years from now, Chickadee will still be struggling and Otto will bring this up when explaining why he can’t do this anymore, that he loves me, but look at all he has endured, and it’s enough.

Not because he doesn’t have what it takes to stick it out, but because why would someone sign up for this if they didn’t have to? Why?

And tonight at bedtime Chickadee told me she was angry at herself, which is the closest I’ve ever seen her to remorse. So we talked a few minutes and then I tucked her in and came in here to cry some more, because she is hurting and I cannot fix it. As long as I can’t fix it, she will continue to push us all away. I will keep pushing back. That’s my job. But good God I am tired.


  1. melanie

    It may not always feel like it – but you are a wonderful Mom.

  2. parodie

    Wishing I had a fix to offer. Instead, just a prayer for even better times to come.

  3. Crisanne

    I’m sure there are people out there that could offer you specific advice based on their own experiences with this sort of stuff. I, myself, pray that I will never have to deal with it. I’m glad you got to see the schools and experience the differences that might not have been obvious on paper. Remember that just as you get overwhelmed at the thoughts of all the changes, she does too. Keep trying to show her appropriate ways of dealing with all of it. She will come around because she knows you will always be her soft place to fall. Kiss them and hug them and remind them that you will always love them because you are their Mama, and that’s what Mama’s do.

  4. Heather


  5. Elena

    My heart goes out to you, Mir–and you do put my son’s struggles with division (A THREE ON HIS MATH TEST ON FRIDAY. SERIOUSLY, A THREE. POSSIBLY FOR SIGNING HIS NAME.)
    also an afternoon of sobbing through the workbook I purchased at the store for us to review and assist with his struggles (why didn’t I spend that money on a sledgehammer instead? because hitting myself in the head with it repeatedly would have been a far less painful experience than those 16 division problems we suffered through with the tears and the sobbing and then the part where he puts on the crown of thorns and has to carry his own mathbook, I mean, cross, through the streets to his execution, I mean, school…anyway, your entry puts all that into perspective. I’m sure I will misplace that perspective practically instantaneously, and it will buzz off happily to live with my car keys and the extra socks that escape from the dryer and my husband’s ability to put the cap back on the toothpaste–but thanks for letting it perch on my shoulder for a minute.

  6. Lucinda

    Why would someone sign up for this if they didn’t have to? I remember asking that same question when I was pregnant with my daughter. I was living a recipe for crazy. I won’t go into why. But life was not pretty. Why would my husband want to stay when he didn’t *have* to? Because he loved me that much. I, despite being far from my best, was still worthy of that much love. And so are you. Otto clearly loves you that much. I hope (and pray) that you will see that. It really does make life much easier.

  7. danelle

    My husband and Iblended our families 5 years ago, and uggghhh..we are still working out the kinks. It’s not easy.

  8. Cele

    I’m sure it would seem quite inane for me to say that it will get better, but I truly believe it will Mir. Having no idea what happened, I have to wonder how much of Chickie’s acting out is from fear? Fear of a new life? Fear of a new family? Fear of losing her dad? Fear of not having any friends? I’m not trying to say what she may have done was right, I’m just wondering how many things are adding up to her acting out.

    Now Otto has seen her at her worst and hasn’t run away. Give the guy and yourself some credit Mir, you both deserve it.

  9. Mom2One

    Awwww, Mir. *hugs*.

  10. Stew

    Oh Mir…It sounds like you are just at wit’s end. The part that got me the most is your fear about Otto. I wish I could wave a wand and help.

  11. Sara

    I have no words of advice. I can only say that from all I read here, you ARE a good mom. Praying for your wisdom and endurance. (Also for a house with closets full of expensive shoes in your size and two garages for Otto.)

  12. Carolie

    You are an amazing parent, and I hope I’m half as good as you (this, from a 41-year old!).

    Why would someone sign up for this who didn’t have to? For the same reason my mother didn’t tie me to a tree and leave me for the wolves and ravens…because no matter WHAT, she loved me. And Otto loves you (duh). And you love Chickadee (double-duh).

    And that love is enough.

  13. tori

    Why would he sign up for this if he didn’t have to? Because you are worth it! Otto loves you AND your kids. I doubt very much that he would decide later that he’s had enough. It sure doesn’t sound like either of you are rushing into anything, and it sounds a lot like he has thought this all through.

    Everyone has bad times, and I think you can look at it as a blessing that she did whatever she did now, so you can see for certain that Otto is ok with everything all of you are. Chickadee sounds like a wonderful girl. She is in a stressful situation, and she is a child. Kids act out sometimes. Good luck to all of you!

  14. Carmen

    Mir, we blended a family 17 years ago. Actually, to be more correct, I came into my husband’s ready made three kid family and then we added our own six. It was rocky and wild and not fun a LOT of the time, but it’s better now. (As an example of rocky, my step dd told out family counseler that she was going to to what ever she could to break us up, stopping at absolutely nothing. My blood ran cold that day, I can tell you.)

    I did decide, briefly, that it wasn’t worth it, but it ultimately did clear up.

    Hugs to you and Otto and the kids – you are all so amazing that it will work out.

  15. meritt

    “…….Otto needs to have his house under contract before we make an offer anywhere. So even if we found the PERFECT HOUSE, it wouldn’t matter, because someone else could buy it before we can make a move.”

    Whose rule is this?
    Because… typically you can still put in an offer “contingent on the sale” of your current home. And then it would be in their court whether to accept your offer and wait it out or not. And in this market they might be prepared to accept and wait since houses aren’t moving fast.

  16. Randi

    Oh Mir…I feel for you, honestly I do! It can’t be easy to leave all you’ve known to adventure into the south and start over again.

    But think of it that way: starting over. Children are resilient. It may take some time, but Chickadee will adjust. My parents were divorced before I was 16 months old and she went through plenty of boyfriends and we moved quite a bit before she finally settled down when I was in fourth grade. It took some time but eventually things calmed down. What it takes is patience, love and understanding on yoru part, which you have, and unfailing patience on Otto’s part, as well as his support to you, which you seem to have too.

    I PROMISE that it will work out. It may take six months to a year, but it WILL work out.

  17. Heather

    I have many days of crying trying to figure out how to “fix” my son, too. As I was talking to a wise friend one time and saying “I am a horrible mom, I can’t fix this”, she said “A horrible mom wouldn’t realize there was something to be fixed.” I try to remember that on the bad days, that I realize there is a problem and I want to make it better for him. Some moms give up, you haven’t and never will, that is what makes you a great mom!!

  18. chris


  19. Ben

    I am SO going to invent a bubbleshower. I’m going to be rich!

    *insert evil laugh here*

  20. bob

    My heart goes out to you both. I firmly believe that all involved will one day look back and wonder at despite a rocky start how wonderful your lives have been.

    I guess you didn’t see me wave.

  21. Chris

    OMG woman, you have a lot on your plate. Take it easy on yourself. It will all work out. Good things always do. Oh, and she’s a girl. I have 2, they do that stuff, the guilt and all. You are intuned to her and she’ll get through this too. Most of all…..Be Good To You!

  22. Brown Eyed Girl

    5 years cohabitating and my husband and son STILL don’t have it worked out.

    I don’t know how old chickadee is..but my guess is that one day she’ll be grateful for the man that stepped in to love Mom and help make Mom happy, the man that loved her 2 kids because he DID NOT have to. Something tells me (a little from my own experience, a little from my son’s) that she’ll be grateful for the guy that stuck it out when he could have walked away.

    Keep your chin up, anything worth having is worth the work, I promise.

  23. Sheryl

    So sorry Chickadee is having a rough time. I’ve known parents whose kids gave them hell in the elementary years, only to turn into angels in their teens, maybe Chickadee will be like that.

    Anyway, she’s going through a huge adjustment, so whatever she does, short of killing someone, it’s get-overable. Monkey too. You’re doing your best, and that’s good enough. No, really, it is. It IS!

  24. Melanie Marie

    I’m so sorry. Hang in there!

  25. Aimee

    It’ll be okay, Mir. It will. Whatever Chickadee did, you’ll get through it and Otto will get through it, and you’ll do it together. Hang in there.

  26. Yan

    he puts up with it and will continue to because he loves you. too often we get caught up in thinking that love is a feeling (and when it does come to romantic love that is oh so true and oh so good). but the kind of love needed to sustain a relationship and a long lasting marriage is a thoughtful, considered, mature love that weathers the storms of children, diappointment, regret, etc without a concern. so take faith that otto loves you in this way and that you love him the same. with that, nothing shall be able to conquer the 2 of you together.

  27. cce

    Your happiness is the greatest gift you can give your kids. When Mom’s not happy the whole family suffers, it’s the trickle down effect. As said a million times in these comments, it’s clear that you are on track to making your life better, more full of joy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Your Otto will love you for the hard work your doing to make this life together possible. Your children will love you and adjust because they are your children and children are resilient and love their mothers no matter what. There are sure to be some stormy weather but stay tough, brighter skies ahead! And, as I’ve mentioned before there’s that absolutely spectacular Georgia Spring to look forward to!

  28. Karen

    I am going to write from your daughter’s view of things. After my mom passed away, my dad married my step-mom, who had two sons and we became a blended familly. I have to admit that I did EVERYTHING I could think of to hurt my step-mom and my step-brothers. I tried as hard as I could to drive them away. I accussed my dad of turning his back on my sister and me and my mother’s memory. And I was 17 years old and should have known better. If Chickadee is going through anything like I was going through, you just need to reassure her that you will always love her, that her dad will always love and that Otto will always love her. To be honest, I am still somewhat resentful of my step-mother, but she is decent person and she makes my dad happy. At 17 I was not mature enough to see that and I am sure your daughter isn’t either. It is an emotional and scary time for kids. I will keep you all in my prayers. Good luck.

  29. hollygee

    It is no surprise that this happened at the end of the visit. This was the parting shot — military families are very familiar with this. Just before going to sea or to a new station, military families frequently will have a big fight. For some reason, it makes the parting more ‘acceptable.’

    May you get over this hump and get to rest in the valley.

  30. jenn2

    *hug* and confidence that this will work out.

  31. alice

    Oh, Mir. You have shown, time and time again, that you’re not going to ‘forget the rest’. You’ve got a very firm sense of how to focus on those moments that make the bad stuff worthwhile, and I know that you’re going to continue to do that.

    Come here when you’re tired. We can’t take it all away, but we’ll do our best to send rejuvenating vibes your way, so that you can keep on doing a truly bang-up job with all of this.

  32. Heidi

    I don’t have any advice to give you really, I wish I did, but I feel for you. Hugs.

  33. Ani

    Mir, it is not your job to “fix” her, it your job to LOVE her. And you do that extremely well.

    You inspire me to aim to be a better mom. Hang in there.

  34. MomCat

    That’s exactly what I was going to say, Ani! Chickadee’s behavior isn’t about your parenting skills, Mir, it’s about Chickadee’s fears.

    I think you are strong, capable, and very in love with Otto. That’s what she needs to see. If you and Otto can continue to be calm about her little episodes, she will perhaps realize she cannot ‘break you up’ and the power struggle will be over.

    Wishing you all the best, Mir.

  35. Caren

    I’m so sorry, Mir.

  36. Heather

    You do not suck. So there. My thoughts and prayers will be with you and Chickie through this tricky transition!

  37. modiste

    Mir – all the way over here in Chicago, I am praying for you and for Chickadee. Hang in there.

  38. Liise

    I stole my mom’s boyfriend’s money clip from his desk when I was 11. I got in big trouble, from my mom, not him. After that I worshipped the ground he walked on.

    I’m jes sayin.


  39. Cherie

    Having a new parent in your life and having to share your Mum with someone on a full time basis is difficult. It will take time, understanding and patience on everyone’s part. I’m in Otto’s position with a new stepson and one of the important parts for me is that when my stepson treats me badly my partner doesn’t stand for it and supports me, not accepting that behaviour.
    Step parenting is one of the hardest thing’s i’ve ever had to do and things change on a daily basis. Otto will have to have a heart of steel at times and you will feel torn between everyone. It will be hard for everyone but so worth it in the end!

  40. Amy

    Mir–You’re ahead of the game because you already know it will be hard. I’m ten years into the stepmother role, and it would have been so much better for all of us if I’d had a clue how dang difficult this can be to negotiate. It always will be, too; there are times when it’s easier and times when it’s harder, but the basic facts of our family don’t change.

    And you know what? I’d go back and do it all over again in a heartbeat. (Okay, maybe I’d pack some extra bottles of wine for the trip, but you know what I mean.)

  41. BOSSY

    With Otto on your side, You are OK. Persevere over the reverse, because a KO will always be a knock out.

  42. daring one

    Oh Mir! You are so good to be all Miss Perspective and think about how you’ll look back it later and everything will be fine. Miss Perspective is right. But she’s a litle hard to agree with when you’re in the thick of it. You have such good intentions. Otto has such good intentions. Of course things will be rocky in ways you hadn’t even thought of. If you’d thought of them, it wouldn’t be fun. I’m sorry this is hard and may be for a while. It will get better.

  43. Kate

    Mir, long time lurker here, my heart goes out to you, from the bottom of the world we send you hugs. I know its hard to start out and I can only imagine how the kids are feeling, maybe you could try a mummy date, some one on one time with the chance to talk and get a few things out in the air. You are a fantastic mum and you all deserve to have a great life together.

  44. Belinda

    Aw, the Mom-Guilt Blues. Everyone has pretty much said it all already, so I’ll just add my cyber-support. Hugs from the menagerie to all of you.

  45. rachel

    ouch. I’m so sorry. How is it that these brilliant, special girls know *exactly* what to say/do that will hurt the most?

    You’re doing a great job. I hope that can shine through for you in time. I hope, too, that this is a watershed for C&O and that she’ll have broken through a barrier. best wishes.

  46. Debbie S.

    Hi, just wanted to say I blended a family a little over 20 years ago (omygosh) and I told my future husband not to jump in and be the disciplinarian right at the start (I too have a headstrong child who thought we were doing just fine on our own at the age of 6). My husband (being the person that he is) jumped in with both feet and was telling them what to do and handing out punishments and didn’t understand why if you tell a child to do something it wasn’t done right away and correctly. He even said to me once “Won’t it be nice when we can have the kids live with thier father?” Hehe. You can imagine. I told him that would never happen and if he thought it would he was mistaken and it was never brought up again. We had many years of my son and husband butting heads. These changes should be made gradually so both your new husband and your child can get used to just having each other under the same roof on a daily basis. Don’t misunderstand respect must be there for both parties and disrespect should not be tolerated. I feel if my husband would have taken it slower it would have worked out better. Good news. Today my son and daughter are 29 years old and they love their step-father and have been calling him their father to their friends for many years. They still call him by his first name but to them they have two fathers. It took a long time and I was in the middle for a long time but there was a great payoff in the end. We now have one grandchild and my husband has learned so much about children and now enjoys them and all thier weirdness. I call my grandchild “the wrecking ball”. My husband wouldn’t say a nasty word to this child if his life depended on it. You’ll be OK. Stay there in the middle if you need to. Keep praying. That’s what helps the most.

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