10 Years Gone: How things change, yet how much they stay the same

I want to give you a small gift from my heart- it’s actually a re -gift but worthwhile to share as it is a letter written to the younger of my two stepsons. By his 10th birthday we’d shared three together as a family. I met their father a year after his divorce and met them six months after that. We’d decided that year to move in together and by then shared custody of the boys 50/50. My boys remain a part of my life – a miracle to which I’ll share some insight with you as to the dramatics you might’ve conjured from the connotation of this Christmas/ Hanukkah miracle.

Stepparents: Failure Representatives

Christmas hadn’t seen a tree with gifts underneath for each of them for many years. If I added any value to their lives at that point, it was lost on me. Stepparents, especially stepmothers, represent a failed family and a failed marriage to the children. A reminder what once was. I represented the collapse of their entire world. No need for discussion of fault, of who did what to whom. But unfortunately their mother suffers from borderline personality disorder and the kids a conduit to financial gain. My husband should get an award for fathering with a horrible wall of dollar bills between the well-being of his kids, and our relationship teetered in the balance for many years. He still suffers from depression and parental alienation syndrome.

I will survive

After reading every book on stepparent best practices, listening to every podcast, and seeing a family counselor, the redundancy of the high possibility of an end result sounded and felt much like applauding with dog shit in one hand. I didn’t want to hear or feel it again. The thunder of the shit storms echoed such like the screams you’d hear from one trying steer a leaking canoe with one paddle missing a stick on level five rapids. I’m not exaggerating. If you’re looking at marrying a partner who has kids and a mentally messed up ex, and you’re on the fence – get off the pole. I do not recommend it.

Yet I do have some wonderful memories – and a lot of canceled vacations, lies, deceit, broken plumbing, yelling, drama, crushed hearts, skinned knees and so on.

But for the most part I remember a lot of love, because that’s emblematic of what it takes to survive.

What are the odds?

It’s not as bleak an outcome as metastatic breast cancer which has a 100% chance of death. Second wives stand a 25% chance of success when children are involved versus a 50% chance when no children come to the party.

And as far as doing what’s right for the kids, setting boundaries didn’t stop any of the outrageous and cruel behavior, rewarded when they returned to their mom’s house greeted by their grilling of the time they spent with us. All activities, backed up by photos, audio and video recordings all the better, and as much money as possible either in the form of stolen or given. What made their time with us most nightmarish and would certainly break up your average couple, drew us closer in a United front and although she fleeced us for any penny, it forced us to find smooth conflict resolution between one another. In hindsight I don’t know how we still have a shared life – with the kids. The boys are 22 and 19 now. It’s a long way away from 14 years ago. Hair curling doesn’t come close to describing the situation. But here we are.

Part of the reason exists in the body of this letter. It’s the holidays and as a gift I’d thought I would share this with you. Craig said there’s a lot of wisdom in that letter. But it’s an outline of my own personal philosophy.

The Letter

And now why you’ve all come to read this post, the letter of 10 years ago to my then 10 year old stepson:

June 27th, 2011

Dear C,

10 years old – think about what the world was like back when you were born… One whole decade of your life makes up your history, and your future waits to unfold for you like a story in the decades still to come.

Can you imagine yourself another decade older? 20 years old, just 10 years from now. Thatʼs a huge leap from here if you think about how much youʼll do in the next 10 years. Think about what that might look like… lotʼs to learn, see, do, love, hate, win, lose….

Perhaps 10 years from now, youʼll be in college listening to some professor lecture on about math, and think of your dad. Heʼs a really special person. Heʼs someone you can always count on and who will always understand you. If everyone had a dad like yours… I believe that kids would grow up to be happy people and there would be more joy in the world and less anger. Look how happy you are hanging with dad and your brother. I can see the way you look when youʼre just being yourself and how much you like to smile. Your dad always smiles when he hears you laugh. I bet you didnʼt know that, did you?

So, when I was thinking about all this and decided to write to you this year because youʼre my very special friend and one of my favorite people in the whole world, I smiled too. I thought back to when I turned 10. I was still me. I still look like me.

When I thought really hard I wished somebody would have told me some things that might happen or just stuff in general that only experience can give a person. So, I thought Iʼd write those things down for you – and only you. If I had a good friend who cared about me when I was your age, this is what I would have wanted. Some of the things are just what I wish Iʼd done differently, some are things I am really glad I did, and some are things that have helped me get through some tough times:

    You are only as good as your word. You are born with it (itʼs the cry you make when you come out of your momʼs tummy) and you die with it (everyoneʼs got something to say before they die, and some even put it on their gravestone.) Thereʼs no clothing on your back when you come into the world and none when you leave it, but you scream at everyone when youʼre born and whisper when you exit. So, keep your word and the world will come back to you because youʼre a trusted soul.
    Travel.
    Do one thing REALLY well. Like skateboarding. Or playing guitar. Or even knitting. But practice and become an expert. I wish I had stuck with one thing long enough to be considered an “expert.” Hey, thereʼs still time.
    Treat others how you want to be treated, even if you donʼt think they deserve it.
    Go for long walks alone and think.
    Write in a journal or even on your iPad. Look back after some time and reflect on how you felt. Quite often, the things that made us mad or happy or sad a year or two ago, donʼt make use feel like that when we look back.
    Try everything within reason – I mean food, and sports, and walking around naked in the snow, or seeing how long you can go without taking a shower (oh, right you tried that last week 😉
    Tell people who you love how you feel. Affection helps everyone.
    Be sincere.
    Love what you do for a living. You must. Youʼll come to define yourself by what you do. So you better love it.
    Make peace with your brother. (I wish I did this – but you have to make peace with yourself first as to why youʼre angry with him. I wasnʼt angry at my brother, I was angry at my mom and my dad for messing up our family.)
    Hygiene matters and practice it whenever and where ever you get the opportunity because you never know what might keep you from getting that next shower or who you might meet walking down the street. And if you travel this is extra important. Ask me about Hurricane Wilma – I didnʼt get a shower for 10 days. Ew.
    Volunteer regularly. Giving to people in need will make you humble.
    Love yourself. Thatʼs the hardest thing to do. You may not know what I mean now, but you will. We do things in our life that we look back on and we donʼt like the people we were when we did them. But forgive yourself. Because when people donʼt forgive themselves they become ugly and bitter.
    Save your money but donʼt be stingy.
    Think about something good when you get up in the morning and it will take away any bad feelings that might ruin a perfectly good morning.
    Allow yourself to make mistakes.
    Allow yourself to be competitive. Victory dances are good in moderation.
    Learn to tell jokes.
    Donʼt be racist or sexist.
    And, last but not least, to yourself be true.

Happy birthday.

I love ya.

Ilene

Post Script to My Readers:

Nearly 10 years later, i wouldn’t change anything about it.

Peace on earth.

Good will towards every living thing.

May we heal from this plague and may we find ourselves released us all like doves into a clear blue sky, free from the shackles of fear and uncertainty, isolation and illness.

May the coming week bring you love.

I love you very much.

You my friends, my readers new and long term, my support sisters and brothers. And a sad goodbye to some very beautiful women who did not deserve die nor to leave their families behind, who will mourn them forever.

Every 74 seconds a woman dies from MBC. Fuck cancer. Fuck whomever tells my kids I don’t have cancer and you know who you are and if you’re reading this I don’t actually give two shits or a handful of dog shit either. You can’t make my life miserable so quit making your kids miserable instead. With NPD borderliners it takes nothing to lie about anyone to get more out of their sources using flying monkeys in the form of kids they birth from their golden uteruses don’t even love. They’ve no capacity and my mom had a slight case of NPD so I know of what I speak first hand and lots of therapy later.

And I want to say to every one of my followers, friends and my family thank you for your support without which I’d be a statistic.

A rock feels no pain, and an island never lies…

Many of us experience isolation and walk alone in our cancer journeys. Regardless of the stage or type it's difficult and frightening, causing emotional strain and stressing the infrastructure of even our strongest relationships. My husband is in the third year of his depression. Although he’s trying, the lows and valleys run into and erase from memory the days and weeks with small glimmers of hope. He makes sure to remind me of the roof over my head but seems to have no recollection or reasonable understanding of how his depression continues to effect my health and the stressors of my 19 year old step son who lives in our home and does nothing but sleep and play video games with the door to his room shut.

He’s caused innumerable problems. After an hour he returned when I threw him out two weeks ago, with the encouragement of his own biological mother, and I feel trapped like a lab rat on a sinking ship. My pain is worse then ever and I am worse for the wear. I feel like there’s no way to find peace and air and light. I am stuck in a paradox worse than Xeno’s – staying in the current situation is de facto stressful and lonely; if I leave it’s de facto stressful and lonely. I’ve tired going out all day and keeping myself busy but I get so tired I find myself just sitting in my car sometimes wasting time and reasoning through unreasonable questions and behavior.

I've put years of my life into helping this boy. He’s spoiled and he’s not appreciative of how the foundation of a good life he’s rejected will bite him in his rear end when he gets older. Although he’s very much aware that he’s making my fight harder, it seems he does it quite purposely to create fights between my husband and I so I don’t have the veto to block his father from financing requests for undeserved expenses – he’s failed 11th grade three times now and he refuses to just do the little work to pass. I got him into the best charter school in our area and he's lied so I cannot show my face on campus but for the embarrassment.

As if this could get any worse I lost insurance for over a month and was switched to Medicare from Cal-Med -no paperwork from the government , just a call saying I could not go to the infusion center for my faslodex, xgeva, and zolodex and my appointments were cancelled until I had everything worked out. Ummm….yeah? Like this is a way to treat a 2+ year patient with a 10 year outlook?

I wonder if 10 years prognosis can make someone feel no better than a 2 year or less outlook or have a cold false smile from positive test results . Awful as it feels to say this I cannot help believing that emotions like happiness and joy cannot be a part of this life. What is my raison d'etre anyway? I cannot seem to make my husband believe I'm worth it to work at lifting the veil of his depression and stop blaming me for the natural course of time to take his son and let him find his way already. If he weren't depressed I know this kid wouldn't be here and my husband would not feel guilty if he were himself again.

But if wishes were dollars I would be very wealthy woman.

For whatever reason there is – biological or sociological or psychological – the stepmother reminds everyone of a failed marriage, a failed mother, a failed family. The new family units popping up everywhere are the norm now, not the exception. I think that some steps are better equipped than some biological parents to rear children, not to say a kid doesn’t need their parents somewhat like comparing that situation to an adoption. Not in my case. However, my husband happens to be adopted and has no real need to locate his biological mother or father. That said, he had an idyllic childhood and his biological mother did him a solid by giving him to people who really wanted to raise him and could afford to do so. Not that money buys love. It can't.

If I told you some of the shit sandwiches I've had to eat over the past 10 years, you'd never want to eat again. It's ingesting the worst kind of manipulation possible and allowing it to become part of our life's fabric. We cannot help the guilt and the pain that our steps go through – we do our best, many of us anyway, to help them rise above choices they didn't make. But so it goes, the bio mom has a lot to do with the kid's attitude as we enter these situations with the best of intentions. If intentions were dollar bills I'd be Bill Gates. I love both of those kids – regardless of the behavior each has bestowed upon me. My younger one now 16 apologized for his less than stellar behavior, calling me a gold digger and his dad a stupid bread winner not believing I looked sick enough to have cancer. This coincided with his pre-teen hormonal hell. He is kind, loving, and helpful to me as he was prior to puberty – quite the opposite of his brother.

My husband’s guilt won’t allow him to drop kick him out to find that in the real world there aren’t private bedroom suites with bathtubs and house cleaners and magic fridges that fill themselves, and magic cars that have gas and pick him up and drop him off anywhere for free anytime, and juice containers to put your unbrushed mouth full of germs on and drink the freshly squeezed juices I make, or lock yourself up in a bedroom with a lovely daybed cum couch (excuse the double entendre) and play guitar or xbox until all hours and sleep until 2 in the afternoon, or talk to an adult by yelling and cursing and without a modicum of respect, and I won’t go on…

So, the loneliness sets in deep.

May we all not have to get used to being alone, as there are too many of us to have to be done with people just because we have a metastatic cancer. In educating people who do not have active cancer, they’re surprised to learn that although there’s no evidence of tumors or worse, thankfully, because their immune systems recognize and erradicate them.

It seems like an eternity still, two years and three months since my diagnosis. When I hear comments from people who know little about the disease, and mostly from rather snarky people who say, “oh, you’ll be fine” or “you look too good to have cancer” or other demoralizing, ignorant statements as such, I do not mind educating any of them. It seems, however, few want to learn. In education we sometimes find a fear that we needn’t have uncovered so late in life. But is ignorance bliss and lying to ourselves better than knowing the truth?

In step parenting and in metastatic cancer, as with being a wife to someone with long term depression and his inadvertency to get the help he needs to give me some of the help I need, I wonder if the human condition doesn’t somehow rely on lying to itself in order to continue to propagate itself.  As the line said in the title of this post, and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries. You Paul Simon, are a genius.

Here's a song to listen to as you contemplate the dense and intense feelings of both stepparents and cancer patients, as I wish for life to go o after me without the great isolation each situation causes it's victims. 

Simon and Garfunkel, I am a Rock

S’Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day, mom. You’re gone from life, but never from my mind.  I do miss you and wish we’d had our time for closure, which was robbed from both of us. Yet not a day goes by that my guilty relief of having a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder doesn’t leave a trail of tears. I feared Mother’s Day as a child, never quite getting the right thing if I could or doing enough to satisfy her insatiable need for worship. The golden uterus – she created me and I owed her, therefore, a lifetime of debt I couldn’t pay.

Celebrating a mother’s carriage and rearing of a child seems awfully weird to me.  Born of  her choice, and hopefully for the appropriate reasons, to carry a life, nourish it emotionally and physically until it’s time for the child to sever the umbilical cord, freeing themselves of the bounds of the NPD parent. My parent decided I was mature at 14.  So mature in fact, that I could handle supporting myself for the age of 14 and for the rest of my life. Off she went with my younger brother to settle in with my future stepfather.  I became a reminder of guilt to keep as far away from family functions as possible. And it was wrong I knew, because it was a secret I couldn’t share; no one was allowed to know I was living by myself.  A few people in my family knew, I suspect, but no one wanted the added responsibilities of a teenager should my mother continue her denial.

Perhaps I’m one of the few who grew nervous and anxious as Mother’s Day approached – even as an adult it’s not a happy day for me, and it continues it’s bitterweetness as a stepmother. Few stepmothers receive cards, gifts, flowers, appreciation, or just a quick thanks. Not for any holiday or even a birthday in my home. My home where two boys spent countless hours with me, and both of whom I loved as much as any stepparent could love someone else’s child. The children I spent the last eight years with me giving of myself to no avail. But I grieve in private rationalizing that leaving a child to founder is sinful. In fact I truly believe this to my cancer-riddled bones.

Given the tug of war that I found myself dead center of, I continue to feel rope burns in my hands and more life scars for which I never asked. To relieve ones self of the lies you swallow every day along with every meal your reminded how your wonderful sacrificing mother scraped by and had trouble affording, and then she goes to get ready for a date as you scrub dishes with ultra strong childhood soap, then bathe yourself, do something wrong after she leaves and smartly wake up before she does to meet a friend and sneak a smoke on the way to school.

As you grow out of their grip and into adults you also hope to hell she changes. Sadly she never does, and like all those friends of hers you never did see again, she dies alone and confused by her own misrepresented identity.  NPD mother’s are shown to have early onset dimentia like mine did before she died of guit or Alzheimer’s or both.

Happy fucking Mother’s Day.