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.

Knock knock: depression calling!

Bing bong bing bong bong bong bing bong (Big Ben chimes doorbell)

Me: who is it?

Depression: oh an old friend!

Me: [excited because I’ve been isolated for seven months, opens door expectantly] Oh, no. It’s you. How did you get our new address?

Depression: I can find you anywhere at any time in anyplace so anyway I’d like to talk to your husband.

Me: [through a barely opened door crack] It seems you’ve already been talking to him behind my back!

Depression: Oh, he he, yeah that. Well, I’m always around…in the garage, the workshop, sitting in his office. He and I have a pact. If he’s laying down I come visit him and ruminate along with him, kind of like meditation.

Me: I was under the impression he is meditating, at least that’s what he’s been telling me.

Depression: HA! That’s funny. He tells you he’s meditating? Oh, good one. He’s finally learned, goodness he’s a stubborn one. He’s meditating alright. Rumination, meditation, what’s the difference?

Me: I’m very disappointed, let me come out there on the front porch, I’d prefer he not know you’re here. I love him and love is stronger than darkness and depression. [I try abc hold back my nearly audible angry tears…not again I say to myself.]

Depression: Well, I got news for ya toots, he’s been cheating on you with me.

[I slip out the front door and quietly shut it behind me careful not to let it see our new house.]

Now out in front of the house:

Depression: Oh very nice inside, I’ve already seen it, been around during those inexplicable arguments, when he tells you to “leave him alone” it’s because I’m there. I’m just good at hiding. You never do see me coming do you?

Me: Oh, I think you’re not as smart as you believe. That’s when I try my best to show him love and caring, make sure he knows I’m here for him. Love heals depression. Well…That and his psychiatrist and his medication.

Depression: Well, when was the last time he had his meds adjusted or saw his psychiatrist? And if you really believe love can beat me, you’re sorely mistaken.

Me: You don’t stand a chance in hell against me. Our trust will see us through. He knows you’re lying to him he just can’t always find the strength to remember sometimes and he pushes me away for a while, but I’m stronger than you. And I know all too well when you’re around.

Depression: Ha. Stupid woman. Drugs may have worked for a while, but I think you’re really overstating your importance. More like impotence aren’t you. I know your sex life goes down the tubes so to speak when I’m around, just like his hygiene. Haha haha. Stinks, doesn’t it?

Me: you’re an asshole. Is your partner anxiety with you?

Depression: Of course, didn’t you notice he was here last week. You were at your oncologist appointment and he knew you would be gone for enough time – didn’t his son push the right buttons while you, poor thing, were getting poked and prodded three hours away. Oh, we also have a contact at your oncologist’s office.

Me: Why can’t you just pick on someone else? No, let me take that back – no one deserves to feel this way. Why don’t you just piss off and die, both of you?

Depression: Oh we wouldn’t do that, and besides we are having a great time during Covid. Lots of new recruits to play with. I mean, we can’t seem to get through to you, but there’s thousands if not millions of people who have a really hard time with isolation and not seeing friends or the people they love. Covid has taken over the hardest part of our job!

Me: This won’t go on forever – you’ll have to go back to working twice as hard again. And by the way some of us are just not going to let you in, since we have no proclivity for being depressed.

Depression: Don’t worry we are not giving up. We will eventually get in your door too. Besides there are plenty better candidates than you for now. Lots more people with cancer who will relent to that negative self talk “why me?” “What did I do to deserve cancer?” “I’m such a loser I can’t even get better with chemotherapy.” “Where did all my friends go? Why am I so alone and afraid?” Oh those are my cues to put a dark veil over their minds, let them sleep all the time, and if the cancer doesn’t kill them…

Me: You’re a sick sick thing. Go away, he’s calling me and I don’t want him knowing you’re here. I’m going to hug him and put on some of his favorite music and get him out in the sunshine today.

Depression: [nearly invisible and hardly audible] Shit, no wonder we can’t get in, he’s a little stronger and you know what we are allergic to…but I’m always around…gasp…cough…I’ll see you soon…gasp…I promise you…wheeze cough…I…

Slipping inside I slam shut and lock the front door and go to wake up my crabby morning hubby. “Honey let’s get out today I’ll make us some lattes. Take a shower and shave so I can kiss your handsome face, and let’s sing and play guitar for a while. I’m gonna put on some music.”

Meanwhile the 70 degree temperature and bright blue sky along with the birds coming to bathe in the fountain in front of the house remind me that the world is full of memories not yet made and there’s much to be thankful for. I remember that love, patience, guidance and above all a commitment to my gratitude to having our happiness uninterrupted by this other disease that lives silently in the dark corners of our life isn’t going to visit us today and I hope not for a long time to come.

May you find peace and hope in these strange and difficult days.

Dear Me,

Ilene, may you find it in your heart to forgive me. It’s harder to forget than forgive for you, yet you may be better off, if you cannot forgive, to forget. Some wounds become scars. Do your best to forget the scars, some of which only you can see. They’re not from your cancer but the way your life changes because of your cancer.

The people you love will fall away, but they don’t know how to see you anymore. They feel guilty talking about their problems with you. Its guilt that stems from what they realize is pettiness. But you can’t hang onto those people no matter how hard you try. Letting go gives you a more solid foundation on which to heal. It’s hard enough with negativity and trying to explain your situation. Some will believe it’s based on something you did or did not do. Neither is true and there’s absolutely no point in wasting time.

Time is the commodity you have so little of, but don’t worry. You’ll have exactly as much as you need. Don’t waste it waiting for that is the one thing you’ll regret.

It’s not your fault -ironically – you’ll forget a lot in five years. For instance I’m so late in writing this letter to you because I’ve forgotten so many times. I meant to sit and write it 100 times but I forgot or time slipped away from me. And you’re the most important person in my life and you know me better than anyone, don’t you? Please forgive me for not writing this long ago. I’m still as distracted as ever maybe more so. Don’t worry the cancer’s not gotten to your brain yet. We are doing pretty well all things being equal given five hospital stays, five types of chemo and five different oncologists. You have a lot to look forward to.

But there’s a few things I want to tell you. It’s been about five years since the diagnosis came down on you like a boulder even Sisyphus hadn’t the strength to keep pushing up that hill. Do you recall Albert Camus’ version of the myth of Sisyphus? Ridiculously, because he has accepted his fate, he’s happy. His punishment is only horrible if hope of a better life enters his thinking. If he continues to focus on his absurd task then he cannot fear the punishment, extreme given its grounded in of his lack of trust in his widow left behind to carry out his wishes upon his death, but he’s dead. No longer in charge of what happens to anyone whos alive. Camus grinds his pencil point to a sharp by alluding to Oedipus and that, although both situations are absurdly tragic, both Sisyphus and Oedipus are ultimately happy. But how can a boy kill his father, marry his mother and live with all that guilt?

They both “conclude that all is well.” And all is well. You’ll use this to mediate countless times in the coming years but you’ll never leave hope out of your thoughts. I’m doing well so all can’t be that bad.

The moment you give up, the stone will roll back and crush you. Don’t give up hope because all is well. I never break promises to you. I promise this is true.

You’ll keep dreaming of bigger better things. Throw away your lists of things to do before you die. You can hardly count on making a phone call these days why then put a constant state of anxiety upon yourself for what you’re not getting don’t – when you’re achieving so much? I say this to you with all your expectations boiled it down to ONE SINGLE thing… the northern lights. Don’t forget that’s the one thing you’ve dreamed of your whole life. Find a way to go!

If you get to Scotland and Britain, awesome. You must try to hug those amazing people who have loved and supported you from afar.

However it would be great if your friends and one or two family members who physically can – would find a plane ticket to come out and see you??

There isn’t a lot left except loving more fully and learning to accept love better and know when to let go. There are a couple of places I’ve not been yet and maybe learn to fly or horseback ride. But I’ve not seen these as regrets but just life and living and finding the budget. I realized tonight in fact that if not another thing I wanted to do happened, if not one single trip to see and photograph the Aurora Borealis never came to be…my life would be a success.

This life is all you get and not having died as an infant, toddler, teen, or any other age is certainly an accomplishment as noted by our current global health crisis.
I loved with all my heart.
That’s the life you wanted.

I continue to live with love as the guide for my actions. You know by now all that’s mattered until this point is love and by shining your light you’ll attract amazing people to help support you through the most difficult time you’ll ever know. Leading the emotional rollercoaster is uncertainty, and coming in at a nose to nose tie is fear.
I was fortunate to meet people and travel and learn and become a success in my career and break a lot of glass so other women wouldn’t understand the shards that stay under your skin, I took the bullet. Many women around my age +/- 20 years did too.
In general I’m happy.
But most of all…there was and is LOVE. Einstein even was quoted as saying e=LOVE. A joke, but you get my sense of humor.

He and other scientists, ancient and later in the end said love mattered most.

“Tell your son to stop trying to fill your head with science – for to fill your heart with love is enough.” Richard Feynman

“One word
Frees us of all the weight and pain of life:
That word is love.” Sophocles

I suppose that’s about it for now. More later but remember one thing, I love you.

Love, You