Writer’s Wednesday # 3

Here’s the next installment of The Great Untitled Fiction Piece.  After the fumble last week where I failed to mention where the previous excerpts could be found, let me direct you. Here. Also remember that this is a work of fiction, based loosely on my blended family experience. Last week I had people convinced I have four kids. Ack!

On Tuesday, Ri needs a protractor, Emma needs to be at a school function by 6:30, Liam has a music lesson, and Peter has had a meltdown in PE that warranted a note home. And a landscaper is coming to give us an estimate on moving the crepe myrtle from one side of the back yard to the other. While Emma is giving me the details on the school function and Ri is looking through random junk drawers for the protractor that Liam swears that he put back in the desk, I am reviewing the contents of the refrigerator and realizing that I have forgotten to buy eggs. I don’t need the eggs for dinner (I don’t think, but might be wrong about since I don’t actually know yet what I’m making), but at least two children regularly expect eggs for breakfast and in the morning I’m guessing there’ll be drama.

“And dad didn’t remember to sign that permission slip,” Emma is saying as I’m opening the vegetable bin.

“Which permission slip?” I’m inspecting a bag of broccoli crowns, looking for signs of decay.

“The one that gives the okay for us to be photographed tonight.”

“Oh,” I say. “When do you need it by?” Maybe I can make stir-fry.

Emma pauses and is clearly reining in a sarcastic remark. “By the showcase tonight,” she says with evident patience.

“You need it tonight?” I ask, finally looking away from the refrigerator. She nods.

“Presumably before the showcase starts.” She nods again.

“Will you sign it?” She asks.

And here is a moment.

Whenever Joseph’s children ask these things of me, I get a warm fuzzy. It’s desperately important to me that Emma and Liam come to me for things not because I’m the adult-figure in the house, but because they know and trust that I love them and I am willing to be responsible for them. I am not a babysitter that happens to drive and have a good income, I’m their stepmother and that means something beyond being the person who shops well. And when they look to me for parental management, come to me for advice, ask me to help with a project or a decision, it means that they’re on the same page that I am.

But I’m still not their mother, and that has been a difficult road. And by “difficult road,” I mean in the same way that a trip up the Rockies in a Pinto short two cylinders would be. And the reason that road is so challenging is because their mother is not okay with the idea of her children having a stepmother.

Of course it’s okay for Emma to be photographed tonight, the same permission slip is signed before every event. Of course I would never give permission for something that as a family we wouldn’t agree to. Of course if I’m willing to drive Emma there, pick her up, help her with costumes, shoes, auditions and lessons, I’ve invested the requisite amount of time, energy, thought and oversight that should earn me the right to sign a permission slip for her to do something that’s been okay with both other parents time and time again.

But none of that matters. What matters is that I am not her mother.

So my choices are either sign the permission slip myself, and hope that no unnecessary fall-out occurs, call Sylvia and ask her if she’s okay with me signing the slip, or offer to drive Emma over to her place so that she can sign it herself.

There are times when I’m very careful to call Sylvia. If one of the kids is feeling sick, I call and let her know. If something unusual has happened at school on the days that I pick the kids up, I call and let her know. If word of a school event makes it to me first, I call and let her know. When I left Liam at school with an envelop of Tylenol for his sprained ankle, I called and let her know. At the end of the day, when I’m stuck in this place where my selves are struggling between feeling like I should share and feeling like I’m being inappropriately meddled with, I ask myself “Would my kids’ step-mother have to call me with this?” Now, what I think needs to be shared and what Sylvia thinks have diverged wildly on many occasions, and what I think is appropriate step-parenting and what Sylvia thinks have often similarly been strangers. But my choices are ignore her entirely, which ultimately causes more harm than good, or acquiesce fully, which makes me feel resentful and hostile. So I often find myself on the tightrope that is navigating peace with my husband’s ex-wife, hoping that I am striking the right balance between courtesy and authority.

In the end I sign the form, and make the stir-fry, and try to get everyone where they need to go, with the things they need and full stomachs.

And moving the crepe myrtle costs too much.

24 comments

  1. You capture our life so well. Beautifully written.

    Take it as a compliment when you write in the first person and readers mistake you for the main character. Some of my friends can barely look me in the eye after they read portions of the story I’m posting about the mommy-wife like us who ventures down a path most won’t but many think about it. Today’s post has her venturing into the cougar’s den so imagine the looks I will get at the pool today!

    But what I have been told by other writers and slowly learned is that if you write well, people feel they know you because they become part of the scene. So “well done” to you! Keep writing!

    Hope you will take a peek at One Click Away, a story about what happens when a woman lets “friending” an old boyfriend on Facebook wreck havoc on a perfect life.

    Elizabeth
    http://www.afacebookstory-oneclickaway.blogspot.com

    1. Those are very kind words. And I’m laughing at your averted-gaze friends. That’s so funny.

      I am drowning at the moment, but really want to get to your writing. Please be patient with me as I will try!

  2. We have a crepe myrtle that’s FINALLY establishing itself in our backyard…yay!

    Did you get the stir fry idea from Gigi? ;)

    I’m hooked on this story!

    1. Is it blooming? They have such gorgeous blooms.

      And I never knew what they were for the longest time. Random pretty shrubs was about as specific as I got.

      And what are those tall skinny thing with the blue puffball thing at the end? They’re all over the place too.

      I’m huge fun in nurseries.

  3. I will have to look up this crepe myrtle — maybe you could describe it somewhere in your piece for us foliage-illiterates. Elizabeth’s comments are spot-on…Good on you that others have thought this was nonfiction writing. This means they aren’t stumbling about trying to find/understand the story.

    1. Yes, I think that is a very true observation, and certainly a very kind compliment to pay.

      And I had no awareness that crepe myrtle were not running amok across the country. They certainly run amok around these parts.

  4. LOL…I haven’t figured out quite how to work him in yet.

    Although those quivering loins tend to pop up where you least expect them

    Oy…I didn’t see that pun until after I finished writing.

    Bad me.

  5. I’m really enjoying this story. You write so well! I was totally immersed in the story.

    And for WOW…fumble. If we’re still playing…I don’t even know!

  6. I LOVE the symbolism of the crepe myrtle and the feeling it leaves me with.

    This was wonderful b/c sometimes we just have to let nature be, and enjoy the beauty that is there, instead of trying to place what we think would work better there.

    Just let it be, let it be, let it beeee, oh, let it beeeee.

    LOVED this.

    Next post: where you find the stinkin’ time to do all you do. I am such the loser.

  7. Ditto to what Alexandra said. Being a stepmother has to suck sometimes. And I know I’m coming to the party late, but I wonder how the husband feels about the past and the present constantly at odds. Great voice. Humor, compassion, emotional exhaustion. I can relate. :)

  8. I love this story simply because it’s unfamiliar to me. I don’t have to deal with the step-parent thing and it seems so incredibly difficult. But I love how your story shows the careful balance of the whole precarious situation. Beautiful writing as always!

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