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.