Genes, Boobies and Other Accessories

A weekend with the kiddo

My back hurts horribly and I can’t sleep. So I’ve decided to blog…and blog about something totally off topic but very related to what’s going on in my life right now. I hope you’ll excuse the long nature of this one…but its 4:30am and what else am I going to do besides ramble?!

Many parents out there know that at some point we will be “paid back” for every horrible thing we did as children/teenagers through the behavior of our own children. My father blames the gray hairs on the sides of his temples on me. I’m deserving of this honor. I know this. I wasn’t what you might call “the perfect child.” I realize that none of us really were, but in some ways I definitely set the standard. I, for whatever reason, have had to pave my own way through life. I was what you might call…ummmm strong willed?! (I guess if you’ve been reading my blog, you probably aren’t surprised by this statement.) My father would say, “Mandy, you don’t have to have cancer to know that it’s bad. Why do you insist on being so self-destructive? You didn’t have to do that to know that it had consequences.” I really had no answer for him. I see now that my acts of rebellion were simply just acts of rebellion that would cause me to hit bottom and then refine…hit bottom and then refine…hit bottom and then refine. It was a never-ending cycle from the ages of 11-25. A cycle that would slowly decrease in intensity over the years and one that I knew was occurring, but didn’t know how to stop until I was about 25.

At 15 I decided I was done with high school and for all intents and purposes…dropped out. I ended up at an alternative school where I finished my junior and senior year in one year and then headed off to college. From college at 16, I completed my masters by 22. Noteworthy accomplishments for this troubled teen that tended to live a personal life like a bad “after-school tv special.”

I look back on my days of being what I  call my days as a “troubled teen” and wonder how this cycle could exist in my life. I was smart, some-what talented, made good grades, had really good manners and had parents that were well-respected in the community. On the other-hand, I was rebellious, lacked respect for authority (as my father, the Colonel, so often reminded me), had no problems looking at my parents and saying one thing…and doing another, and ultimately had no regard for consequences. It’s amazing how my parents survived my jr-high-ish years. I’m not sure how I survived them.

I say all of that to say, I still keep wondering when I’ll get my “pay-back” with Johnna.

I met my step-daughter, Johnna, when she was three years old. From the moment I met her I knew my life would never be the same. I took my role in her life very seriously. I didn’t want to be just another woman in her life that would come in and then leave. I knew at 22 that this beautiful child was my chance at being a parent and I wanted to be good at being a step-parent. I’ve never really seen myself as being good at anything. I knew I wanted my role as step-mom to be something that I could look at as the one thing I got right. Turns out?! I have been pretty good at it.

When her father and I divorced, her mother and I continued to communicate and she continued to allow me to be in Johnna’s life. I made it clear (to my beautiful and emotionally intuitive 7-year-old) that my commitment to her father was over, but my commitment to her was still very much intact. So over the course of the next 7 years, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to continue to reinforce my commitment to her by being an active participant in her life. Another surprising thing?! Her mother has become a close friend and much like a sister to me. We’re not a traditional family, but we’re a family none-the-less. I will go to my grave knowing that one thing that I’m most proud of is being a good step-parent. It’s a hard role for so many people because you have all of the responsibility and no authority. For whatever reason, Johnna and I broke the mold and redefined what this type of relationship can actually be. And thankfully, her mother has encouraged this relationship in so many ways, even when we sometimes have a hard time explaining it to people. “How do you guys know each other?” “Ummm well, we’re good family friends?” We’ve chosen this answer for people that aren’t close to us because it’s not like I “used to be” Johnna’s step-mom. In our eyes, I’m still her step-mom. I’m just not married to her father…hence the need to avoid the topic with people we don’t know well. It just causes too many weird and confused looks. People aren’t used to seeing a step-mom at dance recitals by herself…and none of us like explaining where the ex is.  LOL

So where am I going with all of this rambling?

This past weekend I flew into Arkansas to spend a “girl’s weekend” with Johnna. She’s had a lot of change in the last few months. It’s hard for anyone, but especially hard when you’re 14 and your parent that was once an hour away is now 13 hours away. You can imagine how hard this move has been on me…it’s been equally difficult for Johnna. What did we do before texting and Skype?! (NOTE: I don’t know how my Aunts made it through the years we were overseas in the mid-80’s.) Luckily, I had been able to see her at least once a month since I moved to Ohio, but since the surgery, I haven’t been able to travel to see her since July. Thankfully, Johnna is secure in the fact that I am still just as committed to being an active participant in her life…as seen by my last-minute decision to make a trip to Arkansas to get time alone with her and take her away for a weekend. Sometimes we just need to get away with someone who loves us so we can recharge and refocus. I think this weekend helped her in this way and it did wonders for me as well.

With everything that I’ve experienced in the last few months and the issues I continue to have, I was able to have a wonderful weekend. I had little pain and was able to accomplish everything we wanted to do. I am so glad my back didn’t start hurting like this until I got home. I just needed a break from life and time with the kiddo.

So as I said before, I keep waiting on my “pay-back.” Well it appears that it still is not coming in the form of her bad behavior, smart mouth, or rebellious attitude. It’s coming in the form of sounding like my parents when I say things like: “No matter how lonely you feel, you are worthy of happiness and love and joy.” “You are my most precious gift.” “You will see that this period of unhappiness in your life is temporary and will get better.” “Go out and make some new friends. Making friends is fun. Expand your circle so that you can broaden your perspective on life and the world around you.” “When you’re feeling lonely, go do something unexpected to help someone else. Take the focus off of you and put the focus on helping someone else.” I can hear my mother and father’s voices when I say these self-assuring, esteem-building statements to her. And I cringe when I realize that yes, I am in-fact turning into my parents. Most notably, I hear my mother as I fight to pull my teen out of her teenage angst. Then the rebellious teen inside of me screams out “NOOOOOOOO – don’t do it. You promised that you didn’t believe that crap. You swore to never say these stupid things. You promised you’d continue to hate everything positive and loving in the world!” And then I smile, because although I love that rebellious teen, I’m not her anymore. I’ve realized that I learned how to show my child I love her through these loving and esteem-building statements. And as my mother watches me go through this current battle of physical change that has been excruciatingly painful both in body and mind…and I watch Johnna go through being a teen and coping with a hell of a lot of change in her own life (outside of the normal teen stuff)…I get the honor of stepping out of my own pain and being the step-mother that I promised her I’d be and pay-forward the love and commitment my parents showed me. I’ll take this form of pay-back ANY DAY.

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