In My Father’s House

Every year just before Christmas, my husband’s grandma would call him and invite us to the family breakfast at our local Elmer’s restaurant. “Matthew, this is Grandma”, she’d say, and he would respond by saying, “Yes Grandma, I know it is you, it says your name in my phone” and they would share a laugh.


In my Father’s house,
There’s a place for me.
I’m a child of God,
Yes I am.

Hillsong Worship

His aunt’s hand stretched backwards from the row in front of us at church, handing him two old photographs. In one, there’s a boy maybe twelve or thirteen with a red button-up shirt who looks like our son Cole, sitting next to a little black and white dog, that ironically looks like our dog Luna as well. As my husband studied the young man in the photograph, I studied him. Waiting to see if there was a warmth in his eyes as they tracked back and forth over the photos and to our son, as he compared them. Was there any reaction to seeing a man we seldom talk about? And there was, but I could see it was met with hesitation.

As I searched his eyes and studied his facial expressions, the worship band played Hillsong Worships, I am who you say I am. As we’re singing along, my mind realizes his hesitation wasn’t just rooted in the fact of the man being his father, or that he had passed years ago. His hesitation came from not knowing where his place was now. And how that picture was probably more important to him than he would care to admit. Mindlessly, the lyrics slipped out until I read the verse on the screen above, “In – my – father’s -house – , there’s – a – place – for – me -” and my voice cut out under the heaviness of the words. I couldn’t finish. None of us had a place in our father’s house, not God, but our biological fathers.

In my Father’s house there’s a place for me.

Over the years my focus had been on myself never having a place in my father’s house, and on my daughter, who didn’t have a place in her father’s house. My husband was raised by a wonderful man, who was technically his stepfather, but he accepted him as his own and treated him as such his whole life. He was his and is his father. It never crossed my mind that maybe he missed the lack of a relationship with his biological father. I had missed the fact that he too hadn’t felt as though he had a place with his own biological father, which explained more than I realized. But God’s plan was already in place; we just needed to trust and have faith.

I am chosen. Not forsaken. I am who You say I am.

Every year just before Christmas, my husband’s grandma would call him and invite us to the family breakfast at our local Elmer’s restaurant. “Matthew, this is Grandma”, she’d say, and he would respond by saying, “Yes Grandma, I know it is you, it says your name in my phone” and they would share a laugh. She would extend the invite, and we would accept. The last couple of years she would call out of the blue just to say hi and to tell him she loved him. And I would tell him he needed to spend more time with her, and he would agree, but it wouldn’t happen.

This past year that changed. What started with Christmas breakfast became a wedding, church, lunches, visits etc. It’s funny to look back now and see how smart she was in knowing that she planted the seed each Christmas starting with the breakfast, we just had to water it daily for it to grow. In January, there was a push in my heart and not a light one, it was more like a shove to get back into church, and to be closer with his family. Church was where his family was rooted, and where Grandma was every Sunday. When we would hug her and say good morning to her, I remember thinking she had the kindest eyes, and though I’ve never liked anyone touching my face, the way her hand cupped my cheek as she said good morning in return, is something I will treasure always.

Free at last, He has ransomed me. His grace runs deep.

The last time I saw her, she stopped my husband as he was walking out of her hospital room. She was asleep we had thought and suddenly we hear, “Matthew, don’t you leave me.” and it made us laugh for a minute. We had thought at first she was going to pull through, but it seemed as though we were wrong. While some other words were spoken in that room that night, that will remain in that room, but my husband received one of the grandest gifts he’ll ever receive. As he stood at her bedside she spoke to him and said, “Don’t forget me, I love you” and I don’t know that I will ever be able to recall that memory without crying, because I know he had thought of her so much over the years, but it was his hesitation that kept him away. It was one of the few times I had witnessed my usually strong as an oak husband, cry.

Grandma passed away a little over a week later, and although that was the last time I saw her, he visited her again which I know he is grateful for. Yesterday, we celebrated her life in the most beautiful way, through worship which was something I learned yesterday that she loved. Witnessing my husband up on stage with his cousins, all worshiping and singing praise together for both the joy of her living a loving life, and now dancing in heaven with Jesus was priceless. And, to know now that this writing piece that I have been working on for weeks, rooted around a song during worship and her, is all the more fitting.

I am who you say I am.

As we were about to leave her celebration of life, our son Cole, looked over at his great grandmother’s photograph and said he only – almost cried a couple times – and laughed, as he hugged me. He teased me for crying as he usually does because I cry all the time. When he asked what made me cry, I told him to look around, to see the surrounding family, the church we now belonged to and to remember it was all because of her, and that this was God’s plan all along. We just needed to water the seed from Christmas.

My husband is his grandmother’s grandson, his father’s son, his aunt’s nephew, and welcomed by the highest king whose love for him, found him and brought him home at the right time. While the push for me to return to the church, to be closer to his family is equally a blessing for me, it was all in God’s plan for my husband to find his place. The lyrics to “I am who you say I am” don’t just belong to a beautiful song of love, redemption and having a place with God, they also tell a story. A story of where a little boy’s grandmother reminded him of where his place was, how to get there again and that he was always loved and deserving.

No, you already have a mom.

If I am being honest with myself, I knew when he asked to call me mom, my answer was not coming from a kind and loving place. I knew I was coming from a “you already have a mom, and you are her responsibility, not mine” type of place. And, a place of “you are too much “work” for me.”

I still the remember the first time my stepson asked to call me mom, and I very curtly said no. The verbal playback from how I heard my response come out, the tone, the very evident feeling of repugnance behind it, and the visual of his reaction when he received my response – is a moment that I wish I could erase, for us both.

In the beginning we both felt like we were fighting for a place in his fathers life and neither of us were giving in. Imagine having your child ask if their friend can stay the night, then another night and another night – then moving in. Forever. During a single night sleepover, kids are endearing, quirky and fun even. If they misbehave or river-dance on your last nerve, you can breathe through it knowing they go home soon. But, when they never go home, because their home is now your home – that’s rough.

Listen, I know as you’re reading this you’re thinking I sound like an evil stepmom and let me tell you, I felt like an evil stepmom too! Additionally, I felt like I was being bullied, being a bully, being tested and testing, and failing miserably. Did I mention he was my son’s best friend? That I met my husband because they were best friends? I fell head over heels in love with a man, and gained a son – that I wasn’t head over heels in love with. At first.

If I am being honest with myself, I knew when he asked to call me mom, my answer was not coming from a kind and loving place. I knew I was coming from a “you already have a mom, and you are her responsibility, not mine” type of place. And, a place of “you are too much “work” for me.” Which translates to a child that they are not important enough to love. Because, would we not put in all the effort, every tireless hour, every bit of heart aching pain to help our biological children? Over and over again? So… essentially our own biological children deserve our unconditional love, but not a child who was not born from us? That’s awful. And, that was how I felt. At first.

One of the biggest misconceptions about being in a blended family is that you blend well. Think of an actual blender, the settings are: Blend/Stir, Shred/Beat, Grind/Puree, Mash/Chop, Liquefy/Whip, and Frappe/Mix. Those are some serious options just to blend something smoothly. I mean shoot, if I am making a margarita, I throw all the stuff in and press all the buttons praying they do the trick — and I’m quite certain that is exactly what I did in the beginning as a stepmom. And, with the lid off at least 50% of the time, because some days I wanted to make a mess, this uprooting in my life was a daily grind where I was being beat, shredded and liquefied to a point of tears. At first.

Babies and toddlers, they are one thing. They’re pliable, naive, and still young enough to create that sweet bond with. But at seven, their mannerisms and personality traits are primarily already set in place, and none are from you. You didn’t spend the past seven years teaching them how to walk, talk, count to 10, sing the alphabet, how to write their names and how to say I love you mommy. You weren’t able to share the values, morals, and lessons that you taught your own children either. Instead you inherited someone else’s values, morals and lessons all wrapped in a cute kiddo who you have to simply just accept because if you don’t you’re a horrible person. At first.

There was a day early on that made me very aware of the manipulation that could exist in the world of “I don’t want my dad to date you” (which was a super fun place to live, not at all). We were in the drive through at Carl’s Jr when my stepson saw an attractive girl taking our money at the window, and he says “my daddy calls her beautiful every time he talks to her “hi beautiful, thanks beautiful” every time” and he flashes this look and laughs. And, I laugh too (as I’m texting his dad asking who the girl at CJ is) through the moment and play it off. He just wanted me to leave, and he was too young to understand that by hurting me, he would hurt his father. But in that moment, none of get that – were all just fighting for scraps at the dinner table. He would flip flip though very rapidly, one minute he would try to break us apart, and the next he would want a hug and ask me if he could call me mom. Things I can now look back on and see very clearly. But then, I’ll be honest again, I didn’t have the type of heart that reminds itself this is a child, they do not mean it, it is their backstory causing this – in the moment. In the moment, I was mad, I was affected and I was annoyed. To me this kid was a disrespectful and needed discipline, at first.

A few months later, he asked to call me mom again, and this time we were not alone, it was in the car with his dad and both my children. Before I could respond, they both said “No she isn’t your mom.”, And, while his dad looked at me with that look of what do we say, when he heard how quickly my kids blew his son off – he was hurt too! It was a no win situation, and things were still choppy – but this time was little different, and I felt stuck. When a child asks to do something that another child in the same household does, it’s because they want to be the same, to be included, and to feel like part of the family. I was told once that if a child asks to call you mom or just does it on their own, and you have other children in the home, you are setting yourself up for failure by saying no – because you are then ostracizing your stepchild. Great! So basically I’ve been ostracizing him since the beginning, and now if I cave – my kids will be mad. Who do I please? Who is more important? Honest people will say their bio kids come first, goodhearted kind people will say it should be equal and so will your spouses. But that doesn’t always happen at first.

Just a side note about this, everything I’ve experienced as a stepmom, my husband has experienced as a stepdad too (my daughter who is 16 calls him dad now too actually). My two had their father involved at first – and he hated my husband for sheer fun. For me, it was a little easier in that my stepsons mom was really not in the picture. At that time her involvement and communication was minimal at best and she lived in another state. Basically, I was his mom, whether we liked it or not. His physicians, teachers and coaches all knew me as mom because none had ever met his “real” mom. So, as I am saying no, you can’t call me mom, they are telling him talk to your mom, and this poor kid is confused.

It was very clear my stepson was nothing like me, but there were definitely things about him that I started to love. He was and still is so great with little kids, he gets down on their level and is patient and kind with them. He loves to be with adults, and would prefer to hang with them then go outside and play. And, I learned very quickly (thank goodness) that he just craved love. He needed and wanted so much love – and here I was being an ass and saying no. Saying I have no room, no extra love to give, sorry not sorry. I couldn’t stop focusing on how much re-work I was having to do with him. Simple things like brushing his teeth, taking a shower, doing his homework, not lying (oh my goodness the lying!!!) his constant need to be glued to his dad at every moment – it was almost too much, almost every day. He was on an IEP in school because he needed help in most areas and my children were none of those things. They were good kids, easy kids. Because they were my kids. Looking back now I can see that while I did have really great kiddos, we let a lot slide because we don’t notice it the way you do with someone else’s child. And, that is what they are, someone else’s child – at first.

Around his first birthday with us as a family, I had a feeling he was going to again ask to call me mom. I knew this because his mom hadn’t called him in almost a year at this point. My husband asked me one thing when we first started dating, and that was to never contact her, that she had made her bed and to just let it go. Well, if you know the me from 7 years ago, letting anything go was a joke. So, one day after watching my stepson sit by the phone waiting for it to ring, I lost it and I broke that request. My insides were literally burning with fury, and the inability to understand and I wanted to know why she didn’t love him enough to call??? And, then I wanted to know why I care all of a sudden? Was it because I needed her to step up and be his mom so I didn’t have to, or was it because she was missing out on a phenomenal kid who just wanted her to love him? The real answer was a good mixture of both I suppose, at first.

I remember writing his mom, and I pissed her off (maybe you read the blog If I could have a word with you , which is all about that and technically my first love letter to my new son in a sense) and rightfully so because who was I coming in acting like I knew it all. But, after that talk, I took my children aside and had a talk with them. I asked them why they were so against him calling me mom, and I explained to them why I felt like the next time he asked, I wanted to not only say yes, but have them okay with it too. It was a great talk for all of us, and we walked away from that knowing that if he asked again, I would say yes, and things might be different, but nothing would change my being their mom.

I tell this story because not every stepparent/stepchild relationship is easy. There are times where both are wrong, both are hurt, both are guarded and both are selfish. Aside from writing about stepparent related stories and situations I don’t use the word step to describe him, he is just my son. His is not a stepbrother, he is just a brother – and even though his mom moved back here two years ago, I’m not his step mom, I’m just his mom. He hasn’t stopped calling me mom since, and I’ve worked my butt off to earn that title, and he has my love unconditionally and equally always. We still have our moments, he will be 14 in a week and I will tell you that back then, I never thought we’d make it here but there is something really special about resilient love – and God knew we both needed the other. We just didn’t realize it at first.  

It starts at home.

I should not have to be in fear dropping my children off at school, that they may be a victim today because you were afraid to be a good parent yesterday!

What would you do or say if I called you right now and said your child told my child to kill themself today? That your child told my child to do the world a favor and simply die. That their only wish was that my child would be dead by the end of the school year. What would your response be??

Would it be “I don’t get involved in child drama” or maybe you’d say “kids say mean things, they don’t mean it!” Or how about this response: “your child is lying, my child would never say that!” Because, I know what I’d say, and how I would react and I would not be afraid to be the bad guy with my child, to discipline my child, to talk to my child until I’m blue in the face to explain that it’s not acceptable. I would do what we are expected to do as a parent sometimes; teach hard lessons!

IT STARTS AT HOME PEOPLE, IN YOUR HOME. And, the worst part is, it rarely ends there. WAKE UP!

Our kids see so much, that parents just turn a blind eye to. They either witness, run chance of being victims of or are doing one if not all of these things: Bullying, cutting, getting drunk too young, being sexually promiscuous and having multiple partners before they can even legally drive, drugs, suicide attempts, school shootings etc.

Do you know your child was too busy to get help from a teacher or counselor when he saw fresh cuts on a kid in PE class? Do you know that his reason was because he was too busy?? Too busy! Too busy to help, to care, to save a life! Who’s fault is that? Yours or his?

How about your child who gets drunk and makes it a point to sleep with or be promiscuous with other people’s boyfriends just to piss them off. Is that her fault or yours?

Or, how about letting your child go to a party where they get drunk and taken advantage of? Her fault or yours? His fault or his parents? And, vice versa.

It’s not just that kids need to start SPEAKING UP about potentially dangerous matters but also the uncomfortable ones. PARENTS need to start talking to their CHILDREN, open their eyes to witness their ACTIONS and for the love of all that is holy, monitor THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA accounts!! It can prevent horrific events in a childs life. We are supposed to protect them. God bless that grandmother who had to do such a hard thing by turning in her own grandson. God bless her for not respecting his privacy and reading his journal! And, God bless her for protecting our children.

You as a parent should be the first person to know something is off with your child. That’s your job!!!!

You as a parent should know your child is depressed/withdrawn and needs to talk to a professional or someone more qualified than you.

You as a parent should know where your children are at all times, instead of them getting drunk/high at a party, allowing them to get into horrible and unsafe situations.

You as a parent should know that your child is having sex or using their body inappropriately way too young! And, ask yourself why? Investigate that? Hurt people, hurt people! Think about it!

You should also know that you as a parent, not acting on suspicions, not checking social media, not wanting to piss of your child, or violate their privacy, not talking to your kids about every little thing and not getting them help when they need it, that you are just as guilty of your child’s actions if not solely to blame.

I should not have to be in fear dropping my children off at school, that they may be a victim today because you were afraid to be a good parent yesterday!!!

I’m calling Mom!

This is an example of daily phone calls with my daughter, when I call to check on them, or when she calls to tattle. Because, when all else fails, call mom. Enjoy!

 Phone Call #1

Me: How is everything going at home? Are the boys being good? Did they eat breakfast?

Gracie: Umm ya they ate, and  they are running around in their underwear.

Me: Why?

Gracie: I don’t know. They took their shorts off and are being weird running around and being loud.

Me: Get the boys and put me on speaker phone

Gracie: (screaming in my ears) BOYS!! MOM WANTS TO TALK TO YOU!! Okay mom they’re here.

Me: Boys put on your shorts! Stop running around in your underwear, being ding dongs. No one wants to see whats under your shorts, especially your sister!!

Boys: OKAY – giggle giggle.

 Phone Call #2

Gracie: Mom, since I made sure the boys cleaned their room, and I did the dishes, can I have some of your chocolate you have hidden in your room?

Me: Yes, but you have to do a load of towels first! And quit snooping in my room – one of the days what you find WILL NOT BE AS SWEET AS CHOCOLATE!

Gracie: Yes mom.

 

work

Phone Call #3

Me: Hello lovely daughter

Gracie: Oh, you are going to be thrilled!!

Me: Really?! Somehow I doubt that. What happened?

Gracie: Oh, well, remember your rule about no balls in the house. Because all your stuff always gets broke?

Me: Oh no, what broke?

Gracie: Well they were playing with balls in the house, and I told them no balls in the house, so they went and got a pillow – which was a foot BALL pillow. And don’t worry Gage already knows that was not a good idea. Then, Boone kicked the football pillow, and they broke the tall glass lantern you had on the table. So, Coleton is in one corner, Boone is in another corner,  and then I ran out of corners so Gage is crying in his room.

Me: (laughing) Did anyone get hurt? Is anyone bleeding?

Gracie: No.

Me: Okay can you sweep it up, and make the boys wear shoes until I get home and can make sure it’s all cleaned up?

Gracie: Yes, but what about the boys?

Me: Tell them I will talk to them when I get home, and let them stay where they are for 5 more minutes. and then call it good.

Gracie: Okay. Love you bye.

 Phone Call #4

Gracie: Mom. David (Step/Grandpa) is here to check on us and says we have practice, and I told him we don’t. But he says we do. Do we?

Me: No, practice got cancelled, let me talk to him for a second.

David: Hi there

Me: Hi, hey practice got cancelled, so I can get the kids tonight. Thank you though.

David: Oh okay, Matt told me they have practice.

Me: Yes, they did. It got cancelled. Matt didn’t know when he told you that this morning.

David: Oh okay. What are you doing?

Me: I’m working.

David: Oh okay, well they need practice. (laughing)

Me: I know, they’ll make up for it.

David: Okay then, bye. Have a good day.

 Phone Call #5

Me: How are things going? Did they do their chores?

Gracie: Um ya they did them, but then they made a mess again in the front room, but they won’t listen to me when I tell them to clean it up. They keep going out in the backyard.

Me: Give the phone to Gage

Gage: Hi Momma

Me: Gage Riley, clean the front room, do not go outside, do not get a snack, do not get water, don’t go pee or poop. Just clean the front room.

Gage: Okay Mom

Me: Give the phone to Coleton

Coleton: Hello

Me: Coleton Michael, clean the front room, do not go outside, do not get a snack, do not get water, don’t go pee or poop. Just clean the front room.

Coleton: Okay

Me: Give the phone to Boone

Boone: Ya

Me: Boone, clean the front room, do not go outside, do not get a snack, do not get water, don’t go pee or poop. Just clean the front room.

Boone: Okay.

Me: Give the phone to Gracie

Gracie: Hi Mom

Me: I told them all. Do you need anything else?

Gracie: No

Me: Okay. Love you

Thank goodness school starts next week. 

 

Not your typical sports physical…

This past week, I took my daughter Grace for a sports physical/well child exam. (apparently insurance providers are kinder to you if its simply a well child exam) I’m guessing a case of karma may have bitten Grace’s nerves since she had to wait in the hall during her brothers physical last year. Which she spent laughing and taunting him while the doctor was making him “cough.”  There was simply no reassuring her conscience that reassurance was nothing for the doctor to check down there, or to make her cough!

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He did as any mother would expect, he checked her reflexes, her weight and height, breathing and bones, diet and exercise etc. he made her walk heel to toe, and to the other side of the room on her tiptoes – which resulted in my telling her that the shorts she was wearing are going in the garbage as soon as we got home! They were way too short for my liking.  After her doctor stopped laughing he then did something that shocked me.  He didn’t fill out our paper and send us on our way. Nope, instead he folded his arms, and started a conversation with Grace. How fantastic is that? Does your pediatrician do that?

He started asking some rather valid questions. Questions such as: Can you talk to your mother, and father? Are you ever sad, lonely or depressed? Do you have a best friend? Do you have the confidence to say “No” when you feel pressured to say yes? Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? To say I was impressed, was a huge understatement. Then when she joined in on this conversational rally of sorts with him, I just sort of sat back and took it all in. Man, is she growing up I thought to myself.

She trusted him, and was open enough to answer any question honestly and humorously – which might I add, she totally gets from me! For a second, it did make me wonder though, how many parents sit and ask their children these same questions? Could they answer these questions about their children? A slight sadness came over me in the thought that not every child has the opportunity or the openness that Grace and I have. The sadness was met with the appreciation for this moment though, and the realization that one day, it may change.

 

Quickly my thoughts were interrupted by her answers to his questions which she met them with such poise, intellect and witty retorts. During their talk, I was careful only to chime in when necessary, or an unavoidable humorous answer was necessary. Like, when he asked her “Do you worry” Are you a worrier?” I couldn’t help but share the answer of “Yes! She worries! She is terrified that if she doesn’t re-post those forwards on Facebook that says your mother will die at midnight, that I’ll die! Yet, here I am, alive in the flesh!”  We all laughed, and he explained as I have numerous times – those aren’t real.

He talked to her about periods, which I did ask if he could rush along, because the hormonal pre-teen stuff is simply too dramatic at times, he said no, damn it! He talked to her about sex, birth control, drugs and alcohol – literally these two talked about everything. He mentioned teen pregnancy and she responded with the hand gesture of throwing a ball into a basket and said “ I’m not throwing my life in the trash!” Laughing he said “Okay, I think were good then.”

The best part of this appointment, besides her overall good physical and mental health, was what he said as was left. He looked at me and said “You are doing a good job Mom, you have a really special girl here.” And, while I fought back the desire to dodge the compliment with a hilarious remark of “Yes, the helmet kind of special” I instead simply thanked him, and agreed.

Sure there is the possibility he says that to every mom, but I took it as the truth. It’s truth and validation come from the fact that I know she is a phenomenal little girl. As well as knowing, that I am a phenomenal mother to her. We as parents owe it to our children to know our worth as parents. Our worth in ourselves as individuals and parents translates them as their own worth. Take the time to be that parent who takes the time. The parent who makes the effort, who has the strength and maturity to answer those questions, remember when you yourself were a child, think of what you needed, desired and wished your parents would have done. And, by that I don’t mean letting you sneak out and drink at fifteen!

Look at yourself in the mirror, right into your eyes and say this “You are doing a good job!” Your kids will thank you for it.