Difficulties and a (step)Mama’s Love

My heart broke last night. It seems like it’s been breaking a lot as of late. This parenting thing is tough. And stepping in as a step-parent? It’s certainly not a role for the faint of heart.

IMG_0378I’ve avoided writing here because I wanted this space to be fun and filled with laughter and joy. My words over at my other site, A Big Umbrella, tend to be more serious, touching those tender places of heartbreak and loss. I wanted this to be my space to try writing with humor and lightheartedness, because there’s a lot of that in my family. And I’m grateful. And honestly? I wanted you to picture my life like a Brady Bunch episode. Sure, there are trials, but they’re fixed and resolved in less than 30 minutes. And there’s a housekeeper who cooks and cleans. Who doesn’t want that?

But that’s not my reality. This first year of marriage has been tough. Not because my husband and I don’t get along — we do. In fact, we get along so well that it freaks. me. out. As in there are days I withdraw a bit not because he’s hurting me in anyway, but rather, quite the opposite. He’s so nice. And sweet. And I struggle to reconcile the reality that marriage can be like this, this good, this easy, this encouraging with what I experienced for fourteen years through my first marriage. That hard. That filled with hurt and sorrow. I withdraw to try and protect my heart from being hurt again as I wait for the proverbial other shoe to come crashing down.

But there is no shoe dropping on this family of mine, on my heart. So why has it been a difficult year?

The kids. And not just any kids —stepkids. Kids carried in someone else’s womb, born and held in someone else’s arms. Someone who chose to walk away.

I’m not here to bash anyone, certainly not my stepkids’ mom. Everyone has a story, and while I know a piece of hers, I will not stand in judgment of it. I don’t know the entire story, and it’s simply not my place to judge.

But I am standing with the repercussions and let me tell you — it sucks. It hurts. And it breaks my heart to see how our actions as parents, as adults, directly impact the kids and the damage divorce leaves in its wake. It doesn’t matter if they’re twelve or twenty-two, divorce hurts everyone, including the kids.

This is the point where well-meaning people step in and ask, so why do it? If remarriage is so difficult, why do it? To which I respond, I fell in love.

img_9493I did. I fell in love with this man that just seemed to fit me. He gets me. He knows how to care for me, how to love me. He respects me and he respects my relationship with my oldest daughter, and has come to love her as well.

But I also fell in love with his kids with their crazy, puppy-like-rolling-all-over-eah-other-energy and constant need to touch me all. the. stinkin’. time. With their sassy attitudes and broken hearts. With their giggles and can’t quite-get-out-of-the-door-on-time-in-the-morning struggles.

Yes, I fell in love with them, too, but it is tough stepping in during these middle years. When hormones speak louder than rationality. When they already struggle to be accepted and included and then I go and change some expectations on them as me and their dad rewrite a new normal.

There are days when the pressure builds and I know if I don’t get some space, some time alone, I may just explode. When the frustration builds as I tell them, for the thousandth time, to clean their rooms, do their homework, and stop farting on their brother . . . Yes. That’s a thing in our house.

IMG_0359But then moments like last night come along. When the one in the middle, my tender guy, sat on the bed doing everything possible to hold back the tears that threaten to spill. Pinching his throat, pushing on his eyes, staring ahead looking his dad straight in the eye without blinking. This one who struggles with anxiety and belonging, whose mind races faster than his ability to speak, who just can’t focus to figure out how to do school, who can’t seem to get the thoughts and things he knows written down on paper.

I watched him and determined – this. This is why I choose the hard road. My mama-bear-love rose up, that deep primal protective love, love that I thought was only reserved for the children born of my body, stood ready to roar against the world who dare hurt this precious boy. Who dare to tell him that he isn’t smart or funny or capable. Because he is.

IMG_0546And this love is not just for him, it’s for all three of these kids that have captured my heart and burrowed their way into my love. The girl who longs for a mother’s love and the oldest boy who just wants to do what he thinks is right.

IMG_0517No, this hasn’t been an easy year. It’s been filled with tears and struggles and frustration. And while it may never be an episode on the Brady Brunch, it’s unfolding as it’s own kind of story. One filled with hope and healing and lots and lots of love. One I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

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He Calls Me Mine

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Names mean a lot to me. A name helps me be known by others, to connect. When I named my two girls, I chose names that spoke value, considered their meanings. I felt their names provided a glimpse into who they might become.

My parents set the stage for choosing names. They chose mine because of a movie: True Grit. While my mom liked the tenacity of the main female character, Mattie, she wasn’t fond of her name. She did, however, like the name of the actress who played Mattie in the 1969 version: Kim Darby.

And so I was named.

Through the years I’ve been called Kim, Kimmy, Princess, Kimberly, Auntie Kimmy, and of course, the full blown Kimberly Dawn any time I was in trouble. Which wasn’t very often. Honest.

But I’ve also been called by another name. A name I don’t hear quite as often these days, but one I dearly love.

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Mom.

There’s so much wrapped up in that name. Love and care. Relationship and belonging. History, present, and a future. A connection and a bond that is like nothing else in the world. When m
y girls called me Mom, I knew we belonged together and nothing, not even death, could take that away.

So naturally, as my relationship with Russ’s kids grew and they burrowed their way into my heart, I longed for a similar type of connection. began to wonder what they would call me. Would it be Kim, or would it possibly shift to Mom?

A couple of years in, the boy twin came up to me and hugged me. Now being hugged wasn’t new; they hugged me all the time. Still do. At first it was overwhelming and even scary, those touchy-buggy-pokey antics.

But that day, he said something as he squeezed me tight. Arms wrapped tight, he said Mine.

At first I chuckled. Um, that’s my arm, or leg, or whatever he was hugging. I thought do you think you own me? now Funny how I get all self-protective when someone trips over my old baggage. But he did this. A lot.

He hugged my arm. Mine.

He hugged my leg. Mine. (Yeah, I think this is a little weird, too. But he likes to lay on the floor by my feet. Like a puppy. And yes, there are days he pretends he’s a puppy. For real. insert shoulder shrug here. Welcome to our home.)

He hugged my neck. Mine.

He snuggled in close to me. Mine.

Hmmm. There was something special about what he said, something that stirred my wounded heart. Isn’t this what I longed for? To connect? Yeah, I know. But it didn’t feel the same, not at first. I wanted what other moms had: the name. That coveted title.

I watch how Russ interacts with them —such love. A genuine, pure, enjoying-each-other-even-when-they-drive-you-nuts kind of love. And while I’m not fully there yet, I’m definitely heading for that crazy-love train because I want to be a part of that, with them.

But as someone stepping into their lives mid-stream, it often feels lonely, disconnected, in a world of missing out. Missing out on the joy of their pregnancies. Missing out on their firsts – first smiles, first steps, first words. I missed out on the joy of expectation and jumped right into the challenges of the middle years. I missed out on their first falls where I scoop them up and kiss their pain away. I belong and yet, I don’t.

I’ve stepped into bigger wounds, bigger fears, and deeper pain. I’ve stepped into relationships that need to be formed from scratch yet need to be fast-tracked to fullness. Relationships that take much more time and space to create but happen in the daily grind of everyday life.

People ask me what these three kiddos call me now that we all have the same last name. Just Kim, I reply, almost as if my name is some sort a consolation prize, a “thanks-for-playing” award that is somehow less than another name they might call me.

I realized this sense of being left out actually stemmed from a deeper longing —to belong to One who would never leave or betray me. Russ wasn’t that person. I couldn’t expect him to be just as I can’t be that person for him. My faith tells me God is the only One who can fully satisfy my need to belong. In fact, He’s the one who created that desire in my in the first place.

“Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He mad us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3, NLT

How often I forget that and try to fill God’s space with a whole lot of other stuff. Like house stuff, clothes stuff, even people stuff. But those temporary fillings don’t last very long. Only God fills that desire to belong and draws me near.

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Psalm 107:9, NIV

At dinner one night, we sat around a big table, and this topic came up. It started with the twin girl. What are we going to call you? The wedding was over, we were back from the honeymoon, and had just moved everyone in to the new house. Well, not everyone. My oldest lives in another state with her husband and had decided she would call Russ, well, Russ. But the younger ones wanted to know what they could call me.

Do we call you Kim?

Do we call you Mom?

Four sets of eyes stared at me. Hesitant. Longing. Uncertain.

I knew what I wanted to say. Call me Mom, of course! That’s the name I want. It’s the job I’ll do. But as I sat and prayed, asking for wisdom and direction, something different tumbled out.

You can call me whatever you want. If you want to call me Mom, that’s okay. If you still want to call me Kim, I’m okay with that, too. You already have a mom, so it’s really up to you.

They looked at each other satisfied with my answer, and decided to keep calling me Kim.

I’m not going to lie, I was slightly disappointed, crushed for a minute, even. Probably more than I expected. I wanted the happy ending complete with the tender declaration of love and admiration. I wanted the Hollywood “happily ever after” where they all cheered and cried, Mom!

But that’s Hollywood and this is real life. A life often filled with disappointments and longings, of broken families and mending ones. But every so often God leans in and whispers to a child. Because at that moment, when the feeling of left-outed-ness crowded in, the twin boy scooted closer to me, hugged my arm, and said, Mine.

I’ve decided that’s much better name.

A precious reminder of another One who calls me by the same name.

I have called you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1 NLT