As a very new, unofficial stepmom of three in the burbs, I don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to giving parenting advice. But I can share my experience of often being scared shitless of my partner’s three small humans and how I’ve navigated.
Backstory for context: In the summer of 2018, I lost what I thought was the love of my life. It was a breakup that made me throw my hands up and say, “Fuck it. I’m better off alone, I don’t need this love shit so I’m gonna be the lone wolf I am and just have a lot of meaningless sex.”
Which I did for two years. Along with other self-destructive behaviors.
And continued to do so when Covid went on a world tour.
So in June 2020, when Marichelle hit me up on a dating app, I proceeded without caution despite the red flags:
“So the woman I left my husband for broke my heart recently and I’m devastated. So I’m not really looking for a relationship .”
“Same. I ended my marriage too because gay.”
“He’s a great dad. We have three children together so we have to maintain a relationship to co-parent.”
“Yes, they stay with him on the weekends.”
Record slowly proceeds to spin.
“Ok, cool, I know it’s a pandemic and this is wildly irresponsible, but want me to head over to Jersey this weekend?”
Yep, it sounded good to me too. A momentary break from the city and I was totally down with being a weekend rebound fling.
NOPE. It was so far from perfect one could describe it as breathtakingly wrong (ooh, gonna write a queer harlequin romance called Breathtakingly Wrong) We were a mess! And then that sneaky thing happened that some call falling in love but feels like temporary insanity when both people have seriously deep, unresolved issues.
And then I met her kids.
Things suddenly shifted into perspective and I felt myself root. I fought hard against it at first because it went against everything I had given up on. To say that I was suddenly faced with myself and terrified is a massive understatement. It was one thing being a social worker and pouring my heart and soul into work but otherwise not giving a fuck about anything else including myself. It was another to find myself in a dynamic that introduced exchanged love in the form of a family.
So we started doing the work. That’s when the relationship truly began and our unconventional family dynamic started to form. Temporary insanity shifted to the point in a relationship where love actually begins: The work.
The work and having three unexpected children felt like our attempt to become a couple was trial by fire. And these three little ones were going THROUGH it. They were 6, 8 and 10 (Alice, Lucy and Emma) at the time, just saw their mom go through another major breakup and were living in a pandemic that was beyond anyone’s comprehension. And then my goofy ass shows up.
Now, to my credit, as an ex-drunk I do have a deep understanding of young children because they pretty much just act shit-faced. Their emotions are erratic, they fall asleep in weird places, sometimes pee themselves and their hand-eye coordination sucks. The other part of it is they feel safe enough to be ridiculous, be playful, blissful, cry, sing, dance, goof off, and be, well, children because they know that the adults around them care, love them and will for sure let them know that eating slime is not a good idea. May seem like it, but dude, you’re wasted. Don’t worry, I got you. You’re safe.
The tricky thing about this is that they are also inebriated at the same time and at slightly different stages. Last year they shared one bedroom in our tiny house in Millburn and many times they came very close to going Lord of the Fucking Flies on each other. Emma is getting to an age where she needs her space as she ventures into adolescence. Lucy is an introspective, imaginative kid that likes to have things neat while she chills by herself and Alice is a wild, feral animal that refuses to wear clothes and peels dried glue off her hands.
Marichelle and I needed space too and when the opportunity came to get a larger place and after hard deliberation about the kiddos changing schools, we jumped on the opportunity. While that has helped immensely, it was clear prior to the move that we were all in a place of dysfunction. The nature of my job at Rikers and a commute 4 to 5 hours a day had me exhausted and not the cool, calm goofy-ass they were used to and it was weighing on them and Marichelle. The stress of expanding her business and the passing of her mother had Marichelle grappling with major life-markers that are merciless. I felt very helpless during this time period, knew the move to a larger space would help, but we needed to work on the strength of our dynamic asap because as we all know, there is always shit coming around the corner. So what the hell can I do?
So I social worked it. After a collective meltdown we all met and I proposed we have a regular family meeting with the first one being NOW. I quickly wrote out an agenda with proposed community guidelines and asked we all gather in the living room. I had everyone sit in a circle, looked at Marichelle who resembled a deer in headlights and just assumed the role of host. I looked around, realized that there is a tendency for everyone to talk over each other, randomly sing, twerk etc. so I grabbed a candle snuffer last second and said, “Behold, this is the talking stick. Only those who hold it may speak.”
Yo, the shit works, let me tell you. I have worked with adolescents in high and middle schools in all 5 boros of NYC and the talking stick WORKS.
We started with a Rose, a Bud and a Thorn. Great ice-breaker where you share something good that has happened, something you look forward to, and something hard.
Then simply follow an agenda. For the first meeting, this is what I drafted up:
I took notes, we had a semi-controlled talk about things that everyone needed to express and it wasn’t just a list of grievances, we also talked about dinners we would like, activities we could do together and agreed on some things we all needed to work on. We agreed we would do our best while understanding that it takes time to improve and/or accomplish things. And we closed out in agreement that we would hold regular family meetings. Which we have done and always start with a Rose, a Bud and a Thorn automatically. We created an anchor together.
AND I have finally found where I fit best in our family dynamic which I kinda had a sense of a few times. Like when the bathroom at the old house flooded and in an attempt to calm everyone I said, “And what do we do in an emergency?” Emma replied, “Pee outside!” “Yes, and then?” “Don’t panic!”
I’m the “Don’t Panic” button of this family. When Tala has a dead rabbit in her mouth I hear, “Kels! Help!” And I assure everyone that it’s cool, she’s an animal and don’t look as I wrestle a mangled rabbit out of Tala’s literal death grip. When Marichelle has been terrified of Covid ravaging the household, I’ve walked her through the steps to feel her feelings while simultaneously taking steps to best effectively address a sometimes unavoidable situation. When Emma is clearly upset with her growing understanding that the world in general is chaotic and regulating her emotions feels impossible, we quietly paint together and I’ll show her how to use a new medium.
And now the kids regularly ask me when the next family meeting will be and we have started to take turns hosting. With Alice’s help, we started to do weekly Family Activities every Thursday evening and it has been effortlessly fun. Alice created a really weird tag game that ultimately was just all of us running around the house and scaring the shit out of each other. Lucy hosted a movie night with snacks and Emma hosted a campfire hangout, we made smores in the microwave and played games. She even bought a fake campfire online the night we decided to start Thursday activities. Kid was getting ready three weeks in advance.
When we meet now, the talking stick isn’t needed as much and we’re falling into a rhythm. And I know that keeping these routines can be really, really tricky and it won’t be perfect but it’s ok, that’s my job. That’s my family role.
--->> RELUCTANT ASTROLOGY
// April 24th - May 1st, 2022
In the spirit of “roles” I am randomly selecting a Muppet for each sign.
Aries (March 21 – April 19)
Fozzie the Bear
This week you may feel a bit insecure, but you got a heart of gold. So what if not all of your jokes land, what people really love about you is that you are endearing, kind and wear a killer hat. Seriously, the hat is on point.
Taurus (April 20 – May 20)
Rowlf the Dog
You are effortlessly cool this week. Your wonderfully down-to-earth and dry, self-deprecating sense of humor will pull you through anything that comes your way. And shit, maybe take up the piano!
Gemini (May 21 – June 20)
You are the solid stage manager this week. No matter how crazy it gets, you know how to make it come together. And even if you don’t get credit because you’re backstage, managing, know you are appreciated.
Cancer (June 21 – July 22)
Holy fuck, Cancer, what’s going on? Your unbridled appetite and ferocity is up a tick so you may want to check that. Translate it into something creative like Animal’s chaotic drumming style that seems to work for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem which happens to be a very underrated band. Make it work for you!
Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Rizzo the Rat
With your sly attitude and city instincts, no one will fuck with you this week, Leo. People are drawn to you yet equally intimidated. You do you with full confidence however, maybe you can try and soften up a bit. Try a little bit of vulnerability with someone you trust. You don’t have to be tough all the time.
Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
Ah Beaker, the hapless lab assistant. Maybe instead of being injured in someone else’s experimentation, you can just take a step back and focus on you. We know you love helping people out, especially with problem solving, but you gotta get a spa-day.
Libra (September 23 – October 22)
For a long time, nobody really knew what Gonzo was until it was finally revealed that he’s an Alien! You seemingly feel like you’re from another planet so get your Tall Gray on and flaunt your other-worldliness this week.
Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)
You are a domineering and demanding DIVA, Scorpio. And no one can deny you are sexy. Tap into your sensual charisma this week and allow your confidence to come through. And I know you have this on and off thing with Kermit but, I mean, you can also just have fun too y'know. ;)
Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)
Ooooooh, strong and grounded, Sag! Yes! People turn to you for guidance and advice for a reason and you have a presence of undeniable strength and intelligence. I feel this week that some will lean on you for your natural leadership so know there is a reason you are the one they have turned to.
Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)
Kermit the Frog
I know you feel like you are the de facto leader sometimes, reluctantly taking control of situations it seems no one else will even attempt to de-escalate. So this week, while you may still have to fulfill that role, tell the other Muppets to step the fuck up! Just give it a try, you may be surprised how well they’ll listen to you.
Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)
Not gonna lie, Aqua, I’m pretty sure I had a thing for Janice when I was a kid. She’s just this badass guitar-playing hippie in, again, one of the most underrated bands of all time, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. Tap into your Janice energy this week, go with the flow and don’t be surprised if I subconsciously flirt with you.
Pisces (February 19 – March 20)
The Swedish Chef
I know you do unexpected things, like tossing chickens and juggling meat cleavers, but hey, it keeps us on our feet and your spontaneity will be appreciated this week. And you know what, I feel like you should do some improvisational cooking this week. Give one of your favorite recipes a twist.
Local Events & Classifieds:
Let's Soirée! Join us in enjoying nibbles and good wine as we kick-off our first in a series of MEUS LOCAL POP UPS this season with "'She walks in beauty', a vintage pop-up" hosted by Crash Doll Vintage and Age of Violet. | Friday, april 29, 2022 | 6-9p