Monday, October 28, 2013

Learning to embrace McDonald's and Ramen Noodles

A few weeks back I put a post up on Facebook:

"If I had known 2-1/2 years ago that all I had to do for Derrick to get A's on his tests was to buy him McDonald's - we would have had a lot smoother last 2-1/2 years! "

You see, I didn't know any better 2-1/2 years ago. I had this naive notion that I was going to take 4, half grown children, and change them all overnight. We were going to start eating all our veggies (versus the years of eating mainly fast food), we were going to make straight A's (when our 4th grader was nearly failing the 4th grade), we were going to keep spotless rooms (after never been made to clean up after themselves) and we were going to do it all with a good attitude (yeah right).

When everything didn't happen just like I wanted, immediately, my first response was always anger. And then frustration. I mean, these were smart children. How could they not understand what it was I wanted and execute those things. For almost a year, we had a nightly war at the dinner table between ourselves and the youngest one over taking one bite (yes, just one bite) of the dinner I had made. Homework brought screaming and tears and fighting - nightly. Cleaning our room was a chore that included my husband physically sitting in the kids room and instructing them on what to do. To say I was flabbergasted by all of it - that's an understatement.

What the hell was going on here?

It took a long time (and it's a continuous learning process) for me to understand that: 1. all these changes couldn't take place overnight 2. some things may never change 3. it's all in how you approach the situation.

The only thing I knew about growing up was how I had grown up. My upbringing was about as opposite as you could get for these kiddos that came into my life. When I first met them, each one told me of their future plans - they were going to stay here in East Texas. They had no college plans or aspirations. No dreams. No goals. And it made me so sad.

So, I dug in. And what seemed like every day my husband and I would tweak the way we were doing things. We would try different things to see what encouraged them or motivated them. We tried taking things away, we tried giving them monetary incentives, we tried praise and unfortunately, did a lot of yelling along the way. What we learned is that no one way works for all the kids. They are each unique individuals who have their own things that drive them.

My biggest challenge from the get go has been the youngest one. He is hard headed, stubborn and ornery. Did I mention stubborn? I've learned several things with him. First of all, there is no point in making my entire family miserable at dinnertime each night over him eating the meal I have fixed. 9 times out of 10 these days, after we sit down, he makes himself a bowl of Ramen Noodles, and everyone is happy. It still drives me crazy he won't even try things, but my sanity is worth far more than that child eating a piece of corn.

The second thing is the right motivators can do wonders. That 4th grader who came into my life almost failing, is now the star student in our house. He has turned into an A/B student, who is so proud to come home and study and to do well in school. Junk food is a motivator for him - sad but true. We keep or eat very little junk food at home, so it's a big treat for him. If he knows he can get a 12 piece nugget meal out of an A on a test, he is all over it. So, it's working well for all of us.

Maybe most importantly I've learned that everything takes time. We still never have clean rooms, but all 3 of our kids now have big plans for their future. All plan to go on to college - and none of them want to stay anywhere near East Texas. They all have huge dreams and goals now - and that makes me happier than any veggie they could ever eat. This journey has brought us to a place where they finally see a huge value in themselves and know they are capable of doing anything they dare to dream.

And, if it takes a little McDonald's and Ramen Noodles to get us to that point - I would say that is a pretty good trade off.

Monday, October 21, 2013

No 'You're Not My Mom' Moments Here

Thursday night we had a football game. Again. We have two kiddos playing football now, so every Thursday is spent at the football field watching our kids - as well as my assorted 'adopted' kiddos (you know the ones who you think of as your own, because they are at your house so much) and Sunday School kiddos. But this particular Thursday, I happened to notice a scene unfolding down at the bottom of the stands. One that probably meant nothing to anyone else sitting there. I'm quite certain I'm the only one that noticed or gave it any thought.

Standing there was a group of people. I knew the back story to all the players involved. It's a small town. There are no secrets here and everyone knows everyone, not to mention all your business and every mistake you've ever made (oh the joys of living in a small town). There was a young girl (7th grade), her biological father, step-mother and her half brothers and sisters. What caught my eye was how incredibly awkward the whole situation seemed - even to me sitting 10 rows up.

Dad was talking to daughter, teasing her and joking around with her. But step-mom stood about 3 steps over to the side and didn't interact in any way. The other kiddos didn't interact either. When they all went to go their separate ways, Dad gave daughter a hug and step-mom gave somewhat of a half wave and a forced smile. Now, believe me, I understand this is a small snippet of these peoples lives, but it made me think.

Our blended family is really special. Really, really special. From day one, I have never had your typical nightmare stories of being a step-parent. I've never had one of the kids yell at me, "you're not my mother" or had any of them pull a "I'm not doing it, you can't tell me what to do" card. Maybe when God gave me 4 kids and made me an overnight Mom, he knew there was only so much one person can handle! But we've been lucky. It's hasn't always been easy, but our family runs like most any other family runs. There is a mom, dad, kids, schedules, ballgames, rules, cleaning, teenage angst and drama, bad attitudes, family game nights and lots of disagreements and lots of love.

What has made us all work so well together? I can't answer that for you. Unfortunately, it didn't work out well involving our oldest. However, I can tell you, that early on, David told me I had to start acting like a parent. I had to discipline. I had to do all the ugly parts of parenting. That he and I were a team and I had to do my part. And I did. I would like to believe I treat them just like I would my own flesh and blood. I set boundaries, structures and organization. I love them, support them and give them guidance. I listen and love. I've never, in any way, tried to be their Mom. But it helps us a hell of a lot that their biological mom is absent 99% of the time.

We are just a family. Probably a lot like yours. We are a hot mess most of the time. I have 3 kids in their teenage years - and that my friends, is not easy. But they don't give me any more or less trouble than other kids are giving their biological parents. They are kids. Enough said. I sometimes wonder what will happen or how the dynamic will change if David and I are blessed with having a little one of our own. I like to think that these 3 kids I have at home will be the best brothers and sisters they can be. They often ask when we will be having a baby and have all expressed a wish that we would have one. And that gives me hope that our blended family will continue to be strong and amazing as we continue to grow.

Some days it's very easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated and think to myself, "why did I take all this on?" But normally, I'm quickly reminded that our life together is pretty awesome compared to so many blended families out there. I have great kids who have never acted ugly towards me for being their 'step' Mom. They are pretty phenomenal kiddos who I'm super proud of. And seeing blended families who don't have what we have just re-enforces to me that we are pretty darn special. And for that I am proud.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I Need the Goodwill Version of Stitch Fix

It's no secret I've been in somewhat of a mid-life mama fashion crisis over the last year. I feel like I went from being this really cute, stylish, skinny gal to - fast forward one year - a frumpy, mom jeans wearing, never happy with myself, Mom. To say I'm not happy with myself is an understatement. And it's crazy - because I've never really found myself in a place like this. And I have more to be grateful for than ever before. I guess it's just the vanity in me. Hey, I'm a work in progress.

But this past month I got the brilliant idea that I thought would save me from my fashion mini crisis. I kept seeing everywhere about Stitch Fix and people were raving about it. I would see Instagram posts with people exclaiming they had 'kept the whole box.' I thought, 'okay, this is worth a shot.' I truly thought it might be a good way to start building me a new wardrobe for the new me. I understand that I'm in a new place in my life and that my style is changing. And that's okay. But I want to dress to feel beautiful. I thought Stitch Fix was the perfect solution. I was so excited after I filled out my profile and hit submit. I just knew magic was going to arrive in my mailbox.

One month later my box arrived and I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Seriously guys, I was so excited! I opened the box and everything was gorgeous. I did want to keep all the pieces. They were perfect - like they had come straight off my Style Board on Pinterest. And then I looked at the pricing page - and my heart sank. Apparently I missed the disclaimer where you have to be rich to do Stitch Fix. Mind you guys, I was already $20 in - $20 I would lose if I didn't keep something. My favorite thing in the whole box was a gorgeous Aztec print cardigan - a piece I had been wanting! But it was $78. The jeans they sent - $88.

Now, for all you who 'love it so much I just kept the whole box' - kudos to you. I think it's great you can spend that kind of money on your wardrobe. But I'm a Mom with 3 teenagers at home. I barely spend money on new underwear for myself. So, to have to keep the cheapest thing in the box, which was $48 (just so I wouldn't lose the $20 I had to pay just to get the box), was hard to stomach. And I'm super disappointed in the whole process. Basically I need the Goodwill version of Stitch Fix.

Now here's the good news (or maybe it's not so good, who knows). I realized that maybe I'm just being a little vain in all of this. I mean, truly, I'm sitting here worried about designer labels and new clothes when I've been blessed with so much more than I deserve (I know, that sounds so cliche). But it's true. Really, how I'm feeling has nothing to do with my clothes (or lack there of), but more about feeling good about me. And that's what I need to be working on - me from the inside out. That doesn't mean I couldn't use some new digs to dress up the outside, but I bet I can rock it out in clothes from Old Navy just as well as $50 shirts from a Stitch Fix box.

And that friends, is my life lesson learned for the week. So, yes, Stitch Fix totally disappointed me. But I guess in the end, it made me think and re-evaluate some things. So, in that regard, it was a total win.

Monday, September 30, 2013

5 Reasons Why Dogs are Better Than Kids

Yep, you read that title right. We are going to talk about why dogs are better than kids. Now don't get me wrong, I love my step-kids, but the dogs have been around a lot longer. And before you all gasp and going and get all judgy judgy on me, let me just say, if you are going to take issue with me comparing kids to dogs, just stop reading here. Also, if you're one of those who are going to say, "but kids are a joy like no other" or "you don't know how perfect life is until you push a watermelon out of your vajay and become a real mom", please, for the love of Pete, don't read on. Just seriously, click the x button. 

Now that those people are gone, I'm assuming everyone else here has a sense of humor, so lets begin, shall we?

1. Dogs don't talk. Really, I believe this one is probably self explanatory. Dogs can't ask me for the one millionth time what time it is. They don't pester me starting at 3:30 on what's for dinner. They don't scream and yell at one another when one borrows the others socks without asking. They don't complain and gripe about, well, about everything. Occasionally they bark at something outside. Maybe a few howls here and there. But during the day, when it's just us at home, it's peace and quiet. 

2. Dogs appreciate the small things. Well, anything really. If only we could all have the joy that my LuLu Belle has by simply going on a car ride. My dogs are happy with a pat on the head, a treat, a walk or just talking baby talk to them. They aren't always asking for something. Just some food and water and they are cool. There is never any "really Mom, I mean, thanks for the dog food, but what I really wanted was steak" They are just happy with what they get. Shouldn't we all be that way?

3. Dogs don't have homework. Or go to school at all. This means that they sleep in. It also means you don't have to yell and nag at them continuously about studying or getting homework done. There is no progress report or report card to bring home, so that more yelling can ensue. I don't lay awake at night praying they can pass the STARR test and get out of high school. I don't have to lecture the dogs on the importance of grades and education in regards to their future. 

4. Two words - unconditional love. These guys love me no matter what. Even if I do have to yell at one for tearing open the garbage and eating week old food, she's right there with a smile on her face and still loves me. They don't care when I have a bad day. They don't remember when I mess up and bring it up over and over and over again. If I tell them no I don't have to contend with slammed doors and bad attitudes. They don't roll their eyes and I've never heard them utter a bad word. 

5. They have no life, which means, I don't have to live my life according to them. We chill when we want to chill and we go when we want to go. There are no after school practices, games, church events, school activities that rule our schedule. We just do whatever the hell we want - when we want. We aren't slaves to any kind of schedule or calendar. 

I could probably do more than five. I mean, they are great crumb cleaners (truly, our chihuahua gets on the dining room table and licks up the crumbs). They are a security system, as they don't let anyone in the house they don't know. And I never have to tell them to clean their room! 

I mean, look at these faces! 

And in case you were wondering, we have 4 dogs now! Yep, we are those people.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Little of What We Do

It's been a little over a year since I took the leap of faith and started my own business, Wonderland and Company. It's been quite a ride. A very exciting ride. I feel extremely blessed to have my own business. We've been pretty successful this first year and I never imagined we would have a business, that was profitable, with a loyal customer base. It truly blows my mind!

We've taken our retail locations for Plaster Paint from one to 7, in the span of 9 months. And of course, we are in The Arbors at the world famous First Monday Trade Days in Canton. Probably one of our biggest achievements thus far in the journey. We've really concentrated on building our brand, forming a business plan and developed a website. And it's all come together perfectly.

We really pride ourselves on doing some one of a kind furniture pieces and I wanted to share some of our recent work. We do have a business blog which you can follow along with here. But my personal life and my work life continuously overlap. So, sometimes I add work stuff here and sometimes the business blog gets some of the personal stuff. 

Here's some of my favorite pieces of late: 

If you want to follow along with Wonderland and Company you can find us on Facebook where we are currently having a giveaway for a Plaster Paint starter kit. Or you can stop by and visit our new website here. Or look for us on Instagram - WonderlandandCompany. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Big 'I' Issue

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the fact that David and I can't get pregnant. That I questions why. That I ask God to please just show us the path we are supposed to take. My emotions run the gamut.

Some days I'm just overwhelmed with sadness. The smallest thing can set me off. I see a pregnancy announcement pin on Pinterest or another Facebook status post that someone is expecting and I simply just lose it. Other days I'm mad. I am angry with God. What have I done to deserve this? I'm angry with my husband. Why couldn't he have taken better care of himself so we aren't in this situation. I'm pissed at all the women out there having their second or third kids, when I can't even have one.

All I want in the world is to raise one child with my husband. A child that is our very own. As much as I love my step-children, no matter what I do or how hard I try, they still have a mother. It doesn't matter how absent she is or what she has done, she is still their mother. It doesn't escape me that my husband had 4 children with this woman. He had an experience with her that we may not have the opportunity to have. And it absolutely breaks my heart and sickens me.

My heart has been with adoption since we found out we won't be able to get pregnant the 'traditional' way. It's truly what I want to do. But they don't make adoption easy. Aside from the money (anywhere between $35,000 to $45,000), we are disqualified from most international programs currently for a number of reasons. We haven't been married long enough or we have to many children living in the home currently. It doesn't matter that we have the means and love to give a child - we don't fall into the set parameters. For domestic adoption, you basically have to be agreeable with a semi-open adoption... which I am not.

I guess I write this with the hope that someone may have some words of wisdom. Maybe one of you can give me some adoption resources that I have not found or seen. A story from someone who has been where I am. A blog to follow from a family that is or has been through the same struggle.

I am trying my best to put my faith in God and hand it all over to him. But it's so hard. My heart honestly hurts - it aches. I'm tired of being emotionally exhausted. I'm 33 years old. I don't want to wait 6 years until my youngest step-child is out of the house to start a family with my husband. And I'm scared to death of making the decision to not have a baby and then being resentful the rest of my life.

I just want some peace. Well, peace and a baby.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Who Makes the 'Mama' Rules

I went on a Facebook tirade yesterday that looked like this:

"What gives anyone - a complete stranger- the right to tell me that I'm not a 'real' Mom and never will be until I have a biological child. Then go on to say that she would never want her children to marry someone with so much 'baggage' and to top it off tell MY MOM she's not a real grandmother and those aren't her real grandkids! Who does this?!?! What gives anyone the right to have an opinion on my life, the choices I've made or how I feel?! Rant over." 

Two years into this journey of being a full time step-mother and I still have to deal with things like this all the time. It's not always from complete strangers. Sometimes it's from people who were supposed to be 'friends'. Every single time I am faced to hear this utter nonsense spewing from someones mouth, it enrages me. 

Yesterdays encounter went something like this:

Idiot: So you have kids
Me: I have 3 full time step-kids at home.
Idiot: Oh, so you adopted them?
Me: No, but their mother has no custody or visitation, so they are with us full time. 
Idiot: Well how is that working out for you?
Me: Great. They are wonderful kids.
Idiot: I would never want my daughters marrying someone with so much baggage. 
Me: I think of them as my own. 
Idiot: Well they aren't yours. You need to have one of your own. That's the only way to have real kids. It's different. 
Me: We can't have kids. We might adopt though.
Idiot: That's a horrible idea. They aren't really yours unless they are biological. I would never adopt. You need a real kid. 

This is just a small snippet of a conversation that I go through more times than I want. And you know what's even more sad? I never stick up for myself! I never tell these people off. I never put them in their place. I just let them steal my joy. 

34 comments later on Facebook, I had reassurance that the lady from the above conversation was an idiot, jealous, crazy and one of my favorites, an 'ignorant bitch.' I didn't need anyone to tell me I was doing a good job as a Mom - but I appreciated all the sweet comments. What I really want to know is who is making these rules about what a 'Mom' is? 

I do everything a Mom does. I love them, feed them, clothe them, go to parent/teacher meetings and pick out their Birthday cakes. I doctor their wounds, both physical and emotional. I drop them off every morning with an I love you and have a good day and cook dinner every night so we can sit down as a family and talk about our day. Their 'mother' hasn't done any of the above for at least 4 years or more. But apparently, by society standards, since she pushed them out and gave them life, she gets to be a mother and I do not. Even though she couldn't tell you what size they wear, what their favorite color is, what number they wear on the football field or what their dreams and hopes are. 

I've even had members of my husbands family - people I've never even met - post things on my FB Page telling me how I'm not the kids mom and I need to stop acting as if I was and basically I need to know my place. They were quickly deleted from my friends list and blocked. 

In 2013 are we really still in a place where we can't open our minds to the possibility that it doesn't take biology to parent? That being a mom or dad is so much more than the act of creating life? That parenting is based on action. Why do I have to continue to be attacked by people because I have chosen to love kiddos who need the love and support of a 'mom.' I dedicated myself to showing these kids what a mom is supposed to do and be. So that they can break a cycle and grow up to be loving and supportive parents themselves one day. 

And seriously, who feels the need to berate anyone over the choices they've made in life? And who can give me some advice on how to handle these cray cray's in the future?