blended families

The Evil Queen Wasn’t So Bad…

The Evil Queen, Grimhilde, was aging, and there wasn’t any Botox or fillers at the time. Snow White paraded around the castle singing to stray animals all day. I wonder if she cleaned up after them? I’m sure she left her clothes on the floor, didn’t empty her trash, and went straight to her dad when Grimhilde said no to extra dessert and a cappuccino before bed.

Throughout time, stepmothers have been given a bad rap. I mean, yeah, maybe the narcissistic bio mom drove them to make poor choices? Maybe, they had bad stepmothers themselves? Maybe, they were just misunderstood? I should know because I’ve been the angry stepdaughter, and this is my second stepparent rodeo. Or, maybe we are put in some damn shitty scenarios where we have no choice but to be the evil queen.

I married my first husband at 24 (he is 17 years older than me). He had a 12-year old daughter and a 13-year-old son. Sure, why not? This can’t be that difficult…said the delusional voices in my head. What the hell was I thinking? My ex-husband, J, was and still is a good guy, so I thought I could be the one stepparent, at 24, who could do it better than everyone and save the world from war and famine simultaneously.

I should have known there was some contention when J referred to his ex as ‘Madam X.’ I even talked J and Madam X into co-parent counseling! We had one session. The therapist said it was best that they don’t actually talk to each other and that I was the best choice for mediating conversations and mitigating arguments. Yeah me! Madam X would call me at work telling me not to get married. Maybe she was trying to be my Magic Mirror?

I will preface this with the fact that my ex, J, and I still co-parent our daughters. He attends family gatherings, gets along with David, and we remain friends. Co-parenting does happen; it’s not a suburban legend.

Needless to say, I was in way over my head. My stepdaughter (T) would put pictures of J’s ex-girlfriend all over the apartment before I would come over before we were married. She ran away a few times, skipped school, and was dealing with some pretty serious trauma. She happened to go to the same high school that I attended for a period. I found out T was skipping and going to my mom’s house to play Balderdash and eat peanut brittle. My mom never did that shit with me, but she said it was better than T was with her than doing ‘God knows what.’ The school called me for a conference. I sat in the same office I did as a teenager when I was caught skipping. Mr. Jones said, “My my, how the tables have turned.” I couldn’t melt into the chair or disappear in a poof of purple smoke. I could have used a little evil queen magic.

I worked on getting her therapy and reached out to T’s mother, who offered nothing but “T is an emotional girl.” T battled with addiction went to rehab. J and I did all we could to help her, but it was so difficult on all of us. When she got her first apartment, I helped T open a joint checking account with her to help her understand budgeting and co-signed school loans so she could go to college. In a recent conversation with my ex-husband, J, he told me she just realized that I had her best interest in mind, and in many ways, I prevented her from going down some pretty treacherous paths. In one instance, I said ‘no’ to her going out with one of her friends whom I didn’t trust. We found out her friend was arrested that night while T was at home plotting my death and slamming the same door repeatedly. She gets points for consistency.

My stepson (A) had a penchant for illegal tagging. He also skipped school and broke into places here and there. No biggy! Did I mention J as a cop and working ‘morning watch,’ which was 11 pm-4 am? I was called to A’s school (thank God for a different high school). I got the grand tour of all the artwork that he graced many walls of the school. It was awe-inspiring, and I thought it added a pop to the cinder block, jail-like atmosphere, but I didn’t say anything like, “WOW, this is great! You couldn’t have paid anyone to do this!”

I asked the school for proof that it was him. There was no video, and there were no witnesses; there was nothing to prove he did it. Look, I was 24, so it seemed like if I punished him at home, he would be less likely to let us down. He didn’t tag the school anymore. He moved on to public places in downtown Atlanta. But, he started helping me at home while his dad was working.

A was sent to ‘wilderness camp’ 100 miles away for some incident I’ve probably blocked from my memory. He escaped, which I’ve always thought was more arduous than the camp itself. He called me one day and said he couldn’t eat nuts and berries anymore. I guess that was my clue? A few days later, we were at the mall, he saw me, and I saw him. He ran far away from me as if that would make me unsee him. I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t wrap my head around the continual punishment without therapy other than juvie and being sent away all the time. He was also failing in school because of ADHD; he refused the meds because he hated how they made him feel. I helped him in English and supported his brilliant artwork as much as possible. He now creates fonts and refers to me as his ‘second mom’.

By the time I was pregnant with my first daughter, I felt like the gnarly hag the Evil Queen was avoiding becoming.

Fast forward to 2017, when I became a stepmother again. I figured if I made it through my first life of stepparenting, that I could do it again. I was 24 then, and I could do a better job at 48! Plus, there was only one, and she was younger. How hard could this be? I silenced the maniacal laugh of those voices in my head.

There were different variables. David has been fighting for custody. His Ex won’t even acknowledge my presence, and she is continually out to punish David at the expense of P. I didn’t particularly care for Madame X, but I could call her, and she could call me about the kids. J and I could drop off the kids at her house, and she would let us in and exchange ‘how’s the weather’ types of conversations.

David’s Ex lacks social skills and humility. At drop-off, I have stood in front of the Ex and said, “Hello, R.” She blankly stares at me with her soulless eyes. I think, ‘maybe she didn’t hear me, or maybe she’s lost in thought.’ So, I say, “Hello R” again. Not only were there crickets, but there were dead crickets whose bodies were decomposing all around us. It’s dramatic but so much fun to vent.

We don’t see P often, and when we do, we have rough periods of adjusting. She’s just as angry as my former stepkids, my own kids when J and I divorced, and me when I didn’t get along with my own stepmother. With each of P’s visits, I feel more ineffective, extremely anxious, and very frustrated. I feel mean, and I don’t have a Magic Mirror.

David is put in the middle, and I don’t seem to get a grip on things. I get upset and angry, but I know how this can turn out on the other side of the hell. When she is in my care, I say no to coffee(yes, the ten-year-old gets coffee at home), loads of sugar, crappy foods, excessive internet, and bad behavior. I’ve raised two of my own daughters, had two former stepkids, and I’ve taught for almost 22 years now. So when I get the eye rolls, door slams, storming, ignoring, and scoffs, I adjust the crown and put on the cape. But, I hope that she knows how much I love her and am striving to be a positive person in her life in time. Sometimes, we have to be the Grimhilde until they realize we are on their sides. Plus, we have Botox now, so at least we look cute in our evil crowns.

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