Of Step-Parents and Sustainability

Children are meant to hate their step parents, and other interlopers in their parent's romantic lives. That is the natural order of things. I don't makes the rules, but there they are none the less.

I say this as someone who has dated and been married to folks who came with kids. The Gardener had both a child and a step-child, both in their teens, when we met. And they both hated me. As they grew into adulthood they outgrew their need to hate me, but as kids they had their psychologically and developmentally appropriate loathing for me, as was only right and proper.

Recently, The Gardener, from whom I have been separated for over a year, went on a date with The Intern. And The Boy has spent the past week going on and on about how good and nice and wonderful the Intern is (my son spends a lot of time at the Gardener's place of employment while I'm in class, and so has known the Intern for some time) The Boy tells me how --unlike me-- the Intern knows how to "duel" with Yugio Cards, is brilliant at any number of games and fun activities, and (wait for it, people) what a great step-mother she would make.


It feels just a little like I am loosing my son, along with The Gardener, to this interloper; and all the while being cast as "The Mean Parent". The Intern took the liberty of granting the Boy his life long wish for a GameBoy, a treasure I had so far denied him; not because I couldn't afford it, which I cant, but because I value children being engaged in the real world and real activities, rather then spending bright summer days plugged into electronic consumer products. I had been encouraging The Boy to save up to purchase one for himself, imagining that he could gain insights and skills around setting goals and working towards them, perhaps even a sense of empowerment. But the intern cut through all that with instant gratification. So, my credibility as a parent had been undermined, and I have dropped several notches on the Cool Scale. But that not the worst part.

The worst part isn't feeling that I am loosing the Boy, MY boy, to this all too young intern, it's not even that the Boy thinks she will make a great step mother, though that relates. I am all but sure that The Intern will not become his step-mother, that she is just one more siren, the first The Boy has met, sweeping through the Gardener's life. The worst part is that my dear, sweet, wonderful boy, who loves with the biggest heart I have ever encountered, has already gotten attached to the Intern, just as he had been attached, without having ever given it any conscious thought, to the family we once were with The Gardener. The worst part is how his view of love, commitment, and loyalty will change, is changing even now, due to these failed romances.

The GameBoy is like a metaphor for The shiny and seductive new “must have” consumer products bombarding our airwaves; for the 'Thursday Morning Girls'*; for our cultures insistence on valuing instant gratification and novelty over things that have substance, things that are real. A GameBoy, valued at over $100 when first purchased, quickly looses it's novelty and 'new toy glow', and the next thing you know it is cast aside in favor of the Next Big Thing. Recently I saw one available at Goodwill for $10, once some boy's heart's desire, it now had a few dings and scratches, perhaps, and as a result it is now seen as old, boring, uncool, incompatible with the latest games and trends: possessing all the flaws the Boy sees in me at the moment.

This is how resources get depleted, and landfills filled: we move from one new toy to the next, looking to be amused or entertained externally, never finding real satisfaction. Casting our treasures aside as their novelty wares off. Feeding our insatable appitites on a finite planet.

“The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.”

No surprise, I have been thinking a good deal of late about theVelveteen Rabbit The Shiny, The New, The Untried will always have some degree of seductive charm, but we must evolve past our susceptibility to it. Me must get to a place where we recognize the value and meaning of what we have, of that which has stood the test of time. If we can not love the worn and storied in ourselves and each other, if we can not value the history and experiences in eachothers eyes, how can we hope to create sustainability in the larger community.

If we are not careful we get lazy, get swept up in the seduction of the new, the novel, the 'next big thing', and then we will see only the flaws, the worn and real places, in what we have and not even remember the role we ourselves played in creating those flaws, that we created those flaws as we created our history together. We forget that theses are what make them, and us, real. Scratches can be buffed, tares and breaks mended, but endurance and history can not be purchased or replaced

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When someone loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

[*"Thursday Morning Girls", taken from an episode of Gilmor Girls --see, I am so hip! Essentially, a reference for Sirens; sperficial and seductive distractions, diversions]


zilla said...

I was thinking about you last week when I was in Roslyn and Seattle. I'm having a hard time turning down a trip to Oregon in July, too. Love the Pacific NW!

Myrtle (eldest daughter) is planning to use that passage from the Velveteen Rabbit about being real in her wedding ceremony! Amazing :-)

Now. Let me just say one reassuring thing. My two younger daughters live with their dad and stepmom during the school week. My stepson is here 10 - 15 days per month during the school year as well. So I understand your concern about the step parent thing. I think it takes some wisdom, maturity, and restraint not to involve kids too soon in relationships. I agree with you that it can be dicey territory, and most of the "experts" would agree, too. As for values, kids pretty much learn to adapt to their immediate situation, but over the long term, they take mom & dad's values with them into the world. Sure, they'll test out new values, but we all do at one time or another. Don't worry too much about the Gameboy, but if there is a polite, respectful way to suggest to the ex that he's rushing things with the siren and the boy, then you're within your rights to do that.

Hang in there!

griffin said...

Thanks for the kind words Ms.Z, it is very reassuring to know that other moms and kids have survived all this without resorting to homocide or canabalism ;)

Congrats and best wishes to Myrtle! I LOVE the idea of using that quote in a wedding, wiser words were never spoken!

If you make it to this neck of the woods drop me a line and I'll show you the town