What Place Am I Most Grateful For?

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I seem to have fallen on the gratitude train’s tracks for now. But that’s OK. I like revisiting these. They help me put things in perspective.

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See, this was written in 2016 about a trip in 2014. Dannie has moved and gotten married. The Bunny is graduating in a few months. HayHay is a Junior and our relationship is, well, she’s my kid. Not step. Not bonus. Mine. T-Rex is in second grade. The King and I are still loving and living. I’m grateful for these glimpses back and getting to see how far we’ve come.

This is an older post from the first version of this blog that I eventually turned into a book. Until I publish again, that book is not available. Until then, I give you the place I’m most grateful for.

They’re all asleep. The girls are all home, including Dannie, who’s on Thanksgiving break. Hayhay is off next week. I homeschool the Bunny, so the only day off she gets is Thanksgiving. Even then, cooking is learning, so you better believe I’ll have her in the kitchen working. She’ll make rolls, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish with orange garnish, and a turducken. Learning never stops.

I have a feeling the girls will stay with the others when Thanksgiving actually rolls around. I have mixed feelings about that.

I’ve always tried to keep a relationship between Bunny and the Ex going. I just don’t see how her staying in the house by herself will help that. I suppose Hayhay’s mom may work nights and is home during the day, but the lady has to sleep sometime. There’s another reason I think; it maybe I actually enjoy my children and like having them home with me.

We definitely have moments of, “Oh my Gods, I’m going to duct tape you to the ceiling fan, turn it on high speed, and use you as a pinata.” One day my girls were arguing, screaming, and bordering on World War 3. Short Blonde Daughter had taken (borrowed is what she called it) Tall Brunette Daughter’s favorite shirt. She had committed the most egregious error against a sibling ever recorded: taking without asking. “What do you want me to do about it?” I asked.

“Can you get a firing squad?”

“No. That’s extreme, don’t you think?”

“No, it’s totally reasonable. Besides, you’ll want worse when you see what she did to your skirt?”

“Whoa, wait, what did she do to my skirt?”

“Go look.” Five minutes later, I was holding the shreds of my favorite gauze skirt in one hand and dialing my Uncle Joey from Philly with the other. Plane tickets were too expensive for Skinny Joey, Fat Tony, and Johnny Toothpick. Joey Bagodonuts couldn’t get time off at the cleaners.

I love my kids. I hate when they’re not here, and I wish I could spend more time with them that wasn’t always brush your teeth, do your homework. No, you can’t get your nose pierced, stop painting the cats, put down the blowtorch, that’s not how we make s’mores.

I think it might be the reason we Love Walt Disney World so much. Our trip to Disney World in May 2014 was the first time we all felt like a family.

I put tremendous care into the planning of this trip. I researched how to travel with a seven-month-old baby. The answer always came back the same. You don’t. I looked into car games and portable snacks that won’t make a mess. I made a Pinterest board with all these Martha Stewart-esque ideas. I went to the dollar store and bought games and tubs to keep snacks in. Everything looked so perfect once it was all set up and packed. Then we got in the truck.

We argued little and didn’t fight or yell. Every ten miles, would I have to turn and tell someone to stop touching her, stop eating her snacks, stop using her markers, stop breathing her air, or stop looking out her window? The baby was the best behaved out of them all. Take that, Facebook mom groups.

We lived, laughed, and loved on the way down. This was no easy feat fitting all six of us (one in a rear-facing car seat) in a pickup truck. Yes, they say it seats six. What they don’t tell you is don’t expect to cross your legs, take a deep breath, or turn your head without intruding on someone’s personal space.

Don’t even get me started about the smell. Oh my gosh, I swear these children were eating dead skunks and beans at the rest stops. That is the only excuse for the smell and sounds emitted from their rear ends. “Babe, did we hit a family of skunks?”

“No, I think Tall Brunette Daughter’s butt exploded.”

“No way, it wasn’t me.”

We must have picked up a new child. His name was “Not Me.” Not Me handled every noxious odor released in that vehicle. He was also responsible for snoring, spilled drinks, and kicking my seat from Tennessee to Georgia.

And speaking of rest stops, I think we must have visited one every twenty miles. Small Blonde Daughter has an input-output ratio glitch in her kidney wiring. One ounce in. Ten ounces out. Again, input should not exceed output. Not in fluids or solids.

But at the park itself and even the ride back, we got along not as a blended family but as just a regular family. I think the King saw it and recognized it for what it was: a bonding moment for our family.

You would think the birth of the baby, or the King and I getting married, or any other number of things that happened to and for us before Disney would have helped stitch us together. Yeah, that’s a negative, ghost rider. Let me tell you why.

My break up was a disaster, an unmitigated catastrophe of biblical proportions, the likes I hope to never relive. I’m talking about restraining orders, death threats, name calling, custody threats, Child Protection Services calls, animal control calls. You name it; it happened. No lawyer got involved because we were not actually married. Dodged a bullet there. Am I right?

The King’s actual divorce went a lot smoother than my pseudo divorce. Quick, easy, and cheap. Not painless. Divorces and breakups are never painless. There are victims. Unfortunately, it’s usually the kids. Some handle it better than others. The Bunny was good at seeing the inherent flaws of my relationship with her father and realizing everyone is better off.

That doesn’t mean she did well with the abrupt change of our living situation. The Bunny didn’t handle that well at all, but that’s a topic for another day. Hayhay didn’t handle it well. I caused her parents’ divorce. I became the bane of civilization, the causation of everything from paper cuts to cancer. I was the one who put razor blades in Halloween candy and made it hot on Easter, so all the chocolate in the eggs melted. I was the one they wrote the one fairy tales about. I had become the Stepmother. I didn’t realize how strong her disdain for me was until I saw the hand drawn wanted posters offering six gabillion dollars for my arrest. My crime? I put pineapple in the sweet and sour meatballs. Oh yes, children, run and hide! It’s the Wicked Witch of South Philadelphia. Things just haven’t been the same for me since someone dropped that shoe truck on my sister.

That was 2012. It’s been a long road. A long, winding, sometimes back tracking, beast of a road that made us walk uphill, both ways, barefoot, in four feet of snow, crawl through broken glass, and swim in a sea of lemon juice before coming to the plateau we are currently standing on.

Would I do it all again? Hell yeah. I love the King and He loves me. I knew he was a package deal like I was. I love our son together and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. It’s taught me how far I’ve come and that I’m like spider web, way stronger than you’d expect and tougher than I look.

That’s where our Disney trip comes in. My parents paid to meet my new family when, in reality, I was still learning who we were as individuals and as a family unit. I worried because I didn’t know how they would all react to and receive each other. They were not fond of the last one. I think the exact words were, “If I never hear or see him again I would be okay with that.” Wish granted, Dad.

I was still worried until we got home. Yes, Mom and Dad said they liked everyone. Yes, Mom and Dad said they like the King. Yes, Mom and Dad said I looked happier. It wasn’t until I saw a post on Facebook that my mom wrote I felt like we had finally made it being a family.

She talked about meeting a good friend, an old friend she had not seen in a while, down at Disney. When we are at Disney, I spend as much time as possible with my parents. I even wake up at four in the morning just to have coffee with them. I was confused who my mother was talking about. I didn’t remember seeing anyone down there. This friend, she said, had grown up a little, but was still the person she had been years ago. Even though the woman had disappeared for some time, she was now back and as amazing as ever. The woman had a lovely family and a wonderful husband and was happier than she had been in a long time. My mother was so happy to have found this woman again. So much so, she said, “She’s the type of woman I want to be. I’m so happy to know she’s my daughter. ” It’s OK to cry. I did. I’m crying typing it.

That’s when it hit me. It was at that moment that I knew the hard work paid off. No one could tell we were a mixed family. No yours, mine, and ours. No one cared. We were a family like everyone else at Disney World: curbing I want syndrome and pointing out princesses, talking about rides and what does everyone want on their pizza, and taming tantrums. I decided for our children, not just Baby T. Rex or The Bunny. I didn’t say, “Ask your dad,” or “I’ll have to ask your dad.” There were no major arguments or fits or tears, well, until we left, but that’s me and my dad. That’s another story for another day.

What can you take from this would be don’t give up. Step mom, birth mom, adopted mom, grandma raising the grandkids, whoever, it’s worth it. It really, truly is. Yes, it’s hard and you’ll want to run away and join the Renaissance Faire (which I did in my younger days. Forget the circus. That was too mundane for me). When they come home holding a report card of A’s and B’s because you helped and they know it, you know it’s going to be OK. When you’re looking up St. Patrick’s Day hairstyles so she’ll stand out in class and she appreciates it, you know it’s going to be OK.

I’ll never forget riding next to them on Tower of Terror and the look they got right before we fell faster than the speed of gravity, thirteen floors straight down. That sticks in your head and replays in your dreams. That’s when you know it’s all going to be OK.

My mom had that moment when she saw her daughter being the mom. Hey Ma, I learned it by watching you. Thanks for doing the hard things and not giving up. Love you. For that, I am grateful.

So, as cheesy as it may sound, the place I’m most grateful for is Walt Disney World. Not just because it provides an escape from all things adult and gives me ample opportunities to embarrass my kids on Facebook. Yes, I am that mother that still hugs Tigger and bounces with him. And you better believe I buy each ride photo available. It’s rare I’m in front of the camera. Most family photos do not include me, so I take every chance I get to have all six of us in a picture together. Everyone smiling at the same time is optional. In fact, when dealing with teenagers smiling in a photograph becomes as rare as unicorns farting rainbows that have pots of gold at the end of them. I am grateful for every picture I can get that doesn’t have someone flipping off the camera or showing a mouthful of food.

If you get the chance to take your family to the House of Mouse, I recommend it. I also think we should fly next time. Fewer chances of picking up Not Me and his noxious gas.

Please consider donating to help keep this going. $1 and I’ll ask you what your favorite book is so we can talk about it. $5 and I’ll write a review of a book you suggest. $10 and I’ll write a blog suggested by you. If you read any of the books listed, please let me know what you thought of it. That’s all I’ve got for today, train wrecks. All aboard.


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