Savagestepmom.com

A Stepmom's Search for Balance and Perspective

Trust Their Vibes!

My approach on being a part of a blended family only works if I think about it from the perspective of our kids. I think about all children of divorce regularly, not just mine. Because I think the stuff they’re going through is bigger than their age group. I feel proud of the fact that no matter what is going on or how hard it is, my husband, his ex wife and I handle it like adults and treat each other with respect. If the boys share something with me about their mom that they’re frustrated with, even if I agree with them, I have consciously canned some answers like “she’s your mom, she had every right to handle it that way”.  Most of the time I really mean it. But if I realize I’m going through the motions and I don’t, I find neutral as fast as I can. I take it to a workout or a safe friend. Because children feel it all, man. Especially ours. They are awake. I do not underestimate them. If you ask me, they feel and know most of it, even if they don’t show it. If you’re a parent in a blended family with a unresolved negative opinion of someone with whom you are sharing parenting duties, and you think your kid can’t vibe it, read this article.  !

I find it amusing when parents recant with exact detail and measure what their child experiences and knows, without an open mind, because they have simply decided it so. (I’m aware there is a lot a parent, especially a mother, knows. However, it has a threshold. The child is still his own soul, completely separate from the parent.)  I find it amusing about myself, too. If I’m doing it, I usually come around a couple of hours or days later remembering they are on a path of their own. I set aside the thesis that’s keeping me comfy and get back to listening, resisting the urge to answer FOR him. PS it’ll force ya to face yourself, and maybe how you got raised. Who “knew” stuff about you without asking?

It’s all an opportunity for applying the Serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr to the riddle. (Incidentally, he is also an expert on parenting).

Make room for them. Trust your vibes. Trust their vibes.

Lunch Lady

As a stepmom, our boys share things with me. I find three reasons behind it. 1) I’ve been meditating for half my life and I’ve learned in crucial relationships it’s often about being, waiting, and listening. (author’s note: I fail at this with my husband most of the time but that’s another blog.) 2) I respectfully communicate with them directly, and ask questions. As in: “I want to talk to you right now, and ask you some questions. How does that sound to you?” 3) I am open with them about myself. I admit my faults and mistakes, aim from how I felt when I was little, put myself in their shoes, and tell them the truth about how I feel (without leaning on them -bleecchh!- or making them responsible for my feelings).

Here’s how it looks. I’ll go to where they are, laying on their bellies on the floor, looking at their phones, and lay on my belly next to them. I’ll sit silently and sip tea while they’re doing their homework or I’ll sit on the edge of their bed and sip my morning coffee while they pack their backpack in the morning. (If you’re going ‘I don’t have time!!’ we’re talking about your CHILD’S LIFE and for me, it’s usually about 5-6 minutes) If they don’t just automatically let it rip, which my younger one often does, that’s when I ask. I offer multiple choice answers if I get an “I don’t know”. That works, and sometimes gets laughs. Recently I learned they have a friend who throws out a gourmet lunch his parent packs, every single day. I know this parent and cringed at the thought of them packing those lunches for the garbage. Walker confessed he used to throw his lunch out too, until I came on the scene and taught them to pack their own lunch at the suggestion of someone who oughta go pro in parenting, my friend Rebecca. Yes, I am tooting my own horn about Walker telling me he stopped throwing his lunch out when I moved in. You would too if you were ever in the thankless, invisible position of stepparenting.

Here’s my point: I know you want your kid to eat healthy foods. But there’s actually something more important going on here. Teaching your kid to respect himself, by respecting him. That means talking to him. Asking him what his preferences are, and then ACCEPTING them. Not rolling your eyes and thinking about how YOUR preference for him is better. Respecting him is better. Then with your newfound respectful acceptance, it’s about negotiating. ‘Ok, I get that you want Doritos, and I’ll allow that if you also bring an orange, cool?’

I know I’m not a parenting expert. I’m a musician, a yogi, a mystic, and at heart, a nerdy shy artist. But I threw out my lunch in school, and I know it was about way more than the lunch. I was trying to throw out the energy behind it, and so is my son’s friend. Piles of compassion to that friend’s parent, by the way– while they were knee deep in diapers and doctor appts, I was gazing at my navel writing songs and going to therapy after my nanny job. Their much needed breather/home stretch right now is my toddler. And above all, my depressing life as a single woman longing to be a married mom, that seemed to drag on for lifetimes, not decades, is always just to my left. I’m new here, and somewhat equipped with having gone to my version of hell and back.

I’ve been granted the fresh, objective sight to look at them and see only a few years. As in, I only have a few years here on my belly next to you. You’re gonna be driving in an eyelash, and in two eyelashes you’re gonna have a girlfriend, and you may not tell me jack sh*t, and then, poof, you’ll be raised. You’ll be ready. You’ll belong to the world, and the world will belong to you. I get to be here with you for a minute or two. I’m gonna LISTEN, and guide. Because I have the removed privilege of not seeing my eyes in your eyes, my feet in your feet, my ancestors in your face. Embraced, this is the great power of conscious stepparenting: parental detachment. So painfully difficult to come by for those who bore their own children, for stepparents, it is simply granted. Borrow from me. Borrow my loneliness turned luckiness, borrow my detached step-perspective, and let your kid make his lunch, so to speak. Even if you’re cringing inside. He won’t have to throw your version out in order to gain some self respect, control and autonomy, which he rightfully deserves.

 

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Your Children are Not Your Children

I have always loved Kahihl Gibrahn’s beautiful, impossible poem “your children are not your children/they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself…though they are with you/yet they belong not to you“. I used to need that poem as a daughter. I fastened it to my twentysomething insides as I set out to live a life different from other women in my family. Now I need it because as a stepmom, it really is my daily reality.

I read in Stepmom magazine today about how often stepmoms don’t want to embrace what Laura Petherbridge, an expert on stepmoms, admits to understanding: that she is not related to her stepsons. Her husband is the only factor that binds them, and in the event of his death, she may not have a continuing relationship with her stepchildren and grandchildren. The article pointed to how often stepmoms that she counsels resist this and say “no he/she needs me more than the mother”. WOW. I cringed, and it made me realize my “salt” as a stepmom is that I accepted my supporting role from day one. My love for our kids rendered the acceptance thin as tissue paper in the beginning. But I still knew I was in the heat, so to speak (and it is kind of passing the baton in a long race to their adulthood) but not eligible for the gold. ‘These are not my sons. These boys have a mother.’ I told it to myself. I listened to people who told me the same-friends that were kids of divorce, who were once young stepsons and stepdaughters. I listened to my gut. Sometimes my husband’s guidance was the voice of his own painful process, sending me down roads that were marked “mother” not “new stepmom”. I’d correct. I did it all imperfectly (still do) and intuitively and I get better at it. It gets easier. I love my stepchildren as my own sons and I whisper the wolf mama’s line from the Jungle Book to them: “you’re mine to me”. While I remember that I did not bear them and I will not ever, ever, ever, in a hundred million years, fool myself into the dangerous trap of telling myself that they somehow need me more than their own mother. They don’t. And even if my husband’s ex wife was a wretched, horrible mother, (and she is not) I’d still know they need their mother more. Accepting this reality not only liberates me, It liberates the KIDS.  Parenting a kid from the bottomless pit of needing to be PLACED, needing to “win the gold”, rather than simply letting that child love you on his terms, just grosses me out. How do I know? I’ve caught myself in it. Less and less, but I have been misled at times- mostly because I pour my heart into this mission, and even love for a child can be blind. I’ve had still, difficult moments listening to my wise, spiritual mother-mentor-friend, a child of divorce herself, walk me through the potholes of my unappealing character traits, and lovingly show me the way out, so I can tell myself the truth again. ‘They have a mom. I have work to do.’ It doesn’t mean I don’t mother. I do. I do motherING.  Some serious frigging emotional heavy lifting at times, too. Not because I “got the gold”. Because I’m me. I am one of those people that hears life stories on planes. I just am. Sometimes I feel guilty when a big thing comes up and I ask “have you talked to your mom about this?” and they say ‘no!’ as if they never would. But you know what? That’s when I know I am in my place. Their lead. I’m here. I’m not going to withhold loving guidance just because they find it easier to tell me certain things. I love my mom a lot and there was and is stuff I just don’t tell her. I hunch that if I were a birth mom and my ex remarried, I’d beat that woman to every single deep talk because I’m territorial, but what the hell do I know? I’m not in that scenario. So I respect that their mom has some areas of real strength where I’d be clueless or it’s just off limits, and others that seem unexplored, because the boys employ me. None of my beeswax. I just step in when I’m wanted. I can’t feel guilty about organically filling in where someone else left off in a situation where we’re all adults who own our choices.

Here’s the thing. My wish to all the stepmothers out there resisting Ms. Petherbridge’s wisdom is that you find this liberation. Even the ones who have been sole caregiver for a child since infancy-that infant is gonna be 18 someday, and she may want to seek the birthmother. It’s nature. It’s intense. Don’t mess with it because you think you aren’t strong enough to face reality and accept that you aren’t first here. You are strong enough. This liberating acceptance means you can respect, hold your tongue, and maybe lift up and praise their mom, which I choose to do. I do this for the kids. She is a part of them. If I demeaned her, I’d be doing that to them. Divorce doesn’t hurt kids- unconscious behavior of parents in the aftermath does. You get to praise her too. Hopefully you are already in the habit of praising and celebrating other women.  As stepmoms, we have the power to instill and repair trust in our kids by honoring the birthmother, no matter what kind of human being we may think she is. One way to do that is to gracefully take the silver, and wear it proudly! Relax. You were never competing for gold.

 

 

 

Don’t Waste a Crisis

(Originally published Aug 5, 2016)

Don’t waste a crisis. Unless it’s not yours.
Here’s the thing. The phrase “hitting bottom” doesn’t just apply to a strung out drug addict. We all hit lows in life and we all struggle. If you deny an emotional bottom, you run the risk of going lower and deeper into more of them. That becomes wear and tear inside, and erodes your ability to embrace a mission as a fallible human being…open to messy, lush, deep relationships centered on joy and growth. I lived for nearly a decade like this-miles away from telling myself and anyone else the truth about how I really felt inside. It was the worst. Nothing sadder than a person avoiding growth in an attempt to control how they may appear. Now I feel like WHO CARES? No one’s thinking about me. But I understand, because at one time, I pranced around towns like I owned them but really, every last interaction owned me. Thankfully, when I was granted emotional bottoms and crises to wake up, I used them.

Asking “what do you, Life, want me to see, do, not do?” is the seed of my passion. It’s what keeps me going, writing this, writing songs, (and if you know me, avoiding small talk). Once when I was witness to a stray cat getting fatally hit by a car. I waited with her until she passed away, and with no tags, arranged a burial with a few neighbors. At the time, I had been pressuring my producer into committing to long days on a project despite his family commitments. When an elderly man distributed a flyer after the cat disappeared, it floated toward me on a walk, and I called the number to find out the cat had been a stray that he fed for years. I got to tell him she was not alone when she peacefully died. While he cried, I realized I felt like a stray, and I had been dismissing my producer’s family obligations because deep down, I was sad I didn’t have any of my own. That man’s flyer was an answer to asking “what did you want me to see in that?” The message was, even a stray is loved. You’re loved. Stop trying to force it. Let go. When I did, we decided to record my album “Better” live. It took less time, allowing the right schedule to effortlessly emerge, and my producer’s family attended sessions. If you want help with this kind of approach, Tosha Silver‘s book Outrageous Openness is a good resource.

Then there are the moments when I realize the question is what do you want me to not do, because the crisis isn’t mine. In recent years, my life has been affected by a particularly difficult situation, (outside of blended family adjustment, which is enough as it is!) and I thought not wasting the crisis meant I needed to fix it. I prayed, said sorry when it wasn’t my fault, searched myself, and tried to please. I took coaching from membership in the problem. Then I realized something crucial: this is not my crisis. I am not in this. Now, I allow the drama to play out on a stage without me. I don’t even take a seat in the rafters. This allows those who are in it to take measures to heal. I prefer to focus on creativity, empowerment and laughing! LIFE IS LONG. I do my best to make it rich, imperfect, full of progress, fulfilling, good.
At this intense time in history, all around the world, we keep getting opportunities to ask what Life wants us to see, do, not do. In little ways and big ways. I encourage you…ASK.
And tell me what happens!

Hereing

(Originally Published May 11, 2016. Behind the song “I Dont Have a Life”)

journal: August 11, 2007 9:59am Nashville, TN

I’m at my prayer table kleenex scattered all I know is Dad had a stroke. Mom said he was COHERENT when the paramedics were up there with him. He was in the blue room upstairs in a cold sweat, so dizzy he couldn’t stand.. I came home sat here and prayed the rosary out loud, even the Apostle’s Creed which I had to look up in the book Dad gave me on the Rosary- a brand new hardback. Inside his neat handwriting “I’m very proud of you. Love, Dad”

I had been up that morning. I got up at 5:30am and took my dear friend Jen to the airport. “At the risk of sounding like a 70’s TV Dad, you’re somethin’ else” she said. After dropping her off, I heard a Cat Stevens song. I felt like I was floating as I drove through the green suburbs near my home in Nashville, remembering a moment in the basement of the house where I grew up, singing in our play spotlight. I was 6 years old and thinking “I only like singing the songs I make up.” Cat Stevens sang “you’re gonna wind up where you started from” and I sang with him, smiling. I noted the time on the digital car clock and remember feeling particularly, inexplicably, peacefully happy. I later found out that at that very moment, my Dad was having a massive stroke in the base of his cerebellum.

Feeling happy was an odd thing to note, because although I was determined to make everyone think I was happy, I wasn’t. I was working really hard making albums and bringing them to all kinds of cities to sing and sell them, and teaching yoga in my empty dining room back in Nashville. It was maximum output minimum result, really. It sucked. I drove my own tours and opened for established acts that reminded me I wasn’t, and sang musical diary songs for couples that had something I wanted, but knew nothing about. They were mysteriously hand in hand, thanking me after the show, and then I’d go kick open another hotel room door, my arms full of frustration and gear. I didn’t make enough money to warrant the help of someone carrying my stuff, and I didn’t know how to let people help me out of kindness. Sometimes unable to sleep, I’d write, and with the help of copious amounts of coffee and yoga, go to early radio interviews in lots of mascara to cover up my sad eyes. I was constantly writing (mostly bad) songs, which was my barometer of fulfillment, and ignoring the fact that I was personally suffering. I was tolerating a life without a normal, healthy emotional support system in a city that didn’t feel like home. I made a point to look and seem fabulous and attend lots of scenes, but the truth was, once I sat on my piano bench and had to think and think to remember the last time I hugged someone. One summer evening at home in Nashville my cleaning lady, an adorable woman from Belize, pulled up and dragged all of her half-asleep children out of her mini van with her bewildered husband, and came inside the house because they were “in the neighborhood”. I pressed for a real answer, because they lived in the neighborhood. She looked up at me, touched my arm, and quietly replied “because you’re so lonely.” I laughed. Here’s the thing: I was. But I laughed because I didn’t even know it. I did not discover how deeply lost and lonely I was until I got to the silence of my father’s hospital room.

journal: August 11, 2007 3:26pm I-65 somewhere in Kentucky , McDonald’s parking lot

I am 80 miles outside Indy. I got a diet coke to stay awake. I am not listening to music, just everything around me. But I am not hearing, I am HEREing. I am still wearing the Lilly Pulitzer sundress I tried on at Jen’s this morning before the airport.. She had a stack of them, her friend owns a shop and Jen said “take one! they’re free!” So I put the one with the meditating monkeys pattern on it and left in it. There was a lady that works at McDonald’s cleaning the coke machine and she complimented my dress and I said “give me your address, I’ll send you one, my friend has a surplus” So she did- she got a pen, and gave me the paper and she said “how much?” I told her they’re free, and she said, “really? can I give you something anyway?” and I said “no, no, they’re free”, and she said “how about a hug?” and I said “yeah, you can definitely give me a hug” and she did

journal: August 11, 2007 11pm Mom and Dad’s lake house Long Beach,  The blue room

They let me come in past visiting hours and Dad woke up! And he was happy to see me. “What a pretty dress!” (slurred speech) he said. He is so happy to be alive. He’s like a different person, like a blissed-out hippie. I told him Ram Dass calls it getting stroked. A lightning bolt to the consciousness and a chance for awakening his inner yogi. He really liked all that, and it didn’t even come close to an argument about the One True Church. I said won’t your watercolors be interesting with a shaking hand? He said “my aarrrecoverrray pieces!” 

We’re funny folks. My three siblings, a fiance, visitors, everyone cracked jokes that week. But me? Somber. Because when you sit in a hospital room and there are forms to fill out and calls to make and calls to receive and people coming, you can’t help but imagine what you’d write or who you’d call or who’d visit or call you. You can’t help but notice the time that has passed, with all those clocks on the wall, and your soggy plans, and where you’ve been. And as I sat on the couch and listened to my father snore, while his brain miraculously healed itself, I realized that nobody was getting a percentage from this trip, so nobody was calling me.

The silence of the hospital room joined hands with the silence of the NOT-A-LIFE waiting for me in Nashville, and it was deafening. I watched my brother’s fiance read Vogue one afternoon on the couch of the hospital room. She seemed so calm, relaxed, and content, somehow responsible for the perfect rectangle of sunlight that was resting on her shiny dark hair and lighting up her diamond ring. She matched. She was wearing wedges, and delicate earrings. (I noted my ratty sandals and shorts and internally justified that my clothes only matched and mattered for shows.) She leaned over to my Mom with her magazine, pointing out colors and imagining what the temperature will be the night of her fall wedding. I had been to therapy. I had read almost every self help book Oprah had recommended since 1994. I had been doing my inner homework. Why did it take watching my brother’s fiance read Vogue while my father snored to realize that I didn’t have a life? How was the mundane silence of the hospital room somehow more effective than any therapist I had ever listened to? I thought if I was following my dream, writing with shows booked, I had a life. I didn’t.

One of those days that week as I sat on the edge of Dad’s hospital bed, he took my hand and asked “do I recognize any of the jewels?” He gave me gold jewelry all through my adolescence. I wasn’t wearing any of it, though. I gave a lot of it away the year we didn’t speak to each other. I’d respond to compliments on a piece of jewelry by removing it on the spot and handing it to the person. “here. you can have it”, I’d shrug to a stranger who had come to a show, or a fellow waitress. I lived in a van; I didn’t have any drawers. And it hurt me to look at it. Now my stomach turned to think about my own stubbornness at that time. I did keep the sturdy gold signet ring he gave me, with my initials carved into the face. “here-you’ll remember who you are” he said as he tossed me the box from my bedroom doorway on Christmas eve, right before I went to sleep. And suddenly fully aware of my Dad driving downtown to the jeweler and picking out a gold ring for me when I was sixteen, I ran to the bathroom like someone with morning sickness, only to sob.

journal: August 14, 2007 10:20am Chicago, IL

Dad’s been moved to a VIP corner room in Mercy Hospital, for having practiced medicine here himself. At the moment he’s cranking out a sales pitch to the OT for the house we grew up in, despite his slurred speech.

Now there is Dad Before, and Dad Now. 

Dad Before yelling at whoever spilled anything/Dad Now spilling his jello like a 5 year old

Dad Before asking “how’s your car?/Dad Now talking about feelings

Dad Before healthy and isolated by retirement/Dad Now sick and surrounded by old friends

Dad Before scoffing/Dad Now so interested in my songs

Dad Before giving us hardback books of our own, inscribed/Dad Now and his library book

Dad Before, gone at 5am, busy, mad/Dad Now cheerfully remembering a hospital aide he worked with thirty years ago, and her whispering to my brother through her warm brown eyes brimming with tears, and saying “he always talked to me. he was kind. and in those days some of them doctors pretended like I wadn’t even there”

Me here thinking if I’d married ex he’d have helped Dad-Now to the bathroom and we’d have had a child by now and and I never did love him but he and I would’ve provided more people to soak up all the sadness in this hospital room because right now everybody has left and it’s just me

journal: August 15, 2007 Mercy Hospital Chicago 2:22pm

Dad sat up after lunch and told me stories of the challenges he faced while acquiring his spot as a resident. This was during the 50s, and he’s telling me like it was yesterday. Tears running down his face, and mine. Troubled times. Almost like he was confessing to me that he slammed the administrator’s door so hard he broke the glass. Eyes wide, like, ‘will you forgive me for that?’ Then the story of the nurses hanging a towel out the window if they needed him so he could watch the collegiate football game next door to the hospital. Listening, I never doubted that he’d see the towel if they needed him. The story of his broken down Chevy on the way to Pittsburgh and his best friend Larry coming for him in his Fiat.“everything I owned fit in that Fiat”  he sobbed. That was right after the unexpected last visit with his father. The story of staying with his Mom after his Dad died and telling her to leave the Sears bill on the window sill if she needed help with it. And how each week the stack of bills in the window sill got higher, until their unspoken agreement outlived her. The stack included his sister’s wedding, a family car for his brother, medical bills and went on. “What else could I do?” he said. After that, he abruptly fell sound asleep.

Dad’s a person. A person who was under pressure. 

A person that was struggling while I was a kid.

A person that I just met.

I spent that fall taking as much time off as possible to use my skills as a yoga teacher to help my Dad learn to walk again. The week of my brother’s wedding in Manhattan Beach, California, I stayed with my parents in a beachfront house. One morning during our daily walking workshop, a very potent moment intersected with my gut. All at once, my sister ran up the street with her new guy, (that she would marry a year later) my brother pulled up laughing with his fiance, and a surfer that looked like Aaron Eckhart walked by and winked at me. I realized I hadn’t gone on a date in years. I went inside and called Jen. She had just gone on a third date with a new guy (that she would marry a year later).  I hung up and realized I had traded the life I didn’t have as a touring musician for another version of not having a life: spinster.

After I flew back to Nashville my sister called to say she had a dream. In it she yelled at me “PEOPLE DON’T HEAL PEOPLE GOD HEALS PEOPLE” Her words soared out of the phone and clutched my gut. I thought I was living out some miracle. The girl that had the father who broke her heart returns to heal him.

guess what? NOPE.

There is only what happened. I was born an  artist. I lived for self expression. I listened closely to every writer rocker chick that plugged in her voice and soared and followed suit. I was a walking New Hampshire license plate: LIVE FREE OR DIE.

That made my father really mad- enough to not even speak to me for awhile, and I didn’t care, because I really, really, really, really didn’t want to be an art teacher in a Catholic school in Chicago just so my Dad would be pleased. But I will say I “overcorrected”. I was obnocsious. Sinead O’Connor’s stunt with a picture of the Pope on SNL informed my brothers’ nickname for me, “Shinamy” with good reason. What I was able to do from actually “meeting” my Dad after his stroke, was accept that my Irish immigrant grandmother came here at 15, uneducated, and worked for other families so that my father could go to school and get a degree and put me through school, so I would never have to do something like go work in a bar or for another family.

And I got my start as a singer in bars. And for a day job, I was a nanny.

Acceptance demanded me to see that he was neither adversary, nor my Lifetime Television miracle story. He was just the Dad I got, and I was just an artistic, odd social moron and although blonde and thirtysomething and still able to fit into my prom dress, I didn’t even know how to have a light flirtatious conversation with a man in line at Starbucks. I had some more work to do, and I did it.

After finding a “Welcome to California” Hampton Inn hotel key on the ground at the precise moment I needed to, (more on that here) I cancelled the rest of that year’s shows, left Nashville and moved back to California where I belong. Several years later, when my song was placed in a soundtrack, I was invited to a party where I met Aaron Eckhart. He asked me if I knew Tim McGraw (I don’t) and pitched me a country song called “Mrs. Me” by singing it in my ear. (he smelled good) Then he politely said goodbye and was whisked off to another party. I considered it a good omen, and it was. I met my surfer that fall and got married a year later. Now I’m a songwriter among other things: I am a wife, a stepmom, a friend, a sister, and an aunt-that lovely fiancé who was sitting in the sun was granted the perfect wedding night temperature, and has given birth to two beautiful daughters.

And I’m a daughter who thought she may be driving to a funeral in 2007, and instead has received for nearly a decade and counting, a lovely, easy, warm and accepting relationship with her Dad. (he just texted a response to a pic of my blooming pots. “Bravo! Beautiful!”) My daily life holds a lot of hugs.  And Cat Stevens was right- I did wind up where I started from: home with family, singing the songs I make up.

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Dad and me, April 2016

On the Motherhood Spectrum

(Originally published November 18, 2015)

I wrote this monologue for the traveling show Expressing Motherhood and performed it on Nov. 7th at their LA stop in Silver Lake. I wrote it to navigate the murky waters of step-parenting and being a second wife, and for anyone who is in this situation (especially the harrowing first year, God help you) my prayer is that you may relate and seek relief in the humor of what is often a very difficult daily journey. We stepmoms who actually love and care for the kids we married into are a breed of our own, as often times second wives fall in love, and wincing, step over the children in the house to get to the man they married. My theory is: that icy woman is easier to take for the first wife-she has a villian! But stepping forward to just love and advocate for the kids? And tell the truth? Perhaps not as easy to handle.

Summertime 2013 at the Hilton Chicago, my boyfriend Oliver’s two young sons jumped onto our bed, hair sopping wet, in jammies fresh from the shower. We’d been sightseeing in my hometown all day. “I smell pooh!” I squealed, totally grossed out. Sure enough, both of them needed detailing. They got back in the tub, and on my knees I gave a butt washing clinic. We were all hysterically laughing. The next day, my boyfriend became my fiance, and we were married six weeks after that, on the beach, just the four of us.

“Don’t expect to love them” my friend Melissa said the day before I met the boys. We went to Color Me Mine to paint pottery. I used to do improv-when lost, find an activity! Oliver needed his pottery. It’s the most nervous I’ve ever seen him. He knew that if his kids and I weren’t symbiotic, we’d be toast. But I didn’t need the pottery. I found out by meeting them that I loved them already. Mysteriously, I felt I knew them.

And so I ended up here: on the spectrum. The Motherhood spectrum. We like that word spectrum these days-transgenders, autism…the world is changing from black and white to gray, and I love it. I’m calling it that because I’m not a mom, but I have kids. Though close friends call me one, to say I’m a mom is inaccurate- our boys have an involved, loving mother. And while a childless man stepping in to raise his stepsons is often seen as a hero, a childless woman stepping in can somehow be seen as a desperate thief. But I am needed, sometimes intensely, and with 15 years of wishing I was a mom, I am there: night terrors, bullies, a concussion, endless lessons, reinforcement and praise. An absolute smorgasbord of everything I wanted in my childhood and have forgiven not receiving. (for reasons I’m not going into, I was equipped to manage a suicide hotline by about age 6. I know how to show up)

Still, I feet a smidge of unworthiness about the mother’s day card from our 12 year old that said “thank you for getting me through the tough times and being awesome”. I didn’t labor, I didn’t nurse from stinging nipples, I didn’t know who they were from moment one and then watch them become themselves, who am I?

“Birth is to motherhood what first time sex is to marriage” my own wise spectrum mother said. She is the one I wanted to talk to on the morning of my wedding ceremony. She is the one who blurted out “what happened with the bouquet??” after I had spent 8 minutes staring at my i-phone while my mom went on and on about her wedding day, no inquiry into mine. My mom is there when she needs me. I’m hip. But I still want MY mommy sometimes! So I know the way from mother the noun to mother the verb.

“I did not bear those boys, and attempting to replace you is against the laws of nature and I will not try” I said to their mom over the phone early on, while, to my surprise, she quietly cried. But what I may have needed to point out, is that I did replace her in the role of wife.

My husband is an incredible man who would have done anything for his ex-wife, and I’m very thankful that she didn’t let him. He was on the market for exactly 48 hours- after a year of healing he called our mutual friend and said “I’m ready to date, give me her number”. Two days later our blind date became mad love forever. My husband and I are crazy about each other, and we know how lucky we got. She left a Ferrari on the side of the road!

I’m enthralled by the wife who leaves and seems to catch this virus of a Hollywood fantasy that she’ll get her own place, and her own life, find an LA side dish-slash-soulmate that looks like Joe Mangianello to bang out the ordinary, but still keep all her married friends and full access to her former home. Most important, her ex-husband becomes her best friend, confidant, remains in charge of her car’s upkeep, and is always there. Doesn’t that last one violate the 3rd grade lesson we all learned, leave a boy alone if he likes you and you don’t like him?

I’ve become a bit of a walking public service message to twitching married moms. Before you leave, consider this: good women who wish to be wives and mothers are out there. Picture one. She’s pretty. She’s happy. She shaves her legs. Her emotional intelligence will effortlessly trigger behavior in your now ex-husband that you had confidently dismissed him as ‘totally incapable of’. And she will show up, while Joe may not, and she could be a loudmouth writer like me! Your now ex-husband will look remarkably handsome next to her, because she finds him irresistable! His personal stock will go up, and it will hurt!! But worse, she will love your children. And they will love her. And that will hurt.
Here’s the thing. The ex admitted handing me this opportunity, but she constantly forces the illusion of being the center of an intact family unit – the one she herself dismantled. Which is crazymaking. For everyone. My guess is, full ownership of her decision would eradicate that, but it would also require accepting that she took a painful lifetime gamble while sound asleep, and woke up to what she thought was just a distracting and temporary problem. Me. But I’m not. I’m his wife now. I’m their stepmom. And we’re a family. Helping her.

Once the boys’ mom said to me, ”I see you more like their teacher, or a coach.”  ‘That teaches them how to wash their butts? That asks them if they’re ok in their heart and their belly, and then sits still to listen if the answer is no? That sings them to sleep? That has caught their spontaneous, emotional avalanche of sore-hearted details about the day you left, and responded only “your mommy loves you so, so much”?
But that was my hint. And I can take a hint. Honor her, parent them. Know you’re 2nd. Less than. Sometimes even invisible. Do everything it takes, and for the boys, give her all the credit. That’s my place on the spectrum. Motherhood, right? It blows sometimes. And they’re worth it.

Good Air

(Originally published Sept. 29, 2015)

When I teach group yoga classes, I share a lot of ideas. Girlfriend stuff, common sense stuff, armchair psychology, a spiritual perspective. Sometimes my students come up to me afterwards and say “where did you get that?” Or tell me it was just what they needed to hear. I’d respond “what did I say??” Because it often came from nowhere. (NOW HERE.) I’ve listened to so many tapes of experts in self realization like Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra, a lot of it was a reformatted version of those teachings.

I once read that Jerry Seinfeld said he married his wife Jessica because she was “good air”. I loved that- something about her was just breezy, high, good weather. And to me, that was what I was doing when I was talking during class. I wanted to help everybody get to their good air. My student Michael once came to my Friday 7am telling me that in the middle of the night he had remembered a guy he saw sleeping on Pico Blvd. So in the morning, he made a breakfast sandwich thinking, ‘if he’s there, I’ll give it to him.’ He was. He came to that class so, so happy. That’s good air. We all have stuff and avoiding it is impossible. I am the first to fall down a well of my own self pity and forget others, and forget perspective-but we can still attempt a shift. So here’s 25 sentiments I’ve carried, learned and discovered and let’s just say I attend my own lectures.

1. If there’s peace in you, and you’re on earth, then there’s peace on earth.

2. You can listen to what people say, or you can watch their feet, and listen to the music in between their steps. Demonstration trumps conversation.

3.“Please God” sounds like standing still “Thank you God” sounds like moving forward.

4. Fretting over choosing between two desirable partners is a sure sign of a person who needs to pause and go within. Choose yourself, allow the rest.

5. If you keep forgetting to tell someone something, it may not be that you’re forgetting. it may be that you sense they don’t really care, and forgetting them is the order of the day.

6. “Never marry someone in a rut.” -Rabbi Morris Margolies

7. Leaving a relationship does not guarantee the task of letting go of a person.

8. You are 100% responsible for the climate of your own mind. No one else makes the storms come and go in there- you do. Be your own best friend and make things easier for yourself. Nourish your body with whole foods and avert your eyes from news sources, shows or books that bring you down.

9. Angrily snapping at your closest loved ones while making certain they are not using products with SLS and parabens calls for a detox of tone and body language, then get to the housekeeping closet.

10. “Processing” the past is like filing papers you already threw away, but man, people can make big bucks for that without a set deadline.

11. Kids who get loved with money may eventually spend it on learning what love is.

12. Boredom can become an unworthy man’s big chance in romance. Don’t get bored, ladies. Love your life. And on the other hand, never allow yourself to become a bored man’s habit.

13. An impeccable home is often seen as an achievement. I see it as a sign of a starving creative life.

14. Charm is “I’m wonderful”. Charisma is “you’re wonderful”.

15. If you’re getting dressed for dinner with a hope they’ll like your outfit, have fun. If you’re getting dressed with the hope they’ll like you, make yourself dinner and learn to love yourself.

16. Dietary cleanses can activate an impatient, irrational desire to get rid of parts of the self. If you’re wary, a hearty daily dose of greens and self-acceptance may be better for you.

17. A yoga class is not exactly going to feel like having a margarita by the pool, but if you stay, savasana will.

18. The next time you have a little tantrum about something going “wrong”, put your hand on your heart and imagine needing a machine to keep that thing going.

19. When you feel like you don’t have “enough hours in the day” and find yourself saying so, set a timer for 5 minutes, close your eyes and breathe. You will feel as though you have all the time in the world when you open them.

20. A feminist who calls a man for a date has actually lost out on opportunity- to find out if he really likes her. I say seek opportunity in the workplace and leave your love life to the fates.

21. Takers are takers. They’re not going to wake up. If you decline, they’ll just find someone else to take from. So if you feel like you just gave plasma after you spend time with someone, they’re taking. Decline.

22. When you are embarking on a spiritual path, share very little or you may get caught open-hearted with critics and “realists” (a cynic will often claim to “just be realistic”). Write in a journal, leave yourself a voicemail or say it out loud in your car. Once you’ve harnessed your inner light, you won’t give a shit who thinks what. But in the beginning, it can cause a setback. Be careful with yourself.

23. Jealousy is a bitter tonic that the dimmest part of the self makes the heart drink. Just as you chose your morning cup, choose not to drink that bitter tonic.

24. If scientists proved that simply observing a stranger help an elderly lady across the street can trigger a boost to your immunity, (and they did) then I gotta believe that TMZ lowers it.

25. Spend a little time daily thinking of ALL the little things that keep going your way: your car worked when you turned it on, there was fresh water when you turned the faucet on… You’ll train yourself to be mindful and grateful in the teeny tiny ways, and you’ll be one of those people that just makes the airport gate better by being there. You’ll be good air.

Yoga’s Teaching

(Originally published May 27, 2015)

Here’s how my most recent album happened. It took 7 years.
1. I was mugged by two young men on the front steps of my home in Nashville, TN. After they took all my stuff and let me go, the spot where one of them put a little silver gun in my neck felt like a bee sting. I prayed for them as soon as I was in my house and asked what am I here to learn? I heard “move.” and didn’t listen.
2. While in a deeply melancholy state about driving to LAX to go back to Nashville, I walked away unharmed from a near-fatal car accident on the 10 in a faulty rental car. The only reason I still actually believe it happened was because my brother was following me in his car and saw the whole thing.
3. I found something sparkling on the ground.

I am a songwriter, and Nashville is song-town, but I never really wanted to live there. The worst person you can ever lie to is yourself, and it took those three things to tell myself the truth: I missed LA as soon as I unpacked, but I was mentally certain I was going to succeed in Nashville. Indeed I was learning a lot about songwriting, and I was blooming, but not fully- because I was trying to tell my life how it was gonna go. I was faxing God scripts. Life doesn’t work like that.
I found Diane Avice du buisson in Nashville and kept practicing yoga, which included teaching a handful of people. Yoga was the only place I felt a sense of belonging, and awareness. As a result, one day when I was out walking and reciting the same old script about how I can’t stand living here I wish I was back in LA but how the hell am I gonna do that —something new happened. I heard mySelf say to myself, ‘how much longer are you gonna play this rerun in your head?’ And then, I saw something sparkling on the ground. It was a blue Hampton Inn credit-card shaped hotel key. And it said “Welcome to California”.

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still keep it in my wallet.

Six weeks later, I had rented out my Nashville home and found a guest house in LA, feeling sure I could secure work as a yoga teacher. Indeed, I got a job teaching, and another, and another, and another. I found myself handling a thriving private teaching practice. I became a Yoga Tune Up instructor. A Pure teacher trainer.
I sang at the end of my classes, because it would have been strange not to sing. It’s just what comes through me. I kept writing songs, because I was dating in LA. How else could I have remained sane and balanced? But that ol’ mental certainty had emerged: I’m not ever touring or making records again. I started sending God more faxes: “I’m a yoga teacher now.” Then I’d see yoga students who would say “you’re the singer, right?” Dammit! Hadn’t the Almighty Everywhere gotten that fax???? I sabotaged opportunities in music so I could keep up with my yoga teacher life. I blew off a personal amendment and recorded a cover album for the money. The sound quality was awful, and my face was on the cover. But I was the music business’s dejected, heartbroken ex, and I didn’t care. Trouble was, I couldn’t outrun the hurt, because I was still a singer, and still a songwriter.
I became depleted, driving all over town really fast to teach people to slow down. And I had a new problem. As a yoga teacher, I lived by an ethics code I wrote for myself based on the eight limbs, but there was just one teeny-weeny little thing. It included serving from your heart’s knowing of what you’re meant to do. Deep down, I felt I was meant to sing. And in my private practice, it got intimate! I held space for a grown man to cry in the still-dark morning when his wife had just left him. I helped my young, frightened client deliver her first baby in a season of hiding her husband’s drug use from family members. I was helping other people bare all and get in integrity with their deepest heart-knowing, whether it was where to put a couch or moving overseas for a new job. And I wasn’t practicing what I preached.
Then I met a good-hearted, handsome man. He came to a showcase where I played my songs. “I didn’t blink.” He believed in me. I began playing music daily in an appointment I kept with myself, and creating inventories of every song I had written since I’d left Nashville in 2008. I didn’t realize how often I’d been completing songs, and demos.
Shortly after I married that man, he supported another project with enthusiasm and joy. I tracked 12 songs, and here I am promoting another album.
Yoga gave me the courage to face my deepest heart-knowing.

I don’t regret living in Nashville. In fact I love watching the ABC show and reminiscing, and hearing the music of Nashville acquaintences flourish under the storylines. I still teach, just not as much. Teaching full time meant experiencing the security and support of working for an incredible corporation, Equinox -and I sought relief and enthusiasm in the eyes of my students, and finding it awakened me. I forgot myself, laughed, and began to let life guide me. In doing so, maybe I gave them permission to do the same. I’m a student of everything I said in class all along, until it came time for me to really listen- which meant sharing my yoga studio podium with music again.

My Favorite Tree (behind the song That Whole Time)

(Originally published March 31, 2015)

I moved to Los Angeles in 1997, the day John Denver died. I listened to his music on the way, driving through the mountains. I was a delusionally optimistic girl from the suburbs of Chicago, readying to fumble my way through auditioning and playing in bands in a most ungraceful, tragic-comedy kind of way. Being from Chicago, my loyalty to The Oprah Winfrey Show ran deep and her non-fiction author interviews were my main source of spiritual schooling at that time. I started meditating and practicing yoga. Oprah had suggested to her viewers they find a favorite tree, or place in nature, during her much criticized “Remembering Your Spirit” sequence (that I adored). Being a good student, I had her homework in mind while I was returning a (probably late) movie to a Blockbuster Video in a tangle of traffic on Venice Blvd. I glanced over. There it was, my tree. I crossed the street to visit. It was love, and I returned again and again. The famous physicist Richard Feynman once said “keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.” Well that was good advice I wasn’t taking at that time, except for the visits to my tree, which provided a grounding I needed. Like church, or temple. A remembering of what matters.

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(navigating my tree on heels during a 2001 photo shoot)

After I moved to Nashville in 2002, I’d take trips to LA for shows, and still drawn, wander over for a little time with my tree. I’ve since become self-conscious of public place meditation but not then! In 2008 I made a permanent move back to LA and kept up my visits. I’d meet a friend for dinner nearby, and walk over afterwards. My tree’s neighborhood was expanding and growing, but I didn’t really take notice.

In 2011, I got dumped on New Year’s Day, (ow) and totally stumped and out of hope, I was told by a friend that praying for whoever you’re meant to be with can be a comfort. I started right away. “Whoever he is, wherever he is, may he be happy, may he be whole, please clear the path between us so we can be together”. Each time I felt silly about it, Tosha Silver’s book Outrageous Openness would restore my faith in the ritual. I would look at the moon while I was unlocking my door at the end of a long day of teaching yoga, and recite my prayer. Each time, I would get a sense of a man running–heart rate up. It felt like a clue. ‘He’s a runner.’

By the end of 2011, my visits slowed down. I kind of forgot about it. Even on October 13, 2012, when I pulled up to a house near my tree to meet a kind, handsome man that I’d been dating for a day of paddleboarding, I hadn’t put it together. It was after I got engaged to that kind man and moved in, that I drove by my tree one day and it dawned on me. ‘OMG. I actually now LIVE a mile from my favorite tree.’ Home was here. He was here. That Whole Entire Time. My husband Oliver bought our home in 2001, the same year that I took those dorky pictures. Sometimes I wonder if he and I ever passed each other, while he was chilling around the hood with his toddlers, and I was wandering around my wobbly life. (he probably saw me meditating and went “wierdo.”) So many things had to happen for us to meet, but I believe we were connected, even before we did. On our blind date I asked him, “you run?” “Nope. I hate running.” he replied. ‘Awp–ok. I thought to myself. No problem, he’s too cute to rule out.’ But then a month later, we were on a road trip. He casually shared that after his divorce he couldn’t stand the quiet in the house without his kids, so he’d go running after work. “I’d just look at the moon, and run.” he said.

Ocean-rush-to-the-knees. It’s him.

Now while finding true, lasting love has been the most important thing that has ever happened to me, I have a larger purpose. I love faery tales, but life is not one. It just holds some. Not Disney ones. Rich, old, folk, faery tales, passed down orally, unedited, unsanitized. Faery tales where pain is real, lessons are treasures, and heeding the unchangeable laws of life will bring true meaning and purpose to all that you experience, even the darkest moments. More important than finding my home outside, was realizing home is inside, and was, that whole time. It was all for the learning. I was already home, even when I didn’t know it, even when I was sitting in the middle of my bed at 3am crying through lonely emotional hallways. When I accepted that, a deeply fulfilling home life emerged out of “nowhere but God’s heart” (as Tosha would say) in my outer world. And you know what? I’d do it all again, because real, original, spiritual love is worth the wait, and my lessons are treasures.

Now I trust completely that I am exactly where I belong. So are you. (yes, you!!) Your life has brought you here, and everything happened as it was meant to happen. It all is happening as it is meant to. This is where you belong. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. This mess, this blessing, this tragedy, this dreary routine or this dream coming true, whatever it is, is where you belong. And life will keep consoling you, and revealing why, so listen. Loosely, calmly, with enthusiasm. And common sense. So tell me, what’s your story?

Oh, one last thing. John Denver is my father in law’s favorite singer.

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