I was delighted to write a guest post again for my friends over at Singles Warehouse. Here are the ‘Must-Ask’ questions when you date a Dad.
I was delighted to write a guest post again for my friends over at Singles Warehouse. Here are the ‘Must-Ask’ questions when you date a Dad.
Having never had children, you will be unable to comprehend the apparently limitless love, that allegedly heart-expanding level of consciousness that a biological mother has for her child. It seems to be something more epic than James Cameron’s version of the Titanic, an indescribable thing espoused by generations of women oozing maternal contentment. It has spawned a million hashtags, not the least of which is the execrable #blessed.
I’ve had some of my most simply sublime moments watching Netflix with a sauv blanc and a snoozy cat – yet these are apparently not on par with the emotion between mother and child.
This blissful bond is the payoff offered by Mother Nature for the ordeal that is represented by pregnancy and birth. The payoff NEEDS to be sublime. To be prepared to have your own child is to knowingly go into a scenario where you will have a blood–and-scuzz-covered infant extracted either:
Biological mothers prove themselves willing to go through this ordeal and many other unmentionable symptoms:
Even celebs who appear genetically blessed with talent or gorgeousness suffer along with the mere mortals:
“I just started calling myself ‘Swamp Ass.’ Like, I have swamp ass right now. I had major swamp ass because I was wearing these Spanx to hold in my gut … It’s like the bayou up in that region” – Jessica Simpson
Although the connection between this and Spanx is brow-furrowing at best, it’s fair to say that no-one has ever celebrated a moist, swampy, inner bayou.
“When I got pregnant, I had so much testosterone in me that I grew a beard. I only cropped it last night. It’s actually true. I’m not telling a joke. I actually have a beard, but I’m proud of it. I call it Larry.” – Adele
As if we are not already obsessed about hair removal.
“When I was pregnant, I just wanted to get lots and lots of animals, for some reason. We talked about cats but David said absolutely not” – Victoria Beckham
I venture to say that Victoria would have been a more cheerful woman if she’d been successful in getting all the cats.
‘The pregnancy, I wouldn’t really wish that upon anyone. Anyone. It’s all worth it in the end, so I would definitely suffer through that, but pregnancy was not a good experience for me. At all.’ – Kim Kardashian.
About as real as you can get from a Kardashian.
The only one that appeared to breeze through it?
‘I sometimes forget I am pregnant’ – Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge
Spoken by someone whose pregnant belly looks like nothing more than me after a reckless night of beer and bolognaise.
All this, and more, means that women who give birth totally deserve the hormonal payoff that appears to be generated as soon as they lay eyes on the squalling infant.
The reverse is also true. If you are unwilling to go through all of the above to generate your own child and merely acquire one as a result of dating a dad, you simply cannot expect to feel the biological bond that results from sharing a large chunk of DNA with another miniature person.
The only thing that you did to deserve having a child thrust into your life was to fail to declare offspring as a deal-breaker on your online dating profile.
So the fact that you have not created this small human through blood, sweat, tears and the sacrifice of your pelvic floor means you don’t earn the biological bond. The sooner you realise this the better.
What you need to know is that regardless of any investment in swamp-ass, you have the potential to regard with extreme fondness this youngster who shares some DNA with someone you are actually crazy about.
That honeymoon period with a new love is a blissful time. You are likely rocking your best-ever body courtesy of the divorce diet and that phase of unfamiliarity that stops you scarfing carbs in plain view of your new partner. Everything is new, nothing is niggly and you are only one step short of having Snow White’s best life, surrounded by helpful woodland creatures and indulging in tuneful duets with baby birds.
You may have even met your potential stepchildren, and if its early days, spent time indulging in an array of joyous kiddie activities, with only the tiniest shot of vodka to take the edge of the meeting-the-kid nerves.
The point at which it becomes a whole new ballgame, or in fact a whole new ballpark, is the first sleepover where the stepkiddies are involved. Here are some tips.
Leave it for as long as possible
Have as many kid-free sleepovers as you like. This is something to be encouraged and practically mandatory in case the white-hot early days of a romance flames out, revealing a certain shallowness or long-term incompatibility amongst its smoking ashes. You want to know this before you share a sleepover with kiddies. If this is another relationship that will be rendered to the Nope File, you do not want to have been unnecessarily exposed to the wayward spitting involved in junior bedtime teeth brushing rituals or been anywhere remotely within the vicinity of an awkward bedwetting phase.
If you aren’t yet ready to commit to being friends on Facebook, give the stepkid sleepover the swerve.
Consider your attire
Sleepwear for the first blended sleepover requires some careful thought.
If you’ve made it through the worst of your singledom heartache, then you’ve likely buried every item of sleepwear that was the equivalent of comfort food during your periods of darkest despair. The polarfleece bathrobe that kept you alive while your bloodflow tried to warm the daggers of ice where your heart used to be. The forgiving snuggie that accommodated that period of time on the couch where you lived off Netflix and sauv blanc, helpfully providing oversized pockets for stashing snacks that were reassuring in their sky-high percentage of saturated fats. The tracksuit that sheltered you from the cold hell of sleeping alone, then conveniently doubled as daywear.
If you’ve carved out a #revengebody through a diet of clear spirits and tears during your being-single phase, you’ve likely revitalised your bedroom wardrobe by rocketing to the VIP list on Victoria’s Secret. You’ve purchased garments of immense fragility at a gigantic cost per gram of fabric which now make you look all shimmery and svelte.
These are not the outfits for the first sleepover where children are present. You do not want to greet a child in a hallway in something skimpy, since these nuggets of childhood experience are invariably the first to be conveyed in graphic detail to the biological mother. As fab as you might feel, all juiced up on early-days oxytocin, you do not want to make a teenage step-kid feel like they have woken up in the playboy mansion.
The desirable state is somewhere vaguely in between. Leave the French lace at home, but equally don’t try to rescusitate your despair-encrusted snuggie. Go for some respectable PJs with good coverage, skipping flannelette versions involving cartoon characters if you fear regressing into frumpsville.
Talk about the arrangements
As pedestrian as it may seem, it’s very wise to have a pretty frank discussion about the bedtime rituals that are about to unfold. Shared time between two households and a desire on the part of a split bio parent to appease a child can make for some fairly loose bedtime boundaries.
You want to know if there is a tendency towards night terrors that is going to cause you to wake suddenly to unearthly screams. It’s worth knowing that there will be a full-blown tanty involved as toothbrushing time looms. You need to know if there is a well-established door-knocking protocol or if a kiddie could just bust into the bedroom without warning.
From personal experience, you absolutely need to know that a six year old will shimmy into a pair of pull-ups and plant himself on your side of the bed, given that’s been the way this household has rolled since the split. You need to have a strategy in advance for that one.
Don’t be setting any breakfast precedents
During the first sleepover event, aim to be a background person. Now is not the time to indulge any long-repressed desire to be a Gwyneth-style earth mother. Regardless of your horror at the dietary damage being wrought on a miniature human, do NOT try to wrest the box of Coco-pops from their grasp and aim to explain the virtues of a green smoothie. If you are truly determined to create a nutritionally balanced haven in the wasteland of Disney-dad indulgence, it’s a game of stealth and subtlety and a long game at that. It’s not something that you should leap into immediately after the first overnighter.
Don’t try to demonstrate your extensive research into the realm of the mummy blogger and make buttermilk pancakes complete with human features in the form of blueberry eyes and a smeary raspberry coulis mouth. If it turns out well, you’ve created a precedent that you will needed to replicate, which will become immensely tedious. If it goes awry, you’ll have created something that invokes that particular child’s fear of clowns.
Don’t expect that the child has the first clue about the joy of a bircher muesli involving steel-cut oats that have meditatively bathed overnight in organic cloudy apple juice. That is like sharing a glass of fabulous prosecco with a cask-wine drinker – unmitigated wastage.
Be prepared to just roll with the brekky traditions that already exist.
Save your energy for the battle to ensure your side of the bed remains free of small humans that are yet to master full continence.
If, as a formerly childless woman, you’ve survived the stepmother duties of school pickups, cake stalls and a work from home day that coincided with a stepkid riddled with spatter-vomit, now, and only now, are you adequately qualified to oversee stepchild swimming lessons.
Personally, you may have nothing but fond memories of swimming lessons. A weekday morning where you toddled off to school with your bathers already on under your school clothes. An escape from the smugness of your peers that, unlike your numerically inept self, were good with unforgiving fractions. School swimming day held no fear other than the vague risk that, having headed to school all pool-ready, you’d forgotten spare undies and would have to go invisibly but possibly mortifyingly commando for the remainder of the day. There were no major hurdles to cross, success being represented by simple achievements like picking up a rubber ring off the tiled floor of the shallow end, or a doggy paddle for 20 metres, none of which really represent serious life skills.
Modern day parents, paralysed by the knowledge that they’ve borne spawn in an island nation, and even more terrifying, ensconced themselves in middle class suburbs riddled with loosely patrolled backyard pools, are deeply invested in ensuring their kiddies can swim. If you are a participant in a blended family, at some point, despite your best efforts, you will find yourself responsible for a child in a municipal pool. Here are some pointers;
If you receive any early heads-up that you might need to do Saturday morning pool duties, then you MUST give Friday night happy hour a big-ol swerve.
What you must not, ever, never, ever do? Take a hangover to the pool. Why?
Your hungover self requires a careful protocol of nurturing in order to achieve full restoration. You will not achieve this at your local pool.
Cast your mind back to a recent hangover and consider how you would react to the following:
The change room conundrum
This my friends, is an unexpected nightmare.
If you are the step parent of a boy, there are no good choices. No one wants to subject any boy over about five years old into the female change rooms and next level awkwardness. Nor are you going to feel great about letting him wander unsupervised amongst the unseen, unvetted occupants of the male change rooms. The time it takes for a pre-teen boy to shower and apply hair product will be equivalent in your mind to the time it takes for him to be sneakily drugged and ushered out the back door into a life of child sex slavery. Before you know if you are shouting the kids name from the entrance door like an unhinged banshee.
Better to skip the change rooms, throw him into one of those undignified full-body towelling ponchos and create a dribbling chlorinated trail back to your car, despite the fact that chemical dampness will forever taint your beloved leather seats.
Level of attention required
Biological parents are apparently unimpressed by the qualifications of pool lifeguards when it comes to preventing their children from near or actual drowning. Although the teen by the pool is certificate-level qualified, definitely a better swimmer than you and heavily insured, it is apparently taboo to relinquish all control and while away your kiddo-supervisory time on Instagram. You won’t be able to use this dead-ass time to catch up on work emails, your backlog of cat-videos or finding a fab outfit on ASOS.
You will be expected to summon the sustained attention of a special-forces sniper with laser-sharp focus on the kiddie in question. You do not want to be wandering back from the pool canteen, chowing down on a fried dimmy at that moment your step-kiddo has been dragged from the pool after inhaling a more-than-recommended dose of chlorinated water.
This is a tough gig. Be prepared.
We were always going to have to move on from Pokemon Go. But so many pleasant memories! Those heady days when we hatched a Snorlax, enjoyed a moment of sheer exhilaration after a victory in a gym battle and that time I hi-fived myself in that unlikely scenario where, trying to keep the momentum whilst on a girls weekend, I snagged one of the more iconic Pokemon and received that ultimate kid affirmation in reply:
Me: I caught a Pikachu
Pokemon Go is as good as dead now, despite the plaintive notifications that implore me to return with promises of new creatures and the ability to trade with friends. It has been hard to let go of of how cool my persona looks in Lycra pants, rocking a real-life unattainable thigh gap and looking svelte next to my lumpy walking buddy Snorlax.
The new thing is Fortnite. Every parent is scared that this game is going to turn their kiddo into someone who appears on Bowling For Columbine II but my fairly limited research suggests that if you are anything like me I’m not sure you’ll be able to hate it. Here’s why:
Despite the fact that if you are playing the Battle Royale version, you need to kill 99 other people to be successful, you are going to see less blood than a 1990s episode of ER. Actually none. Despite wielding weapons that seem to be fairly semi-automatic, your strafing of opponents is totally PG. No one loses an arm after concentrated linear sniper fire across a bicep. No-one bleeds out from a femoral artery after a knife fight. No one gets a Sopranos-style double tap to the forehead.
If you are shot in Fortnite, you drop to your hands and knees and grow weary. You crawl around a fair bit. You look like someone who needs to get home to a warm house and a Milo. This is uncannily like something that could happen after a night out and one too many sauv blancs.
It starts with a partybus
Although Fornite starts with you and your 99 opponents boarding something called a battle bus, which sounds grim and terribly Con-Air, in reality you are with 99 other gaudily dressed, like-minded folk ready to take on the mean streets of a well-documented geographical area. Pretty much the gamer equivalent of a hen’s night bus.
Unlike a nightclub bus, you can eject yourself at will, and with the aid of a glider, drift dreamily away, completely solo, to your desired destination instead of being propelled unwillingly to a screeching girl line-up of tequila shots.
There are random dance moves
Inexplicably, amongst the elimination of 99 opponents, there’s a button that allows you to step away from the continual carnage, collection of weapons and relentless construction. You can free your mind from the trials of everyday fortnite-ness and just bust out some dance moves.
Everything about this is appealing. If I could just step out of my back-to-back meeting nightmares and throw down a flossing move I think life could become inestimably easier. I think that reverting to a positively Neanderthal ‘Best Mates’ move would make me one step closer to embracing Pete Evans and becoming Paleo.
If you don’t feel like personally hitting the dance floor you can throw out a boogie-bomb which preoccupies your opponent in their own dance-floor crazy while you skip away from their bullets.
Instead, I’m stuck in a real world where chancy dance moves are about as acceptable as belting out an unsolicited show-tune.
It’s perfect for the commitment-phobe
I struggle with long novels, six month term deposits and exhausting Lord of the Rings epics. On the other hand, I’ve got a totally co-dependent relationship with Netflix given that corporation’s ability to indulge my instant gratification gene via the staccato delivery of short episodes.
Fortnight battles are about the same commitment as an episode of Sex and The City. They are short and there is always the opportunity of just one more….
The added bonus
Just when you think that you can’t go one more second without reclaiming the big screen TV from the sweaty-handed gamer in your house, just know that you can totally take back the telly.
Inexplicably, a child deprived of access to Fortnite will, without much complaint, revert to another digital option to just sit and watch strangers play Fortnite. If you think that this sounds crazy, just take a moment to observe the fondness that you reserve for Anastasia and Faye on Gogglebox.
I’m sure there is a deadly amount of kiddo spare time being devoted to Fornite that that could otherwise have been dedicated to bathroom-based chores and teenage hygiene, but it would appear that Fortnite isn’t the worst way they could be spending their time. In the 80s I spent three hours or 9 x Fortnite instalments obtaining a regrettable perm that was still unsuccessful in triggering any interest from my year eight crush.
We all have our rites of passage.
Recently I chalked up another chapter in the #dontrecognisemylife story of my new blended family.
Before every person that knows me rejects this as an elaborate and completely preposterous fabrication dreamed up to plug a rather large void between blog posts, let me clarify that it was GLAMPING. A spacious tent, erected by those who actually possess the required expertise. Quality manchester. Soft furnishings. Carefully curated decorative touches. Hot water bottles snugly encased in something hand-knitted. Sufficient power to support hair appliances, multi-device charging, bedside lamps and HEATING!
It’s taken a long time for creative entrepreneurs to carve out a niche variation on standard canvas-based hospitality that is sufficiently evolved to tempt me back into camping life. My last foray into this world was three decades ago, where I joined like-minded 18 year old friends, newly emancipated from our parents by virtue of freshly-issued drivers licences and ready to spend supermarket-checkout-wages on a cheap campsite. The concept of a share-economy was decades away from becoming a thing, but we were all well aware of the outrageous value represented by a flagon of Para Port when divided between a gaggle of inexperienced drinkers. Fueled by abundant, cheap fortified spirits and Midnight Oil albums on repeat, memories were made.
And now we have glamping.
Just as I learned in the 80s the limitations of an inexperienced liver at the hands of an unconstrained flow of cheap booze, I’ve now learned that communing with nature protected by only a thin veneer of canvas can continue to be a source of life-lessons. Throw an energetic twelve year old stepchild into your tent and there’s an unexpected layer of nuance in the learnings. Here are a few of those lessons.
I am unsuited to confined spaces
I have a fairly lengthy list of life-skill limitations. These have compounded as I’ve matured. It began with a lack of control of my intestinal contents on fairground spinny rides and the inevitability of fairy floss attaching to my hair. Early career limitations involved an inability to speak to superiors without blushing, becoming unpredictably inarticulate or spraying them with incidental spittle. For all the investment and earnest advice from Australia’s finest hardware stores I’ve remained inept at the most basic of DIY home-maintenance tasks. There were lessons gleaned from an emergency room visit and eight weeks in plaster after I fell on the basketball court, not at the hands of a hard-tackling opponent, but by inexplicably falling while running down the sidelines without the ball or another human within twenty metres. The purchase of a wooden-based bed with merciless corners six years ago has still not trained me in the agility to avoid, on average, a bi-weekly new shin bruise.
Spending time in a tent, however, has reaffirmed that in a confined space I operate with all the finesse of a graceless yak.
My first act, crushing a wineglass stem into forlorn shards with an errant ugg boot was something anyone could have done. I’m convinced glass breakage is something that the glamping purveyors fully expect and routinely budget for.
Something a little more advanced on the scale of camping carnage was my careless hand gesture that emptied a flower vase of water into the central powerboard and shut down the entire tent’s electricals.
You need low-fi games
I can’t explain how many different ways I tried to contingency-plan my way through the lack of wi-fi in a tent. Step-parenthood is similar to parenthood in that it teaches you the sheer horror that can result from a bored tween who is severed from their technology.
I did explain that tents don’t have wi-fi. That the people around you are rarely likely to offer up hackable private wi-fi. That even the combined efforts of our family mobile data usage plans would wither under the weight of what is required for a pre-teen to compete in whatever it is that they do in a bout of Fortnite. And also, there was no TV.
Having managed all expectations, we employed the best of low-data-usage apps to navigate those literally dark hours between sunset and a reasonable bedtime.
Strangely enough, entertainment can still ensue from traditional games like charades, even if the charade topic is now delivered by a $0.99 app rather than a cheeky little box of cards.
My skill level at such games is still entry-level. I was halfway to the answer – knowing that the back end of the answer was ‘shark’. I regarded closely the stepchild vigorously pointing to a white chrysanthemum (now laying parched in its jar after all the water was drained in the powerboard spillage incident).
He was subtly trying to convey that the full answer was the Great White.
I responded confidently with that slightly less ubiquitous, yet equally fearsome creature of the sea – the Flower Shark.
Catering works differently
If you were embarking on a lengthy glamping stay, you’d either need a fairly limitless eating-out budget or some serious planning around camping-compatible meals.
For the sake of one night, I felt disinclined to invest in keeping Esky ice up to anything more perishable than a bottle of Rose. Given our proximity to Melbourne winter, I was also naturally averse to committing time in an outdoor BBQ and camp kitchen to conjure up dinner. Instead I determined that all meals would be outsourced. Whilst husband and stepchild huddled over an iPhone, trying to watch a soccer league final that I’d failed to factor into the entertainment contingency planning, I was relegated to hunter/gatherer status when it came to the evening meal.
My life skills failed me when it came to home delivery in the context of a specific camp site. I valiantly pushed past my menu app’s failure to recognise my current location and apply very persistent efforts to deliver me pizza from my regular local outlet some 150km away. I pondered whether the caravan park would enforce the rigorous algorithms I was used to in my CBD carparking world and fail to deal with letting another vehicle in with our access pin without our vehicle with that same access pin having exited and leaving us trapped with the delivery guy, huddled collectively around shared pizza on campsite 180 until daybreak.
So I stood, nonchalantly leaning against the caravan park reception veranda pillar, clad in camping-appropriate hoodie and inside-tent Uggs, awaiting the pizza delivery guy. I was on the verge of holding up an airport style sign saying ‘La Porchetta’ lest I be mistaken for a shoddily clad lady of the night trawling for camper rough trade.
Boys in tents
My last learning, which is not news to anyone who cohabitates closely with near-teen boys, is their prolific ability to transform pizza and Pepsi into toxic gaseous fumes that can easily engulf an unaccustomed stepmother. Having been blessed with a house with adequate ventilation and only populated by a child on an every-other-weekend basis, I was not accustomed to such concentrated fumes.
Having now been indoctrinated, I feel compelled to defend every methane-emitting bovine accused of being at the heart of global warming and advise them that they should lawyer up and start singing like a canary about their human teenage toxin-emitting accomplices.
Glamping. Just another source of (overly fragrant) blended family experiences.
If your ovaries have never fired up, not even when Ryan Gosling was looking to spawn offspring, then Mother’s Day means nothing other than a day to avoid eating out and being financially slaughtered by a sentimentally festive mark-up.
For the first year or two of being a step-parent, given your complete lack of parenting awareness, you won’t register anything on Mother’s Day other than the already-well-ingrained desire to honour your own mother.
After a while though, the cumulative effort you’ve invested in cooking, cleaning, driving your step-child to a million things, finding band-aids in emergencies and dealing with relentless laundry may trigger a prickle of annoyance at not receiving any skerrick of recognition on Mother’s Day. It’s possible that you may feel a teensy bit overlooked (notwithstanding your immense gratitude at not having been through that whole childbirth process).
Here are some of the insights into Mother’s Day from actual Mamas to help you understand what you are really missing out on (or not).
If you wanted cold toast, undrinkable coffee and eggs more rubbery than politician campaign promises, there is no need to yearn for a Mother’s day breakfast, you might simply take the Monday 6am on a domestic airline.
Every biological mother knows that, good intentions aside, the domestic ineptitude of a small child knows no bounds and that the chaos wrought in the kitchen on Mother’s Day is no way compensated by the delivery of a lukewarm meal to your bedside. Someone will undoubtedly fail to turn off the gas underneath the frypan after use, rendering egg-remnants into industrial grade concrete which can never be removed. You can only hope they didn’t use your Le Creuset.
The lack of fine motor skills renders most youngsters unable to control a two litre bottle of OJ, leaving a sticky lake on the kitchen bench.
The void of observational skill or general interest in your wellbeing on the part of a child means they won’t realise you gave up all caffeinated drinks five years ago and will result in your being served up dodgy Earl Grey tea from bags encrusted with pantry-crud and long past any reasonable expiry date.
Mother’s Day gifts are a domestic version of the office Kris Kringle, in that they seem to be gifts chosen by someone who does not really know you.
When the children are at an age where they can only source their gifts from the school mother’s day stall, the haul is going to be constrained to cheap $2 gifts that have arrived in container-loads from mainland China. But then, who doesn’t want:
No Day off from being a mother
Notwithstanding the potential for breakfast in bed, there is no get-out-of-jail-free card for women on Mother’s Day. Mothers know they are still going to be surrounded by humans and pets that need to be fed. If you are a working woman, Sunday remains one of the few days where there is a chance to make inroads into laundry or ironing.
Notwithstanding the event, Baby Mamas gain no relief from the Sunday night ritual of trying to find school clothes for the next day and dealing with Friday’s forgotten lunchbox remnants.
So, even though you might feel the stirrings of annoyance at doing a lot of the work of being a mother without all the Mother’s day glory, be reassured that you are not necessarily missing out on anything.
If, as a Stepmother with no kids of your own, you are feeling vaguely slighted by lack of recognition on Mother’s Day, here are some tips:
If you haven’t learned about the power that social media yields, for both good and evil, then take a moment to consider the following:
If you are answering no to any of these questions, and are in the early period of blending a family, now is probably not the right time to say yes to a Facebook friend request from your partner’s ex and mother of his children. Here are some reasons why:
There are plenty of other ways to keep in touch
You may feel that this is a heart-warming way to share snippets of your blended family life, to ensure that no one misses out of those fleeting moments of family blessedness that occur at random and pretty much don’t exist unless they are captured on social media. However there are many other ways to preserve these moments rather than opening the current status and entire back catalogue of your life up to someone whose only tenuous connection to you is that they bore your partner’s child.
By all means capture the pics on your phone, but a perfectly legit alternative method of transmission is old-fashioned email or text message. Preferably originating from your husband.
You may be poking the bear of jealousy
Nothing will tear at a bio-mama’s heartstrings like their flesh and blood child cavorting happily through Disney-esque experiences with someone that they might consider masquerading as an alternative female parent. Regardless of the fact that you are very unlikely to have had any input into any boundary-setting, you will become automatically complicit in allowing their child to scarf down fairy floss, get involved in spinny rides and cart home showbags which will only serve to perpetuate their intake of trans-fats for days to come.
These are things that the bio-mama would perhaps never personally allow. If so, this will engender an immediate conspiracy theory that you are slowly drawing their child over to a place where they would rather your company than hers.
You probably don’t need to invite a critique of your lifestyle
Your current lifestyle might be terribly bland by comparison to your 20s (and you might just be terribly relieved that social media wasn’t around then to capture it for posterity) but there will still be fodder that you wouldn’t want set forth as evidence of any shortcomings of yours as a parent.
For example, there is tremendous potential for an otherwise innocuous gathering of your besties over sparkling wine, tiaras and customised cupcakes at a live screening of a royal wedding to be misconstrued as a gathering of a coven of closet alcoholics using a monarchist rite of passage as cover for hedonistic overindulgence and immature disregard for healthy liver function.
As unlikely as it may seem, your stepchild’s mother may be a staunch Republican who believes that NO GOOD can come from you fully believing in, and potentially instilling princessy happy-every-afters into her daughter’s malleable psyche.
You may also think that you were lightning-swift in deleting that post of you and your posse indulging in what you all now agree were regrettable end-of-evening Tequila shots to mark the liberation of your pal from a lengthy and complicated divorce. What you must know is that these pics will land in the hands of the family court as legally discoverable proof of your inability to be appropriately respectful at the dissolution of a marriage and mature in your approach to consumption of concentrated white spirits. Neither of these matters bode well if you find yourself a party to the pursuit of a more aggressive custody arrangement.
There’s no easy way to backtrack
We’ve all been in those situations where an overly hasty acceptance of a friend request has proved to be a mistake. Given that online dating gifted us with the concept of ghosting, it is now ridiculously simple and socially acceptable to unfriend, block, delete and ignore all forms of digital communication without even resorting to an apprehended violence order. This is perfectly fine when it comes to someone with whom you were a little swipe-right-happy and in the cold light of day is revealed to be a bad choice. You can disappear into the interwebs like you never existed. They can open up Tinder again and move right along. Everybody wins.
It’s exponentially harder to apply ghosting principles to someone who is sharing a child with your significant other and will continue doing so. Pretty much forever. There are far too many clicks involved to claim you did it accidently and far too many shared drop-off events for you to try to explain it away.
Far easier to ignore the friend request, whilst airily claiming that you simply ‘don’t do social media’ – whilst immediately doing a serious double-check of your privacy settings.
There’s a pivotal moment in your online dating experience where your cursor hovers over the ‘children’ question. To click the ‘no’ option is to exclude any male with a child, and if you are in your 40s, probably reduce the pool of matches to something like the number of people you’ll see in a lineup at your local takeaway food shop when you are picking up your Friday night noodles for one.
Flippantly clicking the ‘I don’t want any, but yours are ok’ doesn’t seem like a big deal. Statistically, the male is unlikely to be a solo parent with full custody, which means kid-free windows, and if they spawned whilst very young, the offspring may be a well adjusted 20-something, who might turn out to be like a cool younger brother. So you click it, and then wait for your laptop to instinctively shriek an alarm greater in decibels than the combined female audience at a One Direction concert. It doesn’t. You wait to see if it triggers a pop-up box offering up the latest iteration of Crocs as a sign that you are on a path that is incongruous with every molecule of your being. It doesn’t. You log off leaving a rather large floodgate wedged right open and head off for a glass of something sparkling.
Something happens. You meet a dad, things go riotously well, and nary a thought is given to the prospect of the miniature humans lurking in the shadows. Next minute, you are on track for a whole new universe of life lessons, even after you thought that grasping the perils of drinking and tweeting meant you already knew everything you needed to know. Here are three key truths that will shortly become devastatingly obvious.
Its not about you anymore
Biological mothers know this. They aren’t born with this insight, but that’s the reason why Mother Nature invokes a nine month pregnancy window, where suddenly something that feels vaguely parasitic takes up residence inside you, jostling your internal organs, controlling everything about what you eat, how you sleep, denying you the consumption of soft cheeses, causing involuntary daily expulsion of your stomach contents and dictating the wearing of flat shoes. If you didn’t understand that your life was no longer your own, once this period is up your body will literally turn itself inside out trying to expel the small being and nothing will ever quite go back in its rightful place again. This is followed by a period of sleep deprivation so insidious that Guantanamo Bay is trying to clone the process. Eventually this just eases back to a general loss of every element of freedom and spontaneity you once had.
If you acquire a small human late in life, without going through this rite of passage to get there, you have no framework available to deal with it. You will realise very quickly that you are no longer the princess, the focal point for all attention and the consensus is that it’s a little like being left on the side of the road while the family drive off in the car.
It appears that this is why, universally, if you hadn’t already, you will take up drinking wine.
You will need to come to grips with the S-word
Take a moment, have a cup of tea or a glass of something chilled and try to cite a positive example of a stepmother. Trawl the depths of your Disney experience and your entire back-catalog of fairy tales and you will not find one instance of a glamorous, fabulous and much-revered stepmother. Not a one.
If you’ve shacked up with a rockstar some twenty years your senior, you can try to pass yourself off as a sibling of the child, but if you can’t pull this one off, at some point someone in the street is going to pass comment on the child you are with and you are going to stumble when trying to describe that you are not their mother. It hardly trips off the tongue to describe yourself as ‘little Robbie’s dad’s girlfriend’ or even worse ‘partner’. If you don’t elaborate that you are not the child’s mother, the laws of early childhood karma will kick in. He/she will pick that moment to pull a full scale tantrum and you’ll want to step back and point out that you share NO genetic material and had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the upbringing of this child, save for plying them with a few Freddo frogs and Chicken nuggets over the last couple of months.
Even if you think you will never feel comfortable referring to yourself in this way, you are going to have to use the word stepmother at least descriptively. My recommendation? Embrace the term and make it your life’s mission to band together with others to create a critical mass of glamorous, kind and supremely fabulous stepmothers so that in several hundred years the Disney version becomes urban myth.
You have a whole new level of ineptitude
You know nothing about this caper. You may have sued corporations, saved lives and run multi million dollar deals, but you don’t know anything about raising children and even if you did, you have no role to play as you are not a parent.
What you will inevitably do is overcompensate, spoil the kiddie rotten, indulge a little in all the things you liked as a kid and eventually assemble some degree of life skill.
If you don’t, Google can tell you pretty much all you need to know.
Just when you think you are not cut out for this craziness, there is a moment when it all turns around. It could be something as simple as you nailing a skerrick of respect as the Uno Queen of the household. It might be the day that you actually appear in one of the fridge-paintings, albeit trailing a sorry last behind the pet dog, the next door neighbour’s turtle and the kitchen windowsill Venus flytrap plant …and the kid has drawn you in a manner that adds a few kgs.
But hey….you made it……
I’m prepping for NaNoWriMo, a frenetic month of non-stop writing aimed at producing no less than 50,000 words within the month of November. Having had a crack at this about ten years ago and being rewarded with caffeine shakes, a manuscript that has remained a bottom-drawer artefact and a vague sense of satisfaction, I’m up for it again. There are several reasons why this appeals:
It justifies an investment in stationery and procrastination
Given November is all about writing at a pace of 1,667 words per day, clearly I need to hold all of my actual writing until then, leaving these last few days of October filled with delightful procrastination planning. I’ve been drawn into the new era of the Bullet Journal, having invested in a nice notebook and vast amounts of time on Pinterest and Instagram perusing how others fill nice notebooks with plans, ‘spreads’ and charming calligraphy. My long-held respect for nice notebooks has seen me amass many and use very few given the impossibly high bar set for the quality of ideas and notes before I would allow them to mark the pages of a nice notebook. So I’m working with a second-tier notebook and only when I’m really comfortable do I write anything in the nice notebook. Very similar to the sentiment that rendered ‘formal dining rooms’ redundant as we all chowed down on meals that were only worth of the kitchen table rather than the ‘good room’.
There’s self-imposed stress
My academic and career life has consistently demonstrated the need for stress and deadlines in order for me to work hard. Given a deadline that feels achievable, I will somehow work very hard to avoid nailing it with time to spare and instead invest time in unrelated activities until the deadline becomes near-unachievable. The stress hormone cortisol appears to be my go-to chemical and my indulgence in stress-generating practices have kept the hypertension department of Big Pharma well-funded. So something about trying to triple the word count that I’ve accumulated over a period of about 6 months in a period of 30 days appears to be a challenge that was created with exactly my psyche in mind.
There are tools
When I first did NaNoWriMo I recall there was a simply internet-based check in that you could complete to log your word count. Now there are forums, hashtags, write-ins and all manner of new distractions from the task of actually getting the work done. I stand ready to indulge in all of these.
I’ve pre-joined Facebook groups. I have a sticker that hails me as a participant which will add to my stress levels via the fear of failure to achieve a publicly declared goal.
It’s the right month for it
I have a seven day jaunt to a health retreat booked, planned well prior to the notion of being involved in NaNoWriMo. Without needing to feed myself or anyone else and absolved of my fulltime job and all household chores I feel confident of using the time between Tai Chi and Tricep dips to churn out words. Melbourne also has our annual November holiday in our worship of a horse race, which falls on a Tuesday. This means virtually every self-respecting Aussie will take the Monday off to craft a four day weekend.
As will I.
So only half of November will involve actual working days which feels like it might be easier to nail this thing.
Given the guiding principles of quality over quantity during the phase, and armed with a second tier notebook crammed with ideas, I will give it a crack.