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How to Blend your Family

I have been wanting to make a How to Blend your Family video for a while now and the more Pippin & I talked about it, the more we realized it’s not really a topic that can be covered in a 10 minute video. So we decided to launch this video as the first of many, since there is so much information to ingest.

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Today is the 13th anniversary of when our families met and the story is pretty sweet. Pippin and I met as strangers on MySpace (the original Tinder??) and became instant friends. We quickly decided to meet up again; this time with his two kids and my three at a playground. Collectively, we had five kids under six years of age and as crazy as it sounds, it was instant perfection. Everything I wanted, really.

I soon discovered the intricacies and complexities of blending and did some research; discovering that only 15% of blended families actually stay together and survive. This made me sad, and highly concerned. So we developed our own means of joining that small percentage.

Over the next few posts, we’ll share our experience and some tips on how to not only survive, but thrive, in a blended family:

Make room for change.

Soon after we met, I was changed in ways I had always wanted. I felt like I understood what being a great parent was through him. I felt educated and awakened to the meaning of family for the first time in my life. But there was SO MUCH working against us:  the other parents, friends, family, finances, careers, perceptions, status quo, statistics. Everything else said no to us, but all those obstacles didn’t hold us back, even though we knew they’d consistently threaten and challenge our relationship. 

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The BEST times ever are times spent lazing about!

There were numerous times where we both got scared, but Pippin always remained. And he didn’t just stick around, he pulled weight in ways I have never seen a man pull weight before. He did the dishes, cooked (thankfully, because I couldn’t), cleaned and more than anything, just genuinely wanted to be around me. He truly was the other 50% in a relationship everyone dreams of.

He quit his job when we moved in together to save money that was otherwise going to daycare for two kids. I got to keep my career and he became the stay at home dad before it was hip. 

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One of the many pics he used to send me while I was at work, so I could feel like
I was a part of each day at home.

The first step in our relationship was recognizing, and frequently discussing, the changes taking place. We knew that in order for this thing to work, we had to be on the same page–at all times. That meant equal treatment on all fronts. It meant we were a solid unit. So no surprises or disruptions. This also meant going to court a lot to fight for our rights to see his kids, which was expensive and stressful. But supportive and necessary. Whatever we did, we did it together. There was no: your kids vs my kids. They were ours. And we parented the same across the board.

Dodge the Drama.

At one point, we had five kids coming and going from our home. It was hard, especially with his kids because the relationships with both of those moms was strained already and adding me to the mix was definitely not helping. (Wait, did I say both moms?? You bet I did. Pippin had two kids, 7 months apart from one another with two women during very rough stages of their own lives.) They would absolutely torment him with parenting time. Basically, whenever they needed a babysitter or grew tired of being mom, they’d tell him it was his turn. They were so out-of-control and rotten, I offered to fill the gap: Let’s have one together. You guessed it, they were furious and things got worse.

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The anchor kid reporting for duty!

Without realizing it, Pascal would become what we now call the anchor kid. She really was the thing that not only bound us all together, but kept all of us on solid ground. There were times when I thought, what a horrible amount of pressure to put on a child–the responsibility of holding us all together–but even now, it is as though she just knows. It is an unspoken responsibility that she has carried with such grace for the last 11 years.

As time progressed, Pascal started to experience the coming and going of our family members herself. It was heartbreaking to watch her as the youngest of 6 kids one minute, and then an only child the next, as the family dwindled due to pick up. We thought about having another for a long time and finally agreed we wouldn’t. Then we had an oops baby and then miscarried him (this was absolutely devastating. I’ll save discussing this for another day). The nurse told us to try again and he would become Leopold.

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As we built up our tiny army of amazing kids, the other moms became absolutely out-of-their-minds. One mom thought it would be smart to send pills in a ziplock baggie to our house in Phoenix’s backpack and not in the labeled prescription container because she didn’t want us to find out she was administering ADHD meds, and subsequently hoped he’d remember to take them on his own at our house. Picture me, then, discovering little Leopold toddling down the hall with that same baggy in his hand. How many had he eaten? What were they? That was a fun trip to the ER. It was NOT fun for her to hear me out on that one. Let’s just say the relationship changed.

The other mom had problems of her own and instead of letting Em live with us while she got on her feet, she taught her how to live on the street. I remember it like it was yesterday: Em telling me how to walk around a grocery store “shopping” while eating from the cart and then ditching all the groceries, unpaid. We quickly learned that camping didn’t mean camping like on a trip in the woods, but under bridges and along sidewalks. In short, Em was unsupervised and in danger. Back to court…and this time, we won.

Now, I don’t mean for that “we won” to come across as thought it was a real win. It wasn’t a game. And everyone suffered from this perceived win, especially Em, when her mother decided against taking 2 weeks to get on her feet, and instead went on a permanent road trip. That was seven years ago.

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It’s all about the eyes on this one.

Long story short, Blended families will come with all sorts of super duper cray cray drama, and it is so easy to get caught up in it. Each time I felt sucked in, I would have to re-aliagn myself: This isn’t about me. It’s not about them either. It’s about the kids. What do they need right now and how can I give that to them? I put myself last so many times and felt just as empty. Only because I was expecting something from it. It took me time to realize: No one is going to swoop in and thank you for doing this…but are you really doing it for the thanks? No, I wasn’t. I did it for Pippin, who had done so much for me.

I look forward to continuing this conversation because there is so much to talk about. The statistics for failed second marriages involving kids is just too high: 85%! When you agree to blend, do it in a way that is right for both of you. Reject status quo, because once you blend, you are now everything but status quo. Normal is boring, anyway–and you’ll never have it. Allow yourself the time to adjust, consistently seek opportunities to let go of any pressure to be a certain way. Most of all, get and stay on the same page as your partner. Become partners for life and shield yourselves against the things you cannot control (i.e. the mama drama).

Until next time,

So Called Mom

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Raising Gender Creative Kids

I don’t consider myself to be exceptionally woke by any means, and there are definite #momfail moments peppered throughout my tenure, but when it comes to gender, I’ve mastered the openness.

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#BeholdLeopold wearing a real feather boa I bought from a trans woman’s estate sale….and my prized Louboutin’s!
He makes me so proud.

Even as a young mother in the year 2000, I was doing it right. Although my boy was dressed in blue and wore gendered plaid shirts for all those horrid Sears picture moments, whenever he leaned the other way, I said yes. I specifically remember him reaching for a pink doll toy with a rattle in it and I bought it for him without thinking twice. It was his father (ahem, my first ex-husband), that didn’t agree with this purchase. He said a few things about it in a certain way that only an Army man would, which caused the kind of turmoil that could only end in divorce.

I have zero tolerance when it comes to raising my kids. If they want to explore who they are in terms of gender creativity, get the actual f*ck out of the way. Who am I, or anyone for that matter, to be an obstacle? No thanks.

We flipped our back to school shopping again this year. I love shopping like this with Leopold. Gendered shopping is…

Posted by So Called Mom on Saturday, September 1, 2018

That said, I still have a lot to learn. I think we all do. Just the other day I said to my 17 year old gender fluid kid: “How amazing that you kids have all these choices! This didn’t exist when I was your age.” She said: “Mom, it’s not a choice. It’s who I am.” Well said.

So being a gender creative support for your kid means that when your daughter wants to wear a tuxedo to prom and not a flowery dress, you say yes AND let’s find your size. When your 7 year old boy wants to wear a tutu to the store, you say yes AND I’ll tie your shoes since you can’t see your feet with it on. When he refuses to cut his hair because he wants to grow it long like his sister, you let it be long AND show him how to take care of it. If your senior step-son wants to borrow your head to toe sequins for homecoming, you say yes AND ask that he doesn’t party so hard he looses sparkles everywhere.

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MJ: Tom boy 4 LIFE

I have never been into coloring inside the lines of life. Normal is boring…whatever in the hell normal is anyway. Life is scribbles and mistakes. It’s unplanned and messy. It’s guaranteed chaos. It’s I know my birth certificate says I’m a boy, but I think they made a mistake. Can you help me fix it? Out of all the things I know I have screwed up on while raising these seven kids, I know it’s not related to misplaced gender identity.

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None of us are perfect. By any means. But Moms (and dads!), this is something you can do almost perfectly. It just takes self-education, an open mind, a desire to understand, consciousness and heart.


So Called Mom

Back to School for the 13th Time

Back to school will never be my friend. Each and every year I make significant attempts to do it right and each and every year the universe is all like: Nope.

I start out doing this silly thing like wanting to offer choices and be inclusive: yes we can go to all of the stores together and meander through the aisles like you were an only child or a child of two, three, four or even five.

It goes from this to a mad realization that school starts tomorrow in the blink of an eye and oh yeah, let’s not forget that it’s not just time that’s not on our side. It’s money, honey. But the needs and wants are plenty and there are always preposterous things on the kids lists like graph paper bound in a composition notebook and over-priced, out-of-date scientific calculators and monogrammed gym clothes and insurance on computers that are crap to begin with.

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Shopping for a family of 9 looks like this on a light day…

And my all-time favorite move: showing up first day, with bells on and bags of stuff, only to watch it get processed with all the other stuff like a freaking factory. And I’m standing there all proud, like a dopey golden retriever, like this was my first time playing fetch. Look at me go!

No joke, it catches me off guard every time. Forget that this is officially my 13th back to school…with only 10 left to go. You think I would have it down by now, but the universe says nope. I get all romantic and wobbly about BTS just like the next mom and then get hurt by it just as quickly. Just add in: so long summer, with a pinch of they’re all getting older and surprise! Here’s your empty, excruciatingly quiet house you used to dream of.

If all this sounds depressing, then we’re in the same camp. What the above really just says to me is that as moms, we need to find more meaning during this time of year. It has to be more than just crossing stuff off a list and shipping your kids off to the next grade. Right?

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Comfort is the Enemy of progress: Great line, weird place to keep it.

I just need more than that from my family. Does that make me a needy mom? Shopping for school supplies needs to be special? Comfortable?Memorable even? Really? Or is it really just the passing of time that is what’s getting under my skin? Crossing off 6 pairs sneakers, 6 packs of markers and 3 prescription inhalers is really me just marking another year down.

Seaside, Oregon…all 9 of us!

OK new goal: Vacation time–and better than camping. Because there can be nothing better than sitting with your family on a beach somewhere passing time that way. Soon….


So Called Mom

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We Move TOO FAST: How to shift into low gear

We move WAY too fast. 

And in this busy family of 9, any prior effort of slowing down has consistently been overruled by more activity, random obligations, and well, people to manage. I used to assume slowing down would happen when the kiddos got older. That somehow having seven kids become seven teens would lead to a free-er lifestyle for this mom.

Indeed, it has been the exact opposite. People always chirp: “I don’t know how you do it!” As if I’ve discovered how I even do it. I’m right there with you. How we get from point A to point B on any given day is beyond me. There is no secret code. There are no extra hours in the day for me. No extra help. But I do know one thing. I move full speed ahead, firing on all cylinders, until I hit a wall.

And, let’s just say the results of hitting the wall is not pretty, so I try to jump over it or dodge it most of the time. Sometimes I’m successful, other times, not so much.

So, at the start of this Summer, I decided to try incorporating some form of slow living into our life. I’ve tried this before, but honestly it never dawned on me to look up how to make it work. I thought it was like this: Take whatever it is you have going on and slow it down. Or stop doing something altogether.

What I learned was that living a slower life had nothing to do with what I thought. I did a little research and figured some of that into our family equation and discovered some small moments of simplicity that felt necessary to me. With a family our size, it’s not possible to just want things to be uncomplicated. We have to be much more intentional about own our dynamic and constantly be weeding out what works and what doesn’t.

For me, it means thinking about what is most important. No matter what, I always go back to the same starting point: I love being a mom, living in a great neighborhood and being free to be who I am. I can *be more* to my kids because I have identified ways to do so, without taking on a whole lot more. It means redirecting my energy to and to free up being obnoxiously busy with stuff that doesn’t really matter. I love being with my wild kids. I hate doing nonsense chores and stuff that wastes time when we could be spending time together.

To make room for this, two things have changed for me: One, I forced myself to get regular outdoor time with my kids by signing up to volunteer at our school community garden. We have 7 kids in 6 different schools and this one in particular is one I am constantly falling out of touch with. To me, volunteering during the off season will help me get reconnected and hopefully fully re-engaged and online by the time school starts again.

Second, I ran for and got VP of another school’s PTA. I love this school. It’s somewhat new to the district and just trying to fit in. It’s quirky, it’s different and it needs help. So I decided to throw my hat in the ring and see how much I could get involved and fall in love even more. I think our family has always tended to catch the school teachers and staff off guard and as a result, I have responded in some not so colorful ways. But I’ve learned that approach does all of us zero favors so I’ve changed my tune. I want to play a bigger part and having responsibilities and people to answer to makes me show up in ways I never have before.

Being super busy, no matter how big your family is, is a choice. When you have a wild family like ours, it’s hard to know when you can slow down or if you ever can. Yes, it’s tiring. But the kids are growing up faster than ever now and I hate how I feel like I need to regularly outdo myself. So I have to make myself reconsider what our time spent together looks like. Which ultimately is: we may not move as slow as I want, but we’re moving forward together by making better use of the time we have available and that is all I could ask for.

Here’s to extreme deceleration,

So Called Mom

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Wheaten Terrier Puppy Surprise: All the Cuteness

Last week, Jake, my 19-year-old son, proclaimed that he’s been hard at work at his new job and wanted to buy another Wheaten Terrier. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a new-baby-in-the-house experience so of course I said yes.

When Jake turned 10, we bought our first Wheaten Terrier online. The process was a bit foreign to me: A couple of phone calls and clicks of the mouse and another $200 flight (they don’t have breeders in our area). It was fun to surprise him with Winston. I told him I wanted to go to Powell’s Books at the airport “in case they had different books than the regular store.” He took the bait, we went shopping in that tiny airport store and suddenly there was a voice over the intercom: “Jake, please report to baggage claim.” It got his attention immediately and of course he was beyond surprised.

A match made in heaven: Jake & Winston ten years ago.

So I took home “Mother of the Year” after that incident.

The choice was easy to make on this second round because Jake found a puppy born on his birthday and paid for the entire thing himself: The dog, the flight, the shots, the toys, the bed and he has already found an agility trainer. Trust me when I say we have been waiting for the right moment forever. Pippin and I volleyed the idea every Christmas, every birthday, and every time we found a new litter born in the mid-west. We wanted a repeat performance, and I think we got one thanks to Jake.

The new puppy, named Sunny-Bear, is a handful. And apparently what’s been missing from this busy full house for so long.

Here’s to many late nights and pee-pee paws.


So Called Mom