Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Sometimes I feel like being in a blended family makes you feel like you are living a bipolar existence.  This is more so when some of the other parties, namely Bert, try to turn things into something they are not.  It is this I believe that is the source of our most recent saga.

First, sorry I’ve been away for a while.  As we approached the holidays life was just crazy busy and no topics hit me with that “you can share something useful”  kick in the pants that makes me feel like what I have to say might be worthy to inspire, educate or get someone else to think differently about their situation.

So now on to what kicked me out of my writer’s block.  It relates back to the ongoing counseling of some of the kids from challenges we had this summer (“Expected Chaos” and “Dangers of Ineptness“).  In the interest of open disclosure I will say I am like a lot of men in that I feel that counseling is a tool not an ongoing service.  Like a man, I approach things in the world with “identify the problem, find some solutions, implement the solutions, move on”.  As I’ve talked with my friends it seems this is a universal guy view of counselors and over the last few months the overriding question I get from them is “when are they going to give you guys something to use so you guys can move forward normally?”

Sadly we are still trying to get there and a step in that process is what pushed me to get out what I feel and understand in this post.  Peter was initially working with a counselor for about three to four months who ultimately did very little if anything for him.  God has blessed us with a solution that makes the counseling of Peter and his sisters free of charge due mainly to the fact that Bert is on assistance and so fees are picked up.  If we were paying per session, my “man view” of counseling would have been pushing for a resolution much sooner.  In any event this woman eventually decided she was not equipped to help Peter (glad she wasted three months to get there, but herein lies a pet peeve of mine with counseling in that when they can have no goal, than means the counseling can go on forever providing said counselor with a steady stream of income) and she referred him to a place we wanted to go initially but had instead deferred to Bert’s desire to try this other counseling center.  It worked out because Bert went along without grumbling because it was not his ex who had suggested it but a third party.  Peter has basically had a handful of sessions with his new counselor but he seems to be opening up to this one where he would not really talk to the other one.  I get it, it happens.  Just wish the other bozo had not taken so long to understand that if your client is not talking and you’ve got no plan to get them to talk that’s not really a recipe for good counseling.

So feedback to my dear wife this week is what took what was pretty good holiday season with a good cheer and such as you can have with a house full of teenagers and in the course of 24 hours took her to state of frustration and worry.  At this point Greg and Peter’s counselors have not spoken to each other even after we asked them to.  This is the source of my wife’s frustration.  Completely warranted and it frustrates me to, because perhaps if they had talked a month ago like we asked she would not have gotten the comment she did that seems to have sent her into a tailspin.  There are two issues here, but let me stick with the one here which was actually the second issue.  Hope to not confuse you.

Since they had not talked and Peter’s counselor has no information on Greg and the assessment of the other counselor when asked what she recommended what we do to monitor the boys she made the ludicrous statement that we should never have the two of them together unless they are in “eyeshot”.  My friend said it best when he said that along with all the door monitors etc. is really a Fascist state and that this counselor should use her head and realize how unrealistic and stupid that recommendation is.  I understand she is just taking the ultra conservative route and not wanting to have something occur because she said we could use a more relaxed approach since she has no input on Greg.  My frustration on this is I feel what the counselor did was very unprofessional and borders on misconduct.  It is along the line of asking a movie reviewer, “Did you like Movie A or Movie B more?”

“I liked Movie A.”


“Because I didn’t see Movie B.”

What?  If you do not have enough information to make a recommendation then the responsible thing to do is to say that, not make some asinine statement that has no professional basis.  A more appropriate response would have been to say “I can answer that after I speak with Greg’s counselor which I will make every effort to do as quickly as possible.”  Instead what she did was launch a domino effect that sent my wife into a tailspin that was not necessary at all.  Pisses me off to no end.  I have to go in and meet with this counselor in a couple weeks in another one of her ill advised brainstorms, and I just hope I am past her incompetence enough to handle the circus appropriately.

My assessment, and I can’t read anyone’s mind last I checked, so it’s just what I have put together in my head, is that because of my wife’s fear or worry about Bert turning everything into a made up fallacy she has placed more power on this counselor that is really there.  We are not in some court mandated assessment.  This is personal counseling entered into voluntarily and therefore protected by all that is HIPAA.  At this point the counselor has Peter working through understanding that the first steps to inappropriate action by someone is usually talking about it.  This does not mean that if someone talks about it they will do it.  It’s the old version of I saw a bird.  I saw the bird fly.  Therefore all birds fly.  Yet we all know an ostrich does not fly but is a bird.  His action does not automatically cause the event.  The counselor explained that Peter is having a hard time making that distinction and that is making him hypersensitive to comments by others.  First thing this counselor has said that I agree with.  However I believe because of this worry about Bert taking the fact that natural youngster and teenage banter about sexuality and such occurs in a household somehow makes the household a problem.  Think back to when you were a kid.  Did you talk about inappropriate things?  How often?  As often as possible, right?  That’s the nature of childhood.  When I discuss with dispassionate folks they all agree.  It is when adults create meaning that is not there that it creates the crazy train.  Greg’s counselor has pointed this out to us, and for some reason it seems my wife feels that this counselor has jumped the fence and is somehow calling something what it is not.  I’m only seeing a overprotective counselor who spoke out of turn ad should have waited to say ANYTHING until she had enough info to speak with a grain of intelligence.  Instead she created propaganda that has taken on a life of its own in my wife’s head.

You see one of the other issues that has now expanded beyond reason is that because this counselor might be worried about Greg, what would in most cases be passed off as normal behavior is viewed with a lens of adult added angst.  From time to time when Greg and Bobbi watch TV they will share a seat and hang over each other.  They will toss legs over each other or Greg will lean on Bobbi’s arm.  When I discuss this with my friend he says his son and daughter so this stuff all the time.  My brother did it with me.  I think Greg likes the fact that he has a sister, even a stepsister, who’s first reaction to him sitting within five feet of her is not “get away from me, I hate you” which is what Greg has gotten from his two sisters his whole life.  Bobbi does not get upset when Greg leans on her in fact they are usually giggling and talking.  It’s just normal human interaction.  Yet because this counselor has raised the specter of not knowing Greg because she spoke out of turn this has turned a knob in my wife’s head that what if Greg is overly affectionate?  As long as he’s not groping people etc. what parent would not be happy to have their pre-teens not be happy in each other’s presence rather than loathsome?   Yet this is what our over-sensitized counselor-fueled existence has become, and all I can think is “STOP THE MADNESS!!!!”

I certainly do not want to stick my head in the sand, so I have sought other opinions.  As I said, friends are saying their kids do this all the time and we are being ridiculous and are being driven to this stupid view by all these counselors.  Again, I have a lot of guy friends so their solution is simple.  Tell the counselor we need to get to a point where we can go forward as normal because we have crossed the line into the territory of counseling doing more harm than good.  Given the tailspin this is moving us into I find it hard to argue.  Do we want to be dumb and unobservant no, but do we want to react to everything with the result that we eventually have every child in the house walking around in an inflated bubble and my wife and I never sleep or go anywhere because we have to watch everyone?  Hell no!  Peter is already expressing his frustration with the fact that his life is not as he would like because he is basically under house arrest and constant surveillance, yet if we listen to crazy counselor we are not being Gestapo enough!   How is that going to raise a healthy child?  You see Peter and Greg were upset because on New Year’s Eve while all their siblings got to party all night they had to go to their rooms behind their door alarms because the adult’s were going to bed and they could not be watched.  Think about that statement for a bit.  In hindsight it was perhaps ill advised for me to voice it out loud as the reason for their having to go to bed while the other’s did not, but it was the reality of our existence.  It was at this moment that I realized this has gone on long enough and something needed to change and then all hell broke loose with mouthy counselor not using her supposedly educated head.

You see we are in a never ending stream of counseling on this event.  Why? Because the counselors have no set goal.  Is that our fault?  Perhaps, but because of my regular lack of relying on others to handle my problems for me I have not had to deal with counselors a lot until I started marriage counseling before my divorce.  I went to a marriage counselor, who I felt was very good.  What was the result?  I got divorced.  Now I have this situation.  Excuse me for not being too upbeat on the success of counseling.  I think we need to get the counselors to set a goal for the two remaining kids in counseling and that goal is simple.  We want them both to understand how to interact with others appropriately and to live a normal life.  The counselors should then be able to articulate a plan on how we will get there.  Peter’s counselor at least has a semblance of that, but Bobbi’s counselor is continuing her clueless trek down “let me talk with Bobbi and bill the state” land.  I have been content to just leave it be because it was not costing anything but now there is a cost.   Our family’s sanity.  Am I going to demand a change?  No not right away.  I realize I’m really upset and venting, but I do think we are being stupid ad doing our whole family a disservice by not demanding some professional responsibility from the counselors.  After all if I went to anyone else for a service would I just tell them, “Hey I’ll just pay you every week without any end in sight and you just take my money and do whatever you want, OK?” you’d call me an idiot.  And you’d be right.  I want to have a discussion with my wife on what our family’s goal with this is and get off the incorrect assumption that we must just let it go on forever because of the source.  Sure the events of the summer need to be dealt with and they have been, are and will be.  If your kids used drugs would we send them to rehab forever?  No.  Would they perhaps do something again that made the go back?  Perhaps, but all we can do is give the tools to make a good decision and the guidance to know what that is and then let them get back to life.  Yet in this case we are not.  My wife and I have discussed the imposition of the door alarms and so have the rest of the kids so we acknowledge the problem, yet we have taken no action to solve it.  Who’s fault is that?  We need two big fingers pointing right back at us.  Will the door alarms ever be off, honestly because of Bert’s meddling, probably not, but we did tone them back from shrieking sirens to simply loud obnoxious ear splitting beeps a while back.  This is making all of us edgy and so is it a wonder that when we get a little shove from a stupid counselor who speaks out of turn that one of us falls off the edge?  No!

This leads me to the counselor’s first recommendation and what started the discussion that led to her dumb second recommendation that I have just beat like a dead horse.  They have been pushing for about a month to get the adults from the households with the three boys involved with this summer’s activities into a room together.  When I told my friend about this his first response was “I hope you said no way in hell!”  His reasoning?  Bert is totally incapable and unwilling to be anything but productive in that meeting.  He will monopolize that meeting.  My reaction.  He is 100% accurate.  With what just happened with my wife because of the other comment this week I am frankly terrified about how she will handle this session.  I understand the counselors are doing what people in that field try to do.  They think they are being helpful, yet this is the same counselor who when my wife said she did not want to be interviewed with Bert in the same room insisted that “this was the process” and then my wife went through it, Bert used his manipulation over her to make her feel hideous and she had to talk it over with her counselor over multiple sessions and was not her wonderful self for weeks.  Yet here we go into this again.  Are we stupid?  I’m beginning to think so.  Yet I do not know another option, because I am also willing to give it a shot but the only way we succeed in there is if Bert talks we all shut up and let him go.  He will lie, say things that are untrue, but we cannot react.  If we do he wins.  My concern is I will blow up in there and call the counselor the bumbling fool she is for calling this meeting in the first place.  She witnessed what happened with Bert and my wife, and she knows the other mom has similar issues with Bert.  The only one who can deal with Bert’s shit is me.  But what I can’t deal with and I am having a real time sucking up is some “professional” placing my wife into a situation that she is not at all comfortable with and demanding she do it with a smile.  God made it clear that a man is supposed to protect his wife.  I am prepared to do that to the death someday if needed.  My wife is the most important person in the world to me and the fact that she deals with this shit on a regular basis tears me up.  Even though I know it is un-Christian I pray for God to remove Bert from this world often and vehemently.  I then pray for forgiveness that I did that.  I do not understand God’s point in these trials and testing, but I worry that I am not doing what I should.  Should I be saying “hell no!” to this meeting?  If you were to ask me today, the answer I would shout from the mountain tops would be a resounding yes.  I need to pray on it and see.  I have almost no confidence; no I do have zero confidence, that this meeting will do anything of value.  My wife had basically said the same thing.  It would seem that then we are not very smart for proceeding.  Maybe we talk with the other mom and decide that way.

Because Bert takes wicked advantage of everything with his sociopathy I believe my wife has added a lot of weight to this that is not there.  We recently read some excerpts from a book where the author said stop worrying about the worst that can happen because the worst rarely does, yet that is basically what is happening here.  I feel that we are letting some fear of what Bert could spin things into drive us into not demanding more from the counselors and instead taking a very passive attitude and into walking into situations that are set up for bad outcomes.

At this point however we sit at a point that my wife feels “there is a counselor with power for the county” which I feel is utterly false but she is so worried from this woman’s inappropriate statement without any of the facts she needed to make it that she will not move from that.  If we continue this way for the next few days I know my resolve will grow much stronger to say we are not participating in that joint waste of time.  The counselors have this hope that the changes they want Bert to make will be made through these types of meetings.  That is what is driving my wife and this other mom to agree though every ounce of their being does not want to do this.  They are being driven for their kids just as I am being driven for my wife.  Should I be the voice of reason?   The most dispassionate one in the bunch?  Should I stand up and say this has no chance of success?  The counselors will be disappointed but the carnage that I anticipate Bert wreaking in that room will not have a chance to take place.  If I felt one iota of possibility that he could be reasoned with and the counselors could get him to listen I would feel some hope.  As my friend said, “This better be the best fucking counselor the world has ever seen, or you are just headed into a nightmare.”  I think I’ve already established on a much smaller point that we are not dealing with that type of counselor here.  I’d really like some thoughtful comments on this one.  We’ve got a couple weeks before this meeting is to take place.  I understand that everything I’ve written says stop the madness.  Sadly that’s not always so easy.

We just finished up the “unofficial start of summer” as media likes to call the Memorial Day weekend here in the States.  I always have to smirk when we get here.  It’s unofficial yet all anyone does is talk about it constantly, so doesn’t that make it official in a de facto way?  “Pay no attention to  that unofficial start of summer behind the curtain” is what I always seems to think.  Maybe I just like the Wizard of Oz too much is all.

Regardless of whether we are officially or unofficially here, one thing I believe we can agree on is that most of us will take some sort of trip, albeit vacation, in the next several months before school begins again.  Summer vacation still carries some sort of aura around it, like when the Brady’s piled into their station wagon and headed off to King’s Island.  Our group recently made our first foray as a blended family into a road trip so I was going to share what we learned in the hopes others can benefit from those who have come before.  Pay heed Grasshopper.  The life you save may be your own.

We took a short trip over Memorial Day to the big city of Chicago and decided to take advantage of the CityPass, which my wife and I utilized when I took her there a little over a year ago.  Basically you pre-purchase admission to attractions, mainly museums, for a discounted price.  Most of the kids generally are OK with museums, but as we learned on this trip, too much of a good thing is a cliché for a reason.

In general the kids approached museums the way kids do, meaning they skimmed by most everything until they got to the one or two things in the building that held their fancy.  The first couple days they were OK, though it was a struggle to get to the end of the day in most cases without some losing interest and wanting out.  By the last day it was obvious we had burned them out on museums and there was not a whole lot of enthusiasm.  We made it through, but by the skin of our teeth.

We also had planned dinners out since the museums close around 5 PM and that leaves the evening for something else.   The thought was to introduce my wife’s kids to Chicago cuisine and have myself and my kids who had at least somewhat grown up a bit with it to just to get to enjoy it again.  The first night we tried stuffed pizza, a Chicago tradition.  Now let me digress here to explain what this is, as the common misconception is that it is deep dish pizza, which is available everywhere.  It is not.  Not even close.  Deep dish is a gigantic crust with some topping on it.  The depth of the pizza is really all related to the crust being five miles thick.  If you like crust, that’s great.  My contention is if you like that much crust, just toast up a loaf of Italian bread and save yourself $20, but I know many people seem to love deep dish for some reason and therefore it’s popularity.  I, and many other people who seem to congregate in Chicago I guess, believe pizza is about what sits on the crust, not the crust itself.  Now don’t get me wrong, crust is important, even essential to an excellent pizza.  Corn crust I do not enjoy.  Variations of wheat are my piece de resistance.  A buttery wheat crust is the bomb.  Stuffed pizza is two thin crusts separated by about two inches of topping.  For someone like me who loves pizza for what is on it and gives it flavor rather than just eating bread, it is heaven on a plate.  As you might guess, I was excited.  My kids we kind of excited.  I write that off to the fact that they have not had decades of stuffed pizza, just a few years, but maybe it is something else.  J  I had introduced my wife to stuffed pizza on our earlier trip so my anticipation was on what her kids would think.  I mean who cannot love something so filled with cheesy, meaty goodness that it makes your head explode?  Sadly, they did not even try it, instead opting for the thin crust cheese option that was safer.  In hindsight the fact that I just took this in stride was a good thing.   The evening was great and everyone had dinner and a good time with the friends we were with.

We deviated from the dinner plans the next night however as we could see the first day that it was just too much.  We just went home to our friends house, which was our abode for our stay there, and relaxed for the evening.  Again, worked out well and we decided on the spur of the moment before we headed home to have dinner at the place we had planned to go the night before and it worked well.  It got everyone on the road with balloon animals and funny memories.

So what do I have to share as words of wisdom from our excursion?  The biggest thing is to realize that just because you think it will be cool, does not mean your kids will.  I still struggle with this even though I learned it before, and re-learn it every time we take a trip. My wife and I thought the museums and going up to the Skydeck in the Sears Tower (I refuse to use Arnold’s brother’s name to refer to the building) were going to be fun.  The kids would have preferred some variety and not to be so high off the ground in some cases.  The enjoyed themselves, but they would have enjoyed themselves more if we had done some different things.  While kids like mac and cheese for days on end, museums do not appear to follow that same rule.  Lesson #1.

Lesson #2.  While kids seem to have boundless energy when you do not want them too, they peter out before you might on vacation.  It is hard to understand as an adult that there is a limit to their energy and walking around all day takes its toll even on the Energizer Bunnies they at times seem to be when you want them to stop for dinner at home or go to bed at night.  Luckily my wife and I quickly remembered that lesson and adjusted the plan on the fly, removing dinner from day #2.  If not, I am pretty certain we would have had some royal meltdowns.  This is an important lesson to get because I see it played out all the time in its violent glory in our next destination, Disney World.  Parents who have spent the GDP of Switzerland to get into the park for a day or two are insistent that they will get their money’s worth and so run their four year olds for 15 hours.  They need to do every ride, every show and get every characters autograph.   The price is usually a huge fight in the park with parents yelling something about being ungrateful and how they never will go on vacation again, a threat everyone knows they will not follow through on, and that just adds to the frustration and absurdity.  What was supposed to be a fun time has now been transformed into a mess and parents and kids head out of the park usually walking very fast, being dragged by the arm, crying and sniffling.  And that’s just the Dads.  The kids are stomping their feet and promising to be better so they can come back tomorrow all while they are fighting falling asleep where they stand.  The key is to understand the limits and most important, be OK with not getting everything you had in your minute-by-minute itinerary done.  Too many family vacations are ruined because we did not make it to the Biggest Ball of Twine by 6 PM because Junior took 15 extra minutes in the bathroom at the rest stop.  It will be there for next time, and if you don’t get there it was just a big ball of string anyway.  Kind of like the reaction we got from most of the kids with The Bean.  “That’s not very big”.  “What is that thing?”  “Why did we walk here to see that?”  The reality rarely lives up to the hype, especially on vacation.

Lesson #3.  This one I put into play because I had learned it through the school of hard knocks and it a corollary to the previous lesson.  I did not talk to everyone before the trip about all we were going to do and how cool it was going to be.  You want to set yourself up for the biggest gob smacking failure on Earth?  Do this with your kids before you go anywhere.  When you get the reactions of disinterest, boredom and the like you will get angry and frustrated and we enter the same vortex as we did in Lesson #2.  Spare your family and yourself the headaches.  Everyone will have the reaction they have to what you do, and THAT’S OK!  You cannot control another person’s emotions or reactions, so don’t try by pre-loading them before you even get in the car.

Bonus Lesson.  I’ll give you this one free of charge.  We did not really use it on this trip as it did not really fit since many of the participants were new to the location.  For many family trips it is an annual or at least repetitive visit and mainly to places like amusement parks.  In my case we had trips to Disney or Six Flags and what kept the peace was letting each kids pick the one thing they absolutely wanted to do that day and making sure it was included in the itinerary.  You can now see why it is important to have knowledge of the destination; kind of hard to practice this process when you have no idea what to choose.  This makes each child feel heard and to know that at some point in the day their ride or activity will be executed.  Obviously sometimes this is not always possible and we even are concerned for our Disney trip because with six kids and long lines, it might be a stretch, so we may need to exercise some creativity here, but we also hope that multiple kids will be interested in the same thing and maybe we only end up with four items.  Since I started using this strategy it did wonders for all the bickering about what to do next and also just kept the tone a lot more upbeat.  You still get questions about when such and such and activity will come up but those are easily dealt with openly and honestly.

So I hope some of that helps remove some stress from what seems to be a problem for a lot of families over the summer months.  Vacation is supposed to be a time to recharge.  We’ve all heard the phrase when people get back that “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.”  I used to be that way too, but knowing that we do not have to do everything, that we need to understand everyone does not have the same interests and by trying to do something with variety, either multiple destinations or a destination with a lot of choices, like an amusement park, and just staying calm and not losing our cool, everyone can have a much better time.

So what will we change on our next visit to Chicago?  We talked about fixing the variety issue which was the big problem on this trip.  Now we’ve done the museums, so if we do them again, we could pick one.  We also will come at a time of year when other activities are going on.  Chicago is blessed to have a lot of cool things on the lakefront like the Air & Water Show and Taste of Chicago to name a few and also a lot of items in the surrounding suburbs and even into Wisconsin.  So that’s the plan for next time and we think it will improve what was a good time which is what every family vacation should be about.

The aftermath

Posted: January 1, 2012 in Holidays, Kids

It’s almost 9 AM here on New Year’s Day.  The house is beginning to stir.  As we have done a few times last year, we have a mixed bag spread around our two current homes.  My fiancee and our middle daughters went back to her house about 1 AM after the celebration wound down last night.  The two boys and two oldest girls stayed here as well as my brother and his son.  The two oldest girls are asleep as I think they were still up at 5:30 AM.  Soon I will need to vacuum the Moon Sand off the kitchen floor which was the atraction last night and a little this morning for various configurations of kids.  Just as our jumbled up groups of people the Moon Sand collors have in some cases been mixed together by the younger kids who did not realize that just like Play Doh, it is hard to separate again.  This has caused much consternation with my oldest daughter who was the recipient of the Moon Sand.  She has to get used to keeping some things aside since the younger kids might not think to be as diligent with items as she may.  It’s basically my fault as I told her she could not store the stuff in her room as she wanted to a few days ago.  In hindsight, not the right choice.  Another lesson learned and one that will require some new Moon Sand to remedy, but it’s the worst thing that happened to us the last 24 hours.

We started out early afternoon heading over to my fiancee’s parents for “Christmas 2.0” to get all the kids together and meet them.  It went well.  Gingerbread houses were made and judged in a very careful way.  Every child won a category, and the only hiccup was as I would expect when my youngest commented, “Everyone got a prize”.  His competition bone comes out at the most inopportune times, and it certainly is visible when he is in a new situation and uncomfortable.  He’s shorter than most kids, boys or girls, his age and so he uses his brain power to try to make up for it.  Sadly through his past experiences with my ex and his sisters, that translates into “If I want attention, I need to be really loud and obnoxious”.  As the afternoon wore into evening I needed to get more stern with him to stop trying to get everyone to notice him.  Other than that what I saw of the visit went very well.

We went to leave around 7 PM and with the volume of humanity that had to be transported back to our neck of the woods, we had taken two vehicles.  My fiancee had misplaced her keys and after a few minutes our car, which had it’s little metal token to get it running was told to begin the trek home.  About 15 minutes later we got a call that the key was still freely exploring whatever location it was in.  I checked my pockets as I drove and it began to appear that New Year’s Eve might turn into a challenge after all.  The round trip was about 2 1/2 hours and it was beginning to look like the only option was to get my carload home, head over to fiancee’s house and get her spare key back to her and drive back.  Quick calculations in my head said getting this all done before midnight would be very tight.  As I hung up I decided to pull over on the shoulder of the highway and check the back of my car where we had loaded in the two boys.  A few seconds digging and the lost key was found.  15 minutes to get back was a lot better than hours in a car on one of the most dangerous driving nights of the year.

Everyone got back and we settled in for a relatively normal evening waiting for the big moment.  I had to make the necessary last minute run to see what store was open to get some more foodstuffs, but by 10 PM or so we were all settled in for the duration.  The drama of the Moon Sand sent my oldest to her room in a huff about ten minutes before midnight and there she was as the year rolled over.  Several of us went up to wish her Happy New Year and she came down a bit later.

I commented to my brother that the house looks way more messy after just three adults who had almost nothing alcoholic to drink and seven kids, one of which was asleep since we got back, than our house did as kids when we had 30 adults over with another ten kids or so and drinking and carouisng going on everywhere.  Granted in those days we did not have video games and DVDs and Moon Sand to keep us entertained so we sat around and watched pre-stroke Dick Clark ring in the new year an hour later than the supposed center of the world, New York did.  In the Midwest we learned to hate this arrogance of how important they were just because God happened to place them an hour closer to the sun rising on the planet.  We didn’t thumb our nose at Denver or LA because of our placement on the globe, but for some reason these smug folks a few hundred miles east thought it gave them some right to tell us when the New Year was here.  Given that the TV gods lived in LA, I always found this intriguing as a child.  How did they wrest this right away from the people who broadcast everything over the airwaves?  When you had only three channels to watch, you had a lot of reason to contemplate how the choices of what you were allowed to see were made.

So I’m still waiting to hear from the other house and have the three of them return to determine what we may do.  I imagine we may all break off and spend some time in our respective houses after a communal breakfast or something.  I know I will have some cleaning to do.  My brother heads back to his house tomorrow and do to work logisitics for my fiancee the kids will all be here pretty late tonight.  Tomorrow is the last day off for all of us before the world returns to normal.  The aftermath cleanup will certainly still be going on as we look to put away Christmas decorations and such over the next week so that we are not that house with icicle lights still hanging in July.

The house is a mess, the activity level has been at a high ratchet for a few days, and I am exhausted and ready for school and work to begin again.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.  This is cool.

This Christmas we are still in a bit of flux.  My kids are going to be with my ex and they will return on the 26th.  It did not seem to make a lot of sense to have them come home for a few hours and then go back, so we just agreed since it was just the next day to leave the schedule as is.  Therefore I will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas with my fiancée and her family.  Around Thanksgiving we also did not spend time together due to a misunderstanding and so my fiancée went and did what she has been doing for the last few years which is travel to a family cabin in the Southeast US.  I had a simple Thanksgiving at home with just me and my kids.

It is an area that is still to be worked out as we move forward.  As with anything in the blended family literature, the consensus is as much as possible to come up with something totally new.  So for Thanksgiving I guess that means we will not have a turkey and stuffing and instead we’ll have a bowl of stewed tomatoes and liver and onions.  For Christmas next year, no more tree, Santa delivering presents and all that, we’ll just hang cooked spaghetti noodles from a coat rack and go shoplifting.  What exactly do they mean something totally new on the holiday?  Again, I struggle with these recommendations.

In doing some more digging what I found was what I think we’ll end up with, which is a blend.  I certainly can understand the difficulty in just doing what one group or the other did.  That puts you back into territoriality issues and resentment that the other traditions were not good enough.  I think we were stumbling blindly towards something like compromise with our Thanksgiving plans.  We were going to have a future family unit meal with the traditional items, and blend a few of the favorites from each side.  I think it would have worked, but even that little negotiation went south and we ended up doing the old stuff.

So the Christmas season gets us a little closer.  I will be present with my fiancée and children in their celebration, but me being there will be but a little shift in the mix.  Rather than jumbling up my kids schedules and injecting them into all the togetherness with people they have never met on a major holiday, we have decided instead to travel back out to her family for “Christmas 2.0”.  In addition it appears that my brother and his son will be visiting and attend with us, so it will provide a bit of a cushion.  If the kids start feeling uncomfortable they will have a familiar face there other than me to go off with for a bit. 

The things I’ve heard are that holidays heighten tensions in every way.  They do that for a nuclear family as it is.  Everyone indulges the crazy aunt and her stories but no one really enjoys them.  Aunt Martha bakes her brownies that taste more like sewage and we all smile and take a bite then feed the rest to the dog, who takes it out back and buries it in the yard.  Doing that with people you are related to by blood is hard enough.  As adults we sometimes forget that for kids it is not so easy.  I’m getting varied reactions, as I would expect, by child.  Obviously my fiancee’s kids are perfectly fine as the setting for this Christmas repeat is one they have grown up with.  My oldest is doing the typical rebellion against change hoping that it just somehow stops.  She knows it will never be what it used to be, and I think silently might admit she would not want it to be that way, as after the Christmas Blowout of 2005 I talked about earlier, they’ve been a little ho hum anyway, just our immediate family and no one else.  She hates meeting new people and being forced to do that, her only mechanism that she knows to employ is hostility, yet I see interest there.  She’s taken on my bad habit of focusing on the difficult parts and applied it to people.  She’s assuming they will be no fun, and scary, and she’ll hate them, yet in one conversation shortly after she shared all this negativity with me, she chastised herself for judging people before she met them, a trait she admitted she hates in others.  She was self reflective enough to know she was doing this, and I commended her for getting to that realization on her own.  That was three weeks ago.  Any time I have brought up the impending visit her face still sours, but she no longer outwardly erupts.  I’ve learned through some reading the last few weeks that that’s progress.

My youngest is also not looking forward to this new holiday requirement this year.  He has no real reasons, and I suspect my fiancée is right in her assessment that he tends to follow the lead of my oldest as that was the dynamic he is used to.  Without a solid mother figure in the house during our marriage, he migrated to taking his lead on what the world should feel like from his older sister.  I felt that was a nice, easy, pretty bow-on-top psychological answer at first, but as I objectively observe the interactions over the last month I see some high credence to it.  It does at times take someone on the outside of the family dynamic to point these things out.  This is a benefit the remarried parents can provide to each other that biological parents cannot. 

The middle child is the most easy going about this.  I can see she’s a little shy and apprehensive, but she has adopted the most go-with-the-flow attitude on Christmas 2.0 that I wish the others would pick up.  She is also more comfortable withdrawing into herself and just sitting there and not talking so she knows she has that defense mechanism in case she feels strange.  I’ve seen her do it in various settings. 

At this point the best I can do is make it clear to them all that this is happening and they are expected to act nicely.  If they acted poorly in any setting with adults they would be punished later and this is the same type of scenario.  As much as I would like, I have come to learn in this process I cannot make them feel anything about anyone.  They need to form that relationship on their own.  If I try to force it, it will backfire.  I did that during my marriage to try to make things go well, and for a time I was falling back into that pattern, but some hard discussions with my fiancée made me realize this was happening.  I am grateful we are both so good at communicating with each other than we can have these hard discussions and adjust accordingly.  I am much more relaxed knowing that I just need to let stuff happen when we visit.  I might have three kids who sit on a couch and stare at everyone in the room all visit long and never say a word, just taking it all in, and I know that’s OK. 

Blending is hard no matter what.  Blending on a holiday is blending on steroids.  I think where we ended up, with the added bonus of maybe having another couple familiar faces with us, will help.  This will be the first time my kids will meet all these people.  Removing this from doing this during a “real” holiday is good.  The pressure to perform should be off everyone. 

Just last night my fiancee and I discussed if we should have the kids exchange their gifts with each other in between Christmas and Christmas 2.0.  I’m sure we’ll make a few more adjustments in the coming days.

Welcome to the holidays, remarriage style.