Saturday, July 18, 2009

A trip with stumbling blocks

Well Dennis wouldn't be Dennis if everything went off without a hitch. Joyce and Chris accompanied him to see him off on tuesday, but to no avail. He ran into a snag at the gate: the immigration officers told him that his passport was not a valid travel document. It was too tattered around the edges, too much wear and tear. Even teary-eyed Dennis couldn't change his mind and while they tried to get emergency documents, the flight-time was rapidly approaching.

He didn't catch his flight and with a lot of begging and more teary-eyes Dennis was able to persuade the KLM lady to offer him a new flight on saturday, at an extra charge of €250,- But he said: "Ill take it" and today he finally flew to Brasil. Early this morning Joyce took him to the airport again and saw him off. Late in the evening she called him to see if he had landed safely and he was okay, waiting for his friend at the Sao Paolo Airport. He's been able to sleep some on the flight he said, which is a good thing because him and his friend are going straight to a festival by bus, just briefly stopping to drop off the luggage at his friends house.

It's odd how disconnected I feel from the events surrounding Dennis and his trip. I've not been at the house for maybe three weeks now, needing a break from the "house of hormones" as I affectionately call it. I'll be going over there on monday, but aside from maybe Eric, none of the kids is going to be there. Empty nest syndrom by proxy...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Taking a back seat

This tuesday Dennis is flying to Brazil on is well earned and long awaited first trip abroad by himself. He's worked so hard to earn the money and he has researched the place for the best places to party with his friend. He's still only 16 and it's a testiment to his maturity and level of responsibility, as well as a measure of the boundless trust Joyce has in her children that he's allowed to go at all. Dennis is the kind of kid who can get in trouble anywhere, so perhaps it really doesn't matter where he is when the sh.t hit's the fan?

He's flying on tuesday on Peru and has a nine hour layover there. He told his mom: "No way am I going to spend 9 hours on an airport, I'm going to party in Peru". Unfortunately for him, he needs permission from his mom, on paper, to do that. A permission that wasn't forthcoming, as Joyce had visions of Dennis lost in Peru. Remember, this is the same boy that took over four hours to make a two hour traintrip.

At first the plan was for me and Joyce to see him off. Make a nice day out of it, go to Amsterdam, wander around the most exciting city in Europe. However, Chris asked if he could come along to see his brother off. Just to clue you in on the background of that request: Chris and Dennis were at war with each other the first two years after the divorce. They have sorta pulled together a bit when Eric moved in, but it's been a armed stand off however and Chris volunteering to see his brother off is a step towards a more relaxed sense of comradship that Joyce is trying to instill in the boys. A long and arduous process...

Well, me and Chris don't get along very well so when Chris found out I'd be coming he told his mother: "Never mind, I'm not going". Now, I would love to spend a day in Amsterdam with the woman I love, who wouldn't? But this was a family thing, important for both the boys. I may be their stepparent (allthough they would vehemently oppose the very thought) but they are brothers. They need each other, brothers are special, like a companion that stays with you throughout your life.

I withdrew myself for the day in Amsterdam. Their brotherly love needs all the nourishment it can get and me and Joyce can go to Amsterdam another time. I hope they have a nice time, I'll see Joyce the day after that so she can stress out about whether Dennis has made his connection in Peru, and I get to hold her and tell her that the boy is fine wherever he is and wouldn't call even when he was in the country so what makes her think he's going to remember to call her now? It'll be great fun!

(the picture is painted by Frans Koppelaar)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Graduation day

My second eldest stepson Eric graduated highschool! The first of the family, his older brother having skipped the exams to go live in Ibiza. It is a proud moment in a mom's life when her son finishes highschool with a diploma. Even if you're not into school...

Joyce is strongly opposed to the methods used in highschool. She sais: They teach our young ones to reproduce what has been thought before, instead of learning to think for themselves." She's made a vailiant effort to fill in the gaps, to stimulate them in the pursuit of their own dreams, think their own thoughts, do their own thing. In addition she made sure that the kids knew success in school meant little or nothing to her, but necessary for getting ahead in the world. A diploma is what her children go to school for, an education they pursue in a multitude of other ways.

However, the day your son graduates is not the right kind of day for speaking about the relativity of the diploma and the pursuit of an education. It's a day to celebrate his achievement. So we had a party for him, we watched him receive the result of his many years of highschool education. A list with mostly A's and B's, one single C and a diploma that allows him to pursue his chosen career: Musician.

Before enrolling into Rock and Roll College though, he's going on a well earned trip around the world. Take some time off and move out on his own. He's certainly earned the reprieve. Right now he's in the backyard, ritually burning everything having to do with school, while shouting: "Free at last, free at last, thank God allmighty, free at last!"

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


"Mooooom, where's my swimming trunks"
"Mooooom, can you buy me some new slippers"
"Mooooom, where are my pants"
"Mooooom, do we have sunblock"

Joyce was visiting me yesterday, always a good time to be away from the kids a bit. Not so with summercamp right around the corner. For the umpteenth time Chris was on the phone, nervous as hell, trying to make sure everything was packed for the summercamp. Today he leaves for three whole days of fun in the sun. For the first time ever he seems to be looking forward to it.

Chris was always the little boy the other kids love to hate. He's been bullied for most his life, by both his father and the kids at school and it's left him with low self-esteem. He's covering his fears by a big mouth and trying to bully others around, in particular his mom, but it's not hard to see the little boy struggling underneath that.

Three days of summercamp in a special ed class, I don't envy the teacher. Chris is in a class with about 12 other girls and boys who have special needs. Some have ADHD like himself, but there's autism and behavioral issues as well. For the first time though, Chris seems to fit in.

I hope he has fun at Summercamp, he's sure looking forward to it, even through his nerves. Joyce went home late last night to be there for him, see him off, make sure he's got enough pants :-)

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Children confront you with your own stuff. All parents know this and as a new stepparent I'm starting to realize how true this is.

Chris is a lively boy with an ADHD diagnosis and an indomitable will. He's alsot 13 and is practising his clout in the world. One of the ways he does this is by incessant battles of will with his mom. Also his battles are always physical, barring her way to the kitchen, taking any object and keeping it away from her, endlessly and all the time.

Joyce calls it "puppy behavior". She sais: "Every day, sometimes more than once, he has to prove to me that he's stronger than me. It's playing, it's learning his strength, trying his wings." She has endless patience with him that way and sais it's all going to go away when he get's a little older. Then he's going to start protecting his mom, just like his older brothers do. I can't wait!

What's interesting is my reaction to it all. I'm totally impatient and intolerant of this type of behavior. When I want to go to the store I don't want a 13 year old blocking my way (or Joyces). I want to do my thing and not be bothered by his endless puppy behavior. And when I tell him to stop I want him to stop, this instant!
Well, Chris isn't going to change his behavior towards his mom just because I'm around and she tolerates it, even enjoys it.

I'm learning to just go away, leave the room or even the house when they are roughhousing around like that. I always get very emotional, very angry and charged. Afterwards I cry and the penny drops: too much like the way it was in my family. The constant threat of physical violence too much for me to handle. It's not my place to to force Chris to be other than he is, that would be more of the same stuff that was done unto me. I don't want that, not for him nor for me. In those moments it's difficult for me to see a little kid trying out his strength, I see a situation that is potentially explosive and it frightens me. My personal reality from growing up in a violent home.

So I'm confronted with my own childhood... I'm learning what parents seem to know intuitively: Stepchildren are your mirror, they'll show you what's what in your life.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

For the sake of the children: Divorce!

A recent study at Cornell University in New York shows that if the parents argue all the time, the children suffer. If the parents are staying together for the sake of the children, it would generally be better if they divorced. Kelly Musick studied 2000 families to determine the influence of fighting parents on the children. The results were shocking: staying together for the children is worse for them than divorcing, provided the post divorce situation is stable.

Children from high-conflict families are more likely to develop psychological problems, use drugs and have behavioral problems. Their schoolwork suffers and they are more likely to develop a drinking problem.
The problem persist well into adulthood when the adult children of fighting parents can develop selfdestructive tendencies and have a difficult time forming relationships. Musick: "I suspect that children who come from such unhappy families have never felt the warmth and security they so desperately need".

A similar study recenly done in the Netherlands shows that only 1 in 6 children of divorced families get into trouble. It showed that if the parents fight a lot, or run into financial difficulty as a result of the divorce, this is very detrimental to the childs development. It appears that it's not the divorce is the cause of their problems, but the hostile atmosphere between their parents.

A quick look around the internet shows that "the effects of divorce on children" are very well documented. There are many sites available to help the children who's parents are divorcing. It now seems though that coping with parents who stay together for the sake of the child might be a more daunting task for the youngsters involved.

I believe it's time to look at divorce rationally, instead of through the panicky eyes of failure and disaster. Roughly 40 out of a hundred marriages end in divorce, divorce is a reality and a common one at that. About 16 percent of all children of divorce experience difficulty dealing with divorce, often because of their parents inability to accept and settle into a new routine. Instead they continue the bickering long after the partnership has ended. Remember the Cornell results: Parents arguing all the time is more detrimental to the childs welfare than divorce.

How many of the 60% of marriages that last are in fact a child's hell? Staying together for the children has been demasked as the fallacy it is. If you're in a situation like that, argueing all the time,
domestic violence (22% incidence) or downright abusive (10% incidence) don't let the children be the reason to stay put. For the sake of the children, divorce!

sources: cornell university study

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Proud moments in a (step)parent's life

Absense makes the heart grow fonder
Being able to get away, go to my own little apartment, when I need some peace and quiet is a vital ingredient of my love for my stepchildren.
However, there are times when I'm over in my own apartment that I wish I could be there, if only for a few minutes.

Yesterday Eric graduated highschool. He's an intelligent young man who didn't have to work all that hard to make the grade. At the time of the divorce though, Eric chose to live with his father. Part pity, part keen self interest, he figured he could remain in both parent's good graces by living with his father.
He was not mistaken in assuming that if he moved with his mom he wouldn't see hide nor hair of his father for a long time. In retrospect I think he would have prefered it that way... we all make mistakes.

His father expects his teenage son to be home by eleven, even on the weekends, do most of the housework and well, be as obedient as a 10 year old. The attraction of living there did not lie in the times when his father was at home. The real reason living there was fun lay in the frequent trips abroad his father did. At fifteen he took a holiday from school every time his father left town. His house was party central in those days, his father none the wiser and his mom not in the know. His father had left explicit instructions that in no way should his mom find out that he was home alone. The only time he ever let her know was when he had a concussion and didn't know what to do about it. As a result he missed most of his third and fourth year of highschool and come the time to be promoted to the senior year he failed miserably. His mentor from school had been given explicit instructions that all contact about his grades be with his mother, not his father, but somehow this was overlooked and his father was informed.

With bruises on his soul he came to his mom's house that night fuming about the way his father had ripped him apart. It's hard to see a seventeen year old struggle to contain his tears, his fury and his utter despair. Eric tried to live at his father's house for three more months after that, but in reality he was allready living at his mom's, making sketchy appearances at his father's in hopes that his father would make good on his promise to pay for his drivers licence.

Proud moments

And today, thanks to a loving mother for support and guidance and superb effort on his part, essentially doing two years of highschool at once, Eric got his highschool diploma. This is one of those times when I wish I was there to celebrate it with them. He's got great plans to travel the world, become a food vendor at all kinds of festivals. He's a young man at the threshold of all life has to offer. I'm such a proud stepmommy.