5 Tips For My Stepson As He Starts High School

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My stepson starts high school tomorrow. He asked me the other day how high school was for me. At first I was going to give him the quick-and-easy “Great!” story to encourage him and bolster his courage, but fake optimism has never been my style, so I gave him the long version.

High school was hard. That was twenty-nine years ago, so I can only imagine how much harder it is today. In fact, I don’t really have to imagine all that much because social media has made a giant two-way mirror for parents to sit and watch all that goes on in high school and have the living shit scared out of us.

Not because I worry about my stepson – he’s a good kid. I worry about all those *other* demons prowling the halls of his and other high schools. I thought maybe I should give him a few words of advice, so here it goes:

1. Be yourself. Do NOT change who that is to try to please ANYONE, or to try to be accepted into a group of people of ANY sort. If they don’t accept you the way you are – screw ’em. They’re not worth it. Don’t waste time wishing you could be part of the “cool” group – you probably won’t be, and that’s actually better. There’s less pressure, less stuff to worry about. If you don’t want to have that drink or smoke that whatever-that-thing-is, then don’t. What you wear, eat, listen to, drink, smoke or do in your free time does NOT make you cool. Nobody else defines what’s cool except you, unless of course your definition includes illegal activities or substances – then WE will define for you pretty damn quick what is NOT cool. That being said – you don’t HAVE to be like your parents – it’s ok to be separate from all of us, just don’t toss out the good stuff we’ve taught you.

2. Be kind. Yeah, I know. It’s getting a bit Kum-by-ah in here, but it really is important. I know you’re not the type of person who would do or say mean things intentionally, but don’t follow the crowd if they are doing or saying mean things. Stand up for the underdog and if you see someone who looks like they might be hurting in any way, ask if they’re ok. Encourage people and set an example of how to be an all-round nice guy – they don’t always finish last.

3. Be honest. With others, but mostly with yourself. If you need help with something – get it. If you don’t like something, say so in a respectful way. If you have a romantic interest in someone – show them or tell them that you’re interested. Lying only hurts everyone involved, including you, and kidding yourself is still a form of lying!

4. Be prepared. High school can be shitty at times – don’t let that get you down – it’s temporary (but if it does get you down a lot – please tell us or a guidance counsellor so we can help you deal with it). It can also be fun and rewarding, if you let it. Be open to trying new things. Be ready to do well at the things you know are coming like tests, exams, projects and homework. Do your best and try your hardest, even if that means hard work and missing out on something more fun. Sure, the first year is a bit of a throwaway, but then it gets more serious and while I agree that it’s absolutely ridiculous that you need to decide at your age what you want to do for your entire adult life, neither one of us is empowered to change that, so you will need to bust your ass to get into a good university and get a PH.D in some field that will negate me needing a huge pension.

5. Be open. High school will teach you many lessons and while I wish it weren’t so – some of those lessons will suck. Lest you think this message is just one big warning about how crappy high school is – be open to all the fun that you are going to have also. Each day you can get up and be afraid or worried and pessimistic about what your day might do to you, or you can wake up and feel like you are open to some fantastic experiences and finding the joy. Thankfully you are generally a happy person, so keep that up, keep doing what you love and be open to trying new things that you might also love.

I love you, bud.

You’re going to kick high school’s ass because you’re brilliant, funny, kind, considerate, and just all-round awesome. You’ve got everything it takes to have the best four years of your life.

I hope you do.

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First A-Ha Mom-Ment For This School Year

How was everyone’s first day of school?  For the past week or so, I’ve been tearing myself apart emotionally – a favorite pastime of mine – over the fact that I was GLAD the kids were going back to school.  Seemed like every day, I’d read or hear a mom expressing her sadness about her last few days of summer with her children and how lonely she’d be without them and how she loved summer and would cry to see them go back to school.

And every time I’d wonder to myself:  What’s wrong with ME?  Am I not a “real” mom?  Because I felt exactly NONE of those sentiments.  Where was I when they handed out that kool-aid that I obviously did not get a drink of?   I even went so far as to wonder if perhaps the fact that I’ve never had a child grow in my womb and appear from my lady garden was the real reason why I was not-so-secretly thrilled at the prospect of full days to myself.

We had a great summer.  We really did.  Better than I thought it would be, certainly I enjoyed my time with the kids more than I thought I would.  I love them TO BITS, but I was ready for them to go to school, and they were ready to be there.  We were getting on each other’s nerves and a bitta separation was needed.

Oh sure – I’ve encountered a few moms with similar feelings to mine, even ones that have given birth, but somehow it felt like we were a very small minority club.

Anyhow, I did not shed a tear yesterday, unlike Baby Girl’s first day of school ever, last year:

https://mypapayajambalaya.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/my-first-my-last-my-everything/

I sent her off to school yesterday with nothing but the usual mom-worry that she could get hurt, could get bullied, could get into trouble, but I wasn’t sad to see her leave my side and enter her classroom.

I was excited at the prospect of getting her to school again today, as this was scheduled to be my first real day to myself after a busy, shortened school day yesterday.

But Baby Girl was not going to make it easy for me this morning.  Her first 25 minutes awake were spent in the bathroom.   This fact presents an interesting “nature-versus-nurture” discussion, considering I also rise to an extended morning constitution, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Baby Girl has exactly 75 minutes to do her bathroom business, eat, wash up and get dressed, from the time she awakens until we must be walking out the door to avoid the dreaded late slip.   To say it is ALWAYS a rush and stressful time is not an exaggeration.  This morning was no different in HER actions, but this year, I committed to my mental health that I refuse to engage in morning power struggles and battles over eating breakfast, which was last year’s usual cause for delay.

Today, the fruit smoothie and single slice grilled cheese were waiting for her when she arrived in the kitchen.  She had 25 minutes left to eat it.   More than enough time to consume this healthy breakfast that generally goes over fairly well with my non-breakfast eater.

Just not today.  No sir – she was having NONE of that.  Captain Sassypants arrived at the table and told me very clearly that she would not be eating breakfast.

My response?

NO PROBLEM!

DON’T eat.  I’m fine with that.  Because it’s YOU that will be hungry and have tummy pains at school from an empty belly.

She didn’t care.

And it made me crazy.

But I held firm and did NOT let her see my anxiety.

I was the QUEEN of nonchalance.

So today, for the first time in the almost-four years since we adopted her, I let Captain Sassypants leave the house without ANY breakfast.  No, 3 sips of smoothie and one teeny tiny nibble of grilled cheese do not count as breakfast.

And I did not say one word about it.

Except that inside I was DYING.  Dying of guilt – that damned running theme of parenthood – that she would be hungry.  Dying with worry that she might tell the teacher that she hadn’t had any breakfast and it would seem like MY fault.  Dying with anger that she refused to eat and was willing to take her quest for control to THAT level.

THEN IT HIT ME.

This was my punishment.  THIS was the price I was paying for WANTING her to be back at school.  Maybe if I was in the mom-club that feels sad and depressed at the start of school and who misses their kids terribly while they are at school – I’d have a kid who eats breakfast quickly and without issue.

It’s taken me four years, but I’m starting to learn a thing or two about this parenting business, huh?

It’s hard work.

Rocket science, really, isn’t it?

As all these thoughts were swirling in my barely-awake head, I kissed Baby Girl at the gate and turned to go.   Behind me a woman arrived with two tiny children – one was in a tiny little wheelchair, the other was walking in a manner that displayed obvious physical challenges.  A school support worker greeted them and walked them very slowly through the school yard to the door.

I was hit again:

I am incredibly lucky.  And so are the parents of those two precious little lives.

But their lucky is presumably a helluva lot more work than my lucky.

Thank you, Universe.   I’m shutting up now to start listening better…

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My First, My Last, My Everything…

Warning:  This blog does not contain a single iota of original emotion.   I will be repeating, albeit in my own words, what every mom has ever felt since the dawn of mandatory school attendance.  In fact, I have no doubt that mommy-bloggers around the world have probably posted their “First Day of School” blogs already (I’m a bit slow on the take and needed to chat on the phone with a very supportive neighbor for 2 hours before I sat down to begin blogging about it).   Oh well.   I’m still going to join the masses and share my thoughts and emotions about The First Day of School for my Baby.

Today was Baby Girl’s first day of school.  Real school.  All-day, every-other day school.   I cried.   She didn’t.   I didn’t cry in front of her, although when she hugged me and told me “I’ll miss you mommy!” it was one of my better accomplishments that she didn’t SEE me crying.  She was already nervous, she told me at breakfast, although she was beyond brave marching her little self and a backpack almost bigger than her, across the school yard.   Or maybe she was just embarrassed and trying to distance herself from her mom, who seemed to be the only mom filming the walk from the car to the school door, for some reason.

So, now that I have managed to drive myself home while crying my eyes out (thank goodness I at least had the forethought to wear waterproof mascara this morning) and cry into my coffee until the dash of Bailey’s I added for cream kicked in, I am feeling pensive as to WHY I am so upset.   I mean really – why would a stay-at-home mom want to cry about suddenly having 2 or 3 FULL days a week to themselves?  Why doesn’t the thought of paying for groceries that only I put in the buggy not make me want to skip and jump and sing that Smurf’s “La la, la la la la” song?

Well, the obvious answer is the loss of time with her, especially in light of the fact that I got ripped off from spending the first 18 months of her life together with her.   That being said, plenty of bio moms also cry on the first day of school, so it can’t be that reason alone that provokes my tears.   I will miss her, because she’s company and pretty smart and funny company, at that.   Did I mention last week when she told me “You’re the BEST mommy!” and I told her “You’re the BEST daughter!” she responded with a brush-off wave of her hand and said “Don’t mention it!”?  I’m sure however, I will get used to (quickly) the ability to shop for personal female items without hearing in a loud stage whisper for half of Walmart to hear: “See mommy!  I’m NOT asking this time in PUBLIC what those STICKS are for!   We can talk about LADY STICKS in PRIVATE when we get home, right?”.     I’m also sure I will enjoy being able to cook something more than chicken fingers without having a knee-sized sous-chef tugging on (or off, as it so happened once) my pants to help.   I may even be able to adjust to having more than a 5 minute phone conversation without the imminent “MOMMMEEEE!!!!” background musical accompaniment.   Despite all of these “Kids Say the Darndest Things” moments, I am lonely without her.

I do worry about her.   That, I am confident, is also any mother’s instinct, whether it be a bio or adoptive or step mom.  I don’t worry that she won’t learn.   She is a genius, if I do say so myself, and Hoover’s up knowledge.   No, I worry that she will sass her teacher like she does me, or will eventually feel comfortable enough with the teacher to start exercising her need to be the boss of the universe.   I worry she will be a “disciplinary case”.   Am I an awful mom for worrying about that?   Probably.   But that doesn’t stop me from doing it.  She is a great kid and NEVER misbehaved at pre-school.   EVER.   That I heard about, at least.  But maybe Big Girl School is different and she will be different.   Who knows?

I worry she will get teased or bullied, despite all of my regular coaching sessions on how she can and should deal with that if it happens.   Because really, all of MY best comebacks enter my head AFTER someone’s rude or sarcastic pot shot has already been taken and I’ve left the situation, so no doubt the same will happen for her.   Only the kids and adults in sitcoms and movies say all the right lines at exactly the right times.

I worry kids will tease her for wearing glasses.   Or for having white parents.   Yep.   I just said that.   Kids are mean.   Thankfully I live in a  racially mixed neighborhood where biracial couples are common, however there are no black kids with two white parents and no white kids with two black parents.   Haven’t seen ANY of those families around our town.   So, I worry kids will tease her about that because her family looks “different” from everyone else’s, and that’s what bullies prey on – “different”.    Even if they don’t tease her for it, at some point, some kid is going to ask her why her parents are white, and my heart aches for her that she will have to explain that.   We have raised her and will continue to raise her to be proud of her adoption into our family, but our efforts don’t always succeed.   She feels sad because her parents don’t “match” her in appearance and nothing we say or do can make that better for her.   Heaven help the first mini-bully who says something to make her feel worse about that.

I worry because at the back of her mind, in a tiny little cave that she usually keeps a big rock in front of, I know there is hidden in the dark corner of that cave a little fear that each day I drop her off at school, I may not come back for her.   That is her adoption legacy.   Children who have been adopted, even those who were adopted the minute they were born, have a sense of loss hard-wired into their tiny, precious little brains.   It’s a scientific fact that breaks my heart EVERY time I must leave her ANYwhere – even with my own parents.    If I could do ANYTHING to remove that moment of fear/panic/insecurity from her psychology, I would do it.   I really would.   So part of me hates school (even more than I have always disliked school myself) because it forces my Baby to confront certain aspects of herself and her family that she would most likely prefer to leave in the recesses of her subconscious.

I cried because she is my baby and my oldest all rolled into one.   Today was my first “First Day of School” but also my last.   I have no other children younger than her and unless her birth mother has another child that becomes available for adoption at some point, I never will have any other children starting school.   This might seem like a positive aspect, that I only have to experience this heartache once, but somehow it just makes me feel sad.   That I only get to do this once.   My stepson had already started SK when I met him, so I wasn’t a part of his experience.   Nothing prepared me for the lump in my throat that appeared when I got out of the car, yet nothing prepared me for feeling disappointed that it was all over and done with so quickly as I walked back to my car crying.

It’s evening now, and I’ve also experienced the rush of excitement listening to her tell me about her day, her new friends, the fun she had painting and how she didn’t think of me all day and didn’t really miss me “that much” and how she wants to go to school every day (oh, how soon that will change, I’m sure!).    I was glad.   I didn’t want her to miss me.   I spent my day pining for her, worrying for her, hoping for her.   It is the dawn of a new era in my home.   It is the beginning of mommy learning to let go and release my most precious angel to be influenced and hopefully cared for and taught valuable things by people other than mommy.   I think I cried for myself, for the loss of control, for the loss of influence, for the in-your-face realization that my Baby is no longer a baby.    Always MY baby, but definitely no longer a baby.