I sit.

Step Mother.

Sometimes you just need to sit down. Take the weight off.

And ponder.

Why the word step?  Why the word mother?

The word step creates a distance. A hurdle. A physical barrier to cross to get to the destination.

Mother.  Well that just summons a million emotions!  It is a revered word.  A life giver. A home. A nest. A protector.

Most step moms give it all.  They protect, love, shield, play, clean up after, drive and cook for their step kids.

All things “motherly”.

BUT…the but.  The hiccup.  The eyes that say you aren’t my mom.  You are my Dad’s wife.  You are a good listener.  You are sometimes my friend.  You are a good cook.  But

Being a step mom is one of the hardest things I have ever done. And that is a consistent refrain that I have heard from the emails I have received since the publication of my memoir, Stepmother.

Does the label of stepmother create more hardship from the get go?  Have we made it harder by assigning a name that creates distance, a hurdle and already belongs to another?

As I sit,  I ponder.

step mom 1 (2)

 

 

Clean Slates

March 2017.

The first thing I was going to do this year was repaint our bedroom.  It had been a long nine years since that space had seen fresh paint and those walls were tired.  And now, finally, at the end of February all the pictures are down and are relaxing in another room.  All the nicks and scratches, the animal hair, the squashed residue of bugs gone by and the usual family dirt are fixed, gone and covered up.

I finished that last upper corner with my small brush, covered in that last hard-to-reach edge with a paint dipped Q-tip and pulled back the blue painter’s tape.  Tying up the last trash bag filled with tape, I sat on the bed and looked at this new space.  I had changed pretty much everything.  Even the direction of our king size bed.  Once facing east, it now pointed north.

A clean slate.

These first months of this year have had a strange momentum.  The rhythm of the days has been off.  It feels as if there is an underlying edge and a persistent unease that permeates a part of each day.  I can’t help but feel some of it is emanating from one of my favorite cities, Washington D.C.  But is that all?  What else was creating this restlessness?  This lack of energy?  This procrastination? (After all, it took me two months to finish the one thing I had said I was going to do first!)

The instant reaction to this clean room was physically obvious.  Peaceful.  Relaxed.  Open.  I could look at this space in a new way.  And isn’t that what we all want to do sometimes?  Put the old behind us and start out fresh.  Hold that clean slate like a precious piece of art and take the steps to fill that space in a new and comforting way.  A place to reflect the present and move on from the past.

I recently received a beautiful email from a reader of my memoir, Stepmother.  I could feel the angst in her words as I read the note.

“Hello Mrs. Lile,

My name is…and I am a stepmother to three girls.  By chance, maybe out of desperation, I checked out your book at the library.  I currently live in…and have been navigating the stepmother role since July, 2014.

…Your words have made me feel like I am more normal than I think I am.  I feel so alone in the journey that I have chosen to travel (yes…many of my friends remind me that I chose the stepmother life).  My husband is reading the book and I hope that your words give him a little insight to how I might feel…”

I am guessing that this reader could use a clean slate too.

Feeling alone, but overwhelmed.  Feeling isolated but surrounded.  Feeling stuck.  Wanting a do over.

But how do we create a space for a clean slate in our personal lives when navigating family, work and life?  How does that desire not feel selfish and one sided?  How do we do it without causing even more disruption?

Maybe we start small.  Just one room.  Or just one small wall.  One little table.  Or even one tiny page.  Small baby steps.

Because we need clean slates.  We need them for different reasons and at different times in our life.  We are not stagnant people.  We change.  We evolve.  We see things differently than we might have once before.  I, for one, need to see that reflected “some” place.  I have used clean slates to actively and with fierce determination wipe out the old with something new to serve as a clear and decisive reminder of all my hard earned efforts to grow or to remind me of something I learned that was exceptionally valuable.  I have also expended the energy to create a clean slate much the same way I have used old boards under the wheel of my car to get out of that mud filled rut.  A way to get out and move on.

A clean slate can be the tangible evidence that “you” and “your” life are open to the next adventure.  And part of this new slate will be a reflection of where you are today.  A mosaic of color.  Or a muted haze.

Most importantly, it is your clean slate.  And you get to design it any way you want.  As the poet Mary Oliver wrote so eloquently, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Maybe we need a clean slate to remind us of our plan.

What does your clean slate look like?

 

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Thoughts for a new year…

I am not one to make resolutions, but I am one to reflect and ponder, especially over the course of months when the same dreams, strange coincidences and themes keep showing up in my daily life.  In the last several months, I have found myself bumping into, dancing around and looking back at the same several words and trains of thought.  Conversations and reflections that seemed to circle around a theme of belief and worthiness and inevitably individuality and connectedness.

I do believe.

I believe in optimism, good over bad, the importance of eating around a table with other people and driving in a car, taking routes that prolong the trip, just waiting for the conversation to happen.  I have faith.  Faith in the overall goodness dwelling in others, that magical and mysterious powers exist around me and that each of us has a role to play, big or small.

I believe in circles.  The circle of life.  The circle of love.  The circle of protection.  And if the same coincidences keep circling around you, it is important to pay attention.

Stepmother, my memoir, was published almost four months ago, to the day.  It has been a ride.  And it was, without a doubt, a highlight for me in 2016.  There have been euphoric highs and some nail peeling nervousness.  There has been the need to boldly put myself out there, where I didn’t want to go and some stepping back to deal with some sadness that percolated from the deep depths of history.

Looking back, deep in the history before this publication, was a circle.  Years ago, a small breeze gathered, slipping between the trees and under the cracks of the door, circling with quiet efficiency, finally catching all the right elements, developing into a twister.  A circle that wanted me to keep quiet, combusted with a circle to talk out loud.  Puff.  It declared.  But a simple breeze can change the direction of the route and so it has.  I am out.  Stepmom.  Mom.  Wife.

And me.

As some of you may know, I like to cook.  This passion ignited a real joy of reading cook books and diving into luscious stories about food and eating.  It was through this process that I came upon some of the best instructions for my role as a stepmom.  In a recipe for yogurt pancakes the author instructed the cook to mix the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients.  The recipe was proceeded with this caution:  blend, but don’t over mix or it will be tough.  And, just like that, an epiphany.  This was the direction that I was silently being asked follow as a stepmom.  “…If you could just blend in…don’t over mix.  Don’t stand out in the group.  Don’t make yourself seen too much.  Blur with the colors of the crowd…”

Believe it or not, I am a private person.  So, blending without over mixing came easily for me at times.

But, while it is nice to blend in sometimes, over time it can feel restrictive. Pushing yourself away from even yourself.  And there must come a day when you do not simply blend in.  Or you lose you.  You will not be able to find yourself in the crowd.

Last Fall, I attended a retreat with She Writes Press in Scottsdale, Arizona.  On the first day of the retreat we all participated in an exercise driven by the following questions.  What is your nature advocate?  What descriptive words describe this natural phenomenon?  Who is your real-life advocate?  A person dead or alive who is your personal and genuine cheerleader?  What words would this advocate choose to describe you?  Nouns?  Adjectives?  Verbs?  The culmination of this exercise?  Your personal vision statement.

Always the diligent participant, I followed each direction with quiet seriousness.  What came out surprised me and stuck with me.  It was the beginning of the coincidences and themes to follow over the next few months.

My answers?

My nature advocate was a tree.  A tree is resilient and persevering.  It can stand alone or be at peace in the mix of many.  A tree changes with the season.  Adjusts to the temperatures.

My real-life advocate was me.

My words to describe myself were unorthodox, sensitive, shy, and a good friend.  Worth the effort.

In the months to follow, when words like belief and worthiness kept surfacing to confront me, a realization that I have always held, but had let slip away, surfaced once again.  It is up to me.  To find happiness, to be loved, to be worthy.  It comes from within.  It is my “gut” feeling.  If I can’t bring my own happiness, love myself and believe in my own worthiness, no one else is going to either.

I am alone.  And that is okay.  It does not mean that I don’t have great companions and people upon whom I rely.  I do.  They make the days better and my life fuller.

I rely on me but I am connected.  Some months ago, I was posed the question that perhaps my “knight in shining armor” had not lived up to my expectations.  But what that accuser does not understand is that I ride my own horse.  I am my own knight in beautiful multi-colored armor.  I ride side by side with many along the way.  I am also comfortable riding in the back watching the others take the lead.  Then, every once in awhile, I say “giddy up” and gallop ahead, knowing it is my time to see the horizon first and in my own unique way.

“Yippee kai yay!”

Standing up straight.  Looking you in the eye.  This is me.

I am the tree that can persevere and can stand alone and is worth the effort.

book of nature with grass and tree

 

 

 

 

Thankful

My birthday is tomorrow.  Thanksgiving day.  In a year filled with so many positive and magical moments, I am struck by the consequence of this birth date falling on a day in which we remember the gifts we have received and to be thankful for all the rich and fulfilling goodness in our lives.

I am thankful to the those in my life I call family. Your actions in support of my effort to publish my memoir have been mighty.  Your generosity, strong hugs and unconditional love have kept me standing and persevering.  I am humbled by this strong circle of love and support.

I am thankful to my husband, my mate and my companion.  It had not occurred to me initially that in the same year that I published a book about my stepmom experience that I would also celebrate 25 years of marriage with this guy who asked me to walk with him on this road of family and motherhood.  It is a gift to say we still like each other, love one another and share in the excitement of looking forward to the adventures still to come our way.

I am thankful to the circle of those folks that I am lucky enough to call friends.  You pick up the phone, answer the text and raise the glass in love.  You listen.  You show up.  I am a better person by the fact you are all in my life.  Your beauty surrounds me daily.

I am thankful to the group of women that I have met through She Writes Press.  Their interest in sharing their knowledge and support has been a beautiful and lovely surprise.  A true gift.

I am thankful to all of you who have taken the time to read my book.  And I am thankful to those of you who have texted, emailed or written me to tell me your response to this story.  I am filled with immense gratitude for your kind words and supportive thoughts.

I am thankful that our daughter has had the opportunity to ask her 85-year-old Grandmother what it would have meant for her to see a woman as President.  The wisdom of many, many years.  And I am truly thankful that that same Grandmother has encouraged this daughter to be ready to support and fight for the rights of all people.

We have a family tradition of placing our rings through the lit candles on the birthday cake.  We then make a wish for that person as they blow.  That moment between rings being placed and the exhale of air to blow out the candles is a magical one.  A pause.  Of love, good wishes and above all, a sentiment of true thanks from all sides for being at that table to share in that one moment, all together.

I am thankful.

cake

 

 

Off we go…

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Pedal to the floor, today is the official publication day for Stepmother!

For my book, that means it is available in bookstores as well as online.

What it means for me is that I move from one side to the other.  Words in my head, to words out in the world. (seat belt locked, nerves are rattling!)

It’s a day for many thanks…to my husband, to my editor, Annie Tucker, to my publisher, Brooke Warner at She Writes Press and to Korina Garcia and Crystal Patriarche at BookSparks.  I feel so lucky to have such a great team traveling with me.

It’s also a day to send out gratitude and love to all three of the kids that supported this story.  That support has not come without bumps and there is not a day I don’t forget that fact.

So off you go, little book….see you on the other side.

Back to Knowledge Flight

Step Mom Shuffle

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen me at a wedding, I love to dance.

Along with the other guests, I smile, caught up in the love and watch with pleasure as the bride and groom take their first swirl around the dance floor together.  I patiently wait as the bride and her father extend the dancing ritual and loop around the same corners.  My foot might begin to silently tap if the traditional dances extend to the groom and the mother, the bride and her mother, and so on.

Perched like a hawk, I wait for the wave or the look from the dance floor leaders finally inviting the guests to join them on the floor.   Then, like a torpedo released from its chute, I fly out of my chair and find my spot.

At a recent family wedding, I found myself immersed in a line dance with many of the other guests.  We moved a few steps to the right and a few steps to the left.  We were instructed to simply kick it forward and then walk it off by ourselves.  The Cupid Shuffle.

This could also be called the step mom boogie.

I was not given the steps to this complicated dance move when I became a stepmom but I quickly found myself hustling to these new rhythms.

To the right was love.  To the left was allegiance.  When pulled both ways you kicked it forward until you finally found yourself alone and walking it off by yourself.

Love on the right looked like the eyes of the man you had married and the blurred colors of the eyes of his kids.  This stepmoms new blended family.   You, this new step mom, had married and embraced this whole group as one unit and tried to teach them your own moves.  You reached out with your private swing dance steps searching for their hands with all the love you had to twist, turn and fly with this new family.

The left was filled with many complicated and intricate dance steps that the step mom did not recognize.  Dancing on this side were the beautiful souls of your step kids caught in a web of loyalty to their mom and to their dad.  They might have supported this new marriage but did not yet understand how all these lines of allegiance were supposed to fit together smoothly without getting tangled or broken.  It looked a lot like a Maypole dance weaving in and out, up and over.

Too many times, these dance steps on the left and the right collided.  Smacked right in to each other or pulled to get out of the way.  All the emotions and hopes and frustrations sapping all the energy out of everyone.

At this point, the third instruction takes over.  You kick it out.  You jump and jive to the left and the right, trying to find the way to have it all merge together.  This step can be exhausting.  Overpowering.  Isolating and lonely.

So the inner instructor calls out the last move.  Walk it off by yourself.   Move along to your own private salsa or tango.  Gather your reserves and your breath because you know on the next beat you will be back in line shaking it to the right and shaking it to the left.  The step mom shuffle.

 

The sounds of music and the swish of good dancing move me and my inner spirit every time.  I love to jump.  I love to swing.  I love to toss my hair.  I love to open my sunroof in the winter time, heat turned on full blast, and sing to the heavens as I make my way home.  It is one of my personal self-care secrets.

As the months from my own wedding day have gained in number, I have found myself involved in the step mom dance on numerous occasions.  Often it is daily.  I am not going to lie.  This shuffle can be hard and complicated.  I have stumbled and fallen on numerous occasions.  There have been days when I wondered if I even wanted to attempt to try the steps again.  There were times when it simply did not feel natural or smooth.  I wondered if it ever would.   And step moms are not given the instructions.  You need to figure them out, a lot of times on your own.  But little by little, the directions become clearer and there are days when you swing your hips as smoothly as Elvis, in rhythm with all those you love making you want to dance for a long, long time.

I have not done much line dancing.  But on that special summer night, I found a certain happiness and joy as I aligned my steps with all these dancers at the wedding.  Some familiar.  Some not.  But there we all were.  Hearing the rhythm.  Not even having to hear the instructions after the first refrain.  Just moving as one.  Fifty shoes moving to the right and then to the left.  Smiling and whooping it up to kick it out together to the front.  And finally enjoying that moment in the sun, all by yourself, knowing you had done your best to make it right.

A beautiful step family boogie.

 

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Dreams, hopes and wishes.

My memoir, Stepmother,  is set to be released to the public eye in five short weeks.  I thought I would give you a sampler with pictures.

 

Wood dandelions

 

You close your eyes, gather your breath and blow.  A wish, a hope and a dream.

“…I gathered the three members of this new family on my old living room couch and the camera clicked.  As we recorded our first night, all as one, everything seemed sort of, maybe, possible.  And while I did not expect it to be easy….I did imagine a time when it would simply work.”

But early on, there were days that looked like this…

 

Tornado

She simmered.  He walked away.  She yelled.  He rolled his eyes.
Are you kidding me?!?
“You’re being ridiculous…just get over it.”
Resulting in many days when I wanted to do this…

woman and tornado

 

A dream, a hope and a wish.  I closed my eyes and gathered my breath.