communication, controversies, divorce, family

“Wicked” stepmothers are people, too!

It seems to be a very popular thing these days to ask people on Reddit if one is “an asshole” for acting in a certain way. The popularity of the “Am I the Asshole” (AITA) posts has spun into people turning them into very active Facebook posts or people even writing articles about them. The comedian behind “God” is no exception. Yesterday, “God” posted an AITA article about a woman who refuses to share sanitary products with her stepdaughter. She wanted to know if that made her an “asshole”.

Below is the Reddit post in question:

To be honest, I would probably be annoyed about this, too. The stepdaughter should have asked for the pads instead of just taking them. The last bit about not wanting to share things might make the OP a little bit of an asshole… especially under the very personal circumstances involved with having periods.

God’s article seemed to try, at least on the surface, to be fair to the stepmom, allowing that it’s difficult to try to “parent” someone who is only 13 years younger. But the rest of the article is decidedly slanted against the stepmother, making her out to be immature, petty, and mean. So I went to the comments, which was obviously a mistake, unless you consider that the comments gave me fodder for today’s post. 😉

From the get go, lots of people were chiming in with stories about their own evil stepmothers. Since I am “technically” a stepmother myself, I see the role from a different perspective. I decided to ask, “So, any woman who marries a man with children is evil?”

I did not provide any information about myself. I didn’t explain that I have two stepdaughters whom I have only seen in person once. I just asked a question, and I didn’t target anyone in particular. People could have just ignored me, but of course, they didn’t.

The first response I got was this: “My stepmother tried to poison me, so I have a different perspective.”

I was a little troubled that the guy who wrote that didn’t clarify that he only meant HIS stepmother was evil, not that all stepmothers are, as his first comment seemed to indicate. I fought the urge to write something angry to him. Instead, I tried to be measured. I wrote something along the lines of, “I am truly sorry that you were apparently so traumatized by that experience that your overall view of stepmothers is negative. That’s too bad.”

That comment triggered at least three other people, who each decided to take me on. One immediately called me a “karen”. One gave me an angry reaction and said I was “proving” the guy’s point somehow. The other wrote, “No one said that, but you sure made a leap.” To each of these folks– all apparently women– I wrote “Have a nice day.” I was not going to get into arguments with people who immediately start off their communications with insults and assumptions, with no attempt to even try to be empathetic. I have learned that getting into arguments with strangers is pointless. They won’t understand, because they choose not to. You can tell by the way they lob insults like “karen” and go right for the proverbial jugular with verbal nastiness.

Listen– I get that stepparents– especially stepmothers– are a contentious topic. A lot of people are traumatized by their stepparents, especially the women who dare to marry their fathers. However, the fact remains that a whole lot of marriages end in divorce, and a lot of people will either marry subsequent spouses, or they will become stepparents themselves. No one I have ever met has ever said their life’s ambition was to be a stepparent. And dammit, stepparents– including and especially stepmothers– are people too!

While no one specially stated that women who marry previously married men with children are “evil”, that was definitely the attitude that was coming across loud and clear. Insulting and making assumptions about perfect strangers, simply because they don’t go with the comment flow, is pretty lame. Critical thinking and mindful responding are good things in a comment section, rather than just popping off with stale 2019 era insults like “karen” and assuming the worst about every person one meets online.

It just seemed to me that instead of responding to the specific case in question, people were using that space to comment about their own “wicked stepmothers”. I’ll bet the vast majority of them have never once tried to see things from their stepmothers’ perspective. But I know better than outwardly making that assumption about people I don’t know. It would only open up a huge, unpleasant can of worms. I think posting “Have a nice day.” to people who are determined to argue and are immediately rude is a good policy. I’m going to try to do it more often… or, even better, just ignore the haters completely.

It’s funny, though, that some of those folks apparently think I am a “wicked” stepmother myself. For many years, maybe I kind of was. You see, I was legitimately livid with my stepdaughters because of the truly awful way they treated their father. I was angry with them because I know and love their dad so much, and I saw the devastating effect the estrangement had on him. They would not so much as speak to him on the phone, send an email, or even tell him to kiss their asses. And, for years, younger daughter in particular seemed to have a haughty, mean-spirited attitude toward Bill that I found insufferable. She was the one who, as a nine year old, was emboldened to slap Bill across the face for having beer in his refrigerator. I couldn’t abide the disrespect, especially given that my bio father was in my life and often treated me with contempt. Here these girls were with a father who adores them, and they just threw him away.

In retrospect, I have since realized that my reaction to younger daughter was based on limited information, and I was wrong. I have since found out that she and her sister were pretty much forced to behave the way they did. When she later reconnected with Bill, I learned more about younger daughter when she’s not influenced by her mother’s toxic craziness. I then realized that she’s actually a very nice– and surprisingly mature– young woman. It makes me sad that she had to become that way so young, due to the way she was raised. Her mother’s immaturity made it imperative that she step up and be an adult many years before her time. But she’s clearly a great wife and mother, and she’s made it clear that she will not be raising her kids the way her mother raised her. She even lets her kids call Bill “Papa”, which is absolutely adorable!

But here’s the funny thing, though. After many years of being angry with my husband’s daughters, and finding out that younger daughter is really not as awful as she seemed, I’m now actually being appreciated by her– even though I haven’t seen her in person since 2003. This morning, Bill got an email from his daughter. In it, she included two photos taken nine years apart. The first photo was taken for her LDS missionary packet. She has a pretty smile, but it seems kind of forced and contrived. She looks a little bit uncomfortable. In the second photo, she’s smiling, obviously relaxed, and looks genuinely happy.

Younger daughter wrote that many people who knew her nine years ago and have seen her recently have commented on her improved “countenance”. She’s really happy now, and it shows. She says she likes to think it’s her husband’s genuinely loving influence on her that has made her appear to be genuinely happy. And then she wrote to Bill, “I’ll bet Jenny has had the same effect on you.”

In fact, I did once see a photo of Bill, taken when he was in his 30s, still married to Ex, and working at a factory where, all day, he supervised men making refrigerator doors. It was a job he hated, coupled with the misery of being in a toxic, loveless marriage to someone who didn’t appreciate him at all. I told Bill that he looked much older in that photo than he does now, as a man in his late 50s. Nowadays, he does genuinely look happy. And I know that apart from getting away from a disastrous marriage to a narcissist, he’s happy because we’re compatible, comfortable, and genuinely love each other. Our relationship is not parasitic in nature. We work together to build our lives. It’s too bad that he didn’t meet me first, because if he had, he would not have ever been through divorce. But then, the divorce helped make him who he is today.

This was taken a couple of months ago. We were enjoying local wines.

I really appreciate younger daughter’s kind words. I am grateful that she understands that, just like her, I love her dad, and I want him to be happy. I do my best to make him happy, so we can both live our best lives. I think he has a similar attitude. That’s why we’re still happily married after almost 20 years. Ex, on the other hand, lamented today on Twitter that she will never have “true love”, because no man looks at her with “awe”. I guess she and #3 aren’t a match made in Heaven, after all.

That experience of changing my mind about younger daughter also reminds me of a few I’ve had with dogs. Yesterday, I posted about meeting a dog who usually snarls at me because I have Arran and Noyzi with me. But, when I met her at the weekly market, without my big dogs, she was perfectly sweet and gentle. Kind of like years ago, when one of the neighborhood kids on Fort Belvoir commented that she hated my beagles, Flea and MacGregor, because she thought they were mean. She based her opinion on their loud barks and baying when they were on their walks, catching scents among the old trees on post. But then another neighbor kid– our next door neighbor who knew my dogs well– explained that actually, my dogs LOVED kids. And then Flea went up to the girl and stood stock still so she could pet him. She looked up at me and BEAMED. Her opinion was changed, because now she had personal experience to the contrary to what she had previously believed. Ha ha ha… given these examples of minds being changed due to dogs, maybe I am kind of like a “bitch”. 😉 But anyway, the point is, with more information, one’s perspectives can quickly change.

Now… getting back to the AITA case that prompted this post. I want to comment on something I noticed in God’s “responses”. The person who wrote that article wrote it as if the stepmother was the girl’s parent. I know that all situations are different, but the stepmom specifically wrote that she doesn’t see herself in a “mom” role for that young lady. And, assuming the teenager has a real mother out there somewhere, I think that’s entirely appropriate. She is, after all, only 13 years older than the girl is. Given that she doesn’t see herself as a “mom”, she probably lacks the empathy a mom would have for a girl who needs sanitary napkins. Personally, I don’t think I would have blown up at the teen, but she did explain that her “hormones” were everywhere. And while wacky hormones aren’t really an excuse to be nasty and abusive, I do know from personal experience that they can affect a person’s mood. If I were the stepmom in this case, I would not appreciate it if the girl was in my room, going through my stuff, and taking things without asking first. That shows a lack of common and basic courtesy that, by age 16, I would expect in someone. Moreover, it actually IS her father’s, and her mother’s, responsibility to provide for their daughter– or at least provide her the means to obtain those items for herself. I know a lot of stepparents do become de facto parents, but it doesn’t sound like that’s how it is in this particular case.

Was the stepmom an “asshole” for blowing up at her stepdaughter? Well, yeah, she probably was. But I can see why she blew up. I think perhaps they need to have a serious chat about respecting each other’s space and belongings, particularly since there isn’t a “mom/daughter” dynamic in that relationship. Maybe they need to try to define what the stepmom’s role is, and act accordingly. Is she expected to be a mom? Or is she just a friend who happens to be married to dear old dad? If she’s a de facto “mom”, then yeah, I can see her talking to her stepdaughter about things like periods and helping her out when she needs supplies. That would be a kind thing to do regardless. But if she’s really just more of a “friend”, and the teen doesn’t see or treat her as a “mom”, then I would expect the teen to stay out of her “friend’s” bathroom cabinets, right? She wouldn’t dare brazenly go through a peer’s cabinets without permission, would she? Besides, stepmothers can’t seem to win for losing. A lot of people would blame them for trying to act like a “mom” to someone who already has a mother. And others would blame them for NOT acting like a mom and loving their stepchildren instantly and unconditionally. While it’s wonderful when stepparents can bond like that with their partners’ offspring from other relationships, the reality is, that simply doesn’t always happen, for a huge variety of completely legitimate reasons.

I am, technically, a stepmother myself, but I don’t feel like a mom to younger daughter. I’ve only met her once in person. On the other hand, she has made it clear that I probably have been more of the kind of mom she would have chosen for herself, if only because I don’t say or do toxic things, and I don’t interfere with her budding reconnection with her dad. In fact, unlike the stepmom in God’s article and Bill’s ex wife, I am delighted to share!

Seriously, though… I do know that some stepparents are truly awful, and I sympathize with those who are traumatized. But you know what? Some bio parents are awful, too. Regardless, most of us would do well to try to see things from another angle from time to time. And everyone should stop using the derogatory term “karen” as an insult. It’s a very stupid and unoriginal thing to do.

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Ex, LDS, narcissists, relationships

Carrots and sticks– Ex giveth, and she taketh away…

Today, I’m thinking about how it’s common for narcissists to give and take things away, especially when they are in an intimate relationship with someone. The old “carrot on a stick” is a common technique narcissists use to keep people in line. They make promises, and even provide things, in exchange for power and control. And then, once they get what they want, they take away what they gave. Or, they take away what they gave as soon as their victims assert themselves or don’t do what they’re ordered to do. Narcissists are extremely selfish people who want to appear respectable, so they will put up a facade that makes them look decent. Underneath it, though, there are a lot of people who suffer. Pity the children and spouse of a narcissist; they can never please them and are constantly trying to survive the ups and downs of life with a narcissist. All of the scrambling that comes with that life, ultimately leads to people who are just trying to keep their heads above water, let alone focusing on their wants and needs for their own lives.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about Ex. In fact, it seems like I write more about her now than I ever did. Why would I do such a thing, especially since she hasn’t been Bill’s wife since 2000? It’s because I’ve been coming to some conclusions. Maybe it’s hard for people to understand this, but it’s been quite strange to be a witness to my husband’s relationship with his two children, especially since, given the chance, Bill would have been a loving, involved, and devoted father to them. But, when he and his ex wife divorced, he was denied that chance, and he didn’t have the financial resources to fight in court with her. So, for that reason, he and younger daughter– the one who will speak to him– are having to get reacquainted from afar. Thankfully, technology makes that possible.

Bill and his daughter were physically kept apart for about fifteen years. They had no contact at all until late 2016 or so. They have only seen each other in person on one occasion, since Christmas 2004. Their last meeting was in March 2020, just before COVID shut down the world. They regularly Skype and send videos to each other. I’ve been watching them get to know each other again, hearing the stories of what life was like for younger daughter, growing up with no contact with her natural father. I often get really pissed off when I see the damage that was done, especially since #3 was obviously not a good replacement for Bill in his daughters’ lives. We also know that #3 treats his kids– probably his daughter, specifically– differently than he does Bill’s girls. He calls them his “daughters”, but obviously he doesn’t see them in the same way that he does his natural daughter with Ex (who has five children by three husbands).

Yesterday, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent him. In the video, which she paused at least three times, due to having to tend to her very young children, she talked about a number of things and asked questions. She wanted to know what Bill’s favorite country was. Younger daughter has never had the chance to go abroad, at least not beyond Canada and Mexico. She’s always been a curious person. I remember when I met her in 2003, she told me she wanted to be a LDS missionary in Russia. Bill sent her language CDs for Christmas to encourage her. Naturally, Ex took them away, along with any pictures or other reminders of Bill.

Younger daughter is about to celebrate her sixth wedding anniversary. She has three children, all of whom are under five years old. She’s also a devout Mormon, having been brought to the church by Ex, who tried to use it as a means of controlling Bill and ostracizing him from his kids. The LDS church keeps its members very busy. I listened to younger daughter speak as she was making dinner for her family. I heard her kids squealing in the background. Then, the baby, who was born in late May, began to cry. As she tended to the baby, younger daughter talked about a musical performance she had been asked to do for church.

As a musical person myself, I realized it would be hard to prepare a song for church with everything younger daughter has going on. She said it would be a solo, and she doesn’t like to sing solos, because she gets really nervous and her voice cracks. Younger daughter never had the benefit of lessons. At one point, Ex had let her take piano lessons, but then she stopped them. Younger daughter learned more about piano from YouTube videos, but isn’t as trained as she would have been if she’d been allowed to keep taking lessons from an in person teacher. But that’s how Ex rolls. She gives… and then she takes away.

She said, “I don’t think I can sing as well as Jenny (that’s me) does.”

I told Bill, “There are some techniques she could learn that would help her with nervousness and the cracking voice. I could have taught her a few tricks myself.” But, like Bill, I was denied access to Bill’s daughters. Their mother saw me as too much of a threat. I guess, some might see that as a natural thing, given that I write so many negative posts about her. But, I wasn’t doing that when the kids were minors. I had respect for Ex’s role as their mom, even if I found her behavior reprehensible. Back then, I also didn’t know the extent of the abuse she perpetrated against Bill and their children.

Now that younger daughter is a grown, married woman, with children of her own, I can’t help but reflect. She is very bright, courageous, assertive, and naturally resourceful. I wonder what her life would have been like if she hadn’t been raised the way she was. I feel pretty certain that she would have earned a college degree or two. She would have been able to travel… to develop skills and talents beyond homemaking. She could have had someone teach her how to sing properly, and become proficient at playing piano, or any other area of study she wanted to explore. I also strongly doubt she would be LDS.

It’s not a secret to my regular readers that I don’t like the LDS church. However, since Bill and I have become reacquainted with younger daughter, my “anti-Mormon” views have softened somewhat, mainly because I’ve seen that younger daughter was able to escape her mother because of people in the church. I have always known there were good people in the church. It’s the institution itself, and many of its practices, that I don’t like. In the church, there is a popular saying “The gospel (or church) is perfect; the people aren’t.” My view is that the LDS church is, by no means, “perfect”.

There are a lot of problems with the LDS doctrine, as far as I’m concerned. I think it holds some people back from what they could achieve in life, mainly because they’re expected to give so much time and money to the organization. And yet, just like the Army gave Bill an escape, the church gave younger daughter an escape. So I can’t blame her for loving the church… but I also think there will come a day, maybe years from now, when her children are older and less needy, that she will realize all of the things she could have done as a young woman. Which isn’t to say that LDS women can’t or don’t do those things. But they usually have the benefit of supportive, loving, and non abusive parents to help them. Younger daughter, regrettably, didn’t have that. So now, she’s 28 years old, with no college degree, three very young children, and expectations to serve the church.

Not all is lost, though. Because she was able to escape Ex’s mini cult, she’s been able to reacquaint with Bill and his mom. Access to both were denied to Bill’s daughters when they were growing up. Older daughter, at age 31, still lives with Ex. According to Ex, they are a “single paycheck” household, which is earned by #3, who works in a field for which he is probably poorly suited. Older daughter, who is a talented artist with a college degree, is basically raising her “severely autistic” brother, who is going to be 16 this year. Ex, on the other hand, recently tweeted this:

Ex is praising this lady on Twitter, who apparently has a remarkably insightful seven year old child… (and my guess is that he didn’t actually say what she claims he said, but who knows?). She brags about her five children and “grandbabies”, and calls herself “nearly an expert”. But I happen to know that Bill did most of the hard work when his daughters were babies and toddlers. As they got older and he was devalued and discarded, their care was taken over by ex stepson. And then, when Ex had two more babies, Bill’s daughters basically took care of them, and did all of the housework. It still goes on today, as Ex’s youngest gets closer to physical adulthood. I recently looked at open posts on older daughter’s Facebook, where, in 2021. she had publicly posted a loving comment about her brother, to whom she’s obviously the “mommy”. She clearly inherited Bill’s kind heart, even though she can’t seem to extend it to Bill.

Steve, Joe, and Blue have brought so much light, love, and laughter to my family for many years.

Blue’s Clues brought me closer to my little brother.

We would watch Blue’s Clues every day, while drawing the many clues that filled the Handy Dandy Notebook. At first he would watch me draw each clue (over and over) until he memorized every one. If I messed up, he would take the paper away, show me the correct way to draw it, and then hand me a clean sheet of paper to draw the clue(s) again.

He’s 14 years old and has severe autism. He knows every clue (in order) by heart.

This afternoon, he drew three clues on our driveway; naming each one from the episode with the Treasure Hunt and Steve’s Grandma.

Blues Clues will forever hold a very special place in our hearts.

#bluesclues 25th Anniversary

I look at older daughter’s photos, and I can see that she looks a lot like Bill’s mother, a woman she barely knows exists. When she was about eleven or twelve, I spoke to her on the phone, and thought she sounded just like Bill’s mom. Bill’s mom could have given her so much… but her mother had to take that away from her. She was too selfish to let her have access to her loving father, and his side of the family. She’s too selfish to let her live her own life.

Sometimes I get angry with older daughter… but then I realize that being totally estranged from Bill is probably the only way she can stand to be in the situation she’s in. Because if she knew what she was missing now, and what she has missed for years, it would probably really hurt a lot. It might be unbearable. So I suppose she sticks with what she knows, because ignorance is bliss.

Which brings me to #3. This morning, I thought about what he’s doing for money. He works as a certified nursing assistant. I know that wasn’t what he had planned for his life. But life with Ex doesn’t allow for pursuing one’s own passions. Somebody has to bring home the money, and I know from Bill’s stories, the breadwinner is expected to give all for the family… or really, for Ex. It’s up to Ex to spend the money, you see. And we’ve seen what she spends it on… crappy boxes from Scotland, autographed books, and trinkets. Then she pressures other people in the family to give her things in their wills.

When Bill was married to Ex, he was an active duty Army officer. But then she pressured him to leave active duty, because he wasn’t doing well as an officer. It’s hard to do well as an officer when you have kids, and your wife sabotages you by going out alone, leaving you with the kids, and not coming back home in time for you to get to work on time. It tends to have a bad effect on one’s job evaluations. Never mind all of the hurtful comments she made, tearing down his self-esteem. The 1990s was a time when poorly performing officers were encouraged to leave the service, so Bill got off active duty, joined the National Guard and they moved to… ARKANSAS.

Here was a man who has a degree in International Relations from American University. He’s intelligent, kind, well read, and eager to work. He joined the Army, not just for the financial assistance, but because he had a desire to serve, and be part of something bigger than he is. But in the mid 90s, he found himself in po dunk Arkansas, working swing or third shift in a toy factory, where he made about $23,000 per year, with which he was expected to support seven people (Ex, himself, three kids, and Ex’s sister and daughter, who had moved in). He later got a better job at the Whirlpool factory, supervising guys making refrigerator doors all day. That paid about $40,000, which was better money obviously, but the job was pretty soul sucking and boring for a man who had studied International Relations at a good school. He was simply doing what he could to bring in money. I remember seeing his ID from Whirlpool. He looked about 20 years older in his photo than he was at the time. I would say that at his age now, he still looks younger than he did in that photo, taken when he was in his early 30s.

Ex promptly bought a house in poor condition, which she said reminded her of one she’d seen in a snow globe. Severe financial problems ensued, and Ex then decided to become a Mormon, where people are expected to pay 10% of their income, while they allow other people to dictate what kind of underwear they put on every day.

When I met Bill, he had just gone back on active duty, having figured out that he couldn’t continue living that life. But he was fresh from bankruptcy and foreclosure. He supported himself on $600 per month. Meanwhile, Ex was working on victim #3, whom she moved into that house Bill was paying for. She replaced Bill with #3. And #3 now works in a field in which he’s probably not particularly passionate, doing it for the money, not the joy of taking care of people. It’s an important job, but probably one for which he is wholly unsuitable. I mean, he did, years ago, reportedly kick the eye out of Ex’s father’s little poodle. Should he really be tending to the sick? I dunno.

If you read my blog, you know that Bill and I have a good lifestyle now. It took awhile to get where we are, but working together, we have managed to accomplish things he never could have done with Ex. We have minimal debt. Bill now has a well paid, challenging job, in a safe, interesting, and pleasant country. He’s earned two master’s degrees, and I’ve paid off the debts for my two master’s degrees. We travel, stay in beautiful hotels, drive nice cars, and don’t worry about supporting ourselves in this manner. I have no doubt that if Bill had had those girls with me, we would still be living like this, and they would be living life on their own terms. Younger daughter would have had music lessons, or access to whatever else interested her as a child. Older daughter would be making art instead of taking care of her brother. Both of them would have seen Europe, and even lived here for awhile.

As sad as this is, it’s not as sad as it could be. At least younger daughter has broken free. But I think that as her kids get older, and she has more time to think about things, she might get angry. Because she got a very raw deal. It was unfair. I wish we had done more about it during their childhoods, when it was happening, even as I know that she and her sister aren’t my kids. There was very little that I could do, personally… but still, it’s like I have a sense of survivor’s guilt. I had access to their dad, who is clearly the better, more adjusted, more qualified parent. I’m not sorry we’re together, because I know he’s happier with me, than without me. I just find it heartbreaking that he’s such a good man, and he got tangled up with Ex. At least he escaped, though, and was able to reclaim his life. #3, I fear, is probably not going to be as lucky. And if older daughter doesn’t wake up, she’s going to miss out on a lot… even more than she already has.

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Germany, music, News, social media, YouTube

Time to change the subject…

Yesterday was quite a day. It wasn’t a bad day, per se. We had beautiful weather, and I was productive, with new posts on this blog and the travel blog. I also made a new music video, which was very suddenly inspired after lunch, as I was listening to my HomePod. The Cox Family’s beautiful version of “I Am Weary, (Let Me Rest)” came on. I like to sing that song and realized that I hadn’t recorded it yet. I also realized that there were three chords in the song and I could play it on my guitar. So that’s what I did…

I think it turned out nicely, even with my amateur guitar work.

Originally, I tried to make a live video to go with this. I even put on makeup! But after four takes, I just couldn’t get the video to look right. I get pained looks on my face when I sing, and I just felt too unattractive and self-conscious. So I used photos of the Rhein River and my dogs who were… resting.

I didn’t share this video far and wide, nor did I really promote it. I did share it on the Recovery from Mormonism board, because there are people there who seem to enjoy my videos. It was kind of disheartening that the first comment was from someone who wasn’t logged in, and they decided to provide links to the original song. I thought about asking the person what they thought of the video I made, since that was the topic I started. Then I realized asking what they thought of the topic at hand would make me sound egotistical and entitled, so I ignored the person’s comment. There was one other comment. It was from the resident legal all knower, who enjoys arguing with people and telling them they’re “wrong”, even on matters of opinion. Her comment was about the Cox Family, too. I kind of wish I could just delete the thread, now. I guess I won’t share links on RfM anymore.

Well, at least Bill liked the video. He was visibly excited when I was done recording. No, he wasn’t “excited” in that way. 😉 The below post from Facebook gave me a good chuckle. I don’t think Planet Earth is where this fellow lives. Why is he so obsessed with looking at other men’s junk?

Religious people are fucked.

A couple of days ago, Bill and I attended a little fest in Hofheim, which I included in my post about it on the travel blog. As I heard about the shootings at the Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois, it occurred to me how fortunate we’ve been, living in a country where most people aren’t armed. At that little fest we attended, people were singing and dancing to live music, arm in arm. They weren’t hurling insults at each other, based on their religion or political beliefs. And I never once worried that someone might get shot. In fact, I felt very safe, as the fire brigade was there, showing off their fire engines. We also ran into a very charming gentleman with an organ grinder, playing and singing music to kids and making balloon animals. It used to be that way in the United States. Unfortunately, it’s not like that now.

As the day wore on, I found myself drawn into Twitter again, reading irrational comments from abusive people who compared anyone pro-choice to people like Jeffrey Dahmer and Adolf Hitler. I don’t understand why these folks don’t have an issue with gun toting nuts roaming the streets who open fire on innocent bystanders at parades, but they can’t abide a woman having an early abortion of an embryo, which isn’t yet sentient and has no concept of life, death, pain, or terror. But these folks aren’t known for their brain power or reasoning skills, are they?

I ended up waking up at 3:15 am to go to the bathroom, and when I noticed I had a shit ton of notifications from strangers on Twitter, I decided to delete the app. I’m going to have to make a conscious decision not to visit Twitter often, because it’s far too toxic and abusive, and I have to safeguard my mental health. That’s also where Ex lurks, and while her tweets are good fodder for my blog, they aren’t very good for my mental health, either.

Speaking of Ex… or not really speaking of her, but her granddaughter… The little girl turned 3 yesterday. Younger daughter sent us a video, showing off one of the gifts Bill sent. It was a little pink princess tent, which they had already put up for her. I was the one who suggested the tent. I figured she’s the only girl now, and she might like to have a little tent as she gets a bit older. It will make a place for her to play with her toys, take naps, and read books, if she likes reading. Apparently, the tent was a big hit with big brother, too. He got on the camera and showed off a new toy he got. Bill also bought his granddaughter a little STEM garden toy, that teaches kids about how to garden. It might be a little advanced for her now, but she’ll probably love it when she’s a bit older.

Bill’s birthday is also coming up. I bought him a pair of Keen sandals. He’d asked for them, having worn Keen shoes for years. The Keen shoes are very comfortable, but they don’t breathe. The sandals don’t have that problem. I have worn Keens for over ten years now. They are my favorite summer shoes. I can’t wear their other shoes, though. In the winter, I wear Danskos. So much for stylin’, although neither of these shoes are inexpensive brands. They just aren’t particularly sexy. I dress for comfort.

Anyway… I don’t have it in me to write a screed today. I need a break from the usual topics. I found myself, once again, getting very angry about the lunacy coming from the United States. Sometimes, living over here makes me feel a strange sort of “survivor’s guilt”. I’m really feeling a lot of disdain for the United States now. It’s gotten absolutely crazy.

Another July 4th is down the tubes. July historically sucks for us, so hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come in 2022.

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divorce, Ex, lessons learned, mental health, psychology, YouTube

“Kicking the cat…” What happens when anger is displaced…

Many years ago, when I was a college student at what is now Longwood University, I took a course called Interpersonal Communication. I took it because I was pursuing minors in both speech and communications, and the course counted for both minors. I don’t remember being particularly excited about the class when I signed up for it, but it turned out to be an interesting field of study. I remember it to be an examination of how people communicate in different settings, and while it was not a psychology class, certain psychological terms and concepts were covered. In fact, even though I took Psychology 101 during my freshman year, I distinctly remember learning about the concept of psychological projection for the first time in my Interpersonal Communication course. It was also in that class that I first learned about “displaced anger”.

Although Dr. Nancy Anderson Haga, the professor who taught that class, has long since retired, I remember that she was among the very first professors I met at Longwood when I was a fresh high school graduate attending orientation. I was struck by how energetic, caring, and positive she was. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 20 years old, I was in her class, and she was teaching us about how we communicate with each other. I didn’t know then that one of her lessons would come back to me in bold relief, two weeks before my 50th birthday.

Last night, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent to him. She was thanking him for a box of goodies he sent to her, with stuff we picked up on recent trips to France and Italy, as well as some very superior German chocolate. In the course of the video, younger daughter talked about how much she loves to cook. Bill also loves to cook. So do I… or, at least I did before Bill took over the job. I used to be a great cook, and always enjoyed it because it was a creative activity. There’s an art to making something taste good, look appetizing, and be nurturing. Actually, I’m not that good at making “pretty food”, but I am pretty good at making food that is comforting. Bill is also good at that, and he’s also a fan of good presentation. He’s been known to plate our dinners with flair.

Younger daughter talked about how one of her in-laws really loves fresh bread, and he likes to have it at every meal. She likes to bake, so she was thinking she might like to make some bread to take over to her husband’s family’s house. I like to bake bread too, especially when I’m in a bad mood and need to pound the shit out of something. Bread baking is great for that.

As she was talking about baking rolls from scratch, younger daughter stated that she wasn’t always sure if people appreciated her efforts. Then her face got very serious and pained, and she said, “The only person who has ever complained about my cooking is my mother.”

One time, she asked Bill if her mother (Ex) had ever complained about his cooking. Bill had replied, “Of course. All the time!” As he was telling me about talking to his daughter about this, he laughed. But I can imagine that when Ex criticized his cooking, it probably really hurt his feelings. Here he had taken the time and expended the effort to make something nourishing for his ex wife, and her only thought was to disdain it in a mean way. Younger daughter then related a story that, frankly, I found heartbreaking. I could also see that telling us the story was making her feel bad anew, even though the incident had happened years ago.

Younger daughter and her older sister were tasked to cook for the whole family. If they didn’t cook, food wouldn’t be made, and someone would probably get into trouble. She explained that Ex and #3 were going through a particularly lean financial period. Consequently, there was very little food in the house. And yet, it was younger daughter’s implied duty to make dinner every night. There she was, faced with the task of making dinner for seven people, but there simply wasn’t much food in the house to accomplish that goal.

Younger daughter looked around to see what there was on hand to make dinner. She found frozen pie crust, instant mashed potatoes, some frozen vegetables, and a single chicken breast. Perfect! She could make a shepherd’s pie, of sorts. That would have been what both Bill and I would have done in that situation. It was quite genius, and she was able to make something edible and probably even tasty.

Younger daughter put together the pie, and was feeling pretty good and accomplished. Then Ex came home from wherever she’d been during the day. Younger daughter proudly presented the pie she had created out of the few ingredients in the house. Ex’s response was to declare it disgusting, refuse to eat, and lock herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening.

I could tell that relating that story was very painful for younger daughter. But then she brightened and said she was grateful for where she is now. Ex no longer has the power over her that she once had. Like Bill, younger daughter was able to escape the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). But the scars remain, and I know how that feels. Sometimes, old memories still come up that bring on the pain from the past.

Of course, Bill was pretty angry when he heard that story. I don’t know exactly when the incident happened, but it sounds like it might have occurred when Ex was still being paid child support. I believe younger daughter got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she could after turning 18. Either way, it was Ex’s responsibility to see that there was food in the house, and to make sure her children had enough to eat. Complicating matters was the fact that she wouldn’t allow Bill to help his daughters. She was too angry with him for that. We didn’t know this was going on, because they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to Bill during that time. If Bill had known about this, he would have taken action. In retrospect, we should have taken action when she refused to let him communicate with his kids, but it seemed like it would have been a waste of time, since they were teenagers.

And that’s where the lesson about “displaced anger” comes into play. I remember learning about the concept in that college class at Longwood, and that’s why I titled this post “kicking the cat”. Displaced anger– otherwise known as “misplaced anger”– is when a person deals with their anger by directing it at a less threatening cause. It can take different forms. For instance, a person who was raised in an abusive home, with a parent who beat them, might try to soothe themselves by saying that it was okay that their parent hit them, since “that was how things were back in the day”. Or they might say, “he or she was just trying to make me tougher.” Meanwhile, the righteous anger is boiling under the surface, and it comes out against someone or something that is less able to fight back.

I remember in my Interpersonal Communication class, as she was explaining “displaced anger”, Dr. Haga talked about a man who comes home from work, angry with his boss for acting like a jerk. Instead of addressing the jerk boss, since that doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do, the man kicks his cat. Or he gets drunk and verbally abusive, and beats on his wife. Or he snaps at his daughter that the dinner she made looks and tastes like shit. Or maybe, if he’s a really sick and violent person, he takes the family dog out to the desert and shoots it (sadly, I do remember hearing and writing about a man who did this when he was angry with his wife).

It doesn’t matter that expressing anger in this way is harmful to innocent people or animals. The anger feels like it has to come out, and it doesn’t feel possible for the man to direct it toward the appropriate person, so the man directs it at individuals who seem weaker and less threatening. I grew up in a home where I often got abused by angry people– especially my dad and one of my sisters. They would often take their anger out on me, because I was the youngest and, at least for a long time, the weakest. Usually, the anger doesn’t really dissipate, though, especially when there are consequences for expressing anger in such a way. I will also admit that I have expressed anger inappropriately by directing it toward the wrong source. I now try to do better, as much as I’m able. Therapy is a good thing.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I’ve gotten hooked on Code Blue Cam, a YouTube channel devoted to police work. In a lot of the videos, the perpetrators who get busted are clearly mentally ill or under the influence of something. A lot of times, they are also very angry and agitated. I watched a video this morning that featured a man who was extremely belligerent and defiant. The police were trying to be kind and helpful, but this man was consumed with rage. He was extremely abusive toward the police, as well as the civilians who were involved in the altercation which caused the police to be summoned in the first place.

This video begins with a drunk woman who gets hauled off to jail, but it ends with the belligerent man, whose tone goes from extremely rude and defiant, to desperate and pleading.

I found the above video kind of hard to watch… but it was also kind of fascinating, because before the guy was put in handcuffs, he was a complete asshole. I sat there wondering what in the world had happened to him that had caused him to seethe with so much rage. But then, when he was finally arrested and placed in handcuffs, his tone became pathetic. He openly said on more than one occasion that he hoped the police would just shoot him. This is a miserable person with deep problems and a lot of unprocessed anger, which was coming out inappropriately. It wasn’t that different than Ex being nasty to younger daughter for making something she didn’t want to eat for dinner.

Another video, this time involving young men who were in deep trouble and expressing negativity in a destructive way. One of the young men openly expresses disappointment in himself and how his life has turned out… and says he wishes the cops would kill him. He obviously needs help.

Maybe the teens in the above video were trying to be manipulative. I think the guy in the first video was very manipulative, and if these two young guys in the above video don’t get some real help, they will wind up like him and either spend a lot of time in prison or get themselves killed. But I could hear real anguish in their voices. Bad things happened to them that led them to where they are now, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the kind of help they needed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law.

I have no doubt in my mind that Ex has experienced some really terrible things in her life. I know that she suffered horrific abuse when she was growing up. I’m pretty certain that she’s an extremely angry person, and that anger stems from the people in her life who failed her when she was a child. I think she’s also angry with Bill. He probably had her thinking he could heal her and solve her problems. Bill is a very kind, nurturing, loving and gentle person. I know this for a fact, because I’m his second wife. He doesn’t have a mean or violent bone in his body. However, like most people, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he’ll be done with you. I think Ex thought she would never reach that red line, because he is such a kind and patient man. But she did reach it, and he decided he was done. So, when she presented divorce papers to him in a very dramatic and manipulative drama held over Easter at Bill’s dad’s house, she never expected that he would agree that their marriage was over and offer to sign the papers. He went off script.

Ex was expecting Bill to say, “No, we won’t have any of that…” and try even harder to please her. That was what he’d done in the past. But, after almost ten years, he was just done. He had gotten away from her toxic influence while they were separated, and realized that there’s life beyond divorce. He found out that he didn’t have to live the way he’d been living. He knew he wouldn’t be alone, and that being broke was temporary. So he called her bluff, and fucked up her vision of what was supposed to happen. She had to adjust, and I think wound up with someone who was even less suitable for her. But she’s smart enough not to threaten divorce with #3, because it’s doubtful she’d find a #4. Or, at least she won’t be able to hook someone by having kids with them.

But she was still left with two tangible remnants from their marriage– their two daughters. So she decided to keep the girls away from Bill, as a means of punishing him for “abandoning” her. At the same time, she treated them particularly badly, because they probably remind her of Bill. As younger daughter got older, she started to develop the same kind of self-preservation skills that Bill has. She started to go off script, and she rebelled. Ex responded by being inappropriately angry. She “kicked the cat”– in this case, younger daughter– instead of finding a healthier and more appropriate outlet for her rage. Instead of being grateful that younger daughter had managed to cobble together dinner with very few ingredients, which were ultimately Ex’s responsibility to provide, Ex was angry and mean. And now, I think she’s paying a price, since it’s obvious that younger daughter is now alienated from her mom.

Younger daughter ended her video call on a happy note. She said she was so grateful to the other people in her life who are kind and considerate. She even said she was grateful to me, of all people. That made me feel really good. For years, I was angry with her and her sister, because I know their dad, and I know he was “kicked” by Ex for years. Now I have empathy for them, because I know they’ve felt the pain from Ex’s proverbial shoe, too. They have been on the receiving end of her misplaced anger. Thankfully for younger daughter, she’s managed to develop the skills to get out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who have chosen to stay around Ex are paying for the independence of those who have left. I can only hope that someday, older daughter will get out of the strike zone, too.

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Ex, family, holidays

Mother’s Day isn’t always easy, is it?

Special thanks to my friend, Marguerite, for sharing today’s featured photo.

I didn’t post any fresh content on this blog yesterday. It was mostly because I spent a good portion of the morning writing new posts for my travel blog. Our trip to Italy was pretty intense. I took a lot of photos that needed to be uploaded, and I had stories that I wanted to share before I forget them. Adding photos on my WordPress travel blog is harder than it was on Blogger. Once I add pictures to a post, for some reason, it gets a lot harder and slower to add written content. It’s like the photos slow down the server, which they probably do. I’m definitely not a tech guru, though; so I can’t explain it.

My travel blog is a true labor of love. It currently gets very little traffic, even though there was a time when it was somewhat popular. But then I moved the blog to a new address and stopped promoting it so much. Then the pandemic happened, and we quit going places. A day after I spent all morning adding three posts, I see that I only have one or two hits– seriously– on my new posts. It’s a little depressing. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

I remind myself, though, that above all else, the travel blog is for Bill and me. There will likely come a day when travel will become much harder or even impossible. We’ll either lack the money to go places, or our health will make it difficult… or, more likely, both situations will occur simultaneously. Maybe the blog will someday even be a source of pain for that reason. But, for now, I like to share the stories from our trips and preserve the memories. If other people like to read it, that’s a bonus. That blog might be the only worthwhile thing I do with my life. 😉

Maybe Bill’s younger daughter will want to read the travel blog sometime. She often asks Bill questions about our travels. Unfortunately, her upbringing left her somewhat culturally stunted, so she doesn’t know as much as she could about places outside of the United States. The other day, she asked Bill about which side of the road people drive on in Europe. Bill got visibly upset, and expressed sadness that she was never taught about life beyond the US. If she had grown up with Bill, he would have taught her. She would have seen Europe for herself. Ex doesn’t have the excuse of not knowing about Europe herself. She lived in Germany with her first ex husband, and with Bill. Her eldest child was born in Germany.

But, in spite of Ex’s platitudes about loving Scotland and humanity in general, the reality is, her kids were very sheltered. They were denied a lot of normal experiences that most kids in America experience. At the same time, they were often expected to deal with things that children should not have to deal with at all. It’s a real pity… but, on the bright side, at least younger daughter can talk to Bill whenever she wants to now. And he can now teach her some things she should have learned about years ago.

I think younger daughter would probably enjoy reading my travel blog more than this blog, anyway. It seems that I’m always trashing her mom. I do realize that while younger daughter may totally agree with a lot of my points, it’s still her mom that I regularly trash. I know that reading some of my passages might be painful for her. Or, maybe she might feel vindicated. She’s about to have her third baby. Bill said that his new grandson will be born sometime this month. I wonder how she feels about Mother’s Day, now that she’s a mom herself.

When Bill finally went to see younger daughter in March of 2020, they talked for two days straight. It had been 15 years since they were last in each other’s presence, and there was so much to discuss. There still is. Younger daughter has proven to be very astute in her observations. She is very clearly Bill’s child on many levels.

During the course of that visit, younger daughter observed that Bill voluntarily helped her in the kitchen. While they were washing dishes, she said, “Let me guess. When you and my mom were married, you did most of the work, didn’t you?”

Bill answered in the affirmative.

“When my mom comes here to visit, she just sits on the couch with her phone and complains. She never helps in the kitchen.” younger daughter continued. For some reason, she never calls her mother “mom”. She refers to her as “my mother” or “my mom”. She has also said that she doesn’t call her “mom” in front of her children. Instead, she calls her by her first name, and tries not to mention her.

She later told Bill that when she was growing up, she and older daughter were expected to do all of the housework, while Ex sat on her can. Ex’s daughter with her third husband apparently rarely helped them, either. One time, Bill’s daughters did the laundry and brought it into Ex’s bedroom. Ex said, “This is all well and good, but you should be putting the laundry away for me, too.” When she turned 18, younger daughter decided she had to get away from her mother. So, with help from some good people in the LDS church, she made her escape.

To younger daughter’s immense credit, I have observed the way she interacts with her own children. She’s a wonderful mom. The other day, she sent Bill a video from a park where the kids were playing. Her son, who will be five this year, could be heard off camera saying, “I had an accident.”

A lot of moms might have been annoyed by the interruption. I’m pretty sure my own mom would have been put out at having to clean up an “accident” at a park. But Bill said his daughter said, in a gentle tone of voice, “That’s okay. Let’s go find a bathroom and take care of that. No, don’t take your pants off here!” (giggle) And then she ended the video, so she could take care of her son.

Meanwhile, her little daughter was mugging for the camera, showing off her toy cell phones, and literally “shooing” away another kid who was bothering her. It’s just so obvious to me that Bill’s daughter is a wonderful, caring, involved mom. She’s made a point out of not being like her own mother, who would tell anyone who would listen how involved and devoted she is, telling her children to “follow their dreams”. The trouble is, Ex makes it impossible for her children to follow their dreams, and she tries to deny them access to people who can help them achieve their own desires for their lives. She expects them to stay close, and help her achieve HER wants and needs.

I know Mother’s Day isn’t easy for a lot of people. My own mom was never much into the role of motherhood. She would be the first to admit it, which is one thing I admire about her. You can say what you want about my mom, but she’s brutally honest and pragmatic, even with herself. I called her yesterday, and we had a brief chat, because she had promised her friend that she would have brunch with her. As we were about to ring off, my mom said, “Well, I wish we were closer, but we’re not… so…”

I think she meant “physically closer”, since I live on another continent, and we haven’t seen each other in person in almost seven years. But I think it could also mean “emotionally closer”. I saw a lot of people posting beautiful tributes to their mothers yesterday. I posted a few for my mom, too, because she is genuinely worthy of a mention. My mom is very, very creative, smart, and talented. She was a church organist for over fifty years, and she makes incredible and intricate creations with needles and threads. She ran a successful business for twenty-five years, without benefit of a bachelor’s degree. She spent 56 years married to my father, who was not an easy man to live with. And she raised four daughters who have basically turned out fine. Through it all, she managed to stay beautiful and youthful, and basically healthy and functional.

When I was growing up, she could be harsh and aloof, and I was expected to take care of myself. She was not a mom who would spoon feed me medicine when I was sick, double check my homework, or comfort me when I was sad. She was not maternal like that. However, she would be the first to admit that she wasn’t very gifted at motherhood. She used to tell me that my sisters and I grew up okay “in spite of” her. Wow. Talk about self-reflection.

This picture pretty much sums up our family…

When my father died in 2014, I watched my mom turn into a different person. I think she’s a lot happier. She’s definitely a lot easier to talk to now. I know she loved my dad, but like I said, he wasn’t easy to live with. She didn’t always have all of the choices she might have had if she had married someone else. Now that she’s a single person, she can do as she likes. She only has to worry about herself. That’s very freeing, and I’ve noticed that her disposition is much nicer these days. We have had a lot of nice conversations on Skype… which, weirdly, makes me feel closer to her now, than I felt when I saw her on a daily basis.

One of the things I love most about my mom is that she’s happy to let me live my life. She doesn’t expect me to live my life on her terms. She isn’t emotionally manipulative to me. I don’t get guilty emails or phone calls from her, shaming me for living so far away. For a long time, I thought she didn’t care much about me. But now I think she is just content to live independently, and is happy to let me do the same. As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation and respect for my mom has grown a lot. She’s a remarkable person, even if she’s not the most maternal woman in the world. I’ve learned a lot from her. I’m grateful that my feelings about my mom have improved as I’ve gotten older. She’s very honest about who she is, and that’s a good thing. I much prefer my very honest and painfully pragmatic mom, to Ex’s bullshit facade that she puts on for everyone who shouldn’t be important in her life. Above all, my mom is, deep down, a good person. She’s not a great mother, but she’s a very good person. Now that I’m a middle aged person myself, I appreciate that about my mom.

This is a weird post. I know it might not go over very well. I’ve never been very good at presenting the best image. Maybe I just inherited my mom’s pragmatism and bluntness.

Anyway, I hope those of you who celebrated Mother’s Day had a great day. And if Mother’s Day is painful for you, for ANY reason, I wish you peace and comfort. Mother’s Day isn’t always easy.

Time to end this post and move on to my travel blog. I still have several more days to write about…

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