stepparents rise above

Make 2 cakes anyway

“You should make 2 cakes this year,” my SD says. Every year for St. Paddy’s Day, I make corned beef and colcannon, followed up with a wine-soaked angel food cake. (Yes, it’s as good as it sounds—email me for the recipe.)

None of us is Irish but we celebrate St. Paddy’s day every year because it falls kinda sorta near our anniversary. And Trader Joe’s puts out an amazing corned beef brisket, the holiday tends to overlap with SD’s spring break visit, plus I’ve got that great cake recipe. When you only see each other 4 times a year, you make up special occasions wherever you can find them.

This year, I am exhausted because we’ve been traveling for months—visiting in-laws in Hawaii, family in Fresno, friends in Vegas, more family in Denver, then finally FINALLY back home.

I don’t want to make 2 cakes, which means twice the work. Making this meal at all is involved, even if I enjoy the tradition, even if it’s our homecoming meal after months away. We missed the kids, we missed our pets, we missed our house. But honestly all I want to do is collapse and order pizza for the second time in 3 days.

I especially don’t want to make 2 cakes because I’m super frustrated with and disappointed in SD. While we were gone, she took a bunch of my extremely breakable, irreplaceable, deeply meaningful items and set them up in a jumbled pile to serve as a still life model. I know this not because she asked if she could, but because she sent a Snapchat of her composition after the fact.

“Heyyyy,” I typed back, conflicted about whether to say anything at all because I always feel like I’m on eggshells with her. “Drawing looks great, but a lot of those items are irreplaceable and deeply meaningful, so please be super careful with them.”

No response.

A few days later, she texted me that her professor asked everyone to bring their still life items over to the school. She’d scoped out a super safe out-of-the-way corner, she assured me, and she’d wrap everything in blankets. She’d totally understand if I wasn’t comfortable with that. Just let her know ASAP so she could create a new composition :). Oh and PS, she’s excited to see me, she’s missed me. 💕

Outside of our group Snapchat, I had not heard a single word from her in 2 straight months, including her not answering a text I sent her weeks ago. So I was pissed at her transparent attempt to emotionally manipulate me by tacking on a little heart emoji, a bit insulted that she thought I’d be that easy to snowball anyway, and irritated in general because there’s absolutely no way I won’t end up as Mean Stepmommy in this scenario. No matter how completely justified I would be in saying “Um no you can’t cart off my breakable, irreplaceable, deeply meaningful items to the school’s art studio… items you shouldn’t have been using in the first place, that you never even asked before using at all.”

I didn’t want my stuff to end up broken. I didn’t want my private belongings on display for the world to see. And saying yes would be for the wrong reasons—like the heart emoji was tacked on for the wrong reasons: a completely inauthentic attempt to gain brownie points.

And yet saying no would mean a black mark. While SD can’t possibly track the number of mistakes I’ve made any closer than I have myself, lord knows I don’t need one more example of my failure as a stepmom to bludgeon myself with. I dread saying no will somehow end up used against me, compromise the relatively new and definitely fragile peace our blended family has recently achieved.

Reminding myself I was well within my rights and not being in any way unreasonable (while also knowing there was absolutely no way I could win this one), I texted back that I missed her too. That I was really not comfortable with those items traveling. I told her I was sorry, that I hoped that wouldn’t make too much extra work for her.

No response.

Few days later, we got a Snapchat of SD’s new still life composition, this time assembled in the art studio. The new primary focal object was this huge, elaborate ceramic cow skull she made herself and gave to us, one of our absolute favorite things we’ve ever received from her.

Only in her picture, it’s broken.

So she didn’t take my stuff. She took a completely different breakable, irreplaceable, deeply meaningful item. Without asking. Then broke it. Did not tell us she broke it. Did not apologize for breaking it. Just sent a fucking Snapchat showing off her drawing.

Dan & I (separately) text how disappointed we are. Her response? That it’s totally fixable. Once it’s glued back together, we won’t even be able to tell it was ever broken.

Lovely.

We got in very late after a delayed flight. The next morning, I notice some irreplaceable, deeply meaningful non-breakable items missing from various spots around the house. Items that were in SD’s first still life assemblage, so they’re items that I specifically asked her not to take, yet she took them anyway. I guess thinking that because they weren’t breakable, she figured THAT would be okay? Even though I told her no?

This is the mess we’ve returned home to after months of traveling.

I start cooking. I have no words. I’m discouraged on so many levels.

As a parent, I’m bummed that we have seemingly missed the boat with this kid so completely that she needs us to explain to her—a college freshman—that  she shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to her, especially not after someone tells her no. How is it even possible we need to have this conversation with someone who older than 4?

As a stepparent, my feelings are raw. It has not escaped me that the missing items are all mine, not a single thing of Dan’s. Her actions can be way too easily interpreted as a personal strike against me specifically—contempt for my feelings, dismissing my (reminding myself again here, totally reasonable) request as if my wishes simply don’t matter. Like I never said a word and I don’t exist.

As I’m boiling and mashing potatoes and slicing cabbage, my BD fills in more details. That SD wasn’t even going to ask me first, but BD told her she had to. That SD was furious when I said no, going off on a rant so vicious that BD’s boyfriend finally had to ask SD to stop talking. Both of them told her she had absolutely no right to be upset, considering she should never have touched those items in the first place, considering they are mine and she used them without asking.

And yet, here I am, the bad guy. Mean Stepmommy. Again. As predicted.

Expecting I’d be crowned the scapegoat doesn’t make it hurt any less. Hearing how much SD said she hated me, hearing how awful she thinks I am. Finding out she also told other people god knows whatever horrible things about me.

I thought we were beyond this. The deep freeze. The anger. I wonder how much further we still have to go.

And there is absolutely nothing to be done for it. I cannot change the stories she tells herself about me… or tells other people about me.

So I make 2 cakes anyway. Even though I’m frosting them through my tears. Even though I know making 2 cakes will end up just another forgotten contribution, even though I will probably always be Mean Stepmommy no matter what I do or don’t do. (And, practically speaking, even though I’m not really convinced we will actually eat 2 cakes because there aren’t that many of us coming to dinner.)

I can’t say what I really think. I can’t parent how I think SD should be parented. I don’t—apparently—even get a say in what happens to my own belongings in my own home without getting in trouble for it.

But what I can do is refuse to give up. What I can do is trust that someday, I won’t have to keep hauling around this increasingly heavy Mean Stepmommy title.

What I can do is make 2 cakes anyway.

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