Cats are easier than step kids

Okay, so I’ve written a love letter to my new wife and her kids and everyone fawned all over it. I get it, supposed wonderful man falls for beautiful woman…and in the process wonderful man falls in love with her kids…aren’t I a great fucking guy. Give me an award…I’m still waiting on the “World’s Best Stepdad” coffee mug…better yet, the “World’s Best Stepdad” whiskey tumbler would be better. Every word in this blog post is completely fucking true…and my new life indeed. Now let’s get to the nuts and bolts of what I have learned after 2 years of courting and then wedding a mother of three. Basically, I should have written the following in that love letter: “Baby, please forgive me…but I don’t know jack shit about kids or parenting.”

Prior to sharing my insights  (…which will be totally useless to you unless you are a mid-40s childless man (who owns two cats) about to marry a mother of kids…but what the hell, read this for a laugh…or read this to pass judgement on me and justify your own self worth…anyway you want to take this is your business…) let me explain to you what “parenting skills” I have brought to my marriage. I was in the Army for nearly a decade…yep, I’m comparing parenting to leading soldiers…so yeah you know where this is going. I am the son of a retired Army sergeant…oh shit, right…this train wreck is just one curve away. I am the grandson of a sharecropper and a coal miner. So really the only things I know about parenting is that I was once a kid with parents and I have dealt with 17 year-old soldiers…oh and I have two cats. This can all be summed into a simple word “discipline”…okay, two words…”discipline and work.”

Notice I didn’t say “compromise” or “consideration of feelings” or “self-esteem.” This where I fuck things up. Growing up in my parents’ house compromise wasn’t something that was directly addressed…I imagine my parents compromised, but to my infantile and teenage mind…I never saw compromise. What I thought I experienced was “do this or this will happen”…the whole “this will happen” was a leather belt across the ass. Now as an adult, I realize that my parents did compromise…they compromised on what they thought was best and allowed me to drive my 1972 MG Midget TWICE into my dad’s parked truck so I could learn the lesson of paying the fuck attention.

Consideration of feelings must have been part of my childhood…but I also know that my family was (and still is) extremely sarcastic. Slip up, make an ass of yourself and everyone else in the family immediately piled on. Chum and blood in the water…sharks attacked. In my childhood home you learned to watch your back and not expose any stupidity. Though, this is an exaggeration…of course my parents considered my feelings…but that never overrode what they felt was right…basically, I was raised to “suck it up.”

Self-esteem is a word that I truly never understood until I had left home, went to college…got kicked out of college and then I suddenly realized that I was a dumbass. I didn’t have self-esteem. I wasn’t raised to be a dumbass, my parents had taught me how to achieve self-esteem…I just hadn’t recognized it. I spent my teens living on a farm…and no I didn’t walk uphill to school both ways in the snow…but I did haul hay, cut firewood, and deworm and de-ball calves. I even once had a bull calf shit in the pocket of my winter coveralls…long story, but trust me…it is completely feasible for a small bull calf to dump about ten pounds of shit in your pocket while you are trying to push it through a catch pen chute. My self-esteem came about after getting booted from college, enlisting in the Army, returning to college, getting commissioned in the Army, and then becoming an academic. My life as an adult was paid for by me and my hard work. Yes my parents taught me self-esteem by teaching me as a child to work hard and earn things for myself.

Before we go any further…do not mistake any of this introduction as me criticizing the parenting my wife has done with her kids…just the opposite…this introduction is to point out how completely unprepared I am to being a stepdad. My wife has raised 3 kids who are all smart, funny (actually sarcastic as shit…but hell I respect that), and creative little monsters who are way smarter than me and nobody likes being the only dumbass in the room.

So here is what I have brought to my new family: a hard-working, bourbon drinking former soldier who is very well-read, and who is completely on guard at all times to ensure he isn’t the stupidest person in the room…and completely inept at parenting. After 2 months of step fathering here are the lessons I have learned:

– Cats are cleaner than kids. My cats shit in a box and then groom themselves relentlessly. Kids have to be reminded to brush their teeth and make their beds.

– Cats don’t need constant attention. At least one out of three of my step kids has some need…like being fed or some shit…or has some issue that needs to be attended or addressed.

– Cats don’t care what is on television. With an 11 year-old girl, a 16 year-old girl, and 18 year-old in the room…there is always some battle of wills…should it be Disney Channel? Nick at Night? FX? or some show about the crazy actions of overly beautiful teens?…in the end, I make them watch BBC world news or the Golf Channel…damn it feels good to be boss.

–  Cats don’t play video games, but 18 year-old boys do. This is where having a stepson comes in handy, becomes nothing makes a 43 year-old man feel more superior than spanking an 18yo’s ass at Call of Duty.

– Cats will eat the same food day after day, kids expect to be fed three times a day and expect it to be different food. Seriously, my cats have never asked if we could order pizza…instead they stare at me eating it, sniff the box and then walk away as if I am eating a large steaming pile of shit…but…kids…no they want different types of food morning, noon, and night.

– Cats can be left alone for the weekend. Kids actually need supervision…there is no putting bowls of food and water out and locking the door behind you. Instead you have to worry about mischief…see kids have opposable thumbs and are completely capable of unlocking the door and going outside. On the bright side, the kids never curl up on my pillow and leave their body hair all over it.

Kudos needs to be given to my wife, their mother, for listening to me rant and then indulge me when I sit the kids down and talk about having to dig a slit trench to take a dump in so they understand how easy and good their life is…but hey life is about compromise. In the end, what I am really trying to say is…you parents out there, especially you single parents deserve a lot of credit because obviously the parenting process you use must be working because child mortality rates in America are pretty low. If I was given a baby, the thing would constantly have a shitty diaper and eat nothing but Lil’ Debbie Zebra Cakes.

I love my wife because of who she is, and she is a woman who has been a single mom of three kids for a lot of years…which further proves that she is a far better person than me…even though she has never had to shit in a hole (she had to dig herself) in the Balkans…but if she had to…bet she could do it while mediating some argument over whether the kids are going to watch SpongeBob or ICarly.*

*Not even sure if that is spelled right.

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And you thought your kids’ music was dirty….

Sometimes fortuitous things happen. Severe fog rolled into Charlotte, North Carolina last night…it cancelled my flight to DC. Thus…like every other traveler, I scrambled to find a way out of Charlotte. Fortunately, I am a member of a rental car company that has a policy that if there are cars available, all I have to do is walk to the car climb in and inform the exit agent where I am headed. No standing in lines or being told “no cars available.” Once in my 2013 Nissan Altima, which was a surprisingly comfortable ride, I headed north on I 85. Unfortunately, the car was not outfitted with satellite radio…and I am a huge fan of satellite radio because I deplore commercials…I deplore record company execs determine play lists…and I deplore the idea of hearing the same pop song after another as you cruise along the interstate at 80mph cursing mini-vans and semis.

Then there is that moment as you are repeatedly tapping the “seek” button on the radio that you stumble across a song that is not only catchy…but ultimately memorable. Such a thing happened when among the North Carolina hinterlands I heard Billy War and the Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man” which I was first introduced to when I saw Bull Durham. This scene of Crash (Kevin Costner) painting Annie’s (Susan Sarandon) toes while she is tied to the bedposts will always stick out in my teenage mind as the moment when I realized sex was more than bumping uglies…but sex as a mood, a scene, and a feeling. If you don’t see the eroticism in this…you are completely brain dead. This song also made me realize that all the clamoring my parents did about that “awful” music I listened to seemed so hypocritical. If Billy Ward and the Dominoes’ abilities to hold off premature ejaculation isn’t enough to convince you that the “good ol’days” were full of sex…then how about Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Hold on, I’m Coming” ….yeah we all know he married an underage cousin…but he also seems to be letting all them ladies to give him a bit more time…cause he is coming.

Then of course there are tons of lists via the internet that provide you quite an earful of downright nastiness from the days when supposedly our parents and grandparents were being good kids and doing nothing more than listening to the Beach Boys sing about Barbara Ann…in reality they were listening, thinking about…and probably doing the very things mentioned in the following selection of “nasty” songs.

– Dinah Washington’s “Big Long Slidin’ Thing.“…seems she went all over town…went to every bar…looking for her daddy with that “big long sliding’ thing”…but when she couldn’t find him she tried out other musicians and their “instruments.” She was disappointed with those without a big long slidin’ thing.

– The Swallows’ “It Ain’t the Meat.”….it ain’t the meat it’s the motion…The Swallows (and wonder what they mean with that name)….”the bigger they come, the harder they fall.” I particularly enjoy how they describe the motion you get from skinny and big “gals.”

– Wynonie Harris’ “Keep on Churnin’ (Till the Butter Comes)“…and who doesn’t love an ode to the perfect hand job…not the same thing I was taught in grade school when we actually made butter in class…but after sex ed in the 7th grade…I totally got this.

– The Toppers’ “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box“…this title pretty much sums up what the singer wants to do to his baby.

– Royals aka Midnighters’ “Work With Me Annie“…nothing worse than a man begging for sex…but I guess “when the gettin’ is good” a man has to at least ask.

Here I was thinking The Vapors’ 1980s song “Turning Japanese” was so dirty…yet seems decades before “churnin’ butter” was being done….done before any member of The Vapors was born. If you have no idea what “turning Japanese” means…then the next time you are “churnin’ butter” take a look at yourself in the mirror at that crucial moment…yeah, you’ll get it.

No wonder this graph shows a high rate of premarital sex by women…by decade….and note that with all decades the graph arcs begin approximately around 12-14 year olds…yeah today’s kids are so much more sexual than us, our parents, and our grandparents….whatever.

"let's get it on" - by Marvin Gaye
“let’s get it on” – by Marvin Gaye

My New Life

Kids Growing Up
Kids Growing Up by Tracey Reese

“Use a picture. It’s worth thousand words.” is what newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane stated in an article in 1911.This picture is the reason I haven’t written much here lately. I’ve been sort of busy being a new husband and stepfather. This is a picture of my new family. This picture makes me tear up…seriously, my eyes water uncontrollably when I see this photo. This photo captures everything important in my life. This is the morning of November 10, 2013…nearly 12 hours after I married Tisha Tucker.

A quick summation gives no justice, but here it is: Tisha and I had married the day before and spent our wedding night at Mansfield Plantation2 in Georgetown, South Carolina. Her kids, my new stepchildren, had spent the evening at home with my cousins Chris and Tracey Reese…and the following day they brought the kids out so they could see the plantation and grounds. Tracey is a photographer who does a fantastic job with senior portraits and family photos…as far as I know she has no professional training…but obviously she has an eye for catching a moment. She caught this moment when me and her husband (my blood cousin) were talking stupid bullshit…which is what we always do when we are together. While we were bullshitting, Tracey was watching Tisha and her kids sharing an impromptu moment. That is a quick summary of “what happened” but in reality…the moment was so much more.

This is a moment where what this family is about. Tisha is on the right holding her youngest daughter’s (Emma Claire) hand, who in turn is holding on to her older sister’s (Meredith) hand. This connection between these girls and their mother is not only physical (through the holding of hands) but also through the fact that the two daughters are very much still young in their mother’s eyes (mind) and their own reliance upon her for guidance and love. The complete separation of their brother, Tisha’s son, is the most telling. He was just over a month before turning 18 in this photo and figuring out who he is. He has spent a life with nothing but females and has had to navigate life surrounded by pink, bows, dance lessons, and the everyday things that are primarily feminine. His not holding hands and walking a bit forward of the women in his life which represents his desire to lead his own life yet not completely ready to separate from the youthful bonds to his siblings and his mother.

None of them knew this photo was being taken…none of them knew how this picture perfectly captured who they are as a family. I am the one missing in the picture. I am the new interloper…the new stepfather…the man who has never had children…the man who has fallen madly in love with a woman who has children. The reality of my presence in their life has yet to dawn on the kids…Tisha was somewhat aware…but being recently wedded to me…the shock of a new member to the family was even beyond her recognition at this point. None of them are aware of how responsible I feel for them…I deeply I love them.

This picture is now almost two months old. If it were taken today, I would be on Tisha’s right holding her hand…or I would be a little forward trying to provide a little guidance to the young man who so desperately wants to learn to be himself…yet not knowing what to do or how to do it. My absence from this picture allows me to imagine where I fit in and how I change the dynamic. This family…my family… has had to deal with a lot of changes lately…thankfully, children…and adults are capable of adapting.

I love this picture because this is the family I fell in love with and the family I married. I never imagined how much I would love Tisha…and I never imagined how much I would love her children. A picture does say a thousands words…yet to me this picture says one word only…love.

1. “Speakers Give Sound Advice”. Syracuse Post Standard (page 18). March 28, 1911.

2. A renovated rice plantation from the 1700-1800s that is now in the process of rebuilding the actual slave village, with chapel, and providing detailed insight into what life on a rice plantation in South Carolina was like. There is nothing more beautiful and foreboding as this plantation. Very much worth the stay.