Tag: step-parenting

What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Marriage

Mark and Angela Wedding Day

Our Bitter-sweet Wedding Day

We’re much too old to be celebrating only four years of marriage.  But it’s the second go-around for both of us.  I never would have thought in a million years that I would be in the second marriage club.  But alas… here we are. It can be a stigma to live with – a certain vibe that subtly exists in the universe, that a second marriage just isn’t taken as seriously.  And with it comes all kinds of assumptions and predictions about our fate.  Typically, which end up being true.

Statistics (depending on which ones you read) say that 67% of second marriages fail, and even higher when children/step-children are involved.  The older the children are, the more likely the second marriage will end, and usually within the first three-to-five years.  I’m not gonna lie, it’s a tough predicament – being a step-parent. Everything I’ve ever read said I needed to act as if I was the Fun Aunt, and nothing more.  Yet we must cohabitate and try to live functionally together.

I often felt that being a step-parent (of children still living in the house) required all of the responsibilities of a parent, without many of the rewards.  I’m sorry if it sounds brutal, but I’m just being honest.  My step kids know that I love them and I know that on some levels they love me.  But, because they were older when their dad and I got married, we never had any of the natural bonding that happens between parents and children.  It’s just the reality of the situation, and a stress for both step-parent and step-child.

Mark and I got engaged in a precarious time – when the real estate markets were crashing all around us.  Since that was our business, it was a big deal for us.  Between trying to financially survive in such a turn of events, being a new blended family, and not having the support of our families for our union, we’ve had our share of really hard times.  I’ve been reflecting today on how and why we’ve made it this far.

First off, we are truly united in our understanding of this life and our goals for living, now and in the future.  We are united spiritually, with Christ and His example as the focal point of our example to follow (not that we haven’t made many mistakes), we bond intellectually, we share a love of entrepreneurship, business, and learning, we laugh together, we have friendly competition.  We’re best friends.

Not that this works for everyone, but we are attached at the hip.  We sleep together, eat together, work together, go everywhere together – we laugh and say that about the only time we aren’t together is when one of us is using the restroom, but sometimes not even then (ew, tmi?).

I love his company and our comradery.  We’ve survived so many things together in such a short time – things that would often tear couples apart.  But somehow we have this fierce loyalty to each other.  (Maybe because all the odds were against us, and we only had support in each other.)  We trust each other.  We believe that we both want the same thing, even if we believe in going about it in different ways.  When that happens, it requires trust and patience, and somehow we have it for each other.

He’s a good man.  So when I don’t agree with him, I just remember that, and then there is nothing left to try to control.  When I’m being overly particular (often), he lets me be.  He sits back, laughs, and watches me go.  And we don’t take each others bad moods personally – we give each other the space to be, to feel, to go through whatever it is we need to, without offense.

I think we must let our spouses be – and stop trying to control their every move, desire, and feeling.  We would never be so controlling with anyone else in our lives, we would never have so many expectations with anyone else. Why cage the love of our lives when all they need is a safe place to land?  If they can’t find that place with us, they may find it with someone else, or in something.  Our fears do nothing to invite solace for our mates – they only repel and push and prod.  And when people are pushed, they push back, or take flight.

Let us control our fears, bite our tongues, trust that we want the same things, be okay with getting there a different way than our way, provide compassion and acceptance, and a safe place in our midst.  We’ll feel better about ourselves, and we’ll have better marriages.

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Christina Winn and Me | My Step-Daughter and Bestest Girlfriend

Late night talks with Mark and Christina are one of my favorite things in life.  We don’t get to do it nearly enough, living two states away from each other – but when we do, time completely escapes us.  When we finally realize how tired we are and that it’s 3am, we all sadly go to bed, wishing we could go on forever.  I feel incredibly blessed to be such good friends with my step-daughter.  With absolute certainty, despite our age gap, I know that had we met another way we would have connected just the same.

The three of us have been discussing how to love the unlovable in an email exchange.  Unlovable people are all around us.  They may be part of our lives, or they may be the passerby.  They are unlovable because they constantly take advantage of people, lie, steal, or  hurt others, etc.  For some, this is closer to home than others.  Usually their actions are the result of being hurt themselves, and while sometimes knowing that inspires compassion within us, it doesn’t always make them easier to love.

We’ve all heard that we should love all of God’s children.  I’ve always agreed.  But in our email exchanges, I wondered, what does that actually mean? How do you love the unlovable?  What does that look like?

How do you ‘love’ someone who you don’t trust, has repeatedly wronged you, and hurts those around you?

I know ‘why’ we love them – we love them because they are our spiritual brothers and sisters, they are God’s children.

But ‘how’ does love look when boundaries and guards are so high up?  What is the action behind that word, love?

There are many definitions of the word love.  Most of them would never apply to someone ‘unlovable’.  But there is one definition out of the many that works.  It may perhaps be the ONLY kind of love we can have for the unlovable:

the benevolent affection of God for his creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God.

I’ve always thought of love as an ACTION word.  But I learned through our conversations that love is also an attitude.  And then I found an even more appropriate definition for the unlovable:

God’s benevolent attitude towards man – man’s attitude of reverent devotion towards God.

This is Christian love.  Which doesn’t mean, lie to me.  Steal from me.  Keep taking advantage of me.  It means, I have boundaries with you AND I also wish the best for you.  I don’t judge you, because I can’t judge you.  It’s not that I won’t judge you – it is truly that I can’t judge you – I don’t have that power.  I respect you as a child of God.  And that does not mean that I will allow myself to be hurt by you.

About judgment… I’ve learned in very big ways over the last decade of my life that we don’t have the power to judge others righteously when we’ve never walked in their shoes.  We are all given different circumstances in life, and mixed with differing backgrounds, addictions, family curses, filters, hardships faced, etc., we all respond differently.  To adequately walk in one’s shoes, we must piece together every fiber of their life that led them to the moment we judge them for.  And we can’t do that.  It is impossible.

I’ve also learned in very big ways to find compassion for loved ones in my life that I DIDN’T HAVE until I made their same mistakes.  If there is ANY OTHER WAY to find compassion for someone, I’d recommend it.

But having compassion for and loving the unlovable does not mean letting them hurt you.  Loving yourself means setting boundaries for the unlovable in your life; which in turn provides grounds for an authentic relationship with them that you can live with, always remembering to respect them as a child of God who is finding their way in this life.

What would you add to the conversation?

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Yesterday my mom called and told me that she had a Treasure Trove waiting for me at the house.  I thought she was referring to the boatload of art supplies I had just ordered – but no, she was talking about REAL treasures.

New Love: Nicholas DiGiovanni and Marguerite PaceNicholas DiGiovanni and Marguerite Pace

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Pictures of Marguerite Pace DiGiovanniPictures of Marguerite Pace DiGiovanni with family and friends

1943 Times/Herald NewspapersNewspapers from 1943 with Headlines: ‘Italy Surrenders!’ and ‘Mussolini Ousted’

Newspapers from 1943, 1944, and 1945 during the warStack of Newspapers from the 1940’s during the war

1944 Christmas PostcardThis “postcard” is actually the menu for the troops on base for their Christmas meal. Sent to Marguerite from Nick in 1944.

On the left side he wrote:

Hello Darling, Missed you more than ever this year again.  Hope you are in the best of health and that next Christmas will be “Our Christmas” the way we want it.
All my love, Nick

I cannot describe the joy in my heart that these treasures bring to me.  All of the letters are from when they were dating, and end in 1945, which is the year they got married.  My dad and mom told me how surprised they were as they sampled them, that my grandpa was so affectionate and lovey-dovey with his bride-to-be!  It is a side of him that my dad never saw.  Ever.  My grandpa was somewhat of a gruff Italian man – not one to show affection or say “I love you.”  From the stories I hear, he was hard on the kids, had a bad temper, and yelled a lot.

It makes me sad that his children did not get to experience much of this tender man portrayed in these letters.  And it reminds me that we are all made up of conflicting facets, light and shadows.  It does not mean that our light is not sincere, or not who we really are, just because someone else only gets to experience our shadows.  Different people, different places, different seasons of life tend to bring out our different facets.

My step-daughter said to me: “I didn’t know you were this funny!”  She didn’t know because most of our relationship has been a day-to-day, full of life mundane and responsibility.  Now that we have moved to another state and don’t do the ‘day-to-day’ with her, she sees a softer, more playful side of me – the side that isn’t getting after her to clean up after herself, or get her homework done, or to be careful who she hangs out with.  Just as, I’m sure, my Aunts or Uncles might be surprised to be a fly on the wall of our old house and see me getting very impatient very easily with the kids, or go sit out in my car to cry instead of yell.  They might think, ‘What happened to Ang?  This is not the sweet girl we know!’

We are all shadows and light.  After hearing the comment from my step-daughter, and the one from my dad about my grandpa, it encourages and inspires me to be sure to share my light more in the spaces where my shadows are more easily provoked.

I will be going through EVERY letter, EVERY newspaper, EVERY picture, taking them in, treasuring them, and learning about and from the past.  If we don’t have stories, we don’t have a past.

As I was driving to my office today after looking through these treasures, I thought about what legacy I will leave behind.  Will my documented life be one that is a true reflection of me?  Of all my light and shadows?  Will it help and inspire my posterity, or merely be a window into a sad unaccomplished life?  What can I do moving forward to be a better record keeper of the good, the bad, and the ugly – to hold nothing back for fear of my own ego.  To let my words, my voice, my life give meaning and instruction to others.  Or that my posterity may be spared from my own mistakes; and simply, that they might know me, a Matriarch of things to come.

*My dear Uncle Tom sent these treasures.  My grandma passed away at the age of 95 on November 7, 2010.

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Mirror, MirrorAnela, our 4-year-old granddaughter

Korbin CollageKorbin, our grandson born 10.01.10

LandonLandon, our 2-year-old grandson

We are on the road, driving home from Las Vegas, somewhere between Bakersfield and Buttonwillow.  It was a short, sweet trip, where the Kemp kids gathered with us in a friend’s home to have a late Christmas celebration.  We are grateful for the experiences we had together and for the memories we will hold forever.

For the first time, this year we drew names.  Mark and actually felt badly because it was also the first year that we received more than we gave.  In addition to the name the kids drew, almost all of them bought a gift for us as well.  We received funny, inside joke gifts, gift cards, and pictures of the grandkids.  We also did a funny white elephant gift exchange, which always proves to be a hit, with unexpected ‘inappropriate’ items, ones that everyone wants and steals, and items that the one lucky person makes their best sales pitch, convincing everyone else that they want it. :-)

ToysFun Real and White Elephant Gifts – I fought for the Classic Mickey Mouse, Christina was showcasing her Tiger Beat and BOP Mags, Carrie was very pleased with her Dr. Pepper Classic Lunchpail

Headbandz Collage‘Headbandz’ game made personal. You had to guess the word or phrase on your forehead only by asking yes or no questions. Mark made everyone a personalized one to reflect something they say, do, love, or an inside joke. Jared got revenge by putting the question, “Does that Make Sense?” on Mark’s forehead, which he often says when teaching.

The short two days were filled with good food (everyone responsible for different meals), lots of games, lots of laughter, and even a great discussion about forgiving those who hurt or disappoint us.  But the best part of the trip was going to see the kids paternal Grandpa in St. George, UT.  He is living in an Assisted Living facility, and the last time they were all together at once was some seven years ago.  As you’ll be able to see in the pictures, he was tired a lot of the time.  But there were also plenty of moments where he joked with the kids.  I’m sure these pictures will prove to be treasured forever.

KEMP Family w/ GrandpaMark’s Dad in front; Middle Row: Carrie, Christina, Mark; Back Row: Brett, Jared, Josh

Four Kemp GenerationsDon, Mark, Jared, and Korbin

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My birthday fun began around 2am on the 30th.  Mark was on my side of the bed.  Me: What are you doing on my side of the bed? Him: Getting it warm for you.  Nicest guy, ever.

Slept unitl noon – yes, yes I did.
Wild mushroom and chicken gnochi for lunch (blissfully ate every bite)… with Mark and Nordstrom Cafe.
Goodie bag from Mark.
Read “Hand Wash Cold” in the afternoon.
Pizza, cake, and ice-cream with parental family for dinner.
Flowers from Em.
Texas Hold ‘Em and Karaoke in the evening.  B was the big winner, swindled us all.  Jen was an amazing singer, as always. Vincent rocked the house with “White and Nerdy”.  So wish I got that on video.
Sewing machine from family. Yes!!!  No idea how to use it, but VERY excited to learn :-)
Big B-day sign from my nieces.
Tons and tons of facebook birthday wishes.
Call from my step-son.
Birthday voice mail from grandkids.  So bummed I missed the call – but SO stoked to have the cutest voice mail EVER.
15-year-old step-daughter called me, “mom.”

I talked with the two younger kids, who were 11 and 14 when we got married, and encouraged them to call me whatever they felt comfortable calling me, that I knew they already had a mom who loved them, and I would never try to replace or be their mom. I never expected them to call me mom, though, even with the age difference of their father and I, I technically would have been old enough to be their mom (barely Brett’s).  So they’ve always called me ‘Ang’, which has been just fine with me, and natural for them.

The older three were so much older, all over 18, and living on their own; the oldest just 8 years younger than me. So I wouldn’t even be any kind of guardian to them. A friend only, who happened to be married to their dad. Though not without awkward moments, it’s worked. Over the last year, Christina (24) has referred to me as her mom. It couldn’t bless my heart any more than it does. I count Christina as a friend – one that would be a friend, regardless of the fact that I am married to her dad, had we met another way. She is a beautiful, complex soul, who loves deeply and lives passionately. When we get together, we often talk into the wee hours of the morning – which I count among my favorite experiences.

So yesterday, Carrie, my 15-year-old step-daughter, wished her “Mommy #2” (me) a happy birthday on her facebook status. After many, many trials of me being her step-mom, her being my step-daughter, and together desperately searching for a groove in our relationship, it just feels so wonderful to have come this far where, uncoerced and unprompted, she calls me “Mommy #2”.

Voicemail.  You have got to listen to the cuteness of this message… Anela and Landon, my grandkids, wishing me Happy Birthday. I’ve listened to it a dozen times between last night and today.  Melts my heart…

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Finally, I couldn’t be more thrilled that my husband bought me a spot in Misty Mawn’s Art Workshop: Stretching Within.  Starts Jan. 10, which can’t come soon enough.


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~ Cousin Love ~