Monday, December 2, 2013

When you can't let it go......

As I've shared before, Becca's mom broke off her relationship with Ashley many years before I came along. She took Becca with her when she left. I won't get into the details of why she left as it's not my story to tell, but let's just say this was not a case of Ashley being a big jerk and she couldn't stand living with him anymore. Of course, she never explained to Becca why she left, and Ashley did not feel it was his place to tell Becca. I vividly remember one time when Becca and I were going to the store, Becca asked me why her parents broke up. I actually remember the exact intersection I stopped at when she dropped this bombshell. I told her it wasn't my place to tell her, and she should have that discussion with her parents. She became very upset, asking why it was fair for me to know and for her not to, even asking me if the scenario that actually happened is the story. I just kept repeating it was a discussion for her to have with her mom and dad, that I knew because it was a discussion between adults in a relationship to have, but that if she wanted to know, I would not be the one to tell her.

The sad thing is, Becca carried the burden of their breakup and the responsibility for her custody situation more than any child should have, because her mother put her in the role of friend and confidant rather than parent-child. Her mother openly bashed Ashley to her, allowed others to do the same, and actively cultivated relationships with members of Ashley's family that he made abundantly clear to her he did not want Becca interacting with them. Some of my in-laws are....well, difficult. That's the understatement of the century actually, but not the point of this post. Let's just say that as every family has their toxic members, Ashley has a bit more than most and we mutually agreed that these toxic members were dysfunctional and emotionally harmful enough to the girls that no contact was eventually the only option. We did not come to this decision lightly, mind you. Rather than respect Ashley's decision with his family members as he has with Becca's mom's family (we'll call her Laney from now on), Laney made it a point and has continued to do so to ensure Becca is surrounded by people who want nothing more than for Becca and Ashley's estrangement to continue because they know it is the easiest and most effective way to hurt Ashley.

I remember once Becca and I stayed up very late in deep conversation when she was at our house for one of our weekends, and she became very emotional. She confessed she blamed herself for not living with us full-time. She thought that because Laney asked her, a child too young to even be in preschool mind you, if she wanted to come with her when Laney walked out, that she chose her mom over her dad. Blinking back tears, I explained to her that she was a young child and it was no fault of her own, that Ashley did not blame her, and that we both loved her very much.

It broke my heart that Becca thought that any of it was her fault, and it also broke my heart that Laney's hatred of Ashley was and still is so deep that it actually overrides her love for their child. Of course, I have no doubt that Laney loves Becca very much, just as Ashley does. I'm sure in many ways, she is a good mother, and she certainly isn't the train wreck that Maggie is. But truth be told, I think that in many ways, Laney has done more damage to Becca than Maggie ever has to Gabby and Jade. While raising Gabby and Jade has been no walk in the park, they at least have had the benefit of being reared in a home with two parents who provide them with an example of a loving relationship. We don't badmouth Maggie to them or make them feel they should be ashamed of half of their genes or put them in a position where they feel they have to defend their other parent. They don't have to stay quiet about their positive feelings or feel that it's not OK to love their stepparent because Mom will be angry.

No, I don't care for Laney. She and I are so incredibly different from each other, we would never be friends in another life. We disagree on too many things to mention. But the difference is I never uttered an ugly word about her to her daughter. I encouraged Becca to have a good relationship with both of her parents and with her stepfather. I kept my personal opinions about Laney, her parenting style and her lifestyle choices to myself, even when Becca would occasionally bait me, because I love Becca more than I dislike Laney.

That's the message that gets lost when you can't let it go, when you continue to drag everyone in and out of family court for years, when you make snide comments about your ex in front of your child, when you scream at your ex in front of your child, all of which Laney was - and I have no doubt still is - a pro at doing. You don't have to be the Brady Bunch. No one has to be best friends or even like each other. You just have to keep that civil, business like tone. Put your child's best interests in front of your own.

That's what parenting is all about, right?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holiday Time!

Sorry for being MIA lately. It's been a few months of highs and lows at Tara. We moved into a new house (yay!), Jade and Gabby are doing well even though Jade is in her last year of elementary school (YIKES!), I finally finished graduate school (YAY YAY YAY!), and all in all, it's been happy chaos. We did however lose a family member over the summer, and of course even though Becca is now 18, she is still in the throes of PAS. Every year, all I can do is continue to pray and hope she will eventually come around.

Thankfully, this holiday season doesn't bring forth any blended family drama. My biggest upset is that we will not be going home to our Southern roots for Christmas due to me and Ashley's work schedules. But I well remember the holiday uproar, the even-wackier-than-usual visitation schedules, the fact that holidays do not always bring out the best in people.

I know it's hard, and I don't mean to sound trite. Sometimes the best you can do is disengage during the holiday season, and be thankful for what is and try to ignore what is not even though it should be. I found the less I involved myself with Ashley and Becca's mom's disagreements at this time of year, the less worked up I got and the happier I was. Happy wife, happy life, right? If you refuse to engage, she can't win. Don't get involved in a text argument. If the visitation plan falls through because your husband waited until the last minute to make arrangements, let it be. If the kids won't shut up about "Mom this" and "Mom that," I found a nonchalant, "Oh mmhmm? That's nice. Did you know cats are night vision?" always worked wonders. It sounds overly simple, doesn't it? But if you don't rent out space in your head, it's a lot easier to get through this emotionally charged season.

Oh, and whenever possible, try to work with your husband to create your own family traditions. If he doesn't see the need for this, continue poking and prodding until he gets it. It's OK for you to do things differently at your house than what the kids do at Mom's - in fact, it's healthy and normal. I think it's great for kids to be exposed to different traditions and ideas. If your husband doesn't encourage your role as Lady of the House.....well, that might need to be a topic for another post.

Wishing you and yours a most wonderful Thanksgiving, and to my Jewish friends, a joyous Hanukkah!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Can it really be over?

Becca is 18 now.

Hold on, I'll let that really sink in for you.

Becca is an adult now. 18 years old. Legally the age of majority.

It is a surreal feeling. There is no active court order anymore. Ashley's days of paying child support are done. That (literally) Bible-sized file sitting in that horrid Family Courthouse is nothing more than documentation of 15 years of hell now. Becca's mom will actually have to terrorize her husband now instead of mine.

Heck, Becca's mom may actually have to get a job now since she can't live off my husband anymore. Imagine that!

Some old-timer Step/Moms will tell you it's never really over, that it never really ends. There are weddings, grandchildren, etc. that mean the bio-mom will always be there, lurking, trying to cause trouble.

I don't really believe that. I mean, I see the point. Evil never stops just being evil. But to not have to live through constant court sessions, threats of (more) false accusations, just hearing the shrill shrieking on the other end of the line anymore?

Hey, I'll take what I can get. Because if you take away court, you take away most of the power.

What's saddest to me is that 18 was no magic salve (at least yet), no truth serum for Becca to realize Dad and I are not evil people, that we're good people in fact who have continued to love her despite her mom's repeated and relentless attacks on what should be and once was a very good father-daughter relationship and stepparent-stepchild relationship.

This, simply put, is not how I envisioned we would spend her high school years. I still think of her as the young teenager she was when I last saw her. It does hurt when I realize just how much we've missed - Ashley, me, and her sisters.

If I could say anything to Becca now, it would be that I hope and pray she takes advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. To follow her dreams and not get sidetracked by boys, friends, and most importantly, what other people think. I would tell her that the sky really is the limit, and there's a whole big world outside her small town just dying to meet her, so she should take some time to travel and get to know herself.

And, I would tell her that there are two sides to every story, and it's time to hear ours.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Hot Mess Express

I have to admit that it's difficult, to say the least, for me to cut Jade and Gabby's bio-mom any slack. I'm a Christian woman, and my own mother often tells me I should love her for the sake of the girls, or that I should feel sorry for her because addiction is a terrible thing.

Addiction is a terrible thing. I'm certainly not trying to minimize the mental illness that it is. But Maggie, their bio-mom, goes so far beyond simple addiction. A pathological liar, a narcissist, a complete and total Hot Mess as I like to call it.

Her latest cry for attention is her incessant posting on Facebook, and she loves to act like Mother of the Year, in between her posts filled with profanity where she likes to go on about very motherly, mature things like sleeping around and dirty lingerie. Not to be outdone, she sprinkles those posts with how much she loves Jesus and how He has saved her life.

Basically, I would say she's an overgrown teenager, but I know teenagers that are better behaved than her.

I think my favorite recently was her post about how she's not just a mother, but a chauffeur, an alarm clock, a waitress, a referee, etc. She hasn't seen her children in almost nine years now, but yet she reposts a picture saying "Like if you will ALWAYS be there for your kids!" I often wonder just how far detached from reality she really is.

Don't worry, Maggie - you enjoy your Facebook time while I do the actual parenting. I've got it all taken care of.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

President Obama, what are you REALLY going to do to encourage fatherhood?

I've already outed myself as a Democrat, so you probably think I am a huge supporter of our President. While I like him and agree in general with many of his policies, there's one topic where he always seems to get it wrong - fatherhood. It feels like a Dan Quayle moment, where you just want to stop him from repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth, but it seems he really does believe what he preaches. Now, I do admire him as a father and husband; he and Michelle make a great parenting team. But the reality is I think he's very biased toward fathers and the "deadbeat dad" myth that it interferes with logic. Take for example his State of the Union address this year:

"...Because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one.”

I agree with the concept, but why not just say parent? Why the focus on dads? I could say the exact same thing about Jade and Gabby's bio-mom. Unfortunately, their bio-mom is not the only noncustodial mother who fits the "deadbeat" stereotype. I couldn't say it any better than the Fathers & Families organization, a nonprofit that promotes shared parenting, whose Facebook page asked, "How exactly are we supposed to do this with 4 days a month VISITATION?"

It's a valid question. 50/50 parenting doesn't work in every scenario obviously. But when neither parent is abusive or dangerous, and they live relatively close to each other, there's no reason why Dad should only get every other weekend. However, in most family court systems around the country where according to the U.S. Census Bureau only 1 in 6 custodial parents is the father, Mom almost always winds up with more time. This is, of course, assuming Mom even informs Dad that he is a parent at all.

If President Obama really wants to enact change in the United States that will encourage fatherhood, he will encourage Congress to pass federal laws that set standards for family courts across the country. Parenting doesn't differ from state to state; the laws governing families shouldn't either. Mothers should be forced to disclose paternity except for in extreme circumstances (e.g. documented domestic violence, rape victims) so that children are not illegally placed for adoption (more on that in an upcoming post). While all parents have the responsibility to support their children, custody and visitation orders should be as vigorously enforced as child support orders are in most courts. A situation like ours with Becca should never happen, where Ashley's feet are held to the fire on his child support payments but yet Becca's mother has been repeatedly charged with contempt of court for violating the custody order and she has never received more than a slap on the wrist. When you reduce a father's role to be nothing more than a paycheck, you are discouraging fatherhood rather than encouraging it.

"I wish I had had a father who was around and involved." - President Obama, February 22, 2013

So do thousands of children across America, Mr. President. Stop the rampant abuse and bias in the Family Court system so fathers and their children can be reunited.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

To have kids or not? The childless step/mom's dilemma

As time goes on, I find more and more moms and dads popping up around me. The friends that I spent many a fun-filled night with, family members I grew up with, and even childhood friends - all of them seem to be joining the parent ranks. All of them, however, are joining the parent ranks the traditional way. I feel like I've been on the island alone for a few years, and now everyone's boats are invading. After all, because I became a Step/Mom in my last few years of college, I was the only one with kidlets to worry about - the token mom friend. Now, it seems every time I log into Facebook, someone else is announcing a pregnancy or showing off pictures of their little ones.

Don't get me wrong. I am over the moon excited for my friends and family. I love seeing baby pictures and buying baby clothes and accessories. I love playing Auntie Southern Step/Mom because I don't have any nieces or nephews to dote on. But, as my friends and family go through Babygate 2012-2013, it has led me to reflect on my own reproductive choices and has stirred up some memories and feelings that I haven't visited in a long time.

When people find out that I am the Younger Belles' (we'll start to call them Jade - Middle Belle - and Gabby - Youngest Belle - for clarity's sake) Step/Mom and that I don't have any children of my own, it's almost inevitable that the next question comes:

"I don't mean to be too personal, but are you and Ashley planning on having kids of your own?"

I never know how to answer this question. It's not because I don't know the answer; yes, Ashley and I would like to have a child of our own. It's because I never know how the other person will take it. Will they think I'm selfish for wanting a child that shares my DNA, that I can look into his or her eyes and see my own, that I can raise from birth without interference? Will they think I'm wanting a child of my own to put the other belles on the back burner, or will they think I'm being selfish because Ashley already has enough children to raise?

People often think they are being kind or giving gentle advice, but the truth is, it can cut me to the core. It seems that everyone has an opinion on my barren uterus and everyone feels entitled to voice it. I've had both family members and friends say to just enjoy being "like a mom" to Jade and Gabby, that we don't really need another child in our house, that we can't really afford it, that we already have enough to deal with especially with Jade and Gabby's issues, and why would we want to start over when they are already halfway out the house? I have sat while Ashley's friends have joked about "Not another kid!" to him while I bared and grinned it. I have listened to others joke about how we already have our hands full and don't need another one and pretended that it's hilarious to think that we would want to have a child of our own. I have even resorted to joking when people ask me if we want to have a child by saying that I'll just have a child and put him or her up for adoption at age 2 so that I can say I've been full circle since I've already done age 2 and up.

The truth is, it's not funny at all. The truth is, if I'm laughing about it, it's only because it is easier to laugh and pretend like I don't care than to actually show how deep it hurts. I'm selfless for raising these girls, but I'm selfish for wanting to have one of my own is the constant message so many people - friends, family, strangers, society - give me.

Jade and Gabby have always been enthusiastic about us having a baby. It was always Becca - Oldest Belle - that had an issue with it. She loved me, but she couldn't stand the thought of Ashley and I having a baby, even though her mom and stepdad also have a child of their own. There were times that her words literally drove me to tears because she was so hurtful in that thoughtless teenage way. But the most hurtful experience came from someone on my sidelines, a friend of mine.

One April Fools' Day years ago, Ashley thought it would be hysterical to post a sonogram picture on Facebook and to tell people that we were expecting. I'm good-natured and like a funny joke, so I played along. I didn't express to him, however, that I was a little reluctant because I was wary of one of the responses I gave above from one of his friends. A good friend of mine for many years was very excited about the possibility of us having a baby, and so she was very disappointed when we revealed it was a joke. She posted about her genuine disappointment on a mutual friend's wall. Our friend responded to the post by saying, "I told you not to get excited because it had to have been a joke! They have too many freaking kids already!"

I cried over that post for almost half an hour. It wasn't something I hadn't heard before, but it was the first time I had heard it from one of my friends. I expected that kind of thought process from my family, from Becca, from Ashley's friends and family. But to hear one of my own friends say it - it cut deep.

I never have confronted my friend about what she said. I doubt she realized that I saw it, and I didn't want to bring it up and make it even more awkward than I already felt. But if I'm being completely honest, I didn't want to find out if she knew that I would see it because that would hurt even more if she did it hoping I would see it.

As it stands, I do want a baby. I don't want a baby now, however, and if I am being completely honest, it is almost entirely because of how dependent Jade and Gabby are still on us and the magnitude of the issues they have because of their bio-mom's prenatal drug use and neglect. I can't help but acknowledge that if things were different, it's very likely if not certain that Ashley and I would already be expecting or have a little one of our own. This doesn't mean that I resent the belles - I would never place that burden on a child. It also doesn't mean that I resent Ashley and his past choices. I love my husband and recognize that his past - both the good and the bad - have made him the husband that I adore, and for that, I appreciate how it has made him into the man that I admire. I also acknowledge that I made this choice willingly - no one forced me to marry Ashley and become a Step/Mom. I did so of my own volition and happily so. It doesn't mean, however, that I haven't made choices that I probably wouldn't have otherwise, as in I probably would already be a bio-mom if it weren't for the realities of 100% custodial stepparenting. It doesn't mean that I want pity. I just want to be understood. I just want to not be judged for wanting to experience pregnancy, childbirth and traditional motherhood - some things that millions of women experience every day and are never judged for it. Why should I be any different?

When Ashley and I went to court to terminate Jade and Gabby's bio-mom's parental rights, I received a phone call that every woman dreads from her OBGYN's office. I was literally standing outside the courthouse the day of the final hearing, waiting for our turn, when my cell phone rang. My test results had come back abnormal and they wanted me to come in as soon as possible for additional testing to determine the cause. I sobbed as the worst case scenarios ran through my mind. Was it cancer? Would I need to have major surgery? Would I be able to have children? Then, I got angry. Here I am, terrified that I may never be able to experience the joy of having a child of my own as we waited to terminate the parental rights to a woman who gets pregnant and gives birth repeatedly with no caution, planning or concern, and then abandons her children over and over again. What kind of cosmic irony would that be for me to be destined to raise the children of a woman who gives birth so carelessly and takes advantage of the gift that would not bless me?

Luckily, it was just a scare and my doctor determined after additional testing that I was fine. But that fear, that pain, has seared my conscience. I know of women who have been dealt that card. I also know of women whose husbands said they wanted to have children with them, but years later changed their minds and decided that they were done with having children even though their wives had never been afforded that opportunity. How do you continue to put your trust in someone when the rules of the game have been changed? Is it OK to deem your wife "good enough" to raise your children, but to also tell her to stop being selfish for wanting a child of her own?

Why is it selfless to raise another's child, but selfish to want to bring another child into the picture? Why does everyone think it's OK to give their opinion, but for no one to consider that maybe their "cold, hard truth" is a little too cold and too hard for something as personal, intimate and life-changing as a couple's decision to have a child?

Just think - if everyone cared as much about their own reproductive choices as know-it-alls seem to care about mine, there would be a lot less abused, abandoned and neglected children in the world!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Long Distance Stepparenting

I am very pleased to announce my first post from a guest writer! My amazing friend Sarah offered to share her experience as a stepmother whose stepdaughter lives far away from her and her husband, Charlie. I share Sarah's story in hopes of reminding my fair readers that it takes all kinds of stepparenting to make the world go round (that's how the saying goes, right?! I kid, I kid.) and that each type of stepparenting has its own challenges and blessings. I also empathize with Sarah as a fellow long-distance stepmother in my situation with Oldest Belle, and I hope Sarah's story provides all of you with great insight and understanding. Thank you, dear Sarah, for sharing your story!

Cheers, Southern Step/Mom

We weren’t always a long distance family. When I met my husband Charlie 5 years ago, he was fully custodial to a bubbly 4 year old girl. I fell in love with both of them almost immediately. I delighted in his use of Frizz-Ease in her unruly curls and the way he could get her to dissolve into giggles even when she was in the midst of a tantrum. I thought he was a fantastic partner and father. We had sporadic Date Nights, but for the most part we just all hung out together. Being part of a “family” felt natural and we settled into an easy household routine. One thing I especially loved about my stepdaughter Bridget was that she would eat anything I cooked; I considered myself unbelievably lucky to have this great kid in my life who wasn’t a picky eater.

Then Charlie, who is in the military, was temporarily moved from our city to the other side of the country for half a year. I was blessed at the time to be working from home, so I was able to accompany him. Bridget went to live 300 miles away with her mom. My relationship with Charlie deepened during that time, but my relationship with Bridget was nonexistent. I tried sending Christmas and birthday gifts to her. They were returned, unopened, with a comment passed through Charlie that Bridget’s mom was uncomfortable with it. She was also uncomfortable with me talking to Bridget on the phone.

When Charlie’s assignment ended and we returned to our city I was eager to resume a normal life with him and, of course, Bridget. But Bridget was...different. Sullen. ANGRY. She was also confused. She didn’t understand that she didn’t live with us anymore, that living with her mom was permanent and she was only visiting. She acted out and Charlie allowed it. Things she NEVER would have gotten away with before were now perfectly fine. She picked at her dinners and hated anything placed in front of her, even foods she had gobbled up less than a year prior. Charlie accused me of deliberately making unusual dishes and acted as if spaghetti was haute cuisine. Any attempt I made to discipline her was undermined, often in front of her.

What had happened to our easy household routine, to our family? Every night I looked forward to her bedtime so that I could sneak some quality time in with Charlie, but bedtime never came. He hadn’t seen Bridget in so long that he couldn’t bear to put her to bed at night and refused say no to any request from her, but it was coming at the cost our relationship. Charlie and I started arguing about petty household issues, about discipline, about EVERYTHING. My life was being run by a 5-year-old who demanded ice cream cones and fast food twice a day and stayed up until 1 a.m. My husband indulged every whim and shouted at me if I tried to rein them in. When Bridget returned to her mom, my husband retreated to his workshop and sulked for days, refusing to talk to me, only staring blankly at the wall and saying how awful his life was without Bridget. I felt rejected as a stepparent and dismissed as a wife.

I told myself that we all just needed time to adjust to this new arrangement and that things would improve. I prayed to have my loving partner back. I prayed to have the little girl I loved so much back. I prayed to have my family back.

Every other weekend, we spent 6 hours in the car on Saturday morning and another 6 hours in the car on Sunday afternoon to have her for one night. Charlie would keep her up all night trying to squeeze in every possible moment of fun time and then she’d pass out in the car on the way home. Attending a birthday party or school play required taking vacation days and a hotel stay in Bridget’s city – assuming, of course, that we were invited to attend those things at all. Sometimes we simply could not afford it and we missed important events.

It started wearing all of us down so Charlie and his ex-wife agreed to decrease visitation to one weekend a month instead, usually whatever school holiday Bridget had so that we could have more time with her. I stopped going on the drive so that Charlie and Bridget could have alone time in the car and, quite honestly, I needed the time to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for the hurricane of commotion in our home that comes with having a child you can't parent in a "traditional" way in your care. By that, I mean the custodial agreement didn't truly allow for us to enjoy both the normal fun and the gentle discipling that comes with traditional parenting when you have a child with you for more than an extended weekend here and there.

Bridget’s mom remarried last summer. Her new husband, who is also in the military, is stationed over 1000 miles away. Our long distance family suddenly got a LOT more distant. Visits now require a plane ride, a lot of planning and a fairly substantial amount of money. One weekend a month has turned into one weekend every three to six months. Bridget has her own life in her new city and I feel like I barely know her anymore. She seemed to go from preschooler to tween in the blink of an eye and I’ve missed out on most of it. She tells me she can’t recall a time when I wasn’t a part her life, but I don’t FEEL like part of her life. I don’t feel like a family anymore.

I don’t know what the future holds for us. I don’t know if we’ll ever be close to each other again, physically or emotionally. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like part of a family again, but I’m still praying for it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Uh oh! It's "big girl" time!

Don't tell Ashley, but it seems we're about to start this rocky roller coaster called puberty at Tara. Last month, we escaped town for the weekend and while we were waltzing around a theme park, I noticed Youngest Belle looked like she might be getting ready for training bras soon. Then the other night, Middle Belle approached me with "Mom, I need to talk to you about something in private." It seems Youngest Belle may not be alone in her new wardrobe addition.

It's a really weird experience to be a Step/Mom in a situation like this. I absolutely DREAD going to new doctors for this exact reason. I know way more about my husband's ex-wife's pregnancies and birthing experiences than I ever needed to know, for the record. Then the doctors ask awesome questions about bio-mom's puberty experience. Really??? Do I LOOK like I would know the answers to these questions? Hold on, lemme dial her up real quick and see what happened, even though I've only spoken to her once in the past six years. Wait, now that you mention it, she DID leave a detailed medical history before checking out. Seriously?!

So, your guess is as good as mine as to what we can expect as the girls become young women and when we can expect it. It's a good thing I paid attention in my biology classes is all I have to say.

It's also an entirely different experience going through this as a custodial Step/Mom than when I went through this with Oldest Belle as a noncustodial Step/Mom. Part of me is grateful that Oldest Belle trusted me enough to ask all sorts of questions, things that she blatantly admitted she did not feel comfortable asking her mom about (and of course Dad was totally off-limits), even if it was sometimes uncomfortable/awkward for both of us. But it's nice to know that I can guide the girls through this rocky road without the interference of a bio-mom, my sister-in-law, and my mother-in-law, all of whom thought I was totally incompetent in handling such issues and liked to question my competency in front of Oldest Belle. Of course since I was just Dad's fiancee and never gave birth to any children, I clearly don't understand basic biology, let alone be trusted to explain such issues to a preteen.

Of course, with the younger belles' developmental delays (thanks, bio-mom!) and Middle Belle's...sensitive emotional psyche, shall we say, I think know we are in for a rough ride as puberty approaches. Therefore, Southern Step/Mom is gleefully accepting any and all gifts of alcoholic refreshments that may make this road a little easier. These girls are going to give me hell, bless their hearts.