Friday, August 22, 2008


I wrote most of that last post over a month ago. Now our blog and our ("official") marriage are coming up on the one-year mark. And I think it's time for me to take a break.

I've always been an enthusiastic member of the internet generation--learned basic HTML at 13, started blogging at 18. I'm happy for the ways in which online communication has made it a lot easier to keep in touch with friends and family, near and far. If it weren't for the internet, I don't think Jacob and I would have met, although it may have been remotely possible.

But recently, my outlook has taken a turn. I'm feeling deeply disillusioned and unsettled by a feeling of online anomie. It isn't the result of a particular occurrence, but rather an accumulation of smaller experiences. And it's offline as well as online. For example: I often see car magnets proclaiming the message Choose Civility, which references a small movement in Howard County spurred by this book. Take a moment, if you have the time, to contemplate the need in our society for an entire book essentially explaining how to be nice to other people.

I am too often shocked and perplexed by the cruelty and abuse people are capable of inflicting upon each other. These days it's just been wearing on me too much. Governments around the world are starting wars, killing innocent people over money, resources and power. On the morning we left for the beach, a troubled and unstable gunman walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and opened fire, killing two people, injuring six, and leaving the rest of the congregation, the denomination and other well-meaning people everywhere asking, "Why?" How could this happen? How could anyone do such a thing?

I've found myself more affected by even the smallest displays of insensitivity--those not at all on the scale of the acts I just mentioned. The driver who leans on her horn the second the light turns green, not noticing that the car in front of her is waiting for a pedestrian to finish crossing. The man at a restaurant who doesn't bother to make eye contact with the waitress, speak to her in full sentences, or say "thank you." The girls on the playground who deliberately leave another girl out of their game for no reason, whispering, "just ignore her." People all over the internet who think that behind the shield of their computer screens, they can say whatever hurtful things they want, bend reality to their advantage, or make themselves out to be superior.

There's hope yet for the girls on the playground. The rest of us, I'm not sure about. I used to think that when you asked someone, "How are you?" they'd say something like, "Fine, thanks; how are you?" Now I'm learning not to expect that as much.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in Strength to Love that to contribute positively to the world, one must have both a tough mind and a tender heart, and that softmindedness and hardheartedness are equally detrimental to one's efforts in doing so. He wrote,

The hardhearted person never truly loves. He engages in a crass utilitarianism which values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him. He never experiences the beauty of friendship, because he is too cold to feel affection for another and is too self-centered to share another's joy and sorrow. He is an isolated island. No outpouring of love links him with the mainland of humanity.

I see hardheartedness everywhere I turn, and it drives me crazy, as I'm sure it must drive many of you crazy, too. I used to think that my persistent good will and tenderheartedness would be enough to make a dent while also giving me some sense of hope. But it hasn't, really, and I think it's not just all the hardheartedness that's giving me trouble. It's the combination of that and my own softmindedness. I'm smart enough to act toughminded some of the time, but toughmindedness ultimately isn't about intelligence. It's about focus, discretion, discipline and mental fortitude. With my mind weakened as it has been by the effects of MDD and ADHD, attaining those qualities has been a steep uphill struggle. And it's been hard to extend myself to love, and to accept love, without also being overly affected by my encouters with carelessness, selfishness, apathy and inhumanity.

So I think it's time for me to turn my energy elsewhere and continue working to build a tougher mind, more of a balance. I won't be writing here for the time being, and I won't be reading or commenting as much, either. As you may have noticed, Jacob hasn't been too psyched about blogging after typing on a computer all day, so it'll probably be pretty quiet around here.

I've let my social networking accounts go fallow as well. I might stick around on Freedom Gardens, since there's not much involved. Otherwise, I'll be on email or in the real world. I'd love to hear from you in any of those places.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.


the invisible stepfamily

Sorry about the absence, everyone. I'm still sort of decompressing from several crazy-but-wonderful weeks of summer parenting time. It's pretty much baptism by fire for me, compared to the typical parenting learning curve, and considering I'm still somewhat new to this. It feels a little jarring to be unceremoniously thrown into "mom" mode, including being called "your mom" by many well-meaning (but presumptuous) strangers, while not actually being Khymi's mother--not wanting to be, not pretending to be; just assuming similar responsibilities. I guess some would say a stepmother is a kind of mother, but I'm quite aware of the fact that I am not Khymi's mother. That title has always belonged to someone else, and it always will.

Every now and then I read another stepparent's account of their integrating a partner and the partner's child(ren) into his or her life, and although I hear a lot of familiar experiences, I've never much liked the "instant family" image that is often described. Maybe many people think of blended families as something like The Brady Bunch. The thing about the Bradys is that Mike was a widower, and no one really knew what Carol's story was, but each set of children was supposed to have been raised exclusively by one parent for some time, before Mike and Carol met and they were just one big happy family--emphasis there on one.

The Brady Bunch and its cousins like Yours, Mine and Ours (also about the blending of two widowed families) don't really portray the typical blended family, because they conveniently eliminate any need to discuss divorce/separation and shared custody by making the parents' ex-partners either deceased or completely out of the picture. For most of us, that's just not the case. In my opinion, to call one's new nuclear family an instant family isn't entirely fair to the child(ren) involved, or to the other adults. To me, "instant" it makes it sound effortless for a child to automatically become "ours" and have that be the end of it, when in most cases, the child is also someone else's, and that's a significant part of who that child is. This is true even when one of the parents is deceased or absent, and it's certainly true if the child's other parent is present and involved in his or her life.

The fact that the kids have another parent/family somewhere else isn't a bad thing, nor should it reflect negatively on them. Although the two-family situation can sometimes present challenges that non-blended families do not have to face, for the most part,
it's just the way it is. I really don't think it would have been that complicated or inconvenient for Marcia, Jan and Cindy to take an episode off because they were with their father that day. Sitcom writers have made far more unlikely storylines happen when they really wanted to.

If I were to make a movie or sitcom about our family... well, it wouldn't be interesting enough. (That's why we all have blogs, right?) But hypothetically, I couldn't even consider making it seem like it's just about the three of us and our life here, no matter how simple it might be to edit here and there to make it look that way. So much of who Khymi is comes from her mother and maternal family, her life and experiences at her other home, and also from her past, years before either her stepfather or I even knew she existed. None of those parts of her life involve me or are under my control. That doesn't mean, though, that I can just operate as if those parts don't exist or matter. If I did, I would essentially be rejecting my stepdaughter's integral, whole being. And so, while we spend most of our time together focusing on maintaining a good family life in the everyday and in this place, Jacob and I know that we are just one side of her uniquely multifaceted life. We are one family, but we are not her one and only.

It's a little tiresome, but when one of those well-meaning counselors or teachers says to Khymi, "Let's show your mom what you've learned," I smile and say kindly, "I'm her stepmom, but I'd love to see what she's learned. And maybe we can take a picture to show her mom, too."


Friday, August 1, 2008


For once, I'm not talking about the stuff at our house.

My mom, textiles PhD and sustainable consumption blogger Nice White Lady, is doing a series this week on clothing/textiles made from bamboo. We personally are all too aware of how "highly renewable" bamboo is, but does that alone make it a more eco-friendly source of material for fabrics? Find out here.

As for us, we're finishing up a week at the beach, so we'll catch up after we get back.