Living Happily Ever After


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A Warning

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” (Benjamin Franklin)

When I was a girl, I remember my dad telling me many times, “We’ve never been parents before. Please forgive us for any mistakes we may have made. Believe us when we say that every mistake has been made out of love.”

Then I grew up and became a mother. Believe me, I’ve shared that sentiment with my own children, many times, over the years, as well.

And THEN I became a stepmother. Or as some would say, “Better a serpent than a stepmother!” (Euripides) Completely new unchartered territory.

Despite their “fairy tale portrayals,” let me set the record straight. Stepmothers actually are human beings. They’re women. They’re mothers. They’re imperfect, like everyone else. Odds are, they’re bound to continue to make parenting mistakes. Even with stepchildren. Especially if they’re me.

I made my first one before I even married my husband. I apologized, my future stepson forgave me, and I realized something would be very handy in the remarriage/blending a family situation: a disclaimer.

Yes, I think parents, especially stepmothers, should come with a warning to the children they love and will parent. Something like, “Please forgive me. I’ve never been a parent before. I’m bound to make mistakes, but every mistake I make will be out of love as I seek to do what is best for you to prepare you for life.”

And along with the disclaimer, a guarantee: “I promise I won’t quit, I won’t let myself fail you, but I may find several ways to do it wrong in my quest to get it right.”

Maybe even 100 ways.

Consider yourself warned.

“One timely cry of warning can save nine of surprise.” (Joshua Thompson)

Love, Marriage, Eyebrows…Or The Lack Thereof

“You have to walk carefully in the beginning of love; the running across fields into your lover’s arms can only come later when you’re sure they won’t laugh if you trip.” (Jonathan Carroll, “Outside the Dog Museum”)

I haven’t run across a field into #5′s arms yet. However, as for the whole “walking carefully” thing, it’s a little too late for that.

Due to a tiny, pink Panasonic “personal” trimmer.

Because I own one, and finally put the battery in it and decided to test it out.

It has been awhile since I’ve shaped my eyebrows, so I thought that would be a perfect project for my little pink trimmer. Consumer report: It worked really well. It was easy to use. I was impressed with its trimming capability.

Until my arm slipped.

And before I knew what was happening, I had shaved off half of my right  eyebrow!

It was one of THOSE moments.

I stood there, staring in the mirror, filled with horror at what I’d done. Then I remembered: I’m married now;  WHAT was my husband going to say? (Note to self: Not a wise mistake any time, but especially when you’re a newlywed AND turning 44 years old. You’d think you’d have the hang of eyebrow grooming by the time you reach middle age! Apparently…unless you’re me.)

That evening, when I saw my husband and he asked me what I’d done that day, I REALLY had something to report! I don’t think it’s what he expected to hear I’d been up to, but he had the good grace, following his initial shock and disbelief, to shake his head and laugh (despite the fact we were on our way to an anniversary party for his talent agency, Utah’s TMG, to spend the evening with actors and models! JUST what you want to do and where you want to go, particularly after you’ve shaved off half of one eyebrow!)

Second marriage moment #15. Having to tell my new husband of less than 4 months that I’m missing half an eyebrow.

I never expected that.

Speaking of Battles

“Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle.” (George S. Patton)

Ok. So it’s time for a little too much information. About #5. And the way he “fights.” Get this:

1. He doesn’t yell. He discusses issues, calmly and patiently, in a rational manner. I appreciate that. (It’s how I’m inclined to resolve things, as well.)

2.  He is loving and affectionate, even in the face of a disagreement. For example, when we’re discussing an “issue,” he is touching my shoulder, holding my hand or has an arm around my waist. (I have to say, I love this one. I’ve never seen anyone “fight” like this, but I appreciate it!)

3. The one or two discussions we’ve had since the infamous conversation pre-marriage when he “dumped” me and that I would consider a “fight,” #5 either doesn’t remember them or he doesn’t consider them “fights.” I think three times now he has told me,” “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever been mad at you before!” (I appreciate his short term memory in this regard!)

4. He’s got the “kiss and make up” part at the end together! (SORRY! Just had to throw that in there– I’ve already shared TMI in this post, what’s a little more?) I guess you could say he has learned what Bob Marley has: “The harder the battle the sweet of jah victory.” Whatever that means.

However, if, “The ultimate test of a relationship is to disagree…but hold hands,” (Unknown) then #5 and I have passed the test. Each and every time.

“I Love You”

“Where lipstick is concerned, the important thing is not color, but to accept God’s final word on where your lips end.” (Jerry Seinfeld)

I walked into my bathroom the other day and found a message from #5:  ”I Love You.” Written with Mac lip liner pencil on the mirror. (He said he couldn’t find my lipstick!) It was totally unexpected and it delighted me. Other than the boy I had a crush on when I was a teenager who “soaped” the windows in my bedroom and bathroom with fun messages when I turned 16 and could finally date him, I can’t recall anyone ever doing anything like that for me before.

Second marriage moment #13; followed closely by #13a and #13b.

Shortly after I found the love message, my five year old wandered into the bathroom. ”What’s that?” he asked.

“It says, ‘I Love You,’ and it’s from daddy to me,” I replied.

“How did he get it on there?” he asked.

I explained that it was written with lipstick, wasn’t that fun? He agreed, and got a big grin on his face. In the aftermath of the trauma we lived through two years ago, I confess, I’m always looking for signs that my children are healing, doing well, are happy and feeling secure in their young lives once again. Right about the time I started to think he must be feeling safe and secure knowing his new daddy love his mommy, he instead said, “Cool! I didn’t know we could write on mirrors!” (#13a)

I instantly realized my mistake and clarified that only daddies and mommies can write love notes to each other on mirrors. He was disappointed, but headed out to play while I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had narrowly avoided who-knows-WHAT disaster should my youngest decide to add writing with lipstick to his creative arsenal.

But in a remarriage, if it’s not one thing, it’s another! For example, you can’t just quietly and privately enjoy a romantic message from your new husband. Especially if you have 8 children.

The next time I walked into the bathroom and felt my heart give a little leap at the sight, again, of the “I Love You” from #5, I saw a new message had been added below the original. “Ahhh, gee thanks!” Written by someone else. (Based on the handwriting, I think it was my 18-year-old.)

Second marriage moment #13b? The delight of having young adult children offer their take, and respond to, love notes from your husband!

“I love you more than I have ever found a way to say to you.” (Ben Folds)

Or write…on the bathroom mirror!

Speaking of Adjustments

“If you can sell green toothpaste in this country, you can sell opera.” (Sarah Caldwell)

You have to love marriage. It teaches you things, and shows you things about yourself, that you never ever knew. But here’s the difference between first marriage and remarriage (or maybe it’s the difference between youth and experience): you learn not to sweat the small stuff.

For example, in addressing the reality of marriage let us not neglect the infamous tube of toothpaste episode. We can’t!  I mean, doesn’t EVERY marriage have one?

Lest anyone has received the mistaken impression that #5 is walking male perfection (although he is very close), know that while brushing his teeth one day, he looked at me, held the tube of toothpaste we shared, and made a comment not just about which part of the tube had been squeezed…but about the tightness (or lack thereof) of the cap.

“Huh?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about. I confess, it has been years (probably 22 of them) since I’ve given any thought to squeezing a tube of toothpaste and where–and I don’t think I had EVER given any thought to the tightness of the cap on the toothpaste tube!

In first marriages, said incident has caused many a “first fight.” However, in remarriage, it is more like this:

The offending party (me) realized something about herself she had never known before; determined to pay more attention to the little details of toothpaste tube squeezing; and resolved, then and there, to work to always put the toothpaste tube cap on completely. A little thing on her part that would make such a difference to #5. No offense taken, just rational analysis and a determination to improve. No big deal.

The offended party (#5) knows there are easy solutions to the little irritations of life and relationships, ways to avoid potential problems (especially if you tackle them before they actually become problems) and he was willing to take action then and there. “Or should I just buy my own tube of toothpaste?” he asked. No big deal.

I warned him in advance that I might forget my new resolution and asked for his patience with me as I changed. He told me no problem, when I forgot to put the cap on or didn’t properly attach it, he would attach it VERY tightly when he put it on for me. And that was the end of that.

Both of us know there are a lot bigger issues to worry about in marriage and life than toothpaste tubes and caps; you have to pick your battles, and most aren’t worth the hassle or the fight. (Just “little” things like nurturing love, companionship, friendship, unity, kindness, respect, working together, cooperating, compromising, health, employment, raising children, blending families, serving others, making a difference in the world for the better and a host of other things.) Who really cares about toothpaste?

We also know this: ”You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.” (H.R. Haldeman) There’s no sense crying over spilled milk. “The course of true love never did run smooth.” (Williams Shakespeare) And, “Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

A Mixture of Pleasure and Pain

“This moment in time, on this tour, you know, I’m discovering a lot of new things. And to be 45 and doing that, it’s a mixture of pleasure and pain, I can assure you.” (Eric Clapton)

I’m not 45 years old, but this week marks my three-month wedding anniversary; cause to reflect on my current “tour,” remarriage, and to evaluate my experience thus far–as in where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

I remember back to the “good old days” of being engaged. I don’t know how it all came across in the blog, but the reality of it was not 9 1/2 months of bliss, carefree romance and starry eyes and nights despite the many great moments we shared. In actuality, it was the majority of  one year spent getting to know one another even better, preparing to unite not just ourselves but our families, and of challenges, confronting issues and resolving them–and when you’re talking remarriage, you’re dealing with all of the aforementioned stuff to an even greater degree than a first marriage. In fact, there was so much to work through, #5 used to joke that marriage would be easy compared to being engaged and that there was nothing we wouldn’t know about one another by the time we got married.

I think I thought #5 meant being married would be “easier” and with less to work through than our engagement and that because we knew each other so well, there wouldn’t be any surprises or a period of adjustment to one another after our wedding. (You know, for being this old and somewhat experienced in life and marriage–having been married 20 years to someone else prior to marrying #5–you’d think I’d be a lot brighter than I am!) But boy, was I wrong.

I realized, again, that you never truly know someone until you live with them and in life, and especially the remarriage aspect of the unexpected one, it seems like there is always something to work through or resolve!

I’m a hopeless romantic. (I’ll confess that right here and now in case that has happened to escape the attention of anyone reading this blog.) I went into remarriage with my usual rose-colored optimism and romantic ideals of perfection.  And while my remarriage is wonderful, there have been a few moments of challenge (if I’m being honest.) Moments spent in resolving issues. And the truth, in my experience and based on what I’ve learned from premarital counselors and others who have lived through or are living through the remarriage experience, is that approximately 80% of issues, conflict, and anything else that needs to be worked out can usually be related directly to money, children and/or former spouses. (Which shouldn’t be THAT surprising, since statistics show most first marriage difficulties arise over money and children, too.)

One day, in the middle of an “issue resolution” I joked that despite all the premarital counselor had tried to prepare me for, remarriage was a lot more difficult than I’d anticipated. That stopped #5 in his tracks. He looked at me in all seriousness and said, “Really? I thought it was going to be a LOT worse than this! I thought it was going to be much harder than this! I’m actually amazed at how well everything is going and how few problems we have compared to what I expected.”

That stopped ME in MY tracks. I was stunned. “Wait, you thought it was going to be WORSE than this…and you married me anyway?” I asked.

“Absolutely, and I’d do it again,” he clarified.

THAT sums up the remarriage experience for me, as well as the unexpected life.

It can be a stretch to feel like an old dog learning new tricks in your 40s. A mixture of pain, growing pains, as you learn and grow through the new opportunities you’re blessed with as well as plenty of pleasure, like when your new husband tells you, despite the challenges, issues and the work required to resolve them, that it’s even better than he expected, that he loves you and that he’d do it all over again. For you.

Second marriage moment #12.

“Forever can never be long enough for me, To feel like I’ve had long enough with you…Marry Me, Today and Every day, Marry Me…say you will.” (Train, “Marry Me”)

I love it when #5 hums, sings, says that or plays it for me on XM Radio “The Coffee House” channel.

The Unexpected Life.

“Oh, How Nice!”

“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.” (Mark Twain)

Actually, it was the first of March…but it showed me pretty much the same thing April was bound to.

Our first Sunday back at church after our honeymoon, our pastor asked #5 and I to address our congregation the following week. The Sunday of our assigned talks, I gave mine and sat down. I was followed by #5, who gave an excellent and heartfelt talk and ended it by expressing his love and gratitude for his wife; thanking her for her good example and for all she had taught him.

I sat there watching #5 conclude his talk, listening to him express his love and gratitude for his wife, and never thinking a thing of it–other than to think to myself in a very detached way (like I did the entire time I was single), “Oh, how nice. That man is married and that man loves his wife.”

He finished, turned to sit down and then suddenly it hit me:  Wait! He was talking about ME! I was HIS wife!

Married two weeks, and I’d already forgotten who my husband was! I’d found adjusting to being single after 20 years of marriage very difficult. I never imagined that the fulfillment of my dream–to find an amazing man, fall in love and remarry–would be an adjustment, too! But apparently it was going to be, since I experienced a total brain freeze about being married again just two weeks into it!

Second marriage moment #3.

“If it’s hard to remember, it’ll be difficult to forget.” (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Thank goodness my forgetfulness only lasted a moment.:)

The One That Left Them All Behind

“If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up.” (J.M. Power)

I woke up.

It was the day of my wedding.

I was calm, at peace, happy, excited and really didn’t have anything to worry about, except #5 showing up! (A snowstorm was in the forecast, and he was driving down with my two oldest children that morning.) It was getting pretty close to the time we needed to be at the Manti L.D.S. Temple, and just as I noticed that and began to worry about the snow and wonder if #5 was going to show up, I heard his voice in the kitchen.

He had arrived!

I confess, my heart did a little leap when I heard him.

I walked out to greet him and I confess, again, that my heart did another leap when I saw him. (Do I have a crazy crush, or what? I should probably marry the man!) He looked so handsome, standing there in his new wedding attire–dark suit, red tie–and his “longer” hair. (He auditioned for a film role that requires longer hair, so he’s been growing it for awhile. He was worried about the long hair and joked he’d have to photoshop his head onto our wedding photos because he looked so scroungy, but honestly, I’m kind of liking it!)

I rushed to finish getting ready, #5 soon informed me it was time to go, so I grabbed my dress and we drove to the temple.

Totally happy.

Totally in love.

Totally calm.

Totally at peace.

And then we were at the temple. As we walked toward the front doors, I couldn’t help but reflect on the previous generations of my family members who had done the very same thing at that very same temple: my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents  on both sides and many others. It was a beautiful building and the perfect place for me to embark on an entirely new adventure (slightly more expected than the last one, I might add!)

As we walked the halls of that sacred place, climbed the famous spiral staircase built by pioneers that still stands as an engineering marvel today, and entered the room we were married in I had only one thought: “This day is worth absolutely everything I endured to get here. Every single event that led to this moment, the waiting, the enduring, the challenges, everything…I would go through every single one of them, again, to learn what I have learned and to end up here with #5 today.” I believe that sometimes we have to go through very difficult things to get to exactly where we need to be.

And then we were married. The whole thing could not have been more perfect (except for my damp palms, I don’t know why I had them because I wasn’t nervous, but that wasn’t very romantic of me; my sincerest apologies to #5.) What I remember most about my wedding is that it all couldn’t have been more perfect! Through the whole thing I kept thinking, “This is absolutely perfect! This is my favorite wedding I have ever been to!” And it was.

At the end of the ceremony, the man performing our marriage and sealing told #5 to kiss his bride–so #5 did. Afterward, the sealer commented that it was one of the lengthier, thorough, and more “romantic” kisses he had ever witnessed in the temple, and without missing a beat #5 explained, “That’s because we’ve had a lot of practice!”

Although I’m pretty sure #5 was referencing my age, since I’m a newlywed, I’ll let it slide:) But let me say this:

“Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.” (“The Princess Bride”)

But I may be slightly prejudiced.:)

The Packet

“Shake hands forever, cancel all our vows, And when we meet at any time again, Be it not seen in either of our brows, That we one jot of former love retain.” (Michael Drayton)

As I said, to obtain the necessary cancellation and clearance to remarry in a L.D.S. temple, a packet of paperwork must be completed and submitted to your local pastor.

As part of that packet, you must write a letter regarding your first marriage; when and where it took place, why your marriage ended, if there is any hope for reconciliation, and other personal information; your former spouse must write a letter–they’re free to share whatever they want to share, I think; your pastor must write a letter; and the pastor of the person you’re engaged to must write a letter. All of that is included with your application.

You must then be interviewed by your pastor.

You must then be interviewed by the local church leader who presides over your pastor’s congregation and several other L.D.S. congregations and pastors.

And then your packet is sent to Church Headquarters, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Your fiance goes through the same application process on his end and his packet is also sent to Salt Lake City.

When both are received, the applications are reviewed. If information is missing, if more information is required, or if there are any other questions, the paperwork is returned for additional information. Sometimes a certain amount of time must pass before an application can be made. Sometimes it’s an issue of rounding everything up from everyone involved–it can take awhile! Factor in holidays, vacations, mail time, missed phone calls, wait time for appointments, and the rest of life…it takes a fair amount of time to complete the necessary paperwork, gather the required letters and obtain the authorization.

You never know how long it will take.

And as it is a very private matter, you don’t always know the reasons for the delays.

And you wait.

In my case, while you wait, you hear a lot of stories. And now here comes the gossip (feel free to skip it, every bit of the following is hearsay and could be completely inaccurate or untrue–having passed through who knows how many mouths and ears–but all shared with me by well-meaning people with the good intention of helping me know what to expect.) I call it “divorced L.D.S. gossip,” but here is just some of what I’ve heard the past 9 1/2 months: a church leader and his wife of 20 years STILL waiting for their authorization to be sealed in the temple; a worthy couple, both with regular temple recommends, waiting 2 years for their authorization to be sealed in the temple; a couple waiting four months for their authorization; and that the average wait for authorization is anywhere between 30 days and three months–it depends on each individual and situation, and to what degree additional information is needed.

I began the process, so did #5.

“What’s interesting about the process…is how often you don’t know what you’re doing.” (Alan Rickman)

“Yours Mine And Ours”

“I don’t answer the phone.  I get the feeling whenever I do that there will be someone on the other end.” (Fred Couples)

The phone call came at the end of the work day Monday afternoon. It was from the ice arena. Our sons, the boys we’d disagreed about and had broken our engagement off over just the night before, had gotten into a public brawl on the ice. Supposedly, his son bumped my son while they were skating and hitting pucks (that’s hockey.) But my son didn’t like that and hit his son. His son hit mine back for hitting him. And then my son took his hockey stick to his son, swung it like a baseball bat and hit his son across the back!

My oldest son witnessed it, ejected my middle son from the ice, and the offender was MAD. He called me, wanted me to pick him up from the ice rink so he wouldn’t have to wait there and watch the other boys having fun. Unfortunately, I work in another city so that wasn’t possible. (I also thought it wouldn’t hurt him to cool off, to sit and watch the other boys having fun on the ice, so I told him we’d talk about it when we got home.)

I hung up the phone and shook my head. WhoEVER would have thought I’d be the mother of a son who got in a brawl, in public? Certainly not me! (Yet here I am, delighting in all kinds of unexpected experiences I’m continually blessed with.)

Then I called #5 and left him a message. ”I don’t know if you’ve heard yet, but there was a physical altercation on the ice today. I’m calm, I’m not upset; I hope you are too. While I don’t know if you have other plans for this evening, I don’t think we can let this go any longer. We need to sit down and talk to the boys, together, tonight.”

It’s funny how life prepares you for…life. How certain things (people, places, events, experiences) can prepare you for other things–even when you don’t realize you’re going to need them. Like how we’d had our disagreement about our boys just the night before. At the time, I’d thought it was a terrible thing–to fight and then break up–yet in reality, it allowed us to work through our issue, separate the issue from us, get it together and present a united front to our children.

When #5 walked into my home that night, he looked at me with a smile and joked, “What would Mike and Carol Brady do?”

There was only one answer to that. I’d learned it from my wise Colorado friend when I mistakenly expected to make my remarriage/blended family situation like The Brady Bunch and it wasn’t working, and I’d thought I was disappointed–until she straightened me out. I shared it with #5.  I said, “PLEASE! It doesn’t matter what Mike and Carol would do. We aren’t the Brady Bunch, never will be, and I’m ok with that.” I added, “Mike was gay; Carol was depressed; Greg kissed his step-sister Marcia; Alice couldn’t get her love, Sam-the-meat-man to commit…I don’t want or need to be The Brady Bunch!”

And in that moment I realized, again, I really feel that way. What #5 and I have, with our children, is right for us. It’s actually very, very good. We need to help a couple of our children learn to appreciate each other a little more–however biological siblings sometimes need to work on that, too.

But it was a good opportunity to tell #5 what I DID want: ”If we’re going to be like anyone, I want to be ‘Yours Mine & Ours!’” I exclaimed.

He looked at me strangely, couldn’t figure that one out, I guess, because he asked, “‘Yours Mine & Ours?’ Why that? They had way more kids than we do and besides, I’m not in the armed forces.”

“Yes, I know!” I explained. “But Rene Russo is WAY hotter. If I’m going to be like anyone, let alone any stepmother, let it be her!”

We laughed, went in together and had a great talk with our sons. I have to say, I think that challenge made us better; stronger than ever. The challenges of life, the unexpected life itself, have a way of doing that, you know.

“Troubles are often the tools by which God fashions us for better things.” (Henry Ward Beecher)