To say that my husband and I jumped into the deep end when we got married is an understatement. We went from friends to husband and wife over the course of six months. We gave no thought to how our families, our friends, or our children would react to our relationship. We just jumped right in. I knew he was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and he knew I was the perfect girl for him. There was no question in either of our minds that what we were doing was right. But that doesn't mean there wasn't fallout.
If I'd given too much thought to what it really meant to not only be a military wife, but to live across the country from my husband, to have to go through a deployment less than two months after our wedding, to watch my children grow close to him and then have him leave again every time they start getting used to having him around, to become a step-mother to two little boys who are the product of a bitter divorce....I might not have done it.
Dax and I have faced more than our fair share of obstacles since we said 'I Do' almost a year ago, and any one of them would have been enough to end a more casual relationship. Despite the fact that we love each other more than life itself, sometimes the fact that we're married is the only thing that keeps us together, the knowledge that it's not just as simple as saying "Sorry, I can't handle this," and ending things. We made vows to each other. We pledged our lives to each other, for better or worse. And I don't see it getting much worse than deployments and living 1,200 miles apart even when he's not deployed.
So we stick it out together, no matter what life throws at us, and through it all our love continues to grow stronger. When we're together, we're happy. Blissful, even. But our life is not perfect. There are still challenges. One of the biggest challenges I face, aside from the distance, is forging a bond with my step-sons during the very limited amount of time I get to spend with them.
To say that my husband's relationship with his ex-wife is strained would be an understatement. Without getting into the dirty details, I'll just say that their divorce was ugly, and he is still dealing with the aftermath of that, over four years later. Which means that when he is home, he has to fight for every bit of time he gets to spend with his sons. And when he is gone, me and my boys don't get to see them at all, despite the fact that they only live about ten minutes down the road from us.
I have my own personal opinions about the mother of my husband's children, and most of them aren't good, but I'll save those for bitch sessions with my girlfriends over drinks. What I will say is that I, at first, went out of my way to try to be polite and friendly and show her that the best interest of all of our children was my number one concern. All my attempts at peace making were in vain, so now I settle for making sure that I don't allow my step-sons to see or hear any negativity from me or their dad as far as their mom is concerned, no matter how hard that is sometimes. And believe me, I often have to bite my tongue so hard, it bleeds.
Unfortunately, her unfavorable opinion of my husband and myself is no secret, and it shows in the way the boys interact with both of us, especially me. They're very young and extremely impressionable, so all I can do is try to show them, through my actions, that I'm not the "bad lady" I'm made out to be. I try to ignore all the "Well my mommy said"s and the "Mommy does it this way"s and the fact that anytime I get too close to either of them, they shy away like my Medusa's touch is going to turn them to stone.
I let them have fun with their daddy and their step-brothers, who they adore, and try to stay out of the way as much as possible. They're still so little, I feel like there's no need to rush it, that things will get better in time. Occasionally, I feel like I'm making progress. Every once in a while, especially when he's tired, my youngest step-son likes me to hold him. I always wait for him to come to me, though, and that's hard sometimes because he's just got these adorable, chubby little cheeks that beg to be squished. And sometimes, when everyone else gets sick of listening to him babble on and on (and on) about Star Wars, my oldest step-son will seek me out to tell me that even though Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi both have blue lightsabers, you can tell them apart by their handles. (Didn't know that, did ya?)
Babysteps. We make progress in babysteps. But we also suffer major setbacks from time to time. Like this weekend, when we celebrated Dax's eight-year-old's birthday with presents, cupcakes, his favorite meal and a family fun night at a hotel with a pool and game room. I put a lot of work into all of it to make him happy, to make him feel special, and instead of thanking me, he pointed out all the things I did wrong. (I made him cupcakes of the white Ninjago guy instead of the blue one, which is his favorite. I got him a book he already has.) I tried not to let my frustration show, but our mini-vacay began quickly deteriorating because of his continued negative attitude. By Sunday morning, I couldn't wait to get home so we could send the kids outside to play and I could talk to my husband about all of the things he needed to address with his son.
Before we left the hotel, we went down to the pool one last time. All the kids were splashing and jumping and playing and having fun....until the eight-year-old got splashed and water went up his nose. He started crying, and when his dad told him to cut it out, he climbed up to the edge of the pool, sat down, crossed his arms, and pouted. Things weren't going his way, which is something he's not used to, and he didn't like it. He glared at his dad, me, his brother, his step-brother, and the dozen or so other kids enjoying their early morning swim until I couldn't take it anymore. I swam over to him and scooped him up, which shocked him because of our physical contact-free history, and swam out to the deep end with him.
He whined and begged me to take him back and had a mini-panic attack, but I ignored him. He squirmed in my arms, trying to decide which was a worse fate....drowning, or letting his wicked step-mother hold him. "Are you done?" I asked when he finally started to calm down. He nodded silently. For the first time ever, I had a captive audience with my step-son. There was nowhere for him to run, no one to save him, no one to interrupt us....just him and me, in water that was up to my chin, and way over his little head. "Okay," I smiled. "Do you really think I'm going to drop you or let anything bad happen to you?" He looked at me, genuinely unsure what to think. I smiled again. "I'm not. I promise." We talked for a little while about the weekend, both the fun parts and the parts that could've gone a little more smoothly. We talked about his opinion of me, and the fact that while I'm very different from his mom, that doesn't make me a bad person. The more we talked, the more he loosened his death grip from around my neck and relaxed into me comfortably, almost effortlessly, the way my own kids do.
Before we swam back to join the rest of the boys, I told him to look up at the skylight over the pool. He turned his head towards the vaulted ceiling, and as he stared at the rainbow of colors bouncing off the panes of glass, I started to spin us in circles. It caught him off guard and he tightened his hold on my neck once again. "It's okay," I said. "Just trust me. Relax. Have fun." He started giggling as I spun us faster and faster, stopping when I got dizzy. "Was that fun?" I asked him. Grinning ear to ear, he nodded.
We swam back to the shallow end, where my husband was watching us with curious eyes. I let him go when I was sure his feet could touch the bottom of the pool. As I turned my attention to my nine-year-old, who was now begging me to take him out to the deep end to spin, my step-son caught my hand. "Jenn? Thank you for everything this weekend. This was pretty much the best weekend of my life." I smiled and said "You're welcome."
I know we still have a long road ahead of us. Especially since every time my husband leaves, any progress I make with my step-sons is lost and I have to start all over again the next time he comes home. I know that the overall process will be one mostly comprised of babysteps and setbacks. But one thing I learned this weekend is that sometimes, even with children, you just have to jump into the deep end.