I grind my teeth.
I don’t know for how long I’ve been doing it. I just know that when my teeth began to fall apart (after forty, of course), my dentist’s hygienist told me quite bluntly that I had the teeth of a seventy year-old.
Neither my dentist nor his candid hygienist explained to me why I grind my teeth. It isn’t their job to explain why. There is no room for preventative psychoanalysis in the straightforward dental profession. That part, I’ve learned, is my job. And I blame kids.
Here, I could try to go in the direction of one those sadly amusing Mommy blogs, but I’m not a mommy. I’m a stepmother, and that’s a very different experience. I didn’t carry these kids to term, I didn’t breastfeed them. As I neared the big 4-0, I just became a parent to two human beings who had already traveled with their biological parents through the delirium of those early months.
As a consequence, I don’t have a parent’s delusional filter that spares me from taking a child’s behavior too personally. I don’t have that inexplicable love coupled with guilt for bringing them into my mess, the emotional combo that ultimately engenders forgiveness. I feel and think every bump and pothole on the road to these kids’ maturation. And I dread the end of it.
I tried writing about this topic last night, in the heat of my frustration, and the result was just embarrassing. I just can’t do it at night. Correction: I can’t do it well at night. I wrote something, but it wasn’t an idea. There was no resolution. I just vented and then went to bed upset. I still am. I don’t need to explain the action that brought me here. I just think that kids, by virtue of their immaturity and confusion about life, are capable of being hurtful in all kinds of creative ways. You don’t need to be a stepparent to know that.
So I’m doing poorly today in general. I have a slight headache. I didn’t wake up feeling refreshed and thrilled about the daybreak. Rather, I woke up sick and tired from odd dreams, probably a result of the sixteen sandwich cookies I ate in lieu of an alcoholic bender (my trusty, thirty-something method of solving these problems).
One positive spin on this morning, though, is that there are no kids to wake up with me at 6:15, no little people milling around helplessly while I try to process my coffee and bring whatever I’m writing to an abrupt end. I’m not for sharing in the morning, at least until not until I’ve drunk that coffee and sat in the dark in front of a glowing monitor (That’s a side of me that I’m sure the kids’ll remember well into their eighties.). Meanwhile, in an alternate reality about three blocks down the street, their mom is cooking them a wholesome breakfast and showering them with her guilt-love.
Actually, they are good kids. One is a particularly agreeable little soul, sensitive and polite and highly empathetic. The other one, well, he’s a little more “complicated.” But he behaves well, and he plays the part. Whether he’s feeling the love or not (and who knows what he’s feeling), he usually acts like an obedient child. And you know what? That’s something. That’s a lot, in fact. Kids all around us these days, from the store to the soccer games and into our TVs, are acting like disrespectful, entitled little turds. I’m glad to be half-raising kids who don’t act like that.
I’ve often heard from parents and teachers that children at certain stages in their development don’t have to like you, shouldn’t like you, in fact. They just have to respect your rules and your wishes, your sometimes batshit ways of achieving order and routine around the house. And these kids do. They accept me and my vision, even tease me about it. My husband insists that they even like me, even love me, but who knows.
I can’t have it all, so why complain about what I do have? Anger and protests are for those decades past. Mine is, I suppose, for compromise. Because everyone likes an agreeable little soul, even if she is sometimes playing a part. And grinding her teeth.