Adventures in Co-Parenting: Volume Three: Sensitive Toes

There’s a reason people say they feel like they’re getting their “toes stepped on.”  Think about it.  You only have to envision your first middle school dance, spinning and straight-legged swaying in an awkward sweaty circle to a Boyz II Men jam and all of a sudden – yowch – there goes your big toe, black and blue and gawky all over.  Getting your toes stepped on hurts.  As adults, we’ve generally moved past the unnerving slow-dance phase, but there are many times, especially as parents, when we feel as if our metaphorical toes have been metaphorically trodden. Julie:  Sometimes I joke that I am a high school teacher so I can boss people around all day.  Write this ten page paper by tomorrow.  Read this entire book by yesterday.  Act out this play that was written 500 years ago…and enjoy it.  Obviously, there’s much more to it than that, but in general, I like being in control and my choice of profession is a reflection of that.  This past September, Katie forwarded me an email exchange she had with Jackson’s teacher regarding some academic concerns.  He has a wonderful teacher and the email exchange between she and Katie was incredibly detailed, aptly observant, and mind-numbingly long.  And by long I’m talking about the length of an email exchange you used to have with your girlfriends the Monday after a crazy weekend back before everyone started getting hitched and popping out kids.  However, instead of being thrilled that his teacher had taken the time to inform Katie about Jackson’s progress, I was furious.

Why wasn’t I originally on this email?  I am a teacher, for goodness’ sake.  I can’t frost a cake and I have never figured out how to rid my house of its resident dust bunnies, but I know education.  I took it as a huge slight and immediately jumped to the conclusion that everyone at the school thought Katie was the only VIP when it came to Jackson’s education.  The fact that I was a professional didn’t faze them because I was only the stepmom.  My bossy, type-A personality reared its very ugly head and my controlling teacher-toes felt thoroughly and completely squashed.    After taking a brief moment to cool down, I calmly and eloquently shared my frustrations with Katie.  Please read previous statement as:  I whined to her for a good ten minutes.

Katie is a fast-talker and fast-typer and before the final whine had trailed out of my mouth she had composed a lovely and clear email to Jackson’s teachers and support staff, stating unequivocally that all communication should go directly to both of us.  I quickly saw that I was completely off-base with my original assumptions; both Katie and the teachers completely respect me as a teacher and, more importantly, as his stepmom.  I am now the proud recipient of and participant in anywhere between four and thirty-two emails a day between Katie and Jackson’s teacher.  I know when he aces his science test, when he needs to study his geometry flashcards, when he blows his nose, and when he drops his pencil.  My inbox is overflowing (not important), my bossy-teacher-ego is soothed (so not important), and Jackson has a whole lot of people who know exactly what is going on in school and at home at all times (very, very important).

Katie:    Two years ago, JT and Julie decided to move to Saratoga.  Prior to this, I was the school week mom, and they were the weekend parents.  I was working full time as a pharmaceutical sales rep and attending graduate school in the evenings.  I was the crazy-busy, run-out-the-door-with-my-hair-wet, forget-my-lunch, forget-his-lunch, late-to-school, multi-tasking mom.  Of course I was excited for Jackson to get to see them more, but naturally a little worried about the major change in our routine.

Julie was pregnant, moving to a new city where she didn’t even know where the grocery store was, starting a new job at a high school she had never been to, and planning a wedding in a town she now lived far away from.  Despite all of this, Julie called me up a week before school started and announced that she had gone school supply shopping with Jackson and gotten everything on his class list – backpack, crayons, all of it.  I stared at the telephone in confusion wondering what in the world she was referring to because I couldn’t even remember seeing this alleged “class list.”

It’s a moment I will likely never forget.  There were two very strong emotions that struck me.  1- It happened.  She has officially stepped on my toes; going school supply shopping was a mother-son tradition and she just went ahead and did it.  And 2- Sigh, what a relief!  School supply shopping is done and now I don’t have to add it to my never-ending to-do list.  I realized that this was my opportunity to define our relationship.  Either she would be ‘that woman’ who just stepped in and started buying my son crayons, or she would be an ally who had my back so I didn’t have to jet out in the middle of a meeting because I’d forgotten to buy glue sticks.  It was a turning point both in my life and in my relationship with this new woman in Jackson’s life.  Now, a few years later, I can confirm that Julie was definitely not stepping on my toes; in fact she has saved my forgetful butt so many times since that I now firmly believe that every hardworking mother in this world deserves and needs a stepmom in her life.

Our Conclusion:  We’ve all had our toes stepped on at one point or another.  Sometimes it’s a result of our own egos and sometimes a major change in routine can completely throw us off.  The important thing to focus on is the value that each parent adds to the situation, no matter how many parents you are working with.  One parent may be the best at healing boo-boos while another is the go-to for math homework.  One parent may be the sympathetic shoulder after a first heartbreak while another does the best voices during the bedtime story.  We all have our strengths when it comes to parenting, and we should try our best to work together to bring out those strengths in each other.

When you reach one of these “crossroads” type situations, be sure to evaluate your choices and motives thoroughly.  Without a doubt, having your toes stepped on as well as stepping on your fair share of others’ toes is going to happen here and there (and for some people, everywhere).  You are the one who decides whether the issue escalates or whether you allow that bruise to heal.  In the meantime, though, take a break from the everyday pressures of life – homework, work work, cleaning, crayon shopping - grab a loved one or two and pump some Boyz II Men.  Have yourselves a nice little toe-stepping-free spin around the living room – hideous braces, Dorito-breath, and ugly corsages not included.

Julie Cox lives in Saratoga and is a high school English teacher. She loves being a mom to Jackson (10), Declan (2), and is looking forward to welcoming a new baby this fall.

Katie Nemer is a true Saratogian who is loving life as an at home mom to Jackson (10), Zoe (2) and Cocoa (their chocolate lab).

To read more Adventures in Co-Parenting, check out Part One here and Part Two here!