The Struggle Is Real

I took a day off today. I struggle with anxiety on the best days and, for the most part, I think I do pretty well. This past week pushed me past my limit. I was on the verge of tears for days. I went for a run last week and was crying when I started and felt lighter, happier, the further I got away from my house. When I rounded the corner to go back up my street, I started to cry again. There was no one home, but getting back to our house was too much for me. So I sat on the corner and cried. I decided I needed a day for me. And Curtis doesn’t understand. I know it hurts him to know I need time for myself. Real parents don’t get time off. He doesn’t get it to the point where he asked me to make him lunch so he can come eat with me. It’s lovely that he chose to come home and spend lunch with me, and I started crying because all I want is for one day to not be beholden to anyone. I even took off my Fitbit to not have to worry about steps. I just want to be alone, on my own time, on my own terms for a few hours. And he admitted he wasn’t sure if he should, and I thanked him for wanting to spend it with me. But I really wanted to just be me. No one’s partner, no one’s parent… just me.

I was in such a state, I was going to skip Reegan’s hockey practice. I was actively planning to not be home when he came to get Reegan’s hockey gear. I wanted to be alone. I’m not sure if it was from watching too many episodes of This Is Us, or if it was the exercise I did, or if choosing to miss Reegan’s practice was a step too far for me, but I strapped on my Fitbit and running shoes and chose to walk to the arena instead of missing out. I walked home, too. And stopped to enjoy the view. And I feel a bit better, not all better, but ready to face this week’s hurdles. And I will take that small victory. 

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Our Summer

After my last post, I decided to post something a little more positive. I’m a little behind, but it’s a good problem to have to be too busy to write blog posts. I am actively trying to live in the moment and not document every little thing, lest I miss something by staring through a lens.

We had a great summer. I had really high expectations for the summer, and it didn’t work out to be quite as fun as I thought it would be, but it was a really wonderful summer. I try not to get hung up on my expectations, but it’s hard when things don’t go as you planned. As one of my favourite singers said, “Expectations are the killer of the good sometimes”, and it’s so true.

We didn’t do much without the kids, although we did manage to take a trip to Ottawa to see my brother and celebrate Canada 150. The celebrations themselves were a letdown, as was my mother, but Curtis got to meet some of the family members I hold the most dear.

The rest of the summer was filled with ball, ball, and more ball. 5 tournaments, plus regular games. We did have more success with the kids going as we could make a deal for soccer with their mom. It felt like progress. The boys improved so much this year, I am so proud of them. One of the coaches even said that he wants Reegan to come out for the Tier 1 team next year (provided he can come to all the games), so that’s a really big deal. All his friends will be on that team. It’s a long way away, but fingers crossed we can make it happen. We just have to think positively.

IMG_3375Notice the little monkey in the background. Best photobomb from Taitum!

We took one trip as a family to my family cottage. As with any family property, there are politics and rules, but we had a great time there with my aunt and uncle and even my mom. The boys are even excited to go back next year and have already requested my brother come with us. It really warms my heart that the boys like the cottage. That’s my favourite place in the world and it was really great to spend my birthday up there with my family. I got a family breakfast and a family pic by the lake so it was a pretty good day. We may have the opportunity to own a piece of the cottage property through my mom’s inheritance and we really want to find a way to manage that financially. I want to give the boys the kind of summers I had.

IMG_3617My birthday present 🙂

Curtis and I both had a friend get married this summer – funny, though, it was HIS friends who kept asking us when we were getting married. It’s a bit of a touchy subject. I tried to make a joke about it once, and it didn’t go over well and I just ended up feeling bad about the fact that he doesn’t seem to care if we get married. I care. I definitely still deal with feeling like an outsider… most of the time, and it would really help if he would actually make me a part of his family, part of the kids family. I want to make a sign for our ice rink and I stress about what to call our family. Do I call us by his last name (even though I don’t have his last name and that is painfully, acutely clear to me)? Do I hyphenate the last name? It’s awkward. I think I’m going to avoid last names entirely. I know, though, he won’t do anything until he’s good and ready. Of course, we tried to pack too many things into those days and we had last-minute babysitter drama, but the weddings were lots of fun. I’m glad we made it work to go. It rained both days and, of course, they were both on nights when we had the kids, but we still managed to get all dolled up and go and have a great time. Definite wins.

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Taitum had his first real birthday party with friends this year, which was pretty cool. His mom had just had her baby so she didn’t do a party for him this year so we didn’t have to worry about who was inviting which kids. We did a fireman-themed birthday party so it was really cost-effective, too. We took them to the fire hall and they got to see the trucks and try on Curtis’ gear. We also took them swimming and had a fire-themed obstacle course in our backyard and cake and lunch… I think we’ll try taking it easier next year! It was fun (and easy) to have a party in the summer for once, though! What’s important is that he had a great time.

IMG_3869That face! Look how happy he is.

Curtis and I both have birthdays in the summer and we decided to not buy gifts for each other, just to spend it on our trip. We wanted to take the boys to Chicago to see the Jays play, but that didn’t work out financially, so we ended up at the indoor waterpark in Niagara Falls. The boys’ choice. I wanted to do Wonderland, because that’s what I did growing up, but they were more excited about the waterpark. (Their mom ended up taking them to Wonderland, where they had a great time, which irked me to no end, but they had such a great time with us, it’s hard to feel bad about the choice).

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The summer ended with the Fall Fair. As the summer progressed, we found that they probably had too much freedom because trying to get them back into a routine (even on our trip) was painful. (See my post about aliens stealing my step-kids). I was hopeful that we would have a drama-free fall as organizing that and back-to-school with their mom was (mostly) stress-free. So far, though, the fall has been pretty stressful as hockey will once again be a bone of contention. As we took Reegan into the arena this weekend, he said, “That was a QUICK summer”. That it was, Reegan, that it was.

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The Step-Parent Role

I had my first real rejection moment today, and it came at the hands of Curtis’ ex-wife. Nolan got in trouble at school today and when Curtis called to talk to their mom about it, she told him about all the things Nolan complains about when he’s at her house – most of them being me (how I yell at him, how I’m a terrible cook…) . The kids don’t say boo about what goes on at their mom’s place, but according to her, he comes in and right away tells her all about how horrible I am. I’m trying to take some of it with a grain of salt, she’s that kind of person and not known for her honesty – like according to her he said that we’re never home and that’s not true at all. At the same time, I know some of those things happened, and what he said has broken me a little bit today.

I find it hard to know what the step-parent role is. I’ve read all the articles about the 10 Things Never to do as a Stepmom and I try to take the advice that makes sense. For example, I try to let Curtis be the bearer of the punishment. And that’s all well and good, but what do you do when your 10-year-old stepson is screaming at you for reasons you don’t understand and he doesn’t listen to you? Last time I checked, making a joke about him helping with laundry if he’s bored wasn’t abusive. Well, I sent him to his room. Another time, he said he was bored and kept turning off the video game on his brothers and taking the controllers and trying to upset them. So I sent them outside to play and I told him he had to wait 5 minutes before he went outside. Then, I added a minute for every time he yelled at me after that. I could learn to keep my cool with him a little better and try to find out what’s wrong instead of reacting… and I think I NEED to do that… but where’s the line? So, in a perfect world, you are supposed to let their bio parent, well, parent… but what about when it’s just you and them? Are you supposed to be a doormat and just let it be until the “parent” returns? I am not a doormat. And today I am a hot mess at work and I wonder if I’m cut out to be a stepmom at all. What the eff did I get myself into and why did I think this was a good idea?

I think this is supposed to be some step-parenting, or even parenting, rite-of-passage and the way we deal with this will define our relationship going forward. I feel… betrayed. And all I can do right now is wonder how I’ll ever have a relationship with him again? How can I relax and have fun with him when I’m so worried about all of this? How will I ever make him respect me or listen to me? I have a few more days to stew about it while he is at his mom’s and he can tell his mom about how mean I was this morning, enforcing the “no iPad until you eat breakfast and are ready for school” rule we have. I also worry about what his mom is telling other people. I. Try. So. Hard…. I try so hard. I never wanted to be the Wicked Stepmom.

To quote Dear Evan Hanson… Does anybody have a map? Does anybody happen to know how the hell to do this?

 

 

The Real Cost of the Ex-Wife

We all know the tales of the costs of divorce. Tens of thousands spent in lawyer fees. Especially for the good fathers out there, who the law does not favour one little bit, fighting for shared custody, fighting for equal rights in regards to their kids, fighting to enforce agreements, fighting what is best for them. We have spent a literal fortune fighting for those kids.

So, we all know that story and we all think we know the cost. But the cost of an ex-wife is so much more than just lawyer bills.

First, there’s the support payments. Even with 50/50 custody and her being remarried, we still pay his ex-wife $500 a month child support. She is currently on mat leave with her 4th child (with her new husband) and she is laughing to people about how much more we’ll have to pay next year because of her leave. And that’s money we don’t have. We will likely have to sell our house to pay her extra support to fund the mat leave for the baby she had with the man she cheated with and left Curtis for. The law is supposed to make it so that they kids have an equal life at both houses. She just bought a house worth way more than ours, she has tons of expendable income to buy them anything they want and take them on lavish vacations, where we scrimp and save and borrow just to give the kids something a little nice. We will have to sell our house to maintain her level of spending and she is laughing. How is that an equal life?

We could fight it, and incur more legal costs fighting it, and hope we can at least maintain the $500/month status quo, but the law doesn’t have a lot of grey to protect fathers in that way.

She tells the kids how much money we have and makes a big deal about buying them whatever they want, portraying us as the rich people who won’t buy them anything. They know they can have whatever they want at their mom’s. So we try our best to keep up in the ways that we can, the name-brand clothes they want, day trips.

We try to make up the difference as best we can with quality time and sports. We pay for all their sports and their sports equipment. She won’t let them go to sports on her time (because it’s more time with us), so we give up our quality time in recompense so she will let them go most of the time. We’ve already been told that one would be on a rep baseball team this year if we can get him there, so we are trying our best to find ways to make it happen. Those are costs no one figures. And their agreement says that there is no time to be given back, but what is agreed upon in court is not what happens in reality.

On top of the physical cost and the loss of time, there’s also the emotional cost. So much time and energy is spent fighting her, or worrying about what she’ll do and adjusting our behavior before it’s an issue. We drive different ways to avoid seeing her (which is hard since she just moved around the corner from us), we fold the “M” clothes separately so we can send them in her clothes on her days and make sure she gets them back, we keep an extra set of everything (shoes, hats, mitts, boots, snow suits) at our house in case she doesn’t send them since it is difficult to get these things from her, (as I mentioned) we give up our time with them so they can play sports-full time… and these are just a few. The worst is that we let her get away with bad behavior where we have the legal and moral high ground (such as meeting with the school and teachers behind Curtis’ back, not telling him about doctor’s appointments, changing doctor’s appointments deliberately to make it work for her and not work for Curtis, not telling us she was in the hospital over night, and so on) because we’re afraid of the consequences. She’s mean and a bully and she doesn’t seem to care about the effect that will have on the kids… so we have to. And the emotional toll is great. Curtis tries his best not to let it affect us, but that doesn’t always happen. So sometimes we fight about her or because of her… sometimes we let her win.

If it was just her, that would be one thing. The ex-in-laws are in town as well… they go between spreading rumours about Curtis to make his ex look better, to complaining about her behind her back, to trying to fight for the kids when it comes to sports, to supporting her so they don’t have family issues (going so far as to turn the kids’ heads so they don’t see us)… Her sister and her parents will sometimes act like nothing is wrong and chat away like we’re besties (umm… seriously?) and will sometimes act like we have the plague. The emotional costs are never ending. I personally find the whole lot of them – the ex, the ex-in-laws, the new husband – terribly stressful. For me, the ex pretends I’m not there. Literally acts like I don’t exist. It’s less aggressive than it used to be, though. She doesn’t glare at me before putting her nose in the air anymore, or deliberately turn her back to me… I’m just not there. And for the most part I’m ok with it because it’s one less stress to deal with.

There’s one further cost that affects only me. And probably because I let it. She makes me insecure. About myself as a parent, about how I look… I feel like I constantly live in her shadow. It’s not that I don’t understand my role as a step-parent, I completely do. It’s little things like how she is organized enough to beat us to doing things and dictate the terms of it all (sometimes because Curtis doesn’t get his butt in gear and I have to be able to live with that), or how she had a baby and was up and about and taking the kids on trips the next day, or the fact that she had a baby a month ago and she is already back to being half my size while I sweat my butt off and swear off carbs just to lose 1lb in that same month. She is putting the image of a super mom out there and while I know it’s not that simple, I’m buying what she’s selling. She makes me question my worth… and that is one of the biggest costs because it affects how I act (for better and worse). I am trying to be the best I can be, I am always trying to compensate and be a better (step)parent… but I am also letting her win and make me doubt myself and that’s not good for anyone.

When Aliens Steal Your Step-kids

I have a bunch of half-written posts that I want to do and time doesn’t allow for it. Which is a good thing, but I feel like I have lots to say and instead I’m hiding in my bedroom, putting away laundry, listening to the kids fight while Curtis is on a fire call. So I thought I would start with that. 

Part of their custody agreement is that each parent gets two full weeks in the summer (as opposed to having full weeks with a mid-week access for the other person so no one has to go a full week without the kids.) Having the kids for a week at a time was awesome. We miss them when they’re gone and it’s so much easier to get in a routine when we have them every day. 

That being said, they just spent a week with their mom where they don’t have the same kind of rules and structure and they seem to get everything they want when they want it. Normally it takes a day to get back into our routine, but here we are, 3 days later, and it still seems like aliens have abducted the children and given us back monsters. Not listening, talking back, fighting, crying… who are these children? Two of them remind me of their mother at times, while one really reminds me of Curtis. And yet, while watching the parade and waiting for their dad to go by in the fire truck, I saw his mom in him when he talked down to another kid like that kid was dirt. It was a really eye-opening moment for me. 50% of the time, we don’t know these kids and, try as we might, we can’t negate her influence on them. (Good and bad – as much as we are frustrated, it’s not all bad.)

I just read an article where it said that no matter the relationship between the parents, kids do benefit from sharing equal time with both parents and I’m trying to take comfort in that. Fingers crossed that’s true. And all we can do is stick to what we do, try to be positive examples, enforce our rules, be kind, and not say bad things about their mom. 

But for today, I’m tired of trying to give time outs for yelling at me or each other. Aliens, if you’re listening, I’d like my step-kids back. 

Balancing Act

This week is sure to be another crazy balancing act in our house. Curtis and I both have extra work training to try and fit in this week, and there’s not a lot of compromise that can be done to work around it. It is what it is. But we’re communicating with each other and with my super understanding co-worker (thankfully) and I think we have it sorted out… in theory… knock on wood… standby and go…

We has to make some tough decisions about sports this week. Nolan and Reegan have baseball practice tonight and all 3 kids have soccer games. Curtis also has a baseball game and a soccer practice tomorrow. Allowing him to go to both games would require switching with his mom, but not for practices. Nolan hasn’t swung the bat once in 4 games. He’s done very well at the other aspects of his game, but he’s not swinging… he needs the practice. So does he go to both practices (ball tonight and soccer tomorrow), or is it more important to play both games (soccer tonight and ball tomorrow)? (Hard to follow? …Yeah, for me, too) Sigh… Well, he wants to play the games (what kid doesn’t?) so we had to make that tough call. We did end up deciding to let him go to the games. Reegan’s coach had said ball practice would be cancelled tonight, too. It wasn’t, but we had already told their mom, so all 3 kids will go with their mom to soccer tonight. The only good thing about this is that it will let Curtis visit his dad in the hospital. It does allow us to fit that one important thing into our week. We can’t both go, but we’ll take the wins where we can get them.

Tuesday, I have all-day training, and I have to go into work early and stay late. Both Reegan and Nolan play at 6:30 in town so Curtis might have to do that on his own. I’ll meet him there when I can. Then he has ball Tuesday night. Wednesday, more all-day training for me, same deal, and then Reegan has ball again and Curtis has training at 7 so I have to be home for that. Thursday is the last day of school and Curtis has ball. Somewhere in there, we have to pack for our trip to Ottawa on the weekend and just do regular life stuff. I’m tired already.

I’m just hoping we can stick together through all of this. It was a rough weekend. We have trouble finding the balance we need when his sister is visiting. There’s no middle ground, it seems. It all has to be his way. His sister may have the run of our house when she’s here and I am not supposed to feel uncomfortable or anxious about it because that’s how his family does things. I find the whole thing wholly unfair and that in itself makes me feel anxious and he doesn’t deal very well with my anxiety…so we argue. It’s an exhausting downward spiral. When we stick together and work together and respect each other (because I’m not devoid of blame for the arguing on the weekend), we can accomplish so much. So here’s to balance. And baseball. And family. And wine… because sometimes, wine is the answer.

I also wanted to share a moment of appreciation I had for my boys (yes, I just called them my boys). I have started walking in the evening with a neighbour and she was telling me that when her husband goes out for the evening, her step-daughter goes to her mother’s. She will never stay with my neighbour. She even chose to walk in the rain to the bus, rather than take a ride from her step-mom. My neighbour never takes her step-daughter to sports or just has one-on-one time, and that made me sad for her. She’s fine with it, she has two girls of her own to be an amazing mother to, but I still felt sad. She is one of the nicest, most generous people I know. I would be devastated if the boys did that to me (and her husband would be devastated if her girls did that to him). The boys would always choose their father, and I’m (mostly) ok with that. Even Reegan, who is usually ok with me, clung to his dad yesterday. And that’s ok. I still got to be there with the team and write the recap and be a part of their lives. That feels like a step-parenting win. So, here’s to my boys…

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Reegan’s ball team waiting for Team Pictures

 

 

Dealing with parental envy

I always thought it would be the boys mom that I would be jealous of. They adore her and I know I will just never be their mom. And I’m ok with that. I think I have a pretty healthy view of what my role in their life is.

Today, it’s Curtis I’m jealous of. I would never begrudge him a close relationship with his kids. I love how much his kids adore him. And he deserves it because he is a great father. I wish he could see how much they love him. 

While I think the kids all like me well enough (most of the time, anyway), I’ve really only developed a palpable bond with one of them. Reegan (7) wants me to read to him. So every night I read to him. It started because Curtis always fell asleep while reading to him but it became our little thing. Until tonight. Curtis has been asking Reegan for a little while to read to him and Reegan finally agreed. So out I go. Taitum only wants Daddy and Nolan gets both of us. I feel like he crushed the one parenting win I had. I have spent two and a half years trying to build that bond. That was our thing, and now it’s not. Not that the bond is gone, it still exists, of course. But he won, he gets to have that, too. I’m hurt and I’m sad and I’m full of envy. It’s one of those moments where it’s very apparent that I’m not a real parent.

Too Good to be True

Well, we knew it wouldn’t last. She needs money and if her favourite ATM won’t give it to her, she’s going to stop letting the kids go to sports until she gets what she wants. She sent her message through Nolan last night. He’s 10 and said to Curtis that ‘Mom said you owe her money and she’s going to stop the sports thing if you don’t pay her tomorrow.’ The thing is… we don’t actually owe her money. She wants more in child support and, technically, she has to go to court to get that. She’s threatening court now, and we might beat her to the punch after how she’s crossed the line. We put this verbiage in the agreement about how the parent will not have adult conversations with the kids or use the kids to communicate a parenting issue, but she just ignores the agreement. I can’t even imagine the effect this is having on Nolan. The very thought makes me feel sick. How can she be ok with putting that poor kid in the middle of this? Just let him be a kid. Don’t punish him to get a couple hundred dollars from your ex. It makes my heart hurt so much. I had no idea. He didn’t say anything to me. I shared my prize for the hat he helped me make (for the contest at my recital)… I let him stay up to watch his hockey team in the playoffs… he made his own strawberries… I thought he was good, but Curtis said it was like he was waiting to tell him, said he wanted him to know. It all makes me sad. I’m hoping it means he understands how much it means to Curtis for the kids to go to sports and how hard he tries… it all sucks…

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The award-winning hat that Nolan helped me make.

So here’s the thing… how can we protect them if she ignores a court order? How can even a judge enforce that if she just doesn’t care what it says? She ignores it all… She ignores the fact that is clearly states that sports are an outstanding issue and tries to bully us into doing it her way, she ignores the fact that she can’t change doctor’s appointments without Curtis’ permission, she ignores the fact that he’s allowed to talk to doctors and goes so far as to remove his name from the kids’ files, she ignores the fact that she’s supposed to turn over the kids birth certificates and the fact that she’s not supposed to bad mouth him to the kids, she takes the kids to the US without telling him… and she’s ignoring the fact that the agreement does not call for them to review child support every year, it just says that this is the amount to be paid. Well, the agreement is about as good as toilet paper as she will continue to do what she wants, no matter the damage done to those kids. So what are we to do? We’ve said we’re ready to go to court… but what can a judge do? Can someone make her do the right thing, or just obey the court order? We’ve been afraid of the emotional cost paid by the kids as she tries to exact her revenge on Curtis, but she’s already doing it… How do we know when the good outweighs the bad? Curtis is so angry at her right now, he’s ready to take a stand. We are ready to take a stand.

A Step-mom Navigating Mother’s Day

This really felt like my first Mother’s Day. When I got home from work on Friday, Reegan gave me a gift he made for me at school. When I booked lunch for my mom, he told me to say there were two mothers, and when he planned a Mother’s Day meal with his mom, he meant that to be for me, too. We ended up arguing about it and that’s how I found out, but certainly the intention is there. I really didn’t understand that they would celebrate me… a step-mom is its own unique thing and I know I’m not their mom, I know my role is unique. My gift from Reegan

The kids woke me up this morning with home-made cards, and I love them. Can I wake up that way every day? Lol.


Today, the boys went to be with their mom, as they should. Reegan ran back into the house so he could show his mom the gift he gave me. He ran back to find his coat, without the gift. When Curtis asked him, he said his teacher didn’t know he needed two. She kept it. Part of me feels bad for her, how awful to find out that your son gave your Mother’s Day gift to his step-mom, and part of me is furious at her for putting him in the middle. Of course I’m sad, that was my first Mother’s Day gift, I was going to hang that baby in a place of honour. I was so proud of it… poor kid must have felt so awkward. Curtis said he took it out of his backpack and said he made it for me. It must be hard to be a kid with two families. 

I worry about what she is going to say, I worry about the fight we caused. Will she stop taking the kids to sports, will she keep all of Curtis’ Father’s Day gifts for her husband? Will she make us out to be the a-holes who stole her gift? Or will the taking of the gift and what it represents be enough? 

I am not their mother. I am my own special person in their life. I am secure enough in myself as a person and in my role in their life to understand that. And to feel bad for everyone involved in this – her, Reegan, Curtis for having to see that, myself. Shared custody is a hard thing for everyone. And on the other hand… that woman stole my first Mother’s Day gift. 

We Step-Moms Have to Stick Together

I joined a few “Step-Mom” groups on Facebook and that’s been really nice for me. While I agree with one particular poster that sometimes it’s a little too sunshine and rainbows for those of us in the trenches, I find it really helpful to hear other step-moms with the same issues as me. Today one talked about feeling like an outsider and, while it’s MUCH better than it was, I still can’t help but feel like that sometimes. Especially when you want to be a mother yourself, as she said. So true. On the other hand, it’s also nice not to wallow in the mud. Nothing good comes out of dwelling on negative feelings.

Our situation hasn’t changed, really. BM (as they call her) is her awesome, cheerful self, demanding money and not compromising with sports. We still haven’t heard back from our lawyer (which is definitely frustrating) so the worst of that is still to come… stressful times. We are also pretty sure our child support offset payment is going up so we have to figure out how to pay for that. My father-in-law is still in the hospital after complications from his kidney transplant and that’s really brought our family together. For the most part, I’ve managed to keep any petty feelings at bay. It’s been good for us. My back went up when his sister started asking for pictures again (which I HATE), but I’m going to send it today. Other than that, it’s been good. Curtis has been lovely and supportive and things are better as we go through a lot together. I’m really hopeful that we have turned a corner and things will be good for us. Karma has to have our back eventually, right?

My favourite part of the weekend was when I found an app that lets you photoshop the Easter Bunny into a photo. I added him to a photo of our kitchen and then sent it to Nolan (SS10) – I should probably go back and make all of these without names – saying that he “stole Katrina’s phone”. The boys were really excited about that, although Taitum was surprised the Easter Bunny was so big, he thought he was little. It was a fun Easter with the kids, for sure. I already miss them since they’re with their mother today. With everything going on, I wish they were there today.

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Off to NYC in a couple of days with friends for a much-needed getaway. I’m wishing a little now I had chosen a trip with Curtis instead of the girls, but I couldn’t have known where we would be now. Just have to enjoy the time, enjoy the friendship, enjoy the theatre… And breathe.