This Is How They Hurt You: The Step-Parent Nightmare

It happened last night. The moment every step-parent-type knows will happen, but wishes never will. The moment I’ve been lucky enough to dodge for 7 months. The “you aren’t my mother” moment. And it just about killed me.

Cal is obsessed with Mario – he has all of the games and toys and clothes. He’s obsessed with finding cheat codes to unlock…things. And, this was something I learned after meeting Cal, people will record themselves playing games, upload them to YouTube, then other people watch them to learn things. I’m not a gamer, never have been, so none of this really makes sense to me, but it’s Cal’s life.

Scott has an older iPod touch that now basically belongs to Cal. He uses it to watch his videos and learn his cheats and…stuff. He’s a good kid, his autism really keeps him locked in on Mario (and now Pokemon as well), we trust him – so we don’t monitor every single video he watches. Which is how all of this got started.

A few months ago, I happened to look over his shoulder to see what he was watching. And there was Mario and Luigi plush toys. With guns. I immediately snatched that iPod out of his hand and watched more of the video. It was weird and stupid and involved guns, which, to me, inappropriate for kids into the Mario universe. So I explain to Cal that I don’t want him watching those videos anymore, he understands – matter resolved, nice smug parenting moment, and move on.

Except, a few weeks later, when I went into the boys’ room to get Charlie ready for bed. They have bunk beds, Cal was in his top bunk watching the YouTube. And as I stand up, I glance at the screen, and it’s those videos again. I know it. And I ask Cal, all smooth, whatchya watching? He goes red, gets nervous, and (as I’m standing right in front of him, bless his heart) types Mario Kart into the search field and hands it to me. Nooope, lying is the worst thing you can do in my book. I explain to Cal what he did wrong, why I’m upset, and why he can’t use the iPod for the rest of the night. In a fantasy world, it was very calm and rational; in reality, not so much. But, it happened, he was punished and we moved on.

Now, because I’m cool and rational, I went back and watched some of the videos this dumb internet jerk makes. And they’re stupid and poorly written and don’t make sense and not funny, but from what I saw? No more guns, nothing Cal couldn’t handle. So he was allowed to watch them again, because why the fuck not, right? WRONG. Because they taught Cal to say “corndog in your butthole.” I don’t know what that means, I do know that’s not something we’ll be saying in my house, thank you very much. That was it – weird Mario plush toy videos? Banished.

You know where this is going, don’t you? Last night, go into the room to put Charlie to bed, and Cal get real suspicious. Moving his blanket to hide something. Honestly, I thought it was food. Of course, it was not. And he tried the ol’ “search for something else real quick while I’m standing there watching” trick again. With the exact same results. Except the iPod is gone for all of Spring Break (which just started today).

Scott comes back to the room when he hears the commotion. We talk to Cal, he’s crying and saying he’s sorry. He tries “it was an accident!” I countered with “You’re lying again, maybe you don’t need Cartoon Network either.” I’m not screaming, I’m keeping calm, and staying firm; Scott’s backing me up and talking Cal down from a tantrum. I get back to the business of getting Charlie to bed, an ordeal in and of itself. That’s when the questions start.

“Dad, did you watch mean videos when you were a kid?” Scott explains that they didn’t exist back then.

“Did my mother?”

I know Scott answered, I don’t know what he says.

“My mother lives in Florida…”

I don’t hear any more over the pounding in my head. I get Charlie in bed and get the fuck out of there. I can’t think. I need outside, I need nicotine, I need to settle down before I lose my shit. See, the mother is not in the picture. It’s a long story – but she’s in Florida and has been out of their lives for a few years. She doesn’t really come up, so it’s very easy for me to forget about her. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Cal mention her.

Until last night. When he was upset. With me.

I’m outside, smoking like I’m getting paid to do it, focusing on keeping my shit together. Scott comes out, and next thing I know, I’m crying. I’m not a pretty crier. And this is that for real, deep hurt crying. Because it hurt so. fucking. bad. Because I’m not the mom, as much as I feel like I am. Because one day she could be back, and where the hell does that leave me? Because these boys are mine now. MINE. And I can’t live without them. They own too much of my heart and I would die if they were gone. Fuck, I’m crying now, writing this.

There’s no real conclusion to this very long story. We had a great day today. I know he didn’t say it to hurt me exactly (Scott thinks it was an attempt to guilt him), but I know there will be a time when he does. I know because I was a teen once and teens are evil little jerkfaces. And even though I know it’ll come, it will kill me then as much as it did last night. But, I think that’s okay, I think I’ve realized – only people you love can hurt you like that. If I ever became numb or indifferent to getting not-mom thrown in my face, well, then I’d deserve it.

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