Respect the Ex

Respect–what does it mean? What does it look like, especially when it comes to someone you’d rather not have to deal with? These are the questions fixed in my mind lately.

The constant demands for respect have gotten old. They pop up at the strangest times. One time this spring, we were in the parking lot of my church for the Wednesday night kid swap. He had been almost insisting on being the one to sign the kids out of their catechism class on Wednesdays, likely because he’s always rushing them away to start his parenting time. On this night, he had signed them out and we began walking to the parking lot to leave. We were nearly out to the cars when he said, “Oh, I think the nun wanted to talk to you about something.” Annoyed that he had waited until an inopportune moment to tell me, I said, “Why didn’t you tell me when we were in there?” He ignored the question and gave me a dirty look. I got in my car and texted him, saying, “That was a legitimate question.” He responded with, “You need to respect me in front of the kids.”

Another time, last year, our oldest son had been complaining to me about something his dad had done and he said that his dad was a hypocrite. I tried to redirect the conversation, but our son is old enough to form his own opinions and had come to this conclusion based on several interactions with his dad. Somehow, the conversation got back to the ex like some twisted game of telephone, and he interpreted it as though I had told our son that his dad was a hypocrite (I had not).

A few months back, my youngest son was hungry when it was time to leave for his dad’s house. He said he wasn’t feeling well. I asked what he had eaten that day. It wasn’t much and it was mostly sugary, carby, light meals. I asked if he could try asking for something more filling like eggs instead of cereal for breakfast. I told him to tell his dad he wasn’t feeling well. On my way back home, I got a phone call berating me for undermining his parenting. Our son had told him that he doesn’t feed him any healthy food (which I didn’t say), and ran in the house crying.

Most recently, I had given my oldest a consequence for picking on his brother. He was to write a one page paper on bullying before leaving for his dad’s house. He had several days to complete this task and didn’t, but said he would do it at his dad’s house over the weekend. I emailed the ex and told him of the consequence. I said, “He said he would finish it on Sunday. Please ensure that he does.” The ex responded to say that that he felt disrespected by my email.

Meanwhile, he ignores emails from me that bring up concerns about the hostility between us, or concerns the kids have brought up to me. Last summer, he and his wife began acting like I didn’t exist at public events for the kids, after I had tried to be welcoming to her. If I take the kids to the doctor or dentist, I get resistance when the bill arrives. He has tried to bribe the kids to get all of their homework done at my house, so that his evenings aren’t disrupted by supervising homework. And he has told the kids, “I know your mother doesn’t respect me, but don’t let that rub off on you.”

His idea of respecting me is a phony smile at pickup or a “thanks” only in response to the emails that involve me sending him information about school dates or appointments (the ones he bothers to read, anyway).

He accuses me of having an attitude that poisons the kids against him, undermining his parenting and his relationship with them, and disrespecting him. I do none of these things that he accuses me of. He takes no responsibility for his role in the situation.

The kids complain or bring up problems or questions, and I listen to them and talk to them. He interprets these conversations as me “feeding the kids my opinions,” when what is actually happening is that I, as their mother, am trying to validate their feelings or sympathize and try to help them find solutions. When he listens to the vitriolic, un-Christ-like radio programming on KSFO with the kids in the car, they come home saying, “Why do people hate the president? Why are Muslims bad? There should be more white people around because they’re better.” And I respond to these issues. They say they don’t want to listen to that station. I say, “Could you ask your dad nicely to listen to something else? KSFO is an adult station and the information on there is meant for adults.”

The kids complain a lot about the religious practices in the other house. The ex, who was willing to throw away his marriage and friendships in order to become Catholic, has stopped practicing the faith that meant so much to him. He attends an evangelical Protestant church with his wife and takes the kids as well. The kids continue to ask him if they can go to Mass. Within the last few weeks, they said that their stepmother had yelled at them for not closing their eyes during a prayer while eating out at a restaurant. “If you can’t be respectful, you can sit in the car and not have any dinner!” I said to the boys, “Why weren’t you closing your eyes? They believe in the same God we do, right? They believe in Jesus, right? You need to have good manners and be polite. If you really can’t close your eyes, at least bow your head and stare at your lap.”

I deflect the things the kids complain about that are petty issues. I support what I can. I do not support the things I feel are wrong or harmful to the kids, like public humiliation punishments, yelling and cussing at the kids, or listening to toxic garbage that just confuses the children.

But I don’t smile warmly when he comes to the door. I don’t timidly approach him with dripping “pleases” and abject humility. I am not his inferior. I am his equal. So since respect is not offered in my direction and is instead authoritatively demanded from me, I put up my boundaries and refuse to be a doormat. Because being a doormat is not respectful for anyone.

Making a Flower Girl Tutu Dress

In searching for wedding planning inspiration, I came across a picture of a little girl in a cloud of mint tulle with a gold sash around her waist. I loved the look and I knew I had to put Maddie in a tutu dress. Sadly, these gorgeous poufs of tulle can cost nearly $200, so buying one wasn’t an option.

Thankfully, the friendly Internet is awash with DIY tutorials from all the crafty people out there. I watched several videos, tried out a couple techniques, and went to work creating my own tulle pouf for my flower girl’s first trip down the aisle.

IMG_2319

The inspiration for the dress came from Little Dreamer’s Tutus. She is the best there is when it comes to tutu dresses, from what I’ve seen. Her dresses aren’t cheap, and rightfully so. It’s time consuming to get just the right look when working with all that tulle. I was certain I could make a dress myself that would get the look I wanted without the added cost of purchasing a ready-made dress.

There seem to be two camps for tutu dress technique. One group uses crocheted headbands, like the instructions found here. The other group uses elastic bands, like in this video. Either way, the process of making the dresses is fairly simple. The difficulty comes in making the end product look more refined.

IMG_0551 copy

I tried out the headband version and didn’t care for the look as much as the elastic band version, so that is the method I used to make Maddie’s dress. I started with 10 yards of Medieval Blue tulle from Joann fabrics. (An easier route is to use the spools of tulle rather than tulle from a bolt.)

I measured Maddie around the chest and from armpit to the desired length. Then I cut strips of tulle six inches wide by twice the desired length plus one inch. I cut a piece of elastic a few inches shorter than the chest measurement and sewed the ends together to form a band. Then I slip-knotted the strips onto the band. Once all the strips were on, I made a waist band from some ribbon and elastic (like a headband), and wrapped some ribbon around the top of the dress. I used a three yard strip of three-inch-wide ribbon and more, longer tulle strips to make a matching train.

IMG_0545 copy

The first version wound up being too short, so I started over. This was kind of disappointing because I preferred the look of the original tulle. The final product achieved the look I was going for, and I was delighted to see my little blue cloud of tulle running around the house.

Making a Cathedral Length Drop Veil

Veils, like most other things in the wedding industry, are ridiculously overpriced. For my wedding, I wanted a long veil, one that trailed along at the edge of my dress. Cathedral length veils are about as pricey as they come, so this was definitely something I needed to make on my own.

IMG_2395

There is no shortage online of videos, articles, and blog posts on how to make a veil. The hardest part is choosing the style and adding embellishments. I decided I wanted a drop veil, because I love how it looks like it’s just delicately placed on the bride’s head, rather than the scrunched or gathered versions that have sort of a cloud of tulle at the back. It attaches to the hair with bobby pins or hat pins, instead of a comb. After googling some instructions and inspiration, I headed off to the fabric store.

Cathedral veils are fairly wide, so I purchased the widest tulle I could find, about 108″ wide. Wanting to match my ivory gown, I chose an ivory tulle. At the time, the only wide ivory tulle the store had on hand was a shimmery tulle. I would have preferred a matte tulle, but this worked just fine. I bought about three and a half yards, so that the veil would be long enough to trail behind the dress by a few inches. You can find instructions on how to measure yourself for a cathedral length veil here.

To make the veil, I folded the tulle in half length-wise, and then in half width-wise. I made a make-shift compass and sketched out rounded edges and cut just inside the line so that the markings wouldn’t be on the finished veil. Then I unfolded it and tried it on. The veil was beautiful on its own, but I thought it might be nice to have a defined edge at the back, since my dress has no trim on the edge of the train. Since lace is fairly costly, I chose to line just a portion of the back of the veil with lace, and I used a coupon! I sewed the lace on by hand and trimmed the tulle to follow the edge of the lace.

IMG_2397

Sewing the lace onto the veil was the most time consuming part of the project. In the end, making my own veil cost about $50 and took a few hours to complete. If you wanted to add more detail, it would add more time and raise the cost. Considering that cathedral veils usually cost several hundred dollars, I think this project is worth the effort.

Wedding Dress Upcycle Update

There’s less than a month to go until the wedding! The last ten months have been busier than I expected. Moving, school, vacations, work, homemaking, and baby care have taken precedence over wedding dress re-design. Projects have to wait until the children are asleep and I have a clear, tiny-grabbing-hands-free work space.

In my spare moments, I have been making favors, obsessing over tutu dresses, emailing vendors, designing programs, mailing invitations, and updating my wedding dress. I began the wedding dress upcycle last fall. The dress was a sample gown, purchased from eBay for $130. It’s a Casablanca Bridal gown in ivory silky taffeta, with a sweetheart neckline, side-gather, chapel train, and bead-work along the sides and neckline. The fiancé was the one who picked this dress and I love how it looks.

Casablanca Dress

As beautiful as this dress is, I wanted to add some personal touches by changing the broken zipper to a corset back and adding some colored tulle to the petticoat. I found some instructions for the corset-back process over at Sew for Dough. The first step was to remove the zipper.

IMG_0906

I then followed Sew for Dough’s instructions for making spaghetti straps and a modesty panel. I found an ivory taffeta at Joann Fabrics and cut strips on the bias, sewed them together in a long tube, turned it right-side out, and cut it into small segments to form the loops for the corset. I sewed them to a piece of paper in the shape and spacing I needed, pulled away the paper, and pinned the loop strips to dress in between the lining and the bodice. I very slowly and carefully maneuvered the dress through my sewing machine. I repeated the spaghetti strap process to make the lacing for the corset.

IMG_0492

Depending on your level of sewing skill, the process may sound a lot easier than it is. Adding elements to a ready-made dress is not a simple task. Wedding dresses are often heavy and embellished with beads or lace. It takes a lot of patience to feed it through a small home machine. I wouldn’t recommend a project like this to someone who is completely new to sewing. In spite of having a decent amount of sewing practice, I don’t suggest inspecting my work up close on this piece!

For anyone reading who may be considering a project like this, I would offer a few suggestions. First, a shortcut would be to see if there is any suitable cording online or at your local fabric store. Making very long, thin spaghetti straps can be frustrating if you don’t have the right tools. If you want to make your own, it would be wise to invest in some of the turning tools mentioned in the instructions for making spaghetti straps. I had no such tools and just went with the old safety pin technique. This adds a lot of time to what could be a quick task. Another shortcut would be to use a nice double-faced ribbon as the corset lacing. The final tip is to make more spaghetti strap length than you think you’ll need for the loops and lacing, and cut the loops a bit longer to make sure they catch the seam when sewing them in.

I’m not completely finished with this project, but I won’t have a chance to work on it for another two weeks. I decided to pass the gown off to a professional seamstress to have it hemmed and bustled. When the dress returns, I will add just a dab more colored tulle to the underskirt.

How Do You Forgive in the Face of Continued Wrongdoing?

Five years ago I wandered far off the path of practicing my faith. I made a lot of mistakes and hurt several people in the process. While I still believed in all the tenets of the Faith, I wasn’t terribly interested in following through with them.

I chose to leave my first marriage. Then, I chose to turn to someone else for comfort, seeking some ephemeral emotional high that led nowhere. The last five and a half years have been a mix of pain, anger, tears, and searching.

For a long time, I just blamed myself. I chose to leave. I chose to see someone else. I chose not to comply with a list of demands from my former spouse. In some ways, I still do blame myself.

Over the last two years, I have slowly started to find my way back to my center–my faith. I’ve made use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation numerous times, often confessing the same sins again and again.

The priests at my parish have a great gift for giving good counsel in Confession. The last time I went, the counsel focused on a venial sin I had confessed, anger at my former spouse.

I had told the priest that I was remarrying soon. His advice to me was to not bring unforgiveness into my new marriage. I nodded, agreed, and cried.

This is the hardest thing–forgiving someone who continues to wrong you. How do you do that? When he picks up the kids and speaks to me condescendingly, then spends the rest of the time acting as if I don’t exist, or as if I’m just a daycare center… When I drop the kids off and he and his wife completely ignore me… When I try to include them in the kids’ events and they just pop in so they can say they’ve made their appearance… When he continually tries to silence me… When his covert attitude toward me trickles over onto the kids…

If it was a one-time thing that happened in the past and was no longer happening, forgiveness would be easier. But when it keeps happening over and over, I can’t find the resources within myself to say over and over again, “I forgive you.”

And then there’s the blame I’ve carried for myself. In counseling in the past, the counselors have said, “You need to forgive yourself.” That’s equally hard when the ripple effects of my past are there for me to see every day.

This is my struggle. Which is not to say that I just stew in unforgiveness. Some days are better than others and progress has been made, though slowly, over time. I would rather wrestle toward forgiving than rot with bitterness and regret.

The greatest source of help, I have found, is prayer, the Mass, and placing one foot in front of the other so that I am once again back in a place of integrity. I pray at every Mass for my former spouse and his wife, I offer up a rosary for them when I find the time to pray it, and I manage a smile and a greeting when I can.

This is how it’s done: one day at a time.

A Bit of Country in the City

It’s been three weeks since we moved into our new place. We found a quirky, cozy little house to rent on the outskirts of town and have happily settled in to semi-country life. Our neighbors on one side are wonderfully neighborly, and the neighbors on the other side keep to themselves. The yard is big and waiting for someone to plant flowers and veggies. Outside the window, a bluejay is in the Japanese maple gathering supplies for his family that inhabits the old oak tree next-door.

We have several rose bushes, two grape vines, an avocado tree, and a lemon tree. The boys have been busy making fresh lemonade; the youngest wants to open a lemonade stand over the summer. He gathers bright yellow flowers from the sour grass patches for bouquets. We’ve been weeding, pruning, and digging in preparation for a flowerbed.

The house was built in the 1920s. It’s a Winchester Mystery House mishmash, with some slanty walls and floors. The outside is a cheerful yellow, with a white picket fence. The baby has her own room, which sadly has not led to her suddenly sleeping all the way through the night, but I am hopeful that she will eventually learn that sleep is a good thing for everyone.

We are very happy in our new surroundings! Being out of tiny apartments and having a bit of earth to dig around in is so much better for the soul. We are looking forward to growing beautiful flowers and good things to eat. This spring is a bright new beginning for our family, and I’m sure the future holds many blessings.

Will you be my bridesmaid?

Proposing to the bridesmaids is a cute trend that I wanted to include in my wedding plans. I’ve seen a lot of clever ideas but wanted to keep it fairly simple since one of the main reasons I’m making things myself is to save some money. Weddings are expensive!

Google “will you be my bridesmaid” and tons of ideas pop up! There are boxed ring pops, bridesmaid dress cookies, humorous cards, paper dolls, and care packages. I came up with my own project that would acknowledge my relationship with each girl, ask them if they wanted to be a part of our wedding, and pass on the information they needed for the role.

Here is what I came up with.

IMG_0943

I bought a pack of blank white linen cards and added my own embellishments. The hangers are paperclips! I wrote a personalized note to each of my bridesmaids inside.

IMG_0950

Then I got some fun, glittery photo books in different colors. I took out the sample photo in the front window and added something decorative.

IMG_0945Finally, I used Microsoft Word and created tables sized to the pages in the photo books and printed out four pages of wedding info on vellum paper. Some pretty card stock with flourishes was cut to the same size and placed behind each piece of vellum. This gave the information a nice presentation. The pages included wedding details, bridesmaid contact information, dress shopping details, and my hopes for the fun we’ll have creating memories in preparation for our wedding day.

IMG_0952I hand-delivered three out of four and mailed the final booklet to my out-of-state bridesmaid. The girls loved receiving these personal touches inviting them to be a part of our celebration!