Confessions of a (Not-So) Wicked Stepmother

The desperate attempts and misadventures of a twenty-something, not-so-wicked stepmother


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Labor Pains

In my first confession in about a month – I know, I know, we had another fundraiser for work that dominated my life for the past few weeks – I’m going to dive into the deep, dark depths of it all. This is probably one of the most personal posts I’ve written, and I’ve almost written it a few times before, ultimately opting to scrap it and save it for later. I think later is now.

I know I’ve gained a few new followers lately – hi, how are you? Nice to have you here! – so as a recap, I live with my partner of two years, and we share custody of his six-year-old daughter, known in here as J. We aren’t married at this point, though I think that’ll come eventually, and I don’t have any biological children of my own. Just J.

As you might’ve noticed from some of my previous posts, it’s a balancing act. Some days are really awesome, and some days suck; we still rehash some of the same old struggles, and other times we’re definitely making progress. That’s life with any child, bio or step I suspect. Most of the time, I’m enjoying the experience, but there’s one thought in the back of my mind that I’ve yet to come to terms with. Eventually, I believe I would like to have a child with my partner, and I know he’s open to the idea as well. So far, so good, right?

Well, no. I have this lingering sadness in my heart about it, this nagging pull that maybe it isn’t a good idea because it just won’t be so special for him. That sounds weird. But again, I’ve never experienced pregnancy and labor, and would sincerely hope the occasion would be special and unique and remarkable. I worry that my partner will feel less mystified, less overjoyed because… you know.. been there, done that. Alright, I know what you’re thinking.

Plenty of people have multiple kids (in and out of blended families), and second and third and fourth and whatever children get as much of a special, memorable experience as their older siblings. Maybe that is true for some couples. But here’s a personal recap. I have two older sisters, both were baptized. I wasn’t. I’m not religious in the least, but my parents just kind of… forgot?… to baptize me. A better example: both of my sisters have baby books. I have one, but only the first page is filled out. Ouch, parents. Ouch.

It’s possible this fear or reservation is completely unfounded. My partner is lovely and he has remarked that he would truly enjoy having a child on a PLANNED timeline (instead of unplanned, as J was) with a person he intended to be with forever. That’s nice. But on occasion, he’ll remark on something related to J’s birth – “her pregnancy was so difficult, I had to ride with her to work every day” or “I never want to see Domino’s Pizza again, it’s all she ate, I’m surprised J didn’t have pepperoni for eyes” or “I’m so glad your sister is a doula, the nurse at the hospital for J was such a strong advocate against a c-section that I bought her flowers later.” Awkward. It’s admittedly a painful thing to hear… these are experiences that he’s already had and will remember forever. It’s hard to wax joyous over these stories about baby J knowing that she was carried by his ex. He’s already been to his first birthing class, and he’ll know almost everything well before I would. It makes me sad to not experience something this monumental together, and it would crush me to feel like something so new and different for me wouldn’t have the same impact on him.

This is definitely a tough post for me to write, but still really important. I’m not sure if other steps out there feel the same way, but I’d love to hear from any of you about your thoughts on having kids with your significant other as a step parent – even if you had kids previously. Obviously these thoughts are probably going to linger for a long while; I suspect several years until we’re actually at a point where we’d actively consider a child of our own. Time to embrace the awkward discomfort of it all, and keep on stepping… or step parenting, I guess.

Until next time, stay not-so-wicked, stepmothers.

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The Ex Factor

Hello out there, step parents/coparents, bio-parents and all. It’s time for another confession of a not-so-wicked stepmother – and this one is a doozy. There’s no way to avoid talking about this subject (ironically enough, part of this subject is avoidance itself), and I’ve waited a long time to broach it…. primarily because it is a tricky one to tactfully broach. Tact has never been my forte, though, and I can’t wait forever to write this. So here goes – it’s time to talk about… the ex.

I’m sure many steps out there struggle with the background knowledge, always present if not always (or even often) consciously pressing, that the wonderful child(ren) you adore is the product of your significant other and their FORMER significant other. That other bio parent is… well.. the ex. And you’re both stuck with each other forever.

Obviously this thought was more active in my head at first; but even now, it’s hard to avoid all the time. J looks like her bio mom more than she looks like my partner; some of her behaviors are nothing like my partner at all, and I wonder – for a brief moment – how did he make a child this boisterous, this loud, this rowdy? And then I remember the ex factor. I remember that he made this child with a person he once cared about, a person that I’ll have to interface with for the remainder of my life. And I remember that… well, it sucks.

I never imagined myself at 26 being a step parent; most of the time, though, it’s a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But sometimes, in my deepest of hearts, I wish that J would be here without all of the mess that necessarily comes along with being a step. It’s not that I wish ill on her bio mom; I just wish that the whole thing could vanish sometimes, because it’s sort of sad and sometimes deeply disappointing/frustrating/unfair to have to deal with my partner’s ex when I personally won’t speak to a single ex of mine.

I find myself struggling to compartmentalize this ex… I refer to her as J’s bio mom, J’s mother, etc. when I talk about her; in fact, I avoid talking about her as much as possible with my partner unless absolutely necessary. I struggle to say her name (and I cringe when my partner uses it), as if using her name makes her somehow more real and more present… as if she wasn’t already real and present in our lives. I want to classify her thoroughly as the birth mother of this wonderful child I have the privilege of knowing, and just erase all of the prior history of what lead to J: her being my partner’s ex.

This is a short confession, because there is no real way to resolve this. I hope it gets better in time; that I think of their past less and less with every year; that I think of this person objectively as J’s bio mom and not subjectively/negatively as this person that I would rather not have around ever for my own personal sanity/convenience/happiness. But how do all the other steps out there cope with the ex factor?

Until next time, stay not-so-wicked, stepmothers.


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Ayo, I’m tired of using technology

I’m back already! I hope you’re glad to hear from me again a mere week after I last posted – I’m trying to make these a weekly thing, despite my epic failure prior to last week. Besides the fact that it’s therapeutic to do these regularly (you’re like my free therapy sessions), it also might actually encourage people to read and post more themselves on this subject. So without further ado, here’s the next confession for you – and it’s all about kids and technology.

Now this is actually a general rant and rave about technology – it is also specific to my step J, but on a broader level, I find myself falling further and further away from most people when it comes to parenting with technology. I’m not even 30, and I work in e-communications, so it’s not as if I’m not into it myself; I remember having a terrible DOS computer in my mom’s office that she’d let us play floppy disc games on maybe once a week or so when I was about 6, having a computer we could take turns on after I was 10, having a cell phone when I was 16, etc. But it’s worth noting that there were time limits; and my cell phone was more often than not, imposed on me by my mother who wanted me to have access in case of an emergency once I got my driver’s license. Imaging it now – my cell phone, powered off, in my glovebox overnight for days and weeks on end. NO, seriously.

But now technology is part of my daily life – perhaps me more so than a lot of people. I spend all day updating no fewer than 9 social media accounts and 5 websites, and that’s just for work. If we add in my personal accounts and my blogs… you get the picture. There’s my Galaxy, which I may be obsessed with (it’s Buzzfeed and Audible’s fault). Most people probably have a phone or other similar device in hand, eyes glued to it, for more of the day than they turn away from it. And now, this great expansion of technology is spreading like a virus into the world of children – it started so innocently, with the Learning Company games I played when I was 10; then the LeapFrog tablets that help kids learn to read (though that seems to imply that we couldn’t do it without those games); now children have their own tablets and phones WELL before they’ve even gone through puberty. Where does it end? And why is it that so many people – yes, people, adults and kids alike – get so deeply sucked in that they can’t hold a normal conversation for fear of missing one thing on their beloved device OR that they resemble something from the Walking Dead while you look on in abject horror:

So many of my family members seem glued to their devices. I’ve actually had to make an official rule that people stay off their phones/tablets/etc while we’re eating dinner – no joke. Part of this is because I do all the cooking, and I’ll be damned if people don’t remember eating or enjoying my food because they were texting. But the other reason is that J has repeatedly mentioned, in an off-handed way, that her bio mom spends all of their time together on her phone and not paying attention to her. Now, I don’t know if that’s true – she’s six, and six year olds… well… they lie.

But often her lies have some basis in reality, and when I noticed my partner doing the same thing during dinner, I shut that shit down. We play some Disney music quietly in the background, and we eat. And he’s not the only culprit – earlier on, she used to leave the TV on while she ate…. and her molasses-like eating pace slowed down to a mere fraction of the pace of a snail; she was completely honed in on that stupid TV (damn spongebob and ICarly or whatever). And that’s not the only time I’ve seen her sucked into the void of technology.

On a number of occasions, she’s grabbed my phone (or asked for it) and wanted to play some vapid, meaningless game. I wasn’t having that either. But now she’s showed up with, of all things, an IPad. She claims it’s hers, and all evidence leads me to believe that’s true. But seriously, what six year old needs an IPad?

She LOVES this damn IPad, and she’ll play with it in the car until I start a game of “I’m Going to the Zoo” without her. She’ll play with it until the last second before dinner time. And again, always these vapid, useless games – a talking cat, for example, that’s no more educational than a Gigapet was when I was a kid. And as much as I find myself cracking down – “Turn off the TV, you’ve seen enough for now” “Let’s put my phone down, please, we’re going to eat soon, come set the table” “Let’s read a book, put the IPad down,” – I feel like I’m swimming upstream. This is an uphill battle that I feel bound to lose – there’s another parent that’s condoning and encouraging this behavior, for reasons that I can’t be sure of but that I personally think are connected to a laziness towards active parenting.

I’ve started downloading some educational games – Endless ABC is a great one I’ve just gotten that’s pretty inexpensive and engaging, and they have some other products too – but I wonder if this is the right course of action. Should I just embrace that this is the new style of learning for children, and try to direct this train now that it’s left the station? Or should I just turn it all off and prohibit their use while she’s with us? Furthermore, should there be a conversation with the bio mom about J’s growing infatuation and zombification at the hands of technology?

Modern parenting is a tricky business. If only we still had those DOS computers and floppy disks…

Until next time, stay not-so-wicked, stepmothers.


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Cry Me a River

So it’s time for another LONG delayed Confession of a Not-So-Wicked Stepmother. My sincere apologies for not keeping up with this as often as I would’ve liked, but I am going to make a better effort to post on here at least every other week, if not weekly. Let’s dive on into this one.

As many steps know or have experienced, critiquing your step child – especially to your significant other and/or their extended family – is a tricky business. I mean, you shouldn’t be throwing shade at kids regardless, but sometimes, kids do annoying things and you feel the need to comment about it. That’s pretty normal, but the step dynamic throws a huge wrench into that. Can I say something? Can I offer a legitimate comment on the child’s negative behavior in the hopes of addressing what is a growing problem? Enough with these vagaries – it’s time to spill the beans: J is…. a cry baby.

That’s right. She’s a bona fide whiner, tears springing to the eyes over the smallest thing kind of kid. Have you ever seen that tumblr reasons my son is crying? We’re talking about things on that kind of level. Reasons J is crying: there’s a fly in the apartment; there’s an ant near her bubbles; she’s not hungry anymore; she doesn’t like the chicken, even if it is the same chicken she had yesterday and loved; she doesn’t want the rest of her juice. Reasons she’s NOT crying: falling down a flight of stairs. Just saying, the kid legitimately tripped and fell down some stairs, and didn’t even bat an eyelash. Some things she cries about are pretty nonsensical (see the above), and others are just these overly sensitive reactions (like me telling her that interrupting someone is a little rude and she should try not to do that).

Let’s just pause for a second. I’m shady. I’ve never been called sensitive. Most of the time, I’d be described as thick skinned and sassy – crying is not something that comes to me frequently, and when it does, it’s usually from frustration. To put it bluntly, I’m a hard ass bitch and people who are sensitive and cry a lot are kind of like an alien species to me.

Unpause. J is six years old, which seems TOO old to be randomly crying if you ask me. It also seems old enough to start learning when crying is acceptable and when it isn’t. But she doesn’t seem to know that. It also seems old enough – to me at least – to not take everything so literally or personally. It ALSO seems old enough, coincidentally, to start manipulating people with certain behaviors – notably, that crying might get you off the hook if you’re legitimately doing something wrong. Hmmmm….

Throughout these crying moments – and it never is a tantrum, for the record, just weepy eyes and sniffling and, I shudder to say this, baby-like mumbling – my partner also looks completely unamused and, in some instances, totally fed up with it. So it’s obviously not just me that’s found it troubling at worst and just plain irritating, at best. I know, I know. Right now you’re thinking this about me:

But let’s just hang on a second. I definitely don’t want to snap at her or shut her down when she cries – crying can be a healthy form of expression, but I also believe that crying requires some kind of actual cause of either physical or emotional pain/distress. Not liking the chicken is neither physical nor emotional pain or distress. So I brought this problem up, first and foremost, with a college friend of mine who happens to live in the city as well. She’s a mental health counselor who does some work with youth, though not quite as young as 6. Her suggestion was that every time she baby mumbles, to tell her that I can’t understand her complaint when she talks like that and that she needs to speak up to express her concerns. I’m also supposed to ask her, whenever she cries, if she’s been hurt physically or emotionally; if the answer is no, then to follow up with “is crying the best response to this problem, then?”

I decided, with this new advice in hand, to approach my partner about the problem. He agreed that there was, indeed, a problem with her crying. And he actually believes that she’s responding that way in order to gain sympathy or affection. His mother, on the other hand, thinks that she does it because she has low self-esteem. Either is not a good scenario, and I’m wondering what other parents have done in confronting similar issues to these in order to get to the bottom of the problem. I am glad that I managed to find a way to bring it up with my partner, but it was still such a tricky interaction – how do you other steps out there handle constructive criticism (or addressing serious behavioral issues) that your stepchild has?

Until next time – that will not be nearly so far away – stay not-so-wicked, stepmothers.


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The Final Countdown

A big hello to all the not-so-wicked steps that read this blog – it’s been ages since I’ve done a post, I know. Work has been VERY busy the past few weeks, and much of my time off has been dedicated to other things (notably a wedding that I was a bridesmaid in). It’s been an exhausting past few weeks, but I’m finally hoping that will slow down. In the meantime, I’ve been sucking down coffee like a Hoover vacuum.

So another major life event has come and gone this week (yesterday, in fact). J completed kindergarten and is moving on to first grade next year – it’s a big school milestone, I think, and her school celebrated with a little graduation ceremony for the kindergartners. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to attend (having taken off just on Friday for bridesmaid duties), but decided to use a sick day for this special occasion. I was also DESPERATELY in need of some sleep. I genuinely could have slept ALL day yesterday; I was in dire need of a mental health and relaxation day. Unfortunately, the day I got wasn’t relaxing and wasn’t quite the mental health boost I’d been looking for. In fact, it might’ve been more of a hit to my mental health than anything.

Earlier, when I was unsure if I’d be able to come, I had tried to politely request that my partner not sit with his ex at the graduation ceremony. I’m not sure that I actually asked politely, but it makes me distinctly uncomfortable. He agreed, probably knowing how awkward it is for me. Internally, I’m shouting:

Now that I’m able to go, I assume this still stands, but reiterated it as we were heading to the school. He mentioned that the bio mom’s family was there, and that HER mother (J’s maternal grandmother) had texted and said it was getting filled up and she’d save us seats. My partner is a very kind person and skirts around conflict of any kind; I’m rather the opposite. He also really likes this grandmother and has a good relationship with her (I’m gagging while I type that, FYI), and doesn’t want to upset her by saying no thanks. So… you guessed it… my partner, myself, and his parents (divorced) sit in the same row as J’s bio mom, maternal grandmother, maternal great grandmother, aunt, etc.

I won’t go into full details of the ceremony, but it was about half an hour long. I sat between my partner’s mother and my partner, and watched with increasing discomfort as J’s bio mom’s family – or, as I loathe to put it, his ex’s family – fawns over him and hugs him and kisses him and chats happily with him. This same group of individuals (bio mom excluded) has also been very kind to me, which is… well.. it’s weird. I assume it’s to put on a positive front for J, and that’s nice in theory, but I’d rather that they not interact with me. I’d also rather that they not kiss or hug my partner fondly.

As the afternoon draws to a close, I snap a ton of photos of J (having the most room on my phone), and we wait for J to come to us after the ceremony. I stand back with my partner’s father, not having the slightest idea how to act or process everything that’s going on. Her bio mom brought an enormous bouquet of roses, something I noticed that started after I started giving J smaller wildflowers at special events. Her bio mom’s boyfriend brought along a giant stuffed animal to give her. And I stood there with my dinky bouquet of lily and purple wildflowers, watching as everyone jumped in to hug her and take photos with her. Eventually, my partner asked if I wanted a photo with J and at that point, I was too overwhelmed to say yes. I just had this distinct feeling that I didn’t belong there, or that everyone else thought that and was locking me out with some invisible forcefield of awkwardness. I waved at J and smiled, and she smiled back, but that was it. We left, and I said almost nothing. We got to the house, and I got changed before running some errands… and 100% cried like an idiot in my car during those errands.

And here’s where I started to wonder – how long will this last? How much longer until I’m not uncomfortable around her bio mom or that part of the extended family? Or, better yet, when does the final countdown to just not caring about their presence begin? This feels like a forever thing right now, and that’s scary and sad. Have other steps out there felt that way? That unease that gets to be SO great that it actually stops you from being a functional person and step parent? And if so, how have you gotten past it to just ignore all of those other people and embrace your stepchild without caring how it makes everyone else feel?

Well, I don’t have any great answers for it. Personally, I just let the tears flow for a while and then cranked up some music. Maybe someday I’ll pull an Elsa…  until then, stay not-so-wicked, stepmothers.


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Happy (Step)Mother’s Day?

I’m not sure how many followers are actually checking out their blogs today, but it seems a singularly perfect day to have a post about the oddities of step-parenting. In the days leading up to today, Mother’s Day, I found myself a little bit frustrated. J missed a few days of school again this week due to what her biomom thought was pink eye. She was wrong about that – J, as it turns out, has seasonal allergies. Join the club, my poor, poor kid. But often what her missing school means is that she stays at her bio-mom’s and we don’t see her. My partner took her to the doctor’s and spent some time with her, but I didn’t see her all week.

So here I am, leading into Mother’s Day, thinking “I can’t believe she missed another three days of school, I can’t believe I won’t see her this week,” and so on. But on Thursday evening, my partner mentioned that J might be joining us today to go to his mother’s house (she also lives in the Bronx, so we’d planned on going to see her for a cookout). I was a little shocked – what parent would want to give up their child on a day that’s meant to be about their special bond? Seems so weird. In some ways, I was more put off that her bio-mom wouldn’t want her today than I was excited that I’d see her. In retrospect, I think I almost didn’t want J today – I didn’t want to watch the pageantry of Mother’s Day and be reminded that I often feel a little unappreciated for the parenting work I also do.

Well, fast forward. This morning, my partner confirmed that J would be coming along. I spoke to my own mother and my sister, and both of them wished me a happy mother’s day. It was nice, but mostly expected; if anyone was going to confirm that they support my work in this, it would be the two of them. But I definitely didn’t expect any statements of appreciation from any other corner; today, no matter how much I would like it to be, wasn’t my day. J, no matter how much I would like it to be, will never fully view me as her mother. That’s part of the deal as a step, and it’s a painful reality that many of us live with to some degree or another.

Now that I’m done with the sad part, let’s get to some good news. Much to my surprise, after a long and fun afternoon at my partner’s mother’s – playing with Doyle in the backyard, grilling, blowing bubbles, everything – his mother pulled me aside. She gave me a card, and asked me to read it when I got home, and gave me a huge hug. Take a look:

Mother's Day Card

 

That card made my day. My week, really. My own family is sort of obligated to notice what I do and recognize it (or they should, anyway). But for my partner’s family, for J’s grandmother, to share this kind of thing with me… it’s what a not-so-wicked stepmother’s dreams are made of. That, I suppose, and glass slippers? I’m not sure.

Originally I thought I wouldn’t write a post today; I didn’t want to talk about a subject that is probably a really sore spot for so many stepparents out there. But I’m glad this made me change my mind, and it made me want to say this to all of you:

You may not feel like this day is yours; you may not feel like you can celebrate this day, or take full credit for what you do. But to hell with that little, one-syllable add-on to your title; the step means nothing against everything else you have done and will do. Embrace this day, even if you didn’t get to see your stepchild today. You are appreciated, even if no one says it or remembers to acknowledge it. Someone appreciates it, even if it is just another stepmother here in the Bronx, grateful that there’s an entire army of steps that are doing their very best to be not-so-wicked.

Happy stepmother’s day. 

Until next time, stay not-so-wicked, stepmothers.

 

 


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I’m Going to the Zoo…

We’ve started getting into a routine lately – you would really hope so, after 8 months of doing this. It’s worth noting that J’s bio parents don’t have a custody agreement (yet – I’m working on it), so there have been fluctuations and ups and downs in the road of getting a routine. I think it’s been troublesome to J, and it certainly is to me. I’m a schedule-oriented, time management kind of person; I like to know what I’ll be doing and when. For her, I imagine knowing when she’ll see us next is also important – it was when I was the child of divorced parents.

One thing that has become part of our DAILY routine is this game we play on the ride to her bio mom’s house at night. For months, J and her dad would climb in my car at least twice a week and we’d spend 15-20 minutes driving her and making random conversation. For a while, it was about the Christmas lights outside. Sometimes it was about school, but we’ve noticed that J doesn’t enjoy talking about school to us for more than a few minutes. One particular night in December, I was so absorbed by something else that I missed the turn and had to take a bit of a circuitous route around – we live in the Bronx, afterall, and there are many one-way streets and bizarre roundabouts. It probably only tacked on 5 minutes, but the entire rest of the way back, J kept saying “We’re lost!” in some bizarre fit of glee at my driving antics.

At first, this was charming. Then she kept bringing it up for at least a week or two, every… single… night.

Needless to say, I became VERY annoyed. I was not lost, I assured her on a regular basis. Yes, I am a competent driver and I do know where I’m going. I have no idea why this got on my nerves so much – I suppose I don’t like when people make me feel inept, whether they’re 6 or 60 – but I did try to not get snippy about it. Instead of telling her to stop (I probably should have), I kept trying to drum up ways to fill the time on the drive home instead. What on earth could we do with this 15 or 20 minutes to keep her happy and entertained without me going insane?

Then it hit me.

I’m going to the zoo – a game I used to play with my dad as a child in the car. Let me explain. I used to take gymnastics classes when I was younger, and the place they were at was about 30 minutes from home. Once a week, on his night off (my dad worked night shift at the time, much like my partner does now), he’d haul his three daughters up to class, sit and watch, and bring them home. Going to class was exciting – we couldn’t wait to be there. Coming home, on the other hand, was a drag. We were tired, hot, ready for bed, and still half an hour from home. What was a poor dad to do? So he announced one evening: “I’m going to the zoo. And I’m going to see an alligator. Kristin, you’re going to the zoo, too. And you’re going to see something that starts with the letter B – what will you see?” And so it went, through each letter of the alphabet, round robin with my siblings.

I remembered this game from my childhood so vividly – I remember playing it solo with my dad on numerous occasions (as well as its related game partner, I’m going on a picnic). The more we played, the more we added to it – new animals and foods we hadn’t known before, researching things to include in the next round. Then we added another layer of memory, where you had to recite your new item and then ALL of the previous items. It was hard at first, but I liked memory challenges as a child and took to it like a sponge. My dad, for his part, told me when I was much older that he enjoyed the game because his short-term memory is NOT so great and the game was a way to work on it.

Fast forward to present day. I introduced this game to J and my partner, and now we play it (or I’m going on a picnic) every night. It hasn’t been that long, and I believe J is younger than I was when I first started playing. But she is slowly building confidence in her answers, starting to coming up with new things, asking when she doesn’t know what a food or animal we’ve said is. And you know what? It’s fun. Her excitement when we get to the car – “Kristin! Kristin! I’m going on a picnic and…” – is palpable, and it makes the sadness of ending our time together a little bit less sad.

So not only am I sharing this wonderful memory made new again with all of you, it’s also a chance for anyone reading this to give this game a try when they need to distract a bored, antsy child. Moreover, I”m hoping that it will help me come up with new places we can go – maybe we’ll start going to the aquarium together, or some other fantastic place. Who knows?

What I can say is this – driving in the car in the Bronx has never been quite so fantastical, and oh, the places you can go.

Until next time, stay not-so-wicked, stepmothers.