So there’s this guy. He’s amazing and incredible and smart and witty and talented. We are dating. No, not dating. We are a couple. There. I said it. We’ve been friends for a while and I’ve watched him date other women and choose not to date still others and among all of that there was one rule that he had. He didn’t’ get serious about women with children. He tried a time or two. It didn’t’ work. Not that he didn’t like kids; he does. But he felt like he wasn’t up to the task of step-dad, and so he didn’t want to waste his time or theirs on something he just couldn’t do.
Now he’s dating me. Think of that for a minute and chuckle. A lot.
I will never apologize for the existence of my kids. Never. They are the best part of me. They are amazing and if a person gets to be a part of their life they are incredibly lucky.
That being said, I understand that we are a lot. Like, a really lot. So, whether it’s my friends without kids or my family who haven’t had kids in the house for a while or this guy I try to act as a buffer. I try to make sure that they get to enjoy the kids. I’ll take care of the unpleasantness.
It’s a good system. And it has worked. Until last week.
So we are hanging out at the house. I made dinner. He brought popcorn and the new Star Wars movie. What could go wrong?
Well, it’s possible that, seemingly apropos of nothing my daughter could cough and then start grabbing her legs and screaming and crying. Loudly. It was time to go to the hospital. So, I start frantically grabbing all of the accoutrements to take five people to the hospital for an indefinite period of time. That indefinite period turned out to be eight days, by the way, but that’s a different story. At some point in my frenzy, I saw him looking at me with that look. There’s this look he gets sometimes when he’s determined to do something nice for me. Open eyes, locked jaw. Like he’s trying to be super nice but dig in for a battle all at the same time. Which is probably exactly what is happening. Everything in my body reacted. Hugely. Viscerally.
“No!” My inner self was screaming. “This isn’t fun. This isn't light. This isn’t easy!” Then, a small voice spoke up. “But it’s real.”
And that’s it. When you have kids, vomit happens and if you’re really lucky that’s the worst bodily fluid you will have to deal with. Injuries happen. Power struggles happen. And if he is serious about me, he needs to experience these things. I can’t lead him into this promising sunshine and rainbows. And I really did need the help. So I let him. I let him keep the boys that night and when that night turned into the next day he took the day off of work until the reinforcements arrived.
The entire time I was convinced that this would be the moment. The moment he waved off. The moment he, gracefully and gently left. After all, this is exactly what he wasn’t up to.
Except he was. He dealt with the boys like a champ and then, when he could have called that good enough, he did more. He brought by food and played cards and read to us. He held me when I cried. He encouraged me to sleep. He was one of many, many people who made this past week less hellish. And I let him. Because while we are taking this slow, and I try to respect his boundaries and need to ease into this, I’d rather he see the real and leave than see the masquerade and stay.
He could have left. I wouldn’t have held it against him. But he stayed. He saw us at our most ugly, and he stayed. And for someone who has learned their whole lives, from various step-parents to societal stereotypes to the well-meaning advice that the best I could expect as a single mom is someone who would tolerate my kids, this was pretty amazing.
I’m not saying this is forever. But I’m saying as a single mom, this gives me hope. Not just for me, but for all of us.