Ticking Clocks

I have probably written about this memory before, so if you’ve heard the story, just bear with me.  If not, here’s a little snapshot of me at 17.

I am sitting in the back row of Mr. Ashley’s Economics class, which I am failing miserably because I pretty much have an 8th grade math level.  So instead of paying attention, and especially because it is now April of Senior year, I am talking to my friends. 

Girl 1: I’m not sure how many kids I want when I grow up.  I’ll decide with my husband.

Girl 2: I want one or two, maybe.

Girl 3: I don’t know, I think I’d like a big family.

Their eyes turn to me.

Me:  I don’t know…what if you don’t get married and have kids, though?

Mouths literally agape, as though I had just suggested the absolute nightmare scenario.  Girl 3, bless her heart, was always kind of the naïve one in the group, and she says, indignant: “But OF COURSE we will!”

And that is the day I realized I am different from the average girl.

Yes, I played baby dolls.  Yes, I played House.  But, I preferred playing School, and I preferred books to anything.  I played those childhood games because my friends wanted to, and I thought I was supposed to.  After all, that’s what filled the aisles of girl’s stuff at Toys R Us.  I always preferred Kevin’s toys…all his action figures had superpowers or cool tricks, and they came with cars and buildings just like my dolls.  So why couldn’t I get them for Christmas?

I asked several people their opinion on being a mother, or living childfree.  I wanted to know if the moms felt they made the right choice.  I wanted to know if those without kids ever regretted it.  Some friends told me their stories, some women commented on my tweet about it, some privately messaged me.  And in nearly every single story, in the end, there was no regrets. This pleased me. It made me feel even more validated in my decisions.

I only ever considered a child though adoption, and this is not only because I was witness to my goddaughters’ birth, which was about the best prophylactic in the world.   I felt like I didn’t need a kid, but if a kid needed me, I could do it.  I would help them.  This is one of the reasons I got into working with children and teens.

But…like I said, I didn’t need one.  I knew pretty early on that kids would be difficult for me for a variety of health reasons.  Just the meds I would have to go off of was scary enough to dissuade me from any potential baby-fever.  So instead, I focused on my “kiddos.”

The constant reader knows that I refer to my stepchildren as such, but they are not the first in my life.  My kiddos are anyone younger than my sister (the queen kiddo) whom I developed a relationship with in their youth.  Bernie was first, because at the age of 13 I took on the role of “back-up mom” in her life.  At 18 came D, my other goddaughter (again, Bernie was first.)  She spent the first few years of her life here in Buffalo with me before moving to NYC for a chunk of her childhood. But I loved the crap out of that baby.  Then one day I got a new job and met…let’s call her Sunshine…I used to.  She was a wild 15 year old with a hard outer shell, but somehow we bonded and she showed me the side of her that was full of compassion and ambition and hope.  Then there were my cousins…Erin, who feels totally comfortable calling me when she is in crisis mode, and knows I can help calm her down.  And G, who, at 11 years old, I call my tiniest bestie…I mean, we play games and share interests and confide in each other…who cares how old she is?  And then one sunny day, came my kiddos.

I didn’t ask for them., they were just part of the package.  I received an anonymous insult once early on (which I’m still salty about….come say it to my face, coward.)  Person went so far as to go to Google, and type in my blog handle along with “dating a guy with four kids? get higher standards,” so that I saw it in my analytics feed.  I mean that is an impressive level of passive-aggression.

So yeah, I got some flack for picking up a whole tribe.  But prior to that, I also got crap because I didn’t have a kid.  How many times did my mother say something referencing her future grandmotherhood?  10,000 times.  And other people, both friends and strangers, had their opinions on it as well.

So, I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.

I think, often, of my kiddo’s mother.  I know she would die for any of them, and I would too, but she has a bond that cannot be broken with each of them.  I’m not jealous or anything, in fact, I am in awe of it.  I never wanted that for myself, but I respect the woman that does. 

I am staunchly pro-choice, again, as the regular reader should know by now, but that doesn’t just have to do with abortion.  I am pro-choice in that every woman has the right to make decisions that affect her body…and whether or not to have a child is decision number 1.  I decided a long time ago that wasn’t for me.  Some of my friends decided the same thing.  Others, they had those babies.  Girl #3 even got her big family.

Me, I got four kiddos who never leave the house without telling me they love me.

I’m all set, thanks.


An Ode to my Kiddos

I have sat at my computer every day this week, pecking out my novel.  It has been the main focus of my life for the past 11 days, and nearly every thought I think when alone has been related to it.  So of course, I sit down to write my blog and all I want to do is go back to work on the book, or write about how I’m doing on it.  But, that’s for Thursdays, not Mondays, so now I am at a loss.

I ask E what I should write about, and she suggests a dozen topics that have already graced my fingertips.  I ask K and get more of the same.  They are clever little girls who have great ideas, but sadly they are ideas I have already had.  E suggests I write about the kiddos, but I don’t, really.  I mean, they appear in my blogs, but I like to keep a certain air of privacy around them (hence the initials.)  But I will bend that rule a little, today.

I remember the day I met them.  First, there was M, five years old and playing Transformers on his father’s PlayStation.  He explained the difference between autobots and decepticons, and then started talking about different kinds of dinosaurs, and I was confused but also impressed by his ability to retain knowledge.  L, who was three, was sitting at the kitchen table eating a hot dog.  I sat beside him and commented on the cartoon character on his shirt.  I taught him a secret handshake.  He told me a knock-knock joke that made no sense.

E was only two and very shy, clutching a small toy duck and peeking at me from behind the arm of the sofa.  Eventually she came forward, placed the duck in my lap, and ran off again.  She wasn’t very good at hiding though, so I always saw her peering around corners, watching my every move.  K was furious, screaming and crying and refusing her bottle, only 10 months old.  I picked her up and put her in the middle of Mark’s bed.  I sang her Too Ra Loo Ra, an Irish lullaby my mother always sang to me.  She fell asleep, and I fell in love…with these kiddos, before I even loved their father.


Now, we have all grown.  M can still be found on his electronics talking about Transformers or Godzilla, but not all the time.  When he comes here after school, he may retreat into the world of screens for a half an hour or so, but then he emerges and engages me in conversation or joins me in whatever activity I’m doing.  He is fourteen now, and becoming this amazing young man that makes me proud.

L is twelve going on twenty, and now all of his jokes make sense.  Sometimes he crosses a line, and I shoot him a look and receive a prompt apology in return, but for the most part he keeps us laughing.  And his heart…his heart is enormous.  Definitely the politest kids I’ve ever met, he has a well of compassion in him that I don’t think has a limit.  Everyday with him is a jovial surprise.

E just turned eleven, and is blowing my mind.  No longer shy and timid, she is a talkative and engaging girl who is maturing into this lovely young woman.  She’s clever and funny and helpful, and long gone are the days when she would tattle on her siblings or fib to me about nonsense I could prove.  Her smile brightens my day, and her actions make my heart swell with joy.  I am so looking forward to everything she will become.

K is ten now, no longer a crying baby.  She knows no life without me in it, no life where mom and dad were together, and sometimes I wonder if that’s why our connection is so strong.  To her, all of this is perfectly normal, not a careful configuration of parenting that took a decade to sort out.  Her personality has always been strong, but as she ages, she is finding herself, her cleverness and compassion being her strongest traits.  Saturday night, we celebrated her entry into the double-digits club.  No more babies in this house.

Being a step-parent is a peculiar thing.  We have a stereotype to battle, for one…everyone knows the story of the evil stepmother.  We are often looked at as “less than,” because we did not give birth to the child.  It’s frequently difficult for me because I feel like odd woman out a lot…I neither created the children (like their parents did) or live with them most of the time (like their stepfather does.)  Still, when I am with my kiddos, none of it matters.  I don’t think about anything except what’s best for them.  I love them more than I thought was possible, if I’m honest.  They have changed my life in a way that no one has, save perhaps their father.  Mark has even made me swear that should our relationship fail for whatever reason, I will not desert the kids.  He made me promise, when we got married, that I will always be their stepmother, even if I’m not his wife.  He, in turn, promised that should that tragedy ever happen, he would continue to encourage the kids to have a relationship with me.
It’s not many men that would put their kids feeling before their own like that.  Of course, I hope that never comes to pass, but it makes my heart happy to know that he would want me in the kids lives no matter what.  After all, like I said, I loved them first.

Being a step-parent can be hard, but there are blessings.  I see it when E surprises me with a fresh cup of coffee, or when K tells me to get in the office and start writing.  I see it when M takes an interest in what I’m doing, or L sneaks up and gives me an unexpected hug.  These kids were not always in my life, and I wasn’t always in theirs…but they don’t remember that.  They only remember how much I have loved them, and they return that love to me in spades.  

Being a step-parent is hard.  But I wouldn’t change it.  I wouldn’t give it up.  I am grateful every day for my kiddos, and I love them more than they will ever know. Their ability to inspire and encourage is astronomical, and they are growing into amazing little humans.  I never wanted kids of my own, but I am eternally grateful for the little hearts that found their way to me and opened my life up in the process.