“Will you and dad get married?” she looks at me quizzically from the toilet of our favorite local sushi joint.
“Um, I think so…” Why do kids always hit you with these kinds of questions at the most unlikely times? I quickly add, “Is that something you’d like?”
“It’s not like anything would change,” she says with a level of maturity that is way beyond her almost 8 years. I’m relieved yet curious if she’s already had a version of this conversation before.
“Nope, not at all! I mean, I guess I’d be your ‘stepmom,’ but that doesn’t really change anything. You wouldn’t call me ‘mom’ or anything. You already have a mom. And that’d be weird, right?” Insert Chandler from Friends voice: could I BE any more awkward?
“Yeah, I’d still call you Kris, and you’re already always at dad’s anyway, so…”
“Right! Nothing would change. But we would get to wear fancy dresses and have a big party!”
She smiles at me and flushes.
When people ask me if I have kids, I usually answer “sometimes!” It’s true: we have 2 girls most weekends, Wednesday night dinners, extra weeks in the summer when they’re not at camp, and alternating holidays. Some people want the simple yes or no answer, but for me it’s not that simple.
Did I birth two babies out of my lady bits? Nope. Does my whole schedule revolve around them? Yup.
Did I experience their first steps or first words? Nope. Do I steam and puree spinach and hide it in their favorite foods? You betcha.
Do I have any real say in how many minutes they spend reading a day or when might be a good time to start potty training? Not really. Do I indulge all of their interests—from changing the diapers of a baby doll that poops play-doh to filming iPhone movies involving favorite stuffed animals—even when I’d really like to sit down with a coffee or work out for 30 minutes? I sure do. And I love it.
Being a Sometimes Mom has its challenges. You’re just enough on the outside to have at least a little sense of objectivity, yet you’re just enough on the inside to feel the weight of adults who struggle to co-parent. I meet people all the time—including my own partner—who say that they could never do it: they could never take on a parenting role for kids who aren’t their own, but they would never find themselves in that situation anyway.
Yeah, no, really, and I used to be one of them, too.
When a really cute guy I met at the bar picked me up for our first date (like in his car, which, when you’re casually dating on a cell phone app in the city, is major points), I didn’t know it would lead me into the role of a stepmom (“I didn’t choose the thug life; the thug life chose me”).
When a couple months went by, and I realized that there really was something extraordinary between me and this really cute guy I met at the bar, being a mother-like figure to little girls became a reality. He inspired me to be a wife and a mother and an overall better person. And this led to my tear-filled realization that this man who filled me with an interest in white gowns and diaper genies, things I didn’t think I would ever want or need, would probably not want those things with me: “How could you ever want to get married again? You could never want another child. What your ex did to you was horrible. You’ve inspired me to want these things, but it can’t happen with you… What are we doing here?”
“You deserve to have the life you want to have,” he assured me, “and I want those things with you, too. I’m not going anywhere. I’m excited for us.”
We had been dating for only a few months when I met the kids. If you read parenting articles and blogs like I religiously do, that might seem too soon. But the truth is, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t already have kids, you need to know if that is a role you can see for yourself. When you date someone with children, you’re dating them, too; I had to know that I could fall in love with them as well.
It was a Friday night in December. I came over for dinner. When he answered the door, he had a smiling 18-month-old on his hip. Her eyes were sparkly, and she was just a lovebug through and through. I had never been so nervous about a first date before. In the living room would be a greater challenge: almost exactly 3 years older than her baby sister, I hoped this pre-schooler would think I was cool. I couldn’t drop Friends references, but I did have candy in my bag. I said hi to the shy girl in the dark dress and white tights but didn’t force it; I let her get a little closer to me through a family game of Go Fish. At first she wouldn’t quite look at me but instead asked her dad to ask me for certain cards. After a few rounds, our knees touched as we sat cross-legged on the floor, her round face tickled with delight as she won again.
The night went on, and both girls were joyous and sweet. Later I’d text my mom that I’d never seen anything so sexy as my boyfriend with babies crawling all over him.
We planned this meeting this way because I needed to know, or to at least have a sense, of my fate with this small, broken family. I was heading for a month-long trip around the world over the holidays, and so this would be our only meeting for a while. Maybe it was too early, but it was right for us.
With the baby already asleep, I looked at the time as if I’d turn into a pumpkin. I had planned on leaving before bedtime and felt absolutely honored to be invited in for snuggles before heading out. I didn’t know that this would be the start of incredible bonding times to come—those somewhat sleepy, somewhat stalling minutes before actually going to bed when little minds release their innermost thoughts to you. Confession: I knew that I could fall in love with my partner’s kids.
As I tiptoed away, I heard her ask: “Dad, where’s Kristi going to sleep?”
“Well, she is going to go to her apartment…”
“Oh. She can’t stay here?”
I smiled, trying to be as quiet as possible fumbling with the baby gate at the top of the stairs. I needed to get home to make sure I was prepared for a trip that would take me through Germany, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. Who knew that my biggest journey was actually going to start when I got back home?
Kristi is not a “real” mom, but she plays one in every game involving a family, dolls, animals, or little plastic figures shaped like everyday household items with faces. When not being a Sometimes Mom, she enjoys cooking, travel, New England sports, and being an English professor.