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Big Blue Eyes dead serious. The deal was, I could. Two of them. As much as I loved, was compatible with and was attracted to David, he had two children. Not teenagers. Tweenagers. ( for those of you who are ignorant of this term, its the word little girls between the ages of 8 and 12 use to describe themselves.. along with the gigantic industry aimed at selling them stuff) David and I had met online about 7 years ago when I was working in Portland. I had spent most of my 40's in London, going to grad school, working with special needs kids, traveling. He was a quiet, attractive guy about 33, well read, funny, kind, part time custody of two little girls, 2 and 4. It was a nice, sweet relationship if for no other reason than my belief it would never go further than a few months of companionship and fun. But within a few months, it became obvious that we felt more than just casual attraction. After much consideration, two grown children and an unfinished masters degree, I told him sadly that I didn't feel ready to make the kind of commitment a young family like his needed. We said goodbye, I returned to London,finished my degree, worked in various countries, traveled to South America to work as a volunteer and eventually started a volunteering community there. Several years went by. I dated occasionally but found that most men my age were looking for a one night stand or a glorified housekeeper and most men younger than me were looking for the 'older woman experience' ( as if... sigh) . I felt I had more to offer than either of those roles. And, to be honest, I liked my life!! But the one thing that I missed was someone who got it, who knew me, who understood me, who was ready to talk about life on a level other than traveling stories and life adventures. I missed love. After a project upheaval and some serious self consultation, my last years meditations and day dreams revealed that I was longing for a relationship of equals and sharing. David and I had kept in touch. He had custody of the girls after his ex went through a serious life crisis. He was house-sharing, working, commuting, taking care of two children. But he kept his sense of humor and his loving kindness really impressed me. We found that we had a lot of common goals and life style preferences. I began to talk to him and the girls via Skype before they went to school and before they went to bed each night. One of the things I found most surprising in myself was how much I felt a connection to the kids. I had worked as a professional governess in Europe and taught kids with learning disabilities, I
liked working with children and young adults.. but my own two children were grown and I had not dated some men I was interested over the years because they were single dads with young children. Yet there was something about these girls. they were sweet and funny and excited about us as a potential family. And lets face it, Love is not always listening to your list of reasons and excuses to not jump in. After a few months of talking and dreaming, he popped the question, bought me a ticket from Lima to Portland and met me, laughing at our full circle-ness, at the airport. We had a lot of decisions to make. Should we stay in the Portland area or venture further afield for a fresh start? Do we really want to house share ( old hippies never die) or strike out on our own? We ended up moving two hours south, to a lovely community where I had family and connections, full of woodlands, hiking trails and best of all a three bedroom Treehousey kind of place that enchanted all of us. We got furniture, moved the girls stuff to their new loft room, unpacked.. unpacked what seemed like an insurmountable mountain of boxes. and that was where the first crack in my well executed plan started to show.. 'Ten Bags of CLOTHES?? how do two little girls need 30 t-shirts and 20 pairs of leggings and ten coats and 30 pairs of shoes and 40 dresses ...apiece???' Uncomprehending looks from the man. ''well their grandma buys them clothes'' (oh grandma) WEll, they don't NEED all this stuff, this is why they can never find anything and their rooms are always piled with clothes.. its too much for them to navigate!! '' protests from the peanut gallery. We need to decide, i decided, what to give away, what to put in a consignment shop and what to keep. i convinced them the consignment shop would make some credit for a new bout of ( streamlined) shoping. the next load brought us five boxes of various plastic broken toys, with the little thingymajigs that have no partners, the jigsaw puzzle that has 12 pieces missing, the broken brooches, the 1000 hair ties... 6 bathrobes. 233 stuffed animals ( I counted) 8 pairs of pyjamas apiece. six boxes of unidentifiable bathroom products, including a box of tampons neither of them will need for at least two years and .. 5 bras. you heard me right. 5 bras. not the little trainy, cottony, really could be a cut off tank top type, but real live, ''has foam padding'' bras. I am gob smacked. ''Um, girls. What exactly are these and WHOSE??'' ''Our mom and aunt bought them for us!!'
One of my girls is flat as a pancake and the other ones 'breasts' might be better described as baby fat squished into the aforementioned foam shaped cups. I look at their dad, he shrugs. they told me the girls were developing and needed coverage. Coverage? on an eight and ten year old? We aren't talking about early developers here, we are talking about regular little girls with regular little girl bodies. As a long ago bra protester, i felt the eight year old should be running around shirtless in the yard under the sprinklers. I tell her this. She promptly comes to dinner shirtless. and feeling topless. I suggest that the dinner table is one place she should probably wear a shirt. her father concurs, stifling a smile. After a week of flashing her baby fat, she tires of it. But doesn't wear the bra anymore either. Success!!! Week one. Dad goes off to work, I set up the girls with a game, a gardening plan for the flower beds should the rain stop and they feel a compulsive need to dig and I turn on the computer to make my deadline. Working from home, something I always longed to do with my own now grown kids.. read read read. edit..coffee, sandwich, bloodcurdling scream. bloodcurdling scream?? 'Bailey hit me!!' 'I did not' 'Veronica was cheating and I told her to stop and when she didn't stop I just took the piece out of her hand, very nicely.' Veronica goes spare. 'YOU DID NOT DO IT NICELY YOU HIT ME HAARRRRDDDD!!!'' Bailey looks smug. 'see, I TOLD you she is over emotional.' Bailey is 8. how does she know the word 'over-emotional' much less how to use it in context? Hm. looks potentially bloody. I act as referee, using my most profound diplomatic skills. I have had children, I can do this. 'Bailey, you never get to touch Veronica. If you have a problem you cannot solve by yourself, you need to ask an adult to help you work it out, but we don't hit. ever. or take things out of each other's hands 'nicely'. not the momma, not your job, ok?' She glares. this is not going to plan. She is the good girl and Veronica is the trouble maker and she is not supposed to get a lecture. "you are not being fair! ' she shouts, crying running from the room. I follow her upstairs. Bailey. I don't take sides and I am fair. so maybe we should go over some basic rules that will make it clear how our family communicates.
she scowls but follows me down the stairs. Veronica is looking like the cat who ate the canary. for the first time, she didn't get in trouble when her sister told on her. And someone listened to her side of the story. Bailey shouts. 'she is smirking at me!! she is MOCKING me!!' I sit them both down and excuse myself to the toilet. Looking in the mirror, I smile..'' oooook. ok. deep breath and...'. return.
'So', I say to two very skeptical looking girls, 'Here are the rules: one: be kind to each other. If you feel mad, tell the other person and excuse yourself from the room until you can calm down enough to talk about it with them. two: no touching the other person without their permission, This goes for kissing and hugging ( veronica loves to hug, Bailey hates to be touched) three: clean up your own mess, if you take it out, put it back. four: stick together. You will have each other long after all the parents are not in your life every day. This is potentially your future best friend. five: follow directions. Families have to cooperate with each other to make things work.' 'so?', I say, 'what do you think of those rules for living around here?' they look at me, look at each other. Both nod. 'Those sound good', they say, shrugging. and I, feeling proud of my self, am home free. ( Oh, thou foolish woman.) NOT. For the next two weeks, there is more fighting, arguing , tattle telling, boundary pushing and conflict than I can remember since.. well since I shared a room with my brothers as a kid. My nerves are shot. My 'be kind' rule is often sailing out of the room with the sentence 'Absolutely not, young lady. You are in time out in your ROOM! yes! for EVER!!' Then more wailing. More crying, flouncing, throwing oneself on the bed. and that doesn't cover the girls. Since one of the girls has been diagnosed with ADHD and since I am an alternative therapist, I go about weaning her off medication which is leaving her apathetic and unable to sleep or concentrate, changing their diet from sugar laden, preservative laden convenience foods ( bachelor dads.. no time and short budgets) to home made organic meals. three times a day. fruits vegetables, whole grains, Mexican, Chinese, Italian goodies. They love it. But suddenly I am always in the kitchen either cooking or washing up.
They go to their mom for a visit. she informs me on their return that they have said -point blank- that they don't like me. I am crushed, tearful. and resentful. After 13 years of independent living, I am living in a ZOO. David works crazy shifts, sometimes not home for two days running and I am stuck with two girls who hate each other and me too, it appears. When we do see each other, its a litany of woes and regrets on my part and his bewildered apologies. Sex? uninterupted conversations? quiet normal dinners? What's that? The honeymoon is over before it begins. I am wildly out of ideas. Every thing I think I know becomes something theoretical. And then, one day in the depths of my inept feeling despair, I remember that I have women friends of all ages with all kinds of kids that I have worked with and for over the years. The Internet becomes my best friend. Each one of these great, strong, independent women, some single moms, some moms of large families, some moms of single kids, come to my rescue. One by one they laugh and tell me how normal this is, one by one they tell me how much their kids love me, one by one they get in the dig that its easy to be enlightened on a South American beach with a mojito in your hand at the end of the day, but the real path to enlightenment is right there , in the line of love and duty. ''But I already DID all this!!!!'' I wail. they shake their heads sympathetically. ''You are twenty years older now, the things kids have access to have changed. You raised yours out in the country, with no TV and books and veggie food and dogs and rabbits, you had these miracle kids who hardly ever fought or got into stuff, uber-smarties who loved school, with their own interests and a real maturity.. We used to laugh when you complained..you never understood that your kids were the exception, not the rule.'' I shamefacedly remembered not being nearly as supportive of them then as they were of me now, simply because, as they said, my kids were a different kind of hard; either of their IQ's halved about match mine full strength. I spent most of my time trying to make sure they got enough to do that interested them. Now I have a child with learning difficulties. Its not the same game. The next few weeks were a test of my commitment, as I struggled with the choices between a life of independent loneliness and ''accomplishment'' or a life as a working at home step-mom to two girls that --in reality --really needed a mom person in their life. They needed my perspective and my humor, my firmness and my grace.They needed my ideas for fun and my
love. And I needed their magic, their whimsy, their adventurousness and their challenge to make me less of a gramma and more of a mom. I knew that if I had a governess job in this same house, I would be advocating for them like crazy and working to see that they had stability, balance, love and boundaries.. the lack of a paycheck didn't make this any less important a job and the fact was that I had the opportunity to support them while they navigated puberty, adolescence and young adulthood, something I understood and an age group I had worked with for decades was a blessing for us all...We were, in reality, a match made in heaven. So, there it was. And I had a choice to make. I am, as of late, adjusting my self. I am reaching into the part of me that believes in kids and in families and in communities who raise them all together and I am in the process of daily.. surrendering. Not to domesticity, nor loss of freedom. And though my life is not entirely my own anymore, it is not just about mothering either. I am learning about sharing the load and working the child resources . We work the play dates, the sleep overs, the time with their biological mom, the support of our dear friend Mary who had known and cared for the girls in their neighbor hood since they were small. My niece Rose, who is thirty with three small children and a custody situation herself, has become a great friend, along with her husband Philippe. My young neighbor,Janie, whose kids are my kids age and who has been a stay at home for for 13 years, is my new 'lets call and laugh about it' and 'It's girls' night out, baby' friend. Nor is my surrender about 'super-momming' or soccer-momming' , being perfect or trying to be 'professional'. Its not always easy, but I no longer think of it as 'giving something up'. I am surrendering to a relationship, to a way of being in the world , with my partner and my kids, using the experience and skills I have acquired along the way, learning new tricks from the women who are living it now, the truth is, I feel younger than i have in years because I am surrendering to real, earthy loving and being loved in return. They say age has its rewards. I say, I am living with mine.
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