Whenever David and I drop the kids off at their mom’s on Sunday evenings, we’re always both sad. The television is no longer playing Toy Story 3 on repeat, the roar of a Tonka truck is no longer the soundtrack to making dinner, and our arms are missing the weight of a sleepy child.
But I surprised myself yesterday when David asked me what was wrong. I was feeling a little down, yeah, but normally when I’m like that, I tell him “nothing” or “I’m fine” because generally, I am. I’m just tired or worn out from work or avoiding the mildewed laundry that sat overnight in the washer. But yesterday, as the words floated off in a cartoon bubble from his mouth, I said, “I miss the kids.”
And then proceeded to cry.
I would like to say that one reason I was so upset this particular weekend is because I spent more time with them than usual. I had Thursday evening with them. I took them to school Friday morning, and I picked them up that afternoon. I left work early on Saturday and we all went to the zoo, then we had all day Sunday with them.
I’d like to think that another reason was that Chloe was sick and couldn’t keep anything down all weekend and therefore wanted lots of extra snuggles. One afternoon, she sat in my lap at the kitchen table, wrapping both arms around me and laying her head on my chest without saying a word.
Maybe it was because I picked them up Friday afternoon from the babysitter (something I’ve never done before) and that when they saw me walk in the door, they both jumped up and ran into my arms, screaming “SAM!” and begging to be picked up.
Maybe because Trey was extra affectionate this weekend and would call my name, slap me on the leg, and then say, “Hold me, peas” about eighteen thousand times every five minutes.
Maybe it was a combination of all of those events – or maybe it’s because, for the first time, I really felt like a mom and not just another adult to love on in the house.
For a long time, it was difficult. They were his kids … their kids. They were swaddled in blankets I never saw and their little hands gripped David’s fingers long before he ever pinky-swore an ice cream date with me. They had a mother and their mother once loved my fianc’ and together, they were a family of four. And then there I was, feeling a lot like a mistress. I’d stay home and wave a mascara wand and put on heels while he made a pit stop at his ex-wife’s house to see the kids’ Halloween costumes. I worried that she would always come first, that they would always be “the unit” and I was just a robotic arm haphazardly attached. I was jealous of their dynamic, I was worried that David wouldn’t want any more children, I was … well, I was a lot of things. And most of it was based purely off of insecurities I had carried around, festering in my mind and causing a hot, dull ache in my throat and chest and eyes.
There is an unwritten rule when starting a new relationship, and that rule is: “do not bring up past loves.” No matter how funny an old boyfriend story might be or how confident you proclaim you are, as soon as that elephant is carted into the room, it takes a long, long time to attach sequins and make it a part of The Greatest Show on Earth. Your curiosity will (clich’ or not) kill the cat – and your budding relationship. I have always been a firm believer in this, in keeping tight-lipped and not asking, “So, did she always model while she was going to medical school?” But when your fianc”s past is there every other weekend, in the flesh, asking you to scratch her back or to pick him him up, it’s hard to ignore. And it’s hard not to fall in love these kids.
When he and I first became us, the bad blood was thick and congealed in his past relationship. And it was something he had to deal with every single day, battling for more time with the kids, or fighting over money. They were both so angry with each other, and of course, she was never happy with the idea of me. And she was never going to be happy with the idea of me making macaroni and cheese for her kids or tucking them in at night.
Now we are cordial. And we acknowledge each other and, depending on the stars’ alignment, can actually hold a conversation. But then there are the days when we both go to preschool field day and sit on separate sides and I watch, broken broken-hearted, as Chloe searches for me in the crowd, but ultimately sits with her mom to eat lunch.
But I always knew that loving David meant loving his kids, too. I knew that they would always be a part of my life, of our family. That no matter how many other kids David and I had, Chloe and Trey would always be there, would always be first. I knew that they would be important to me as David is and that I would do nothing but love them unconditionally.
But it took a while for me to realize that they were mine, too. That together, we, too, were a family of four and that I had a little girl and a little boy. It took a while for me to realize that they would always be the big brother and sister and that any children David and I had together would be loved and treated exactly the same.
I didn’t know the pride I would have walking through the zoo with them and people smiling at our curious little blonde and our funny and charming boy. I didn’t know that my heart would swell as I tucked them into their beds, whispered “I love you” into the dark, put their clothes out for the morning. I didn’t know that I would rush home from work to be with them, that I would get a thrill from buying little 4T tank tops, that I would take a day off work to go to that preschool field day, that I would want to wake them up from their naps just to hear their laughter.
I didn’t know that at 22 years old, I would proudly say, “I have two children” when someone mentions kids. I didn’t know.
But now? Now I can’t imagine loving a child I actually pushed out of my body any more than I love Chloe and Trey. A new baby will be, indeed, a new baby and a new life and a new love, but it will be my third child. My youngest of three. My baby. But it will hold just as much of my heart as Chloe and Trey, it will take my breath away with its first steps just like Chloe does when she learns something new at school or Trey does when he says a new word. A new baby will have a picture in a frame on my desk, right between my two oldest babies. My first babies. My little boy and my little girl.
Maybe one day, we will ALL be one family. Maybe one day, I’ll sit next to their mother and their stepsister and cheer on Chloe as she twirls in a ballet recital. Maybe one day, Trey will smile for a picture between both of us, his mother and his stepmother, secure in the fact that he has never been more loved.
But for now, I will happily, gladly take our family of four. Because they are not just his kids. They are our kids.