In August of 2006, I married my beautiful Caroline. Together, alongside her 5-year-old daughter, we entered the complicated world of blended families. But in February of 2007, we learned that our world would become more complicated still, thanks to some shocking news: My wife was pregnant with triplets.
There were many different types of concerns throughout Caroline’s pregnancy. Some were logistical — we’d need a bigger house and car. Others were physical — Caroline has a very small frame, and she was 38 at the time. And many were emotional. A series of serious complications made for nine months of pretty constant anxiety, but perhaps our biggest worry was for Alli.
How would she fare during yet another transition? She had already endured a tremendous amount of change in her short life — her parents’ divorce, moving from her very first home to the one she shared with her mom, accepting me in theory during the engagement, and then accepting me in actuality after the marriage. And in a few short months, Alli would go from being the center of the universe to the oldest of four in the blink of an eye. So much change would be hard on anyone, let alone a 5-year-old girl.
While Caroline was carrying the triplets, many well-meaning people would tell me, “Just wait until you have your own children,” the insinuation being that there’d be a difference between the way I felt about them and the way I felt about Alli. Though I never let it show, those remarks always upset me. If only they knew how much I loved Alli, not to mention how worried I was about the transition she’d soon face. Because if they did, surely, they wouldn’t have asked a question that only increased my concern that Alli would feel like she was second fiddle after the babies were born.
“Sure, but don’t forget, I already have a child,” I’d answer.
“Just wait,” they’d reply knowingly.
Which is what I did. Wait, that is. And, as I knew it would, time proved these people wrong. I love Alli every bit as much as I love my “own” children. After all, she’s one of them. My oldest one at that. If you prick Alli’s finger, I’m convinced you’ll find my DNA.
My love for Alli developed while I was courting Caroline. In fact, by the time we were engaged, I already viewed her as my own child, so much so that I wanted her to be a part of the most important thing I would ever do — propose to Caroline. So after I sought permission from Caroline’s mom (her dad is deceased), I sought the same thing from her daughter. And I’ll never forget how it went down.
“Alli, I’ve got something very important I want to talk to you about. So pick somewhere — anywhere in the whole house — where you want to have a serious chat.”
Oddly, she chose the very corner of her mama’s bedroom. As we sat there Indian style facing one another, I noticed my hands were damp with anxiety.
“You know I love you, right?” I began.
“Yeeeessss,” she answered coyly.
“Did you know I love your mommy, too?”
“I thought you loved her!” she answered with a grin that stretched from one ear to the other.
“Well you’re right. In fact, I love your mommy so much that I wanna marry her.”
A look of genuine disappointment crept across Alli’s face. “But Mommy’s already married,” she said while looking down at the planks of the hardwood floor, her finger tracing an imaginary pattern.
Understandable confusion for sure. After all, Alli was only four at that time, and divorce is anything but black and white. Luckily, I had anticipated this stumbling block.
“Oh, honey, your mommy and daddy aren’t actually married any more. That’s why you live in this house,” I said, making a sweeping gesture with my arm. “Remember that book It’s Not Your Fault Koko Bear?”
Of course she did. Caroline read it to her all the time. I had even read it to her a time or two.
“Well, it’s just like Koko Bear’s Mommy and Daddy. They were all grumpy and grumbly when they lived together so they decided not to be married any more and moved into different homes. So, just like Koko Bear, you have two homes now.”
“Well, if you married Mommy, where would you live?”
“I’d move in here with y’all.”
Alli’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “Would Briggs (my dog) come, too?”
Hmmm. The downside seemed to be that the prospect of living with my dog was more appealing than that of living with me. But the upside? I had a trump card — one which I would proudly lay down.
“He sure would, honey.”
Excitement turned to flat-out jubilation. “You better bring his food!”
“I will, Alli. I will.”
Our blended family would spring from that conversation, a family that would soon welcome three little babies — babies who Caroline and I feared would threaten Alli’s very identity. But we were wrong.
Alli has delighted in her role of big sister — whether it’s helping the triplets get dressed, or coloring alongside them at the small wooden table, or perhaps just carrying on a simple conversation in her best baby voice. Each time I see the four of them interact, it’s as if they’re one in my mind, all of them falling under the same exact same category — that of “my children.”
And though none of them has any more claim on my heart than the rest, if one ever were to, it just might be the little girl who was nice enough to let me marry her mommy.