After we were set up by a mutual friend, Jim was honest regarding his state of affairs during our long introductory telephone call. It was a complex history, for sure, but the fact that he had taken on the responsibility of raising his son alone, no questions asked, revealed his character. And failed relationships? How could I, twice divorced and also having experienced an unplanned pregnancy (that, although welcome at the time, ended in a miscarriage), judge him? My personal philosophy held that I would rather be guilty of ending a relationship than staying in a bad one for the sake of not being alone – or judged for what others might see as another failure. And so, while getting to know Jim, I kept an open mind.
After a week of telephone calls and a lunch date, I learned that we had a litany of common interests and an immediate attraction; we were soon inseparable. He seemed to be honest and ethical, was a committed father, and had a wit and sarcasm that challenged my own. To my surprise I was falling in love, even though this was a package deal. I was blissfully naive as to what that really meant.
As our relationship continued to develop, I tried to be as sensitive as possible to any long-term effects my presence might have on Jim’s son, Michael. Having given up on traditional commitment, I hadn’t analyzed the consequences of this relationship lasting more than a few months. I was unprepared for how my role in Michael’s life would become a primary one.
Those days seem like a distant memory, and today Michael is a completely different child; no longer a toddler, he is now a boy and just starting first grade.
I am a different person as well. I no longer correct or attempt to explain when teachers or other mothers refer to me as “Michael’s mom.” Michael and I often look at each other and smile when this occurs, acknowledging what we feel for each other and sharing our little secret.
Now that we all live in the same house, the logistics of sharing in the responsibilities of caring for Michael are much easier. It is also a gift to start and end every single day with a kiss and a hug from a child I have come to love as though he were my own.
Although we have made the step to live together, Jim and I are both twice divorced and do not discuss marriage or the commingling of funds. Our bank accounts and other assets remain separate. But I do worry, with our bad track records, about what would happen to my relationship with Michael if mine with Jim were to falter. Jim’s first divorce resulted in a severing of his relationship with a five-year-old stepdaughter, and a decade later I have seen him shed tears for that loss. Perhaps because of that heartbreak, he has promised that he will never keep Michael from me. In fact, I have asked Jim if I can adopt Michael, and he has agreed. But Jim is still in the middle of a drawn-out court battle with his ex-wife. Perhaps because the adoption requires more legal fees and another trip to court, he has not yet filed the required documentation. I know he’s overwhelmed, so I do not push. I have time, I think – it doesn’t have to be done today. But I look forward to the legal affirmation of what I already feel.
It’s been a short journey since those early months when I worried about the extent of my role in Michael’s life, wondered if I should hug him less or hug him more, asked myself if it was okay that he sometimes called me “Mom.” Now I can hardly remember life without Michael, and entrusting his care to anyone else is unimaginable. His well-being is now my primary concern, and my entire life is planned around his school and activity schedule. My money is spent on his haircuts and school clothes; my evening priorities are homework and bath time. I am now privy to a host of previously undiscovered joys: the curiosity I often see in his big blue eyes; the beauty of his tiny freckles; the feel of his little hand snaking its way into mine; the preciousness of his tired body leaning against me.
Oftentimes I am in awe of the miracle of this boy, tearful at the privilege of being a part of his life. I cannot fathom how the one who gave birth to him could abandon him so completely with nary a call or a letter in four years.
He did not come from my belly, and we have no genetic link, but he has become my sun, my moon, my stars. And I have become his mother.
Excerpted with permission from An Accidental Mother, a memoir by Katherine Anne Kindred, published this month by Unbridled Books. Available everywhere.