A few weeks ago, I got married — to the complete and total shock of my two children.
In fact, they had no idea that I was even engaged at all until they showed up at the wedding. Which, by the way, they thought was going to be a family photo session. (Sorry, kids. Sometimes moms lie, too.)
You see, several years ago when my daughter was 3 and my son was 7 months old, their dad (and my husband of nearly eight years) vanished. He said that he was going to the store and instead he emptied the bank account, quit his job, turned off his phone, abandoned his car, and made himself untraceable for a really long time.
And in the meantime, my daughter’s heart broke.
Raising kids is a tough job, and raising kids as a single mother is even harder; but raising kids as an only parent when your children struggle with abandonment issues … well, that’s a whole other ballgame.
So dating, as you might imagine, was tricky. My children so desperately wanted a dad that they would regularly ask random men if they wanted to marry me so that we wouldn’t be alone. It never feels good to know that your children don’t think you’re enough, but of course I knew in my heart that it really wasn’t about that.
Deep down they just want what they were biologically supposed to have: a dad.
So like I said, dating was tricky because I didn’t want them to have just any old dad. I had chosen the wrong man to marry the first time around, and the place that it had landed me in wasn’t all that great. (Well, except for the whole “kids” part. I did get some pretty stellar kids out of the deal!) And aside from that, I wasn’t out “seeking a new daddy,” like all the cliché single mom jokes go. In fact, I really wasn’t out to find anyone permanent at all; because despite my kid’s protests, I knew that our family — in its one parent form — was enough.
But then he came into my life, and to be honest, I’m not really even sure that I was ready for him to make his appearance.
Looking back now, I know that I was, but at that point in time I just wasn’t so sure about the guy I’d begun to date. “Slowly“ is really the only way that I can describe how I dated him in the beginning.
I was slow to get involved, slow to really invest, and when it came to introducing him to my kids, my pace was about as fast as a dead snail.
But eventually, it just all came together.
And he was amazing with the kids. His investment in them ran deeper than I ever thought another person might have in my children, and in return they fell in love with him in such a profound way. My instincts told me to gather them up and run away before they had the chance to get their little hearts broken all over again; but I didn’t run, and neither did he.
And eventually, he asked me if he could stay forever, and to my surprise, I said “yes.”
“Yes,” of course, contingent upon some conditions. I wanted us to see a counselor, and I wanted the advice of a children’s psychologist. I wanted to meet with a financial planner and a mentor from my church. I wanted my friends to really, truly give me their opinions. And no longer having any parents of my own, I wanted my friend’s parents to give me theirs as well.
I wanted to make sure that this time around, I was making the right choice, because this choice wasn’t just about me and him; it was also about my kids.
When all was said and done, and we were given the blessing to proceed by everyone around us, I was ready to commit. But since the road to get to this point was always paved with the trust issues of my past, I didn’t tell any of this to my children. I just didn’t want to hurt them if it wasn’t meant to be.
And during this time, when he and I would talk about a wedding, we both realized that it wasn’t something either of us were really interested in. He had no desire to plan a wedding, and I felt that after several years of single mom chaos and uncomfortable attention from my life’s spectators (I am the woman whose husband disappeared, you know), planning a big event for a bunch of people just wasn’t something that I wanted either.
We weren’t in it for the wedding, we were in it for the future. But when I mentioned getting married at the courthouse, it felt a little lack luster for the moment that we were going to become a family. We both realized that what we were most excited about was the moment that the kids would really understand that we were finally a family, and that now they had a dad.
From that moment on, we set off to pull together the surprise of a lifetime; the surprise of a family.
Here’s how we did it: One day, I casually mentioned to the kids that I needed to get them fitted for clothes for a photo session, and because I am a habitual photo-taking mom, it didn’t faze them at all. When I told them that I wanted a few flowers in the pictures, that didn’t tip them off either. I even went to the trouble of showing them some “old fashioned” pictures online, and explained that Mommy was going to wear a dress just like the “old fashioned people,” and so when my daughter saw me getting my wedding dress on that morning, she thought it was hysterical that I looked like a bride.
What she didn’t know was that I really was a bride; just like she didn’t know that quietly, in the weeks beforehand, my sweet groom and I had been busy fitting rings and engraving a necklace for her that symbolized the date he was to become her dad. We explained the whole plan to the photographer and enlisted the help of a few close friends, but beyond that, our wedding remained a secret.
The kids had no idea.
No idea that during the “photo shoot,” my groom was planning to bring up the idea that these family photos would be a lot better if we were a “real” family.
No idea that their new dad was going to drop down to one knee, and ask my daughter if she was OK with him being her dad, and ask my son’s permission to marry his mom.
And I, in turn, had no idea that my daughter would throw her arms around his neck and whisper, “I knew you were supposed to be my dad, and I’ve been waiting for so long,” or that I would nearly drown in my own tears as I watched a father be born to two children whose dreams were coming true right before my eyes.
We were married that day by the attorney who had helped divorce me so many years earlier (and then had stuck around to make sure that I was OK while I found my new life).
I had no idea that the day I met my now-husband would be the day that I began to watch my forever family take shape. Because I never could have imagined a day when I would watch a father be born, two little hearts heal, my trust issues fade away, and a future unfold, all in a matter of hours.
I may have pulled one over on my kids by not telling them any of this was happening; but in the end I realized that the entire time, the surprise had really been on me.