When I was newly separated and dealing with the concept of divorce, I thought I had reached the pinnacle of Personal Shittiness. There was no way I could top it. I had outdone myself, obtained the gold star of bad and selfish behaviour. There was literally nowhere to go but up from this self-induced rock bottom of downright morally questionable behaviour.
I was wrong.
When Moe and I met, I was delighted at the idea of having a kid around. I said obnoxious things that I was incapable of backing up with any real actions like “a kid can never have too much love” and “I am great with children”. I patted myself on the back so hard I am surprised to this day that I have skin left on my shoulders. I would be The Girlfriend Who Was A Perfect Step Person. A I played with Play Doh at 6:45 am on his apartment floor, waving off his concerns that it was early and I really didn’t have to do this. I LOVED it, don’t be silly. What else would I be doing before 7 am? Sleeping? No, really, I want to do this sort of thing in the morning. Honestly I’m not even tired, I sometimes prefer 3 hours of sleep to make me feel like I’m really living.
I bought toys and left them at his place, smug in the knowledge that kids love toys, and I bought toys and therefore I would be loved and we would all get along so well and seriously – good for me, I just came out of this divorce swinging and now I am basically an amazing parent-figure who could write a book on the correct way to raise a child, but who has the time for that anyways, I’ll just quietly be the best at this new role that is so easy I DO NOT get why people complain about step-parenting.
Then we moved in together.
And his child got older.
Suddenly, I was no longer a person who saw a child occasionally. I was a person who LIVED WITH A CHILD.
Let me briefly outline what happens when you live with a child, if you aren’t already in the blessed position of doing so.
– They talk. A lot, and usually about nothing at all.
– They make messes, and they don’t even mean to. Mess just follows them around. Think Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon. The mess is just there, behind and around them and all over your house.
– They talk. Seriously. It is constant.
– They cry when they fall down, or bump their heads, or don’t want to do something, or when they are tired, or not tired enough, or haven’t consumed the correct amount of calories in a day, or have consumed too many, or are lacking in potassium, or need more exercise, or are sick, or are getting sick, or are just getting over being sick.
– They need stuff constantly. Food, clean clothing, shelter, guidance, support, and all the other basic necessities of life that I struggle to provide myself with. Once last year I ran out of clean underwear FOR MYSELF twice. In ONE MONTH.
– They talk ALL THE BLOODY TIME.
Anyone who knows me knows that small talk is not really my thing. I would rather repeatedly scrape the side of my face against a brick wall than talk about flimsy things that I have no interest in or relationship to. So, when I was suddenly in the same dwelling as a little human being who ONLY KNOWS how to small talk, I was devastated. What do I say when she suddenly starts telling me an endless story involving mostly words I can’t understand and people I am not even sure actually exist and WHAT is a Toopy and a Binoo? Should I Google these things? Do I respond? Does nodding my head count? Wait a second, she’s not even listening to my responses and now she’s talking about something else…I should just leave. Wait, I can’t leave, I live here now. With the child. I have to watch her because I am the only adult here. I am not an adult. I should just leave. I’ll call my mom she will know what to do, maybe I can go live there?
Fortunately, I am priviliged enough to also live with a man who is not only a fantastic father, but who recognized right away that when I said “I am great with children” all those months ago I was a) wrong and b) lying. So he took the pressure off of me, told me to quit worrying about what a three year old thought of my reaction to her dialogue, and basically just carried on parenting as though I wasn’t there and he was still a single dad. And I let him do this, gladly and with an enormous sense of relief.
Here’s where the Further Pinnacle of Shittiness was reached.
For over a year, I hid from his daughter in plain sight. I let myself work too much so I was never around when she was. I refused to make rules when I was here, and I let my fear of doing something wrong that would harm her or harm my relationship with her father turn into something much worse – jealousy. I found myself getting annoyed when her father would be happy to see her. I would be angry when he seemingly spoiled her, and withdrawn on the rare occasions when the three of us were together, convinced that he loved her more than me anyways, so what was the point in even trying to be present?
I know. Shitty.
In a completely shocking plot twist, deciding to behave like a spoiled, entitled 17 year old got me exactly nowhere, figuratively speaking. Moe and I argued, and his daughter and I would eye each other warily when we were in the same room. My jealousy fuelled hers, and I let that happen. I allowed a child to experience a debilitating, useless emotion because I was afraid and insecure. Our house was silent when I was around. No one wanted me there, and I didn’t want to be there, and I was frantically looking for an exit strategy. I knew I couldn’t be a good step-parent, so why waste Moe’s time? Or mine, or his daughters, and anyways I’ve always wanted to live in Costa Rica (that’s a lie I bet its full of spiders) or Ottawa so I might as well just move and fulfill my lifelong dream to….I don’t have a lifelong dream at all I just need to run away so don’t judge me, people with actual, realized goals who face your problems head on.
And now I will tell you that everything worked out totally fine and impart upon you some sage wisdom as to how to fix your life the way I did and become a mature, highly-functioning step-parent.
Just kidding, that shit doesn’t happen in real life.
What DID happen is that my father, seeing me teetering on the edge of yet another self-dug hole of despair, yanked me back to my feet and verbally slapped me back to my senses. This is what fathers are for, among other things like buying great Christmas gifts, walking your dog when you are hungover, and letting you walk into their house with your shoes on when your mom isn’t home because they don’t notice that stuff and don’t care anyways.
He told me, in very plain English, that it was time to grow up. That I had two choices – act like an adult or move on from the relationship. And to stop whining and smarten up a little (or a lot) and be the kind of woman that a little girl will look up to one day.
Naturally, because I am a very well-adjusted and mature human being, I reacted to this encounter by crying and then napping, in that order.
And then I did something I have never done before. I took my fathers advice. I started to try a little harder. I started listening to Moe’s daughter, I started doing things with her and slowly, I realized that we liked each other. GET THIS. It turns out she’s interesting, and smart, and funny, and insightful. She also has no time for small talk now that she is no longer three and not operating on a stream of consciousness thought process. Once, at WalMart, a cashier asked her some asinine question about the doll we were buying and she looked at her evenly and said, coolly, “It’s just a doll I liked when I saw it”. That is EXACTLY what I would have said. Just buying a doll, here, lady. NO SMALL TALK REQUIRED.
We still have rough days around our house. Sometimes I wake up and see a small person in my house and momentarily panic in case she falls down suddenly or asks me for some life advice (so far neither has happened thank God). And sometimes, Shitty Me resurfaces and I think things like “Why is it ok for you to whine when you’re grumpy just because you’re 7 but when I do it it’s considered immature that seems unfair to me you don’t even HAVE anything to really whine about yet, just wait, kid, life gets way worse”. Now, though, I try to stop these thoughts, and remember two things. 1 – this life I have makes me happy, and I worked for it, and I am going to make it work and 2 – I never want to have that conversation with my father ever again because I am still slightly scared of him so I think I will just act like the grownup I am supposed to be. At least for now. Today, anyways. DEFINITELY until tonight. Maybe.