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November 16, 2016

To my Step-daughter: I Have a Confession.

Matteo Bagnoli/Flickr

I need one more hug and smooch. 

That’s what you tell me at least three times before I’m allowed to leave the house without you.

Just in case you are wondering, you’re currently down for your 1 p.m. nap, rocking the ladybug costume you picked to wear today, because it’s Sunday, and why can’t you sometimes wear whatever the heck you want? I’m sorry I took your ladybug wings and ladybug antennas; I know you didn’t want to give them up, but they might have not been so comfortable once you fell asleep. I promise you can have them back once your batteries are charged.

I met you for the first time over a “freaky-fast gourmet sandwich” in your mother’s office. I was working and she brought me dinner. You stared at me with unsure eyes a few months before your second birthday, as your mother and I reveled in our new found freedom in each other.

I was an experienced handler of my still-lingering commitment fears when I fell in love with your mother and she walked into my life with toddler in tow.

I had always said I wanted kids. I had also always feared I did not posses the patience or the fortitude not to mirror my father’s tendency to demand and instill fear as a means of control. Those fears coupled with negative outside opinions of my ability to parent had resigned my desire to be one.

So, when you, this sandy blonde-haired gal, walked into my life, I couldn’t help but question if I could be that other parent. I wondered if I possessed the ability to be patient with you and teach you how to be an adult, an adult that would one day be out in the world and potentially affect tens of thousands of people. Secondly, if you grew to love me, did I trust myself enough to stay? Did I trust your mother enough to not one day walk away and take your tiny self with her?

I decided to let you lead the way. I didn’t push you, and I didn’t attempt to lure your admiration with special treats or gestures. I simply talked to you, watched cartoons with you, chased you and made crazy noises. I always stopped when you asked me to. I included you and didn’t hog your mother’s time when she was with you.

I didn’t fall in love with you as you found your way into the world outside my womb and onto my chest. That was reserved for you mother. I fell in love with you in the middle of the night, standing in the middle of your bedroom as you drifted asleep with a still tear-moistened face in my arms. The battle had been long and arduous as you familiarized yourself with your new toddler bed. We were both tired, but you were beautiful, a kind of beauty I had never seen before. I held you in the quiet, enamored, and felt nameless emotions bellow through my stomach, heart and head.

The tears came unexpectedly—the laughter, too. I squeezed you, kissed your forehead and kneeled with you in my arms just before tucking you back into your Doc McStuffins comforter set.

It’s been over a year. I vowed on a Maine cliff-side to share the rest of this life with your mother loving her, honoring her, and growing with her. I wake up every day and ask myself how I can be a better parent to you. Because when I made that commitment to your mother, I made that commitment to you, too. I committed to be a parent, even when it’s not fun, even when it’s not convenient. I accepted full shared responsibility for daycare transportation, bedtime and bath routines, sick-time snuggles (including puke-duty), hard conversations, and everything else that will arise from this journey of parenthood I have found myself walking.

Bless your mother, she gave me the greatest gift by allowing me to share her space in your life with me. Her allowing me to fully be part of the decisions, discipline, and encouraging our relationship has, without a doubt, helped foster this connection I feel with you. I am deeply grateful.

In the beginning, I would stare into those wondering toddler eyes of yours and ask myself, “What if I had given birth to her, how would this feel? Would it feel any different than it does right now?” Those questions were the catalyst of opening the mother inside of me. When you’d tell your mother you “wanted your Dot” and crawl into my lap I would hold you and envision someone laying you on my chest as if you were brand-new to the world, not just me.

It’s so easy to say, “I treat her as if she were my own,” but if I’m entirely honest with myself, do I know how I would treat me own? I’ve never birthed any children. I truly wanted to love you as if you were my own, to feel no different than your future brothers and sisters. So, I would almost pretend (minus the deceptive aspect of the word) that I had somehow helped bring you into this world.

And maybe I did. Maybe we did—you and I—long before we met here.

Here’s what I want you to know: my favorite thing to do in this world is tuck you back into bed in the middle of the night, and I have cried more than once watching the joy that exudes from you during your favorite song. You are my first born, too. You did not come from my womb, but you came from my heart. I wished for you long before you found me. I’ve found myself incredibly patient. I’ve noticed previous fears unfounded, and I will keep you forever. You have become my world. Our Friday nights have become your playground and our early mornings are all you.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

~

Author: Dottie Fuller

Image: Matteo Bagnoli/Flickr

Editor: Emily Bartran

~

 

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