Meredith’s Musings: The Child That Isn’t Mine
article by Meredith McKinnie
My mother told me once, “Meredith, don’t marry a man with kids if you can help it. It’s a nightmare.” And unlike other twenty-somethings, I listened to my parents. I avoided men with the “me + 1 or 2 or (God Forbid) 3” like the plague. I didn’t let myself fall. But after a string of what I considered acceptable men with no kids, I noticed a pattern. They were selfish. I mean, I know I am, but I can live with me. We’re bonded for life. But a selfish man? No, I’d rather be alone in my selfishness.
But then HE happened, and HE has a daughter. I actually remember thinking it was a tradeoff, a kid for a college degree, shameful I know. He was so proud of her; his face would light up anytime her name was mentioned. He told me to “never try to compete with her. It wasn’t a competition.” I knew he meant that I would lose. And unlike other women who dive into a relationship with blinders, my eyes were wide open. I understood the gravity of this relationship. It would never be just me and him. Was I mature enough for this? Did I even want this? Was he worth this? He said I wouldn’t meet her until he knew I would be around indefinitely. That day came four months later.
I’d love to tell you I fell in love with her on sight, but then the story would end there, and life doesn’t happen that way. I vaguely remember the first meeting. We colored; she laughed; she seemed unfazed by my presence. And silly me, I was more excited about knowing I mattered enough to meet her than actually meeting her.
And over the last two years, she’s been there, every other weekend and alternating weeks in the summer, she’s been there. And sure her presence is an adjustment. Our schedule changes. Freedom and spontaneity evaporate, and routine takes over. She has to have a bath, and her hair brushed, her thick hair that I would kill for that takes me 45 minutes to dry. And she hates having it brushed. But one day I was brushing, and drying, and I had her do the hair flip so I could dry from the bottom to the top. She was pouting, and I was insistent, her face was buried under all that hair, and her big eyes caught mine between a few strands, and we both chuckled. We laughed for a few blissful seconds, and then she pouted again. She always thinks people are laughing at her, not with her. But in that moment, I felt a little flutter and realized I kind of liked this kid. Sure, she whined and was strong-willed and took full advantage of having her daddy’s heart in the palm of her hand, but I liked her. We argued from time to time; she challenged me, felt me out, like a dog sniffing a house guest, but would then curl up in my lap.
Her mom and I are more than amicable. We try to make the best out of a difficult situation, both agreeing the little girl’s world not be any more chaotic than it has to be. Whatever happened between her and him is their past; I don’t compare my relationship with him to it or try to compete with it. Frankly, it’s not my business. Her mother said to me once, “I know you love her, and I appreciate it.” And I smiled and nodded, because that’s what you do. But it made me wonder. Did I love her? Was I just supposed to? Would I ever?
But a month ago HE and I were in the back of the house arguing over something petty, thinking she couldn’t hear us, when she stormed in shaking her finger and angry saying, “Ms. Meredith, you tell Daddy you’re sorry. Go on, now give him a kiss. And Daddy, you tell Ms. Meredith you’re sorry. Go on, give her a kiss.” We both chuckled at the maturity from the six-year-old. Later when I was loading the dishwasher, she brought in her apple core to throw away, and she stopped, looked at me, and said, “Y’all need to stop that yelling. We’re a family.” And then it happened, like a sledgehammer to the heart, the emotions exploded, and I knew, I loved that little girl. I loved her laugh, her wit, her naughty chuckle, her mischievous plotting, the way she talks to herself in her room, the way she loves and dotes on her daddy. I love the way she is starting to answer my requests with “yes, ma’am” instead of “but…” We’re adjusting to each other. I try to remind myself that she’s the child, and I’m the adult, a simple concept often forgotten. I didn’t try to force her to love me, nor I her. I let it happen organically.
I know it won’t always be this way. I know she will become a teenager, and I will be the easy hate target. And that’s fine. I told him once, “What will I do when she hates me?” He says at some stage “she will hate us both, and we’ll get through it together.” But I’m building a base, a base of trust and friendship and laughter. I don’t have to be her mother. She already has one. I can be her friend. It’s a lighter load with all the benefits. And for the first time in my life I can honestly say I see and feel the benefit of this child that’s not mine. She’s his, and I’m his, and together, like she said, we’re a family.