Mr. Etiquette was chasing his 10-year-old son around the playground, and I was helping his 9-year-old daughter learn how to swing across the monkey bars. She watched me swing from bar to bar, and then she gradually figured out how to maneuver her peanut body to do it herself. I looked up and saw Mr Etiquette watching us with this smile full of pride. I didn’t want to name this feeling that had come over me ever since the moment the kids walked into the house to find me there with welcoming balloons and a big smile.
It was a Sunday. Together we had climbed the steep stairs to get to the top of Castle Craig, which gave us a lovely view of the misty green surrounding area. Afterward, we made our way down to the playground, and each child wanted to do something with me. Later, the girl needed help pulling herself up the small “rock-climbing” rock. When she got to the top, she asked me to come join her. It’s been years since I’ve done indoor rock-climbing, but my body remembered how to get up there in a hot second. Before I knew it, the boy was climbing up to join us. Mr. Etiquette was watching us, and the kids yelled for him to come up too. Soon we were all at the top of this rock, and I had this strange sense that this felt just right.
After a cook-out with the neighbors from across the street, I couldn’t help thinking how many years it had been since I’d had this feeling of togetherness with a partner. The Bulldog and I would have friends over frequently but it was always pretty casual and usually involved lots of alcohol, pot, and loud music. This night, there were children running around playing together. Mr. E was manning the grill, and I was getting the other supplies ready, doing dishes, and also trying to play hostess. Mr. E would try to sneak in a tight hug and kiss, and sometimes the kids would catch us and grin.
I spoke with the woman neighbor about her son, who has cerebral palsy. I told her most of the kids I worked with had cerebral palsy, autism, or both. I commented that her son was doing amazingly well at the age of five, running around and interacting with Mr. E’s kids, though I kept in my mind that I noticed how his outbursts and repetitious vocalization made me suspect he also had mild form of autism. I was reminded how I really didn’t want to give up my dream of working with kids with disabilities using expressive arts therapy.
Later, when everything was cleaned up and the neighbors went home, it was time to bring me home. The girl really wanted me to stay overnight again and watch them on Monday. I promised I could do that on the other Mondays if that was okay with everyone else (which it was), but their babysitter was already planning on being there this Monday. It was time to go; the kids looked forward to meeting my dog-like cat, and Mr. Etiquette was eager for my parents to meet the kids. On the drive over, we blasted music, danced like fools, and sang to the cars that drove by us. It was a blast.
My parents were beyond impressed by the kids, who were so sweet and polite. Even though it was late, my folks wanted to spend more time with the kids. The children thought the cat was amusing. They too didn’t want to leave. The boy, who’d been keeping his cool that day (we’d bonded more the previous day, when I’d encouraged him in my best cowboy voice, to unpack before playing, or face the nerf rifle ejecting at his backside) , suddenly was putting on the brakes leaving the house. When he realized that grabbing something to drink meant they wouldn’t have to leave quite yet, he asked for soda and drank it very slowly as did the girl. Then he and Mr. E. found the mini Rubick’s cube. I told him he could take it home and show me he had it figured out when I saw him next, but he insisted on trying to figure out then and there.
When Mr. E finally shooed them to the front door, I thanked the kids for letting me hang out with them this weekend. The boy smiled at me and said, “Thank you for being there the first second we got home. And the second second. And the third second…” he continued as he walked out the door.
“They are beautiful children,” my mom said, clearly won over. “Such nice kids.”
This morning Dad asked if I had talked to my stepchildren yet. I rolled my eyes but grinned, saying, “Not yet. We’ll Skype tonight.”
“You can tell a lot about the parents from the way children behave,” my dad said. He made some remarks about how easy I would have it to just have two older kids and a family right away, how he and mom would be be able to be step-grandparents to older children as well as my brother’s toddler and baby. He’s been rooting for Mr. Etiquette ever since the first time he came to the house to beg me not to give up on him.
This time I didn’t protest too much. I didn’t tell him how Mr. E and I had talked earlier in the day and talked about how nice and easy it felt to all be together like that, how we felt like a family all together right away. We both said how that was scary, but really nice. He told me how the kids shared even more how much they liked me, which they’d been doing all weekend, and how they wanted me there every weekend for the rest of their visit. He said I had the kid-seal of the approval, the neighbor-seal of approval, all on top of his own feelings. Two and half months of our tumultuous beginning felt like two and half years building something from which to blossom. “You really accept me, don’t you?” he teased.
I teased back, “That might be so.” And yes, dear readers, I made it official by declaring on Facebook that I was “in a relationship.”