April 2007 found me moving again, but this move was much different. I had finally met the love of my life and was moving in with him, his 3 kids, and their Basset Hound. It was no longer just Babe and me; after my Mom passed away I had acquired her German Shorthaired Pointer, Dutch. We were going to have a full house, with two adults, three kids, and three dogs. We were clearly outnumbered.
Once again this move was terrifying and thrilling, only in much different ways. Although we had only been together for four months, we knew that we were meant to be together. My husband (then boyfriend) had asked me to live with him and his kids after just 3 weeks together, and I had accepted without thinking about it. Of course, I had sensed he might ask, so I had thought about it in the week before he asked, but it was still a no-brainer. I knew this was the love of my life, my best friend, a man like none I had ever known. It was beyond thrilling to start the rest of our cohabitating life together, but terrifying to think of becoming a step-mother and to share my day to day life with kids.
It had never occurred to me to have kids for the first 35 years of my life. Around the time I was 35 I had started to think that perhaps I had made a mistake in not having children, although then I had remembered that the father would have been the U-haul renting ex, and I came to my senses. But when I met my husband and he told me that he had three kids, ages 3, 5, and 8, it sounded pretty nice to be part of a family.
So once again I had a boyfriend renting a U-haul for me, although this one was a complete 180 of the one from 2005. This one did not lie, he had a job, a house, was a family man who wanted a secure and settled relationship. He wanted to share his life with me, wanted me to be involved in the life of his children, and loved me for who I was. This move was the joyful merging of our lives, the creation of a modern family, and was going to mean that we had to vacuum a lot of different colors of dog hair.
I had moved all of my clothes, shoes, and many boxes in my SUV the day before, so my husband and his best friend used the U-haul for my furniture and bigger items. The kids were coming back from their mother’s house that morning, so I would be on “child patrol” and the men would do the moving. That sounded fair enough, although I do recall asking if the best friend could watch the kids and I could do the lifting and carrying. “Oh, honey”, my husband laughed, hugging me, “it will be ok. They are good kids and they like you. You’ll be fine”.
The kids arrived home, and my husband and his friend headed off to gather my things. My apartment was only a half hour ride away from the house, so I figured they would be gone two hours at a time, at the absolute most. They were big strong young men who would do this quickly and efficiently, or so I prayed.
With Daddy out of the house, two sets of gray-blue eyes, identical to their father’s, and one set of big brown eyes stared at me, trying to figure me out. They had been warned to listen to what I said, I was in charge, and that the same rules applied as when Daddy was home. Of course, I wasn’t sure what those rules were, and it had been over 20 years since I had babysat. Dogs I could do; kids were scary. I think they could smell my fear.
I was happy when the kids settled into the living room with their Disney channel on TV and little handheld game devices that I would later find out were Nintendo DS games. I was very much out of the kid loop! I had set up my desktop computer the day before, and the Boy Child sweetly asked if he could play games on the computer. Sure, I had replied, but I don’t have any games. “That’s ok, there is a website Daddy lets us go to”. Ok, problem solved! I was going to unpack.
For the next few hours I unpacked, and my husband and the best friend arrived with a load of furniture. Book shelves arrived and were placed in our front room, Mom’s dining room furniture was set up in the room that had been a playroom a week prior. They left for a second load of furniture and the natives started to get a little restless.
Girl Child 1: Will you take us to the park?
Me: uh, where is the park?
Girl Child 1: There are two, the rainbow park is right there (pointing one way) and the green park is new and it is that way (pointing opposite direction)
I thought about the stories that my Mom told me about my grandmother, how when Mom was growing up my Nana Fern would set aside whatever chores or cleaning needed to be done and declare it too beautiful outside to be cooped up doing housework. Nana Fern would take Mom on a fun outdoor adventure, whether it a walk or a trip to the beach. Mom had done the same with me my entire childhood. Chores could wait; housework was not the stuff that life was made of!
Girl Child 2: Pleeeaassseeee?
Boy Child: Yes, pleeeeeaaaase? I can show you where the park is! Daddy takes us all the time!
Me: You know what, sure!! Let’s go to the park!! And we will take Babe!
Boy Child: Can we take all three dogs?
Me: No, let’s just take Babe. All three would be a lot to handle.
Not to mention, three were illegal, as our village had a 2 dog ordinance, although one that was vague and poorly written, which was going to be my loophole in case we were caught with an extra dog.
Getting three kids into spring coats, shoes, and collecting only one of the three dogs (all of whom wanted to go for a walk) was not an easy task, but finally Babe, the kids, and I stood in the garage. After calling my husband to find out the garage door code, we set off on our journey to the new/green park.
Our walk to the park was fun. It was such a novelty to me to have company when I walked Babe, and fun to have the chatter of three little kids. They were perfectly behaved, waiting to cross the street until I said, not arguing too much to hold Babe’s leash when I declined their offers the first time. I had to explain that Babe was a very strong dog and that she was in a new place, so we didn’t want to lose her because she didn‘t know her way home yet.
Once at the park the kids raced off toward the swing sets and jungle gym type equipment. Squeals of joy and “watch me,” rang out as they stretched their legs and ran around. Babe stood watching, tail wagging furiously whenever one of them would run past us, trying to lick the face of Girl Child 2, who was the perfect height for face licking.
The Boy Child ran over to ask if he and Girl Child 1 could go a little farther away to explore. Yes, I told them, but do not go where I cannot see you, I emphasized. “Ok”, they exclaimed, and ran off. I was reminded of when I puppy sat for my parent’s 9 week old Labrador when their fence was being built. “He can’t fun fast”, they told me, although I spent the entire week chasing a very fast puppy. Boy Child and Girl Child 1 ran off faster than I had ever seen them move in the four months since I met them, up and over a small hill.
Girl Child 2 started to follow. She was a few weeks from turning 4. “You stay with Babe and me” I quickly said, and she grabbed my hand and trotted alongside as I quickly tried to follow her elder siblings that I could no longer see. I was almost to the small hill when I heard a small voice calling “Help”. I started jogging, Babe’s leash in one hand, Girl Child 2’s hand in my other hand. “Help, we’re stuck”, the little voice cried out.
My mind was churning, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, as I climbed the small hill. When I got to the top I looked down to see both kids up to their shins in wet sloppy mud. The Boy Child looked at me, giggling a little “We’re stuck”. “Can you get out” I asked stupidly. I’m pretty sure “we’re stuck” meant that they could not get out.
I looked at Girl Child 2 and Babe. “Hold onto Babe’s leash and DON’T LET GO” I said. I trusted Babe to do what I said more than I trusted Girl Child 2, so I looked her in the eye and said “You STAY. STAY. STAY GIRL”. She laid down and Girl Child 2 sat down next to her, stroking her silky ears. “STAY” I said one more time.
I started to ease down the hill to try to get the older kids unstuck. I could not lose my husband’s kids. I’m sure it would be a deal breaker if I came back with fewer kids than I took to the park, but I was also having Gilligan’s Island flashbacks to scenes with quicksand and mud. Just as I reached the edge of the mud, the Boy Child managed to get back onto solid ground. He could almost reach his sister a few feet away.
Me: Can you grab your brother? Just take a step toward him.
Girl Child 1: I can’t, my shoes are coming off.
Me: That’s ok. We can get you new shoes.
Girl Child 1: Nooooo, these are special shoes, nobody makes the Strawberry Shortcake shoes anymore.
Clearly this child did not know who she was talking to. I had just moved 99 pairs of shoes into her house. If there was one thing I could do, it was purchase shoes!
Me: Sweetie, I will buy you new shoes. Trust me, I can find ANYTHING online if I can’t find it in a store. We will get you new Strawberry Shortcake shoes.
Girl Child 1: But these light up!
Me: Trust me, I will find you a new pair of light up Strawberry Shortcake sneakers. Just take a step to your brother.
With considerable effort, she pulled her bare foot out of the mud and stepped toward her brother, who pulled her hard enough to get her other leg free and onto solid ground. We had lost one sock and one Strawberry Shortcake light-up sneaker, but one was still on her foot. We climbed back up the hill to find Babe and Girl Child 2 where we had left them. “Good girl” I told Babe, hugging her.
“I think that’s enough of the park, I think it’s time to go back home”, I told the kids, who did not argue. We headed back home, the kids chattering about the experience, giggling slightly, and Girl Child 1 weeping a little about the missing shoe. I kept assuring her it would be ok. She had not seen the number of shoes that I owned, but soon she would believe me that if there was one skill I had, it was shoe shopping!
We arrived home muddy and cold. “Can we take a shower”, Boy Child asked. “Can you do it on your own?” I asked. I had only heard about bath time from my husband, never showers. After being assured that they could, I let Girl Child 1 shower in their bathroom, Boy Child could shower in the master bathroom.
A few minutes later I heard the glorious sound of the garage door opening. I leaped over muddy shoes in the garage floor to run into my husband’s arms. I told him the story of our trip to the park, the missing shoe, the mud, how the kids ran out of my sight so quickly I didn’t know what was happening. I was giggling slightly to avoid erupting into tears. “It’s ok, you brought them all back alive, you’re ok”. A firefighter and a paramedic, he was hard to upset, always calm and level headed.
We entered the house to find the Boy Child coming downstairs in a towel, hand wrapped in a facecloth. “What did you do?” my husband asked him. “I cut my hand on a razor”, the boy child replied, “It fell on the floor and I went to pick it up and I cut myself”. Tears started to stream down my face. First the mud and the shoes, and now he was slicing his hand on my razor!! To my surprise, my husband said “No, you were playing with it, like you did before when I told you not to touch any razors, and you did it anyway”.
He headed upstairs to bandage the cut hand, and came back down to find me in the garage, beer in hand, sobbing loudly. “I’m detrimental to your children. I almost lost two of them, I lost the rare Strawberry Shortcake light-up shoe, Boy Child cut himself on my razor, what kind of step-mother am I going to be?”
“It’s fine, honey, it’s fine. It could have happened to anyone, my kids adore you, and I am going to go find the shoe and everything will be ok”, my amazing husband (then boyfriend) said, hugging me and rubbing my back. I thought to myself that there was no way he would find the shoe in the mud pit.
Calling for Girl Child 1 , he set off to find the missing Strawberry Shortcake light-up sneaker. Fifteen minutes later they were back. I found them in the yard filling a bucket with water from the garden hose. “I found it”, he exclaimed, holding up a mud covered Strawberry Shortcake light up sneaker.
“How on earth??” I asked. “Well”, he replied, “she pointed me right to where she got stuck, I leaned in, dug around, and there it was”.
As he stood holding the mud covered Strawberry Shortcake light-up sneaker, I couldn’t help but think of Dances With Wolves, where the tribe hunts the buffalo and a warrior holds up the still warm heart before taking a bite. My husband held up that shoe with the same pride, the shoe his daughter loved so much, the shoe that he was able to save from the mud pit.
I fell in love with him even more at that moment. I saw the love for his kids in the retrieval of the shoe, the competence and reliability that he exudes. I realized a little more that day, as I realize each and every day of our life together, how much I love that man and this family, and that we had just made a memory that we would talk about for the rest of our lives together, the day that the Strawberry Shortcake light-up sneaker took a little mud bath on a cold Saturday afternoon in April 2007.