I've never really known what to do with kids. I was an only child and was never around that many kids younger than myself growing up. So little kids have always been this enigma, wrapped in diapers and tiny shoes and spilled food. They have a language all their own. They're generally loud in restaurants. They don't exactly have much interest in books. They watch the same thing on repeat.
Kids have usually liked me, though. I blame this on the fact that I wear bright colors, lots of jewelry, and generally look different from most other people in the room.
But even if they did like me, I still had no idea what to do with them. What do you talk about? What do you do? What if you drop them? Do they bounce? What if they get ahold of one of your poison apples? What if you build a house out of candy and accidentally lure them into it?
Anything can happen, you know.
I played Cinderella's stepmother in my college production of Into the Woods. So I know how this is supposed to work, in fairy-tale land. The stepmother attempts to ruin her stepchild's life with menial, pointless chores that keep her from having any fun whatsoever. In return, the stepchild gets a makeover, a new car, and a celebrity wedding. The stepmother, in the end, starves to death. Cheery.
So, when I found myself with a boyfriend who happened to have a kid, I was understandably a little concerned. What if she didn't like me? What if the first words out of her very small mouth were, "You're not my mom"? What if I unwittingly force her to sweep the cinders from the fireplace and cause her to miss the king's ball?
(Enough with the wicked stepmother/witch comparisons, already. I don't even have a fireplace. Yet.)
So. The three of us have been hanging out, off and on, for a while now. And it didn't start out perfectly. She was not one of those kids who instantly thought I was the coolest thing since sliced bread. On the other hand, she didn't run away screaming, and I haven't noticed that any woodland animals help her do her chores. So there's that.
She's shy. I completely respect that. I don't generally start talking to people I just met, either. And if I could, I'm sure I'd hide behind Mark when meeting new people. Unfortunately, that behavior is generally frowned upon once you're out of elementary school.
Lately, however, she's decided that she likes me. She even wanted to sit by me at lunch on Sunday, which is a far cry from her peeking at me from around corners. And I've finally figured out that I don't need to worry so much about what there is to do or talk about. She generally figures out what we're going to do for us. And she's almost five, so there's no end of things she wants to talk about.
For someone who previously never felt overly comfortable around kids, I'm enjoying weekends with her and Mark. We have bookstore adventures, we eat a lot of Chick-fil-A, we color in the coloring books I bought for my birthday party (and which have obviously come very much in handy), and we have sword fights in the aisles of WalMart. We also went to a three-year-old's birthday party, and the three of us struggled up the biggest bounce house monstrosity I've ever seen. And I have half of Monsters, Inc. basically memorized now, which is obviously a useful life skill.
And, shockingly, Thunder likes her. Thunder doesn't like anyone right off the bat. Especially people who are unpredictable (and what's more unpredictable than a small child?). But they met a few weeks ago, and he was an amazingly well-behaved dog. He galloped around after her. He played gently with her. He didn't snap at her when she picked up his toys. It was... unexpected and awesome.
Really, none of this is what I expected in life. Believe me when I say that I never thought I'd be doing anything remotely like this, much less doing it willingly and liking it. Being a stepmom-in-training was about as high on my to-do list as being a 29-year-old divorcee. Then love came along and changed everything. Like it does.
If there's one thing I've learned, it's that life gets in the way of our best-laid plans, and of our worst-laid plans. We find ourselves doing the opposite of what we intended, often with people we never expected. And, it works, strangely enough. It's not always easy, and it's not always fun, and you're not always sure how you got here or if you did the right thing along the way. But, in general, it works. (At least for now. I know better than to make much in the way of definitive statements towards the future.)
But I really hope this kid never shows an affinity towards glass slippers or talking mice.