Mostly because it's not entirely my story to tell, I don't think I've mentioned that a lot of the stress in our lives lately has come from Joel being involved in a somewhat cumbersome personal project. Liza has lived with her mother full-time (with the exception of the usual single-dad weekends and Wednesdays) for several years, but that time has never been enough for Joel.
Over the nine months we've been together, it's become clear to both of us that we not only want her, but that it's in Liza's best interest to be with us. Full time. All the time. Even if it means going to court to make that happen. We're trying to avoid an ugly, expensive court battle, so Joel's been working through mediation and the first step was getting Liza for the summer, which we hope to make permanent once the school year starts. (CROSS YOUR FINGERS!)
I could talk for YEARS about Liza. How I not only adore her and wish she was my daughter, but how I'm pretty sure Liza is the reason I met Joel and fell in love with him. How Liza's presence in my life is somehow fundamental to my progress as a human being. In the less-than-year I've known her, she's forced me (through ZERO fault of her own) to work through my teenage sexual abuse, my weight, my mother, how I feel about dieting, my weight, how I feel about her father, how I feel about being called "Mommy" and a million other things. All of them necessary. To both of us.
We're kind of a perfect match, Liza and me. I can't tell you how happy I am that she came with the Joel package.
The funny thing, and I should probably be embarrassed about it, but I'll say it anyway, is that I've spent SO MUCH TIME fretting over Liza and her reaction to moving in with us full-time, that I didn't think twice about how my own kids would feel about it. Not that I haven't been thinking about my kids, but, seriously, my kids are RESILIANT. They are amazing. And they ADORE Liza. The first question out of Genoa's mouth every week when I pick her up is, "IS LIZA THERE?! WHEN DO I GET TO SEE LIZA?!"
No, Seriously. STOP.
I had no idea! I've never done this before!
So on the first Friday of the summer, I told my kids about all of it. How Liza was going to be here all the time. How we're #1 on the waiting list for a three-bedroom apartment at our complex. They seemed stoked! No problems, right?
But that night at bedtime, Genoa pitched the biggest fit she's ever pitched in the history of Genoa pitching fits. (Which, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, should make you run and hide under your bed.)
She didn't want to get into her pajamas in the same room as Liza. Which I found pretty odd considering that Genoa and Liza share an amazingly hip taste in clothes and love picking out outfits and getting dressed together. I told Genoa that if she didn't want to change in her room, she was perfectly welcome to find some privacy in the bathroom and she completely flipped her lid. She didn't want Liza there. At all.
I dragged her into the bathroom and she did this dance where I put her pajamas on her, then she tore them off, then I put her pajamas on her again, then she tore them off again. Wash, rinse, repeat. All the while she was screaming at the top of her lungs.
Until it finally dawned on me (because I'm a lot slower than you'd think, apparently) that this battle had nothing to do with her Sponge Bob pajamas and everything to do with me being her mother and her not wanting to share me with anyone, not even her beloved Liza.
So I crawled into Genoa's bed, snuggled her so hard she almost couldn't breathe and reassured her that she was the only daughter I was going to have - EVER - and that no matter what, she would always be my first love.
"Yes, Genoa, I love you the most. Even more than Joel or Liza or any other girl, ever." I gave Alex a similar reassurance.
It took her a while to calm down, but by then we'd both gotten the message loud and clear.
Genoa and Alex will be the only two children ever allowed to call me Mommy. No matter how comfortable I am in the role or how much I love hearing Liza tell me she wishes she could call me Mom, I'll stick to the truth, thankyouverymuch, and the truth is that only two children ever came out of this vagina.
And hell! Liza's lucky that I'm NOT her mother! I just get to be Amanda, the woman who adores her father, fawns all over her and doesn't have to be the full-time Head Bitch On Duty because that's not her job. I get to be her FRIEND, which is something my own kids will never get.
Of course last night it was an entirely different story. I took the kids, all three of them, into my room before bed and we spent half an hour giggling over Joel's kidney stone ("He still has to pee it out his wang?!"), how best to rid oneself of loose teeth and who - no seriously - WHO had just farted. It was better than ideal. Liza took the kids to bed and read to them and we finally had to interrupt all their laughter, because seriously, it was 11:00 already. Go the fuck to sleep.
No matter how hard (or easy) it gets, I just keep reminding myself to look at the big picture. Which is that no matter how difficult it is for my kids to share their space with a new semi-sibling, or get used to a new man telling them to take out the trash, it's all for the best.
How will my children learn what love looks like if I don't SHOW them?
I know there are plenty of you (still!) (lamely!) thinking I should sacrifice everything and live alone until my children graduate from college, but what exactly would THAT do for them? What example would that set? What would that teach my son about how to treat a woman? What would it teach my daughter about how she deserves to be treated by a man?
How would they learn about compromise? How would they learn about love?
I'd rather teach them about it first hand in all its terrifying, brutal glory. I'd rather they get to live it every day until it seeps into their bones.
I fully realize and accept the fact that I'm being selfish here. I want to share my life with Joel. But I'm equally convicted that what's good for this goose is good for her gander.
Either way, I'd love to hear your family-merging stories. Pretty or not, I'm sure they'll help.