Accidental Mother

Accidental Mother - KATHERINE KINDRED The Accidental Mother...

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Unformatted text preview: KATHERINE KINDRED The Accidental Mother “Kate! There’s a monster in my room!” Still mostly asleep, I notice that without the help of my conscious mind to direct them, my legs have somehow begun on their own, swinging over the side of the bed, moving me toward the door of my room as my arms reach out in the dark for the small boyI know is somewhere near. I take his hand as my pupils begin to dilate enough to allow me to see down the hallway toward the glow of his bedroom nightlight. “Let’s go see,” I whisper, and pull him gently along, reaching for the light switch the moment we pass through the doorway The room is suddenly filled with light, and my eyes squint as I look around. I see an unmade bed with a Spiderman pillow in the middle of it, tiny jeans lying on the floor (next to the laundry basket) and storybooks on the table beside the bed. “I don’t see a monster,” I say, and look down into tear—rimmed eyes. “It was in my dreams!” he tells me, and I notice he’s been dragging his teddy bear along with him the whole time. We’re making progress, I think. For a long while, he was convinced the monster was somewhere in his room. The fact that he understands it was only in his dream is a giant step forward. I pick him up to comfort him; he just turned five and is almost too big to hold, but he wraps his arms and legs around me and lays his head on my shoulder. I notice he is trembling. It only takes me a few minutes to get him snuggled back into bed, reassuring him the monster dream is over, telling him that instead he can dream about Grandma and Papa’s house and going to the movies with his cousins. I climb back into bed, now wide—awake. “Thanks for getting up with him,” Jim whispers beside me. “You’re welcome,” I whisper back. That’s when I realize the boy called out for me, not his dad, to protect him from the monster. Me. Kate. Not his real mother, but his accidental one. I’ve never made any apologies for the fact that my only “child” turned out to be a Border Collie named Annie. I adopted her when she was two years old, and having come from an abusive home, she was skittish and needy. She’s been with me for more than a decade, and I’m certain it is because of my patient and nurturing care that she now feels so well loved and secure she dis— obeys nearly every command I offer—unless, of course, a biscuit is involved. Katherine Kindred - The Aa‘idenml lMOTbL’I’ 43 She’s smart and manipulative, and I love her all the more for it, yet she’s well behaved enough that she travels with me everywhere, which includes coming to work with me on a daily basis. We survived two failed relationships together, and after the second divorce, I realized my opportunity to have children of the human kind had just passed me by. I accepted this fact gracefully, content to pretend Annie proof that had I wanted to, I could have successfully raised a kind and loving child. Knowing my eggs weren’t getting any younger, I opted for tubal liga— tion. Certain that I could live a full life without children, I did not embrace a life of post—divorce solitude. Welcoming the barrage of blind dates that fol- lowed, I soon learned that being childless at forty is unusual. At my age, nearly everyone single has at one point been married and many of those mar— riages have resulted in a child or two. And so I joked to all of my girlfriends that surely I was meant to be a stepmother instead of a birthmother. I would meet someone, I said, with two teenagers on their way to college who did not need a new mother, and whose father was financially and emotionally pre— pared for a less traditional relationship. Obviously, I hadn’t fully evaluated other possible outcomes. Welcome Michael, just months shy of four years old, dark blonde hair, big blue eyes and in dire need of a mot/Jar. Oh, and did I mention Jim, the hand— some and charming father of said boy? The first time this little boy tested me with the word “mom” and then looked up into my eyes with a tiny grin, wait— ing, waiting, waiting, to see what my response would be, I knew I was in deep trouble. His inquiries have continued, with modifications along the way. Once I was paging through a magazine while he sat beside me with a coloring book and crayons, and he stopped and asked me if he came out of my stomach. “No,” I told him, “you came out of your mother’s stomach.” “But I want you to be my mother!” I hesitated, then pulled the bottom of my sweatshirt out to make myself look pregnant. “OK, get in my stomach.” Michael giggled out loud. “Kate! You can’t go backwards!” And then, just as I began to worry the joke was improper, he said, “What should I color next?” As recommended by the family counselor, his father has provided Michael a brief explanation of how he came to us, limited in detail. But it is hard to , simplify such a complicated story. Jim received a phone call from a man who, unknown to Jim, had been Michael’s stepfather since his birth. The story unfolded: Jim’s former girl— friend was addicted to prescription painkillers and had been found uncon— scious in the back yard play—pool with Michael nearby. Jim flew five states to meet her husband and pick up a son he hadn’t known about. Overnight, he became a full—time father to a boy he had just met—and all this while newly 44 Memoir(and) ~ Spring 2008 divorced and sharing custody of his daughter, Elizabeth, Michael’s half—sister. Fast forward and into the picture steps Kate, rose—colored glasses, obliter— ated fallopian tubes, and a sixty—pound Border Collie at her side. Set up by a mutual friend, during our long introductory telephone call Jim was honest regarding his current state of affairs. A complex history, for sure, but how many men would take on the raising of a child alone, no questions asked? Certainly this fact addressed his character. And failed relationships? How could I, twice-divorced and also having experienced an unplanned pregnancy (that although welcome at the time, ended in a miscarriage) be one to judge him? I knew I would rather be guilty of a series of failed rela— tionships than remain in a bad one for the sake of not being alone—or judged, for that matter. And so while getting to know Jim, I kept an open mind and took all of these things into consideration. After a week of tele— phone calls and a lunch date, I learned we had a litany of common interests, and an immediate attraction; we were soon inseparable. He was honest and ethical, a committed father, and had a wit and sarcasm that challenged my own. Best of all, with Jim, what you saw was what you got; he never tried to pretend to be anything else, for anyone else. To my surprise I was falling in love, yet his was a package deal. I was blissfully na'1've as to what that really meant. As our relationship developed, I tried to be sensitive to any long—term effects my presence might have on the children, but the fact that I had given up on traditional commitment made me unprepared for the consequences of this relationship lasting more than a few months, and how my role in Michael’s life might become a primary one. And then there was Elizabeth. I always gave her space and time to get to know me, but she already had a mother. Yet now each time she saw me she squealed with joy and wrapped her arms around my neck as I bent down to greet her. “Who’s my c/yica?”I would ask, and she would smile and yell out “Me!” And so another relation— ship began to form. I cautiously embraced these developing bonds, yet instead of recognizing the potential demands, I first became aware that my extracurricular interests required modifications. Dating a man with children means that some nights there are no babysitters—no dining out, no dancing, no overnight Vegas turnarounds. Some nights the date consists of macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, ’ and a bedtime story after a bath. To some, this might be the last nail in the coffin. For me, and to my surprise, it became a toe—hold into a secret world, an exclusive club called “parenting,” a world into which I thought I would never be granted a pass. I didn’t know it is also like a cult—easier to get into than get out of. And therein lies the beauty of it. The tie that has never bound me before. The fact Katherine Kindred - The Accidental Mother 45 46 that Michael’s mother is absent puts me in a position where I cannot just break—up, blame all the problems on the other person, and bail whenever I feel like it. There is a little person in the other room waiting for me to tuck him in and read Hop on Pop. Further, the sound of my voice as I rattle off a long list of complaints begins to sound a little ridiculous when I realize the pile of dirty clothes on the floor is not nearly as scary as the monster hiding in a little boy’s room three nights in a row. OK, so maybe I am supposed'to learn something new about commitment. But I can’t help wonder if someone has made a mistake, and why God, or whoever is in charge, would allow me to be involved in the development of this young boy. I am confident I can screw up another relationship, but there are days when I am overwhelmed with the grave responsibility of the impact my words and actions have on this malleable little creature. Before I met Jim and Michael, my job and my dog were my only priori— ties, with my social life coming a close third. Managing the business interests of a wealthy entrepreneur consumed most of my time and energy, and bring— ing Annie to work made it easy for me to stay late evenings and weekends. Amongst a long laundry list of duties, the most daunting included a multi— million dollar renovation of my employer’s estate, which included the acqui— sition of everything from furnishings to bed linens to toilet paper and enough staff to keep the place (and its resident) properly pampered. Although much of myjob was centered on facts, figures and management, the interior decor and elaborate event planning became an outward expression of my artistic talents. I relished the number of compliments handed out by important vis— itors and guests, not to mention my superior. Few seemed to notice how well I managed everything else, but an extravaganza of a party for 243 guests, suc— cessfully executed, would be remembered for a long time to come. I happily accepted whatever credit was my due, knowing full well my role in planning a party was far less critical to my employer than how well I handled the bills and the banking. Now I can’t help but concede that the raising of this child can be compared to myjob duties: no one will ever see all of the work I put into making sure the child is “balanced” but everyone will notice how adorable he looks if I dress him in Calvin Klein jeans. But the part no one notices is much harder work. There are days when I imagine simply running away, returning to a life where my job, my boss and my dog are my primary concerns; weeknights will mean business dinners filled with intellectual debates, the weekends con- sumed with karaoke and dancing, and my excess cash will be spent on man— icures and pedicures. But I have come to realize that as fond as I am of those days, I never fail to welcome the sight of Michael standing before me, a miniature person with arms outstretched and begging me to snuggle him. So I have become an accidental mother. When he has a bad dream, he calls for Il/Iemoifland) - Spring 2008 me. When he cannot get his pajama top off, it is me he comes to for help. When he is in need of snuggle time, mine is the first name on his lips. There was a time when I would volunteer to drive Michael and Elizabeth to daycare. Carrying my purse, my car keys and a diaper bag, I would then attempt to get Michael, Elizabeth and my dog, Annie, out the front door. Of course I carried my coffee cup, too, because I couldn’t accomplish any of this without the help of a little caffeine. By the time I got everything and every— body out the front door and locked it, Annie had wandered into the farthest corner of the front yard to sniff around, Michael was distracted by whatever toy he had chosen to take to daycare, and Elizabeth was waiting for direction. I would tell them to come with me to the car as I opened all the doors, and ask Michael to climb into his car—seat while I picked up Elizabeth to hoist her into the back. After I’d buckled in Elizabeth and walked around the car to secure Michael, I’d spend nearly a full minute coaxing Annie into the car. Continuing to sniff at first, pretending she couldn’t hear me, she would sud— denly lift her head and ears as though in surprise, dig in her back feet and run past me to bolt up into the driver’s seat. Once in the car, she would jump into the back seat and turn around; Elizabeth and Michael would complain about Annie’s tail wagging in their faces. I would try to keep my coffee level, with my left hand, and then throw my purse and the diaper bag into the front pas- senger seat with my right. Yes, my beautiful sports car, the Jaguar I so proudly valet—parked on so many Friday nights, was overflowing with two kids in car— seats and my dog squished in between them. Sliding into the front seat (still trying not to spill my coffee) I’d take a peek in the rear view mirror—and I could swear my dog was smiling. I would be worn out, and none of this would have taken into account what I went through to get them dressed and ready. Helping them out of the car would be easier, knowing they would soon be in more patient hands than mine. As I hugged Elizabeth goodbye, her little two—year old body would squeeze me with a strength I could barely fathom; bending down to kiss Michael, he begged to know if I had lipstick on— already worried about a smudge on his cheek. I would stand and shrug my shoulders in reply, but when I turned to walk away I’d find him wrapped around my legs within seconds; my heart always filled in a way that is inde- ' scribable. Another morning’s routine was a similar struggle, minus Elizabeth, as during a different week she was with her mother. Annie refused to get in the car and Michael dropped his toys on the sidewalk because—surprisel—he wasn’t paying attention. As we drove to daycare, Michael began to complain. “Annie’s paw is in my wap.” Katherine Kindred - The Accidental Nlotber 47 “LAP,” I said. “La la la la.” “La la la lap!" “Try the word laughter.” “La la la LAUGHTER!” Then I heard a clatter in the back seat. “I dropped my wed car!” “Red, honey, it’s RED.” “Wed.” “No, RRRED. Growl, like a tiger . . . grrrrrrr!” “Grrrrrrr!” “Rrrrrrrrred!” “RRRRRRRRED!” he yelled out. I laughed at his exaggeration, but it did not escape me that I might have found a way to ensure he doesn’t enter kindergarten with a speech impedi— ment. For this, I am proud. After my divorce I had a resolute opposition to the traditional confines of marriage, yet I was hopeful I would love again, smart enough to never say never. But the concept of marital ties pales in comparison to the responsibil— ities I face in becoming entangled in the lives of these children. My love for Jim is now just a small portion of the glue that binds me to what is beyond “couple,” to what begins to feel like a family. So I contemplate my history to date: boyfriends left behind, a failed cohabitation, two broken marriages, and my abandoned ovaries making cer— tain I will never be required to have permanent ties to anyone. Unlike a birth mother, I am not obligated by blood lines, will not have to worry about an abandoned child showing up on my doorstep demanding justification for my actions. Unlike a divorced mother, I will never be bound by legal documents or court orders that solidify an unbreakable connection to a man I no longer love. I have the freedom to leave any time. Those days seem like a distant memory, and today Michael is a complete- ly different child. No longer a toddler, he is now a boy. He just started first grade, and soon we will celebrate his seventh birthday. I am a different person as well. I no longer correct or attempt to explain when teachers or other mothers refer to me as “Michael’s mom.” Michael and ' I often look at each other and smile when this occurs, acknowledging what we feel for each other and sharing in our little secret. The thought of me “running away” is laughable—I hardly remember life without Michael and entrusting anyone else with his care is unimaginable. Accidentally or not, I have become his mother. And in so doing, I cannot fathom how the one who gave birth to him could abandon him so completely, with nary a call or a letter in four years. IVIemoiMand) - Spring 2008 Becoming a mother is hard work, requiring constant adjustments address- ing the needs and development of a child. And helping to enunciate “r’s” by growling like a tiger is far simpler than providing a moral compass. Case in point: try explaining to a child the importance of telling the truth when the truth may lead to punishment. When discussing the subject of lying with my friends, I have always given a stock response, “I never lie about anything important.” This long held sarcasm always raises a brow and brings on a bit of a laugh, but you cannot joke about such things to a child. To Michael, I say that lying is a far worse offense than whatever thing he might have done to get into trouble and that he absolutely must tell the truth. He’s only lied to us a handful of times from what we can tell. Now that Michael is of school age, he is able to dress himself and make his own bowl of cereal in the morning. He knows that after breakfast, he is supposed to brush his teeth. Then he ends up in my bathroom, by which time I am dressed, made up and finishing my hair, ready to help him comb his. Each dayI ask him the same question. “Did you brush your teeth?” On one such morning, there was a slight pause before he said yes. Something ticked inside, perhaps the “mother—truth—detector-meter,” and I just knew he was lying. “Are you sure?” “Yes.” I leaned in and looked at him more closely, saw dried milk in the corners of his mouth. “You brushed your teeth?” I asked again. “YEEEESSS!” he replied, obviously annoyed. I looked at his milk smile and was certain of the opposite. I marched past him, up the stairs, through his bedroom and into the bathroom, not looking back but knowing he was just a few feet behind me. I grabbed the electric toothbrush on the counter and ran my finger over the bristles; it was bone dry I opened the bathroom drawer, and (just to be sure) checked the rest of the “extra” toothbrushes, the ones that have traveled on vacation or back and forth from Grandma’s house and they, too, are stiff and unused. Of course I scolded him, but there wasn’t time to do much about it; we were going to be late for the bus. “We’ll deal with this tonight,” I said. When Jim got home, I described the morning’s events. We told Michael that although brushing his teeth is important, it is far more important to tell the truth. We explained to him that he was not in trouble for not brushing his teeth, but he was in trouble for lying about it. Jim pulled a notebook and a pencil out of a drawer and laid it on the kitchen counter, scribbling across the top of the page. “Can you read this?” Katherine Kindred ~ The Accidental Mot/yer 49 Michael nodded and read slowly, “I—wi/[—not—[ie.” “Good. Now write it twenty-five times.” “WHAT?” The boy was not happy. “You better get started,” Jim told him, and walked away in a pre—emptive strike against being witness to the dirty look and slumped shoulders he knew would follow, which would then call for him to address the subject of “atti— tude” as well. Later that night, long after the child had been put to bed, I went into the kitchen to get a glass of water. I flipped on the lights and saw Michael’s scrawling. His printing was uneven, inconsistent, and slanting all over the page, just as you would expect from a six—year-old. “I WILL NOT LIE.” His words yelled out at me from the lined notebook paper, and I thought “how cute, how sad, how important” all at the same time. I realized I wished Michael’s behavior was perfect—not because I wanted him to be, but because then we would never be required to discipline him. A few days later, I arrive home long past Michael’s bedtime after a long work day that included entertaining a group of fifty business associates with an elaborate cocktail hour, dinner and a short speech in which I attempted to interject my opinions on managerial expertise and employee morale. I’m exhausted. Everyone is asleep including the dog and I cannot wait to be. I’ve been on my feet running about all evening, and all I want is to crawl into bed, and so, I do. The next morning, Jim comes into the bedroom to say goodbye and declares that I must be sure and tell the boy that I went into his room and kissed him the night before, because Michael told his dad to make certain I did. I wander out to the kitchen in my robe, and there he is, eating breakfast. “Good morning sunshine!” I call out. He grins in return. “Do you want to know what I did last night?” I ask. He nods, still grinning. “Well, after a very long day, I came home, took off my shoes, tip—toed up the stairs, opened your bedroom door and whispered, ‘Michael, are you awake?” Now he’s smiling. “Do you know what I heard?” He shakes his head. I begin to snort long and loud and imitate the snore I often hear from his father’s side of the bed. He starts to giggle. “Why didn’t you wake me up?” he wants to know. “I tried! I said, ‘Michael, are you awake?’ but all I heard was ...” and I begin the snorting again, even louder than before. 0 Memoir and -S rm 2008 5 P g Now he’s laughing out loud. “Kate!” “It’s true!” I say. “And then I leaned over to kiss you on the forehead. I whispered, ‘Goodnight, Michael, I hope you’re having wonderful dreams.’ And you know what I heard?” Another smile and an enthusiastic nod. Snort, snort, ssnnoooorrrt—I fake snore as loud as I can. He laughs again and returns to his breakfast, I pour my coffee, and as I head back to the bedroom we both turn and smile at each other. I never lie about anyt/Jing important. On this day, as I walk out of the kitchen, I can’t imagine any lie as impor— tant as the one I’ve just told. Katherine Kindred > The Accidental Mother 5 I ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course GEW 101 taught by Professor Dutton during the Spring '08 term at CSU San Marcos.

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Accidental Mother - KATHERINE KINDRED The Accidental Mother...

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