“‘What’s your name,’ Coraline asked the cat. ‘Look, I’m Coraline. Okay?’
‘Cats don’t have names,’ it said.
‘No?’ said Coraline.
‘No,’ said the cat. ‘Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”
― Neil Gaiman, Coraline
Labels. They’ve been a topic of discussion around here lately.
When Miss M was born, my parents and grandparents who were still with us, had the opportunity to choose what they would be called by all there future grandchildren. My siblings became Aunts and Uncles. My friends– the sisters I found in the world– became honorary Aunties. They may not be blood, but they are family I was lucky enough to chose. I became Mom. My ex became Dad. (Which just shows that one can have a title, but not live up to it.)
We do a lot of unofficial things around here. We roll— albeit with the occasional meltdown– with how life unfolds. We accept that you can’t have too many people love you. And family is not just blood… but we sure do have a lot of relatives and branches sprouting off the family tree. My branch is probably confusing as hell on paper. It sure as hell is even harder to explain to the young minds of our four year olds.
The kid has been asking me the hard questions for as long as I can remember. All of them are results of choices I made and so I answer them as best I can. A while after we started having overnights with Match’s daughter questions came:
Mom, how come I don’t see Dad that much? Well, he lives kinda far away.
How come Blue Eyes (Match’s daughter) has a Dad and I don’t? You do have a Dad. You just don’t see him that much.
Why doesn’t Dad live with us? Because Dad and I didn’t work out. Which is okay. That happens.
Why didn’t you work out? That’s a hard question. You know what did work out… Dad & I made a great kid.
Why does Match live with us? Because I kind of like him.
I don’t like Match. Dad should live with us. Dads are suppose to live in the house? Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.
Sometimes, I ask the hard questions back:
How come you don’t like Match? He gives me time outs and he shuts the door when I’m loud.
Oh, well, then you like him sometimes? Yeah.
You know you have a Dad even if you don’t see him all the time, right? Yeah.
You know he loves you in his own way? Yeah.
What type of things do you think a Dad does? Well, they take you to dinner. And play with you.
Do they do just fun things or do Dad’s give you time outs? Yeah. Dad’s give time outs.
So, who does those things with you? Match. Papa. And Uncle J.
So, even if you don’t see Dad that often, you have people making sure all the Dad things are done, right? Yes.
Now, much later, the kid thinks of Match as a second Dad. Well, at least 50% of the time. Not a replacement, but someone who complements what she has. It had been over two years. And regardless of what happens with Match and I– if we ever broke up– we agreed we’d never dump the kids. I think we care enough about the kids that we’d keep that promise– even if we end up hating each other.
In June, after years of supervised visitation, X has been granted 5 hours a week of unsupervised time with Miss M. At first, I admit, I was livid. Well, more than that, I was afraid. I had a lot of concerns. Because of the labels X gives me… we exchange our daughter in the parking lot/lobby of the Police Station. Somewhere during the decline of our marriage I went from being his wife and friend to, you know, “asshole” “cunt” and “bitch.” Everything is forever my fault. His drug use. The end of our marriage. The financial headaches. His jail time for non-payment of child support. His two years of supervised visits. I am the root of it all. I’ll never convince him otherwise. And you just never know what is going to ignite things. So, the police station is the best place possible. One day I’ll probably need it.
However, it has been a few weeks now and the world hasn’t imploded, Miss M is still in one piece. I haven’t had to use the police during pick up and drop off at the local station. I want my daughter to have a relationship with her dad. I want her to have a good one. In reality, I think at some point he’ll burn his bridge with her like he has with most of us that had cared for him. I mean, the kids still calls him Dada at age four. She never got the chance to grow out of the label she gifted him with as a baby. He wasn’t around enough. I’d like to be wrong… but I don’t think I am.
Now, I know I’ll never know the whole history of Match and his Ex. And, in reality, it doesn’t matter. I don’t know the woman outside the few times I met her, what I hear from Match, and things that unfold from Blue Eyes. I have tried to label the relationship they have, but that’s fruitless and a waste of energy. I don’t care that much. I do care however about the ripple effects in my household and what it does to their kid.
I’m not a perfect parent– because there isn’t one. I lose my cool. I make wrong calls. I am unorganized and have forgotten school snack twice. And I roll with things. So, a few weekends ago, when the kid and Blue began to bicker like they do, I went to intervene.
Blue: Looooorrrrrri, The kid says she has two dads. But you can’t. You can only have one dad and one mom.
Miss M: That’s not true. Dad is my dad and so is Match. I have two dads! (Stated in her best snotty voice with her arms crossed.)
Me: Well, you’re both right.
Blue: My mom says you can only have one.
Me: Well, every person usually has a mom and a dad. But there are lots of different families.
Miss M: Well, I have two Dads.
Me: Well, Blue. Match lives here and does lots of Daddy stuff with Miss M, so, to the her he’s sometimes her Dad too. But when you come to our house, you have me to do Mommy things for you. So it all works out.
Blue: Oh. But you can only have one.
Me: Well, I don’t think you can ever have too many people love you. And there are lots of different families. Some kids have two moms or two dads. Some have just one of each. Some just live with their Nana’s or Papa’s. Some have step parents. The world is very big and there are lots of ways to live in it.
Three weeks later, Blue told her mom I was her second Mommy. This apparently did not go over well. I understand, because I have an Ex who one day may bring another woman into the kid’s life. And I might ache a little over it. But I can’t change any of that. And ultimately, if I behave badly when my daughter tells me something– that’s my shame. Because that’s the only thing I have control of in that situation.
So, because I don’t worry too much about labels or convention, I didn’t think too hard on that conversation. I just didn’t want Blue Eyes to take away that father figure from my daughter. Or to make Blue feel like Miss M has something she doesn’t. Because, despite our efforts, there is a competition that exists between those two. They call each other best friends… but honestly they are sisters. They don’t share an ounce of blood, but they are intertwined naturally.
Anyway, Match’s Ex called me. Which is fine. I’m not hiding from her or changing how we do things here. In a nutshell, she wants her daughter to know a mom and a dad is a permanent thing to have. There was more, but that’s a note for another day. She was concerned about the label “Mom.” In her house, she had explained to Blue that if Match and I get married, I’d be her step-mom. Until then, I’m just Lori. We talked. I pointed out, since she too was once married, that having a wedding isn’t a guarantee that Match and I will be together forever. But, I was pretty sure, the presence of Dimples– Blue and Miss M’s little sister– kind of guarantees I’ll be around in one form or another pretty permanently. I don’t care what I’m called– I care what I am and what things I do.
I re-make the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the regular bread because Blue Eyes likes those better than croissants we usually use. I buy the Hello Kitty underwear. I make sure she gets to see the new Sophia the First cartoon while she’s here on our weekends. I bitch out Match when he has her watch PG-13 movies with him because I think that’s terrible. I wash her hair in the tubby. I call her out on not washing her hands after the potty. I take away the toy when they fight over it for too long. I tickle them till they can’t catch their breath. I buy the good band-aids. I sit with both girls on nights like tonight an hour past bedtime after a behavior meltdown talking about what happened in preschool or Grammy’s house or what mommy said. Match’s Ex can label me whatever she wants… but “Lori” is going to mean all these things.
When Miss M was still just a strange being in my belly– my dad decided he would be a Papa. Whether that day we chose something else, he’d still be the guy that does cool magic tricks, colors in the lines, and taught her to swing. Match and I don’t think too much on where we are headed. We both know that pre-planning is kind of fruitless. Life inherently will test your plans. As such, names, titles, labels, convention– I just don’t worry too much about it. Honestly, that ship has fucking sailed.
I don’t know whether Match and I will marry… I’m kind of against it. I know that sometimes love and the promise you make to one another in your vows isn’t enough. I can handle a break up. I can handle him falling out of love with me and into someone else. I can handle being the custodial parent. I don’t know if I can handle being in debt again financing a divorce or being under water on a house. If I had ten thousand dollars for a cheap ceremony… I don’t know if I could spend it on a wedding when the kids need to go to college, I could pay off a chunk of a mortgage, or get rid of a car loan. I don’t know if its in me. But that label– marriage– has come up a lot lately. Some expected it with the baby. The kids have asked. The exes have asked. This past holiday weekend, Match’s niece grilled me.
A: Lori, how come your with Uncle Match?
Me: Well, I kinda like your Uncle.
A: Well, then you should get married. People who love each other get married. Aren’t you and Uncle Match going to get married?
Me: That’s a really good question. Its come up a lot lately. You know what you should do?
Me: Go ask your Uncle Match. He loves answering that one.
And she’s right. They do. But I just can’t get myself to care about the label ‘husband’ or ‘wife.’ Match knows how I take my coffee. He is exasperated at the fact I’ll turn the air conditioner on high and then grab a blanket. He knows I can say some not so nice things out of hunger. He’s guilty of it himself. He’s seen me sob and the after effects. He still liked me with ugly cry face. We talk about our days. We make fun of each other’s musical tastes and playlists. We steal sips of each other’s beers or wine. We go to family events together when we can. We split the bills. He’ll stop flicking through the channels when a Harry Potter movie comes on. We disagree. We make up. Usually the fun way. We hold hands. We say we have 2.5 children… because we consider each other’s daughters family. And we’re committed to each other. A piece of paper won’t change that. Nor will it make these things better than they already are. Marriage doesn’t make our relationship more official. Match will still give me his sweatshirt when I’m cold– whether I hold the title ‘wife’ or ‘girlfriend’ or ‘baby mama.’ Just like I will tolerate his awful DVR choices whether he’s just a ‘boyfriend’ or a ‘husband’ or ‘my arm candy’ for the day. We treat our relationship like a marriage. I just don’t need the fancy title. I might be tempted by the fancy dress once in a while.. but it would have to be one hell of a proposal and the ring box would need a pre-nup attached to it.
In the world of relationships, our titles (daughter, mother, aunt, sister) do not define how we feel about each other. It is the things we do that define how we feel about a persons title.