I wasn’t there, six years ago today, when Sunflower was born. Six years ago, I had never met Gary, didn’t even know he and the kids existed, and I had no idea that a strong, beautiful baby girl being born that moment would someday challenge me, frustrate me, make me laugh, and ultimately run away with my heart.
Sunflower was 3 years old when I first met the kids. Of all the kids, I found her to be the most challenging; she was Daddy’s girl, through and through. Her life was completely upside down when I met her, too many upsetting changes for such a young child to comprehend or absorb, and here was yet another change, me, someone who was possibly a threat to her close relationship with her daddy.
I remember the first things all the kids said to me. For example, I remember Bear spontaneously bursting out with the excited announcement, “I like ice cream!” And I will always remember the scared yet defiant look in Sunflower’s eyes as she wrapped her arms tightly around Gary’s arm and told me sternly, “This is my Daddy.”
I read between the lines crystal clear. This is her daddy. Don’t take him away. Don’t even think about it.
There is no handbook, rule book, or step-by-step guide for weaving your life into your boyfriend’s kids’ lives, and there is no one-size-fits-all method for all of them. All four of the kids responded to me differently, and I have a unique relationship with each of them, since they are four separate, very different people with their own minds and their own expectations.
Sunflower was not cruel, rude, or even cold. She was simply scared. I understood and tried not to be too frustrated with a distance I felt with her but not with the other kids. I let her be, let her come to me if she wanted, let her keep her distance if she preferred that. I gave her time and space with Gary, reminding myself that I saw him every day; the kids saw him maybe every two weeks. They deserved to be bumped up the totem pole and given his full attention.
One day, we were relaxing at home, and I was curled up in the corner of the couch, watching the kids play on the floor with Gary. Sunflower was tucked into the opposite corner of the couch with her arms wrapped around her pillow, silently regarding me, the wheels turning almost audibly in her head.
She moved slowly, as if detection by me would cause her to self-destruct. One inch. Two inches. All the while, gazing at me with wide, cautious eyes, daring me to do anything to cause her to dash frantically back to her safe corner of the couch.
Then, she gently settled her pillow in my lap. And waited.
When I didn’t react in whatever horrible manner she imagined I may, she went for broke: she crawled into my lap, snuggled up with her pillow, and made herself comfy in my arms.
Gary didn’t say a word, but suddenly he appeared with a camera, snapped a quick shot of the two of us, and then returned to the wrestling match on the floor. Sunflower and I sat quietly, snuggling for the first time. Not for the last time, I was awed by the overwhelming emotion the kids could draw from deep inside of me.
Sorting through pictures not long ago, Gary pointed out that picture to me, Sunflower curled in my lap. Now, three years later, it’s not unusual for Sunflower to climb into my lap (though her strong preference is definitely still Gary’s lap!) One of my favorite sounds has become Sunflower’s wild, free laugh while she plays with her daddy, because her laugh is filled with love and smiles and joy.
Today I wish her a happy birthday. I wish her all the love, smiles, and joy in the world, so she never stops laughing. And I promise her, with all my heart, I will never, ever forget: that is her daddy.