Before that, he called me "Joanie." Joanie is the cat.) When I started to realize how difficult the relationship might be to navigate, and that I was possibly facing a future as a stepmom, it was too late. If it wasn't going to come naturally—and I wasn't sure it would—it seemed the only thing to do was to learn to love Noah as well.We all moved in together a year ago—Bob and I full-time, Noah every other weekend and Wednesdays overnight.As far as I know, I never sent Bob the vibe that I was the slightest bit maternal. At some point, I emerged from the haze of falling in love to look up—generally as Noah was doing something like urinating on the bathroom cabinets—and wonder, How the hell did I get here? But Bob and I were infatuated and naive, and there was no way to predict how challenging my role as "the other one" would be.(For a brief but emotionally charged time, that's what Noah called me: the other one.We were still evolving as a family but committed to making it work. I'm hyperconscious of not wanting to appear—to Noah, to Bob, to anyone standing nearby—as if I'm trying to replace Noah's mom. I'm acutely aware that to outsiders, I seem like a cold, detached mother. The worst was when one woman who'd found her way over to Noah turned toward me and instructed him to "wave at Mommy!Noah, a smiley, well-adjusted kid, was excited for a new playroom and a backyard, and he seemed unconcerned with the arrangement until it came time to go to bed. At restaurants, I let Bob order for him; in front of Bob's friends, I don't discipline. On a recent "family" trip, Noah was the toast of the hotel pool: "Your son's so adorable! " Before I could explain to this stranger that Noah was not in fact my son, Noah let her know that his Mommy lives in Massachusetts with a cat named Stella.It barely grazed his cheek, but we both burst into tears. But there are also Saturdays when my primary urge is to take off for a day of yoga, shopping, a manicure and lunch with my girlfriends, or to lie in bed all day and read.
And maybe, if I decide to have children, it will be.
But in the meantime, Noah isn't going anywhere. That doesn't make me any less resentful whenever I attend a wedding by myself or forgo a week in Paris because Bob can't afford to go. Noah is not allowed to wipe his hands on the couch (yay! He is not the master of the in—car music selection (although we have lately found a nice middle ground in Michael Jackson's Bad). ) And, in the end, he's looking for his place in this family. "It's no wonder he questions who I am—especially when I'm still questioning who I am.
(He earns far more than I do but, with child support, takes home less.)I know that one of the many reasons I love Bob is precisely because of the qualities I see in him when he is with his son. (Then again, I never was an easy child.) Perhaps what bothers me the most is that I will never be the most important relationship in my boyfriend's life. But there are still days when I don't give in when he wants to go to Dunkin' Donuts and I want Starbucks. I insist I'm teaching a lesson in compromise, when really, I'm trying to reclaim my TV and my life, in what I hope is some small, harmless way. (Ditto.) The other day, I heard him ask Bob if I was his girlfriend. But like everyone in this world, Noah wants to feel safe and know that he's loved.
On his birthday, he unwrapped the gift I gave him, threw it on the floor and said, "I've already got one of these at Mommy's house." (He didn't.) Meanwhile, he opened the third Star Wars lightsaber of the evening with as much joy and gratitude as he had the first. No one—not my parents, my friends, anyone I've ever been in charge of in a professional capacity, nor the guy in front of me at the red light—would describe me as patient, and being around Noah without some sort of freak-out often requires me to become a person I am not. On the summer day Noah begged and pleaded for cottage cheese and then refused to eat from the container I'd opened—"I want Daddy to do it! Most days, I'm positive my ambivalence along with my failure to act like a mature adult will eventually cause me to destroy what is otherwise the most fulfilling, caring and adult relationship I've ever had.
" he cried over and over—I took a spoonful of the stuff and hurled it at him. There are nights when I'll read Noah a book before bed or help Bob pack his schoolbag.