Her mother shares her address with me, her food with me and her bed with me, but she still firmly refers to Angie as “MY daughter” and has no gray area when it comes to her daughter.
She still refers to herself as a “single parent” and thanks me for “watching” Angie or “babysitting” when it’s not a job or a chore or a favor. It’s just what needs to be done as Angie’s father figure and the third vertex of our family triangle. It’s not important if she thanks me or doesn’t thank me for watching Angie, it’s not about her words. I want her to know that I’m part of the team, not just a fan watching the game from the stands.
I get that I’m not the primary care giver. I do put in long hours at work so I’m not there much during the week and a lot of time I have work to do on the weekends. I give as much as I can when I am present. I did have a period of time when I wasn’t working for a few months when they first moved in with me in 2010. I read books to Angie at night and I fixed her breakfast and lunch and dinner and made sure she had her gummy vite. I did pretend I was her master and she was my Kung Fu student. I did watch her when she ate to make sure that she didn’t choke on anything, even though I found that to be overkill. I didn’t do these things all the time or even the majority of the time, but I did strongly participate in the caring for Angie and still do as much as I can.
I understand her mother’s hesitation. We have no handshake deal or contract written in blood that we will always be together, so she can’t let me in that far. That doesn’t make it easier when I have a 5 year old living with me and I’m trying to be a role model and a teacher and a coach and a friend to her. Angie’s hesitation to look at me like a father is going to continue because her mother is hesitant to think of me like that. Angie doesn’t have to hear her mother say or not say things, she takes her cues from how her mother acts or feels. She can tell when her mother is scared or happy or in a bad mood or in a good mood and that influences Angie. Her mother doesn’t need to spell it out for her. Her mother thinks she hides her emotions well, when really she wears them on her sleeve.
Angie has a sense that her mother is putting me up on a shelf, just out of her reach. No different than a sharp pair of scissors that are beyond her reach for her protection, not for punishment. Angie doesn’t know how to explain it; she just knows that there is something keeping our faux-father/daughter bond walled off. When Angie and I have a day together or an overnight together, she forgets that her mother has put up the translucent wall between us. We forget that we have different last names.
I feel most that Angie is not MY daughter when I try to put in my two cents about parenting when I’m not asked. I do have thoughts on how to raise Angie. I have thoughts about some of the positive things to draw on from my childhood and some of the negative things not to do. Many times when there isn’t a crisis and I give my opinion about raising Angie, I sort of get a “don’t tell me how to raise my daughter” look. Angie’s mother is more likely to give my parenting advice weight when Angie is terrorizing her and she’s been backed into a corner by Angie’s behavior. A time when many parents would not have easy solutions for dealing with an irrational 5 year old girl. That’s the time when I’m put on the spot for my thoughts; when the solutions are the most elusive.
It’s understandable why this happens, but my future hope is that I will be a larger part of the process of helping Angie form into a well adjusted young woman and not just part of the process of trying to reel her back in from the edge. I imagine that time is going to improve the value of my input when it comes to matters of parenting. I also understand that it’s a new experience for me and can’t fault how someone can look at me and say “what does he know about taking care of someone?”
It’s proper to ask that question of me. Just a handful of years ago I was basically an unemployed alcoholic. Making just enough money to keep a roof over my head, Natural Light in the fridge and the power on so I could write. Most of my adult life was virtually consequence free. Sure, there was jail or death, but neither scared me; I’d had just a little taste of both already. I knew my flaws, but I felt that when the time came, I could go cold turkey into responsibilityland if needed.
The time did arrive but it wasn’t a girlfriend and 5 year old that “forced” me into responsibility. Responsibility found it’s way to me without any outside factors. I just realized it was time for me to grow up and focus on being healthy and creative. After a few months of not drinking I was amazed at how clear things were. It was like having 20/100 vision and then getting glasses. I looked around and saw how robust the world was. I felt like I opened so many more drawers in my mind that I didn’t even know were there. My two dimensional writing found more depth and both the characters and I, found our third dimensions. My studying of people became more insightful than just looking at the funny situations that they found themselves in.
Studying more about the depths of the human condition as well as working through my own flaws, helps me understand the little human living with me. I may not know the correct number of hours of sleep that the medical community requires for 5 year olds or the correct amount of calories that she needs to take in, but I do know when Angie tells me she’s hungry or when she needs some attention or when she needs to not get all the attention that she’s demanding. As for the correct hours of sleep Angie needs, I can always google that. (and find out that even the medical community doesn’t have an answer for that query.)
To me, sometimes the “why” or the details are inconsequential and things just need to be done, so you just do them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it before or it’s new or it’s scary or it’s messy, you just find a way to get it done. If Angie has a stomachache and diarrhea and needs help wiping, it’s gross, but you just do it and try to not let her know how nasty you think it is. If Angie needs you to wake up to get her breakfast after a late night of work, you just do it and try not to let her know how much you’d rather be in bed. And when she wants you to be the audience at a pretend rock concert she’s putting on by singing and jumping on her bed, you just do it because you enjoy watching her rock out.
Angie’s mother and I are doing fine and if she needs me to continue to keep my distance, I will. If she needs me closer, I’ll be closer. This is more about the situation and the difficulty of coming in to a family that has already been established and trying to find your place in it. It’s about whether or not you should have a larger vertex of that triangle and how hard you should try to adjust the angle. Angie’s mother is just doing her job by protecting Angie and I know that we’ll never be a Pythagorean triangle family. That does not diminish the hopes that our triangle will move a little bit more in that direction or that Angie will believe that she is like my daughter.