Child One did not like me when we first met. Child Two takes every opportunity to remind me of this. It gives him great pleasure. “Maybe,” Child One said to me last night, ”it was because you tried to serve me strawberries with balsamic and basil instead of sugar and whipped cream. I was only ten. Who serves a ten year old their strawberries with balsamic?” I remind her then she was not exactly a typical ten year old and already had a remarkably sophisticated palate. She considers a moment, agrees and says perhaps she’ll try it again soon.
This observation did not come out of nowhere. We had come home late from a movie, both starving, and I’d whipped up a quick dinner of scrambled eggs with shaved ricotta salata and sautéed baby zucchini with fresh sage. For dessert, she grabbed a nectarine from the fruit bowl and asked if I thought it would be good. “Better,” I said, “with a drizzle of thick balsamic and some chopped mint.” That’s when she wrinkled her sweet nose and reminded me of the berries.
Once or twice, when the reminder comes that Child One did not, in fact, like me when we first met, I suggest that perhaps her not liking me had nothing to do with me. She did not like the girlfriend that came before me (nor did I for that matter), or the one before that. I suggest that perhaps ANY girlfriend who would come into her father’s life would not be received with open arms – that the girlfriend would be a threat to her own relationship with her father and a threat to the possibility that Sig Other and Ex Wife would reunite. Child One dismisses this without a thought, “No,” she says, “I didn’t like you but that’s not why. Maybe because you were bossy and I was afraid of you.” She pauses there. I agree with her. I tell her I agree with her. And then she continues, “But now I’m sort of bossy too and I love you so much!” We laugh and leave it at that.
But I know – I will always know – why Child One didn’t like me. I know and will always know why, even now that she truly does love me, she will remember those first years as difficult and fraught. No child wants a third parent. No girl child wants a woman to threaten her special relationship with daddy. No boy child wants a woman to take his mother’s place. These delicate relationships – the tenuous spiderweb dance we do as blended families – take constant attention – constant observation – which child is comfortable – which is feeling insecure – which is taking advantage, and which simply does not like balsamic on her strawberries and would prefer a simple serving with sugar and cream…