I was admittedly terrified to take on a second child, way back when The Widget was born. I felt overwhelmed by one; how would I survive two?
It turned out better than I thought. In fact, once the two boys were old enough to truly interact, there were ways in which having two was easier than one. For one (rather major) thing, I wasn't the constant entertainment director any longer. They could keep each other occupied and happy for increasingly long periods of time, only requiring the occasional interference when laughs turned to screams.
But I was done with two. No more kids. Nada. Done. There was no way I could handle more kids than that.
When I started venturing out into the world of dating, however, I quickly realized that it was going to be a bad idea to date men with no children, for multiple reasons. Regardless of how casually I intended to date (ha! in hindsight), if casual turned to serious, I didn't want to get involved with a man who (1) would very likely want to have at least one biological child of his own someday and (2) may not have enough experience with children to deal very well with mine. So I limited myself to men with children. Or child. No big deal to take on maybe one kid someday, right? And this wasn't going to be anything that would happen any time soon.
And along came MTL. A man with three children, two of whom lived with him most of the time. A man with whom I found myself falling in love in no time flat, despite my (admittedly weak and rather brief) flailing about in resistance of fate.
I didn't fool him for a minute, actually. Damn his off-the-charts intuition.
So within a matter of a month or so I was practically living with him when not with my children. Which meant also living with his two oldest kids. And then I found myself ready to introduce him to my boys, something that spoke volumes about where I saw our relationship going. I dated Rebound Guy for several months without ever feeling it was right to introduce him to the boys. I wanted to introduce them to MTL after a couple of weeks, even though I held off a little longer.
And then I stopped even going through the motions of having more than one residence. On my custody days, the boys were with us. On those weekends, with KlutzGirl joining the crowd, there were seven of us crammed into a smallish two-bedroom glorified apartment.
Moving eased up on the crowding considerably--and of course The Dark One moving to her mother's even more so (sigh). But even when we were crowded, I found myself not only adapting to having so many children running about, I actually found myself enjoying it.
That's where I'm so damned surprised. I tell people I never planned this life, and that's the part that I'm really talking about. I could picture myself falling in love again someday, could picture myself remarrying, could picture a new life with a new man. I never pictured myself with all these kids running around. Much less finding so much fulfillment in it.
Because that's what I discovered this summer in particular, when I wasn't working and I took over running the majority of the household. I still don't think I could be a full-time Stay At Home Mom, but for the first time I started understanding how satisfying it can be, when done well. Apparently that's the kind of management I do well--I'm actually better at keeping track of all the Stuff To Be Done in the home than I am on my own damn desk at work (which is already overflowing with papers and books and detritus, a week and a half into things).
Here's the not-so-secret that you don't get until you're in a big family: Three really is easier than Two. Four is easier than Three. Five is a cake walk.
Sort of. There are logistical challenges, but because the kids (especially the four younger ones) interact like siblings already, I barely have to lift a finger to entertain. I even get massive assistance with feeding and tending the boys. I get more done in a day now with a larger family than I did when there were just the three of us.
And lo and behold: I ENJOYED it. I enjoyed making sure things were organized and clean and that the laundry was done and the kids got where they needed to go and the shopping was done and then taking the kids to the pool or the park or wherever. When the day ended and I collapsed on the couch to snuggle with MTL, I felt like I had done an honest day's work. It made me feel good to take care of my family.
It's what made a real difference for me in how I saw MTL's children, too. It helped that we moved to OUR home, yes. That meant I was no longer a sort-of guest. But being in that maternal managing position, having them all there so much more of the time, working and playing and talking with them day in and day out...I stopped seeing them as "his children" and more as "my stepchildren." By the end of the summer, I was referring to them as such. The Padawan straight up gave me permission to call him my stepson, and The Dark One did too (okay, as stepdaughter), though not in so many words. KlutzGirl had been dropping heavy-handed hints that she wanted me to be her stepmother for months, so that wasn't much of a leap.
We aren't legally married, MTL and I, so I don't have that legal position. But I've stopped even putting the words "practically" or "sort-of" or whatever in front of "step." It's how I see myself, and it's how I see them.
With all the stepped-in, step-it-up, step-on-it craziness that entails.