On Friday my partner left for work as usual, and my stepdaughters and I had breakfast, as usual. My eldest step daughter was stating how she had a Big Write to finish at school; a treatise on how she should be the leader of the Anglo-Saxon tribe and not Ethelred The Ready, her opposition for the position. I suspect it was to encourage persuasive argument, tied up with a bit of history. All good stuff. She’s 10. I’ll always be supportive and advise with schoolwork. So I decided to support, and advise.
“Back in the day,” I began, “the question of who’d be the leader of a tribe wasn’t decided by argument or persuasion. It was decided by…” and I drew my finger slowly across my throat, in the universal symbol of Deaded by Death of A Sinister Nature.
“URRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” was the response from both girls, who clearly know the universal symbol of Deaded by Death of a Sinister Nature.
“I know!” I carried on. “Ethelred would be sleeping in his Anglo-Saxon home type thing,” (The word ‘hut’ escaped me) “guarded by MASSIVE men with MASSIVE swords and MASSIVE shields, and someone would, in the dead of night, sneak in round the back and CUT ETHELRED’S THROAT OPEN WHILE HE WAS SLEEPING, killing him bang cold stone dead. So, the leader of the tribe would be the one who ordered his killing, NOT the one who could provide the most persuasive argument. They would be the feared leader as they would be the one that showed most strength and desire to be so. It was a brutal time!” I said, pleased with the gorefest I’d instilled into young minds over a breakfast of brioche.
We then moved onto the fact that that their mummy and I were going to a wedding the following evening. I mentioned that, at the wedding, there would be a family member who used to be a full-time actor. I mentioned how his real name was XXX XXX, but he couldn’t have that name when he worked as an actor because someone else had it. So he had to call himself a different name. YYY YYY.
“Is he still called YYY YYY now?” asked The Youngest. She’s 7, and as fiercely smart as her temper can be sometimes.
“No. He’s called his original name now. XXX XXX.”
“How did he get his original name back?” she asked. “What happened to the other person who had his name? Did he…” and she drew her finger slowly across her throat.
Vagaries of the process of gaining an Equity card aside, I reassured the girls that the cousin we’d be meeting didn’t murder his way to the top, but then my youngest stepdaughter knew this. She said it to be funny.
You see, my stepdaughters are extremely funny, and I call them my stepdaughters because that’s what they are to me. My partner, their mum, and I, aren’t married, but we’ve both been to Knottingley, which is a sign, surely, that it’s a committed relationship.
The Eldest has a drier sense of humour. Once we were in the car and I was talking nonsense. As per. Her mum went with the nonsense and The Youngest ramped it up, so we were all gibbering nineteen to the dozen, making silly noises when, in a moment of quiet, The Eldest simply said, in the most deadpan way imaginable:
“I’m surrounded by nutjobs.”
The Youngest (7) who often can’t remember to put her shoes on can pick apart your language in a way that’s quite brilliant. She’ll deliberately pretend to mishear something for comic effect and exclaim “YOUR NOSE HURTS WHEN YOU WEAR THOSE SHOES?” knowing I said toes, or “HE’S DAVE WHEN HE GOES INTO A DARK ROOM?” knowing you said brave. She’ll talk, and eat, and eat, and talk, so much so that everyone else has eaten and finished and she’s the only one left with food on her plate and still with a story to tell. She has the gift of a raconteur of 50 years comedic experience.
The Eldest (10) is a diligent, thoughtful, sensitive girl who still plays with babies and dolls, and yet is growing up as we speak. She asks thoughtful questions, listens to the answers, and, as I tried to explain 9/11 to her once, gets the world is a fucking weird place.
Both will become independent, thoughtful, intelligent young women because they are already independent, thoughtful, intelligent girls aged 10 and 7. The Eldest wants to be a teacher, because she’s inspired by those she knows. The Youngest wants to be Spidergirl and has asked for a taser for her 8th birthday.
I’m writing this because I’ve always wanted to write something about being a stepdad, and say something erudite and thought-provoking. I’ve pondered on how hard it is, and sat there with an empty screen trying to make the words fit.
The thing is though, it hasn’t been. It hasn’t been hard. The girls have made it so easy for me.
For that I must thank and acknowledge their parents. Both of whom are responsible for raising such wonderfully engaging and impressive human beings.
The hard stuff for me? I still don’t know how to tell them off if they’re being naughty. Or if they bicker. Or whether I should. I suggest things to their mum who must be sick to the back teeth of me suggesting reward charts, out of school studies, tutors, extra-curricular activities and the like. I have lost my temper with them when behaviour has been such that I can’t understand it or where it comes from and I’ve called in reinforcements, like their gran who lives down the road, when the same has gone on. This isn’t a cop-out, but there have been times when I really don’t know what to do. It’s not a cop-out because I’m sensitive to the fact that they’re not my children, in that way, and I don’t want to do, or say, anything that would counteract anything their parents do, say, or reinforce. But I think I’m on point. I reckon I do what their parents would do when I’m caring for them, which is always a privilege.
I was at the birth of my two children and the world became a better place when they entered it. To say I love them doesn’t do the word love justice. I found my heart when I met my children.
But my world has become even better in getting to know my stepchildren, and that heart I found when my children were born, has got bigger. As a result, I think I’ve become a better parent to my own children. But I’m not writing about my children.
This post is for my stepdaughters. Thank you. Both of you. Thank you so very much. You’ve made me feel so very welcome and, this may not make any sense to you now but maybe, in a few years time, you’ll read this, and you’ll know that I’m honoured to be part of your world. I’m a better person for being part of it. From the bottom of my heart I will always be grateful for the generosity and time you’ve given me, and that will always be reciprocated.
Yes, I said bottom. Now stop laughing, put your shit away and get to bed.
Thanks for reading.