When I first got together with Troy he told me about his children from a previous marriage. Of course, I nearly bolted when we had the conversation: I felt as if someone had clamped concrete shoes on my feet and thrown me into a lake! Troy, calmly, kept talking. I don’t know if he realised that I was unable to breathe – I mean, there’s no way I’m going to break up a family of youngsters! Troy, calmly, as if to a skittish horse, kept talking. At some point I realised that he was talking about that he wasn’t talking about his current wife. Wait! How old are the kids? When did you marry your current wife? You’ve been married twice? Oh! OOOOH!
So at that point I had a decision to make: do I get involved with someone who has children from a previous relationship? I’m in my 30s at this point in my life. Do I want to be lumbered with the commitment of children? I was back in my bedroom later that night, standing by the window, looking across the back garden and over the trees. The moon resonating along the leaves like a song. Over the hum of crickets, I heard an owl screech in the time with the moon music. The song was of Troy and I knew, no matter what baggage he had, I couldn’t’ live without him. The universe was singing the chorus: Troy. How could I resist him?
The first time I found that I loved someone into my life was my baby sister: I spent several nights while Mom was pregnant wondering what she might be like… Who would she be friends with? What music would she like? What would she enjoy in school? It was in this way that I discovered I loved my sister before she was born, before she was a whole person.
When I got together with Troy, he was not in touch with his children. Like so many men, he was cheated by circumstances and a former partner of the opportunity to watch his children grow. In the deep night when I thought of them, I began to wonder: Who are they friends with? What music do they like? What do they like about school? I was so keen to know them that I would imagine whole conversations with them. I’d ask how their day was; how they found school; what did they like to read? What do they believe? Do they like art? What did they want to do when they got older?
In the same way that I began to love my sister, I found a deep love for Troy’s children. How could I not? They were as much a part of Troy as his arm or his leg. How could I not love them as I did the rest of his family? The sad part was, like many men, he didn’t have access/visitation for several years. The day Troy and I married, I remarked that I was a stepmom (!) and he said not to worry because I’d never see his children.
My personal goal was to be better to my stepchildren than my stepmother was to me. She used to look at me with pursed lips – as if she were smelling dog shit. I suppose you could say I set the bar high on that one!
When the kids did get in touch, I was keen to ensure that I facilitated contact. Troy is originally from Plymouth and his family still live there. We organised to meet Cody (Troy’s son) at a public place in Plymouth town centre. Troy was worried that Cody wouldn’t show up and was really jumpy. However, I spotted Cody a mile off. He’s the spitting image of his dad – except younger and blond. When we left him that first time, I gave him a big hug and said “Thanks for coming”. I was particularly keen to ensure he knew (knows) that he is a big part of my life. Those first few visits were in Plymouth and were nerve-wracking but worth the effort.
The first flat that Troy and I owned was a one-bedroom tiny thing (Honestly, you could put your arms out and touch both walls of the living room!) but we had big windows and a huge (even by American standards) back garden so the first time Cody came to visit, we borrowed a tent and he slept outside! I warned him more than once that I wasn’t kidding when I said he would have to sleep outside! Cody is a lovely boy and he and I get on particularly well, mainly because I listen to him.
Every time Cody comes to visit he and I go to London for the day. Sometimes Troy comes too but it’s normally just Cody and me. We’ve been to a number of museums and exhibitions.
Cody asked me once if I ever wanted children. I told him the truth: in my 20s I did. I was particularly keen to spend the rest of my life with children. But then, in my 30s, and with all the health problems I had, I couldn’t bring myself to try for children with Troy. Miscarriages with someone I didn’t profoundly love was hard enough. And although Troy gave me the option of having children but only on the understanding that I would have to want it “110%”, I couldn’t bear the thought of miscarrying with Troy: it would have destroyed me. I wasn’t brave enough to try. Bearing in mind all the problems I had, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t.
Sadly we still don’t have an easy relationship with my stepdaughter. Lily is still angry about the past – about things that no one can change. My only consolation is that she struggles with her mother and brother as well as me and Troy. Therefore the issues are hers to overcome. But I love her all the same. I consider Troy’s children my English family. I love them as much as I could ever love children of my own flesh and blood. I didn’t have the honour of giving them life but I consider them mine. I told Cody that if I could have had a son, I would have wanted him to be just like Cody.