They called me Aunty Cathy. But that was before they knew I was dating their dad. Once they found out I was reduced to Cathy. Just Cathy. We were introduced at Village Market, at my work place. It was all casual and innocent.
Aunty Cathy was only dad’s friend after all.
The youngest was turning six. It was her birthday. Whether I was a good birthday gift remained to be seen. The oldest was nine. Two boys, and two girls. All of them blissfully unaware of the blooming romance between Mike and me.
Aunty Cathy tagged along on lunch dates. Aunty Cathy was genial, agreeable, and amiable. Aunty Cathy posed no immediate threat. She had a nice house in Westlands, where she’d host them, cook for them and play with them. I would let them jump on the bed as much as they wanted.
Mike and I thought we would play this -Aunty Cathy- game a little longer.
But the kids were on to us. Suddenly they were whispering among themselves, suspicions rising. How come Aunty Cathy was becoming such a constant? Do friends spend this much time together? Do friends go out to dinner and leave us with a sitter?
They became detached. Then they ganged up against me. The goal was to get rid of me. They were going to raise all kinds of hell until I scampered off.
When Mike was around they would be all nice and friendly Hi, how are you? Fine thank you. Smiles all round. But when Mike was away they would transform into angry little monsters.
The Aunty Cathy was quickly dropped. They’d give me the stink-eye. They’d ignore me. They held me aloft, creating a fine distance, pouting their little mouths in rebellion.
And who would blame them?
One fine afternoon, they announced their displeasure with a pair of scissors.
Mike had been hospitalized on a bad case of tonsillitis. And I had just bought my first car a silver Subaru, KBJ, with shiny rims and a sexy spoiler.
The itinerary was to take them out to lunch, then to the hospital for visiting hours. On the drive no one uttered a sound as we drove along.
In the evening I dropped them home and headed back to my apartment. I was clearing out the back seat (house shopping, candy wrappers, spilled bits of pop corn) when I saw the bloody aftermath.
The seats had been cut up. The fluffy innards were sticking out. The thing looked like a gutted rabbit. The abrasions were like craters, gaping holes that stared back at me with vengeful horror.
The damage was almost symbolic. A brutal message from the kids: We want you out. We know who you are, and what you are coming to do. And it just isn’t happening, honey.
They had to put up a fight; they did a damn good job of it. Trust me.
Like most people, they had a skewed perspective on step moms. Since time in memorial the wicked step mum is a cruel fart tale character and nothing good can come from her.
A step-mom was the devil incarnate. A step-mom was a mean creature that wouldn’t care about them. She would send them off to bed without food. A step-mom was not to be loved, and her car seats were not to be spared.
That’s what I get for budging into their family.
It’s hard to say who exactly held the scissors/razor blade. They worked as a unit. They had a strict ‘No snitching’ policy. And if one of them were to, say, talk to me in a less hostile manner; they’d be reprimanded.
“I thought we agreed we wouldn’t talk to her.”
The girls were more prone to these bouts of forgetfulness. They would get distracted by the accessories in my make-up kit, the usual girl stuff. Then the boys would step in; remind them not to cross the enemy lines. Steer clear of the step-mom at all times.
There is a time I travelled to South Africa, and I bought them clothes. I felt they needed a change of wardrobe. My daughters were wearing boys’ clothes, for Christ sakes. Sometimes it felt like Mike chose anything from the rack while he was shopping.
When I came back I heard one of them say they wished my plane crashed and I died. It seemed I’d never get through to them. I was fighting a war on all fronts.
I never took the hate personally, though. I put myself in their shoes. They were young. The change was too rapid. They were moved from being a complete family unit and then divorce, then who the hell Am I to creep up on them. So they had to fight back. They acted the way they did because they were scared. Surely you don’t expect kids to employ diplomacy.
I mean, who wants a step mom anyway? I also wouldn’t like it if I woke up to a strange woman soon to be my new mum.
Understanding their thinking really helped me to paddle through the bile.
By and by, though, everything thawed out. We moved in together, and I was ready to grab motherhood by its panties.
I had house rules plastered under the stairs. (No wasting food. Do your homework on time. Don’t sleep with the lights on. Respect the help.)
I’d tell them, “Look. We don’t need to love each other. But we respect each other.”
They were like: “Fine. But we’re not going to call you mom.”
And I was like: Sawa. Call me whatever you want. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m here now.
So they went on with the -Aunty Cathy-, until one day it changed to mom. But that was years later, when I had stopped sweating the small things, so it wasn’t that big of a deal when it happened.
Sometimes if they crossed the line I’d tell Mike, and they’d be in trouble. But I also didn’t want to be a bother. It wasn’t right for Mike to come home from work -bone tired- only to face a different scandal every day. Besides, I was the grown up.
I picked my battles. I wasn’t going to keep grinding axes with seven year olds. With time I toughened up.
In the beginning I’d be nice and let things slide. Then at some point I was just like: “Haiya, you forget I’m in charge eh?”
(Okay it wasn’t really like that. But you get my drift)
It took time to find the balance. Mike couldn’t help me with that, I had to do it on my own. But I suppose the real lesson here is that it takes time for things to work out. Blended families take time to blend.
You take time to understand the kids, get acquainted and appreciate one another. You listen to them. You meet them halfway. You put yourself in their shoes. It doesn’t matter if the shoes pinch or stink.
It’s bound to fit at some point, with enough love and patience.