I was at my friend’s birthday party recently, sitting at a table with some of my friends, and the conversation turned to my upcoming move. One of the girls asked how many times Cailin has had to move, and I said something along the lines of, ‘well…when I got her, she’d already moved twice,’ and started counting the moves since then, when my friend stopped me. Apparently, she didn’t know Cailin wasn’t biologically mine.
I have known this woman for well over a year…and she didn’t know. That always stops me in my tracks. It’s in a good way though. I’m always glad when I know someone a while and they don’t think there is anything ‘off’ about my family – how it’s not weird that Cailin looks nothing like me, why we waited for almost six years to have our second child, that I don’t treat the girls very differently. But then, at the same time, I always kind of think it’s a bit unfair that this huge part of my daughter’s life is hidden.
At twenty one years old, fresh off a seven month deployment, Caleb was given full custody of Cailin, who was barely sixteen months old.
I met them two months later.
I have briefly talked about my life before Caleb and Cailin, but never really talked about the transition of ‘getting’ Cailin.
When we met, Caleb had been home just a few weeks and was still trying to figure out how to be a single dad to this little girl, and I had a list of reasons why dating them was a bad idea. And then my mom told me to shut up and just go out with him. So I did.
And I fell in love. With both of them.
We’d been dating long distance for about five months (I was in northern Virginia, they were in Cherry Point – except for that month and a half when I was in Rome, and they were still in Cherry Point), when Caleb was told he was going to deploy again that December. I’m sure I did, but I honestly don’t remember freaking out that much about him going back. Until I started thinking about Cailin. When I asked where she was going, he told me he was sending her to his parents. In Florida. Even further away.
I didn’t say anything at first, but I wanted Cailin to come with me. I was unemployed that summer and basically lived with them, so we saw each other all the time. She and I both cried when I did have to leave. Due to unemployment, I lived with my parents, so I knew I had to convince them it was a good idea for her to come live with us. I went to my mom first. She was on board immediately. We plotted for a while on how to convince Dad it was a good idea. When we had our brilliant plan, we approached him. When he instantly said yes, mom and I were shocked. Next, I had to convince Caleb.
Unsurprisingly, he was hesitant to leave his daughter with his girlfriend – of less than six months at this point, might I remind you. It was a good call, really. I mean, yeah, we were pretty serious, but there’s a huge difference between being in a serious relationship for six months and leaving your daughter with someone you’ve known six months.
He said no at first. I was crushed. My family was crushed. We understood, obviously, but still. We all loved her so much that the idea of not seeing her for eight months was pretty heart breaking.
Then, in late September, he asked me for some advice about Cailin, and I told him what I thought. He didn’t agree with me, we moved on. The next day, he said he’d thought about it and realized I was right, then said something about how I was her mother figure. I flipped – I told him that he couldn’t say things like that to me after telling me I couldn’t have her while he was gone. I explained that I wasn’t trying to change his mind, but it broke my heart every time I thought about saying good bye to her, and calling me her mother figure was just not nice. He agreed, and again – we moved on.
Then, a few days later, he called and asked if the offer was still good. I almost crashed my car. I said of course it was, and don’t remember anything else he said. Something about since I was her mother figure, she should stay with me. I practically flew home. My mom cried when I told her.
The next few weeks were a blur – I had a job by that point, but was still driving to Cherry Point almost every weekend to see Caleb and help him get ready for his deployment. I was also cleaning out the guest room at my parents’ house, which would be Cailin’s room. We went to his parents’ for Thanksgiving (where I was terrified the whole time that they hated me for stealing their granddaughter. They don’t, by the way.), Christmas was with my family, and then we were saying goodbye on New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Day, I drove back from Cherry Point without a boyfriend, but as a mom.
Honestly, it was a pretty easy transition, thanks in large part to my parents. My mom had been debating quitting her job and Cailin was the perfect reason. I started volunteering with L.I.N.K.S. Quantico and I brought Cailin with me every time. I remember one of my friends saying at my going away party that I was such a mom to this little girl whom I didn’t give birth to, and people who had known us for months were shocked – they’d had no idea. She and I eventually moved back to Cherry Point, and since most of our friends there were the spouses of the Marines Caleb worked with, I didn’t have to explain the story.
When we got to Hawaii, it started coming up. It’s not hard to figure out – we had just gotten married, but had a three year old. She’s grinning in her sparkly, poufy princess dress front and center in 75% of our wedding photos. People asked questions. Most people assumed she was mine from a previous relationship. And still, there are plenty of people who don’t realize. It was especially evident when I got pregnant. People always want the comparison – was it like that with your last pregnancy? Only been pregnant once. Did Cailin show early/move a lot/get the hiccups? No clue, she wasn’t in me. The best was at one of the Girl Scout meetings when one of the girls asked if the baby coming out hurt a lot, and I said that I wasn’t sure because I hadn’t been pregnant before, and she stopped, and went, ‘But Miss Sam…don’t you remember Cailin?’
The only time I was ever really offended by someone else was right when I was ready to move to North Carolina. A coworker who knew the story came up, and asked if Cailin was excited. I said she was thrilled to have Daddy back and the woman told me it would be good for Cailin to be back with people who loved her. …excuse me? I asked her what she meant, and she tried to clarify by saying, you know…small children like that need to be with their family – it’s what’s best for her. I wanted to scream, LADY WHAT THE HECK DO YOU THINK I AM, A NANNY? I was so mad that this woman seemed to think that since I didn’t give birth to Cailin that I didn’t love her ‘right.’ I just muttered something and moved away, and honestly, I’m still not sure what I could have politely said.
I do hate when I have to fill out paperwork and list myself as step mother. I groan every time. I don’t know if it’s because of Cinderella, but I hate that term. In my head, a step mother is someone who only sees the kids on the weekends and every other holiday, and is never happy about it. But that’s not me (just like I’m sure it’s not a lot of other step moms). I’ve never called her my step daughter, and she’s only called me her step mom once – the day she learned what the word meant. But I don’t think of her as a step daughter. She’s just my daughter.
Even in Virginia, when I didn’t yet call her my daughter, and she still called me Mimi (she couldn’t pronounce Sami), ‘step’ was never in our vocabulary. Before Caleb deployed, we were taking Cailin’s crib apart because she was moving in to a toddler bed, and we were debating keeping it. I said something about her half brothers or sisters and we both stopped and went…nope. I honestly don’t think Cailin even knows that term, much less that Madi is actually her half sister. (It’s totally weirding me out just writing that – we’ve never described them like that before!)
We never told Cailin to call me Mommy – she did that on her own, and I can tell you the exact moment it happened. She also has always known that I didn’t give birth to her.
We have found ourselves in some interesting situations. A few years ago, Cailin had to get some tests done, and she kept telling the doctors that her head hurt like mommy’s. (I get migraines.) The doctors kept trying to say it was genetic. Sorry, doc, it’s not. Cailin was recently diagnosed with ADD, and when I mentioned to the doctor that I am also ADD, he started telling me about how because I have it, her odds were higher…uh, pal, unless it can be ‘caught,’ me having it doesn’t matter. Also, apparently, she has my eyes. I don’t get angry when people don’t know. Honestly, it makes me happy. It’s just awkward.
I’ve had people praise me for loving Cailin, which I always think is kind of odd. I don’t see it as doing some heroic thing. I fell in love with this boy, and he had a kid. Luckily, she is a really cute, smart, goofy little thing whom I also fell in love with. It wasn’t the most traditional way to start our family, but it has worked for us.