When I was a little girl growing up in the country, we had cats everywhere. At one point we had fifteen of them in our little home. A sign at the end of our driveway read: “Free Kittens”. Homemade signs at the end of driveways was the ‘Kijiji’ of the early ‘80’s.
Falling in love with cats was easy for me.
“Meow.” they’d say. “I love you, too.” I’d say.
Once we moved to the city and I began walking to my new elementary school, I often encountered well-groomed, collared cats as well as stray, scruffy Tom-cats. Without hesitation I crouched down and called the little animal over. Offering my hand, the furry feline would sniff and poke around my fingers with its wet nose. Within a moment I’d hear purring and feel it rub against my legs. Instinctively, I’d gently pick it up and cradle it in my arms.
“Meow” It would say. “I love you, too.” I’d say.
I could speak their language.
Ultimately I had to put the cat back down and continue on my walk before I was late for class. I’d look back and the cat would be watching me leave, with a simple sway of its tail gently waving goodbye. Falling in love was too easy. And painful. My heart would become heavy and sink in my chest as I plowed ahead without looking back.
Cut to the year 2010. I am now in my early 30’s and there are three strange animals running around me, laughing, yelling, and farting.
I’m confused. I don’t know how to speak their language. These are definitely not like the cats I lived with or encountered on my walks as a little girl. I’m not falling in love with these foreign creatures. If anything, I can’t make sense of them and I’m scared.
Mark makes it look easy. He’s chasing and tickling them, he’s kissing them, and he’s holding them. They are all giggling while I’m stuck behind a fake Joker smile trying to hide complete shock and incompetence.
I didn’t fall in love with my step-kids the way I easily fell in love with the cats. But I fell in love with Mark. By extension, I wanted to love these crazy creatures he created. I had to find a way. So even though I wasn’t in love, I began showing them love. I nurtured them with good food. I watched silly movies with them. I let them tell me stupid jokes and pretended to laugh.
Until one day, we were cooking meals together. They were asking me what movies I wanted to watch. They were telling me jokes that I didn’t have to pretend were funny; I could genuinely laugh because we had started understanding each other’s sense of humour.
Falling in love with my step-kids was not immediate. It was not ‘love at first sight’ like it was with the cats or with Mark, and it didn’t have to be. I built this love for the kids through constantly showing up. My love for my youngest, James, was built Lego block, by Lego Block. With Erin, through girl’s nights of face-masks and nail polish. With Curtis, spending time teaching him to cook.
Now I can’t imagine my life without them. It’s funny what making the choice to love can do.