You know how some dogs get scared when there’s fireworks?
Well, two years ago, that was me, as terrified as a puppy on the Fourth of July.
I sat in my car, cowering, debating whether I should open the door — or hit the gas pedal and run for my life.
The sun was shining. Birds were probably chirping, if I had been paying attention enough to listen. I was parked, along with a dozen other cars, in front of my friends’ house for their Fourth of July party. To the outside observer, there was absolutely nothing scary about the scene I found myself in.
But at that very moment, a car was bearing down on my location, carrying with it the source of my terror: Two pint-sized humans I’d never met before, who, unbeknownst to them, held the power to determine my future.
They were my boyfriend’s kids. And I was about to meet them for the very first time.
Despite how scared I was, I don’t think I really processed the full weight of what would happen in the next few hours.
My boyfriend and I had been dating for only a few months. But when things click, they click. And we had clicked.
However, there was a catch: He had two children from his previous marriage. And whatever the next steps between him and me would be, hinged entirely on whether or not his kids and I could cohabitate in his world.
Eventually, we decided it was time to find out.
As I said, I was terrified.
In my rearview mirror, I saw a car pull up. I recognized it. My heart beat faster.
I heard doors slam shut, heard little voices I’d never heard before. They made their way to the backyard.
It was now or never.
But what would I say to them? I’m a quiet person generally, especially when I’m nervous. And I was more than nervous right now. What would they think of me? His daughter Jan was 4, but his son Joe was 8 — and they’d been through their parents’ divorce. How jaded would they be? Especially Joe, who had the potential to be “too cool” (or maybe even a little bitter) to like his dad’s new girlfriend.
I would trip over my words, I knew I would. I’d make a fool of myself, and they wouldn’t like me, and that would be the end of my relationship with their dad.
But there was only one way to find out. I went to the backyard.
There they were. My boyfriend saw me, and he introduced us. I said hi, they said hi — but I didn’t stick around. Still terrified, I found a friend and hid with her on one side of the patio.
I didn’t know what to do. What do you say to your boyfriend’s kids?
Then I heard him tell Jan that he and Joe were going in the house to get Joe ready for the pool.
They went. Jan waited by the patio. I looked away.
But when I looked back, she was no longer by the patio. She was wandering off toward the front yard, looking for her dad. No one else was paying attention.
Someone should tell her where he was, I thought. Then with a cringe, I realized: That “someone” should be me.
Fighting nerves, I went over to her. “Jan, honey,” I said, tapping her on the shoulder. “Your Daddy’s inside, we should wait for him over here. He’ll be right back.”
Honestly, I’m not sure what I was expecting. Maybe for her to fight my logic, or be scared of me, or generally not listen.
But she was 4, not 14, and I think I was forgetting that. Without hesitation, and with a smile, she took my hand, and let me lead her back to the patio. And she talked to me while we waited for her dad and brother to come back.
When they did, Joe talked to me, too. It turned out, he may have been an 8-year-old boy, but he was the kind of boy that’s more “gentle” than “jock.”
Both kids wanted me to play in the pool with them. By the end of the afternoon, we’d tackled the trampoline together, too.
And I was amazed.
I’d been dreading that Fourth of July for weeks, like the pooch afraid of the fireworks. But the kids, as firecracker as they are, turned out not to be that scary after all.
When it was time to go, their dad asked them if it was OK for me to come to see fireworks with them.
We were thrilled when they both said yes.
And about a month ago, two years after that first day, they said yes again — this time, to me becoming their stepmom.
Looking ahead to the Fourth of July this year, I wrote this Facebook post, and I think it sums up that first day pretty well:
“It was two years ago that two little balls of energy burst into my life like the fireworks we saw that night.
“They are crazy. They are chatterboxes. They are bundles of SO much personality. Their dad is now my husband, and they are his minions.
“And I am lucky.”