I have a very practical rule concerning my lovers and my children.
Never the twain shall meet.
Half of my week is devoted to parenting. Dating and sex are relegated to the remaining days of the week.
The calendar hews my life in two. My rule is a logical extension of that.
My goal is to keep things simple.
The kids do not need a new mommy, and I don’t want them to be anxious about the role “daddy’s girlfriend” may have in their lives. It’s also best if they don’t form attachments to someone who may or may not be in my life for the long haul.
It’s good for my lovers too. They have enough to deal with in dating me; nothing is gained if someone is up nights worrying about whether or not Lillie hates her, or what Collie meant when he said, “You are not the boss of me!”
Such a good rule.
How stupid, then, that I bend it.
Anna has met my kids twice in the year plus that we have been dating.
Once, when we were recovering from an early “off” in our on again/off again relationship, I invited her to dinner with the kids. I thought it might help her to understand the other half of my life.
She was very quiet during the meal. The kids pretty much ignored her.
The next time was last summer. She called one afternoon as I was getting things ready to head to the park. She was already in the park, dancing with the disco skaters near the bandshell. Why not meet up?
Sure, I thought. Why not?
We found her dancing, sweating and happy. The kids like watching the skaters, and thought it was cool that I knew one. She bought them ice cream.
As we walked together afterward, Lillie referred to Anna as a “wienie,” her designation for any woman in her father’s presence.
Anna would later speak to me, at tedious length, about my failure to sufficiently reprimand Lillie for using such a rude term.
“You weren’t actually hurt by that, were you?” I asked.
“No, but . . . well, my mother would never have allowed me to say that.”
“I don’t ‘allow’ it, but it’s natural for Lillie to stake her turf. Anyway, don’t you call your mother a ‘control freak?’”
“Oh, that’s not the point,” she huffed.
For the sake of propriety, I did ask Lillie to please refrain from calling my friends “wienies,” at least within earshot.
A couple of months ago, Anna sent me a note with an offer.
She was willing to come over one evening a week to watch the kids and prepare dinner as I worked or relaxed.
The offer was very generous . . . and totally unacceptable.
I don’t think she meant her offer to be manipulative, but had I accepted, Anna would have surely come to be seen as “daddy’s girlfriend.”
Her evenings with us would have ingratiated her with the children, giving her an identity as “Anna,” not merely a “wienie.”
It would have the effect of making her a regular part of my family life.
Much as I would have loved the help of another adult, I had to gratefully decline.
A couple of weeks ago, she came back with a scaled-down offer. How would I like it, she asked, if she came over and showed the kids how to make won tons?
“What, you want to make our dinner?”
“Yes. If you aren’t comfortable with that, I can show you how and leave you the stuff to make them. It’s very easy.”
I thought about it. “You know, I’m sure it is okay for me to invite a friend over to make won tons. Thanks, that would be lovely. How about next Thursday night?”
“Great. I’ll be there at six.”
A few days before the dinner, Anna asked what the kids thought of the plan.
“Oh, I haven’t told them yet.”
“You haven’t told them? Don’t you want to give them an opportunity to think about it? Maybe they will have a reaction, or want to talk with you about it. It’s their home too—you have to respect that, Jefferson.”
“I do respect that, but I don’t think this will be such a big deal to them. I think I can prepare them on Thursday.”
“But what if they don’t want me to come?”
“They won’t take this that seriously. And anyway, it’s not their decision. I invited you. I’m the grown up. You are coming. It will be fine.”
She questioned the wisdom of forgoing advance notice that she would be our guest chef. But I am the children’s father, so there it was.
She emailed me a list of items she would need for the menu, asking me to check off all I had in stock.
On the appointed Thursday, Jason was going to miss our dinner. He had after-school plans with his mother, and would dine with her.
As we walked home from school, I told Collie and Lillie that my friend Anna was going to come over to teach us how to make won tons that night.
“Can I help?” Collie asked.
“I hope you will!” I said.
“And me?” Lillie asked.
“Yes, we’ll all help.”
“But me first, right?” Collie insisted.
“No, me first!”
“We’ll all take turns. Anna will help.”
I had to work to keep her in the picture.
The kids were across the hall playing with their three-year-old neighbor when Anna arrived.
She was carrying five or six bags of groceries and utensils.
I kissed her cheek.
“Good Lord, did you clean out the store?”
“Well, I knew I would need a few things.”
“Wow. Well, just so you know, Jason won’t be joining us tonight. He’s with his mom until nine or so.”
She looked crestfallen. “No Jason?”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll be here before you leave.” I was surprised she was so disappointed.
Anna unpacked the fixins for homemade macaroni and cheese (“as a back-up”), strawberry rhubarb pie (“do the kids like rhubarbs?”) and won tons. The dough, like everything else, would be made from scratch.
She had prepared about a gallon of filling—enough for about a hundred won tons.
She had chopped a cucumber salad, and sautéed spinach in garlic and oil. I tasted the spinach.
“Whew!” It packed a mighty wallop.
“You like it?”
“Yeah! It, uh, may be too spicy for the kids, but it’s just right for me.”
I poured a glass of water, taking care to sip it casually.
“Good. Now, you do whatever you need to do. I’ll let you know if I need anything.”
I snuck to the bathroom to refill my water glass, twice, then sat at my computer to write as she cooked.
She boiled pasta, stirred a roux, and put together macaroni and cheese. As it baked, she chopped strawberries and rhubarbs.
A little before seven, the kids came home. “Is dinner ready?”
“Not yet, sweets. Remember? Anna is going to show us how to make won tons. Come say hi.”
“Is it my turn to help?” Collie asked.
“Umm, in a few minutes,” Anna said. “And hi!”
“I don’t like won tons,” Lillie asserted.
“Yes, you do,” I said. “You always have.”
“I don’t tonight.”
Anna stooped to her knees. “Maybe what you mean to say is that you don’t like finding me in your kitchen. I understand that. I told your dad that if you didn’t want me here, I would go home and leave the dinner for you to eat. But I would like to stay. Is that okay with you?”
That’s a little over the top, I thought.
Lillie rolled her eyes, laughing as she walked off. “Whatever!”
“She’s five, you know,” I said.
“She hates sharing you,” she conjectured.
Collie missed none of this. “Is it time for me to help?”
“Yes, Collie, you can help me to make the dough.”
“Goody!” He fetched the rolling pin.
While they set to their task, I sat on the couch reading books with Lillie. She cuddled close, holding her blanket.
Now, this is a nice moment, I thought.
After a while, Anna called from the table. “Jefferson?”
“This dough didn’t turn out very well. I’m not sure why—it’s just too crumbly.”
“Can you go to the store to buy some won ton skins?”
“Any idea where they might keep them?”
“Look near the tofu.”
Lillie and I put on our shoes to walk to the store.
The sky was clear, so I didn’t think to put on jackets. A chill breeze was blowing strong off the Hudson.
It was approaching eight. The kids are usually in bed by nine.
The closest store didn’t have won ton skins near the tofu. I asked the store manager, who paged the stock manager. No won ton skins.
We walked three blocks over to a Korean deli.
“You are making won ton soup?” the lady behind the counter smiled.
“Uh, yes,” I replied, trying to sound like a sophisticated round eye.
“I hate won tons,” Lillie asserted. I took her hand in mine.
“I’ll show you where to find them,” she said, raising the hinged counter. She led us to a freezer in the back of the store.
“You want square or round?” She dug up two large packages, flaked in ice.
Heck if I know. “Um, both.”
“You must be making a lot of won tons!”
“I hate won tons,” Lillie asserted.
“Hush,” I said, tugging her hand.
Back home, we encountered a change in plans. Anna proposed that we serve the macaroni and cheese, and allow the kids to eat the dozen or so won tons she and Collie had made in our absence.
This was a good idea.
I loaded the kids’ plates with macaroni and cheese and won tons. I served Anna and myself a nice helping of spinach and macaroni and cheese; I took an extra serving of spinach.
“It’s so good!” I said.
The kids were finished, characteristically, in about four minutes.
“We made a dessert too!” Collie told Lillie.
“. . . for later, when everyone is finished,” I added.
Anna soon served generous portions from a strawberry-rhubarb pie large enough for a Sunday church meeting. Whipped cream was sprayed onto each plate.
Collie made a sizable dent in his serving. Lillie picked around the rhubarbs.
When they looked stuffed, I dropped my hands on the table. “Okay guys, let’s get you ready for bed.”
“Already? Where’s Jason?”
“Yes, it’s late. Jason will be here soon. Let’s move out.”
The kids stripped to their underwear and brushed their teeth. Anna did the dishes. Collie returned to say goodnight to her. Lillie declined to do so.
I tucked them in with kisses.
“I love you. Thanks for helping with dinner.”
“I love you,” they chimed.
“I helped more than you did,” Collie whispered to Lillie.
“Shut up! I went to the store with Dad.”
“Enough!” I whispered. “Bed time.”
Anna was on the couch when I returned.
I slouched, affecting exhaustion. “Bourbon?”
I fixed two glasses, one small, one tall. The lesser was offered to Anna.
“How do you do this?”
“Practice. Cheers.” We clinked glasses.
Jason was running late. He knocked a little before ten.
“Hey baby,” I kissed him. “You hungry or ready for bed?”
“I’m tired, so . . . oh, hi.”
“Jason, this is Anna. She made dinner tonight.”
“Hi. Well, I’m going to bed. Night.”
“Night, baby. I love you.”
“Nightloveyoutoo.” He staggered to his bedroom.
When he was out of earshot, Anna raised an eyebrow. “Did he know I was going to be here?”
“No, I forgot to tell him.”
We talked a bit more as Anna finished her drink.
“It’s late,” she said, standing. “And we both have to get up tomorrow.”
“Yes.” I embraced her. We kissed. “Thanks for dinner.”
“Yes, well . . . glad you enjoyed it.”
“It was very good. And gosh, loads of leftovers!”
“You can freeze the won ton mix. You can make patties of it too.”
“Okay, well, good night.”
I locked up after she left, and turned out the lights.
I checked the kids before bed. Lillie always kicks off her covers.