We'd dated for two years, dancing around the issue of a future together like tangoing lawyers. To be honest, I would have been happy to date Vanessa on weekends for a heck of a long time -- it was a familiar pattern that gave me solitude, freedom and one foot out; but this time things were more complicated: There were kids involved -- damn cute ones. Not to mention I'd met the love of my life.
In previous relationships, girlfriends had pressured me about "where the relationship was going." (I hate it when that happens.) This time it was a tag-team of little creatures demanding answers. It started with, "Are you having a sleepover?" to the more pressing, "If you marry Mommy, will we take your name or will you take ours?" to eventually calling me their "almost Dad." These 9-year-olds were interested in where their lives were going and what roles we'd all play in the arrangement. Like it or not, we were becoming a family.
I decided to pull the trigger on our two-year anniversary. (This event was preceded by six months of couples therapy -- something we'll get into in later columns, no doubt.) In addition to asking Vanessa's father for her hand in marriage, I knew I'd better ask the twins as well. It didn't seem right that they'd find out the day after. (We had a babysitter and I couldn't pop the question before their bedtime.) They were, after all, a big part of the equation; if they hadn't been adorable, polite, affectionate little people, this thing (no matter how in love I was) would never have happened.
That afternoon I took Rachel and Riley outside for a little walk to the neighborhood raspberry patch. I was as nervous as a teenager in front of his girlfriend's father's gun rack. "I was thinking of asking your mother to marry me tonight," I stuttered. "Think it's a good idea?"
"YAY!" came the chorused response, and I hugged them and told them we'd be an amazing family. It was a fabulously joyful moment, one that didn't last long.
I expected I'd have to answer a bunch of questions on the subject, but fresh berries and a trail of snails soon distracted the twins. Walking back to the house, I reminded them that I'd yet to ask their mother, and that their lives (and ours as a family) depended on keeping a secret for the next five hours. I left with our wonderful surprise among us, confident they'd hold the line.
All I remember about the evening of our engagement was that Vanessa said yes, but not as fast as I'd have liked. (For those interested -- and I'd like to pat myself on the back here -- I actually did quite a bachelor-esque job of spreading rose petals in a nearby park, lighting candles and getting down on one knee. We sat up all night talking and wishing we could wake someone up to tell them we were getting married. MARRIED!
Now the journey really begins. Whereas we may have been test-driving the relationship before, we're now putting our pedal to the union metal (and hopefully installing airbags).
The kids are overflowing with ideas, from matching tux and flower girl outfits and hyphenated names, to installing SpongeBob shower curtains and painting their rooms slime green, not necessarily in that order. Vanessa's off looking at dresses and planning the honeymoon. And I want to make sure we've got all the rules covered: curfews, chores, allowances -- and that's just for my future bride. Like one of those obnoxious "Extreme Makeover: Home Editions," we've got less than eight months to pull it all off -- and could really use a crew of 80 and an obnoxious guy with a megaphone to speed things up.
My emotions range from elation to relief to panic to serenity (and that's just during one episode of "Dr. Phil"). Whereas I've had a casual interest in watching Vanessa govern her kids for the last few years -- noting when she lost her temper over a homework assignment gone bad or crawled into the twins' beds for the highly anticipated "Mommy-time" -- now I'm part of the mix. A control freak by nature, I wonder how many times I'll have to clean off the toothpaste top, define boundaries (my own), or ask someone to please put that back where it came from. I also understand there will be unexpected twists and turns and surprises that no amount of prep work, counsel or expertise can prepare me for. ("The defense would like a few decades to regroup, your Honor.")
No doubt a beautiful and hectic future awaits. There will be tears -- some of joy, even -- laughter, therapy and more challenges than one man could reasonably handle in a lifetime. Luckily, there are four of us now....
The Accidental Parent is a new column about a life-long bachelor, Michael Stusser, recently engaged to Vanessa, the mother of 9-year-old twins.