“One big, happy family.”
That’s what the 16 year-old boy who lives at our house said recently. With a smirk.
This was during a post-church, get-lunch-into-tummies discussion of roles and titles, which is still a tender topic for all in this recently formed crew.
Let me bring you up to speed. The June wedding between Camo Man and me took our somewhat unformed bunch of adults and teens and gently wound an official ribbon of “family” around us. Truth is, we’re still snagging ourselves on the parameters all that word means.
Before this new life, he had been raising his grandson — the death of the boy’s mother in 2006 eventually left the child unmoored — while I’ve been raising my two youngest.
Now unified, we’re trying on labels for size. My kids call him Dad and his boy calls me “She-Ra,” in a way that always makes me laugh. Even when I’m mad.
As in his family’s tradition, the boy is a hunter. He has bows and arrows and animal skulls in his room, and stray shotgun shells trapped under the Cabela’s catalogs. His beautiful mother was an accomplished hunter, too.
Stands to reason I’m calling him Hunter Boy, right?
Now this kid and I have not always seen eye-to-eye. He arrived at my house with no real understanding of rules — by all accounts, his mom did a fine job with this, but she’s been gone almost one-third of his life. And Camo Man has traditionally been, how shall I say, easily swayed by his articulate, smart and handsome first grandchild.
I happen to like rules. I like schedules, expectations, consequences, structure. A lot. Now that Camo Man has tasted those, I think he appreciates the order such components bring to a kid’s life.
This grandson doesn’t love those things so much. We’ve gone head-to-head more than once, although both of us are more likely to hide behind Camo Man in the toughest She-Ra vs. Hunter Boy situations.
I’ve more often taken the coward’s path of texting Camo Man — “Can you please tell the boy to clean his room? Pretty sure I saw sewer rats playing cards on his bed yesterday. Can he wash some of his clothes, too? So we don’t get declared a disaster zone, is all I’m saying.”
There have been similar messages about curfews, homework and general rowdiness. It can’t be fun to open those. And Camo Man has the leeway to do the same about Miss Tall and Blond and Martha Stewart Jr. But they’re girls and brought up under my standards — “That room better be clean when I get home, no excuses. And I mean it.”
We’re really talking about two different species, it seems.
I’ve been on a steep curve for months, relearning about teen boys, especially how much food they pack in. Here’s a snippet of a typical moment of me arriving home from work, spoken to the house at large:
“Who ate every single banana in the bowl? And the crackers that were here? Are you serious? Wait ... there’s no milk left? Not a drop?”
There are reasons why no little girl grows up thinking, “Someday I want to be a step-mom!” We recognize this gig is tough, even when we’re playing with baby dolls.
But I do like being a mom. Just “Mom.” And, somehow, in this magical space God granted me and Camo Man, Hunter Boy has become more mine than not. I get fiercely defensive of him when I think he’s being wronged.
The emotional storms that first produced angry clouds are now downgraded to Level 1 exasperation.
When he does well, I smile all the way to my toes. Same as I do with my own kiddos.
This brings us back to Sunday’s conversation.
“It feels weird to me,” I said, hip-bumping Camo Man out of the way of the kitchen sink. “I introduce (Hunter Boy) as ‘our boy,’ and you introduce him as ‘my grandson.’ I mean, really, we’re his parents, right?”
I turned around to check Hunter Boy’s reaction. He refused eye contact, but gave a tiny nod.
“I mean, I wanted to tell you, I’d like to adopt you. If you ever wanted that,” I casually tossed his way, not even able to look up.
Hunter Boy laughed. “But I’m going to be 18 soon. It wouldn’t be worth the trouble.”
Just think about it, I told him. “It’s always worth the trouble.”
I did not add that I know a little something about adoption, after all. Or that the 18th birthday is more than a year away. And that I like being his mom.
He knows it, I know it.
Maybe that’s plenty enough to fit under the “family” sign?