The Kid is madly, head over heels in love. With my boy friend.
He was, I think, 3-1/2 when they met. The Man came by the house for a visit, and The Kid was immediately all smiles and desperately wanted to invite him into his play. Too shy to ask The Man directly, his timid whisper landed in my ear instead.
"Will he play with me?"
We were working on overcoming The Kid's shyness, and so I gently encouraged him to ask The Man himself. The Kid meandered around the subject, passively describing his games, waiting for The Man to ask to play. When that didn't pan out, he mustered all his courage, glanced hopefully at The Man, and pondered: "I wonder who can play with me..."
The Man took the bait.
They spent the evening playing some sort of chase game with an imaginary bear. They built a mock campfire from Easter grass. They ran up and down the hallway with imaginary guns, The Kid making some sort of respectable explosion noises and The Man, ever the pacifist, "bloop bloop bloop"ing along behind him. (Because his gun only shot blueberries. Duh.) When I tried to play along, The Kid made it perfectly clear that my presence was not particularly desirable.
Later that night, nearing bedtime, the three of us gathered on The Kid's bed. The Man and I chatted while The Kid ricocheted between us. One over exuberant lunge went awry and sent The Kid's head on a collision course with the foot board, and I wasn't close enough to save him. I had one horrified second to imagine the sound of the impending thud before The Man's hand appeared, casually even, and gently directed The Kid's noggin into safer waters.
It had been a sudden movement on The Kid's part; one that shouldn't have given non-parental types a chance to react. And yet The Man anticipated it with the same ease as did I, already attuned to my child's spastic movement patterns.
I won't lie: I fell a little harder for him in that moment, with that single simple gesture.
Four years later, The Kid still reminisces about playing the bear game and cracks himself up describing The Man's Monty Python-esque displays of terror. It was love at first sight for him too.
After that fist night, The Kid started talking about The Man as if he was part of our family. And the more he saw of The Man (which really was not a lot) the clearer it became that The Man was leaving a gentle but persistent impression on my little one's heart. He started including The Man in his bedtime love fest: "I love mommy and daddy and all my grandmas and grandpa and The Man and Uncle Moose." When we made Christmas ornaments for family gifts, he saved the best ones for The Man. And there were smaller, odder things too. He pointed out every white Prius he saw, because that's what The Man drives. And he always noticed when The Man got a hair cut.
As sweet as this was, it was also troubling. He and The Man only hung out a few times, but The Kid was hooked. And The Man and I were not dating. We were in love, and I have to imagine that part of The Kid's reaction to The Man was actually a reaction to the changes he saw in me when I was around The Man. But we were not dating. And I had to continually explain to The Kid that we were not going to get married.
But still The Kid insisted that every other guy I dated was only a boy friend that I liked a lot, but that I didn't love. Not like I loved The Man.
And he was right. Little shit.
When things came back together for The Man and me, I was nervous about telling The Kid. I didn't want him to get his hopes up when I wasn't even sure that I should be getting mine up. But I never got the chance to tell him. He figured it out for himself. And he was elated. He began referring to The Man as his Second Best Dad.
With The Man about to move in with us, we've done a lot of talking about a lot of things. Of course, at the top of my list of concerns is how a new man in the house will affect my boy. My boy who is already - and has always been - so attached. So we've talked about expectations and about what we want these relationships to look like; what I want, what The Man wants, what The Kid wants, even what The Ex wants. But really I only have one question.
Will The Man ever be able to love my son as much as my son loves him?
I think I already know the answer to that question. It's in all the little things he's done over the years, even from this distance. So many little things, so many little ways.
Like how sincerely he shared my enthusiasm when I proudly announced that The Kid was really getting this whole reading thing; how disappointed he was to not be able to witness it himself.
Like happily attending The Kid's soccer game, even though it interrupted one of our all too short visits, and shouting his encouragement from the sidelines; like taking The Kid out back afterward to kick the ball around some more.
Like wishing he was around to teach The Kid to play guitar.
Like two nights ago, when he obsessively scoured Craig's List for sold out Social Distortion tickets for The Kid, with the idea that a birthday concert might help take away some of the sting of practically no one coming to his party (more on that later).
Or like at the end of the concert conversation, when he signed off with this: "I love you. Please tell The Kid I love him too."
I won't lie: I fell a little harder for him in that moment, with that single simple gesture. Again. And so did The Kid.