This harrowing labor of love that came to us, a sheep in wolves' clothing, has turned into something unexpectedly powerful for me. Something really nice in an out of the blue sort of way. Moonstruck by this thing that I've actually managed to pull together for our family, it's hard to believe this homeschool plan has turned into something so cool, I can't wait ten more days to get started.
I'm sure it has something to do with just giving me a simple sense of purpose - which has always been covertly medicinal for people like me, people who are always questioning if what they're doing is enough. But I'm uninhibitedly proud of what I've built here, from everything left of last year's confusion. I've succeeded in taking an ambition to do something big, something uncertain, and I've turned it into something done. We haven't started actually homeschooling yet, but with every paper filed; every clip color coded by subject and day; every trip planned on her Hello Kitty calendar; every project detailed in pencil on the narrow lines of a thirteen-tabbed planner, I feel good knowing that I've actually pulled it off. For one of the few times in my relationship with this kid who is and will be forevermore such a monopolizing part of who I am, I feel like her parent. I feel like I finally have the opportunity to parent her the way that I parent her technically-half-siblings; to do more than just be here, watching her grow. But to be a working part of the process.
I'm always looking for ways to validate our wildly unorthodox relationship, without shoving myself too far down her throat. Most of the time it all just falls into place. We have a good relationship, but we also have nothing to really compare it to, either. It's kind of it's own thing. I came into her life too late to ever completely be a legitimate exchange for her real mom, even without her real mom being around. But I'm more than a step-parent because raising her falls, in a lot of ways, more on me than it even does her dad - who is the only biological parent in her life.
When you're a biological parent, you put aside yourself for the children you conceive without even consciously having control of the decision. You become pregnant and you lose control of your diet, your comfort, your body. You give birth and for a cluster of terrifying hours, you lose control of any and everything that has ever conceivably existed within your control. You keep an infant alive and you learn to play it's personality like a very tricky instrument you feel like you were born to play yourself, and without even being aware that any transformation has taken place at all, you look up from them and don't know where the old you has gone; you try to remember hearing them leave, and you can't. You don't care, either. This new thing, this new you is infinitely better than anything you've ever been or done before, and you realize that relinquishing control of yourself for them was the best thing you've ever done. You look back down at this child that is so mercilessly yours, wholly unaware of anything you might have missed about the old you if only you could manage to take a second's thought away from them, and you know that you've become something metaphorically invincible. You know, all at once, that you're a parent. You are impermeably strong, wise, and unrelenting in anything you do on their behalf. Because of all you've done without ever having to even really try, nobody can take that away from you, or deny that it's yours.
And then you have a child that you did not conceive. And you are in every similar way responsible for them. You are their protector, their guidance, their shoulder, their foundation, their voice. It's permanent, but it can be easily questioned; it's durability easily doubted. Mary has never once said to me that I am not her mother. But it's always with me that if she wanted to, she could. People don't often question what my relationship is to her, but it's always with me that sometimes, they will. Her mom hasn't been around in two years, but at any given moment, she might.
Mary's proficiency in grammar and physical science and algebra are completely unconnected to my relationship with her as a parent. Teachers teach and parents parent, and the rewards of each are not the same. But homeschooling has proven to be, even in only the preparatory stages, a shit-ton of work. I wake up everyday an hour before the sun drains darkness from the windows above our bedroom copy machine, and instead of writing - which has always been a great love in my life, I watch tutorial videos over cereal on how to teach shortcuts for dividing fractions. I make back-up plans for my back-up plans so that if this whole first week somehow falls to shit despite all of my efforts, I'll know exactly how to pull us out of the rut. I don't expect this thing to run like a military base, but I know that everything I consider now with military precision is one less thing I'll have to consider once we're in the thick of wanting to just enjoy it. Which is all to say that with everything I've put into this thing just to cover my every hypothetical base, I'm predicting an easy ride, come the sweet end to our very long August. I fully expect this whole endeavor to be a lot of fun. But getting us there... Getting us there has taken an amount of time and effort I've never had to put into her before.
I'll never be able to go back and pay closer attention to who she was back when she was somebody else's child, the way that I imagine all step-parents (especially those who raise their step-children primarily) wish they could. And I don't think that hyper-parenting her will make up for what is unquestionably lost in those relationship-fusing years of early child development. But setting this up for her and doing this for her has unexpectedly catapulted me, personally, into exactly that direction. Or so it feels, anyway. It's put me in a position to do what maternity did naturally for my relationship with her little brother and her baby sister. This wasn't what we went into homeschooling hoping to gain, but it's become a very welcomed way for me to say to her: Hey, just so you know... I am yours, whatever it takes.