Learning parenting step by step

2008-01-04 00:00

Most people get about nine months’ notice when they’re going to have a child. That is not how it happened for me: I went on a blind date. The rest, as they say, is history. Also a bit of geography, some German and no small amount of chemistry.

For some years I was convinced that love and happiness was something you bought in a tube from Innoxa. I was proud to know that love and happiness came from Pietermaritzburg, my city of choice. I was disillusioned and uninterested enough to leave it at that. It was something that might happen, if at all, to others. I thought it was mostly manufactured, like hand cream, to sell magazines, movie tickets and Robbie Williams CDs.

Okay, so I was wrong. I met my perfect man. I substituted my workaholic, über-busy, frenetic lifestyle, my little flat with only a cat for company, late nights and late mornings, and loads of me time for absolute chaos, hectic days, hectic nights and early mornings, hours at the stove, lift clubs, parent-teacher evenings, human space invaders, the darn Disney Channel and no privacy to speak of. But above all: a husband and two children. It all sounds like a war zone, but I think that’s pretty normal. It all sounds exhausting and terrifying, but that too is normal, I think. Normal, however, doesn’t mean easy. Still, let me say it loud and clear: I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Years of battling with endometriosis left me resigned to the fact that my dear nephews were the closest I’d ever get to motherhood. Let’s face it, my cat, Lucy Sullivan, is my boss, not my baby. And then a miracle occurred and God sent me an instant family. I did all my homework, swotted up on every step-parenting book and website I could find. If there was a vitamin one could take to make me a better stepmum, I’d have doubled up on the dosage. I saw a social worker. I prayed.

A new life, we all know, parents or not, is the most beautiful thing on Earth, but alas, it passes some of us by and we’ll just never know it. My boys, and yes, I call them mine — sue me — are nothing like the text books warned. They’re a delight. While I feared all sorts of downs I genuinely have to confess there are volumes of upsides to being a step-parent.

Firstly, there was no labour. Oh wait, there was no pregnancy either, there were no nappies, no colic and no sleepless nights. Our love for each other is not instant, instinctive, it is not a given and it cannot be taken for granted; it is gently cultivated, slowly grown, yet real. I can shirk certain responsibilities: want to talk about birds and bees? Go to your father. So he’s misbehaving? Well, he is your child, you punish him. I joke but there’s a certain freedom in not being the fully responsible one and being able to enjoy the fun bits. (The psychologists are gasping.) What I enjoy most is that I can brag freely. I can because it is no reflection on me. They don’t have my genes, which is probably why these boys are the most handsome, cleverest, fastest and wittiest boys there are.

Mostly, I keep learning not to take myself so seriously. So there is added value to the package deal. For them too, after all, they gained a cat. And then recently our union was blessed with a Rottweiler. Who could ask for more?

• Annette Harms is the manager of a local software company.

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