Emily Rose is my stepdaughter, although none of us like to use that term since it seems so cold, and doesn’t even come close to conveying the sense of family that we have. Next month, she will be 14. Emily Rose is beautiful, intelligent, complex, passionate, affectionate and deeply loyal. She drives me crazy. Crazy with a love for her that makes me feel so proud, so possessive, so fiercely protective of her that I am churned up in a constant internal battle of emotions versus reality ("I cannot be her mother. I should not be her mother. She already has a good mother. But, dammit, I feel like her mother").
Are you a step mother or step father? Do you know this beautiful, terrible, unquenchable conflict?
Emily Rose is wonderfully creative, and she and I share a love for many projects, like photography, film, writing, cooking and craft. We also share similar tastes in movies, television and some books, something that I like to think makes Emily Rose particularly mature, rather than me immature. Disagree if you dare. We drive Mr B crazy on road trips, telling and retelling our favourite moments from Flight of the Conchords, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Harry Potter movies, comparing new music we've discovered, and sharing where we’re up to in the latest Frankie mag or The Hunger Games.
But Emily Rose is also a teenaged girl, which means she comes with other attributes. She has strong opinions on everything and isn't afraid to share them. She is incredibly messy, unceasingly hungry, tireless when it comes to shopping for clothes, has about a zillion friends, and is obsessed with taking photographs of herself and said zillion friends.
You can’t predict Emily Rose. From her father she has inherited a palpable charisma, an entertainer’s love of humour and performance, a head of stunning curls, and a furnace-like temper that’s as quick to flare up as it is to subside.
Sometimes I find it hard to navigate these extremes, both in Emily Rose and in Mr B. I’m a slow burner. Slower to rise in temper but, I am ashamed to admit, a lot slower than either of them to apologise or forgive. It takes me a lot longer to understand my own emotions, let alone anyone else’s, and the ‘thinking time’ I require in the interim teeters dangerously close to the edge of sulks (and has been known to tumble over at times).
Anyway, the thing about Emily Rose is this:
She is to blame for the splints on my hands that make it so difficult for me to type this post. For the fact that I am sitting in a rocking chair with one leg elevated and a thigh under an ice pack to ease the searing pain. She is the reason that I cast a shadow roughly the size of a garden shed, and have to pee just about every half hour.
You see, I never wanted children of my own. I liked children, I just didn’t think I could give a child the life it deserved. And I lived such a rich and wonderful life, full of love and travel and adventure, that while I knew I would miss out on one experience by not having a child of my own, I still had so much for which to be thankful.
Emily Rose changed all that. Through her I had a taste, just a little taste, of what it would be like to be loved by someone for whom you would lay down your life. Because at the same time that I was discovering that I loved Emily Rose more than I ever believed I could love anyone, she gave me her love, too.
From the day I met her, in London when she was just nine years old and her beautiful sister Meg was 14, Emily Rose welcomed me into her family. In time, that welcome turned to friendship, and then love. And the sweetness she showed me, her affection, her acceptance, completely changed my outlook on parenthood.
So when my little Baby B enters the world, she can thank Emily Rose not only for being the best big sister a baby girl could desire, but also for her very existence. Because Baby B is as much a product of my love for Emily Rose as she is of my love for Mr B.