One bright fall November morning in 2005, I was in Katonah, in northern Westchester, test-driving a 1993 Volvo station wagon that my friend Geri had told me about. Alone in the car, driving north on 684, I started speaking aloud.
“Astrid, you know I can’t give you permission to go to that concert,” I began. “That’s a decision your mom and dad have to make. Not me.”
Pause. Cars pass. I imagine what the response would be from the 15-year-old I’ve never met coming from the backseat. I laugh at said imagined response and shake my head.
“I know I’m also your “mom,” (my right hand is raised to form a quotation mark) but you know what I mean. Imagine what your mom mom would say if you told her that I said you could go!”
Astrid was the daughter of the man I had met just a few days ago on a dating website. I knew Bertrand was the one almost immediately, but I had to play it cool so as not to scare this rare gem of a person away. Enclosed inside a car with no one else seemed a pretty safe environment to express my excitement about a potential future. The one-sided conversation went on for about another ten minutes. We (I) covered who her favorite teacher at school was, whose house she would be sleeping over that upcoming weekend and a rather intense moment of reassuring her that, yes, I would let her come visit the office soon. It was straight out of “The King of Comedy,” when Robert DeNiro’s Rupert Pupkin entertains cardboard cut-outs of Liza Minelli and Jerry Lewis in his mother’s basement. But I didn’t care; I loved it. (I also loved the Volvo, and I bought that gorgeous classic. I suppose the same could be said for Bertrand…)
Slipping into this role, I relished the idea of imagining what having stepchildren would feel like. What did they look like? What were they like? Would they like me? And, if we’re going to be honest, would I like them? Was I jinxing this just by thinking about it? If I told no one about this moment, or having these future thoughts about the possibility of a future, how could it be jinxing?
It didn’t jinx. Within weeks, I had become integrated in Astrid and Luke’s lives, particularly on the weekends, when their dad and I transplanted ourselves up in Larchmont with our laptops and lattes (this was pre-Remy) to a weekend of hockey games, soccer tournaments, sweet sixteens and bar mitzvahs. Danielle, B’s ex-wife welcomed my presence and, with the exception of a few stumbles, I slipped into this new life as overseer, group driver and occasional quick-dinner chef.
One Saturday night Danielle asked if I’d pick up Astrid and her friends from a school event and drive them to Julia’s house. They piled inside the car, one by one, laughing, everyone talking animatedly at the same time. I tried to join in, waiting for the precise moment to slip into the chatter with a good one-liner. Every attempt failed. Any joke, question, or comment fell on deaf ears. They had no interest in getting to know me. This is not about you. Stay in the background. This is not about you. I’ll never forget the moment.
I also remember being so impressed that boys were not part of the conversation. Gosh, when I was in high school, all that mattered was getting the attention of a boy. These girls mentioned boys, but never in a swoony way. The boys in their class were their equals, their friends. I’d overhear a story about how Willie did this funny thing, or Ben did that. Never was I in the presence of, “Do you think he likes me? Do you think he’ll call me?” I’ve subsequently told her (and her mom and anyone else who will listen) that I needed a friend like her in high school. Many, many decisions would have been overturned if I had. Coulda, should, woulda. In the long run, it all turned out all right.
The kids and I got to know each other, eventually. Luke and I became fast friends, tossing sarcastic witticisms at each other. His sister, however, was a slow simmer. For several months, she kept her distance. Always civil, but distant. “Hi, how are you?” she’d offer a perfunctory smile after hugging her dad when she came into the kitchen after dance or basketball practice. “Homework!” she’d then add, after refilling her water bottle, then disappearing upstairs.
As I’ve written in previous posts, it worked out. We fell in love slowly, strongly and smartly, and my relationship with them as big sister solidified by the following Spring. At our wedding, she, in turn, played the part of big sister to the four flower girls who became obsessed with her. As Astrid would say, takin’ one for the team.
Life moved from Westchester when the kids went to college. Danielle moved back into the city, and after they graduated, Luke moved back to the city and Astrid moved to the West Coast, living with Eli, who she’d met during a semester in China. Their friendship during those six months in Kunming had grown into true love and we were thrilled.
Soon after, I started having imaginary conversations with Eli in the car, discussing wedding plans. (I’m kidding. I just thought it would be funny to write that.)
But it did happen. The plan, which just the immediately family was aware of, was that Eli would propose the day after Thanksgiving. It had been easy for us; we were separated by an entire country, so as long as the phone conversations didn’t veer toward engagement rings (it did once. By her, which led us to believe it might not be quite the secret we thought it had been) or wedding venues, we were safe.
We just had to make it through Thanksgiving dinner. I texted my sister to remind her not to bring up the impending proposal (“Of course!” she replied) and while Grandma Eva knew that she would finally be meeting Eli that following Sunday, her not knowing of the impending engagement would–hopefully–prevent her from even considering asking about it. At one moment during the meal, when Eva said, “So, Astrid, I am finally going to meet your boyfriend,” I started to sweat. Despite the certainty that her grandmother hadn’t been told, I got paranoid. But no need; Astrid replied and the conversation shifted. Dinner was great, we had three desserts, including Astrid’s pumpkin bars (wait for it…) and the weekend continued along.
Eli proposed the next afternoon during a scavenger hunt (so her) on the lake near his parent’s house, which is, very coincidentally and conveniently, also in the Berkshires. They hosted a celebratory dinner later that night, which was filled with an abundance of killer vegetarian dishes that will be posted here soon.
Luke, Astrid and Eli piled in our car for the drive home that Sunday, so we could stop back in good old Larchmont, so the hometown gang could hear the news. Astrid and Eli walked up to her friend Julia’s house, knocked on the front door, and an eruption of screams and laughter followed.
That same familiar laughter that I had first heard and longed to be a part of back in the winter of 2006, from the back of Danielle’s SUV. Only now, each of her friends greeted Bertrand and me with warm hugs, and even a few jokes were heard and appreciated. Mostly, though, we stood back and happily watched.
- In a food processor, combine coconut flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon
- Pulse in eggs, pumpkin, honey, and oil until well combined
- Stir in half of the chocolate chips by hand
- Transfer batter to an 8 x 8 inch baking dish, sprinkle remaining chocolate chips over top
- Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes
- Cool and serve