by Valerie Coleman
To be published in Chicken Soup for the Stepfamily Soul. Used with permission.
The family had just finished Sunday dinner. I clanked dishes in the soapy water, while everyone else sat around the fireplace enjoying reruns of The Cosby Show. Ten minutes later, I joined the group in the family room.
“Daddy, aren’t I your number one girl?” The hairs on my neck stood at attention. Our blended family consists of four boys and one girl. Our thirteen-year old daughter, my husband’s oldest biological child, jockeyed for her position on a regular basis. I cocked my head to the left and with my eyes fixed on his mouth, waited for his reply.
“Baby, you’re daddy’s number one girl,” he said as he stroked her hand. My upper lip curled. “But Valerie is my number one lady.” He caressed my back and smiled. My contorted face relaxed a smidgen. The opportunity to affirm me presented itself and he wimped out. Later that evening, I expressed my contempt.
“Babe, why did you tell her that she was your number one girl?”
“Because she is my number one girl,” he said as he slapped some Colgate on his toothbrush.
“I know, but her motive for asking was to force you to choose between me and her.” I slipped on my pajamas, stomped into the bedroom and plopped on the bed. “Why didn’t you correct her?”
“I didn’t see a need to correct her. She didn’t do anything wrong.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about. You miss all the subtle things she says or does to get under my skin.”
“So why do you keep exposing yourself?”
“Good night, Craig.” I snatched the covers and rolled over. No kisses tonight.
In preparation for this blended family anthology, I interviewed Brenda McKinney, a licensed social worker and family therapist. I shared the event with her. “Can you believe that? His number one lady,” I said, with my head shifting from side to side. “What a cop out.”
“Actually, your husband gave the best possible reply.”
“Really? How’s that?” Curious George walked into the room and jumped on my back.
“His response validated both of you. He acknowledged her position as daughter and yours as wife. He put a stop to the game without creating chaos. I’m really quite impressed.”
“Wow. I wish I had known that seven years ago.”
Consumed with the princess’ attempt to dethrone me, I failed to realize that my queendom was never in jeopardy. She believed that if she lost her place as daddy’s number one girl, then she would also lose his love. Her statement was not an attack against me, but a call for reassurance that their relationship was still solid.
So, after eating a full-course meal of shame salad, meathead meatloaf, stir-fried stupid, topped off with humble pie for dessert, I apologized to my husband. Kisses tonight.
You can reach Valerie Coleman (Dayton, Ohio) here: firstname.lastname@example.org.