Three once-fatherless children - ages 4, 6 and 13 - started looking to me as their dad all at once this summer when I married their mother. None of us got a gestational period. Rather, it was a valve of love and responsibility that could only be shut off or wide open.
Since the wedding, we've spent a lot of time together hanging out because like them, I too had the summers off. But now, they're back in school.
Not that I didn't want them to go back to their learning environments; I have neither the knowledge and creativity nor the patience for home-schooling. I know that their teachers are going to do a great job this year. And besides, I'll appreciate the free time and the structure of a routine after a few months of just the opposite.
It's just that even though I've been a parent for less time than almost anyone this side of labor, delivery and recovery and I might hold the record for the least amount of parenting experience going in while getting a teenager to raise, I still can see that our summer together was a special time.
We've been to grief camp together, where they were able to spend time with other children who had lost a parent way too soon in life.
I've gotten to know the almost Neanderthal-like mind of a 4-year-old who can exasperate with an ill-timed tantrum or melt your heart like she did mine when, while I was in the barber's chair at Floyd's, she jumped into my lap and yelled "My daddy!" She had been only six weeks old when her biological dad passed away, so she probably meant it.
The oldest couldn't contain her joy and smiled through her orthodontia when I asked her about her favorite memory of the summer. She pointed to the pearl hanging around her neck that I gave her at the wedding ceremony. I told her in front of friends and family that I wasn't looking to replace anyone, that I was looking forward to forming our own bond, of which this pearl was a symbol. She wears it every day.
Then there's the boy. At 6, he's nearly as smart as I am and certainly more mechanically inclined. Just the other day, he climbed 20 feet into a tree to "rescue" a clutch of robin chicks. All I heard through the open window was the momma bird making a fuss.
"It's OK," he said. "I've kept them warm."
I looked outside a little bit later and he was running away from our neighbor. When I got across the street, our well-meaning animal-loving neighbor was trying to get my new son to relinquish the nest so she could take the birds, covered in four inches of green sod, to a shelter.
The boy refused.
We talked to him about how mommy birds can abandon the nest once it smells like little boys. We talked about observing nature without disturbing nature. He finally gave in. And for several days now he has reminded me (because I had been complaining about the aforementioned mommy bird and her habit of dotting my car in excrement) that "Now, your car doesn't get pooped on."
I can't hide the fact that this is an unintended bit of good fortune.
But, it's nice to be back in school.
Jeff McAbee is a former Summit County resident now living on the Front Range. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jeff_McAbee.