When my stepdaughter ran voluntarily into my arms for a hug for the first time. She was two when I came into the picture, and very clear about who was and who was not her parent. She was still adorable, and despite her common two-year-old meltdowns, I wanted to play with her and help out my partner. I would try to take her out of the car while my partner took out the four-year-old, but she wanted nothing to do with me. She would kick the seat in front of her and scream bloody murder until dad came around to take over. And while I understood the dynamics, it still hurt. But I dusted off and got back in the game. In the morning time, I would wake her up, only to given the stink eye and unpleasantries once again. She didn’t want me. It was rejection and it felt just as rejection should despite the fact that she was two, three, four and then five years old. I tried to snuggle with her on the couch while watching a show, but she would push you away and whine. Then, one miraculous day after a long march break, during which you’ve played every game imaginable with the kids, drawn every picture, skipped with every rope, ran to the playground and danced to every song she chose, she ran towards me, eyes smiling wide, ready to jump. Recognizing the signs, you get into position immediately, arms wide open and bracing to prepare for impact. She lunged into the air and tackled me, nearly taking me down. But I could care less if she broke a rib because I knew she loved me, and that we’d reached a new level of connection. And THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING!
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