Children: A Cautionary Tale

Although I have no desire to have children myself, I often have fantasized about getting involved with a single mother. Being a stepmother seemed to have all the benefits of motherhood without the hassles. You’d be the kid’s fun, cool friend; the person they’d turn to when they needed someone to talk some sense into their mother; and the adult who let them sneak sips of beer, and winked in commiseration when they needed money to buy condoms.

So, a couple of years ago, I was delighted to develop a crush on a single mom.

When I met Leigh, she told me she recently had resurfaced in the dating world after ending a long-term relationship. The breakup was amicable. She and her former lover shared custody of Billy, their son. Carol, her ex-girlfriend, lived upstairs, so they both could see Billy every day.

I met Carol on my first date with Leigh. Carol greeted me at the door with a cold, deadly stare. She turned her back on me, and walked inside without a word. Obviously, she had not been told that their breakup was amicable.

I didn’t meet Billy until our third date. He possessed an unsettling stillness that made him seem like a desperately unhappy middle-aged man squeezed into a little-boy body.

I handed Billy the toy I had been carrying with me since my first date with Leigh. I had come to the first date fully prepared to buy his affection. But I didn’t remove the toy from my bag on that occasion, because I was fairly certain Carol would kill me if I made a move on her son.

Billy accepted the gift without a thank-you. He sat on the floor playing with it, ignoring my attempts to make conversation with him.

Over the next few weeks, I left other presents with his mother to give to him. He must have viewed me as his own personal Boo Radley, someone who was kept chained to a drainpipe, and only emerged to leave small presents at his doorstep.

After a few weeks, Billy began to warm up to me in that way a wild animal will if he thinks you are going to give him food. One day, he asked me to hold him upside down by the feet. Nothing playful about the request. Billy was all business. I dutifully picked him up by the feet. “Now, swing me around,” he demanded. I did so, and he endured the session joylessly.

I don’t know if it was the weird kid or the homicidal ex-girlfriend, but my infatuation with Leigh waned the moment I first stepped into her house. Still, I felt compelled to sleep with her. So, one evening, when Billy was spending the night upstairs at Carol’s apartment, I slept over.

I woke the next morning early, determined to get out of the house before Billy returned home. While I was in the bathroom washing my face, I heard a door slam, and tiny feet pounding down the hallway. The feet ran past the bathroom, but then skidded to a stop. A small voice called into the bathroom.


I froze.

“Mommy? Mommy?”

I had no idea what to do. I prayed that the kid would give up, and walk away.


“Yes,” I said finally.

“I love you,” he said in a singsong.

I stared at myself in the mirror, my eyes wide with panic.

“Mommy? I love you,” he repeated.

He wasn’t going to leave without a response.

“I love you, too,” I said finally—not meaning a word of it.

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