This morning we sat together at McDonalds. We have figured out the perfect way to order breakfast now. We each order a cinnamon roll and coffee (we think McDonalds has the best) and then we order one hash brown and split it down the middle (we think they're greasy, but worth it). You have named McDonalds "Our Special Place." You have no idea what this means to me, to share a special place with just you. I have become accustomed to the special places and things you share with your father, but still marvel when you want to share things with me alone.
We talked of many things, trivial and surprisingly intimate. Our conversation varied from jokes about frozen boogers in sub-zero temperatures to the latest antics of your nemesis, Johnny D. (who you always name with the last initial, as if I might confuse him with Johnny B. or Johnny Z.). But you quickly switched to a deeper level as you asked questions about what it was like for me to be a child of divorced parents, and whether or not I felt "weird" when both sets of parents were together. It is easy for me to understand you, and I know you ask me not only because I was a child who lived that kind of divided life, but also because you want me to know of your struggles as my step-daughter wanting to live into the hopes that all the adults in your life have for you.
School has been hard for you this year. Fifth grade girls can be nothing less than brutal in their dealings with one another at times. Teachers don't always understand. The pressure to get good grades is foremost in your mind. And there is a new baby coming into this family who may feel threatening to you as you ask what your role is now that you will no longer be the youngest. Your body is changing and growing and adapting. You vacillate between watching the Disney Channel and MTV.
After hiding away in the warm coccoon of McDonalds, with the smell of freshly-brewed coffee wafting between us, the assault of returning to the cold and to our respective obligations felt overwhelming. You said, "Can't we just get stuck in a snow bank and avoid school and work?" I feel helpless when I hear those words, for how I would love to shield you from any pain, to grab you and shelter you from the winds of change, and the cruelty of others, and any illness or harm that could come your way.
I am not your mother. I know this. You have a mother who loves you and nurtures you and I would not dream of imposing on her territory. But I am your friend. And as such, I will do whatever is within my power to make you feel safe, and loved, and infinitely sheltered. And I will happily schedule McDonald's dates with you for as long as you'll have me. And I will marvel with each and every one at the girl-becoming-woman who fills me with such tender joy.
And you will weather these storms, my chickadee. And you will be stronger and truer because of them. And I will stand right behind you and prop you up lest you fall. Believe it.