MONIQUE BATSON — Being a parent brings joy when you least expect it

Published 12:04 am Saturday, March 19, 2022

Bryce was 3 years old when I met him and his 2-year-old sister. I had been dating his father for two months when we decided it was time for me to meet his children. The setting was dinner at his apartment.

I arrived at 5 p.m. and knocked on the door. With a toddler on his hip, he opened the door far enough that I could see this young boy on the floor watching “Godzilla” on the television. (It would be something I’d see at least 30 times over the following two months.)

I was still standing in the doorway as Bryce stood and walked to me. He tilted his head sideways, his shaggy brown hair falling slightly to the side, and then grabbed my hand and brought me to the TV. He sat, I sat and for at least 15 minutes we silently watched a movie while laying the foundation for trust.

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In the following weeks I’d come to learn he was obsessed with plastic farm animals, most notably the “doinkey.” He couldn’t pronounce my name and called me Nonique.

Having never really been around children, it was baptism by fire — sometimes more painful for them than me.

For instance, the first time I put them in the bath. Wanting to be helpful and give their father a break, I ran the bathwater. I paid close attention to the temperature — not too hot, not too cold.

But what bath is fun without bubbles?

So I grabbed the dishwashing liquid from the kitchen. It always worked for me.

The bathroom was right around the corner from the living room, so I stepped out for a second to speak to their father when screams that would be better described as sirens rang out from behind me.

Immediately Dad jumped up to run while saying, “soap in the eye.”

The next week I learned why he diluted any carbonated drink with water when putting it in their sippy cups. I’m fortunate I didn’t blind myself when a cup of pure Sprite popped its top off in my hand.

That summer we took a trip to Baton Rouge to visit my brother. I put their car seats in the vehicle, buckled them in and silently praised myself for securing the five-point harnesses in the right spot.

It was when we got back from the trip that I realized, while the kids were safely buckled, the seats were not attached to the vehicle.

During the entire trip, Bryce carried around a magazine ad for G.I. Joe figurines. It was folded, wearing at the edges and separating in some places. But he refused to part with the page. He didn’t want the action figures; he only wanted the page.

When we introduced them to my mother, we couldn’t exactly jump the gun and call her grandma. So they met Mrs. Sheree (pronounced Sha-REE). However, neither could say it correctly, and called her Misery.

To this day, at 21 and 20, they still do.

They had an older brother from their mom, but eventually I would give birth to their two younger brothers. From the time they were born, both kids took to the babies as if they were their own. And to this day, Bryce and my youngest son have an unbelievable bond. Bryce is and always has been Riley’s hero.

At around 10, Bryce joined PNGYFA, the little league football organization. For his first game, we took a penny made on his birth year, drilled a hole in it and turned it into a necklace for good luck.

Clearly I didn’t know enough about football to know why children that tackle each other shouldn’t have ropes around their necks. Thankfully I never found out the hard way.

I can’t say the same about other dangers, though. His first concussion came in 8th grade when he went helmet-to-helmet with another boy during practice. They called from the school for us to take him to the hospital. While scary, he was ultimately okay.

That wasn’t the case the next time.

In a 9th grade game, he had to be taken from a game to the hospital. And while he was released a few hours later, it would be almost three days before he could speak normally. And it would be another two years before he played again — his senior year.

When the class of 2018 started its first semester, every day was an emotional rollercoaster. This little boy who grabbed my hand with tiny fingers and carried me to the television was now over 6 feet tall, driving and always one day closer to graduation. It seemed like in the course of a week, it was graduation day. That morning he went to rehearsal, and after the two of us had lunch. I cried through the rest of the day, lasting long after he received his diploma.

A short time later, he moved to Las Vegas, where he met Jessica. Over the last two years, they’ve come to visit occasionally, but not a day has gone by that I don’t miss them. His mom and I often commiserate together by phone, as she lives in San Antonio. Thankfully, Bryce and Jessica will soon move to Houston, where all of his parents and siblings can visit.

With the dissolution of my marriage, I stopped being a stepmom. And I was never the mom. But they will forever be my children.

As my oldest biological baby readies for his senior year in August, and my youngest inches towards the end of 9th grade, the anxiety of having four grown kids grows daily. Again the days are passing faster than I can track, and in what will feel like a month, my last baby will be crossing his class in a cap and gown.

But in perfect timing, the end of one phase has now become the start of another — the one people have always told me would be the most-rewarding of my life.

I’ve watched them grow, develop their personalities and cross so many milestones in life.

And this fall, that little boy with the plastic donkey and enormous smile will become a father.

At least now I know about hypoallergenic bubble bath.