“You don’t have to do that, Noodle.”
Scottie grabbed 3-year-old Nora’s doll-sized hand in his and gently removed the soggy McDonalds hamburger wrapper from her disproportionately long, thin fingers. “It’s not like Hawaii here.”
“No, no,” Jenny chimed in (using that high voice that people use when they’re talking to small children). She took the hamburger wrapper from Scott and walked over to the corner trashcan.
“It’s not like on the island,” she continued, wiping her hand on the side of her khaki shorts. “People don’t really pick up trash here.”
We were all standing on a bowtie shaped street corner (like Times Square) in downtown Los Angeles. It had been four long months since Scottie had seen his daughters. They had been living in Hawaii with his ex-wife, Jenny on the island of Kauai. Jenny had just recently agreed to leave them in LA with him (us) for a few days while she went on a buying trip for her women’s boutique in Park City, Utah. There had been a knot in my stomach ever since I’d agreed to come with him to pick them up.
The smell of burger grease (and something even more ripe) wafting out of a disturbingly full-looking McDonalds bag near my feet caused me to cover my nose with my thumb and index finger. My heartbeat sped up as I looked from Scott to Nora to Lily and then over to Jenny.
Is he going to introduce me? Should I introduce myself?
A homeless man ambled by and I crossed my arm across my chest, clutching my Gucci Hobo bag closed with my free hand while trying to look nonchalant.
"Hey guys, this is Laura," beamed Scott.
"Hello," said Lily.
"Nice to meet you, Laura" said Jenny warmly. "Thank you — for coming today."
"Of course," I said. I looked down at Nora who hadn't yet said anything. "Nice to meet you Nora."
Nora looked at me wordlessly for a moment before moving closer to her mother.
What am I doing here? This was a mistake.
“Okay,” said Jenny, startling me with a sudden, false brightness. “I’m going to head over to the California Mart. I have a ton of places to hit,” she smiled down lovingly at Nora as she ran her fingers through her hair.
What?! She’s leaving right now?
“I’ll see you guys in a couple of days, okay?”
Lily Slaughter was already holding hands with her dad, asking him questions about lunch. Nora (Noodle) Slaughter barely looked up as she grabbed her dad's other hand. Somehow it struck me — that instinctual reaching for the safety of a parent.
I continued to watch Nora as she worked on pushing a black-streaked ball of aluminum foil toward the corner garbage can with her miniature, bright red, flip flop. Jenny (who I might “celeb-compare” to a young Sally Field) kissed both girls tenderly and then walked briskly to the crosswalk without looking back.
As we all watched her cross the street. My head started to buzz with loud thoughts:
This is wrong. These girls don’t know who you are. This should be THEIR TIME with their dad. You are in the way!
Suddenly Scottie turned to me and smiled. It was a smile that I’d never seen before.
Why, he’s so happy….
I looked from him to his two blond-haired daughters. Lily’s hair was shoulder length, while Nora's hung just below her ears. They were both tan from the Hawaiian sun, slight and athletic looking. While Lily was taller, Nora was a real life pixie — looking as though she might fly off to Neverland at any minute. I watched Nora watch her mother walking away. Nora's mid-length floral halter dress fluttered around her knees in the breeze as she stood on the corner. Her bare shoulders and arms were covered with goose bumps.
She’s SOOOO tiny!!
“Lily’s hungry," grinned Scott.
“I heard,” I said remembering my smile.
I put on a deliberately generous smile and looked down at each girl’s face.
Wow! Lily looks JUST like her dad! Same shaped face, same eyes. Nora definitely looks more like her mom, except for the blond hair...
“Isn’t that a diner right over there?” I said, snapping myself out of my assessment.
Let’s get the fu#$ off this street corner!
* * *
My head got louder as the hostess brought us over to a booth. Both Lily and Nora wanted to sit with their dad. While Scottie was valiantly trying to sell both girls on the many benefits of sitting next to me, I decided to go to the restroom to give them all time to figure it out.
I found myself practicing my best “I’m your Dad’s cool friend” smile in the stainless steel mirror, as I washed my hands for the second time. Suddenly I could hear Zoe’s voice piercing through the thick, commercially deodorized bathroom air as though she were actually standing there with me.
“What are you doing hiding in the bathroom, Sweetie? Get out there! Scott needs you.”
I pulled my Blackberry out of my bag and scrolled down to her number ZOE - SPONSOR. I could see my heart beating through my short-sleeved, James Perse button down. I stopped — my finger mid-air above the green call symbol, squinching my eyes shut and pictured the conversation.
Zoe: (Lighting a cigarette) What’s up Honey? Aren’t you supposed to be with Scottie and his girls?
Me: Yes, but it’s so weird. They don’t really know why I’m here. I think they'd rather be alone with him.
Zoe: But you have to be there, Sweetie. Not for them, but for HIM! This is his first time seeing his kids since he got sober, right? How long have they been living in Hawaii?
Me: Not that long, under a year, I think. And I know, I know I need to be here for him, but I still feel SO out of place. His little one is so little. I haven’t ever spent much time with girls, especially little ones. I know boys. I don’t know girls.
Zoe:(Long cigarette exhale) BIG DEAL! You’ll figure it out. How little is the little one?
Me: (in a small voice) 3.
Me: Well, she’ll be 4 in a few days.
Zoe: Oh, so she’ll be with you guys when she turns 4? You’re going to celebrate her birthday with her!
Me: Oh God – that’s right! I’m really not ready for this.
Zoe: Yes you are Honey. Now get back out there!
Just then the bathroom door opened and a blond woman with an unkempt, brunette wig perched on top of her head burst in. I froze until she (noisily) entered a stall and then I quietly slipped the Blackberry back into my bag and exited the bathroom.
Back at the table, Scottie was sitting between the two girls, all of them were on the same side of the booth. Nora lay across the table, resting her head on her arm while playing some kind of game with the bright yellow and red salt and pepper shakers. Lily had planted both of her elbows on the table in front of her, and was reading the large, laminated menu out loud to her dad.
“Hey!” Said Scottie, opening his arms and looking relieved. “You’re back!”
I gave my best smile to the three of them and then sat down in the empty booth seat. I felt keenly aware of the unoccupied spaces on either side of me. I looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to our odd seating arrangement. I scooted close to the wall so that I was sitting more opposite of Nora.
“Um, Nora,” I said in what I hoped was an enticing voice. “I thought we’d go to the Natural History Museum today!”
Nora started singing to her salt shaker as she lay its “head” down on a Sweet 'N Low packet "pillow".
This little girl is singing a lullaby to a salt shaker...
“Um, would you like that, Nora?” I said trying to capture her eyes with mine. “There’s a special dinosaur exhibit!”
Nora glanced up at me. “I don’t know,” she said finally. Her voice was barely audible above the din of the other diners.
“My boys love this exhibit,” I said.
I knew I was shouting too loud in an effort to be understood, but I couldn't help it.
“We’ve been like a thousand times!”
Lily suddenly looked up from the menu, “A thousand times?”
I felt myself getting red. “Well, not really, of course,” I said laughing nervously. “Maybe more like ten times."
“You want to go, right Lily Bug?” said Scottie trying to save me. I looked at him gratefully.
Lily Bug, eh?
“Lily,” I said, taking his cue and changing tactics. “You know, you’re about the same age as my youngest son, Justin. Only he won’t be nine until November. But he loves the dinosaur show.”
“Oh, is he coming too?” She was looking me in the eye now. I saw Nora pick her head off of her arm and look over at me with curiosity. “I mean are they coming, both of your sons?”
“No, not this time,” I said evenly.
I didn’t want to explain to an (almost) nine-year-old that because my divorce was still so fresh, their dad had just barely met my kids the week before.
(“Hey guys, this is my friend Scott who just came by to drop something off for me. Say hi!”)
“You have two boys?” asked Nora. Her voice sounded exactly like Alvin’s (of Alvin and The Chipmunks) her eyes were round with interest now. “Where are they now?”
“At their Dads,” I shrugged casually, glad for the legit excuse. “Maybe you’ll meet them next time you’re here!”
Nora seemed to lose interest. She picked up the pepper shaker again.
“So!” I said cheerily, turning my attention back to Lily. “The museum?”
Lily leaned in toward her dad, grabbing his arm with both hands and pressed her head against his shoulder. Scottie looked at her and gave her a “chuck” under the chin with his curved index finger like, “are you okay?”
“Sure,” said Lily. “I like museums.”
* * *
The museum-entry trash can was filled to the top with empty Capri Suns containers, fruit Roll-up and Goldfish wrappers. I lost my footing in my Audrey Hepburn Fendi ballet flats on something sticky and red in the door way.
I left the Slaughters in the middle of the lobby-chaos to walk over to read the day’s exhibit schedule.
“We’re just in time for the next show!” I said turning around with a thumbs up. “It starts in 10 minutes, its up on the second floor.”
“You’re going to love this,” I winked at Nora, holding out my hand for her. She looked at me for what felt like a long time before pulling closer in towards her dad’s leg. He reached down and picked her up with his free arm in one motion, squeezing her firmly to his chest.
“Lets go!” He said winking at me.
There was a man with a dinosaur puppet on the second floor when we got off of the elevator. He smiled at Nora as “the dinosaur” addressed her:
“Are you here for the show, young lady?” the dinosaur asked.
Nora giggled and hid her face in her dad’s shoulder. Lily inched closer to the puppet with her finger extended, almost touching his furry, green brontosaurus-neck.
Scottie reached out and touched the puppet's neck.
“You can touch it too, Bug” he said.
Lily’s smile was a sunburst.
“So soft,” she said, burying her fingers in its fur.
So Bug is Lily and Nora is Noodle - got it.
The large hall had no furniture and was already filled with families sitting on the floor. I tried to remember where the boys and I had sat the last time we had been there.
We had such a great view, the dinosaur did his whole show right next to us!
I steered the Slaughters over to where I thought I remembered seeing the dinosaur actually coming out to start the show.
“Let’s sit here guys,” I said starting to sit cross-legged on the parquet floor.
Yay! They're going to be so surprised!
Lily stood her place and looked around.
“But everyone is sitting over on that side of the room,” she said pointing.
I winked at her and patted the floor next to me, “Yeah, but who’s the one who's been here like a thousand times?” I said with a smile.
Lily laughed! I made Lily Laugh!
“You have,” she said still smiling.
“And” I said winking at Nora who was still in her dad’s arms. “I’m telling you — this is the BEST seat in the house!”
Scottie sat next to me and Lily and Nora shared his lap. Nora’s thin arm trailed a little over on to my left leg. I held my breath, not daring to call attention to it, lest she move it away.
Scottie leaned over to me and gave me a swift kiss on the cheek. I placed my forehead against his and held it there for a second.
“They’re going to love this,” I whispered in his ear. “It’s a really great show.”
“I love you,” he said softly.
My stomach fluttered.
Suddenly the “dinosaur” music started and all of the kids started to yell and scream in frenzied anticipation. Lily and Nora smiled as they looked around the room, Nora moved closer to me to get a better vantage point.
I bent my head down so I could whisper in Nora’s ear.
“Watch right over there,” I said, pointing to an empty doorway. “The dinosaur will come from over there.”
“How will he…?” she started.
All at once, from the opposite direction, a large roar filled the hall, making the floor shake like a freight train. The Slaughters and I all whipped around only to see that the six-foot T-Rex was barreling right towards us — we were pins in a bowling alley.
Screams of delight turned into screams of genuine fear as two and three-year olds held their arms up to be rescued by their parents. A path began to clear between us and the doorway. The T-Rex was picking up speed. His ear-splitting roar seemed to be coming from speakers hidden all around us.
In that moment, I was able to see him through Nora’s eyes.
Nora’s first scream was deafening — it sliced like through the air like a fire alarm.
Lily backed into her dad’s lap so fast she knocked Nora onto the floor. Without thinking, I grabbed Nora in my arms, standing up just as the dinosaur whooshed by us.
Nora’s screams were now punctuated with choking, ragged sobs. I shielded her face with my head and ran her toward the other end of the hall, trying get some distance between her and that dinosaur.
"I want my MOMMY!!!!!"
I closed my eyes. It felt like a stomach punch.
Oh God! What have I done?
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. “I didn’t know he’d be so scary. It’s all right now. It’s all right Nora.”
Nora was hugging me like a koala bear. My throat and shoulder were slick with her tears.
I want my Mommy.
“Shhhhh,” I soothed her. " It’s okay, baby. He's waaaayyy over there. He can't get you now.”
Scottie and Lily appeared next to us. Lily’s eyes were wide with concern.
“Are you okay, Noodle?” asked Scottie tenderly. He held out his arms and she climbed into them, her cheek hitting his shoulder like it was magnetized. Nora’s sobs were quieter now, more sporadic, like a series of deep, sudden sighs.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to him. “I should have known it would be too scary for her – I, I haven’t been around girls too much. I should have known.”
“It's okay,” he said touching the side of my face. “Its fine. You’ll be fine, right Noodle?"
What kind of mother are you? You really should have thought this through...
"Hey?" Scottie, Lily and Nora were all looking at me now. I realized that I had tears standing in my eyes.
"What do you guys think we should we do now?” He asked gently.
I stood there staring at him, wishing the floor would rise up and swallow me.
“Maybe another exhibit?” He smiled. “One that doesn’t have man-eating dinosaurs charging at you?"
And soon Lily and Scottie joined in. I realized that I’d been holding my breath. It felt so good to laugh. I laughed a little longer than the two of them did.
Hey! Nora stopped crying.
“Okay, okay,” I said finally. “Maybe, we could go by that place that has ice cream back where we parked. Would you guys like that?”
“I would,” said Lily. “I was hoping we’d stop there.”
* * *
I got a booth at "that place” which turned out to be a combination Baskin Robbins/Togo's sandwiches. Scottie went up and got the ice cream while Lily sat opposite me at the table. Lily busily pulled a pile of napkins out from the metal holder, while we silently waited for Scott and Nora to come back.
Scottie turned around from the counter with two cups, one of which looked like vanilla with rainbow sprinkles.
"Do you need help?" I called.
“I’ll help you carry them, Daddy!” called Lily as she bounded over to him.
Scottie and Lily each had two cups of ice-cream. He was still cradling Nora. Scott handed me my standard Baskin Robbins order (one scoop of mint chip in a cup with hot fudge) and placed the other cup on Lily's side of the table.
Nora looked up from Scott's shoulder and shimmied down his left side to the floor, losing one of her flip-flops as she did so.
I reached over and picked it up. “Here you go sweetie.”
Nora looked at me with wonder, as though she was seeing me for the first time. She took the shoe and slipped it back on to her little foot, wiggling her toes.
Without any notice, she suddenly climbed in to the booth next to me and reached across the table for her ice cream. Scottie and I looked at each other with conspiratorial surprise. I bit my lower lip as I watched her tuck her legs underneath her.
As we ate and talked, Nora became more and more cuddly, eventually leaning her whole body against my chest. At some point she simply just moved into my lap.
My left hand spontaneously went up to run my finger's through Nora's hair, as I had seen Jenny do before she'd said goodbye to us on the street corner that morning — but it hung there in air, as if blocked my some invisible barrier.
Am I allowed? Is this okay?
“Is this okay?” I mouthed to Scottie.
He looked from Nora to me and then nodded "yes".
Nora looked up at me and smiled as though she had heard me.
“It's okay, Laura" she said.
|Nora and I at The San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission 2017|
Please share this with anyone who is having fear about meeting or getting to know their "significant other's" children. Also, if you have personal experience with meeting his or her kids for the first time, please tell me about it in the comments. Thank you!
Final post script to Scottie: Today is the ninth anniversary of the day that we met, Hon! What magic you've brought to my life! I didn't know that it was possible to love and be loved like this. I love our lives together and our crazy blended family. Happy anniversary Hon!!!