I met my husband late in life. Through the eyes of my mother's generation, I was the "old maid." Through the eyes of my own generation, I was among a small-but-growing group of women, who chose to aggressively pursue their career interests before settling down and starting a family.
Whether it was by choice or by design, the result was the same. As every biological year ticked by, it became less and less likely that I would encounter a man who had not already been married, and even less likely that the previously married man wouldn't come with a child. Or two. Or three. The dating pool was shrinking, as was the likelihood that my Mr. Right would not also be Mr. Mom.
Dates were mostly via set-up through friends, family and, dare I admit it, matchmakers. Though Internet dating was quickly being accepted as an alternative form of finding love, it wasn't for me. After the usual criteria were met (funny, intelligent, weighs more than me) the inevitable question was asked, "Do you mind if he has baggage?"
"Baggage?" I thought? Samsonite? Kiplinger? This man is a world-traveler! Of course, I jest. The "baggage" was the commonly-used reference to the trail of chaos left behind a broken marriage. Baggage is the emotional scarring and psychological damage stored away from the first marriage. Baggage is the financial devastation if the separation resulted in a high-conflict litigated divorce. Baggage is the wide-eyed, toddlers, tweens and teens torn apart as mom and dad divorced. This is what was meant by "baggage."
"Do I mind?" I thought again. It sounded kind of scary. Dating someone with children meant the likelihood that I would be sized-up by mini-beings, who would speak their minds without a filter. It meant that I would want them to like me, but would need to be careful not to try to buy their affections. It meant that if I married this fella, I would also need to interact with an ex-wife on a daily basis, because she would forever be the mother of our kids! Breathe deeply.
Fast-forward, and I am left reflecting on the baggage I've been living with for the past five years. I've been vomited upon by all three children (thankfully, not simultaneously.) I've had my car driven up onto a median. I've had to explain (repeatedly) that, "No, I'm not the real mom, but I'm still here to pick up my child from aftercare." I've also beamed bright as a star when our son graduated and cried when our daughter left for camp. These moments I've treasured, and it's all thanks to the baggage that came along with the relationship.
So, do I mind that my step kids are referred to as leftover "baggage?" You bet, I do. It is cruel, insulting and incorrect. So, listen up, single ladies looking for Mr. Right: Don't foolishly discount that handsome man just because he has Boy Scout meetings on Wednesdays and ballet classes on Saturdays!
And attention, single men, looking for Ms. Right: Don't hide your little treasures! There is no need to feel like you're less eligible because you come as an "us" instead of a "me." "Us" was the best thing to ever happen to a woman like "me."