Ok, back to our story… Eli and I talked a lot about how gradually we would start including him in our daily lives. The kids were my everything, and he knew that I would always put them first. The great thing about dating someone with kids was that he understood the dynamic and the importance of being a parent above all else. The tricky part was that we (my kids included) wanted him around. So, how do we balance our family time with Eli time? And how do we know how much time is too much?

We decided that one evening a week would be appropriate for the first month, then we could adjust from there depending on how things were going. Sunday nights were our new “Eli nights.” On the first “Eli night” he came over at 5:30 for dinner and a game. I remember standing in the kitchen of my apartment while he sat in the living room with the kids, and watching them interact. It was heartwarming. They talked like old friends. Eli was engaging and the kids couldn’t wait to tell them about all of their favorite things. Having dinner with him at the table felt so nice. We felt like a family. The kids weren’t too interested in eating because they wanted to PLAY. Eli was/is like a 6-foot 2-inch man-child (in the best way possible). While I cleaned up after dinner they danced and laughed. The kids spent their time jumping on him and getting piggyback rides, and I, in true “mom” fashion, would call out things like, “Careful guys! Go easy on him!” I checked in with Eli throughout the evening to make sure they weren’t too much for him, and I could tell that he couldn’t have been happier. He was made for this; made to be a dad.

We spent the rest of our evening playing board games, and enjoying each others company. We said our goodbyes around 7:30 so I could get the kids ready for bed, and they begged me to let him stay. The funny part was that all of us wanted him to stay, but we waved to him as he left, with that big, adorable smile. No hugs in front of the kids yet. Eli and I were “hands-off” around the kids, and I have to tell you, it was really really hard. In the beginning, we wouldn’t even try to sneak kisses or hugs because we figured that would be extremely confusing for the kids to walk in on. They hadn’t really seen me be affectionate with anyone, so I wanted to make sure we took it very slowly in front of them. They still only knew him as my friend.

We had a few more Sunday “Eli nights” and I could see the kids admiration for him growing. We started talking about his kids, and showing my kids pictures of them. Eli would talk about them so fondly and W, who was 6 at the time, was so excited to meet Eli’s son, Z. Z was only 2 and W has always LOVED little kids. He is probably the best big brother I have ever met, and he had been since L was a newborn. And L, my daughter, thought Eli’s daughter’s hair was so beautiful and loved listening to Eli tell stories about when P was little. So, it seemed as if it was time to combine forces. Finally.

There was an event in a nearby town with a tree-lightning ceremony and some of Eli’s family would be going. He has a ton of siblings (I cannot wait to write about them), and a lot of siblings means a lot of cousins for his kids. We met at the event and when I saw his kids I almost cried. You know that feeling when you have only ever seen pictures of someone and then you see them finally, and it feels like you’ve known them for years. That is how I felt. I wanted to run up to them and squeeze them. They were half Eli and it was extremely evident. Ugh, I already loved them. Instead of scooping them up and probably completely freaking them out, we all introduced each other and the kids did that normal awkward kid thing where they kind of just look at each other for a while and exist in the same place. I knew that was totally age appropriate but I was hoping for some instant best-friendship. There was a lot going on at this event, and I think everyone, myself included, was a little overwhelmed. Obviously, there was more time for them to warm up to each other so Eli and I didn’t force it.

We all got in a carriage that was being pulled by horses and my family sat across from his. Christmas music was playing, the small town was covered in lights, and I was sitting with my new crew. It was magic. I felt that sense of calm and peace that I felt at the baseball game with Eli months ago. Everything was just right. Seeing Eli with his kids was amazing. Although their time together had been limited for the majority of the year, their bond with him was stronger than I had ever seen between a dad and his kids. I could tell that he was their rock; their safe place. Especially his daughter, P, who was 4 at the time. She looked at him in such a doting way.

When the Christmas festivities were wrapping up, we started our trek back to the car. Both of Eli’s kids wanted “uppies” so of course, Eli picked them up and carried both of them the entire way back. Seeing those kids squeezing him tight made my heart so happy. This was the kind of man that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He loved so completely and his devotion to P and Z only made my feelings for him grow stronger. Now that our kids had met, Eli and I felt extra close. But would we be able to keep that closeness as we increased our “family” time and decreased our alone time? There was only one way to find out… Family Date Nights!

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