Andreas Photography via Flickr

I never imagined I would marry a man with three children.

I always expected to have children in my life—married or not, I would have them. Marriage was not the key to having children, as far as I was concerned. But then, in 1969, at 23,  I started dating Michael. He was recently separated, and we were just “keeping company,” as my grandmother would have said. We agreed that I wouldn’t meet his kids, ages 8, 5, and 3. After all, this was to be a short-term relationship. But the best-laid plans of a man and a single girl don’t always hold up.

We fell in love.

Naturally, I wanted him to meet my parents. I wanted them—especially my mom—to know and love Michael before I hit them with his being the father of three. And they did meet and love him.

Michael told the children I was his “new friend,” and the first meeting with them was arranged with as much planning as D-Day. I would be just a casual bystander at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Who cared if I was there, for heaven’s sake? There was a parade to watch. And I brought candy. That always helps.

A year or so went by. On some weekends I joined them, some not. We were “just friends,” after all. And once in a while, if Michael and the two boys, Bill and Alan, were doing something that was for boys only, Karen, his daughter, would stay with me.

Somewhere along the line I had to tell my parents that the kids existed. I finally got up the nerve to tell my mom, who admitted that she’d always suspected that Michael had been married before: “How could such a jewel not have been married?”

Mom thought Michael must have had a child. But three children was something she had never imagined. One, maybe, but never three. She asked if I knew what I was getting into.

What was I thinking? We talked all weekend. She finally agreed that he was “too good a prize to let go.” One hurdle cleared, sort of.

Because next came “Why aren’t you getting married?” I thought of myself as a modern woman and didn’t think you had to be married to have a serious relationship.

She said, “They [the kids] need their father to have a settled [read: married] life.” I didn’t buy it.

Then came “They [the kids again] need you—you could create such a wonderful home if you were married.” I didn’t think we had to be married for that.

Next was “They [guess who] need me—I would bake for them and celebrate holidays with them.” But she was baking for them already, so that didn’t wash with me.

But life has a way of intruding. In 1974, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That made me stop and think, and I realized that I couldn’t imagine spending my life with anyone else but Michael. I asked him to marry me. He accepted.

Next, Michael had to tell the children that we were getting married. It was hardest for Bill, the oldest, who was 12. I think he always assumed or hoped his parents would get back together, as most kids do. Karen, the middle child, who was 8, and Alan, the youngest, age 6, couldn’t figure out who their father was marrying, because we were “just friends,” and who knew that friends could get married? That last hurdle was cleared.

My mom died before the wedding took place, but I had told her that it would happen, and that put a huge smile on her face.

On December 15, 1974, we were married. We put off going away so we could spend our first married weekend with all three children, as a family. We wanted them to feel that I wasn’t taking their father away. Rather, because we were married, they would get to spend more time with him (and me). And that’s the way it turned out.

That was 37 years ago.

Of course there were ups and downs, but mostly ups.

Elementary school was followed by high school, and college graduations were followed by weddings, which were followed by grandchildren.

I can’t imagine not having three children, their spouses, and five grandchildren in my life.

Plus a husband.

They are a gift that keeps on giving