When my husband proposed to me it was the most romantic and scary evening of my life. It was quite the defining moment. He’d pursued me for two years and I’d run in the opposite direction. He was the most gorgeous, caring, chivalrous man I’d ever met, but divorced and a daddy.
For two years he stood at a distance, saying hello only now and again, smiling and trying politely to pin me down for a coffee. I’d wriggled and pleaded a packed diary. I had a feeling he had a soft spot for me but couldn’t imagine for a moment why. He was a tall, Congolese African with bulging muscles and a smouldering look. He was a model, a hip-hop choreographer, son of an Ambassador and great grandson to a tribal chief. I was an awkward Yorkshire lass from a country village where we fed grass to the local chickens at the bus-stop for entertainment. I was a closet sci-fi fan and resolute wearer of jeans and trainers, girlie at heart but not so much in appearance… We were not the most obvious of potential couples.
And yet we clicked. I gave up resisting. We dated, snuggled, compared childhoods and found nothing in common apart from our faith in God and a real love of each other. On an early date I ask him how he got the scar above his eyebrow. Expecting a reply similar to ‘I fell off my bike when I was eleven’ he said, ‘A crazed gun man came into our house when we were living in Sweden. He shot glass and mirrors when the security system locked him in the games room. I slipped on the glass when he’d been removed by the police.’
‘Right then… Well this scar on my finger is when my hamster bit me’. Chalk and cheese, black and literally white, African and English. Asylum seeker-turned (then) nearly British Citizen (no Mum he’s not chasing me for his citizenship) and someone who took her security and passport for granted. Daddy and not a mummy. It was the biggest step of my life.
I was terrified about meeting his girls (Sunflower and Sweet Pea who were 8 and 5) for the first time. At that time they didn’t live with their Dad full time, so I was able to delay the encounter until a few weekends into the relationship. We finally met and had a simple day out, applying for Daddy’s citizenship, as you do. I even wore a skirt and heels for the occasion. And while Daddy was in filling in the endless forms the girls and I went to the town hall library. I remember it being a frosty, bright day and the girls were just as nervous as I was, but we seemed to warm to each other. We read books, we coloured in at the activity table, we talked, they relaxed. I just about relaxed and then Daddy came to find us.
Daddy and I got the odd sideways, suspicious… no, curious look when we held hands but it was permitted with grace. We had lunch is a sweet little café, unaware of the fact that we’d share many a meal together around a table like this in the years to come. Then we played in the local playground. The heels didn’t help on the climbing frame but my willingness to play seemed to help with the kudos.
Daddy later revealed to me that he’d involved them in the whole process, before he’d even asked me out. He’d shown them my photo on Facebook and told them he fancied me. Risky, but it worked out. They’d said they wanted him to find a new wife because they didn’t like him being lonely when they weren’t there. So that explained the big wide eyes when I saw them occasionally at church!
Before we got engaged I had one request. OK then two:
‘When you ask me to marry you, please make it memorable and please also ask me to be step-mum to your girls.’
I saw the latter as being a big commitment too. And if I said yes to it at this moment, there would be no turning back. No regrets. I wanted my commitment to the girls to be as important as my commitment to their Dad. Gulp.
Later on, December, 2009, Sunflower let slip that a Christmas Day proposal was on the cards. I pretended I hadn’t heard and got on with life nonchalantly. So when a simple trip to the cinema on the 18th was suggested I did not have a clue what was about to happen.
We agreed to meet at the underground near the cinema. I was late. He was later.
We watched Avatar. I snuggled. He was strangely rigid. It was a long film. Now… I usually stay right to the bitter end of film credits to tip the hat to those who made the movie and to see if there are any sneaky extras at the end hinting at a sequel.
This time there was something hinting at my future.
I hadn’t really expected there to be much at the end of Avatar, it had cost that much to make that I didn’t think James Cameron would rush to make another one so soon, so I started putting my coat on. But hubby was still rigid. Staring at the screen.
‘Look!’ he suddenly said after the credits had faded away… and there I saw a black and white sequel hint? No. A pop video? No. An advert? Nope. My man… on the big screen… Singing at me. From the heart. ‘Only you can make me Happy’. Very sincere. I started giggling with utter nervousness. I had a feeling I knew what was coming next.
Imagine this on the big screen. My heart was properly pounding:
And as the music faded he said,
‘Flame Lily, will you marry me? Will you be my wife and be the mother-in-law to my daughters?’
I melted. English is his third language so I knew he meant step-mum. I was still giggling as well as sniffing, shaking, wobbling. I was over the moon and of course I said yes, knowing full well the weight and elation carried in that small three-letter word.
I must admit for the next 12 hours I was shell-shocked. I woke up the next morning and the ring was definitely there. It had definitely happened. I started giggling again. Then the joy came. Utter bouncy, teary joy.
It turned out he’d been hatching this for ages. My best friend had helped him with the gorgeous ring. And my colleagues had worked with him, filming and editing the video, (the director a BAFTA-winner!) all keeping absolute schtum about the plan, listening to me moaning about having to wait till Christmas to get engaged.
And where were the girls in the movie? Bless them, they were there, out of shot, enthusiastically spinning the office chair their dad was sitting in as he mimed into the camera.
And the reason he’d been late meeting me at the underground? He was so intent on getting the mini movie cued up with the cinema projectionist, testing it on the big screen before I arrived… that he’d forgotten the ring and had to go dashing back to fetch it. I love him so much for all the trouble he went to. I loved him before that. I love him still and I always will. Cheesy, yes but oh so true.
We got married last July in a Scottish castle, with the men in kilts and a token dowry of a chicken for my mum. But that’s all a whole different story. We lived happily ever after but that’s far from where it all ends. It was only the beginning.
Two months later, a little sooner than expected but oh so right, I was buying school uniforms, helping with homework and finding myself at parents’ night. The girls had come to live with us full time and I had become Suddenly Mum…