I never really bought the "stay together for the kids" theory.
I figured if parenting is, at its core, being good role models, then staying together when a marriage isn't working must be a bad idea. Isn't happiness important? Isn't staying together for the kids teaching the kids that I, we, they don't deserve to be happy? That's what I thought. So I got divorced and raised my kids in two households through the inevitable disappointments of joint custody.
Then I went on a date with Kerri. We had been friends and colleagues for years, and we both wanted to be more than friends. She's also the mother of four.
On our first date, I took her to the Raymond restaurant in Pasadena, my favorite, and then to a wine bar in Old Town Pasadena, her choice. All went well. I kissed her halfway through the date, as I had learned to do from the movie "Annie Hall," to avoid end-of-date anxiety. We had a great time.
We ended the night at her house, reclining together on the couch in her living room. Somewhere in the middle of Kerri and I getting to know each other, Kerri's 3-year-old daughter, Mora, arrived. She had become bored with her next-door baby sitter and had trotted home through the adjoining backyards. With the help of a nearby chair, Mora climbed up the back side of the couch and peered down at her mother and I, still fully clothed, lying together in each other's arms.
I imagined a variety of angry responses to my presence, such as, "What are you doing to my mommy?" or "Go away, you bad man" or simply "I don't like you!"
But none of that happened. Instead, Mora looked down at us from her perch atop the couch — only her head and shoulders visible as her torso and legs dangled out of view — smiled and said, "Hi."
"Hi there," I responded. "Who are you?"
Before I could continue the conversation, Mora shimmied up, pulled herself over the back of the couch and plopped down on top of Kerri and me.
"Well, hello there. Good climbing technique," I said.
"Mo, what are you doing?" Kerri asked in halfhearted protest.
"It's OK," I said. "I don't mind."
The three of us cuddled together for the remainder of the evening until Mora fell asleep. I carried her to her bed as Kerri pulled down the sheets and tucked her in for the night.
I eventually met Kerri's three older kids, William, Nick and Olivia. They are all warm, intelligent, happy kids. A step-boyfriend is in a precarious position. I really can't ever punish the kids, and that's OK because I've never really wanted to. I just try to be a positive presence in their life and help avoid disasters.
Our dates have ranged from the Arroyo Chop House in Pasadena to Jump 'N Jammin at the Santa Anita Mall in Arcadia to Pho 79 in Alhambra. That place has the best rare beef pho in L.A. and the poorest service.
I've yelled at Mora only once. We had taken the Gold Line from South Pasadena to Chinatown for the day. Kerri stopped with Mora, then 4 years old, at a souvenir shop on Broadway. I walked ahead with the older kids to buy pastries at the Phoenix Bakery. When Kerri wasn't looking, Mora bolted down the sidewalk away from her, toward us and the bakery's small parking lot. To my horror, I saw an Acura SUV heading for the street exit of the parking lot, straight for Mora's intended path. With the car's high frame, I doubted the driver could see Mora's 2 1/2-foot-tall body running down the sidewalk.
I turned and yelled at the top of my voice, "Mora, stop!" She froze in her tracks and immediately began to cry. Kerri ran to her side and scooped her up in her arms. Later, I told Mora why I had yelled, and she forgave me for making her cry.
Kerri and I have broken up three times in the last four years, each time because our personalities got in the way of our shared belief in forgiveness. On each occasion, our love for the kids brought us back to the negotiating table, and we tried again. I don't think we are staying together for the kids, but clearly the kids have given us a reason to keep trying.
Mora turned 7 recently. I took her and eight of her closest friends to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. I was afraid I'd lose one of them in the Sunday crowd, but at the end of the day I still had all nine kids in tow. Kerri stayed home and prepared cake and ice cream for the group. It's nice being part of a team.
Sutton is an obstetrician and unpublished novelist who lives in Pasadena.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times