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Step one: Get past the 5 kids

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Dating is complicated when you have five children. What guy wouldn't be put off by a toddler at the front door asking, "You be our new dada?" But what can you do? You can't hide your kids in the basement.

My mother warned me against splitting up with my husband. "Nobody, and I mean nobody, will take you on with that menagerie," she said.

But after 15 years, the kids' dad moved out, and aside from four sons, one daughter, a dog and a pony, I was all alone.

The first thing I did was make a list of prospects, throwing them into three categories:

No. 1: Single Men.

No. 2: Miserable Married Men.

No. 3: Missing Men Whom I Hadn't Seen in a While but Remembered as Cute.

There were some decent characters in Category No. 1.

The first guy who took me out was polite but unable to mask his horror when the children climbed all over him, covering his suit with cracker crumbs and saliva.

The next fellow was smarter. He honked for me from the driveway, but the high-pitched screams emanating from the house killed any chance of a second date.

Then there was Joe.

I had contacted Joe, head of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, hoping to create a sleep-away camp for childhood cancer patients like my oldest son, David. Joe and I found a place for Camp Good Times and for months sat across assorted tables arguing about the specifics of working together. I thought him aggressive, arrogant and humorless. He had bad hair and worse clothes.

So, I watched in amazement as I scribbled Joe's name in Category No. 1. To get the ball rolling, I made that first call.

"Joe," I said, "I'm separated and you can take me out to lunch."

He sputtered, dodged the issue at hand and hung up. That did not go as planned.

After two dateless weeks, I made the call again.

"My parents have tickets to a charity buffet, and I need a glutton. Wanna come?"

Somehow, Joe found that invitation irresistible.

When Joe arrived at the door, five children under age 8 stood between us. Daughter Susan, 5, fresh out of the tub, dropped her towel a bit. Son David observed, "Joe. You're a bear." Son Matt asked the standard, "You gonna be the dada?"

We sat in the den for a while, where my little ones crawled on Joe, showering him with bits of bagel and cream cheese. Someone's diaper leaked. An only child, Joe seemed so removed from our reality, I don't think he truly absorbed it.

We left for the charity buffet, which stretched down Rodeo Drive. As we ambled along, lost in piles of squash ravioli, I learned that Joe was a Swedenborgian, like Johnny Appleseed, and that the religion asks its followers to do good while here on Earth.

Then came time to meet my parents. Mom was civil. Dad was not. He did not have a gentile park ranger in mind as an appropriate husband for a daughter he thought should have stayed with the nice, Jewish lawyer.

But Joe had met my kids and my parents on our first date and survived. More important, he had not fled. After dinner he was still willing to come back to my house, and we talked all night. He gave me a peck on the cheek and left. Ten seconds later, he knocked on the door, mumbling that he'd forgotten something. It was the kiss I'll never forget.

On our second date, Joe explained, "When you marry me, you'll have to live on my government salary." Who could resist a proposal like that?

We were wed in Rancho Palos Verdes at architect Lloyd Wright's Wayfarer's Chapel, a Swedenborgian church where the minister was thrilled that Joe was one of the flock. My mom had a tough time photographing us while keeping the cross out of the picture, but she managed.

Joe's parents kept smiling, although I caught them shuddering while watching my kids in action. When Joe and I were pronounced husband and wife, I remember looking into his eyes and thinking, "This is the rightest thing I've ever done." My grammar was lousy, but not the sentiment.

Joe wondered why my offspring were "insubordinate," but otherwise he was a happy man. He was such a good guy, in fact, that he deserved some little Edmistons. So we had two sons, bringing the count to six boys, one girl.

We're celebrating our 27th anniversary this year and have yet to experience an empty nest, which is just fine.

L.A. Affairs chronicles dating, romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.

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