“Whoa, that’s really high up,” Max, my five-year-old son, remarks as he looks at the rollercoaster.
I’m headlining at a fair in South Carolina tomorrow night. But I negotiated a deal to have the place all to myself the night before it opens to the public. I wanted to take my kids on the rides and have fun with them. I work hard to keep them out of the spotlight as much as possible.
“You’re not scared, are you?” Lottie, my nine-year-old daughter, teases her brother.
“I don’t know. I’m getting a little nervous just looking at,” I say. “Maybe I’ll go try the ring toss and you three can ride it.”
Ben winks at me. Nine years ago, on the night I told him I was pregnant, he dragged me to a chapel in Vegas. He insisted that he wanted to be united with me in every way.
Ellie and Jeb flew in to witness the event and Anita and Oliver were also present. Even though we eloped, it was still a beautiful wedding. It’s one of my most cherished memories.
Max’s face lights up. “I could keep mommy company.”
I ruffle his hair. Max is my sweet, sensitive child. He’s the one that’s attuned to all of my emotions. “You would? I would love to have a buddy for the ring toss.”
“Well, I don’t want to do the ring toss. It’s too easy,” Lottie insists. She’s a firecracker that needs to be in the middle of all the action. I think she gets that from Ben and the way he charges into burning buildings without a second thought.
Ben high fives Lottie. “Looks like I have a buddy too.”
The two of them leave for the roller coaster while Max walks with me to the ring toss. He’s still small enough that he lets me hold his hand in public. After the ring toss, we eat cotton candy and wait on a nearby bench for our daredevils to arrive.
When Ben returns, he’s carrying Lottie. Her face is pale and she’s clutching her stomach.
“It was rough on her,” he explains. He warned Lottie twice that she should hold off on the snacks before going on the intense rides. But she had the hotdog with chili anyway.
“We’ll head back to the bus now,” I say.
Every summer, I go on tour for a few weeks. Ben and the kids come with me. We have fun exploring new places and experiencing new things. But we always return home to Mount Bliss. During the school year, I’m just a regular soccer mom who chauffeurs her kids around to their activities.
We have to pause along the way so Lottie can empty her stomach in the tall grass. Ben strokes her back and murmurs softly to her. He’s an amazing dad, and he’s always so involved. Even when they’re sick or hurt, he’s right there with them.
We get the kids back to the bus and after helping Lottie through the shower, I put them to bed for the night. They sleep on bunks when we’re on the bus while Ben and I have a room in the back with a curtain partition. There’s not much privacy or much chance of intimacy. But I love how each summer it brings our little family closer.
Ben reads a story to them while I settle into our bed, listening to his melodic tenor. When he’s kissed them goodnight and promised that they’ll get to see Mom sing tomorrow, he joins me.
I cuddle close to him, wrapping my arms around his strong chest. His white cotton t-shirt smells like his spicy cologne. “Have I told you lately what a great father you are?”
He makes a humming noise and presses a gentle kiss to my forehead. “You’re the world’s best mom.”
I smile at the compliment. I really struggled with my eating disorder during my first pregnancy. Fortunately, Ben realized what was happening and got me to a really good therapist. Together the three of us made a treatment plan that helped me continue to honor my changing body.
But I still feel guilty about it sometimes. Every time I feel that way, Ben reminds me that my recovery is a journey and there are ups and downs.
The one positive in all of it is that we talk to our kids a lot about their body image and self-esteem. They know in our house we don’t support diets, but we do support healthy food choices that give us energy and make our tummies happy.
“Did you hear from the chief today?” I ask, remembering that he was expecting a phone call from Toby. He’s retiring at the end of the year and Ben is a contender for the position.
It’ll either be given to him or his best friend, Aiden. Amazingly, the guys haven’t let this come between them and they still have each other’s backs no matter what. It’s just one more thing I love about our little town.
“I did,” he answers softly.
“I’m sorry,” I say, realizing what must have happened. He didn’t get the position. I imagine it has everything to do with the fact that he’s out of town for six to eight weeks each year.
I’ve talked about stopping the tours before. I’ve told Ben that I can stop touring and focus on our family fulltime. The way I see it, I’ve already had an amazing career and I’ve achieved every goal I’ve set for myself.
But Ben told me that as long as singing makes me happy, he wants me to continue to do it. He said, “I want our kids to grow up seeing both their parents chase their dreams and doing things that make them happy. I want them to have that same courage when they grow up and that means we have to model it.”
“What are you sorry for?” He asks, interrupting my thoughts. “I turned down the opportunity.”
I pull away from Ben’s embrace so I can look into his face. “Wait, the chief offered it to you? That’s amazing! Why did you turn it down? It’s your dream.”
“It was nice to get the offer,” he says. “But—”
“Daddy!” Max’s worried yelp has Ben rolling out of bed and on his feet in seconds. Even though we both know what this is, he still hurries to comfort his son. He told me once that as much as his sister tried to fill the gaps left by his parents’ deaths, she couldn’t give him what he really craved, a father.
“The slime monster,” Max cries into his daddy’s shirt. “He was coming to get me.”
Apparently, Lottie and her friends watched a scary movie last week and didn’t know Max was hiding under the couch and watching it too. Since then, he’s been having nightmares.
“The slime monster isn’t coming to get you,” Ben reassures him, his tone patient. He never downplays the kids’ fears. He just listens and tries to comfort them. “Remember what I told you?”
“He can’t get to me because Dad’s here?” Max sniffs.
I tried explaining to Max that the slime monster was fictional. But that was clearly the wrong approach. He’s still at the age where everything that’s on TV is real.
Fortunately, Ben and I are a team. When one of us gets it wrong, the other steps in and tries a different tactic. I love that I’m getting to learn how to do this parenting thing with my best friend by my side.
“Yep, I’ll protect you and keep you safe.” There’s nothing sexier to me than the way my husband comforts and protects his children.
“Can I sleep in your bed tonight?” Max asks.
“Course you can, buddy,” Ben says before carrying him into our bed.
We’ve just gotten him settled then Lottie is hovering in front of the partition, rubbing sleep from her eyes. “Is Maxie OK?”
“Your brother is fine. He’s sleeping now,” I reassure her.
“Oh,” she continues to stand there for a long moment. She’s getting to that age where she can’t do things that her “baby” brother does. After all, she’s grown up now.
Her hesitancy makes me smile. “I’m kind of cold. I could use someone to share body heat with.”
She’s next to me in an instant, burrowing under the covers. Like Max, it doesn’t take her long to drift into a peaceful slumber.
“You were wrong,” Ben says reaching for my hand. Our two kids are sleeping soundly, their soft snores filling me with a sense of peace.
“About what?” I yawn as our fingers intertwine. Today was full but good and tomorrow will be just as busy.
“Becoming fire chief wasn’t my dream. You and our kids, seeing you three healthy and happy—that’s my dream.” He squeezes my fingers. “The way I see it, I’m the luckiest man in the world because I’m your husband and their father.”
I can’t help but fall asleep with a smile on my face. My life is filled with the sweetest treasures of all, my husband and two kids.
If you loved Ellie & Jeb from Sweet Curves, they’re starring in the spin-off series, Lake Bliss. Read their story now for a delicious older woman younger man age gap romance!