When I started this blog, I made some rules about certain things I wouldn’t write about. Number one on the list is the ex. Number two is anything with the kids that is truly maddening and/or heartbreaking.
There still is great value to the rules guiding me. Being a stepmom is a fluid role, ever changing, with lots of improv that may or may not be written into the script. I don’t want to wallow in negativity, nor immerse myself in problems that have no answer, but I reserve the right to break my own rules.
CC and I love each other, and we’re on the same page with respect to the kids about 98% of the time. I’ve sought support from enough stepmom forums and blogs to know that makes our situation rarer than a line at the Ladies’ Room at a Rush concert. I’m not even a little bit surprised at the divorce rate for second marriages with children.
So, what the fuck does any of this have to do with china?
I’m not an object-oriented person. As I discussed last week, I’m not known for my mad homemaking skillz.
Three months after CC, the kids, and I all moved in together, we moved to a place that was almost big enough for us, with space to unpack most of our stuff. One day I stumbled upon a pile of boxes from CC’s storage unit in New Hampshire. They were full of the most beautiful, different styles of china. It was like finding treasure.
I hand-washed and dried everything, found places for it to live where I hoped it wouldn’t get broken, and started thinking of occasions to use it. For people who work nights and weekends and have five kids who were under 13 at the time, that’s Christmas. . . but still.
When CC got home, I greeted him with, “I unpacked the china!” He gave me an odd smile, and told me that in all the years of their marriage, his ex-wife never let those boxes come up from the basement.
She never allowed them to be unpacked.
I showed him where I stored everything and he started picking up plates and telling me stories. Every piece had a history: his grandparents’ wedding china from Tiffany. Several pieces that dated back to the 1700’s. The Sunday dinner plates from when he was growing up (his was the train).
Eating is family time. Even if you have scattered schedules, eat in front of the TV, or use paper plates, those memories are burned into your brainpan. I remember the green plastic bowl with feet and a face that I used to eat my Spaghetti0s from. When I go to my sister’s house, she serves me on the china we grew up with. I hold the plate and remember:
- My mom’s fried chicken
- Learning table manners
- The time I was so hungry I ate three helpings of everything
- When my sister’s class took a field trip to the City Market in Indianapolis and she spent her pocket money on a single ear of corn
- Accidentally taking a huge gulp of wine and spitting it back into the glass and then watching my dad finish it
- The fight my parents had on Mother’s Day that was the beginning of the end of their marriage.
CC’s ex doesn’t have a spot in my blog because it’s mine. Unless you have done this yourself, you have No. Fucking. Idea. How. Much. Work. I have put in over the last ten years to be able to dig in and find compassion for her. Every heartbreaking, gut-wrenching thing she has done to the kids has, in fact, stemmed from mental illness. Mental illness is super shitty and takes countless different forms. We didn’t say those words for a long time because we didn’t want it to sound like we were badmouthing her. But at some point, that gives a kid a really fucked up perspective on love. Knowing it is mental illness doesn’t make it suck any less. The truth will set you free. . .eventually.
Yet, I return to the china, and I don’t understand. I get that sometimes beauty isn’t practical, and that things are simply things. But I can’t wrap my head around burying a beautiful piece of your spouse’s history in a cardboard box in the basement and never letting it see the light of day. Maybe it was a symptom of the undeveloped mental illness, but I fear many of us make equally one-sided choices far too often.
CC and I are both in production on new shows right now. His company put him up in the city this week and his hotel was right next to my theater, which was almost so perfectly awesome –and then our breaks never lined up. I didn’t see him until my birthday on Friday, when he met me for dinner and brought me a gift:
It’s the creamer pitcher that matches our own wedding china. I saw the pattern on the cover of a magazine the year we got married, fell in love with it, and looked forward to making our own memories. We only have enough of it to serve our family plus one guest, so we mix with the other pieces in a collage of mismatched patterns. It suits us perfectly.
It’s cool if you don’t give a shit about china. I get that. But if there’s something important to your spouse, you should be the first one to know about it, and do what you can to share it. We can all stand to ask ourselves if there’s anything boxed up and shelved that could use some unpacking, a little dusting off, and a bit of illumination.