Beautiful

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?

old

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).

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:

creamer

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.

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Beware the Ice Weasels.

Yesterday we didn’t set our alarms because the district called a snow day by 7pm the night before. We woke up at 9am, a blissful lie-in. As we watched the remaining defining landmarks around our neighborhood continue to lose shape and disappear under the snow, CC looked up from his computer and confessed.

CC: Umm, your flowers aren’t going to make it here tomorrow. Because of the weather.

Me: Flowers?

CC: Yeah, for Valentine’s Day. None of the trucks delivering fresh flowers are getting through. They all have notices up.

Me: Oh. You won’t be receiving your gift, either. It’s kind of a project that involves me leaving the house. That isn’t happening except for the digging out to go to work part tonight.

I’ve long held the view that Valentine’s Day is the largest BS, commercially-fabricated holiday, surpassing even “X-mas”. However, I am a huge fan of chocolate, and flowers. And finally, later in my life, I am a fan of love. So in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are a few thoughts about love.

FROM MY WEDDING INVITATION:

“Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”-Matt Groening

FROM MY FRIEND TRACI, WHOM YOU CAN FOLLOW ON PUNCHNEL’S, ON MOM LOVE:

I told my son that I loved him so much it almost hurt. He said, “I love you more, so it does hurt.” If he keeps suggesting that he can outlove his mother, I’ll show him hurt.

FROM MY FRIEND AMY, WHOM YOU CAN FOLLOW ON 50 DATES IN 50 STATES, ON DOG LOVE:

At work, I usually take a moment when things get intense or low or too quiet to ask: Have I told you today how much I love my dog? To which they answer, I don’t think you have yet, today. And then I say: I love my dog so much, it’s stupid.

IN RESPONSE TO MY QUESTION, “WHAT MAKES A HAPPY MARRIAGE?”

My mom, happily married to my stepdad for 18 years: “Let your spouse be him/herself. Keep your sense of humor. Encourage each other’s interests. Learn the skill of listening and patience.”

My stepmom, happily married to my dad for 30 years: “A sense of humor and lots of prayer… not always in that order.”

Me to #5: What do you think is the key to a happy marriage?

#5: umm…I don’t know?

Me: Why?

#5: Umm… I’m eleven?

Me: Okay, what do you love more than anything in the whole world?

#5: Ummm…. I don’t know.

Me: Dad? Jack? Video games? Bacon?

#5: I don’t know. Can I go now?

I love chocolate so much, I don't care if it has 5 different kid spits on it.
I love chocolate so much, I don’t care if it has 5 different kid spits on it.

Happy Valentine’s Day. What do you think about love?

Welcome Home, Mom and Dad

My in-laws moved in with me last Sunday. They arrived with my brother-in-law, Peter, who held a suitcase in one hand and two, precariously balanced wooden boxes in the other.

People coming into my house are always greeted with the dulcet tones of puggle chorus, and this day was no exception. I attempted to calm Jack and Casey while they ran back and forth between Peter and the dining room table, where dinner now lay unattended.  Ultimately they split, Jack moving in for the attack and Casey using her Ninja skills to try to snatch a perogie. I shooed her away from the table only to have her join the attack, which suddenly looked for all the world like it would succeed. They were going to knock Peter down. He was still standing there trying to hold all his baggage while fending off attack puggles.

He and I both realized immediately this couldn’t end well. I cracked a  joke about not wanting to have to find the dustbuster and took the top box from him, which contained my father-in-law.

Actually, it still does contain him. We haven’t had any unfortunate accidents, knock wood (but not too hard, if you’re knocking on this particular box).

They’re called “cremains” by the way. I love that word. It sounds exactly like what it is. You see fancy urns and things but the truth is, the default method of transporting cremains is in a bag. Usually plastic in paper. You want anything more than that, it’s a serious upgrade. At some point my brother-in-law got these nice wooden boxes for them. They look exactly like what we store our silver place-settings in. But inside the boxes? Bag o’ cremains. Dusty.

I never met my in-laws. I wish I had. CC loves my parents, both sets. They completely adore him– most days more than they like me. Everything I know about his parents comes from stories and few pictures. We have a corner display of photographs of them in the living room. A former babysitter framed them all as a Christmas gift to us, and after the kids repainted the house last year, I rearranged the montage.

I look at the pictures and I see everyone in their faces: a future #5 in the photo of my father-in-law in uniform at age twenty; how much #1 looks like her grandma and what a knockout she was; how this photo is #4’s chin and this one is #3’s eyes, and I see CC in every single photo.

[This is not to leave out #2. It’s just that she looks exactly like her mom. Her paternal family resemblance is pretty much limited to her sense of humor and her kitchen skills, which are two of my favorite things about her dad.]

My in-laws’ former resting place was inside their old liquor cabinet at Peter’s house, an antique they used throughout their lives that now gives off a permanent, heady perfume of booze-soaked wood. By all accounts, I’m told they would have felt quite comfortable there. But Peter is moving to a far-away state. There’s a family plot in Brooklyn in which we’d like to intern them, soon as we can work out who has the deed. No one quite remembers.

It makes sense for them to move in with us until then, and really, it’s the least I can do. Their youngest son–their late, midlife surprise, who turns fifty today– is the light of my life. I never had the opportunity to tell them how he brings me joy; that in spite of all their challenges, they did a good job. He’s strong. He has values they gave him which he protects and passes on to his own children. He’s a good man. I never got to witness his mother’s musical talent or his father’s jokes. I want them to know he plays the hell out of a guitar and how much he makes people laugh. I wish I could have poured them a drink and said, “Thank you. Nice work.”

So for now I dust off the boxes–wondering, of course whether it’s regular dust or other dust– and look for a safe place for them to rest, in peace, temporarily.

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The night they moved in, #4 was doing her regular bedtime routine, the one where she takes forty minutes from the time you tell her to go to bed to the time she actually gets in the bed. She’s thirteen now and I’ve stopped fighting it. I figure as long as she’s in bed before the sun rises, that’s a win.

The third time she danced out of her bedroom, she spun all the way through the kitchen and ended up in the dining room, in front of the sideboard, where the boxes were stacked.

#4: What are these?

I was unprepared. I went with the truth, because I didn’t have a good lie at the ready.

Me: Grandma and Grandpa.

I got up to join her, but it was too late; she had opened the top box. I could see her mind working, processing what I said with what she was seeing, making the connection.

She closed the lid and backed away slowly.

#4: Oh. You meant. The actual. Person.

Me: Yeah. You okay?

#4: Um. I’m going to bed now.

Grandparents can always get your kids to obey better than you can.

Feel free to wish CC a happy 50th birthday in the comments section, since he doesn’t have his own blog.