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.

Advertisements

The Difference Between Me and Martha

I don’t hate Martha Stewart.

I have an aunt who does Martha Stewart better than Martha does. My Aunt Kathy is badass. Her gardens could easily provide both catering and decorations for formal brunch. She creates a very welcoming atmosphere seemingly without effort, she sends valentines and advent calendars when I can barely remember my own kids’ birthdays, and to my knowledge she has no disgruntled staff, nor has she ever done time. When my cousin Jen got married at their home a couple years ago, it felt better than a fairy tale. Aunt Kathy claimed to have pretty much nothing to do with the planning of the wedding and lays all credit to Jen. But there’s a knock-you-out kind of beauty everywhere you look at their house. It makes you feel like you just got punched in the gut, in a good way– I suppose that’s what people mean when they say something takes your breath away. Aunt Kathy and Jen both make that beauty real, and it makes me feel honored and special just to be in the same family as someone who can do things like that.

I’m grateful they’ve taken care of being better than Martha, because if it were up to me, we’d all be doomed.

Through no fault of my parents, none of my chromosomes contain a single homemaking gene. Also, I don’t craft, and I don’t know Snoop Dog.

I do, however, have an unhealthy obsession with Martha Stewart’s calendar.

A recent online purchase resulted in my gaining free digital access to Martha’s magazine, in which she prints her monthly calendar. It gives me something to strive for, and I think I’m starting to measure up pretty well.

I’m perhaps most envious of her well-balanced exercise regime. Two days of weight training, one yoga class, one day of cardio and core, and an outdoor hike or horseback ride every single week. I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty good at bending at the waist. Particularly if I’m already sitting down. I’m also getting better at tripping teenagers and Puggles with my cane, a skill I’ve only been practicing since my most-recent-and-hopefully-last foot surgery on Thursday. I don’t see any cane tricks listed in Martha’s calendar. At this rate, I’ll be doing some real Fred-Astaire-worthy shit by April. Look out, Martha.

canepuggle

March 6: Order gladiolas and dahlias. This is such a beautiful line. I’m going to work it into a story. It’s going to have something to do with murder.

March 7: Prune tearoses to remove winterkill. This is my favorite entry for the whole month. Beautiful, yet deadly. Kinda like poison dart frogs, or the mantis shrimp. I’m detecting some sort of theme here.

March 9: Wash dog beds. I prefer to be more organic regarding the washing of the dog bed. I leave it until they throw up on it. I’m confident that will happen at least twice in March.

March 13: Have cars cleaned, waxed, and serviced. Heheheh. Heheheheheh. Heheheheheh. I’m undecided whether this, or March 10’s Have stables cleaned is a better euphemism.

March 14: Rotate house plants to ensure even sun exposure. No direct sunlight enters my home. This is a blessing for all houseplants, as any that I receive as gifts are immediately given to good homes (i.e., not mine), thereby saving them from a sure, slow, and painful death at my hands. I’m going to substitute, Allow chipmunks to eat the flower bulbs.

visitor
Hello, friend.

March 16: Bake Irish Soda Bread. Meaning, of course, Eat Irish Soda Bread that someone’s actual Irish mother has made. Irish Soda Bread Day was one of my favorites at my old show. Rest in peace, Ma Kelly and Ma Fedigan. You are missed.

March 17: Have friends over for dinner. Perfect timing, right in the middle of technical rehearsals for the new show. Eating leftovers alone under my desk at work is pretty much exactly the same thing.

March 20: Have curtains steam cleaned. There are at least three words I don’t understand in this sentence. I’ll replace this with Eat more chocolate.

March 21: Photograph early spring flowers for blog. Meaning, Look through pictures from several years ago for anything that could possibly be blog-relevant. Done.

March 22: Bring fresh eggs to office. Canned sardines and leftover broccoli- check!

March 26: Deep-clean area rugs. Does a hyphenated word count as one word, or two? There are up to four words in this sentence I don’t understand. Do something with chocolate again.

March 27: Take outdoor furniture out of storage. Is this even English?

March 28: Bake sweet oat-walnut crisps. This, I can totally get behind. Particularly if it’s on someone else’s calendar. Hey, Aunt Kathy- what does your March 28 look like?

pink

Happy March.

 

 

 

 

Light

Near the end of last summer, after clumping around the city in Da Boot for about a month, I got the results of my MRI. I was not even a little bit interested in having surgery, and sick to death of that goddamn boot.

So I wasn’t in the greatest state of mind, thumping slowly to the E train underground at 42nd street, when someone flew by me.

I mean, this guy flies the fuck past me. One arm and one leg, riding backwards in a manual wheelchair. He’s simultaneously propelling himself with his leg, pulling a suitcase with his arm, steering perfectly with his torso. Going somewhere. His skin looked like it had melted and been reformed. It looked like it still hurt.

It looked like it didn’t matter.

You never know someone’s story simply by looking at them, but I’m guessing IED, near something liquid and flammable. I’ve thought of that guy so many times since that night. Not in a nauseating bravely-succeeding-in-the-face-of-obstacles kind of way, but in a shit-okay-what’s-next kind of way.

My friend wrote an essay about having bipolar disorder and presented it in a workshop. All the feedback she got was like oh my God, I can’t believe you’ve succeeded despite all these hardships and handicaps weighing you down. The point she intended was entirely different: That her successes and failures in life were neither in spite of nor because of bipolar. It does not define her; it simply accompanies her as she goes about the business of living her life.

That’s not a perspective you’re born with. It’s not one that comes easily to most people. I think most who can consistently pull off that attitude have fought for it quite fiercely. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it.

When I think of that guy in the subway, I wonder if that could ever be me. If that were my life, could I ever get out of my own way enough to still go somewhere. When I think of him, I remind myself to try. I remind myself to quit whining and get on with the business of living my life.

I was listening to Jocko Willink being interviewed by Tim Ferriss. Jocko is a former Navy SEAL officer, instrumental in securing Ramadi. He’s an early riser because he wants that advantage over the enemy. In Ramadi, there was always a guy somewhere in a cave, rocking back and forth with a machine gun in one hand and a grenade in the other, waiting for him. He wants to be ready for that guy.

My enemy is my head. Some days it’s my friend, some days it talks shit to me, and some days it’s got explosives. What can I do to be ready for that guy? I ask myself this a lot. I have a lot of operational theories. Periodically, I get to test them out.

Responding to the question of who he thinks of when he hears successful, Jocko instantly named three guys he had served with, all of whom were dead. They were bright points of light to him in the darkness of war. . . success measured not in achievements, but by the degree to which you can light up the darkness for someone.

I like that.

Here’s to light.