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?

Hot Date

I have a theory–a double theory, really– that for any topic you can name, there is either an X-Files episode or a Jonathan Richman song about it

From When I Say ‘Wife’ by Jonathan Richman:

When I say ‘wife’
it’s cause I can’t find another word
for the way we be
but ‘wife’ sounds like you’re mortgaged
‘wife’ sounds like laundry

I’m a wife. I was planning on never being a wife, but here I am. “Wife” had always sounded like laundry to me too, back in those days when I was planning to never be one.

I pictured going blind trying to distinguish between black and navy blue socks in order to match them up; I pictured having to learn how to starch and/or iron. When I said “wife” I imagined Friday night casseroles, yard work on Saturday mornings, and uncomfortable, too-warm clothes that made me pass out in church on Sundays.

Then I got a career that ran nights and weekends and a boyfriend who both cooked and did laundry (not to mention, kept his socks to a respectable black or white only). And “wife” started to look like a giant mystery to me. If it wasn’t what I had always believed it to be, then what was it?

I decided to find out.

One of the common misconceptions that people have is that romance dies once you become married. The way to combat this, according to all the magazines, is to have Date Night. The importance of hiring a babysitter is stressed, and you should put on cologne and pantyhose and drive far away to pay too much money for dinner and a show. In our jobs, both CC and I assist in providing the entertainment for everybody else’s Date Night, so that doesn’t really appeal to us.

Besides, he gets really grumpy if you ask him to wear pantyhose on his day off.

So we have Date Morning.

Every Friday we have our standing hot date. I took all of these pictures to prove how hot our dates are because nobody believes me.

We start by getting dressed up:

I'm ready.
I’m ready.

Then we go to the bank for grocery money. Yeah, we’re going grocery shopping. Because grocery shopping is hot.

When we get to the teller, CC turns on his charm.

CC: She’s so mean to me, Rita. At home, she makes me call her “mistress”.

Well, I am wearing leather.

He will repeat this joke to every teller that passes within earshot. If there are some that don’t pass by and miss it, he’ll make sure to go see them at their desks on the way out.

Our next stop is the Farmer’s Market.

These same magazines that specify how you’re supposed to do Date Night also make a Big Deal about Farmer’s Markets. They refer to seasonal, outdoor markets that are supposedly a great savings and if you don’t frequent them you are killing both your family and your community, not to mention your soul and probably a couple of kittens somewhere.

In New Jersey, those types of farmer’s markets are subsidized by the State and sell produce that may or may not be “organic”, and may or may not have had pesticides sprayed all over them, but are most definitely about FOUR TIMES the cost of anything at the grocery store. I’ve got five kids and I figure I’m already supporting those markets through my taxes.

The farmer’s market that gets us all hot & bothered- and I DO mean hot & bothered- is year-round inside a zero-frills building.

If you’re one of my kids, you may want to stop reading here to avoid thoughts that you can’t unthink later.

Although they tell me at the entrance that I’m not welcome there, they never actually check. It does make me a little nervous, which only adds to the excitement.

No thank you, alcoholic.
No thank you, alcoholic.

You know how when you go to Whole Foods you walk out with only one teeny paper bag even though you laid out like eighty frickin’ bucks? The farmer’s market is the total inverse of that. A full cart rarely tops out over forty dollars, which I have to admit makes me more than a little breathless. Plus they have all of this:

Celery Knob
I swear to you here, on a pile of kittens, the sign for this item reads “Celery Knob”
potato. . .sack
potato. . .sack

(C’mon, I can’t be the only one who thought that.)

Feeling lucky?
Feeling lucky?
I forgive your errant apostrophe because of your errant "h".
I forgive your errant apostrophe because of your errant “h”.

By the time we check out, our minds are full of images of lewd produce and thongs.  We’re thinking about testing out the window tinting in the backseat of the minivan.

Next to the farmer’s market is the “meat” market where you can get your Santeria supplies. I think it’s kind of lame that one might buy one’s goat eyeballs and rooster hearts at market, but it is nice to know the resource is there if you need it in a pinch. (The only reason I didn’t get pictures of those particular items is that it smells really bad. Which is why nobody ever buys any eating-meat there.)

Chickens have neither fingers nor paws, people
Chickens have neither fingers nor paws, people

What more excitement can there possibly be after being around all that suggestive produce, lingerie, and “meat”?

Well. . .Plenty.

You, Flock of Seagulls. You know why we're here?
You, Flock of Seagulls. You know why we’re here?*

Because there’s Fairway, newly opened near us.

Oh, Fairway. *sigh* When I think about you, I just. . .

We know why you're here. Get a room!
We know why you’re here. Get a room!

 Fairway is all of your grocery dreams come true. Even if you think you don’t have any grocery dreams.

Because you totally do.

I am very sleepy and have always wanted a kitten. Can I borrow your kid for a minute?
I am very sleepy and have always wanted a kitten. Can I borrow your kid for a minute?

All my grocery store fantasies are here. Fresh-baked chocolate croissants. Cheese samples. Eleventy-billion types of cold-pressed olive oil with store-baked baguettes for sampling. At this point in the date, it’s all I can do to keep my mind on the grocery list. The store isn’t exactly helping. It’s like they want us to be inappropriate right there in the aisles or something.

That's so sweet.
Wait. How did they know his pet name?
You're not helping, coupon.
You’re not helping, coupon.
Hmm.
Smackin’ Whip? Hmm.

Even Costco is in on it. And I feel like I should remind you once again that these are actual pictures from an actual hot date.

DSCF7354

DSCF7355

This picture makes it look as if his member were handicapped, which I assure you is not the case.
This picture makes it look as if his member were handicapped, which I assure you is not the case.

With great effort, we refrain from putting up that”Sorry, this lane closed” sign and spending a little quality time together right there on the checkout counter. Even though I see it as exactly the same as a “Do Not Disturb” sign, CC reminds me that this would be a pretty ridiculous reason to get arrested and that besides, the only kid who would have enough money to bail us out is #1, and she probably wouldn’t do it because she’s saving all her money to get away from us.

GOT ANY GOOD GROCERY STORE STORIES?

WHAT DO YOU DO FOR DATE NIGHT?

*update: I just found out at dinner last night that my Flock of Seagulls reference is yet one more joke that I make to CC all the time that he doesn’t get, and yet has never said anything about. Even though he took #1 to see Pulp Fiction while she was an infant. So for him, I give you this link. The Flock of Seagulls line isn’t until about 2:00 in, but it’s a great scene.

Oh, there’s also a Jonathan Richman song called Abominable Snowman in the Market, thereby double-proving my theory.