Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mean Old Stepmother

Today is my stepmom Jan's birthday. She moved in when I was 15 and my sister, Suzanne, was 13, and, well, imagine what a hoot that must have been. Jan and her sweet, gentle six-year-old son, Marc, walked in, ducking flying hairbrushes and Tampax, our hormone-fueled yells competing with Peter Frampton blasting from the living room stereo. (What on earth, besides clothes, did Suzanne and I fight over? All that energy and rage directed at who was wearing whose Baretraps and Chemin de Fer jeans...)

Amazing but true: Jan and Marc didn't scramble back into her little red Luv truck and peel out, though at times they must have wanted to. They stayed. And we became a family. Oh, we were still a dysfunctional family, as most families are -- at least the interesting ones. But we also managed to enjoy the heck out of each other. We still do. And Jan helped to make that possible.

Two teenage girls and one new stepmom does not an easy transition make. I know this from being both a stepdaughter and a stepmother. But Jan has a seemingly endless reserve of grace and compassion. She also has a kick-ass sense of humor. She immediately dubbed herself M.O.S. for Mean Old Stepmother, which is a bit like George W. Bush referring to himself as, let's say, an intellectual, heh, or Scarlett Johansson calling herself homely.

Jan never took her role as stepmother too seriously. She didn't push herself on us. She didn't set up new house rules or demand that we be home at such-and-such a time for dinner. She brought home bags of Jack in the Box and leaned against the kitchen counter and simply listened. She simply loved us, even when we were at our most unlovable. And we couldn't help but love her back. 

I wish I could be half the stepmom she is.

Happy Birthday M.O.S. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

How This Blog Got Its Name

We were renting a home I loved. A 1910 craftsman with a big front porch, original wavy leaded windows, a sunny kitchen with one of those pass-through cupboards into the dining room, and enough room for our large blenderized family. It was within walking distance to everything, including good restaurants, a bookstore, and two of our four kids' schools. We had made it through a couple of recent moves, and so I gave away the moving boxes and even bought flowers to plant as a declaration that we'd found home.

About six months later, my husband and I were gardening in the backyard, planting more flowers and even vegetables, as if staking our claim instead of just tomatoes. And then he picked up the stone Buddha, which had been peacefully sitting in the corner, as Buddhas tend to do. 

"What," I said, "are you doing?"

"I'm moving the Buddha."

"Yes, I see that. But why are you moving the Buddha?"

"He's right in the way of the sprinkler. The water bounces off of him."

"Everything bounces off the Buddha," I reminded him. "Besides, doesn't it seem, you know, kind of like, bad luck?"

"Nope," my logical husband said. "Not at all."

Two days later, the landlord emailed me. Unforeseen circumstances. He needed to move back into the house. The house I'd planned to stay in for years, maybe eventually buy. The home that held our furniture and belongings and us so naturally and comfortably, as if we'd always been there and always would be. 

I'm not really superstitious -- only in a casual, just-for-fun sort of way. So I don't think my husband moving the Buddha caused the landlord's plans to change. The symbolism is what gets me on this one. Impermanence. Change. It happens. Every damn day. 

But I'm sentimental. I get attached -- clutching houses, my children, dreams, pets, dark chocolate Ritter bars with hazelnuts -- though I know better. I am trying to let go more, to accept constant change instead of fighting it, to go with the flow.

Recently that house went up for sale. I watched the video tour online. The camera slowly scanned the length of every room like a tender lover, and the music -- I swear, it must have been from a soundtrack of some movie I've seen where the heroine dies a lonely death. My heart did a swan dive to the pit of my stomach, and my eyes got all teary.

But we wouldn't buy the house now, even if we could. Like I said, like we all know but I keep having to learn, things change. The kids have just flown the nest in what seems like one fell swoop. It's just me and my husband and our dog and our cat. We're living in a cozy, funky little place now, surrounded by redwoods, bay, and oak trees, a five-minute walk to the river. Here, the birds sing their best, as if they're auditioning. That other house? It was smack in the middle of town, by a hospital where most of the high notes we heard were sirens. The rest of the squawking, of course, came from our own brood of chickadees.

Several years later, I still miss that house -- though it is just a house. It's the kids I miss the most. 

But I'm writing more now. And I've started kayaking.  I'm learning to go with the flow.