Two weeks ago today I nervously reflected on what life would be like when Kelly and I joined households. I worried we’d bicker over cleaning or bump into each other in my tiny kitchen, that Liza would resent this other person taking away my attention and that none of us would get any sleep. My anxious tendencies in high gear I put all my acting skills to the test in order to appear calm as if I merged my life with someone else’s all the time. “Don’t freak out,” Kelly said on move-in day “when you see all the boxes in the basement.” Heading downstairs I found my desk, my clean quiet sanctuary for writing, bill paying, Face-booking and general escapism was now barricaded by box after box of Kelly’s books, pictures, kitchen gadgets and cat paraphernalia. Surely ever liquor store in sight had been raided for their boxes I thought idly while wishing that the Captain Morgan box held a leftover bottle or two instead of Kelly’s collection of private school yearbooks. “Heyyyyyy, no problem!” I replied with the exaggerated politeness of new college roommates on the first day of freshman year. “See how calm I am?” I said as I tried to figure out what we were going to do with three boxes of powdered sugar, two boxes of kosher salt and four bottles of olive oil, not to mention the seven (yes seven) varieties of shower gel our combined households had yielded. But that night as we sat, feet propped on the coffee table, wine in hand I looked around at the house, at the cats now venturing out from their hiding places under my mom’s old chair in the basement, and the soft glow of Kelly’s 42 inch flat screen tv and thought how nice this was going to be, this having Kelly with me every night as we blissfully headed into our future.
Then she started hanging things up.
Kelly possesses a wonderful and quirky collection of old school black and white photos of 1920s era sirens, a beautiful assortment of framed Charles Rennie Mackintosh prints, and pretty much every movie still from “Paper Moon” in existence. The ”who gets to hang what and where” discussion made our negotiations over which set of measuring cups and spoons we’d keep out look like child’s play. “Just because you HAVE all these things doesn’t mean you HAVE to hang them UP,” I said. “Just because you’ve ALWAYS had that stuff on the walls doesn’t mean you have to KEEP it up she replied.” We compromised, we haggled and in the end we both gave and we both got. She got to hang Paper Moon photos up our stairwell but gave in and replaced the twenties harlots in her classy black frames with great family photos of our Maine vacation and I agreed to take down a lovely but admittedly new-agey print about friendship. Her gorgeous prints look fabulous in our dining room but she conceded that really not all of them fit it and would be ok to leave a few down. The end result feels cohesive and very very much us.
Last Sunday I felt a new anxiety as I prepared for Liza to come home. I called her dad to see if he’d bring her by for a ‘dry run’ so she could scope out the changes to the house in advance. “I don’t want to come home to you ever again,” she said sullenly over the phone. “Ok then see you soon!” I said brightly in my “oh goodness no that remark didn’t hurt my feelings voice.” Then I went upstairs lay on my bed and cried. But God bless my ex-husband for coming through and bringing Liza over to see the new dining room table, the new artwork, the cats and much to her delight the new “way better than yours momma” TV. This dress rehearsal for the real thing seemed to do the trick and in spite of spending most of Monday worrying about how Liza would be when I picked her up at school, her re-entry into our home went surprisingly well. After a few bumps figuring out whether the cats would take to her (yes) and whether she wanted them in her room at night (no) we all settled in and Liza even opined that “it was fun here momma, I like having the cats.”
Ah yes. The cats.
While I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the cats don’t’ seem to be underfoot as much as I thought they’d be, and the shedding isn’t bad this time of year, and the Zyrtec seems to be keeping Liza’s allergies at bay, having four felines in residence has taken a bit of getting used to. They open my closet door and rappel up my hangers so they can nap on top of my sweaters, they tiptoe along the top of my bookcase, they commandeer the top of the fridge and climb in the dishwasher when I empty it in the mornings. One time I took some frozen waffles out of the freezer, set them on the counter and looked up to find one of the cats sitting in the freezer as if it was the most natural thing in the world. They can hear me flip open my laptop from 2 floors away and within minutes I will have one on the keyboard, one on my lap and one on my shoulders as if to say “whatcha writing?” A stuffed dog Liza won at an arcade has been kidnapped by one of our boy cats and we find it all over the house. But what has surprised me the most about living with the cats is something that I know I will take endless ribbing for because it defies my carefully cultivated ‘Cranky Yankee” demeanor: I love them. I love the way they cuddle between me and Kelly at night, the way one of them lies out side Liza’s door as if standing guard, the way they watch for me to come home from the kitchen window and the way they run downstairs with me in the morning when I feed them. I expected to grudgingly tolerate them. I didn’t expect to be so completely totally won over.
In the past few weeks our home has begun to settle into new rhythms and new routines – Kelly helping Liza with math while I make dinner, both of us teaching her funny songs and ways to remember her science vocabulary while we linger at the table. When Kelly leaves for work in the morning I open Liza’s bedroom door and she lies in bed cuddling with a cat or two while I shower and got ready. Her mood has gotten brighter. I’m smiling more. We ‘re all sleeping better. My thoughts during the day turn to home and wanting to be with my lady and my girl rather than finding reasons to work longer or take on more commitments. For the first time in over five years I have something to come home to that I’ve wanted for so long: A family, A real family under one roof. Here’s to the next chapter!