My husband Gene and I share a "blended" family of four kids, 7 grandkids, two stellar sons-in-law, 12 siblings, a gazilion nieces and nephews, and a couple of "bonus" kids we've picked up along the way who needed a safe place to land and a haven to call home. Suffice it to say, I own a lot of dishes.
Blending families is a tricky business. It takes time. And patience. And love. And commitment. And flexibility ... lots of it. It's extra tricky on the holidays, and Gene and I have tried hard over these last 15 years to make it as easy as possible for our kids to navigate the scheduling minefield that comes with having multilples sets of parents, in-laws, and ex's. Early on, I chose to let go of a some of my own family's holiday traditions to make room for new ones with my new family. It was the right choice and I would do it again, but over time I came to realize that I had unwittingly asked, and expected, my daughter Tori to make those concessions as well. I have few regrets in my life, but this is one I wish I could have done better.
In her third year of college, Tori called one evening and said she had something important she wanted to discuss with us. My mind immediately raced ahead to the possibilities ... Do you mind if I get my nose pierced? I just got a tattoo. Could you send me more money? The usual stuff. But no, what Tori wanted (and more important, what Tori NEEDED) was a holiday of her own. "I've been thinking about this for a long time," she said. "May I please have Easter? I'll cook."
We said yes. Of course! Absolutely! (And, might I add, did a quick high-five that once again we dodged the Nose Piercing Bullet and managed to hold on to our wallets.) Easter was promptly blocked out on the calendar and handed over to our Big City Girl. "Just tell us when and where," we said.
Tori's first Holiday of Her Own reminded me of a famous circus act involving a whole lot of clowns crammed into a little Volkswagon Bug. By this time, Tori and her roommates were living in a cozy turn-of-the-century bungalow across the street from the University of Portland and she was hosting a weekly "family night" of home-cooked meals, movies & popcorn for all their friends. I donned an apron and went to work on a pot of mashed potatoes while Gene played doorman to a steady flow of college students who made themselves right at home on the couch, the floor, in the kitchen, you name it. Our little hostess-with-the-mostess was right in her element and loving it. Frankly, so were we! Our nest had been empty for a few years and we missed the noise, the music, the phone ringing off the hook, kids flopped on the floor of our living room, and shoes piled up in the entryway.
These last few years, Tori has continued the tradition of hosting Easter Dinner and offering the haven of a warm and welcoming home to her guests. And their friends. And the neighbors. This year, she brought Easter to our house so that my sweet little granny and my mother could join us. Four generations of strong-willed women and one lone male. And what a beautiful meal we shared! Baked ham, creamy mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, fresh baked bread, and an AMAZING salad made with Israeli couscous ... topped off with homemade apple crisp for dessert! Mercy, that girl can cook!
This evening, as I wiped off the kitchen counters and put the last load of dishes in the dishwasher, I thought of the rest of our beautiful, Blended Bunch. Our daughter Kathy and her brood were sharing a meal with her extended family in Portland; daughter Shellie and her little family joined Gene for early mass and then headed back over the mountain to spend the day with her in-laws; son Dan spent his first Easter away from his boys, working on a movie project in New Zealand; and our oldest granddaughter Megan, who attends college in San Antonio, also spent her first Easter away from home. We missed them today, but we shared the day with them in spirit and look forward to Christmas morning, when the whole clan can be together under one roof at THE SAME TIME and Grandpa Gene can wreak havoc in my kitchen.