It was actually my youngest son’s discovery of a mix tape that Bill made for me when we first started dating that got me thinking about this topic. (Yes, I realize that you now know how OLD we are. A mixtape!? Yes.) But other mementos from both sides of the family are everywhere: from quilts in every bedroom handmade by my mom, to the poster of their paternal great-grandfather racing a motorcycle in the 1920s, to my grandma’s cake stand that comes out for every birthday cake. Countless examples specific to our immediate family abound, too, but here are a few that popped into my mind:
“The cheese porter!”
This is a small glass bowl in a metal stand with a handle and a matching spoon that holds grated parmesan cheese. Bill’s mom bought it for me on a family trip to Italy years before our children were born. I admired them in all the restaurants we went to, and it was such a sweet surprise when Fran gave me one of my own as we sat down to coffee on the piazza in Lucca. I never learned what these are actually called in Italian (let me know if you know!) – Bill and I just started calling it the “cheese porter” and that’s what the kids always call it, too!
This vinyl collection takes up a significant corner of the living room (yes, we have a record player, too, of course). Most of these are Bill’s albums from his youth (all the classic rock greats), with additions from the boys as they’ve gotten older (from Frank Black to Wilco), topped off with my mom’s Christmas albums from the 1960s (like Johnny Mathis, The Kingston Trio, and Sing Along with Mitch!).
ALL their beloved childhood books – many signed by the the person who gave it to them, so I can say when I happen upon one: “Oh, Aunt Nancy brought you this Danny and the Dinosaurs from England! You loved dinosaurs!” or “Oh, Santa gave you this the first time we took you to sit on his lap at the mall! No, you weren’t the one who screamed, that was your younger brother two years later.”
“Nebo” and “Tim”!
We have art made by gifted friends and mementos from travels all through the house. But these two guys are extra-special – they appear in lots of family photos and occasionally sport some holiday decor. Nebo is a concrete gargoyle who sits on our patio and pensively looks out over the back garden. Bill and I bought him for the porch of our first tiny rental house in Arlington, Virginia. Why did we call him Nebo? I have no idea. Tim, meanwhile, lives in the dining room. He is a three-foot-tall metal giraffe crafted by a Kenyan artist from thin slices of Tuscan beer cans. We often admired this man’s work on our weekly wanderings through Eastern Market when we lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC. We bought it on our last family walk through the Market before we moved to Indiana as a memento of one of our favorite things in our neighborhood. I still remember tucking it in the baby stroller to walk it home. Why “Tim”? Beats me.
The list could go on and on. And I reference these stories often to our kids (probably too often, if you ask them!). But I think it’s especially important, because we’re divorced, for them to hear about good memories their dad and I made together. These show them the reasons why Bill and I ended up together and why we chose to create these great kids together. These memories are also one of the reasons we have worked really, really hard to have a divorce that is as positive as possible and honors the history that made us a family. Even though we’re different than some families because of the divorce, I hope the way we’ve designed this life for our kids makes them feel good about the strength of our family – just the way it is.
I also hope stories of our history – and the way we live now – give them a lesson not only about our family, but also about the larger story that is LIFE. Things end – jobs, relationships, friendships. Situations come along – sometimes out of the blue – that completely change what you thought was going to happen. Relationships evolve and change – sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Sometimes you have to make a difficult choice to change or end something because that’s what needs to happen. But none of that negates the good things that happened during those experiences. Or the good things that can come from scary changes and difficult choices.
I love history (as you can tell) but that isn’t to say I want us to live in the past. Because of our divorce, their dad and I have each made our own very happy places in the world. I wouldn’t trade the lesson, experiences, and memories I’ve made on my own for anything.
Bird nesting after divorce helps preserve our family’s history. I know our children will eventually go on to make their own places in the world. And I can’t wait to see what chapters they each add to our family’s continuing story!
To see my original article, visit divorcemag.com