Our “in the beginning, there was us” story never involved just two of us. It was in turns romantic and spontaneous and magical, and also business like and calculated and sensible. It was love at first sight and also an analysis of whether it could work. There were five hearts on the line, not two. We knew we couldn’t risk not getting it “right.”
And to pretend that in fourteen years together we never wondered if we had made a mistake would be dishonest. Blending a family is hard. We have taken turns being the one that holds it together. That is where the romantic, magical side of us takes hold and reminds us of the burning, intense love we have. We have also taken turns being the one that felt unseen, unheard and over looked. That is where the calculated and sensible saves us. After so many years, the mathematical odds are in our favor, right?
People ask often if we always wanted a big family and like all things in our family, my answer is yes and Brian’s answer is more thoughtful… something like “I would have been happy either way, but this is pretty great.” That is us… impulsive and rational. Opposites, but on the same side.
Before there were five, there were three. I was a young marriage cautionary tale. Married at 19. Escaping some hurts. Seeking unconditional love and acceptance. Unsurprisingly, I was divorced a few short years later and a mother of two kiddos, both babies. One sharp and engaging and spunky, one so little and vacant and pained. He began to see specialists and possible labels began to be whispered, and I began to understand that my life would soon change, adding “mother to a child with special needs” to the “single, young, divorcee with kids” that I was already carrying. If I felt unlovable heading into my first marriage, I felt even more so after. I prayed for a partner, and if I am being honest, I prayed for one who could fix me. 2004 found me utterly broken.
I did have a great job. God provided financial security and it was good because the nature of my life at that time required some occasional retail therapy. I would visit my favorite store downtown and touch all of the pricey home furnishings and decor, wishing for a solid, safe, cozy forever home to share with a husband who adored me and more kiddos. It had always been my wish to have a house full of little ones, and I felt like that chance had passed. My weekly visits to the store did start a friendship with the shop’s owner, Karen and one day a truck was unloading in front of her store and she called me onto the truck to see the most amazingly beautiful handcrafted table inside. We both knew I wouldn’t be buying it, but she was so in love with it’s design that she wanted to share with someone.
Standing in the hot back of the box truck, I felt dizzy and anxious. Words were coming out of my mouth before I could even process them. I asked the artist what the biggest he could design was. He said 120 inches, because that was the length of the barn planks. I handed him my debit card and asked if he could deliver by Thanksgiving. The sum was exorbitant. Astronomically high. The reality was absurd. We were a family of three. We had absolutely no need for a ten foot table.
On Thanksgiving eve, the shop owner and her husband made a special trip to deliver my custom table. Tears of shame stung my eyes. How stupid was I? The table fit, barely, with a one inch clearance on either side. To walk around the table, I had to walk into the next room and go around the kitchen island. If I didn’t feel foolish enough just looking at this mammoth piece in my tiny home, setting the table for Thanksgiving breakfast confirmed that I was an absolute idiot. We barely took up one corner, us three. I cried all day, my first holiday as a single mom.
Days turned into weeks and my loathing of the table started to turn into something else. “you moron… you will never have a family to fill this thing…” started to turn into “but what if?”
I started to pray for the man who would share this table with me. The babies we would add. Suddenly, it felt more like a “if you build it, they will come” and less like the worst purchasing decision of my life. Instead of my cheeks getting hot when friends commented on my table, I instead told a story of optimism and hope. One day… I said… you all will see.
The next summer, I met him. I knew as soon as I did that he was the one I had been praying for. He had a son. Together we would be a family of five. He wanted more kiddos. He had a heart for adoption, too. On a whim I told him about my table and he chuckled… but not in the way that my friends had, but with a twinkle in his eye. He knew I was a risk taker, an optimist, wore my heart on my sleeve. Direct contrast to his analytical, logical, risk-weighing mind.
When I watched that table be carried into our first home together, I wept. Through the years, I couldn’t begin to tell you how many craft projects and homework assignments and family meetings have happened on those 120″ barn planks. How many birthday candles have been blown out. How many disagreements have been hashed out. Kiddos came, one after the other, and still we had not adopted. So we set out to remedy that, and have sat at that table with social workers and foster kiddos and signed contracts and checks. It’s everything I never dared to hope for. It is the story of us.
The quote “if you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence” is not just words to us. The first time I heard it, I gasped because a longer table is the story of my family. Literally.
These days we barely fit. And for that, I am so deeply and profoundly grateful. I have learned that you can always find more. More space. More love. More grace. There is always something to offer someone who needs it.