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A Blended Family

May 9, 2009 | by Dina Bar-Tov

Our patched-together family is in some ways like our kitchen table – a merging of two older tables shoved together.

A Widow's Tale is an honest account of a woman's attempt to redefine her life after her husband, a rabbi, dies suddenly. Dina Bar-Tov copes with her nine children while searching for a path towards a new identity and new love. In this excerpt, Dina reflects about what happens after "happily ever after," as she and her husband find their way as parents of their merged families.

Our kitchen table is made of two tables shoved together, both Formica, both beige, both the same height, but one has painted tubular legs at each corner and one rests on a pedestal. Mendy and I each owned one of them.

When we married and merged our household goods in a grand optimistic blending of green pots and copper, we couldn't choose between the two tables. Or perhaps we could choose, but were afraid to make the choice. Or maybe we didn't want to argue about something as trivial and unimportant as a table. At that time, when Mendy's three youngest daughters joined my family of seven, we had more urgent issues to discuss, like which child belonged in which bedroom and how to resolve the ensuing disputes and unhappiness.

But somehow trivial things become very important in a patched-together family like ours. Which china the table is set with can become a matter of great significance.

It is certainly useful to have a large table. On Friday night, I place a long white tablecloth on both tables and they look like one. Almost. As the evening wears on, and the children snack on chips and cookies, the tablecloth has a way of shifting and the cracks beneath become visible. When my grandchildren visit, the tablecloth slides down and one can clearly see that there are two tables beneath the cloth. It is impossible to fight this. This is a fact of life, like gravity or age.

We could force the two tables together. But taking a hammer to the fragile Formica might cause it to fragment completely.

We occasionally buy something new. This can be due to a fit of extravagance in which I decide that we need a new frying pan or Mendy feels that a pot without a handle doesn't quite serve the purpose. But strangely enough, if Mendy buys a pot, his children will use it. They haven't touched my new frying pan yet; they prefer his battered green one. But I think they may have finally started using the purple iris Corelle dishes that I brought in to the marriage. The glacier moves slowly, an inch per year.

When we first married, I made the mistake of trying to force things. I insisted that all the children, for example, come along on family trips. Or eat dinner with us. Or join the photo. It was hard to give up on that dream, the one where the two tables mesh together solidly as one unit, but I have done so.

We could do it, of course, with some wooden beams and nails; we could force the two tables together. But taking a hammer to the fragile Formica might cause it to fragment completely -- the exact opposite of our plan. So we take a cautious route. We gently suggest, "Perhaps you'd like to..." and never command.

And then we peek to see if our suggestion has taken hold. Did one of the girls actually taste the vegetable stir fry or is that too risky? Will they join the outing? This is the reality of second marriages, that constant taking of the pulse. How are we doing, are we there yet? And if we're not, we still concede that life is slightly better than it was yesterday and tomorrow might be better yet. I admit, though, that I thought it would be easier.

Over the years the kitchen chairs that originally matched the tables have broken, so metal folding chairs now encircle the tables. This may be a good thing. When I buy new chairs, I will buy a new table too. I may miss our kitchen tables, remnants of our past, but the new table will be very nice. I envision something light and airy, certainly not Formica, perhaps clear tempered glass over lacy steel legs that I will shine with Windex and a rag. It will have a weightless look, if such a thing is possible in a kitchen table. And, if not, I will simply will it to be so.


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