When I walked into the house, I felt like I was returning to a place I had not been for weeks. When I had left the house at midnight on Saturday, I had felt like my world was crumbling apart, and so I suppose I had imagined that the house would have crumbled apart as well. But when I walked through the door on Monday evening, I found that the house was still intact. My mother-in-law was in her favorite place: the kitchen. The dining room table was set, and all of the familiar comforts my in-laws bring to our home were in place.
Years earlier, when Chris and I had first bought our house, I had been a little taken by surprise when my in-laws came to visit. They arrived with two huge coolers packed with mozzarella, provolone, prosciutto, garlic, tomatoes, seafood antipasti, artichokes, sweet potatoes, a large turkey, a spiral ham, two or three varieties of lettuce, homemade Caesar salad dressing, stuffed peppers, breaded chicken cutlets, eggplant parmesan, lasagna, and many other delicious, indulgent dishes. They also brought boxes of pasta, cookies, cakes, crackers, and chips. A few minutes after their arrival, my countertops were covered with food, the refrigerator was stocked to its capacity, and the cabinets were reorganized to make room for all the new contents. Sal jokingly explained that they figured we didn’t have grocery stores “all the way up here in Vermont.”
Chris’s mother, Nina, cooked meals that included appetizers, soup, salad, two main courses, and a dessert. When one meal ended, we would clean up and she would begin preparing for the next meal. During their first few visits, I was mildly stunned at the quantity of food ingested and the number of hours spent preparing food, serving food, or cleaning up. I also tend to like things to be organized and done in a particular way, but Nina asked if I minded if she took on the cooking responsibilities during her visit, and without knowing what I was in for, I happily turned the kitchen over to her.
After I got over my initial shock at and adjustment to their visits, I grew to absolutely love their company. I stopped caring that the counter was littered with coffee cake, apple pie, potato chips, and chocolate-covered Oreos. Even though I like to control many things in my life, I didn’t mind that my mother-in-law took charge in the kitchen, because she was much better in that environment than I was. I had no desire to spend all that time preparing elaborate meals, but it seemed important to her and Sal that we eat like royalty during their visit. Since she seemed to really enjoy cooking, I was happy to learn a few new recipes, eat the food, and help with the cleanup. Moreover, I realized that this was the culture of their family and this was their way of loving us.
So when I saw boxes of Italian cookies and canisters of biscotti on the kitchen counter and sauce simmering on the stove, I immediately felt comforted by this Italian welcome, which had once been off-putting but now brimmed with familiarity and warmth.
John was in the portable bassinet in the kitchen, and after taking my jacket off, I knelt beside him and stared at his face in wonderment. He looked different. His face looked fuller, and his eyes seemed more relaxed than they had earlier in the week. Staring at this baby, my son, who was suddenly something of a stranger to me, I thought, I love you so much, Baby John. I’m so sorry I had to leave, but I’m back now. And oh, how I longed to see your sweet little face and hold your precious body. Gingerly, I picked him up from the bassinet, held him close to my body, and swayed back and forth. With John in my arms, I felt balanced, serene, and ready to move forward. It’s going to be okay,I thought to myself with certainty. Everything is okay now. I am going to be okay.
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