We hear the moving truck before we see it: the tell-tale whoosh and squawk of air-brakes. Wait—air brakes? I step outside onto the porch, Steve right behind me, as a tractor trailer filled with all my fiancé’s worldly belongings pulls up to the curb in front of our new home. The truck must be over fifty feet long, so tall it takes out a branch from a full-grown maple as the driver backs it up.
Day one of our multi-part move-in, and I don’t know if my heart is beating so fast out of love, excitement, or fear.
A bit of all three, I suspect.
♥ ♥ ♥
Navigating a mid-life marriage brings a number of challenges, not the least of which is figuring out whose sofa stays, and whose goes. The biggest challenge for most folks who marry (or re-marry) later in life is the blending of families with young children. On the whole, Steve and I have it easy in that regard: his two sons are grown, college-age and just-post-college, the same age as the students I interact with regularly in my job as a professor. In contrast, when my brother and sister-in-law married twelve years ago, each brought two children to the household, all four under the age of thirteen. If that sounds intimidating, do the math. For one parent living full-time with two children, there are 4 possible total relationship combinations, 3 for each individual: all three together, parent and child 1, parent and child 2, and child to child. Six people, however, share 57 total possible relationship combinations, 30 for each individual. Merging a family of three with another family of three doesn’t merely double the relationships—it multiplies them ten-fold.
It multiplies the love, too. Still, the sheer thought of navigating that many relationships in my own house sends my inner introvert into the corner, trembling.
Steve’s sons are each settled into their own places now, and hanging out with them means sharing good wine and lively conversation, not Sippy cups and alphabet songs. The bigger challenge in merging our households? Our three fur kids.
Steve is owned by Imoh, a sweet-natured Jack Russell terrier/beagle cross. Imoh has a big bark but zero bite, his most notable feature (aside from adoring and adorable brown eyes) a penchant for giving hugs. His snuggles are melt-your-heart cute.
I am owned by felines Charlie Kate, a bossy if big-hearted Norwegian Forest cat, and Lola, a solid black love-bug. Both adopted me as strays, and both adore Steve. They are, we were not entirely surprised to learn, less fond of Steve’s dog.
We had a great plan for introducing the animals. They would meet for the first time in neutral territory, maybe outside, Imoh safely leashed, the cats in carriers or on the other side of some kind of sniff-through barrier. They would meet and greet a few times for short stretches, with the hopes that curiosity would outweigh any territorialism or threat. As they got used to each others’ presence and scents (already somewhat familiar, from sharing their humans), they would grow more relaxed, easing the final transition when we all moved into a new home (more neutral territory) together.
The best laid plans o’ dogs, cats, and humans gang aft agley.
With Steve in a town an hour away, finding a way for the animals to hang in a neutral space for fifteen minutes at a time proved impossible. When his house sold, the pressure grew to get not only him but both his sons packed and re-settled, so the animals took a back seat. Then, our closing was delayed when the seller didn’t finish some key repairs. Granted occupancy for stuff but not humans or pets, Steve had to move in with me while we waited for things to sort themselves out. Imoh came with him.
In my cats’ eyes, one morning, life was normal. By afternoon, there was this creature, this dog-thing, hanging out on the sidewalk in front of their house. Why was their Steve attached to it by a string? Why did it wiggle around and sniff at them? And—wait—why was it on the porch now? Why was it coming inside? Sitting on the sofa? What was this insufferable indignity?
To be fair, Lola was content to express her disapproval with a disdainful stare, an arched back, and sideways hops accompanied by a well-timed hiss. Charlie Kate, well.
Imoh is pretty much terrified of her. I can’t say I blame him.
Charlie likes to park herself in Imoh’s path and stare at him while he attempts to look anywhere but her direction. If he moves too quickly for her liking, she takes a swipe. We don’t think claws have made contact more than once or twice, but as Steve says, ‘Moh seems to recognize that “those things come loaded.” He yelps just the same.
For days we took ‘Moh with us every place we went, or one of us stayed home to keep a watch on the beasts. The constant vigilance was exhausting. If that’s what it’s like to have toddlers, I’m not sure I could have survived raising human children. Enduring the cats’ accusing looks was hard enough. And felines know from punishment: denial of affection, refusal to purr.
♥ ♥ ♥
Now we’re half in (Steve’s half) the new house. With Imoh mostly there and my kitties mostly at my house, the critters have achieved a temporary détente.
We thought it was tough to get the animals to play well together. What about the furniture?
Somehow, I never noticed that Steve had an end table fetish. Every chair has at least one. Sofas, two. We haven’t even moved my furniture yet, and there’s a surplus. Then there’s the double dining tables. I don’t care much about mine—I bought it used and don’t mind selling it. The problem: I’m not crazy about his either, especially the uncomfortable matching chairs.
Steve dislikes my grandma’s porcelain swan lamp. If I were a guy, I would too, especially the insanely frilly shade with pink roses and ivory frou-frou I made for it. His giant flat-screen television looks like a big black hole. If we put them in the same room, will the TV swallow the swans?
Perhaps there are advantages to getting married young and, between the two of you, owning barely a pot to p— in at the start.
We own so many books. And I have two beautiful barrister bookcases purchased with an inheritance from my maternal grandmother. Steve loves them too, and we both want to feature them in our early 1900s, Federal-style home. If we showcase them in his front parlor study, should they house only his books? If they hold some of mine, too, will his study not feel entirely his?
It takes a few days, then: what if we combined all of our fiction, arranged it all alphabetically, put it all in the bookcases, together? We are, after all, fashioning a new life, together.
Of course, books, unlike dogs and cats, don’t bark or bare claws.
Fear gnaws, but rarely bites.
I’ve lived alone—except for cats—for over twenty years.
One day at a time. One day at a time.