If you've ever combined households, you know what a big undertaking it can be. For years, my fiancee and I had lived our lives to accommodate her children. Mine were grown and gone, but hers were a dozen years younger and still in school. We did not want to disrupt that, and my fiancee had gone so far as to promise that she would not force them to change schools. I understood this very well. When I was thirteen, my parents moved us fifty miles away from the town where I had grown up. It was a really tough move, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone. We worked with her promise to her children for years until we hit upon a compromise solution. When her oldest graduated and left home, we started planning in earnest. She would continue to work in her hometown, commuting with two of her children after moving in with me. All I needed to do was build an addition onto my home to accommodate them, which I did. Somehow we would make it work.
Other than a longer ride to school, every morning, their lives did not have to change all that dramatically. We were able to keep them in their school, but it did become tougher for them to socialize with their friends after hours. We bought an unlimited phone plan and made sure we installed wifi so they could use some of their devices to stay in touch. It worked relatively well, but there was, and still is no cell service available in our somewhat remote area. That was difficult. They grumbled, they sarcastically called our southwest facing hillside home the "sunny side of Everest" but they too made it work. Yes, we made mistakes, like the one I made by not allowing the younger daughter to paint her bedroom some wild color. Looking back I realize, it was just paint and could be redone any time. There was a period of coolness in our household for a while after that, and I needed some way to make amends for it.
While being overwhelmed at an Ikea store one day I saw a very handsome wood-framed chalkboard with coat hooks and a couple of tin trays for chalk. This multipurpose item sparked an idea, so I bought it. When we got home from that rather exhausting trip, I hung the chalkboard in a common area at the bottom of the staircase to the second floor where the childrens' bedrooms were. Along the top, I wrote "The Feeling Board." Underneath that, I wrote something like "Winter sucks around here." After a few days, I erased that sentiment and put up another. This went on for a while until I noticed that one of them added their own take on some issue. Before long there would be the occasional drawing, and of course, the usual comments about how isolated their new home was, etc. etc. At least, they were expressing their feelings, and that was a step in a better direction.
Now those two children have grown and gone, but the feeling board remains. I don't write on it all that much, but on a recent visit, my fiancee's son put up a funny remark. Then my youngest daughter was helping to organize my horrendously cluttered office and she wrote "feeling hoardy" on the feeling board. OK, I admit it, I do have a tendency to rarely throw things out. My daughters wry comment about my hoarding tendency has pushed me to get rid of a number of things that were causing clutter. Sometimes it is hard to hear things about yourself that you don't especially like, and I got the message. The feeling board is still working.
Thinking back on my own feelings when I was thirteen and forced to move away from all my friends, I recall something my sister and I did shortly after that move. My sister was a junior in high school, and was probably even more upset about the move than I was. One afternoon we spontaneously began breaking a stash of old windows that were leaned up against the back of the barn. We even made up a song, which we sang while gleefully smashing window after window. Yes, it was cathartic, and we still laugh about it to this day. It made me wonder what would have happened if my parents had put up a feeling board back in those days. I'm guessing that I would have spent a lot of time in my room for writing obscenity-laden diatribes on it, which makes me respect my fiancee's children's restraint even more. They are wonderful adults now, and it is really nice to see both of them and my children being able to continue using the feeling board all these years later.
Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.