Marion took a picture, but she’s not clear on how to send photos from her phone, so you will have to use your imagination.

We were all sitting around a big, round table in the corner of The Barn tavern where the fireplace is. When I arrived Lee and Marion and Nate and Gretta and Coco and Luke and Abby were there.

I have written about these things before, but some of you may be new to our ultra-modern family dynamics, so buckle up.

Marion and Lee are my former in-laws from my first marriage, when I was married to Scott. Nate is my son from that marriage. Abby and Luke are the children from Scott’s second marriage, to Phoebe. Coco is my daughter from my second marriage, to Richard.

Gretta is Nate’s girlfriend, from Minnesota; she goes to school with him in Montana. This is her first visit to Vermont.

Mark and Margaret and The Barn.

Mark and Margaret and The Barn.

I had been away for two days, officiating at yet another fucking funeral and giving love and support to an old and dear friend. I had missed a bit and so when I arrived I went around the table and hugged and kissed everyone. Shortly after I got there, Ashley joined us.

Ashley is … the adopted, though I don’t think officially, daughter of Mark and Margaret, who own The Barn and are my former brother and sister-in-law and dearest friends. They welcomed Ashley into their family several years ago, as a friend of their daughter, Olivia (who was working at the restaurant this night) and as someone who simply needed a loving family.

It doesn’t end there, believe me. This funky little bunch in our tiny corner of Vermont has somehow turned out to be the poster family for how to make it work when things fall apart.

And if things do anything in this life, they fall apart, that’s for sure. Somehow we’ve figured out how to mop it up, with a whole lot of forgiveness and love. And humor.

So Gretta has come to make a Vermont visit, to meet up with a friend who goes to UVM and then to head to Europe for a little while. Naturally, everyone wants to meet her, get to know her. And, of course, it’s when someone from the outside is introduced to this circus that it becomes glaringly clear just how funny and unusual it is. Imagine Nate explaining … this is my sister from my dad’s second marriage and there’s my mom over there, she’s chatting with the person my uncle and his wife adopted when she was a teenager and there’s my sister from my mom’s second marriage and she’s playing a game with my brother from my dad’s second marriage.

My son’s magnificent girlfriend, Gretta, with former husband’s son, Luke.

My son’s magnificent girlfriend, Gretta, with former husband’s son, Luke.

Labels. They’re useless.

Quit calling yourself this, that or the other. You box yourself in, limit your potential. Quit needing to pigeon-hole someone into a space just so you can feel more comfortable with who they are to you, in there. I’m not anyone’s ex or former or current or even future. I’m Melissa. And I love you all, even when you make it hard for people to love you. And I’m gonna keep extending the grace of my love to you even when endings via legal paperwork are part of the story. Sure, it’s not always going to be easy and a lot of times it’s messy. Who cares? We’re all just a bunch of people trying to figure all of this out and after a bunch of decades or maybe more we die and the whole thing is done. I’m in my mid-fifties; I may have fifteen good years left in me. That’s nothing. I’m not gonna waste it carrying grudges or holding tight to what didn’t happen. That nonsense makes you sick. Literally. I’m in this today and all these people around me, they are as beautiful as beautiful gets. You better believe I’m gonna figure out how to keep loving them, being with them, sharing this weird and often very hard life with them.

Imagine us there, all around the table: Grandpa Lee telling stories of his times at sea. Marion taking pictures and talking about her mother; Luke too adorable for words, at 12. Abby and Coco stretching out, heading to high school next year. Ashley and I catching up on her life in Asheville, Olivia stopping from time to time for a brief check-in. We ate dinner together, laughed a lot, asked questions, told stories, made plans. And then we all got up and danced.

There was this amazing guy with a banjo and a harmonica on the stage playing his music, so we all got up and danced together—us, our family.