The China Syndrome
Like so many things, it began with a bold act — and noble intentions — but all too soon had spiraled out of control and came dangerously close to causing a nuclear family fissure.
By Robin Jovanovich
Like so many things, it began with a bold act — and noble intentions — but all too soon had spiraled out of control and came dangerously close to causing a nuclear family fissure. This is my story, a cautionary tale for all mothers-in-law. So far, I’m here to tell the tale.
Five years ago, soon after receiving the happy news that our younger son had asked the love of his young life to marry him, and she’d accepted, visions of Versace, Lauren, and Kate Spade were dancing in my head. Not their clothing lines, their china patterns.
My choice for the kids was a striking Vera Bradley design, redolent with Romanticism in all its marvelous excess, down to the strutting peacocks. The only difficulty was the couple had already made their selection — a cheerful pastel pastiche.
They’ll see the error of their ways, I thought. Actually, they didn’t. They positively preferred something cheerful to wake up to in the morning, not the brooding and Beethovenesque stuff I’d bought eight place settings of.
When I tried to return the china for credit at a local shop, the owner informed me it wasn’t returnable. (One of the reasons I’ve never returned to that little shop around the corner.) Finally, I did what all wanna-be-good mothers-in-law must: I buried my pride and started using the china myself. It was a little difficult explaining to my husband why we had a fourth set of china. (Sorry, darling, it didn’t really fall off a truck…)
But I hold out hope that one day the kids will come out from the city and the table will be set with their china and all the special sterling silver flatware my mother-in-law has given us and provided use instructions for over the years — pierced tongue servers, topping spreaders, tongs that look vaguely gynecological. The menu will consist of something on the order of truffled quail on eggshells under glass. One of them will remark, “This food is incredible and marries well with the beautiful china. Where did you get it?”
We are condemned to repeat our mistakes and our mistaken ways, as we’re told every election cycle.
Just because my friends tell me they love my “overrun of the mill” design sense doesn’t mean my sons — or their significant others — feel the same way. I gave birth to Modernists, who don’t want rising seas of blue and dizzying patterns of light and color. They want spare, streamlined, and plain vanilla, actually stoic gray.
When our older son recently delighted us with the news that he was going to ask the girl he’d fallen for hard to marry him, I was over the moon. Surely, a Southern girl would be a Romanticist at heart. I’d been eying a set of handmade blue and white china in another local design shop for months. I thought I better buy it that day, even though the wedding isn’t until March.
This time, I took precautions and sent a photo of the china to our son. “Mom, we’re already registered for nice, normal china at Williams-Sonoma!” came the instant text.
I actually don’t have room for another set of eight place settings, but I do have a happy ending. Our daughter-in-law of close to five years eyed that blue and white china, too. “Now that’s really beautiful,” she said.
And visions of Christmas morning are dancing in my head.