Lovebirds

A teapot depicting a bird in a cageI’m obsessed with this tea set my parents got as a wedding gift 50+ years ago. It had been sitting in their basement for years, and wound up making the trek with me out here to St. Louis.

There are 2 distinct birds depicted on the teacups, pitcher, sugar bowl, and other items in the set. I guess they’re supposed to be (literal) lovebirds, though lovebirds don’t look anything like that.

Are they stylized doves, maybe?

A vase with the image of a bird in a cageThey make me think about the restrictions and freedoms of pair bonding, mating in captivity and out of it. Each bird is depicted in a cage with a flaring ribbon. The bars of the cages are wide enough that either bird could get out, if they wanted to.

On only one item are the birds shown together, and it’s unclear if they’re both inside the same globe-shaped cage, or both hanging on the outside of it.

Sugar bowl depicting birds on or in a globe-shaped cage

I’ve mentioned before that I admire the mixture of loyalty and independence my parents have achieved in their marriage. Monogamy is not a cage, gilded or otherwise.

But it is a framework—and we can reject or embrace that frame.

What bars am I putting up between myself and love?

What structures need to be in place to keep love standing?

Photos by Anya Weber.

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Tea for Two

My parents have dueling tea kettles.

A stove with two kettles on the back burners.

Actually, the kettles don’t really duel. They just face off across the back burners.

It’s a somewhat long story, how the two kettles came to live on the same stove. My dad scorched one of them (the original kettle) when he put on water for tea and then got distracted and left the room.

Now he won’t use that one. He bought a replacement, which my mom won’t use because it’s annoying to fill up. She still uses the original one.

They also use different water for their tea: my mom has a Brita filter, and my dad buys water from the store. Neither trusts their tap water, which has a somewhat tainted history in their small NH town.

I asked them what the his-and-hers kettles symbolize about their marriage.

Mom: “We’re stubborn, and we let each other do our own thing.”

Dad: “We work well together.”

All of those statements are true. My parents give each other space and support. They are independent and connected.

They know that sometimes, compromise means giving up something. And sometimes, it means allowing something extra into your life that you might not have planned for.

As we head into the New Year, I’m thinking about the ebb and flow of relationships: the paradoxes of intimacy (both romantic and otherwise).

Everything that we give up, and everything we gain, when we intertwine our lives with those of others.