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And Dinner Was Served

“Men are like fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and its our job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you’d like to have dinner with.” (Kathleen Mifsud)

Unless you’re #5 and you start out mature (ie. older) and YOU do the stomping by dumping your fiancee BEFORE dinner! It happened like this…

On that fateful Sunday night, #5 had invited his family to my home for dinner. He arrived early to help with preparations, all of our children were in the basement and we were in my kitchen. Somehow we got on the subject of two children (one of his, one of mine) and we had a disagreement.

“Thus, we see that one of the obvious origins of human disagreement lies in the use of noises for words.” (Algred Korzbyski)

He dug his heels in in defense of his son, I dug my heels in in defense of my son, and things degenerated from there. It got so petty we even argued about the boys’ ages. When I suggested his son was the older child so he should set more of the example, he corrected me, saying his son was just one year older so they were basically the same age. In a burst of maturity I got even more petty by correcting the age difference: “Well, if you’re going to get so specific and picky about it, your son is actually 19 MONTHS older–and two years older in school!” (Wow. 19 months. Two years in school.  That’s a lifetime. Petty, I know.)

Unexpectedly, he stood up and said he would get his son and leave. He had NEVER done that before, by the way. He turned and walked out of the room. I stood there, alone in my kitchen, stunned.

I was dumbfounded.

Leave? Because of a disagreement? When his family was due to arrive any minute? We hadn’t had many disagreements our entire engagement–I think I’ve chronicled all two of them–but he headed to the basement to call his son. For some reason, I followed him.

“You’re just going to leave?” I asked.

He was. He said he was sorry, but that he just couldn’t do it anymore. That maybe the timing was bad. That he’d never planned to get married until his son was 18, but then he’d met me and it had changed everything. However, after all of the time we had spent together and during the course of our long engagement, there were things that hadn’t changed and he didn’t know what else to do–so he was leaving.

I was appalled. “You’re going to leave, without even fighting FOR us?”

Before he could answer, in the pause, the doorbell rang.

His family.

It was like a bad movie.

Too late to leave, #5 expressed his displeasure with a roll of his eyes, muttered, “Oh, CRAP!” and then kicked into performer/entertainer mode. He answered the door with a smile, acted like everything was fine and normal, was friendly to everyone (except me) and prepared to serve dinner. Unfortunately, I’m not an actress.

His brother walked in, took one look at me and asked, “Andrea, are you all right?” To which I lied, “Yes, fine!” He looked at me, puzzled, and asked again, “Are you sure? You look tired or something.” I changed the subject and carried on. Or attempted to, anyway.

Later, as the kids came up for dinner, my high school son walked in, took one look at me and asked, “Mom? Are you all right? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I lied.

And dinner was served.

“Here they are, top of the food chain, and dinner is served.” (Jeffrey Jones, “The Devil’s Advocate”)


“Do it, dump it or change it.” (Jim Janz)

I couldn’t believe it!

It was SO unexpected.

After all of the time we’d been engaged, after all we had resolved or overcome–even a flat tire in the desert, after everything and despite his complete commitment to us that had never wavered, unexpectedly…one Sunday night, Bachelor #5 broke up with ME.

There’s a part of me that thinks it was for the best. I mean, “Giving up doesn’t always mean you are weak; sometimes it means that you are strong enough to let go.” (Author Unknown)

There was a tiny part of me that was glad some of the frustration had ended. I hoped I could be like Phyllis Diller who said, “My recipe for dealing with…frustration: set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes, cry, rant, rave, and at the sound of the bell, simmer down and go about business as usual.”

Besides, I was tired of knowing that every couple we knew who got engaged the same day we did had already married; every couple we knew who got engaged after we did had already married; and that even couples we knew who met each other after we got engaged were already married. Sometimes I felt that, “If  I hear about one more couple who marries before I do, I’ll scream.”

Well, #5 took care of that. He dumped me. And I wasn’t feeling the urge to scream. I was devastated.

WHAT was he thinking?

“I’ve always been a fella who put most of my eggs in one basket and then take a dump in the basket, but I really don’t know.” (Robert Downey Jr.)

No Dynamite

“In the 1950s in Columbia, South Carolina, it was considered OK for kids to play with weird things. We could go to the hardware store and buy 100 feet of dynamite fuse.” (Kary Mullis)

Thank goodness it’s not the 1950s, huh? That seems like a little too much unexpected potential–even for the queen of The Unexpected Life, Andrea Merriman.

But here is something unexpectedly refreshing. I’ve learned, during November 2009-February 2011 as I’ve dated and been engaged to #5, that he is all he has professed to be. Although when we got engaged we never expected to be engaged 9 1/2 months, it has been a great opportunity to REALLY get to know one another; to resolve any issues prior to marriage and especially (for me) to see if #5 is as genuine, real and honest as he seems. (Why would that even be a concern in my world? But it was, especially in the beginning of our relationship–something about 15 years of deception, lies, betrayal and a big Ponzi scheme that can do that to a gal, I guess.)

A highlight of our engagement, for me, that really demonstrated this was a road trip #5 and I took our children on last summer–and the flat tire in the middle of the desert one of the cars got. (You see, we have so many children we don’t own a car we can all fit in (yet.) Everywhere we go, we have to drive at least two cars!) So we’re driving in the middle of nowhere last July and we get a flat tire. The cars were packed with two adults, 7 children, suitcases, sleeping bags, bikes, and all kinds of other stuff. We unloaded the trunk to get the spare tire and jack out; couldn’t get the flat tire off; unloaded the entire cargo area of the OTHER car, too, to find a jack that worked better; and after working on the tire for awhile, we still couldn’t get the flat tire off. So we had to call a tow truck for help.

While waiting for the tow truck, I apologized to #5 several times for the inconvenience. It was my car and the tire was an older one I’d planned to save money on by not replacing until the fall. But #5 just looked at me, smiled, and calmly said, “It’s ok, Andrea. These things happen. They’re minor inconveniences. This, too, shall pass.”

An hour or so later and $100 poorer, we had the old flat tire off, the spare tire on, had repacked everything back into two cars, had loaded the 7 children back in, and were driving down the road again. And #5 was still as patient and calm as he always had been–despite the fact we were trying to get back in town by a certain time because #5 had a meeting he was in charge of.

This, and many other situations and experiences the past 16 months, continued to demonstrate to me that #5 is the real deal. Honest, true, genuine, not perfect (but has never represented himself to be so)–what you see is what you get. Couple that with humility, patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, spirituality, caring and love for his fellow man, brains, talent, work ethic, a sense of humor, good looks and a host of other things (including dance moves!) and you can see why I’m with him!

WHAT a relief.

There is no unexpected dynamite or surprise revelation from the man in my life that I love that is going to gut my world anymore.

“A good way to threaten somebody is to light a stick of dynamite. Then you call the guy and hold the burning fuse up to the phone. ‘Hear that?’ you say. ‘That’s dynamite, baby.’” (Jack Handy)

The Bright Side of My Divorce

“Always look on the bright side of life.” (Monty Python)

When I divorced, initially, I thought my situation was more difficult than a “typical” divorce because my former spouse is in prison. His incarcerated status left me completely alone to raise and support our children. There is no child support; no parenting time with the other parent; and while I wouldn’t wish the prison experience on anyone (although the choices my former spouse made certainly warrant prison time) as time has gone on, I’ve been able to look on the bright side. 

“The habit of looking on the bright side of every event is worth more than a thousand pounds a year.” (Samuel Johnson)

The bright side? Of being left alone, the sole source of support for four children, while the former spouse serves over 12 years in prison? Some might wonder, “What bright side?”

Here it is: I am completely alone to raise and support our children. There is no child support.

I have sole custody–medical custody, educational custody, social custody, religious custody, every type of custody I could think of when I wrote my divorce. And after observing many divorced couples have to co-parent their children, I’ve realized being left completely alone is much simpler and easier (in some ways, for me) than what some divorced couples experience.

I get to do what I feel is best for my children. I don’t have to get permission, approval or really even report to another parent. I don’t have to compromise. I don’t make plans and have them changed by the other parent. There is no other parent to get frustrated or mad at me. While some former spouses have to endure spending time with one another for the sake of their children, I don’t have to do that either. And now that we’re used to seeing “Unsensored Inmate Mail” stamped on the outside of envelopes that arrive occasionally in our mailbox, basically, I’m drama-free!

Yes, there is always a bright side–if you choose to find it.

The whole prison thing also meant #5 didn’t have to meet a former spouse face-to-face. Instead, he received a letter from Shawn Merriman, mailed from a Colorado jail, early in our engagement.

I don’t remember much of the letter other than that my former spouse tried to be kind and supportive in what he wrote–although how his attempts to do that came across in writing I still wonder about. It seemed a little “lecturing” to me as it told #5 he would be the one to do such-and-such with the Merriman children and it listed lots of things #5 would be doing with them. (It sort of read like Shawn Merriman was telling #5 all that he expected him to do as a step-parent.)

But #5 is not only a very nonjudgemental person and accepting of everyone, he is a good sport. He accepted the letter graciously…and we never really discussed it again. I don’t know what, if anything, he did with it. He just does his thing, in his own way, and my children are the better because of it. I credit the healing of my children to a great big miracle, to the passage of time and in large part, to #5.

“But when we have families, when we have children, this gives us a purpose for being, to protect our children, to avoid going to jail because if I’m in jail, who looks after my children, who’s there for my wife?” (Ernie Hudson)


Are You SURE?

“Madam your wife and I didn’t hit it off the only time I ever saw her. I won’t say she was silly, but I think one of us was silly, and it wasn’t me.” (Elizabeth Gaskell)

When you have children, meeting the other parent of your fiance’s children is part of the engagement leading to remarriage experience. It sort of snuck up on me. So although I don’t know what I was expecting that meeting to be like, it wasn’t what I expected at all.

We were at an event for #5′s oldest son. I didn’t know anyone, but #5 had been very good to introduce me to everyone. At some point he asked me how I was, if I was having fun and if I’d met everyone yet. I said, “I think so. But there’s an older woman here who looks a LOT like your oldest daughter that I haven’t met yet. Is she your ex-wife?”

He gazed in the direction I was looking and said, “Yes, that’s her. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

We walked over to where she stood, #5 introduced us and then he got out of there! My conversation with his ex-wife was brief. She told me #5 is a really good person. She thanked me for being kind to her children. And then she said something about wanting me to know she would never do anything to cause a problem or come between us.

I appreciated her positive comments, but it was all a little surreal for me. I’d never expected to be divorced, much less getting remarried and having a conversation with someone’s ex-wife! And to have to discuss the drama ex-spouses can be (when I’m not a drama queen AT ALL) almost mortified me. I didn’t quite know what to say, so I agreed with her that #5 is a really good person; I told her how much I loved her children; and then said something like, “Oh, I’m sure you would never do anything–especially when there’s no reason to as I know I came around long AFTER your divorce–we don’t even need to talk about it, but thanks for saying that.”

Here is what I remember thinking:

“Am I REALLY having this conversation?” (The drama potential is SO NOT me.)

“She’s older than I imagined.” (I later found out she is older than #5; I don’t know why I didn’t expect that.)

“Wow. She is SHORT!” (I think the top of her head hit somewhere between my elbow and my shoulder. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that, either.)

“I really like her.”

Afterward, when we were driving home, #5 asked me for my thoughts about the day. I told him my feelings and then said, “But you’ll be amazed who, of everyone, I really liked.”

“Who?” he asked.

“Your ex-wife,” I replied.

And since I’ve always been a big believer in marriage and families, especially intact ones, I couldn’t help but add, “Are you SURE you shouldn’t see if you can put your original family back together? Your ex-wife seems nice. Your children could have their parents together again. Your ex-wife wouldn’t have to struggle… We could take a break while you see what you could work out. I would completely support you in that.”

I thought it was a very kind, generous offer on my part–I knew what I felt about #5 and what I would be giving up for him to do that, but I felt I had to suggest it, to do my part to see if there couldn’t be one less broken family in the world. Instead, #5 looked at me like I was completely looney. And in the interest of being concise and discreet,  I’ll sum his response with two words: “No, thanks.”

“Well, whaddya expect in an opera, a happy ending?” (Bugs Bunny, “What’s Opera, Doc?” 1957)

I sure do. Which is why on one other occasion during our engagement, I made the same offer to #5 again and asked, “Are you SURE you shouldn’t see if you can put your original family back together?”

To which he replied, “Andrea, you can decide you don’t love me. You can decide you won’t marry me. But no matter what, and even if it means I’m alone the rest of my life, the option you’re suggesting is not something that will ever happen.” And then, with a smile, he told me if I suggested such a thing again he might get really, really mad.

I may be slow, but I got it.

I decided I had done all I could do on that front, so I’d just enjoy the opportunity that was mine and continue to work toward my own happy ending.

“I’ve always felt that life is a novel, and part of it is written for you, and part of it is written by you. It’s up to you to write the ending, ultimately.” (Lynn Johnston)

Magnetic Force

“Magnetism, as you recall from physics class, is a powerful force that causes certain items to be attracted to refrigerators.” (Dave Barry)

Or, in the case of my engagement to #5, my children to him every time he stepped through the front door of our home. In honor of that (and because when I asked #5 to tell me what he will remember most about our engagement, without pause, he replied, “Magnetic Force”) this blog post is for him.

I’ve mentioned before that my children liked #5 from the moment they met him. Truth be told, they saw his potential before their mother did–each one made it a point to tell me how much they liked him (one even suggested I marry #5) the first time they met him. I appreciated their honesty in expressing what they thought and how they felt, but it also complicated things: while I would never marry someone my children didn’t like, I had to make sure I chose the man I chose for ME because my children were going to grow up someday and I’d be left with the man!

My children liked #5 so much that every time he came to our home they congregated in the living room, sat down, and visited with him. Especially my younger children, but even my teenagers. This is wonderful for getting to know one another, and it’s fabulous for the step-parent situation, it just makes very limited “alone time” even more limited! Yes, there is something to the magnetic force that draws the Merriman children to #5…and then they never leave!

Another engagement “highlight” is how we’ve had to handle it. Over time, all subtlety went out the window. It’s called “couch versus corner.” And now here comes the too-much-information part: we sit on the couch, hang out with the kids and then as #5′s departure nears I’m forced to announce, “You’re welcome to stay but we’re going to say goodbye now.”

You should see the room clear!

I never expected I’d EVER have to say or do something like that but as I’ve probably said before, “Life is, for most of us, a continuous process of getting used to things we hadn’t expected.”

Even, or especially, during a wedding engagement when there are eight children involved and the engagement lasts longer than you ever expected it would.

You Can Call Me

“It’s strange but true. Fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing.”

When my unexpected life began, and in the real world, there were probably many (myself included, on occasion) that believed the reality of a wonderful life ever working out for me again was a slim chance or a fat one. However, the beauty of an unexpected life is that it does work out. With enough faith, hope, hard work, optimism, endurance and some miracles, in fact, it always does. Every time.

Another highlight of my engagement, for me, took place shortly after the driveway conversation with my youngest and the neighbor boy. One day I received the following email from #5:  ”Hey, Just wanted to let you know that last night in the car Jake asked if he could call me Dad. I told him he could call me anything he wanted–Dad, Fatty, Mike…Later he called me Mike, but at least he knows that it will be ok.”

Things were changing in our unexpected life; they were definitely looking up. Mr. Awesome was proving himself truly awesome time and again, but there were still a few unusual conversations ahead. Especially those that involved a four-year-old.

“The difficulty with this conversation is that it’s very different from most of the ones I’ve had of late. Which, as I explained, have mostly been with trees.” (Douglas Adams)

Who Are You?

“It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” (Johann Schiller)

Returning to the singles scene following my divorce was an interesting experience, particularly when the subject of my four children arose. Each and every time a man asked me how many children I had, and especially when they found out all of them still lived at home, I witnessed a variety of reactions.

A blanch.



A swallow.

And then usually a change of subject!

I heard things like, “You’re 42 years old and you have a…THREE YEAR OLD? What were you thinking?” Certainly not that I’d be divorced and left alone to raise him and three other children just a couple of years after his birth.

Or, “That’s ok, I don’t have a problem with kids–as long as they’re provided for…BY SOMEONE ELSE.” No, ex-husbands in prison don’t make much money, and with large restitution orders hanging over their heads, probably never will. I am the source of support for my children.

There were many, many other comments and reactions. Too many to recount, actually. The few that didn’t fall apart at the mention of my four children, usually refrained from EVER mentioning them. In fact, they never brought them up. I guess they thought if they ignored the four elephants in the room, they might go away. NOT. (And I’d NEVER want them to!)

And then there were a very few, about four men, who asked me about my children, referred to my children by name, and offered kind comments occasionally.

Except #5. The first time I met him he asked me all about them. He didn’t blanch at the number of children, he simply said, “I have four kids too!” He took things a step further, and actually made an effort to get to know them: he took my children snowmobiling; he brought them gifts when he returned from an out-of-town trip; he had them over to his home for games and dessert; he took them to lunch once; and he always sat and chatted with them when he came to pick me up for our dates. He became their friend.

One afternoon shortly after our engagement, we pulled up in the driveway and my youngest and his neighbor friend came running to greet the car. When #5 rolled down his window to talk to the boys, the first thing out of either boy’s mouth was the neighbor boy’s question to #5 about his parental status. “Who are you? Are you his daddy?”

In that instant I wondered how #5 would handle that. It was the first time that conversation had confronted us. I sat back and watched to see what he’d say or do. But without missing a beat, #5 calmly replied, “I am!”

My youngest smiled, happy and content to know and to be able to show the neighbor boy he had a dad again. And the boys returned to playing. The question had been resolved. No big deal. But it was a momentous moment for me. One of the highlights of my engagement, in fact. One of the most tragic losses of my unexpected life was my children’s loss of their father. But thanks to #5, we all had everything we needed again.

And #5 became a father to a total of 8 children.

“Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!” (Lydia M. Child, Philothea: A Romance, 1836)

I guess you could say #5 is EXTREMELY blessed now.

As are we.

Late Nights

“I’m a late-night guy.” (Dane Cook)

One thing (of many) that separated #5 from the rest of the bachelor’s was his schedule. He always had me home at a decent hour, even early. In fact, (dare I confess this?) back in the dating stage where I thought he wasn’t interested in me and only asked me out to give a newly divorced single mother social experiences because he felt bad for me, he took me home pretty early one night–and I went out with some single girlfriends after that! When we got engaged, that didn’t change; he always had me home early (by my standards.) It took some getting used to, on my part. He’s not a late-night guy.

In fact, he once commented to me that the people at my house sure stay up late. I was surprised. I seriously hadn’t noticed. But ever since he pointed that out, I can’t help but notice as I occasionally drive toward my home late at night that my house, and just two others on my street, have their lights on past a certain hour. I must be a late-night gal, raising late-night children. And I guess I hadn’t noticed because by the time I get home from work, and my little family spends a decent amount of time together, it’s late at night!

So my late night experiences during the course of my 9-month engagement have been with my children. Here’s a memorable one. From last night.

It was 12:06 a.m. and my oldest and I were up chatting, he was doing homework and I was working on a gift for #5, when my son got an email to his phone. He read it, got a big grin on his face and then read it aloud to me, something like, “Congratulations! You have been accept to Brigham Young University for Fall 2011.”


We were so excited, we were talking, laughing, joking and celebrating in the kitchen. His life sort of passed before my eyes as my mind was drawn back to the late nights of 1993-94, when I was up in the middle of the night with him every night. The dark nights were so still and quiet I remember feeling like he and I were the only people in the world, and I didn’t mind at all–I treasured every moment I had to enjoy him. It seemed very fitting that BYU contacted him late at night…and totally normal for he and I to be up late at night together!

In the midst of our celebration, we remembered #5 and wanted to share the good news. We knew he was asleep, so we sent him a text. We also know that since he sleeps near his phone in case his children ever need to reach him, it was probably going to wake him up. Late at night. But we did it anyway–we thought it was worth waking up for!

“If people were meant to pop out of bed, we’d all sleep in toasters.” (Author Unknown, attributed to Jim Davis)

Not only had that late night moment been years in the making, we’d had some challenges along the way: his world collapsing temporarily due to the revelations of his father, a divorce, a move to a new state and school, yet he kept his straight A’s even through the midst of all that; his mother returning to the work force full-time so he became the oldest male in our home and “at home” parent before and after school, even had to stay home with sick siblings on occasion–not the typical existence of a high schooler; in addition to school, he also works at Cold Stone; and then a few recent challenges during the application process that made it even more meaningful.

For one, my son had applied to only one college. BYU. He didn’t have a backup plan. That decision was motivated by money–we didn’t want to waste money paying to apply to any other college my son didn’t want to attend, but as time went on, I realized how unintelligent a decision that was and started to worry a little bit. (Especially after we were notified by his high school that they were sorry but they had sent an incorrect transcript and G.P.A. of just one senior to every college he had expressed interest in or that had expressed interest in him, and my son was that lucky student. I told you we have amazing odds at our house! And because the school didn’t correct their mistake for two months we began to worry a little bit about how it would all work out.)

However, last night’s late night memory made it all worthwhile. And #5 shared it with us via text. It was one of those moments we’ll never forget.

“A moment lasts all of a second, but the memory lives on forever.”

A List of Stuff

“I made this list of stuff that it’s time for me to try to do.” (Rick Moody)

When you’re in your forties with four children, and you get engaged to a man in his forties with four children, there is a lot to the “simple” act of getting married. In fact, it’s not so simple. When I got engaged in May 2010, I realized in the first few days of my engagement that there was no way I was going to accomplish all that I thought I needed to prior to my wedding without making a list of everything I needed to do and remember. So I did that. I made a list.

It included things like: take an engagement photo, choose a wedding announcement, plan a wedding dinner, purchase a wedding dress, plan a wedding, plan a honeymoon, go to Colorado so my friends can meet my fiance, introduce fiance to the Utah people that are important to me, participate in premarital counseling, know fiance one year prior to marriage  (November 2010), decide financial issues, decide parenting issues, make him a wedding gift, get family organized (ie. work chart, etc…), clean out middle son’s room, clean out youngest son’s room, move middle son out of his bedroom so fiance’s son can have his own bedroom, purchase wedding rings, find a car that holds 7 people, pre-nuptial agreement, set up new step-son’s bedroom, organize home office, organize family photos, clean out garage, clean out shed, fiance participate in Christmas show “Savior of the World” at the L.D.S. Conference Center, fiance participate in Sundance summer theater “Big River”, future mother-in-law needs surgery, fiance needs surgery, save up vacation time for a 2-3 day honeymoon, save money for a wedding dinner, fiance get his home ready to sell, fiance sell his house…You get the idea. Not one of the items on my list was inconsequential or small.

It was May 2010 and our plan was to marry in September 2010. (I know. I was already setting myself up for failure! If we married in September, I wouldn’t accomplish “know fiance one year prior to marriage.” But it was the date #5 suggested, and I was trying to be o.k. with it and work toward that.)

Interestingly, by September 2010, the date we had originally planned to marry, I had only accomplished 4 things on my list of 34 things. We rescheduled our date to January 2011, and by the time that date rolled around, I had accomplished just 17 of the 34 things. Remarriage was a lot more complicated, and required a lot more work, than I’d ever imagined! We set our sights on the end of January 2011, and by the time that date came, I’d lost the list!

“A list is only as strong as its weakest link.” (Donald Knuth)

I abandoned all hope of being organized and prepared prior to remarrying. As a single mother of four children, employed full-time, there wasn’t time for that anyway.

And then tonight guess what I found? The list. Out of curiosity, I read it. I realized I had accomplished 30 of 34 things on my list, and two of those I had changed my mind about: find a car that holds 7 people and arrange a pre-nuptial agreement. I had somehow gotten almost everything done on my list. And I’d done it without the aid of a paper list!

“Experience taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper. The second is that you’re generally better off sticking with what you know. And the third is that sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make.” (Donald Trump)