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Anatomy of a Sofa: Musings from the Evil Stepmother

My husband and I bought our oversize, blue-and-white French-country print sofa when I was eight months pregnant and forgot that I wouldn’t always be huge enough to warrant seating the size of a small nation-state. When I sat all the way back, my feet didn’t reach the ground, and in my enormity, I couldn’t leave the sofa without either helping hands or a duck-and-roll maneuver I would be embarrassed to execute in front of others. But none of this mattered, because I could visualize life with my newborn lived out on this sofa. I imagined long, lazy days of nursing and napping, the sun streaming in from the many windows on the enclosed and heated porch where the sofa would go. I pictured my growing baby on her back on the wide pillows, chubby arms and legs waving in the air as I shook brightly colored toys in front of her, watching her eyes light up as she recognized shapes, sounds, her own mother’s smiling face. I wasn’t purchasing a sofa; I was buying an idyll, the epic story of my blended families.

When the sofa was delivered, it clashed with everything in the room. The colors were wrong, the style was wrong, the size was wrong, wrong, wrong. When my baby was delivered, we did spend the cozy hours I imagined planted on that sofa, but it became more of a refuge than an idyll. My marriage couldn’t withstand the strain of parenthood. Slowly, painfully, the clashes moved beyond style to substance and my husband and I split. 

The oversize sofa followed me after the divorce because it was my three-year-old daughter’s favorite piece of furniture. It represented security and comfort to her in its billowing pillows and the wide prairie of its seat cushions. In the doll-size house we rented, the sofa left room for not a single piece of furniture more in the living room. Luckily, all T. and I needed was the one—a floating ship of safety and familiarity in a new, unfamiliar world.

I have a photo of T.’s fourth birthday party, just weeks after moving to our dollhouse. All eight children invited to the party fit easily on the sofa and I clicked the picture in a moment when each of them, miraculously, were smiling. One of the children was T.’s newest friend—a girl tall for her age with blond pigtails and a candy-colored striped shirt. This was D., and a year later she would become my stepdaughter.


New family, new house: T. and I packed up when our lease expired and moved in with D. and her father. They already had a living-room sofa, but by now the faded and stained French country number was T.’s talisman, perhaps the biggest blankie in the history of American childhood. No question that it was coming too. My new husband’s house had a small, narrow, winding staircase to the basement, which is where the sofa had to reside. He and a friend managed to wedge the sofa halfway down, and there it stayed. Luckily, my husband had a chainsaw and knew how to use it. I took the girls upstairs so T. wouldn’t see her beloved sofa gored to bits. My husband sawed the legs off the sofa, and it made it downstairs, legless, a bit bloodied, but still viable nonetheless. 

The little girls bounced on the sofa in the basement, threw toys all over it, turned it into play scape, horsie, gymnasium, and fort. And scarcely six months later, we were on the move again, all of this time, to a bigger house that was both a new start for our blended family and a return of sorts, since the house belonged to my great uncle for more than fifty years before he died and my cousin sold it to us. I was overwhelmed by the feelings of newness and continuity—almost an embrace from my ancestors of the blended family I brought to the house, rag-tag as we all might be from our earlier marriages and divorces.

The sofa works in our new-old family room. This room has the high ceilings and space to support the oversized monster, which now sports three stumps and an overturned bucket for legs. Most of its cushions are ripped, and by now the pattern has faded even more.  Six out of seven days a week, it functions not as a sofa but as a tent, with blankets, pillows, and various props. I’ve come full circle from believing the sofa was a mistake to loving everything about it, bucket included. I have no desire to fix it up. It’s rag-tag, like our stepfamily, but already suffused with history. It’s a perfect fit.

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