When my father-in-law accidentally broke a bowl in my kitchen and found a replacement at my favorite store, he confirmed our newly formed unique and unexpected friendship.

In the years before my husband and I had kids, my relationship with my father-in-law was warm but limited. When we visited him, it usually meant it was a holiday and he had a house full of family. We existed in our own orbits. He would assist in the kitchen, make grocery runs and fetch extra chairs to accommodate the crowd. While I helped with bedtime routines for my many nieces and nephews, he watched Fox News and read Rush Limbaugh.

When we had our second child, my father-in-law came for an extended visit to Portland to stay in our house and help. In the confines of our small home, our lanes and our lives overlapped as they had not before. The baby was colicky and nursed constantly, so I spent many days of my maternity leave on the couch, cradling baby, and in conversation with my father-in-law.

He talked about his work and his forthcoming retirement. I shared how defeated I felt by new motherhood. It was the fall of 2016 and the politics in our country were volatile enough to divide families. But our debates were respectful. My father-in-law came from Ohio coal mining country, joined the military at 18 and met his wife during a foreign deployment. I grew up in New England, Jewish, the daughter of hippies, and have a different view of the world.

When absentee ballots arrived for my in-laws, it was uncomfortable for me to know who would get their vote. Still, my father-in-law and I found common ground in the love and care of my children, the bond of family and a shared curiosity about one another. I introduced him to Trader Joe’s, kombucha and chocolate hummus. He showed us how cozy a chocolate chip cookie and a warm glass of milk can be before bed, and invited me to read the Bible with him on occasion.

Months later, a box arrived in the mail from my favorite store, Anthropologie. Inside was a single blue-flowered bowl, a match to a set I had in my kitchen. In a call later that day, my father-in-law explained: “You once told me you loved a store called Anthropologie. When I broke one of your bowls, I thought it might be from Anthropologie and I found it on their website. I wanted you to have the complete set again.”

Anthropologie was unfamiliar to my father-in-law, so he went out of his way and out of his comfort zone for me. His gesture represented the friendship we had made. Sometimes things break so that even better things can be created.

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