But though I learned to appreciate Stephanie's parenting, we were still two perimenopausal, grief-stricken women living in one house—and there were plenty of other issues over which to butt heads. One argument started during a game of padel—a Spanish sport that blends tennis and squash—and the fact that the subject was silly did nothing to deter us. Our stepbrother and an old friend of mine were visiting at the same time; Steph wanted our stepbrother to have the room with the castle view while I wanted to give it to my friend. "David is family," Stephanie pronounced. Her controlled voice enraged me like a red cape dangling in front of a bull. I slammed the ball with my two-handed backhand and snarled, "Why does your vote count more than mine?" When she lunged low for a return shot, I wanted to whack her with my padel.

What I wanted even more, however, was to catch the first flight out of Spain. When we'd disagreed from separate continents, I could simply hang up the phone and send her an e-mail. But in Spain, regardless of what happened during the day, eight of us would be gathered around the dinner table at night.

From across the net, Ethan caught my eye—my husband, who had dragged kids, cats, and suitcases halfway around the world for the sake of my fresh start. I felt a sudden pang of guilt and knew I owed it to him to stay in the game. So I stopped arguing and repeated, like a silent prayer, the lessons about fighting fair that we were teaching our kids on the commune: Use your words. Be kind. Treat others how you want to be treated. When the match was over, there was no anger left in me.

We soaked the last days of summer on the white beaches of Andalusia and watched Gypsies dance flamenco in the streets. Ethan bought his first jamón ibérico, a leg of an acorn-fed black Iberian pig. Todd cut slices that we paired with glasses of exotic-tasting Spanish sherry.

Then one scorching autumn Friday we piled into our 10-year-old diesel minivan and headed for Portugal's southwestern tip, where sheer cliffs rise from an indigo sea. The Greeks and Romans considered Cape St. Vincent a sacred, magical place, the end of their world and the start of heaven, and as the wind dampened the kids' excited voices, I strongly felt my mother's spirit. She was out there amid the rolling waves and blue sky, smiling, I felt sure, at all this family harmony, pleased that her death had led to something rare and priceless.

Suddenly, I heard a cry. Adrian had fallen near the edge of a cliff. Stephanie got there first and lifted him to his feet, brushing away the dirt and tears. She then handed my son to me. "Todo está bien," she said. As the sun slid toward the glittering sea, I knew she was right.


Next Story