The girls have been struggling with a kind of separation anxiety lately. There have been more than 5 announcements of separations/divorce from couples they know over the last year. When it first began it was easy enough to gently explain that sometimes, like with being sisters, you need to get a little space or take a break. They would nod softly, ask if Sean and I were ok, and then move on to the next thing.
I was hanging out with Finley one day and she said, “Mom, do I have a step-mom?” I shook my head, looked down at her, and said, “What, babe?” She stopped walking, turned to me, and repeated, “Do I have a stepmom?” I knelt down and said, “No, Fin, you don’t have a stepmom. I am married to dad and you are our kid, so you have a mom and a dad, no stepmom.” She thought about it, “Will I ever?”
I took a deep breath, being the weeper and worrier that I am, my mind immediately went to the place of early death. What if I die and she does end up with a stepmom? What I say now might influence how she deals with that person. I said, “Well, I kind of hope not, because that would mean that I wasn’t here anymore. So I kind of think no, but if you ever did, I would hope that she was nice.” She thought about it, “So not like the Tangled mom, you wouldn’t want a person who would steal my sparkle, right?” I was teetering between crying and laughing. “Exactly.” She nodded, satisfied, and we walked toward the car.
Fast forward a few months and the proximity and intensity of the break ups around us has begun to permeate every conversation. I fret over how much they know, but also realize that divorce and stepparents will become more and more a part of their lexicon, completely shielding them from it doesn’t help. The girls draw comparisons from movies to what they think they see happening around us. “Could it be like the Parent Trap, could they come back together?” they wonder aloud at the dinner table. We explain that sometimes taking a break can help people remember why they fell in love or that they realize that they made a mistake. “Oooooh, like when we got into trouble for fighting and went in our rooms, but then we came out and told each other we were sorry?” We nodded. “Other times though, other times it may just not be ok again and they have to split up.” The table was quiet.
“So, mom, will you and dad like, will you like divorce or break up or whatever?” Briar asked without making eye contact with me. I wanted to cry. Memories of my own childhood and divorce came rushing back. Tuesday nights and Sundays with my dad, sad talks with both parents, their exhaustion and sadness close to the surface as I pressed for a why. Briar waited. The hurt her question roused and that one girl back in school who wouldn’t let up, “Amanda, I know you’re parents are divorcing, but I can’t be friends with someone who uses bad words.” Her name was Lisa, and she stormed away, taking the other kids with her. I’d said god damnit after getting whipped with a bit of Weeping Willow branch as I tried to climb a tree. The cursing had nothing to with the divorce, but the way she threw it out into conversation made me feel like I was relegated to some lower category.
“Honey, I really hope not. Dad and I love each other. We argue like everyone does, but we talk about things and we work really hard to be together.” I watched her as I spoke. “You know when you were born I made dad promise to kiss me in front of you.” She scrunched her nose up. “I did. I told him I wanted you to see that we loved each other and I wanted us to remember to act like we did when we first fall in love.” She smiled and then said quietly, “Can that be enough?”
Avery was quiet, then Finley said, “Well I hope you never split up, because I am never getting married and I want to live with you and dad forever,” effectively breaking the tension and leading her sisters down a path of declarations of it not being ok to live with your parents forever. I listened to the banter and thought about our family. It certainly isn’t easy. Parenting three kids and running a business, take either of those on their own and you have stress, but put them together and throw in a marriage, it brings to mind the quote I heard about multi-tasking, that there is no such thing, you just take turns doing something better than others all the time.
Finley still asks me about stepparents with great frequency. I think of mine and I don’t know what to say. Fin is too young to understand what it means that my stepdad once drove to my middle school and dropped off a bag with pads in it. She’s too young to hear that my stepmom talked to me about tampons. All she would get from that is a weird connection to blood and private parts. I could tell her about my relationship with my parents; the original mom and dad. I could tell her that my mom never once stopped being my mom, that divorce didn’t take away my childhood, the lullabyes, legends, and memories all came through it unscathed. Would she understand that sometimes you have a lot of anger, but that time and life give you new shots, that dads can be great as grandparents, that sometimes maybe divorce is the start of happily ever after?
“Ok, mom, you be the Magic Eight ball. I’ll ask you questions about divorce and you give the answers. Ok, Magic Eight ball, will mom and dad get a divorce?”
I shake my head not liking the game, but I say, “No. Definitely not.”
She looks at me, “You know, mom, I remember all the Magic Eight ball answers. You could also say without a doubt.”
I look at her, “Without a doubt means yes.”
“Oh. Ok, mom, just shake yourself, let’s get a different answer.”
Five is so forgiving, the ability to leapfrog from sorrow to silly helps navigate the heartbreak of divorce. Still, having so much heartbreak around us is taking a toll on our entire family. I am grateful that the girls are learning the other side to the fairy tale endings that are drummed into them in nearly every book, movie, and song. I am not, however, doing very well with the constant scrutiny of love and giving up. “But how come they are doing this if they loved each other enough to get married. And what happens next?” Ave pressed one night as we drove home. Finley immediately chimed in, “Yeah, because I love them both. Do I have to pick one?”
“We can still love everyone.” I said.
They were quiet again. I thought about the promise Sean and I made all those years ago. How I told him that I wanted the girls to know how to be loved. “Kisses in the kitchen, ok? I want us to kiss in front of them and say I love you.” I remember he hooked his arm around my waist, pulling me in tight, and said, “Just try and stop me.”
I think lately I’ve been getting all rusty and kinked-up with thinking too much about relationships that aren’t working. The girls’ worry, as much as it pains me, is a piercing reminder that I need to be working on my marriage too, not because it’s bad, but because it’s good and not something I ever want to lose.
Tagged: family, forgiveness, marriage
As I enter the end of my thirties, I too am starting to see more couples in my cohort breakup and divorce. I find myself preoccupied and almost inappropriately interested in the details of these uncouplings, as if I could learn some magic formula that could prevent this from happening in my own life. My son is too young to understand any of this. But seeing divorce around me also serves as a reminder to make sure that my marriage isn’t a casualty of indifference, resentment, and conflict.
It’s amazing how going through these things around kids both slows and speeds the response time.
That last line: Yes.
Aw, you made it to the last line. xo
I really enjoyed reading this despite the sad subject, because like Jessica said, this is a big part of life at this stage in the game. You are such a lovely mother. xo
Each stage has a different sad that goes with it. I do think that as we/they get older, our friends’ lives become more a part of our life and the wondering makes sense, even when it hurts. Thank you, Maggie may.
I just found your blog. Love your writing. We have had the same discussion with our 11 year old recently. So many couples our age seem to be divorcing – many are his close friends. He asks why his friend across the street has 2 dads and goes to visit one dad every other weekend. Then, he wants to know why he can’t come over and play when he with his other dad. Hard stuff to explain. My husband and I come from divorced parents and the kids have step-grandparents…even harder trying to explain!
It cracks me up sometimes as they try to do the family math. “So your grandpa was married to your mom?”
That last part totally made me almost cry. So damn sweet.
I love the way you are dealing with this. The thought never even crossed my mind that it’d be something to come up (I don’t have kids, but hopefully one day)
There should be a book on all the stuff we never thought would come up. It would never end. 🙂
No one is exempt. No one has the ability to predict what will happen to them or their future. You explain that if you die she might end up with a step parent. You have no idea what goes on in someone elses head it might not be just if you die.
You are absolutely right, Dee. I admit to talking to each daughter differently based on how they process things. My answer has also been, “I certainly hope not,” with regard to death or divorce.
Thanks for commenting.