Good blogging etiquette delineates that a successful blog post should always be succinct, direct, and largely impersonal so that the reader–any reader–can read it quickly and relate to the content. Well today I have to say, screw that. Send my warmest regards to convention, but I need to vent and delve into the realm of things personal. So here it is, the blog post that should probably have gone forever unpublished.
I love my family. But it’s also very complicated. Let’s just say the ol’ family tree is crooked, has a few broken branches, and the trunk is knobby and pest-ridden… But the roots– ah, the roots are pristine.
Being the child of a broken marriage is not at all unusual. Looking back, the weirdest part for me was probably not growing up with a stable understanding of “home”. From the time I was seven months old, my older brother and I would switch houses every other weekend, on holidays, etc. The constant to and fro never seemed abnormal at the time–but now hearing people talk nostalgically about their childhood homes, I realize that I may have an ill-conceived notion of what “home” was, and is… Because nostalgia is not among the feelings I experience when I think of my childhood houses.
Both parents ended up getting remarried when I was still a small toddler (to fantastic people), so I was given two more loving parents–which has really been a blessing. Through the two new marriages, seven sweet kids were brought into the world. If you have been doing the math, that makes eight siblings total. All of these kids are honestly impossible not to love (no, I’m not biased). Every single day they amaze, awe, and inspire me.
It has definitely been a challenge, though, being the relic of a failed marriage and bouncing between two newly established families. Regardless of how welcoming my step-parents and parents have been, sometimes it’s still a very awkward thing–showing up with all my baggage while they are having family-dinner, or playing a game. I imagine it’s akin to a businessman coming home after a long trip, having missed so much family time that there’s virtually no way to catch up on everything. And, oh lord, try explaining to a crying six year old that you have to leave so often because you are technically part of another family, too. You are standing precariously on the periphery of two completely different families… Part of both, and somehow neither.
Divorce is just a really hard thing. And, truly, because it is so prevalent, it is largely marginalized as a struggle. This past year, I had a very dear friend whose parents divorced after twenty-five years of marriage. Now he is watching his parents re-invent their lives as individuals– dating new people, apartment hopping, etc.– and I’m watching his idea of “home” become less and less of a stable notion. All the while, he is being a tough guy because “a lot of people go through divorces”, as if that somehow makes it easier.
My step-dad’s father spent twenty-two years in prison. When he got out, I was in college, in the midst of a personal crisis, dealing (unsuccessfully) with the typical family qualms. A series of extramarital affairs, seemingly cataclysmic fights between parents, and overall familial drama had me reeling and trying to find some sort of understanding and peace through it all. I still don’t really know how he saw right through me, this former inmate that I had never had previous contact with. But at some family event, he looked me square in the eye and said, “You want to know the hardest thing any kid comes to realize?”
“What is that?” I asked him, half afraid of the answer.
“That his parents are not in fact perfect, as he had always thought… Want to know the second hardest thing?”
“Yes..?” I answered, with probably a tint more sass than was necessary, but not thrilled with his cat-and-mouse game.
This conversation was two years or so ago now and it still burns in my memory as brilliantly as the day we had it. For a long time I carried bitterness and resentment everywhere because my parents really did make a hell of a lot of mistakes. But they also did a lot of things very well. And it turns out bitterness and resentment are very, very heavy companions.
Last January my mom and step-dad finalized their divorce after eighteen years of marriage. Now, being an adult and being at least remotely established on my own, I am less phased by the fallout. But helplessly I’m left watching my little brothers, fourteen and eleven, feel the deeply jarring instability that accompanies the end of a marriage. Meanwhile both my mom and step-dad are trying on lovers like t-shirts, trying to put band-aids on the gunshot wound of a love that long gone wrong.
Through it all, I think I’ve probably learned only two things for sure. I hope you’re ready for this:
1) Marriage is hard
2) Divorce is hard.
That’s it. That’s all I have.
Oh, and this awesome quote to chew on–
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven… –John Milton
We do always have a choice. Find your heaven through the hell.