Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hard lessons, and love

Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart

My very first memory, something pieced together with bits of actual recollections and photographs, is of Linda being born. They put me in hospital regulation animal pajamas and were very forceful about me washing my hands before going in to meet my new baby sister. I was extremely indignant, my sense of pride very strong for a not-yet 2 year-old, that the nurse assumed I was a dirty child. I remember snuggling next to my mom in the hospital bed, looking at the tiny, red-faced bundle in her arms, and being told that I was a Big Sister now; I had Responsibilities.

Most people don't have solid memories of their lives that young, and most of my other memories of early childhood are simply hazy remembrances of an emotion, a snatch of a sentence, or mash of very similar events that have blended into one. Kudos to Wee Martin for making such a big impression.

One thing I have precious few memories of is that of my parents being together. My mom and dad divorced when I was very young, and I feel that it's safe to say that all I've known, really, is a two-family life.

In my line of work I will get asked about my personal life from completely impersonal people. I always answer truthfully (albeit with brevity) and so on the odd occasion where it's merited mention, I will tell people my parents got divorced when I was but a wee little sprog. The universal response is "I'm sorry, that must have been hard", to which I surprise people with the counter-response of "not really, actually." I like to think that I've grown into a mature, sensible, well-rounded person who is doing her parents proud, and I neither attribute this to, nor feel it is in spite of the early separation. It is simply How It Is.

I've encountered very few issues being a child of divorce. The only major hiccup I can recall is my bff across the street not being allowed to come out and play anymore because her parents didn't want her associating with divorced riff-raff, and the only real emotional scar I can put my finger on is the tendency to question the viability of long-term relationships.

The benefit of having my faith in the almighty Love and Marriage shaken so young is that I've had a very long time to work through it. I've seen both the ugliness and the happiness that can result from a separation, and I have the wisdom to know that it will, in time, get better. I learned very early on that one relationship is not a barometer for others; just because my parent's couldn't work it out doesn't mean my friend's parents can't either, and just because my friend's parents were happy and in love doesn't mean that my parents were somehow less happy or loving. Every person, every experience, and every relationship is different and it took a lot of observation and questioning in my formative years to realize that there is no Golden Rule for relationships. It will work, or it won't. That is all.

Most importantly, especially as I've gotten older and my parents have had both time and distance to heal their old, deep wounds, I have learned that an unhappy ending doesn't invalidate the happy years that preceded it. My mom will come across a recipe card and wistfully remember how my paternal grandmother was so darn good at it, and wonder aloud if my father would like to have it back (you know, 20 years after the divorce). My dad will laughingly recall how once my mother was mortified when he got angry at a Sears salesperson over car repairs. Even though it ended badly and took a long, long while to smooth over, my parents had, at one time, a good relationship. That has been my hardest lesson to learn. Though there were fights and court dates, kid-shuffling and FAFSA disagreements, the 17 years of marriage they had before all this mess was still worthwhile. Once, they were happy, and that long-irrelevant emotion and memory doesn't just vanish into the ether when the bond does.


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