Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bigger than a Bread Box: a book plug, a divorce story

Laurel Snyder’s forthcoming book, Bigger than a Bread Box, is a story with a theme of divorce. In her blog post, "What we talk about when we talk about divorce", Snyder writes,

Grownups control the way divorce gets discussed.  But kids experience it too.  Grownups really need to believe, when splitting up, that “divorce is for the best” or that “we’ll all come through it okay” because “kids are so resilient.”  Their need to believe these things affects the way they talk about divorce… and the way they remember it too.

In the blog post, Snyder requested a story about other peoples’ experiences of divorce. I thought about this for awhile. I wondered if I could tell my own story without infringing upon my parents’ privacy. The author Anne Lamott said, "Write as if your parents were dead." I can't do that. They are alive, and my imagination is not so flexible as to pretend otherwise.

My parents separated when I was 15 and divorced when I was 19. Although I felt the reverberations of the separation strongly, my two younger brothers, born 5 and 7 years after me, were the true “children of divorce.”

My father was also a child of divorced parents. I had three sets of grandparents, and I was the only child for five years. I felt lucky to have a wealth of family members. My aunts and uncles were in their teens, my six grandparents had time to spend with me, and I absorbed their attention.  Still, I was a “lonely-only,” and I welcomed the arrivals of my brothers. 

In the 1980s, many of my classmates had divorced parents, and I remember one friend telling me with ominous importance, “It’ll probably happen to your parents too.” I thought she was probably wrong, but I wondered and watched.

In the summer of 1987, my parents called me into the master bedroom to tell me in private that they planned to get a divorce. They asked me to keep the news quiet until they told my brothers. I could tell my boyfriend, but no one else. I think my parents wanted us all to have one last family vacation together. 

From my 15 year old viewpoint, the difficulties my parents faced were nothing compared to my sense of injustice and outrage. I resented keeping the secret from my brothers, and wished my parents would just hurry up and get on with it. As Snyder wrote, “Grownups control the way divorce gets discussed.  But kids experience it too.” 

Over twenty years later, my parents now live in different parts of the country. They have celebrated the birth of a granddaughter and mourned the loss of a son. While I don’t live as close to them as they did to my grandparents, they have a good relationship with my daughter independently of each other.

This is not the whole story. It's not even an accurate representation of what happened and how I felt. However, I can look back on the time of my parents' separation and divorce with more compassion and understanding than when I stood before them and received their news on a summer day in 1987. I can believe that they did the best they could with the resources they had. What more can any of us do than that?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cannot write as if my parents were dead, either.