Saturday, February 11, 2006

The day I sprouted a second head

I'd chatted a few times with a casual acquaintance about growing up in a family with divorce. Her husband's parents are divorced and yet somehow, oddly, still very entwined in each other's lives. The complexities of families, the unique combinations of passions, personalities, values, intellect, and a dozen other factors that somehow knit us together into clans that are as distinct as handmade linens or afghans or sweaters, defy convention or expectation or the experiences of others. I could no more relate to this separate-involved-together-apart kind of life than I could envision living marooned on an island of zebras. It seems to me something that would be unfathomably difficult to navigate or reconcile. We had a good long chat about my blog and some books that I thought she might read or give to her husband.

And then, as innocently as pre-apple Eve, I said, "I can't ever remember my parents being in the same room together." And right then, I grew a second head. Or I might as well have, for the astonished look I received. It hadn't seemed to me an odd thing to say, just a simple statement of truth.

"Wow, their divorce must have been really acrimonious," she said.

"No, I don't think it was really," said I. "But afterward, they just never really had a need to be in the same place." I mean, how simple a concept is that? We no longer lived in the same town; when I visited my dad, my grandparents - who were self-employed and therefore had more flexibility in schedule - would come pick me up at my mom's and drop me off a few days later.

And to be honest, I'm not sure how I would handle it, this collision of worlds. One of my friends used to shudder at the thought of her separate worlds colliding - friends from her hometown, mixing with friends from college, church, work. She's over it now, I think, but not before enduring some good-natured ribbing about it all. She even eats casseroles now (though she prefers to call them something else), the worlds of peas and chicken and potatoes and gravy all mixing together with yummy, easy-to-clean-up abandon. I've always liked casseroles, but the idea of my mom and my dad in the same room is just too weird -- like eating butterscotch pudding and scalloped potatoes together. I mean, sure they're both creamy and tasty and good enough on their own, but they really aren't meant to go together.

They did at one point, and it's pretty odd for me to think about. I have pictures of the two of them or the three of us, a family. But I'm used to us as separate courses, appetizer and dessert, requiring separate plates and flatware. The oddity of this total separateness hadn't fully occurred to me until I opened my mouth and sprouted the second head.

I think maybe this is what people really mean when they talk about the resiliency of kids. It's not that broken families are right or good or that they don't hurt; it's just that kids pretty much accept the world for the way it is without thinking about the way it should be. Later, when they see wholeness or beauty or ease, that's when they start the comparisons and what ifs; but if life has just always been like that, as long as we can remember, the alternatives don't occur to us. The oddities of our situation seem normal, until we see what "normal" really looks like, or at least until we see a situation with different oddities.

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