When I was six my favorite activities were climbing trees, reading books, swinging, making mudpies, and playing with Play-Doh. I didn’t have the Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop and I didn’t have more than a handful of colors but I made snakes, snails, bowls, and slightly less identifiable objects. I have a memory of spending an afternoon making a two-dimensional person. An afternoon is a long time to a kid and sadness descended when he ended up longer than my little table was wide and his legs fell off.
According to everyone’s favorite bastion of fact Wikipedia.org, Broken home is a term used to describe a household, usually in reference to parenting, in which the family unit does not properly function according to accepted societal norms. This household might suffer from domestic violence, a dissolved marriage, drug abuse, or anything else that interferes with the upbringing of children.” Wiktionary.org simply defines a broken home as one in which the parents have separated or divorced. I dig that Wiki’s definition includes the phrase “accepted societal norms” but in the last year I’ve realized something: I despise the term “broken home” -- the term, its use, the generally accepted meaning.
Some of you have a Papa Roach song playing in your head now. That’s okay – there’s no judgment here. Maybe a skosh.
The number of my peers raised in divorced homes was much smaller when I was a kid. Those kids and their parents had the honor of being set on a different shelf in our minds; the same shelf you’d find things like knowing looks and behind a hand someone hissing “diVORced” with that odd inflection. They disappeared for a while in the summer, writing letters about their other life. Truth be told I was even a little jealous sometimes. My closest cousins grew up in a broken home and while my mind heard my parents talking about the challenges my aunt faced, I only saw the things they were allowed to do that I was not. They’ve always been beautiful, popular, and the darlings of the family [my grandparents hung their pictures, not mine] and I didn’t feel I had much of an advantage due to my parents’ marriage. Instead I saw every aspect of my home life with a hypercritical eye, including the nights as an eight-, nine-, ten-year-old I lay in bed praying my mom and dad – married nearly forty years this August – would get divorced.
This fall would have brought my eighth wedding anniversary. It was pre-empted by what will become the anniversary of my divorce. October 2002 – July 2010.
In the last year my children have experienced broken home life. Absolutely. We have moved twice, the first time to a town ten miles away from the town in which we continued to try to live our lives and the second only two months later because it meant being able to move back to this town. We sold our house with my bright, beautiful, so-green kitchen where I started really cooking and K.’s bedroom with the sheep and rolling green hills painted on the walls. I went from working full-time to being depressed full-time to going back to school full-time. They’ve seen me at the delicate point of that bend where the space around me was taut, holding its breath, until I snapped and yelled and sank to the floor, sobbing. This is the thing: they experienced broken home life prior to this year. It was just a different flavor of broken. Subtle not-quite-right fading to nothing before a metallic tang of resentment and buried anger culminating in sharp words and insults and broken promises and before you know it, you’ve got a mouth full of glass shards.
What I’m clinging to is the notion that a broken home isn’t forever. We broke. There are fragments of the us-that-was scattered all over the floor. Maybe this is wrong, but I tell the kids we’re still a family, just a different kind. We’re a mom and a dad and a boy and a girl and we broke. Who decided we had to stay that way? I choose to fit us back together – to take steps toward wholeness. This mess has seemed, at times, like an inescapable nightmare yet I can say with certainty things are better today than they were one year ago. There’s less focus on survival and more focus on love and hope and strength and growth. My hands are clumsy, patting and smoothing into rough organic shapes.
1 : to free from faults or defects: as a : to improve in manners or morals : reform b : to set right : correct c : to put into good shape or working order again : patch up: repair d : to improve or strengthen (as a relationship) by negotiation or conciliation — used chiefly in the phrase mend fences [spends the weekend mending political fences — E. O. Hauser] e : to restore to health : cure
2 : to make amends or atonement for [least said, soonest mended]