By Catherine Hedge
My schoolmates told me I shouldn’t play with Janice because her mother was (whisper) Divorced! In 6th grade at Mercy Academy, I wasn’t really certain what that meant. I just figured her mother must have done something really terrible so her husband left her. I felt sorry for Janice, but liked her still. One day after school, we walked to her apartment. I met her mother, a very sweet anemic-looking woman. She gave us ginger snaps and lemonade. I told the school bullies. After that, I think they took turns walking her home to get free cookies. I believed I had done something very noble in befriending this exotic girl and was truly sad when she moved away months later.
Divorce was such a foreign concept. My parents were married over 60 years until we lost our dad. They were best friends. I assumed that was how life was supposed to be. My definition of family was a grouping of individuals based on two parents, multiple children, grandparents, and dozens of uncles, aunts, and cousins.
My life has played out differently. So has that of my siblings. We’ve had the two parent families… for a while. Then fractures, although terrible painful at the time, brought healing, excitement, and a totally different perspective of family.
My little brother was barely 21 when he met a divorced woman with two children. My mom was shook up, wondering if this was the right choice for him. Then she realized that two of her daughters were divorced women with two children. She hoped we would find someone so nice. She worked with my sister-in-law’s dad, a highly respected physician. One day, she called him over to tell him, “I think you ought to know, the man she’s moving in with is my son.” He smiled hugely and replied, “If he’s YOUR son, then she’ll be very happy.” My brother and his wife are still together and best friends.
The rest of us have found our own definitions of “Together” through remarriage, two long-term partners, and a contentment with solitude. My divorced daughter and her son have two sets of concerned, loving adults and a step-grandparent within 2 miles. Christmas Eve in my family is a boisterous combination of former spouses, sweethearts, his children, her children, their children, and our adored grandchild. My former mother-in-law and her children love me, though they continue to beat me at Scrabble. Now, to our great delight, my ex-husband and his partner are engaged. A great reason for a party!
My siblings and I have grown up to be much closer than we ever were as children. My sisters and I don’t have to share the same space or clothes, but share memories and dreams for our children and grandchildren. The men in our lives have opened their hearts to our grandchildren and are adored in return. One brother is my son’s Sensei, mentoring him in his new career. My other brother is our family’s history keeper. His partner (our brother, too!) generously shares room for all the boxes of slides, 8mm movie reels, and letters. We love, but also like each other!
I once knew someone who feared that love was a finite quality. If you shared too much with one person, it naturally diminished the amount left for everyone else. The greatest gift my original family gave to me was the capacity to see love as infinite. As our families grow and stretch, so does my heart.