The D-Word

It's not the one you think.

This idea has followed me around in much the same way my cat does when she feels neglected.  Quietly padding after you as you go about your business.  Scampering away in fear if you make too much noise or motion, but returning cautiously to sit at the other end of the couch, tail swishing quietly, until you have time to give her attention.

Last week I read this post by Anna and the many comments that followed it.  It struck me that Anna, though a blogger who has created a warm and comforting "home" on the Internet that might rival her actual home in scrumptious splendor, is actually a rather private person.  She shares recipes, photos, and sewing and schooling tips, but she is quiet, for the most part, about herself.  So why would she suddenly open up, as e.e. cummings wrote, "petal by petal," only to "shut very suddenly, beautifully / as when the heart of this flower imagines / the snow carefully everywhere descending"?  This topic must be such a part of her that she longs to share it, but so painful and personal that she just can't.

I thought about it for a few days.  And then yesterday, a student phoned me to ask whether she could come a little earlier to her lesson.  She was with her dad that day, she explained, and his schedule was too full to bring her at the normal time.  I said that was fine; we had the lesson early.  Then, five minutes before her regular time slot, her mother called me in a panic.  Where was Katie?  When I explained, I could practically hear the eyeroll over the phone.  She was furious at her ex-husband and thanked me pointedly for being responsible enough to let her know about the change in plans.

As I ended the call I realized I had never seen Suzuki piano successfully practiced in split households.  Ever.  It requires involvement and consistency, two things that are in short supply when a parent is struggling to support a family alone.  Even when the other parent continues to have a relationship with the child, and even to be involved with piano lessons, there are constant miscommunications about everything from tuition to lesson time to weekly assignments.

There is nothing to do but be understanding and sympathetic in these situations.  I know this.  I cannot imagine what burdens these people must carry, and they're not all as pretty as Anna's snappy red suitcase, and others don't have someone to hold hands with on the journey.  But . . . but . . . what about the children?  Is it fair to hand them a burden larger than they can carry?  Sweet Katie is already learning to make excuses: "I didn't practice because I was with my dad all weekend."  "I left my book at my dad's."  "My dad couldn't drive me here, so I had to miss my lesson."  I know her dad; he's a great guy.  But he and her mom have left her in a pretty terrible position.

And finally, after writing yesterday's post and feeling downright wretched, I decided to take myself to a movie.  I had wanted to see It's Complicated since I'd first seen the previews; Nancy Meyers is a great feel-good director, and I think Meryl Streep could paint her toenails and give an Oscar-worthy performance.  A light, happy movie was just what I needed to yank me out of my self-loathing and despair.

(Stop reading now if you plan to see it, which I can't recommend, although John Krasinki and Steve Martin can make just about anything funny . . . )

I did enjoy it, and there were plenty of warm and happy moments, but ultimately it was a colossal disappointment.  Throughout the movie, you see sign after sign that this couple can make it work.  They obviously still love each other; they know how to work together and how to fight; they share three beautiful children, who have managed somehow to move on and succeed despite their parents' selfishness.  And yet, in the end, they decide they shouldn't be together.  Why?  "It just doesn't work . . . We got divorced for a reason (they never explain) . . . I like my life the way it is." They are so bent on affirming their own choices that they have convinced everyone else of their wisdom in splitting up; when the father professes his love for his ex-wife, all three grown children begin to cry. "We're still getting over the divorce," says one.  It's enough to break your heart.

Certainly, Rob and I are not a textbook example of the perfect marriage.  But in thinking of what advice we could offer this mixed-up couple, I am reminded of what Sharon Astyk recently wrote about living a sustainable life: "It isn't sexy.  It doesn't look good in pictures . . . Here’s me deciding that my hair can go another day without a shampoo . . . Here’s me eating leftovers for lunch, rather than making something new, since otherwise, they’ll spoil . . . Here’s me not buying the boys stuff out of the toy catalog."  Likewise, the perfect marriage isn't about scandal and intrigue, sweaty trysts in high-priced hotels and endless scenes of giddy laughter.  It's on the boring side, in fact: Here's us swallowing the cutting and acerbic remarks instead of unleashing them to the other's detriment.  Here's us listening and responding to subjects that may not thrill us.  Here's us counting to ten or ten thousand instead of smashing things.  Here's us praying for each other to avoid temptation and be fulfilled at home.  For these characters, it was all about them and what they wanted, so I suppose in the end, yes, they shouldn't be married.  In many ways, they were each already married to themselves.

So what to do with this idea, this thought that presses on me with such persistence?  I'm not sure writing all this has accomplished anything, but maybe it will clear my mind a bit.  I guess all I really wanted to say is that divorce is ugly.  And sad.  Period.  I'm sure I don't have it all figured out, but boy, is it troubling to see what else is out there.