The girls have been struggling with a kind of separation anxiety lately. There have been more than five announcements of separations/divorce from couples they know over the last year. When it first began it was easy enough to gently explain that sometimes, like with being sisters, you need to get a little space or take a break. They would nod softly, ask if Sean and I were OK, and then move on to the next thing.
I was hanging out with Finley one day and she said, "Mum, do I have a stepmum?"
I shook my head, looked down at her, and said, "What, babe?"
She stopped walking, turned to me, and repeated, "Do I have a stepmum?"
I knelt down and said, "No, Fin, you don't have a stepmum. I am married to Dad and you are our kid, so you have a mum and a dad, no stepmum." She thought about it, "Will I ever?"
I took a deep breath, being the weeper and worrier that I am, my mind immediately went to the place of early death. What if I die and she does end up with a stepmum? What I say now might influence how she deals with that person.
I said, "Well, I kind of hope not, because that would mean that I wasn't here anymore. So I kind of think no, but if you ever did, I would hope that she was nice."
She thought about it, "So, not like the Tangled mum, you wouldn't want a person who would steal my sparkle, right?"
I was teetering between crying and laughing. "Exactly." She nodded, satisfied, and we walked toward the car.
Fast forward a few months and the proximity and intensity of the breakups around us has begun to permeate every conversation. I fret over how much they know, but also realize that divorce and stepparents will become more and more a part of their lexicon -- completely shielding them from it doesn't help. The girls draw comparisons from movies to what they think they see happening around us. "Could it be like The Parent Trap, could they come back together?" they wondered aloud at the dinner table. We explained that sometimes, taking a break can help people remember why they fell in love or that they realize that they made a mistake.
"Oooooh, like when we got into trouble for fighting and went in our rooms, but then we came out and told each other we were sorry?" We nodded.
"Other times though, other times it may just not be OK again and they have to split up." The table was quiet.
"So, Mum, will you and Dad like, will you like divorce or break up or whatever?" Briar asked without making eye contact with me. I wanted to cry. Memories of my own childhood and my parents' divorce came rushing back. Tuesday nights and Sundays with my dad, sad talks with both parents, their exhaustion and sadness close to the surface as I pressed for a why. Briar waited.
I thought of the hurt her question roused and that one girl back in school who wouldn't let up, "Amanda, I know your parents are divorcing, but I can't be friends with someone who uses bad words."
Her name was Lisa, and she stormed away, taking the other kids with her. I'd said "goddamnit" after getting whipped with a bit of Weeping Willow branch as I tried to climb a tree. The cursing had nothing to with the divorce, but the way she threw it out into conversation made me feel like I was relegated to some lower category.
"Honey, I really hope not. Dad and I love each other. We argue like everyone does, but we talk about things and we work really hard to be together." I watched her as I spoke. "You know when you were born, I made Dad promise to kiss me in front of you." She scrunched her nose up. "I did. I told him I wanted you to see that we loved each other and I wanted us to remember to act like we did when we first fell in love." She smiled and then said quietly without looking up, "Can that be enough?"