Tag Archives: divorce

Know Someone Who’s Divorcing?


Wedding rings turned into a ring for our daughter

Sitting in a restaurant recently, I couldn’t help but overhear the distraught woman at a table nearby.  I tried to focus on my dinner, especially now that I only occasionally allow myself the indulgence of pasta, but the crabbing at the next table made it impossible for me to enjoy fully the crab that topped the ribbons of papardelle in front of me.

I recognized her.  No, I didn’t know her.  But I knew her.  As she ranted to her friend about the custody battle with her estranged husband, visions of other parents and children I’ve known played across my mind.  And I ached for her children as she described with relish how they were using their beleaguered offspring to torment each other.

And I was grateful that, for the most part, my daughter’s father and I were able to keep our anger at bay from the child we both adored.  It wasn’t always easy, and I’m certain that both of us said derogatory things about one another to our friends.  But I think our daughter would say that, on the whole, we allowed her the freedom to love both her parents.

The power of visceral anger can drive otherwise rational people to gamble in a way they would never do with their life’s savings.  I remember thinking at the time of our separation that if I forced my daughter to choose between us, there was a 50% chance that I wouldn’t be the one she chose.  And those were odds I was simply not willing to take for the fleeting pleasure of causing pain to someone who was no longer going to be part of my life.

I also remember countless teenagers in my classroom whose lives were thrown into turmoil through no fault of their own—kids who wrote about it, kids who wrote haltingly as they tried to focus, kids who stopped writing because of it.  In one case, a stellar student whose grades nose-dived came to me after school and asked if she could have two sets of books.  When I asked why, she dissolved into tears and told me that she kept leaving things behind as she moved from her dad’s house at the beginning of the week to her mom’s house at the end of the week.  Both loved her too much to give up physical custody, so they batted her back and forth between them, both physically and emotionally.

Carrying the bag of leftover pasta and leaving the shrillness of the woman’s voice behind, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I don’t know a single couple who are in the midst of a divorce or who are openly contemplating divorce—no one at work, no one in my family, no one among my circle of friends.  (But, then again, many people had no idea of the drama playing out behind the walls of our home all those years ago either.)

I’m certain, though, that there’s someone out there who will read this blog who is on the verge of separation or who knows someone who is on the verge of separation.  So I thought it might be a good time to say, unequivocally, that deciding not to gamble our daughter’s emotional security on those 50-50 odds is the best decision my former spouse and I ever made together.  And in our circle of three that was once a family, I think all of us can say that the freedom to love is the only risk that’s really worth taking.


‘Til Death Do Us Part?


At the age of 90, my aunt left the corporeal world this week to reunite with seven of her nine siblings, including my father, who died in 1998. My sister, the oldest of our parents’ five children, posted on social media that we once had 24 aunts and uncles—27 if you count the three who died before adulthood—and now only three remain with us. And only one of those 24 aunts and uncles ever divorced.

The evangelical church they grew up in taught that divorce ensured their place in a fiery hell. And while some of them endured hell on earth at the hands of abusive husbands, they all adhered to that tenet of their faith. Many of them did move beyond the more stringent teachings of the church, which mostly applied to women—no make-up, no jewelry, no pants, no haircuts. But the wives obeyed their husbands.

My only aunt who divorced moved to Maryland, eight hours and a world away from the hills of southern West Virginia, far enough away to live her own life. What I remember about her from family reunions was that she joined the men in having a good stiff drink, wore red lipstick, and cursed just as her brothers did. The women in the family whispered about her, but she never seemed to care. When she got into the car to drive back to Maryland, I remember her blowing smoke rings out the window and driving away with a grin on her face.

When I moved to Maryland, I lived an hour and a half from my aunt, but my mom told me later that she and my dad refused to give her my phone number or my address. I never really knew her, and as a young working mother, I had little time to give her any thought.

But I think about her and my other aunts and uncles this week as same-sex couples begin to apply for marriage licenses that will allow them to marry in January. These couples have had a long wait for what my parents and my aunts and uncles took for granted—aunts and uncles who didn’t even have to wait past their teenage years for the right to marry—though I’m certain some of them longed for the right to divorce that many of their children would demand.

But though I left the evangelicals behind and chose a more open faith, being married in a church didn’t ensure my own marriage would last. Despite pre-marital counseling where one of the wisest ministers I know encouraged us to explore our common values, despite a marriage at an altar in front of a majestic pipe organ and 150 witnesses, I became the first of four of my parents’ five children to divorce.

And the only one to marry again.

In the eyes of my parents’ faith, I am an adulteress, just like my aunt, living in this godless state that doesn’t believe a marriage is a covenant for one man and one woman, one time, one lifetime.

But this time, my husband and I listened closely to the minister who helped us understand how our personalities shape the ways we love each other. We listened to the little voices, and we learned how important it is to laugh every day, to remind ourselves every day of why we fell in love. And despite coming from backgrounds that disapprove of divorce and remarriage, we’ve found the love of a lifetime. And 21 years ago, we had the right and the privilege of a second chance at happiness in a church with the support of 25 family members and close friends.

Now same-sex couples in Maryland can enjoy the same rights all of us enjoy, even when we make a mess of it. Just like all of us, some of them will make it and some of them will make mistakes. But they won’t have to long for divorce—or death—to part them, as some of my aunts and uncles have done.

So why on earth anyone would feel that same-sex marriage is a threat to the family?

What’s Your Favorite Thanksgiving Memory?


“What’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory?” someone asked me last week.

I thought for a moment. “You know, I don’t really know,” I answered—in a tone that left the impression that there were so many good ones, I couldn’t possibly choose among them.

But I did know. So why couldn’t I say it? I could have lied and said the first Thanksgiving that I spent with my husband’s family—a boisterous, happy crowd that filled tables in three rooms. I could have chosen one of the Thanksgivings with great friends—a biracial couple who took in all the strays whose families were too far away. Or I could have chosen last year, when my husband and I had a long weekend alone without the busy-ness of life. I did love those Thanksgivings, and the images are vivid when I play them again on the back of my closed eyelids.

But I haven’t spent any of those Thanksgivings with my daughter, the greatest gift of my life. Her father and I separated before she was four-years-old. And I was so angry at first that I told him, “You can have her for Thanksgiving, but you’re never getting her for Christmas.” Thanks to a good therapist, I let that anger go and relented, sharing the greatest joy of our lives with the dad who loved her as much as I did.

Because I was able to spend so much time with our girl, it made sense for her to spend Thanksgiving with her father. So over the years my Thanksgivings have been spent with other people I love, though I have had many, many moments of time with her for which I am thankful.

So while I’ve never said this to a single person until this moment, my favorite Thanksgiving of my life so far was my first one as a mother. We had moved to Maryland by then, but her dad’s family lived in West Virginia, and one of her aunts lived in Alabama. So that Thanksgiving, we bundled our daughter into the car and drove nine hours to a mountain chalet in Gatlinburg, Tennessee so that she could meet her three cousins for the first time.

Her grandmother made what came to be known as Granny’s rolls—yeasty, buttery rolls that filled the chalet with the smell of home. She roasted a turkey and made her sage stuffing and cranberry relish in spite of a kitchen that was woefully inadequate. I had the luxury of sitting at the bar, watching her make the rolls and writing down the things she did that no recipe could convey—coating her hands in shortening, rolling the dough into a ball and shaping it over the knuckles of her thumb and index finger. While I learned to make the world’s best dinner rolls, my daughter’s cousins sat cross-legged on the floor around her, delighted to have the cousin they’d waited so long to have.

So, yes, though her dad and I divorced, I still remember those first two Thanksgivings with his family as the most joyful of my life. And this year, as I texted with her aunt who has been my life-long friend about how to make a stuffing that can never quite approximate her mom’s, I’m glad that at some point we were able to move beyond being families torn apart by the anger of divorce.

Few people understand it when my former sister-in-law and I can talk for hours on the phone. So we’ve both taken to referring to each other as friends—which we are—instead of trying to explain how we became friends in the first place. We can talk about how we both miss her mom, who taught me to be adventurous with a good recipe—to make it my own by adding a spice here and a secret ingredient there.

And though our paths have diverged, my daughter brings us back together for the important times in her life. And my thankfulness for that doesn’t diminish my gratitude for the family and friends I’ve gained after they were no longer my family.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that we don’t have to have lives that are dictated by stereotypes about divorce and marriage, family and love. And while I don’t have memories of noisy family gatherings, as I do for Christmas, Thanksgiving is still one of my favorite holidays. I love it because it doesn’t belong to Christian or Muslim or Jew. I love it in spite of knowing that the story of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans is romanticized. But this most American of holidays belongs to us all—this tale of vastly different cultures coming together despite their differences, despite stereotypes, despite what the world expects.

So what’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory?