For all y’all out there who think divorce is like the worst thing in the world for the kids, let me tell you something: it doesn’t have to be.
My son and daughter are best friends and allies. Born a year and a half apart, they tandem nursed (think National Geographic Magazine, and you get the idea), go halfsies on the last slice of mushroom pizza, and fall asleep holding hands in a queen-sized bed in our one-room apartment.
They’re closer than any other sibling pair I’ve seen their age. Just last week, my daughter chased down two boys from her class who were teasing her brother:
“You will NOT talk to him like that. He is my brother, and he is awesome.”
And a few days after that, when his sister slipped and fell, my son ran over to help lift her off the dirty ground before I could even say, “Sweet Girl, are you OK?”
“She’s OK!” He told me “Do you know why? Because she’s the bravest girl in the world.”
Basically, it comes down to this: there are some days when they’re with their dad. There are some days when they’re with me. But they are always together.
And over the last two years, mismatched piece by mismatched piece, we are building a life together that doesn’t always make sense, but works in an unconventional, colorful, and kinda chaotic way.
We have fun. Especially when I step back and let them do their thing. Like Friday afternoon, when they broke out the small wooden blocks that my dad and step-mom brought on their list visit and decided to build a castle.
“I want it to be tall!” said my daughter.
“I want it to be short!” said my son.
“I want you both to play quietly so I can work!” said I.
In the end, through bickering and bartering, they decided to build separate castles–with a road linking the two “so that the unicorns won’t get lost when they go outside to pee.”
That night when it was time for bed, my daughter asked if the castles could stay standing.
“Don’t break them down, Mama,” she implored with a look that means business. “Don’t knock them over. We worked really hard to build them, and we want them to stay up forever.”
“Forever,” her brother echoed from his perch on the beanbag chair.
“The prince and princess will sleep in Aba’s castle tonight!” my daughter told her brother. “Tomorrow they’ll sleep in Mama’s castle.”
“But don’t forget that they have to bring their sweaters,” my son reminded his sister. “It’s getting cold.”
The next morning when we left for preschool, my kids reminded me not to knock over their castles.
“Remember Mama, we want them to stay up forever.”
That night, they slept in their dad’s castle on the kibbutz.
The next day, when I picked them up from preschool, my daughter sulked and stamped her foot.
“I don’t want to go home with you. I want to go to Aba’s house.”
“Oh Sweet Girl, we’ll figure out something fun to do.”
“No we won’t. It’s never fun with you.”
Sometimes, it’s like this–sometimes their days stretch too long, and they’re tired and hungry and pissed off. Sometimes, it’s like this and for whatever reason, the chemistry is off, and it doesn’t matter if I offer a trip to the store for ice cream, or a ride on my shoulders, or I remind them that their castles are still standing and just waiting for them to come home.
And sometimes, it’s like this, and I’m tired and hungry and pissed off, too, and then there but for the Grace of God go we from the kibbutz, through the fields, and back to our village a half mile away.
It had been a long day. Hell, it had been a long five years. And sometimes, it doesn’t matter to them that we eat dinner by candlelight outside on our porch, or run in the fields while the sun slips away, or that we decorate the walls outside our house with chalk drawings, or dance to Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dr. Dre, or build castles out of wooden blocks on the floor.
By the time we got home, my daughter had gone from low moan to high whine, and I had gone from taking those deep cleansing breaths that never really work, to gritting my teeth so hard my jaw ached.
“It’s more fun at Aba’s,” she stormed. “I want to go to Aba’s.” She stamped her foot, and snorted, my little Taurus girl born during May’s gentle blooming. “It’s more fun at Aba’s, I want to go to Aba’s.”
This was one of those moments when I should have bent low to the ground and wrapped my arms around her. When I should have said, “Let’s find something fun to do, and you’ll see Aba in a few days.” When I should have told her that I would love her no matter what.
Instead, while she stamped her foot and glared at me, while she twisted her mouth into a sullen pout, while her nostrils flared and she muttered, “I want to go to Aba’s house. I hate it here. These castles are stupid,” I took my foot, and with a sharp and steady kick, knocked her castle over.
Her mouth flew open with no sound. Her eyes widened. She sunk to her knees.
Sickened and shaking, I reached for her, and pulled her close while the tears came hot and fast and with no sound. I rocked her back and forth the way I had held her when she was a colicky infant.
“Oh Sweet Girl, Sweet Girl, I’m so so so sorry…” I murmured in her damp hair, hating what I’d done with all my heart, while knowing full well that I had meant that kick with just as much force as my regret.
And while I held her, and while we sobbed, her brother walked over to his castle, and with his Spiderman sneakers delivered a kick with just as much intention as mine.
The wooden blocks tumbled to the floor, joining hers in a pile in the center of the room.
So what could we do? We all got down on our knees and rebuilt together.