Looking back down a long road

My family

Today I’ve been thinking about how life plays strange tricks on you and doesn’t turn out the way you expect. When I was in school, I never chose a career path because I thought some man would marry me and take care of me, and I would spend my days reading Silver Screen and eating bonbons. The closest I came to a future vision was maybe owning a small bookstore. Fate had other things in store.

Fifty-six years ago today I married the man I intended to spend the rest of my life with. He was not then nor ever the love of my life, but I thought I loved him, and he loved me. We married in my brother’s back yard in a small Missouri town, with a row of bushes separating us from the goat pens next door. Little did I know what lay ahead of me—graduate school, four beloved children, a career in publishing, a life as a writer—and divorce.

For many years, we were the charmed couple, younger than his medical colleagues, less conventional in our lifestyle, the perfect family in the dream “doctor’s wife” house with the children and the station wagon. Gradually, after fifteen years, it fell apart. It would be easy for me to blame him, as I know it was easy for hm to tell others how bad the marriage was, but the truth is divorce always has two participants.

At the age of forty-two I found myself the single parent of four, mistress of a large (and expensive) house, and unemployed. I was terrified, and I think the kids might have been too, though they were visibly relieved that the bickering and tension were gone from the house. Gradually, we put one foot ahead of the other and moved on.

I went into a career in academic publishing, work that I loved and, I think, was good at. My children each found their own ways, sometimes a crooked, jagged path, but today the oldest is a CPA, my oldest daughter a lawyer, the second son was owner of his own toy manufactures representative company and is now in charge of US sales for a larger firm, and the youngest a luxury travel advisor. All four are happily married, and they have given me seven terrific grandchildren. I laughed that after their childhood, crowded with noise and love and laughter after the divorce, none of them wanted more than two children. I could never make them understand that raising four is a whole lot easier than raising two. More expensive, but easier.

Today, we are a happy, strong family, always ready for the next family get-together. The children’s father no longer walks this earth, but when he did—at family wedding receptions—I think he recognized that we were a family unit without him.
With joy, we have reached out and absorbed into the family his daughter from his second marriage.

When Joel left us, I remembered Robert Browning’s words in “Rabbi Ben Ezra”:

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

        I thought marriage was like a roller coaster, with ups and downs, and you rode it to the end. He didn’t seem to agree. But a few years after he left, I realized what an enormous favor he had done the children and me. We were healthy and happy. I never heard from them any bitter longing for the father they’d lost nor any wish to search for their biological parents—all four are adopted, but as I will tell you fiercely, they are mine.

God has truly blessed me, and I can tell you, fifty-six years later I am one happy camper. No, there’s no man in my life, but I have lovely memories. And I am content with the world I have now, even in quarantine. A tip of the hat to Jordan, who keeps me safe these days, and to the other three who are wildly supportive.

Who knew all those years ago what would happen?

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