When my husband and I married, he was 20 and I was 18. Like almost everyone that age, we were full of dreams and ideas about what life would look like for us in the upcoming years. None of these dreams and ideas looked bad--we had only "good" dreams of success. No one plans to have failures.
One element of our initial plan was that we would have no children. We were wildly in love and very ambitious. We were both in college, working a full-time job. We were busy, mainly with school and carefree fun--unfettered by diaper-changing or trying to arrange babysitting we could not afford. Both of us had our eyes on prizes. I knew graduate school of some kind was in my future (although the law school idea came on me about the time I graduated from college). My husband never finished his degree, but plunged into the entrepreneurship which would become his hallmark. He was successful at it in the sense that his whole adulthood he was able to work at things about which he was momentarily passionate. Unfortunately, the financial success of this lifestyle was not so great. But we were footloose and fancy free for the most part, and it suited us.
And then, along about our late twenties, that old biological urge to reproduce our own came upon us. It especially hit my husband with a near-panic spin, and when we did not get pregnant immediately upon trying (we were kinda used to immediate gratification), he took himself right off to the doctor and had a little minor surgery to correct some things. Bingo! Right at eleven years after we married, our only child was born. He was, and remains, an absolute delight. In fact, he was so delightful that we decided not to take any further precautions so we could have more. It never happened again, and we have an only child who is now a single, wonderful young man. Raising him was great. We took him everywhere with us and, although we would have welcomed other children, we often regaled the benefits of having one child. We were able to make him the center of our universe.
Fast forward twenty-seven years. When I was 55 and he was 57, my husband began an affair with a twenty-nine year old he met on his distant job. She was young, beautiful, and badly in need of the rescuing my husband specializes in--she had two illegitimate children by a man who was married to someone else. My husband decided this was a better deal for him (which was absolutely all that mattered to him--hang the effect on anyone else in the family). He left me high and dry, moving his cutie and the kids right into a home with him before a divorce action was even filed. Mind you, this woman is about three years older than our son, which compounded the pain to him and me. It was a devastating time for me, full of fear and insecurity.
And this is where my family stepped in. I have one brother and one sister, and we all work together every day. We have our squabbles and our tensions. We know each others' foibles and those of their spouses and kids--you know, the eye-rolling things we all whisper about. But, still, I'd say we're pretty close, and in the shock of my husband's midlife crisis, they really, really stepped up to the plate for me. One thing I was not in all of this was alone. I had lots of friends who gathered around me, my in-laws fairly shouted that I would not be allowed to leave their "side" of the family after forty years, and my siblings were always right there.
The other night, midweek, I went by to see my mother, who lives in a senior apartment complex near to my brother. While I was there my son called. He was just finishing up work, and when he found that I was at "Granny's," he said, "Stay there; I'm on my way!" He is such a delight like that.
We stayed and visited with Gran and decided we would all drive the short trip up to my brother's house, where we sat on their patio and sipped margaritas and ate a burger. It turned into a spontaneous family "do," and we had a wonderful time. The family-aura euphoria--that wonderful sense of belonging--was so palpable when we dropped Gran back off that my son said, "Mom, I'd like to just ride home with you and talk if it would not be too much trouble for you to drop me off to get my car at Gran's in the morning." I was glad for it.
All of this made me think about my brother and sister, and the solace I find in them especially now that my husband has taken a powder. And, of course, I think about my son, who has no brothers or sisters. To whom will he turn when I am gone? He maintains a relationship with his father, but it is strained, and the respect element has been a bit tarnished. Besides, his father has his focus on others and we are all betting that there will be a baby sometime soon because using babies to try to solidify relationship is such a strong pattern in this woman's life. Where does that leave my son?
I had always counted on my husband being with me the full range of our lives. Those initial dreams I mentioned at the beginning of this writing did not include abandonment by either of us. It was totally unexpected, even by me, who has practiced divorce law for nearly thirty years, and it made me realize that there is very little one can truly count on in life.
But what has remained for me is that blood family thing (and my in-laws, who feel "blood" after all these decades). They are always, always, always there for me and, when we fight, we know it's temporary.
So, those of you who have siblings, honor that relationship and cultivate it. And, those of you planning your future right now, think about the advantage of having multiples--not singles--as a hedge for your kids against aloneness in their future. Believe me, it is a sobering thought. I am grateful for my family.--C 10/16/08