Look, it was just supposed to be a quick trip to get pumpkins. David and I had had a crazy-busy weekend (because normal families spend 3 1/2 hours at a time in Lowe’s, right? And normal women venture out to replace one light fixture in a bathroom and decided that they’ll repaint and re-appoint every single fixture in two? And buy new pendant lights to put in over the kitchen island while they’re at it? DAMN YOU, LOWE’S, you beautiful place. You ate our money), and we didn’t do the fall-weekend-pumpkin-patch visit like all of Facebook tells us to. So I called my mom yesterday morning and told her that I was going to zip the kids down to our local farm market for a bit after school to play and pick out their future jack o’lanterns. She was up for it–David has seen my mom more often than I have these past weeks, so I think we needed some fall-Monday-pumpkin-patch bonding time–and off we went.
They all start with a simple question, conversations like this one. And I’ve always thought I was so good–in my head, at least–at handling them: these “big” talks and important inquiries that always pop out of the kids’ mouths at the most random of times. But yesterday? Yesterday I failed, and I failed big time. What can I say? She caught me off guard. I was tired and hungry and focused on on my to-do list, and responded before I thought my answer through. Rookie mistake, Ferguson. You’d think I’d know better by now.
We were back in the minivan, heading home with cider and pumpkins and enough hay in our pants to feed all of Santa’s reindeer when Saoirse mentioned a friend of hers, and how she got to meet her nice mother. I stopped her, casually mentioning, “Oh, that wasn’t your friend’s mom. I think that was her stepmom.” Why would I do such a thing? What the holy heck is wrong with me? That was when it all started to go downhill. Though I’m pretty sure we were in the avalanche already.
Saoirse: “Wait. Why does she have a stepmom?”
Me: “Well, her parents are divorced, honey.”
And then…Okay, let me just stop. This conversation would’ve been fine. It would’ve been okay, because SK would’ve just asked a couple more simple questions, and I would’ve answered them simply, and everyone would be satisfied. But Quinlan was in the car, too. And Quinlan thinks she’s going to be a dentist when she goes up, but I fear she’s probably more suited to some sort of CIA secret agent role specializing in interrogation. Because this happened:
Q: “Wait. What’s a divorce?”
And I don’t know why I said it. I don’t know WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME. I said the worst possible thing. Worst. Possible. Thing.
Me: “Um. Well, Quinlan. It’s when a Mommy and Daddy don’t love each other anymore,* and they decide they’re not going to be married.”
(*WHAT THE FLYING HELL IS WRONG WITH ME? “Don’t love each other anymore?” Am I an asshole?? Quinn is FIVE.)
Quinlan’s face froze, her mouth open, the corners of her lips pulled down in shock.
Q: “Don’t love each other anymore? What do you mean they don’t love each other anymore?”
I could feel my mom looking at me from the corner of her eyes, but I couldn’t stop. I know, I know. The avalanche, I tell you. I was IN THE AVALANCHE.
Me: “They just don’t love each other. But don’t worry, honey: Your dad and I are going to love each other forever and ever. Okay? We’re going to love each other. So don’t worry about us*.”
(*Well, shit. She didn’t know that the solidity of a parents’ marriage was something that could be worried about before this, so thanks, Leah. You really saved the day, there).
More compassionate side eye from my mom (warning! warning! detonation approaching!). So I backpedaled, which is really hard to do when you’re maneuvering your minivan through the side streets of your small town during rush hour.
Me: “Wait, I don’t mean it like that. What I mean is that divorce is when a husband and wife decide that they’re not going to be married anymore.”
Q: “How do they not be married?”
Me: “Um. They go to a courthouse?”
Q: “What’s a courthouse?”
Me: “A courthouse is a building where people take care of legal documents.”
Q: “What’s a legal document?”
Me: “Um, it’s a paper that lists laws.”
Q: “What’s laws?”
Me: “A rule. Laws are rules for people to follow.”
Q: “And where is this courthouse?”
Me, panicking now: “In a town. It’s a building in a town where they control the laws.”
Q: “And why do they go to a courthouse?.”
Me: “To get un-married.”
Q: “But, why?”
At this my mom just made a noise. I took a breath to think. Saoirse wasn’t even a part of the conversation anymore. I think she was daydreaming about unicorns or something by this point. I believe therapists might call that avoidance coping. Can’t say I blame her.
Me: “Okay, Quinlan, listen. I’m not explaining this very well*…Sometimes a mommy and daddy are not getting along, or fighting, or something else, and they decide that it’s best for their family if they live apart from each other. That’s what divorce is.”
(*NO SHIT, SHERLOCK)
There was silence for a moment, which I clearly took as an opportunity to screw up my kid’s head further.
Me: “And in the case of Saoirse’s friend, sometimes after a divorce that daddy or mommy gets married to somebody else…”
…I ignore the fact that Quinlan is now GLARING at the back of my head…
Me: “…and that person is called a stepparent.”
There was a strange strangling sound coming from my mother’s throat. Saoirse was now looking at me like I’d grown three heads (I could’ve used the brainpower), and Quinlan was sitting in her seat, internalizing every single bit of terrible, ill-founded, incorrect knowledge I’d just given to her. There was silence for a moment, and then my mother kindly whispered, “This isn’t the end, you know. She’s going to remember everything.” And then she chortled.
I feel the need to address you, o member of society at large, and apologize to you. I have failed as a parent, and can’t rectify such failure until Quinlan (or Saoirse) brings it up again. Not that she will. I’m pretty sure no one wants to relive that conversation ever. again. In the meantime, you know that David and I are going to be on our absolute best behaviors with each other for basically the rest of eternity because holy crappola you know Quinlan’s going to be watching us veerrrrrry closely for the next, say, twenty years or so. At least.
We plan to carve those pumpkins with the kids tonight. I have to say that I don’t think I’ll mind sinking a knife into one of those things one bit. With David, of course. Because we are married, and I’ve promised to love him extra hard forever and ever, so help me. And not just because it’ll be nice to have him around when one of these big questions comes up for conversation again. I think I’m okay with staying quiet, for just a little while.