When your parents split up as early as mine did, it’s practically inevitable they’ll remarry. Odds are, they’ll want children too. At my father’s I was eventually the oldest of four–me, then a brother, then a sister, then another sister. At my mother’s I was eventually the oldest of three– me, then a sister, then a brother. (I missed everyone’s birth, save my oldest sister’s, because I was in the wrong household at the wrong time. My youngest brother, for instance, whose gestation I’d followed closely, patting my mom’s swelling tummy throughout, was born the summer I was nine years old, a few weeks after I’d left for my dad’s.)
Perhaps it was coincidence, or just a nine-year-old thing, but that particular summer stands out as the year I was most homesick on both ends of the visit–terribly miserable and bereft when I got to my dad’s, and equally miserable and bereft when I left.
Happily, though, there was a fascinating new addition at my father’s house that summer–a cheerful bald big-eyed baby sister, born in September, just after my visit the year before. We’d never met till now. She was a highly amusing little baby, and my stepmother, who knew I’d been taking care of younger siblings since I was in first grade, gave us free rein and allowed me plenty of responsibility. My sweet sister, just crawling, just babbling, entranced by everything my brother and I did and perfectly happy to be dragged along in our wake, was a delight. I carried her around on my hip all day and we made her the focus of every game we played.
Sometimes when I missed my mother/stepfather/other sister most acutely, burying my nose in her delicious neck was the only thing that helped. And by later that summer, when my mom gave birth to a boy I wouldn’t even see for six more weeks, I figured it didn’t matter half as much as I’d originally thought. Why couldn’t I just stay here, with THIS particular baby, instead of flying far away to meet another one? Actually, I wasn’t even going straight home. I was scheduled to go stay with my grandmother for a couple of weeks–an interlude I’d looked forward to all year. I was to have riding lessons–a dream come true–plus the undivided attention of my favorite grandmother, and yet I found even that transition hard, that particular summer. Besides, according to my mother’s letters, this new baby brother screamed all day unless the vacuum cleaner was on. This sounded less than desirable. At my grandmother’s, with full access to stables and the like, I muffled my sobs in bed night after night. I didn’t want to ride horses, nor did I want to go “home”. I wanted to go back to my dad’s. I missed them terribly, my parents, my brother, my absolutely adorable baby sister. Next year, I knew, she’d be an entirely different kid. I wanted to buy them lavish presents, and send them quickly, lest they, in their happiness, forget me.
The point I’m making is simply this: the transition between faraway houses wasn’t easy, nor smooth, by a long shot. My poor stepmother still remembers finding my diary the first week of that unhappy summer I was nine. I’d been lying under the dining room table, crying in secret and scrawling “I want to go home, I hate it here, I hate them all, I miss mommy, I miss daddy, I miss everyone, I don’t like it here” and so forth–I remember feeling guilty even as I wrote, knowing it wasn’t fair to my father and stepmother, and also knowing it wasn’t precisely true. Was it something about being nine years old, was it because I was sad to miss my brother’s birth, was it something else? I honestly don’t know. I still have the diary in question, but it’s not the most coherent document. My stepmother has told me that reading it made her feel terrible, that she thought maybe I’d left it out on purpose (I didn’t, unless it was subconscious), and that she felt sad because, as she says, “We were trying so hard to make you feel at home.”
Which I know now, and which I think I even knew then, though it didn’t make the homesickness go away. Sometimes there’s nothing for a difficult transition, but to grit your teeth, cry in your bed, scribble mean thoughts in your diary, and wait for the sadness to pass. I’ve thought about that summer a lot these past few years, watching my kids adapt (not just to the divorce, but also to my boyfriend and his kids), and watching his kids adapt to us. I’ve seen my kids warm up to my ex-husband’s first post-marital girlfriend and then miss her when they broke up after a year; I’ve then watched them warm up to his second post-marital girlfriend, who seems quite lovely and is still in the picture. Will they get married? Will they have babies? I wonder sometimes. I know that if they did, both my children would be thrilled.
Still, you can be thrilled to have a new sibling, and yet suffer through some crushingly lonesome weeks like I did the summer I was nine years old. Was that sad summer inevitable? What could my parents and grandparents and stepparents have done to make it easier? Nothing, I suppose.
The summer I was nine, I think I figured this important lesson out: You play the cards you’re dealt. Being a kid means you’re at the whim of the grownups who take care of you. And if you get a bunch of extra siblings whom you love, and if you get stepparents and step-grandparents and bonus aunts and uncles and cousins as well, your life is bound to be enriched. Mine was. Those bad days spent hiding with my diary under the table were really just blips on the screen. Necessary blips, but nothing worth fretting about in the long run, since the big picture was–really and truly–quite wonderful indeed.
(And now, for something completely different: If you could click over to Irretrievably Broken, and leave a comment on this particular post, (and tweet and retweet et cetera as you see fit) I’d be most grateful. It’s not too late–I’ll close comments when I’m no longer trying to rack up comments, the better to impress potential editors. Thank you, so much, in advance. Here’s the link.)