Our kids wandered around our house playing with their Barbie dolls, watching their Mickey Mouse, and eating their Pop Tarts completely oblivious to the fact that their world was on the verge of being shattered. Marriage. Phew, marriage.
I think back to last month, and my heart sinks. The fact that my wife Casey and I were in a quiet battle was devastating to me. But even harder to contemplate is that our innocent kids were completely unaware. Casey was struggling to break free and move on with her life. I was struggling to convince her not to leave but to fight for our marriage. The front lines of that battle moved back and forth quickly dragging and pushing us along with it. At times it felt as if I was on an emotional teeter totter — a teeter totter that gave me hope at its highest point and emotional despair at its lowest.
Still, Casey and I did our best to keep our kids off of our teeter totter. I should note that our marital struggles didn’t involve shouting, name calling, or intense arguments. Hiding our battle in its entirety, however, was impossible. Real life has a way of making parents juggle their fragile and raw emotions and all their parenting responsibilities all at the same time.
The day Casey first told me she had purchased a one-way ticket to California, we were both sitting in our bedroom as Vivi pretended to put her bunny to bed. Mickey Mouse, of all things, played in the background. As my world began to shatter and Casey revealed the pain she had been living through, Vivi walked around as if nothing was wrong. That life changing conversation eventually moved downstairs, and as Casey and I both shed tears wondering if our marriage was over, Vivi demanded that we roll her little pieces of black Play-Doh into tiny balls. The fate of our marriage was being decided while our hands frantically rolled tiny Play-Doh ball after tiny Play-Doh ball.
One evening when Casey was off in another state, I nearly lost control of my emotions. It had suddenly occurred to me that if we were not going to continue living together as a family of four, we would eventually have to reveal some difficult things to the kids. Later that night while putting Vivi to bed, I sang her one of her normal night time songs, and I held her tight and creaked, cracked, and squeaked my way through that song. It was almost more than I could handle.
Over those four tumultuous weeks, I spent as much time as I could with Casey not wanting to waste an opportunity to be with her. That meant the kids were usually alone in another room playing their little games and watching their little shows. Our parenting that month was terrible, and Addie was left spending lots of time taking care of Vivi. We took care of all the more difficult parenting responsibilities, but Addie probably earned a pretty good wage as our babysitter. I know Addie wondered why Casey and I were suddenly spending so much time together, but she never asked. She went about her day and took care of Vivi without being asked as if she somehow knew that whatever we were doing behind closed doors was important to the family even if she didn’t know why it was important to the family.
Sometimes I wonder if Vivi will remember any of this. When she’s grown and off on her own, will she be able to look back at that day that we rolled Play-Doh balls for her while tears ran down our faces and figure out that Casey and I were battling to save our marriage?
My biggest hope is for these kids to recognize we weren’t perfect parents, and that we didn’t have a perfect marriage. I think it is important that they be able to recognize the flaws in our marriage so they can work to avoid the same ones in their own future marriages. Most importantly, I want them to be able to look at our marriage as an example — an example of a flawed marriage — and realize that marriage takes a lot of effort and it isn’t always going to be filled with happy times. Maybe recognizing that we struggled with marriage at times will help them cope with whatever struggles they have as married couples. Maybe our struggles will help them avoid unnecessary struggles of their own. Maybe.
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