I’ve been unable to write for a very long time, fixated on one thing… the divorce. How can I write about something so monumental, and do it right? I will say what is lovely and good and sad and right. We married young, we had five kids within five years, we weren’t college educated. We were an after school special. We didn’t stand a chance, yet we managed to keep it together for thirteen years, doing the best we could while flying blind with no safety net underneath. We simply fell apart, that last thread eventually breaking. We were so busy trying to keep ourselves together and fighting to stay together, that there was little left to devote to kids who deserved more. We were determined that we would never become a statistic. When, in fact, we beat the odds of many statistics that demanded we fail. We beat them for thirteen years, and that is something to be proud of. It happened, and the day our divorce was finalized we hugged each other and cried outside the court room. The events that took place during and the details are of no consequence in the telling of the story of our lives.
After the divorce there were some years of animosity and fighting, but what we fought about was time. We wanted time with our kids, plain and simple. Our kids were well-loved by many people who helped raise them. We didn’t belittle or bash each other to our kids, nor did we demand singular loyalty. Saying to a child of divorce or custody battle, “Your father/mother is a filthy so and so,” is horrifying to me. What does that say to a child? It says, “You are half filthy so and so. Only I am worthy of your loyalty. Deny the other parent who you need and love.” This has got to be heart-rending, confusing, frustrating, and emotions there are no words for to a child. Parental alienation is nothing short of child abuse.
We both remarried, and navigated the difficulties of those often treacherous waters. Eventually we came to a place of peace and unity. THAT was our greatest accomplishment in parenting our children. We became the Brady Bunch of the new millennium. Lyle and I had Maggie, Serrah, Emily, Ben, and Max. Lyle’s wife Jannell brought Abie with her into the family when she was eight months old. Lyle and Jannell, had two more children, Sam and then Gracie. I remember picking the kids up from Lyle and Jannell’s house one day, and little Abie, probably around three years old, calling from the window, “Bye, Mom!” It took me a minute to realize that she thought my name was Mom because the other kids, of course, referred to me as Mom.
When Jannell’s brother died tragically in a car accident, their six month old baby Sam came and stayed with us. When Gracee was only three months old, we began to take their kids with ours on occasion for the weekends. The kids never referred to each other as step or half. They were brothers and sisters, eight to be exact. It worked. We worked. All of the animosity and resentment was set aside for the sake of this group of siblings.
Many people don’t get it. They don’t get how Mike and I attended Lyle’s surprise 50th birthday party. Lyle and Jannell attending my surprise 50th birthday party. Us attending Abie’s graduation open house. Us attending their big family Christmas party this last year. We share history, children, and future events. I can’t ever express what it means to have my former husbands mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law, and my favorite nephew hug me and say, “I love you.” Lyle’s family was my family. Most people don’t ever get to have that. Most importantly, it makes the kids happy.
One of our proudest moments was at our son Max’s wrestling banquet. We all sat at the same table. There were others who, when it was there turn to introduce family, had to stand up at the table of the parent they were forced to choose to sit with and say, “This is my dad/mom, siblings, and over there is my mom/dad and other siblings.” It had to have been awkward and sad for them. Max was able to stand at his table with his family and proudly introduce us all together. At one point, my husband Mike was walking around with their little Gracee as she was antsy and wanting to toddle around. On a side note, I sent tuna salad along with Max on all of his out-of-town wrestling tournaments, enough to feed many because it became favored among the other wrestlers as well. So, to my shock, during one of the Senior’s parting speeches, he said, “I also want to give a shout out to Max’s mom, best tuna in all of Fargo/Moorhead!” Yes, he said it exactly that way. It got a lot of laughs. I was crimson, horrified, and possibly slightly amused.
I digress. The point to all of this is that there was a divorce, other people entered the picture, and will enter my stories. We did more things right ultimately than we did wrong. We became one big crazy functioning dysfunctional unconventional happy family. Among the lawyers, court papers, fights, anger, acceptance, regrouping, remarrying, his, mine, ours, and theirs, there was a group of kids who were loved and raised to handle themselves, others, and all of life’s situations with grace and class.They say in every divorce, the kids lose. I won’t ever minimize the pain our kids went through, but ultimately they won. I like to think we all did.
Now that I’ve got this part of our story out there, I will write more stories, some post divorce, and possibly more pre divorce. I needed to say it. It’s been weighing heavily upon me. How to talk about this event that changed all of our lives. It’s a monumental part of our history, yet in some ways only a comma, something that happened, something that is part of who we are. We are Lyle and Jannell, Dawn and Mikedad, Maggie, Serrah, Emily, Ben, Max, Abie, Sam, and Gracee, the ultimate millennial Brady Bunch.