What A Child of Divorce Sees

It’s Saturday.  I’m having my morning coffee.  My husband is in a sailing navigation class with a good friend and fellow sailor.   Our two boys are playing video games in the cozy basement, and soon, they’ll come upstairs asking for breakfast. I’ll gladly make it for them — even though they’re both old enough to pour their own cereal.  Once it’s been served, I’ll take our daughter to sell (yet more) Girl Scout Cookies.

Life is good.

I say this not to flaunt or boast, but to remind MYSELF how lucky I am.  I am a child of divorce, and like many of my fellow children of divorce, we all have stories to tell about what we recall.  What I have learned most from my experience is not to bury the worst memories, but to recall them with a conscious “pairing” — pair the hard stuff with a nugget of good that came from the pain.  It’s not always easy, and it’s not always obvious at the time.  But hindsight allows us to see what we can learn from a painful situation.  Don’t be afraid to look back at some of the worst times in your life and ask yourself, “What good came from that?”  You may not recall the event exactly as it happened.  You may not see a “positive” right away.  But if you look hard enough, and give it enough time, the good will always present itself.

Recently, I was reflecting on my most vivid memories of childhood.  So many memories.  But on this snowy morning, as I get ready to head out with my beautiful daughter, I’ll share a poem I wrote this past December.  The poem came to me as the result of a prompt I was given at the Wesley Writers’ Workshop, founded by Steve and Sharon Fiffer.  The prompt was one word:  Snow.


My parents divorced when I was seven.

A match that was clearly not made in heaven.

My father moved out under much duress,

despite his cruelty and shallow largesse.

An angry alcoholic who couldn’t abide

by the law of parenting: to provide.

Mom kept Beth and I safe and sound

and shielded us from the worries around.

She’d wake us up early before going to work

to put on our uniforms, yet we were such — jerks.

Beth and I moaned about every thing.

“We don’t have a dad!” “We don’t have a king!”

Mom had to play such a delicate role,

and protect the innocence our father stole.

We demanded to know why Mom made Dad leave,

a concept we simply couldn’t conceive, because

weekend visits he showered us mightily

with gadgets and gifts that sparkled brightly.

“Why can’t he come back?  He’s such a good dad!”

But Mom’s expression was tired and sad.

We insisted she listen – we knew he had changed.

He told us as much, in the phone calls exchanged.

“Tell your mom you want me back,”

he’d say, using us in his move-back attack.

“Don’t let me spend Christmas all alone,”

slurred Dad to us daughters over the phone.

We’d cry and beg Mom, “Just give him a chance,”

hoping to weaken her dubious stance.

“Okay,” she conceded despite their rifts,

“He can come Christmas Eve to open up gifts.”

Hopeful as ever they’d get back together,

Beth and I hoped for a new “forever.”

We moped our way through that “night before”,

Beth and I giving Mom the whatfor:

“Dad’s dependable! He’s fun and he’s good!

He’ll do all the things that a good dad should.”

On Christmas Eve morning, Beth woke me up early

her five-year-old heart said he’d be there — surely.

We went to the window as Mom made her coffee,

watching the snow as it fell so softly.

Ten o’clock.  Eleven.  Where could he be?

He’d told us nine…or hadn’t he?

Twelve noon arrived, then one o’clock.

And that’s when we heard the faintest knock.

Mom opened the door and we stood behind her

because we understood.  We needed to find her

side of the story – the side we didn’t see,

filled with disappointment, unreliability.

Our dad stood before us, bleary, disheveled.

Smiling queasily, trying to stay level.

“I’m sorry I’m late, but you wouldn’t believe…”

“Don’t go there, Dan, not on Christmas Eve.”

“But it’s crazy out there, the snow’s been tough.”

I might have been young, but I’d seen enough.

That was my seventh Christmas season,

When I learned the snow wasn’t his reason.


12 responses to “What A Child of Divorce Sees

  1. Excellent! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your story. Your poem touched a nerve and I appreciate people who can share their past. I encourage you to continue to write, you have a great talent.

  2. Thank, you, Cami. You made my day. I hope to touch nerves, but in an empathetic way.

  3. I’m glad your kids have you and Mike so that you can make childhood a better place.

  4. so much said, so beautifully, in a your poem. thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you for sharing yourself with us, Christine. From what I’ve seen, there’s light years’ difference between the situation you were born into and the family you’ve made (in fact, I need to pick my jaw up off the floor now).

    Maybe the silver lining is the connections you can make, painful though strong, with your readers. So much in our lives tells us to move through the pain and even ignore it, but there’s character made there. (Another silver lining!)

  6. Wow. You are right to never take your solid marriage for granted. I would love to see you write a book based on that poem someday. And by the way, please please please bring Girl Scout Cookies to class on Tuesday. I would love to buy 3 or 4 boxes of Thin Mints, and I’m easily convinced to buy the others, too! For some reason, nobody came to my door selling them this year. 🙂

  7. I recently watched a documentary on Garrison Keillor and he said something to the effect that we are all born into this world to be given the gift of an ordinary life. It is good to be reminded that this is a great blessing.

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