My parents were coming over to borrow FirstHusband’s truck. My dad was helping my mom by picking up a bed given to her by a friend and they needed the truck. So we knew PinkGirl would be seeing her grandmother. We knew that my mom would be leaving in 8 days and we knew we couldn’t put it off any longer.
FirstHusband and I sat down on the floor of the family room with our coffee and asked PinkGirl to come sit with us. We wanted to talk to her.
“Because we want to talk to you about something.”
“Well, if you come and sit down, we’ll tell you, silly.”
She sits, looking at us suspiciously.
“You’re not in trouble, don’t worry.”
“oh.” Grin. Giggle.
Now this is all meshed together, so realize I’m pulling things from my memory and they may not be (probably won’t be) in order. And some of the conversation is missing.
“Mamaw (pause) is very unhappy (pause) and she has been unhappy for a long time, she’s just been pretending she was happy. She has decided (pause) that she doesn’t want to be married to Pappy anymore (pause) and that she wants to live in her own house. (pause) Her new house is in another state.”
Silence. Eyes watering. Now she’s in my lap. Arms around my neck, face in my shoulder.
“Why?” (oh. How I have been DREADING this question.)
(pause) then almost simultaneously, FirstHusband and I say, “We don’t know.”
“Why can’t she just stay married to Pappy? Why can’t she just tell the marriage people, ‘Yes, we’re happy?’ When the marriage people ask them, ‘Are you happy?’ they could just say ‘Yes, we’re happy.’ and then they could still be married. They could still live together.”
“Sweetie, (pause) Mamaw and Pappy are already divorced.”
Head buried in my shoulder. “I don’t want a grandmother anymore.”
“oh, honey, why not?”
“Not if she’s not married to Pappy.”
“Sweetie. She’s still your grandmother, even if she and Pappy aren’t married anymore.”
“But why does she have to move away? Does she not want to be with us anymore?”
(Second and third most dreaded questions.)
FirstHusband and I both, first talking over top of each other and then taking turns: “No, honey, this has nothing to to with us . . .” (and all the other stuff you say to kids when you want to assure them that divorce has nothing to do with them.)
“But why does she have to move away?”
I take this one, “We don’t know honey. (pause) What reasons can you think of?”
“Well, maybe she doesn’t want to live in Florida anymore.”
“That could be one reason.”
“Maybe she wants to live where it snows.” (PinkGirl saw snow for the first time in March.)
“Maybe. That could be another reason.”
“Maybe she just wants freedom.”
“Freedom? What do you mean by ‘freedom’?”
“Like, freedom to live by herself. In her own house. And not share it with anybody.”
“PinkGirl, that is VERY smart.”
Then, silence. Thinking.
FirstHusband says, “PinkGirl, we need you to know that Mom and Dad will NEVER get divorced.”
“But what if you . . . “
“Nope. Never. You know who my best friend is?”
PinkGirl points at me.
“Yep. Mom is my BEST friend.”
“And Daddy is MY best friend.” I add.
FirstHusband continues. “When you are thirty and have finished college and YOU get married . . .”
“. . . you need to make sure you are marrying your BEST friend. And you need to date for a long time so you know how he handles things when you disagree with him. Marriage isn’t like Sleeping Beauty, where you are singing and dancing in the forest with a Prince. Marriage isn’t always exciting. You need to make sure you want to be married to him even during the boring times and during the hard times. You need to date a long time and make sure you marry your best friend. ”
I jump in, “And most of all, after you get married you have to work really hard at being married. People who get divorced start having trouble being married a LONG time before they actually get divorced. Mom and Dad make sure that we fix the tiny problems when they first happen, so that the problems don’t last and last or get bigger and bigger. If you make sure you work out little problems when they happen, you can stay best friends. (pause) Do you know what Daddy told me once? He said that every day, he asks himself a question. He . . . Daddy, you tell her.”
FirstHusband says, “Every day, I ask myself, ‘What can I do to make Mommy’s life easier or better today?'”
I pop back in, “Daddy does nice things for me all the time. It’s one way he shows me he loves me. I try to do nice things for Daddy too.”
Silence again. Thinking.
“Maybe Mamaw doesn’t know that real freedom is sharing.”
We are speechless. Again.
Then I say, “PinkGirl? You just figured out something really important about life.”
Small Grin. Silence. More Thinking.
“Can I ask Mrs. FirstGradeTeacher to pray for Mamaw? To pray that she will understand that real freedom is sharing?”
“Remember when we talked to Mrs. FirstGradeTeacher last week for our conference? Well, we told her that this was going to happen and you know what she’s been doing? She’s been praying for you.”
Grin. Then recognition.
“You knew already? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, I knew you would be sad, so I didn’t want you to be sad for a long time between finding out and Mamaw moving, so I decided to tell you later, so you wouldn’t be sad for so long.”
“When is Mamaw moving away?”
“A week from tomorrow, honey.”
Tears again. “Why didn’t you tell me THEN? Now I have to be sad for a whole week!”
(Do I know my daughter or what?)
Snuggle hugs, and then I say, “PinkGirl, Mamaw and Pappy will be here in a little while, are you okay with that?”
Thinking. Then, “Well, just act normal. I don’t want to cry in front of her, so act like you told me, but that I’m not freaking out.”
“So you don’t want to talk about it with Mamaw?”
“No. If I talk about it, I’ll cry.”
Then Daddy says, “Hey, there’s something not fair here.”
PinkGirl looks confused.
But, I get it. “Mommy has been getting all the snuggles.”
PinkGirl climbs into Daddy’s lap for a huge hug.
Strategically, I ask, “Hey, would you like to invite someone over to play today?”
PinkGirl spent the rest of the afternoon playing with two friends – sisters. Happy. She went to bed without “tummy worries” as she sometimes calls it when she is upset over something.
There’s still the farewell to go through. But today? She’s doing okay.
Me? I can’t stop thinking about this.