One night during our recent Easter holiday with the Boys at my parents’ beach shack, the Lovely Man decided it would be fun to take them out for a traditional country-town Chinese meal, complete with lurid plum sauce and deep-fried everything.
As we drove back home through the darkness to the shack, honey chicken and sundry culinary delights gurgling in our tummies, Boy C piped up from the backseat:
Boy C: Do you know, Daddy, I think you and Mummy would make a really, really good couple. Like, with each other, you know?
Stunned silence from the front seat. The Lovely Man and I both, independently, decided against turning around and saying something like: “Actually, Mummy finally signed the divorce papers this week, so… nuh. Not going to happen.”
The Lovely Man squeezed my hand in the darkness as Boy C continued.
Boy C: Yeah, it would be perfect because you’re just like Harry Potter’s dad and mum, you’d be so well suited together.
More mute gulping from the front seat. Luckily Boy C didn’t seem to want an answer.
Boy C: They’d be a great couple, because, you see, Mummy’s so intelligent, just like Lily Potter and Dad’s so… ummm… so…
Boy B: Active! Dad’s really active, just like Harry’s dad! And they got together and had us, just like Harry’s parents had him.
(For the record, the Lovely Man is devastatingly smart. And the Boys’ Mum was apparently always a bit intimidated by that, despite being no slouch herself. The Boys, especially Boy A, often seem to feel compelled to insist to me how Very Intelligent she is, despite me never, ever saying a word about it or bringing up the issue of intelligence, of anyone, at all, ever.)
Boy A: What do you mean? Dad’s quite intelligent too, you know!
What came through very strongly from this conversation was that the Boys have a need to see the story of their parents’ marriage as special, almost mythic, within the family history. They need a love story, a sense of themselves as part of the family destiny. The divorce hasn’t altered that need; now the mythic love story they tell is just a little more star-crossed.
Harry and James Potter had their son, Harry, and were happily in love until the evil Voldemort killed them.
The Lovely Man and the Boys’ Mum had their three beautiful sons and were happily in love until the Evil Divorce Monster fell out of a clear blue sky and broke up their marriage.
(I could go further and add that Boy A, at least, identifies me directly with the Evil Divorce Monster.)
I can understand the Boys needing this sort of emotional family architecture to provide an account by which they can understand their existence. After all, if the way you see your parents’ marriage is that they were ill-suited and a bad match and their marriage was a mistake, then presumably in kid-magical-thinking terms, that makes you, their children, mistakes that should never have been made.
Then, of course, there are the obvious reconciliation fantasies at work in this little vignette. Those go without saying.
One thing I never, ever, expected to experience in my stepfamily, though, was sitting in the front seat of the car while my stepchildren openly attempted to matchmake their parents based on the Harry Potter novels from the back seat.
How do your stepchildren think and talk about their parents’ marriage?
How do you and/or your partner respond when it comes up?
What’s the most unexpected thing your stepkids have ever come up with?