I have oft-lamented, in my intrapsychic head-banging way, the toll my crappy divorce has taken on my son, Luca. I do think Luca came into the world wired to have certain issues, but growing up in a spectacularly bad divorce was the equivalent of resting those issues on a nice soft blankie in a petri dish and singing lullabyes to them.
Somehow, the divorce has left my 10-year-old, Franny, relatively unscathed. I would like to take credit for this. I would like to say that my uniquely gifted parenting and my evolved personhood made her the resilient kid that she is, but I don’t think I had anything to do with it. At least not much. She was for the most part a breezy baby, breezy toddler, and now, a breezy tween.
Maybe I screwed Franny up really badly and I just don’t know it. She did, after all, succumb to Girl Drama earlier in the year that prompted her teacher to strongly suggest (in other words, mandate) that we get her some therapy. Maybe I’m just used to a whole lot of Hard and so my Easy Bar is set really high.
But some events have transpired in the past several days since she’s returned from sleepaway camp to make me marvel at how flexible she is. And how, miraculously, I haven’t done anything to screw this up. At least not much.
#1 Piece of Evidence that I Have Not Screwed Up My Kid
This is the conversation I had with Franny in the car last weekend when I picked her up from sleepaway camp.
After our burritos, Franny and I walk to the ice cream place.
Me: Since we don’t have a new sitter yet, I have to put you in day camp next week.
Franny: Which one?
Me: You haven’t been there before. It’s near where I work.
Franny: What do you do there?
Me: Day camp things. Run around. Make lanyards.
Franny: How long does it last?
Me: All day. I have to leave you in aftercare till I get off work.
Franny: I think I’m going to try the mint chocolate chip.
#4 Piece of Evidence That I Have Not Screwed Up My Kid
The first day of camp, Franny sits on a bench while I fill out registration forms. It’s about 100 degrees. It takes forever to pay. There’s a line, the camp’s credit card machine is broken, I have to write a check. We are told Franny has to change into a special camp shirt. There are none in her size, so she wears one that’s too small.
I pick her up at 5:30, after work. She’s been in aftercare for an hour and a half. When I walk into the gym, she’s sitting on the floor laughing with another girl. She runs over to me, fresh as a daisy.
“That was really fun!” she says.
She grabs my hand as we walk to the door. She tells me about her new friends: Dylan, who’s great in gymnastics; Sophie, who tried to get someone to touch a brown recluse; Cleo, who has freckles like she does.
I remember what happened when I put Luca in a day camp at this age. The struggles to get him in and out of the car. The anger that dripped off him when we got to camp, the loud remarks about how everyone looked “stupid.” The limp-dishrag expression of the counselor when I went to pick up Luca, the counselor who told me, unconvincingly, that “he had a rough start but seemed to come around a little by the end of the day.”
I remember what happened when my parents put me in day camp, how heart-poundingly queasy I felt being dropped off in a group full of kids I didn’t know, how everyone else seemed excited about macrame but me, how freezing cold the lake was, the lake that gave me swimmer’s ear, at which point I dug in my seven-year-old heels and refused to go.
Atticus thinks I don’t acknowledge the conflict the divorce has caused, and that the ambient tension has made Franny anxious. He thinks I need to tell Franny — who shuts down whenever I have brought up the divorce and refuses to talk about it — that we have to talk about it. And if I can’t do that I should take her to therapy so the therapist can get her to talk about it.
Maybe it’s all the years I spent in therapy, or maybe it’s the years I’ve spent as a therapist — whatever the reason, I have come to believe that talking isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Some people really don’t get a lot of benefit out talk therapy.
Franny, like her mother, seems to benefit from retail and pedicure therapy.
And in hanging out with people she likes. Which at this point still includes me.
Atticus is on a father-son trip with Kevin for a few days, so Franny and I have plans. Movie night. The nail salon. Sleeping in my bed — a rare treat when Atticus is out of town.
This morning I gazed at her sweet freckled face when she opened her eyes, her long auburn hair spread out on the pillow next to me.
“How’d you sleep?” I asked.
“Good,” she said, then bounded out of bed to start her day.
A day that will not be screwed up by the divorce or me. At least not much.