If you don’t know that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator and former California governor, fathered a child with the live-in maid who had been cleaning the mansion he shared with Maria Shriver and their four children, prompting Maria to hire a kick-ass attorney and slam Arnold’s sorry ass with divorce papers, you have been living under a rock.
Are they going to get back together?
Should Maria take Arnold back?
Before I explore these questions, I must digress.
When I was nine, my parents took professional sabbaticals and we lived in Mexico for six months. It was a tiny town high in the mountains, almost three hours south of Mexico City. The town was known as the silver capital of Mexico. Silver shops lined the town’s hub, the Zocalo. The centerpiece of the Zocalo was the Catholic church, an enormous structure covered in sparkling gold.
I often wondered why the cathedral couldn’t be melted down, and the gold turned into pesos that would help feed the town’s poor, many of whom could be found stumbling around the zocalo, or huddled barefoot on the cobblestone path leading down to the open-air Mercado, their calloused palms curled upward, begging for change.
There were rich people in the town, some of them foreigners. One of them was a businessman from Scarsdale who had acquired acres of land at the town’s peak.
The land featured several small villas, an Olympic-sized pool, a tennis court, and horse stables. The property had been turned into a summer camp attended mostly by wealthy American kids.
But it was vacant during the other seasons, so we rented the largest villa, at the edge of the property. American dollars went a long way back then, and we lived like kings that year.
My typical day involved the following: after a breakfast prepared by Josafina, the maid who worked on the property, I was homeschooled by my 19-year-old sister, who had taken a year off college to live with us. School time was over at noon, and I would spend the rest of the day reading Agatha Christie mysteries by the pool, riding horses, or hiking through the surrounding mountainside, imagining myself an international spy on a dangerous mission.
Because I had grown up in a moneyed northeastern town, painfully self-conscious of my family’s middle-class status, I relished playing the part of the wealthy “gringa,” because, compared to the majority of the townspeople, who housed eight, nine, ten children in tin-roofed shacks, we were loaded.
Besides the maid, the property came with a gardener and groundskeeper. The groundskeeper, Miguel, his wife, Ignacia, and their seven children lived in a small villa by the property’s entrance. Our maid, Josafina, 20ish, lived with her family outside the property, in a shack on a dusty, unpaved road.
You may be wondering about now what any of this has to do with Maria and Arnold. Bear with me. I’m getting there.
After my parents’ sabbatical was over, and we returned to the States, we continued to vacation at the villa every Christmas holiday. We stayed at a new hotel that some rich foreigner had built near the camp property, overlooking the winding mountain roads that stretched out below. Miguel was now managing the hotel. Josafina worked there, cleaning rooms.
My mother had taken Josafina under her wing and was worried about her “advancing age” – by then late 20s — and her single status. It was unusual for a native Mexicana to be unmarried at that age. Mom was concerned that Josafina was running out of time to find a husband and have children.
One Christmas vacation, we arrived for our usual 10-day stint – and a scandal. Josafina was several months pregnant. Unwed and pregnant. And the father of her child was Miguel, who, as you may recall, was married to Ignacia, with whom he had a passel of children. It was a small town, and everyone knew everyone’s business. So this was big talk.
Mom, who had been raised by Christian missionaries, and was so entrenched in rule-bound religion that she forbade me to take the name of the Lord in vain, struggled to reconcile her conviction that premarital sex was a sin with her love for Josafina, Miguel, and Miguel’s entire family.
I was a teenager at that point, and while I definitely didn’t share my mother’s puritanical views, I wondered why Ignacia hadn’t kicked Miguel to the curb. When we visited Ignacia, I studied her brown, lined face for hints of shame or despair. I scrutinized the kids, all seven of them, watching to see if they snubbed their philandering father.
But they all seemed fine. I remember watching Ignacia water the potted plants outside her house. Despite her husband’s secret philandering with the maid, the philandering that yielded a child-to-be, she radiated the same air of acceptance I had come to associate with her: acceptance of her station in life, that of a poor Mexican woman with limited options.
Perhaps the fact that she had moved up in the world and was no longer living with her entire family in a dingy one-bedroom, but was now the wife of a hotel a manger who got to reside in a clean, airy red-tiled adobe house overrode any sense of outrage she must have had.
Miguel did seem a bit embarrassed when faced by my mother, who couldn’t hide her profound disappointment at his behavior. I know my parents had furtive talks with Miguel and Ignacia, then Josafina, separately. I know my mother prayed about it. My father, who had actually had a stint as a Presbyterian minister, had a more pragamatic take on the situation, a take that I believe my mother ultimately accepted.
Despite the profound Catholicism that permeated the air of this tiny town, marital fidelity was frequently sidestepped. I learned this first-hand when I morphed from an awkward 13-year-old into a 16-year-old spicy enchilada, and was groped by one of the hotel waiters, a married man who had known me since I was three years old.
When I pushed him away, sputtering: “But you’re married – and Catholic!” , he shrugged and said, simply: “It’s accepted here that men have other women.”
“You mean your wife knows?” I sputtered again. “She wouldn’t be mad right now, if she saw what you were doing?”
He shrugged again, and lunged again. I pushed him away, thoroughly grossed out.
Josafina had her baby, a girl. Miguel took responsibility, providing for the child he had fathered with another woman. He and Ignacia stayed married. Their seven children accepted their stepsister as a part of the family.
Which brings me, finally, to the question: should Maria take Arnold back?
Despite the fact that they come from two different socioeconomic stratospheres, Maria and Ignacia have some things in common.
They’re both devout Catholics. They both have been raised in cultures – Mexico, and Kennedy-land — in which women tacitly acknowledge male sexual privilege. And they both have spent years married to the same man, with whom they have raised several children.
Even if Maria goes through with her divorce plans, she will never be rid of Arnold. Arnold will always be the father of her children. They will attend college graduations, weddings, and grandchildren’s baptisms together. Both mega-rich people, they undoubtedly have intricately drawn-up estate plans assigning zillions to their children, plans that they will just have to detangle should they go through with their divorce.
Given their circumstances, and given my own experience watching a very different, but similar couple stay together after the husband fathered a child with the maid, I have found myself thinking that Maria should stay with Arnold.
Maybe should is too strong a word. But, should she decide to stay with him, I would not think she’s making a mistake. I would not think she lacks self-esteem, or that her children will lose respect for her.
Would she be teaching her daughters that they should look the other way when their man “has other women”? Would she be teaching their sons to spread their seed with whatever household help tickles their libido?
Her children are Kennedys, for Chrissake. It is practically in their DNA, the notion that men cheat, and women put up with it. If the Schwarzenegger’s mother takes their father back, will it affect them more than the philandering-male Kennedy legacy has already affected them?
So with all that said, I say to Maria: whatever you decide, girlfriend, I support you.
What do you think? Should she take Arnold back, or let her pitbull of a divorce attorney loose on him?