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Harriet Ling, LMBT


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Carrboro, NC  27510

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Reincarnation of a Family

College graduation.  A milestone not only for the graduate, but also for his family.  An immensely proud moment for a mom.  Sitting with my first-born and my ex-husband as my younger son received his diploma last Saturday, I wanted to shout to the world, “Do you have any idea how huge this is?!?!”  As I watched the other graduates file across the stage and back to their seats, I realized that my children were only two of many in that auditorium who knew first-hand the range of emotions that this moment brought. Each of these sons and daughters had their own stories of overcoming adversity, of rising to the challenges, of victory at this celebration of beginning their next chapters.

There have been so many times in the eleven years since my divorce that I’ve felt I’d fallen short with my kids.  The upheaval of that unforeseen turn of events, the bitterness and sadness and anger and hurt, the scrambling to make ends meet... all the fallout of a failed marriage and a broken home.  All the things from which I’d intended to protect my children.  

The first few years, the inevitable encounters with their father were far from civil.  We only spoke when absolutely necessary; an actual conversation was out of the question.  Then gradually, as the freshness of the pain faded, we were able to stand upon the common ground that our children provided.  He travelled to North Carolina for their high school graduations, then their college ones, and our families mingled and celebrated together.

This time, none of the aging grandparents or geographically distant aunts and uncles were able to make the trip, so the four of us found ourselves killing time together for several hours between the graduation ceremony and dinner time.  We laughed, we played, we shared stories and photos and memories, we got each others’ jokes and nuances. Most of all, we were a family.  It was palpable.  It continued through dinner and stayed with me even after we parted ways, and is with me still.  And I have come to realize that my children did not come from a broken home, and my marriage did not fail.  Rather, it evolved into something not reflected on a paper certificate or by traditional definition.  Yes, the evolution was immensely painful for all of us.  Big growth spurts always are, and nobody gets to live this life unscathed, no matter how hard we try.  But having had to struggle, having survived emotional hardships, having had to pitch in and take up the slack of their very human parents, my children are far better prepared for life on their own than if they’d had  perfectly comfortable childhoods.  This is the ever-present silver lining.

For all the things I haven’t been able to give my kids, I’m pretty sure they’ve known they have a safety net, that they are loved unconditionally, that I would move heaven and earth to show up for them when they need me.  And so would their dad.

Because our lives veered off their originally charted courses, my children know how to recreate themselves in a new place; they know that no matter what, their parents are there for them.  They didn’t come from a broken home, they came from an expanded one.  Their lives have been enriched by the opportunities that weren’t provided by the safe, predictable world they started out in.

After all the energy spent moving beyond hardships of divorce and its messy wake, this graduation day taught me that, together or not on a day-to-day basis, we remain a happy family.  We’re still a team.  The bond of love that connects us is the constant amid the inevitable changes.  What a blessing to discover such treasures in the long-cooled ashes of the fire.