I tell everyone that our family is the best; in fact, I once shouted it from the rooftop!
We laughed and played and went on trips and to the movies and built treehouses and played monster fort and told really funny jokes. My brother and I got tucked in every night and our parents read stories to us and turned on the night light before they closed the door.

I never thought that it would be different, but then it was and I didn’t understand.

I mean, you’d think if your parents stood up in front of a judge or a priest or a rabbi or someone with a big black robe on and said that they want to be married, then it’d last, right? 

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You’d think if your mom held flowers and your dad held her hand while they made promises, that they would always be together.

You’d think if there was a dress, a ring, a kiss, and a cake, it would mean happier ever after. Like in the movies.

But then it doesn’t and I had a lot of questions about why.

Mostly, I was surprised at how complicated grown-ups’ lives were and how hard it was for them to explain things. 

Sure, I noticed the closed doors, the slammed doors, the frowns, and tears. I felt it when one of them didn’t show up to my tee-ball game or my brother’s gym competition. Sometimes, I felt a chill and unhappiness which crept onto every surface, nook, and particle of our house.

Some days, I just ignored the silences and my absent dad or my “too busy at work” mom. But I could tell something had shifted in our family.

Then came the big talk. The “let’s sit down and have a family meeting” talk. The “we both will always love you” discussion, the “we’ll always be your parents” explanation.

And the ice-cold words, “We’re getting a divorce and we won’t live together anymore.”

Just like that, the floor opened, the earth titled, my ears stopped working, and I couldn’t feel my toes. They talked, but I couldn’t listen, I could barely breathe.
When I did take a breath again, I heard them say words like separation and co-parenting, but it just sounded like mush.

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My head was exploding with questions and they came out in a rush.

What in the world just happened? Am I hearing this correctly?

Is this normal in a marriage? Does it just naturally come apart? Why can’t my parents stay together? What about the promises they made?

Was it something I did?

Who will I live with? Where will they live? Will I change schools? Will I have to make new friends at my new school, at my new playground, at my new park?

Can I go to camp? Will I play ball on the same team? Will Coach Mac still be in charge?

Will we go on vacation together? Will there be new holidays? 

What happens to my bedroom? Will some other kid from some other family sleep there? Will the stars on the ceiling help put him to sleep? Will I have to leave my books on the shelves?

What about our dog, Dukewhere will Duke live? 

Does Dad know how to braid my hair? Can Mom fix super-duper double burgers?

What in the world just happened?

The questions kept coming and Mom and Dad kept talking. They answered every question. They said our feelings were understandable and it’s OK to be sad, afraid, angry, and confused.

They said they knew it hurt and it would for a while. They asked what and how we felt and wanted us to try to “put it into words.”

They promised we’d take as long as we needed to talk about it. And then we’d talk some more. And some more.

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They promised that my brother and I did nothing wrong and they would always love us, no matter what.

They promised they would both be in our lives as much as before, just in separate places.  

They said the promises they made to us were forever and we’d still be a familyjust a different kind of family, but still a family. They said their love for us wouldn’t change; even with a shift in the earth, it couldn’t shake our family love.

There were things I didn’t understand about marriage and grown-ups, but I did understand that we were a family, and we were loved.

That is forever whether I shout it from the roof or feel it in my heart. We are loved.

Judy Gilliam

Judy Gilliam is an educator who has served as a teacher, principal, superintendent, and college professor. Her experiences include service in public, private, and Department of Defense schools. She retired after 40+ years and currently lives in her childhood home in LaGrange, Georgia. She is a proud mother of 2 and grandmother of 5.