Camping trip in the Adirondack Mountains.
Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina:
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
I've been considering that statement as I've contemplated this time period in my life. Is it true? Perhaps so. As I think about the families I have known, and try to imagine families the world over living in varying frameworks of wealth and poverty, peace and warfare, support and isolation, it seems that what happy families share is a conviction that all members are loved and supported and valued, in whatever ways culture moderates and circumstances permit.
My own family was a happy one in an unremarkable American suburban kind of way. I was at home with the kids until I turned forty and then, with all of them in elementary school, returned to the practice of law.
The kids stayed in Montessori school and we continued to spend time in St. Augustine and Chautauqua. We went camping, we went canoeing, and they did the usual kid things with the four children next door: lemonade stands and original (!) dramas and community soccer teams and afternoons at the park and the pool. We were very active in the Methodist church and then we weren't, and I began my gradual migration toward the Presbyterian church down the road. We had a group of close friends with whom we spent lots of time and celebrated holidays.
The one significant challenge ~ and one not handled well by me, I'm afraid ~ was the constant business travel demanded of my husband. He was gone every month for at least a week and, as the children got older, twice a month for ten days at a time. It was extremely hard on me to be a single parent so much of the time and part of a couple the rest. If I had it to do over again, I would approach the whole situation more thoughtfully and generously, and would insist on improved communication.
I don't know what you do about back-up in times like that. On one occasion a friend stopped by on a winter day when the kids and I were all sick. She made a grocery run for me after discovering that we had run out of several things, and that taking everyone out seemed an insurmountable task to me. Days like that were rough, and I didn't like to ask for help ~ all of my friends were also caring for rambunctious young families without benefit of nearby grandparents or siblings.
But I was not a single parent in the sense of having to provide financially for our family, and I was very grateful for that. On the whole, our days were very, very good.
Since Josh's death, it's difficult for me not to look back at our lives from under the shadow of that catastrophe and wonder what we missed, what we might have done differently. I ponder all the choices we made and wonder, Should we have done it the other way instead? Should we have done this and not that? Public school instead of private? Life in the country instead of life in the city? Day camp instead of sleepover camp? Was there something staring us in the face that we completely overlooked? But when I look back at those times for what they were, I can only conclude that the answers to all of those questions is, No. We were attentive and engaged and loving parents, our kids were funny and lively and into all kinds of things, and there was nothing we enjoyed more than time as a family.
We might not have had quite so many pets at one time, though!