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Bay Window: Letter from a child of divorce

The mama quail leads her brood across my yard like a feathered drill team, a wee bit out of step. She clucks and fusses, crowing commands.

Eight little chicks dotter behind her on toothpick legs, running in circles like cartoon penguins trying their best to keep up.

One stops to peck the petals off the lantana. Suddenly, he realizes he has been left behind and goes sprinting after her as if the grass is on fire and his life depends on following her lead.

Which, of course, it does. She’s his mother. There are things she needs to teach him, things he needs to know to survive.

I wish you could see them.

I’ve been watching them for 20 minutes, thinking about a note I just read. Two notes, actually.

One of the things I love best about writing a newspaper column is getting to hear from readers. I’ve been blessed over the years by a lot of great mail. I often share it with my husband and children just to say, “See? Some people like me.”

But I can’t seem to recall any correspondence that touched me more deeply than this.

It came in response to a recent column in which I told the story of how I struggled as a child after my parents divorced; how I took refuge in the perfection of a paper doll family; how I vowed to have a “perfect” real family someday; and how I learned in the end that families, like life, are messy, and yet, by some ironic miracle, they can be filled to overflowing with grace and peace and joy.

The reader (let’s call her Bonnie) wrote to tell me about her granddaughter (let’s call her Emma) who has struggled in the wake of her parents’ divorce.

“When I read your ‘Fantasy Family’ column in our paper,” Bonnie wrote, “I knew I had to share it with our granddaughter. She watches some show on TV about a perfect family and can’t understand why her life (isn’t perfect, too). Thank you for your story. I do think it helped her.”

I hope so. That’s what a good story should do. It should tell us that we are not alone, not the only ones who struggle.

After reading Bonnie’s card, I opened a sheet of notebook paper she’d tucked inside, and read a neatly penciled note from her young granddaughter:

Dear Miss Randall,

I heard that your mom and dad split. My mom and dad also split. My nana brought me your article on the Fantasy Family. Thank you for sharing your story. Thanks for inspiring me to not worry about my family splitting. I know things will work out someday. I will always remember your words of the grace and peace and joy.

And I, in turn, will always remember Emma.

There are things children need to know beyond how to tie their shoes, read, write, count to 10 and say please and thank you. For instance, they need to know that:

• They are not alone, not the only ones who struggle, who find strength to overcome and courage to believe that anything – anything – is possible.

• Life is short, but it’s also long, and pain is worth enduring for all the joy that lies ahead.

• If they can’t change the whole world, they can change the world around them with kindness and hard work and laughter and prayer.

• They don’t have to be happy to be thankful, but true happiness only grows in a thankful heart.

• They are stronger than they know, strong enough for anything life will ask of them.

Most of all, they need to know that they are loved and that nothing – divorce, disappointment and even death – can ever change it.

It’s up to us – their parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, neighbors and even strangers – to teach them by example with our lives and our stories, our steps and missteps, that we’re all in this together. We don’t have all the answers. Far from it. But we do have each other.

Emma is especially lucky. She has her nana to lead the way.