Columnist Terry Marotta on life without lots of people around.
“When you marry someone now, all you get is one person,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote. He believed marriages started going bust when the extended family began disappearing from the scene.
“When couples fight, it isn’t about sex or power. What they’re really saying is, ‘You’re not enough people!’"
He’s right there, boy. Couples need whole gangs of people around them.
One of the worst social experiments we ever conducted in this country was the one that corralled people into that nuclear family consisting of a lone man, a lone woman and the children produced between them.
Even today when the young marry, we give them bridal showers and set them adrift, essentially marooning them with weird extraneous things like champagne flutes and bread makers. Better that we should give them promises: “We’ll come every Tuesday and bring pizza!” Or “Saturdays, let’s wash our cars!”
I grew up in a family consisting of a mother who ran a business from our home; an aunt -- Grace -- who came over daytimes to help; a grandfather who sat in an armchair reading histories of the Republic; and two ancient great-aunties who sat muttering over their rosary beads and letting us kids use them as living props in all our dramas.
It was life with four extra playmates. And it was the opposite of lonely. And when we made mischief or drove Mom nuts, one of them would lead us off, while another sat her down to take a breather.
I went from this warm nest to dorm life in college and then directly to marriage to a boy no older than I was.
We had nothing but our dreams and our student loans, and it was great and all, only just a tad quiet with just us and the champagne flutes, and sometimes, just sometimes, my groom and I felt much as sweet Aunt Grace came to feel late in her life when, in the mists of Alzheimer’s, she would wake mornings. “Where are the others?” she would ask all anxious and sad.
David and I began having a few of our own “others” around with the arrival of our first baby, who, being a mammal, looked to me for milk. And fun. And everything else, basically.
I felt so tired all the time. "Couldn’t we stop with this one child?" I said one day.
“We could,” answered my husband in his sweet, mild way. “But I just always pictured filling up the places around the Christmas tree.”
I felt the yearning in his voice, and so we had a second child. And then we wanted a third. Then two more kids came into our lives another way, and four kids beyond that.
And like any parents, we have helped them all learn things: how to ride a bike and how to do their taxes; how to ask for help and how to say sorry.
And now, they help each other – to manage a tricky boss or to find an apartment. Me, I can no longer thread a needle without three sets of magnifying glasses, but with them around, the job gets done. And I often think if we had a slogan hung over our front door, it would say, “Not Alone.”
Because it’s too hard to go it alone.
Remember that next time you see a couple fighting.
Remember it especially when you see a couple with young children fighting. We are a village species. We’re meant to live in community.
Terry Marotta is an author, a speaker and a youth worker who has been writing this column for New England papers since Ronald Reagan’s earliest days in office. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 270, Winchester, MA 01890.