Our ward talent show was tonight, and was yet another reminder of the imperfectness of my little bedraggled family. Yeah, yeah, I know the platitudes- we’re all imperfect, if we could see them not on Sunday, everyone has problems and we’d all pick our own back from the collective pile given the choice, etc etc etc… I’ve heard them all, and know there are grains of truth in every platitude. Yet there it is, right in my face, the litany of perfect smiling families on parade.
We are many things, my three children and I- but mostly we are battle-scarred and tender around the edges still, a year and half beyond divorce. While it may be unpopular to say, I do believe divorce doesn’t have to always be catastrophic- if both parents can rise above pettiness, children can still thrive with two parents who love them, even if those parents aren’t married to each other anymore. Unfortunately, this isn’t the straw we drew.
We arrived a little late due to a crisis involving scientifically accurate pencil drawings of insects by Bean, my 7 year-old son with autism. He doesn’t do well in loud, crowded places with people who might touch him, but I have two typical kids and I can’t bow-out of everything (and believe me, I want to sometimes). So much well-meaning advice is given out to me about how to discipline my son with autism- and I wish it were only that easy. My oldest son has his shirt on inside-out and forgot his coat, and my daughter is wearing a satin Snow White gown with pink ballet slippers. People smile- and are almost always kind in our heavily populated and active ward.
My kids sit in their chairs, and ask why we are not part of the talent show. Bean begins to cry; he wants to go up on stage and show everyone how great his talent for hiding is- and he’s right- the kid is an ace hider. (once I found him– after abject panic set in and I was ready to dial 911– up inside the box springs under his sister’s bed) How cool would that be? All six of the Smith family’s children played their violins, and my kid goes up on stage and unleashes his mad hiding skills.
We are not in the talent show because, while I made the signs for it to hang around the ward building, I had finals the last two weeks at the University and the talent show barely registered on my radar. Since we drew the short straw, I find myself juggling three kids, full-time school, running a house, trying to freelance and maintain the slimmest grip on my sanity, without any co-parenting or support. Now, I don’t feel sorry for myself- like the old pile of troubles, I would chose to be doing this over a bad marriage every time. Yet my children don’t have my perspective.
My children sit, and look at the families with dads present and involved. They see fathers laughing and clapping for their daughters who dance, for their sons who play the cello, and for their multiples who sing in harmony sweet enough to make your cry. They look at me, and ask “why not us?” and I have no answer. Not for them, not for me.
There is so much sweetness in Mormon life. So much to rejoice in and celebrate. A talent show is a great opportunity for us to gather collectively and learn about the graces scattered in our ward. It’s also another quiet reminder to some of us how broken and bent our own feathers are, and how short we fall from the picturesque ideal of what Mormon life looks like.
It’s never far from our reality, actually. The platitude is, I believe, that we teach correct principles rather than to the exception. Like so many theories, when fleshly hearts that are tender and torn realize they are the exceptions, it’s punching bruises. Each Sunday, and each activity, and each Primary lesson, my kids are reminded again that we do not have the priesthood in our home, that we are not an eternal family, that mothers belong in the home to keep the world at bay, that there is no one to preside in our borrowed little house, and that their world does not fit this ideal.
For three little kids with their noses pressed to the window, it’s pretty darn cold outside.