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Lost Civilization- The Archaeology of a Broken Home

Who guards your family's history?

I admit it, I’m hopelessly sentimental. One reason that I tried to avoid divorce through all the years of X bringing it up was to preserve the place for our memories to matter. Even now, I’m like the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade- spending 700 years to guard our mementos seems like a worthy endeavor.

Shared experiences, good and bad, make up the history of a family. And not only the people, but objects play an important supporting role. Why did the Christmas village always get set up a certain way? How many times were apple bundles baked in the round stoneware dish? Which gravy boat was used with which china set? Remember "Ketchup Mo-Mo" and who ate their "by-boo"? Yes, families have a language all their own.

Memories can be triggered for me by almost any item around the house. Yesterday morning I thought for a few moments about the stories triggered by these items and how they may be different for all the family members. When I see Halloween decorations, I see years of happy times adorning our home and remembering things like how the scarecrow would always go on the kitchen island, or how X hung the (faux) jack-o-lanterns one year by drilling holes in their stems.

Years later, in counseling, it turned out that X felt suffocated by the traditions and decorations and that he didn’t want to be a part of decking any halls anymore.

Decorating was a huge part of my life (I do interiors, for goodness sake) and it was crushing. One Christmas near the end of our marriage, we had to compromise. He agreed to put the lights on the tree, but refused to put any ornaments on. The counselor asked me if I was okay with that; I really wasn’t, but if that was what he needed, I was willing to live with it.

I did manage to convince him to hang his walnut Santa that he made when he was five. Traditions die hard with me.

Yesterday, it occurred to me that my son is really the one who most shares the stories and the knowledge of the family lore- even though the stories are no longer lived out. Some divorced families still gather for events, celebrations, etc. In our case there is a high level of improbability that we will ever have any type of joint celebrations.

It may be different if you have children who are still at home after divorce. Whether they live with one parent or split their time, they still have little outposts where the previous experience is shared by another. In my case, my children were grown, and although my son still lives with me, he is rarely here. We all went in four separate directions, living our lives in new ways, under our new personal flags. We hold our stories for ourselves and the reality of our former living, breathing family unit is relegated to the past.

Say you graduated with a degree in Yugoslavian Studies in 1990 because you were passionate about that topic. You would have been pretty bummed a couple years later when Yugoslavia was suddenly disbanded into six smaller countries and ceased to exist. You could never physically visit there again and eventually, a degree in "Yugoslavics" would be about as in demand as a Master’s in Telegraph Operation is today.

Incredibly, mere minutes after I processed all these thoughts, my son came home and did the unthinkable: he started cleaning out his closet.

What brought this on, I do not know, but suddenly I was faced with a growing pile of artifacts that included souvenirs from family vacations, stuffed animals X had given me that our son had subsequently adopted and gifts given by both grandfathers, now deceased.

As my son struggled with what to do with these formerly much-loved stuffed friends, our eyes met. We both said, “Toy Story 3,” at the same time and then quickly looked down and away, knowing that the living, breathing family these were a part of was no more.

That afternoon was physically and emotionally draining for me. He handed me his 1st Communion Beanie Bear and the little musical cow that hung in his crib, asking me to “Keep them safe.” He brought out various items to give to his new stepbrother. He started a goodwill pile. He started a pile to take to his dad that included the stuffed animals formerly in my possession, along with an Eddie Bauer teddy wearing a red down vest that X’s parents had given him the first Christmas we were dating. I’d known that bear for over thirty years!

We had a tradition of giving our son a book every year on his birthday, and I’d written an inscription in each one, some inspirational message related to the book and signed, “love mommy and daddy…” Those are now all living on the bookshelf in my office.

Between each artifact drop off, I would head into my closet and choke back the tears, telling myself that this sort of thing would be happening whether his father and I were still married or not.

The love that mommy and daddy have for our children indeed lives on. We no longer practice it together, but it is there. I’m sure that we practice it in new ways, but I wonder how much our kids might think about the old times. Do they miss reading Twas the Night Before Christmas all together out of the beautiful Tasha Tudor book that X gifted me? Do they remember the flat out refusal of our daughter to ever answer correctly to, “I hear Mr. Turkey say….”?

Maybe, just maybe, they can experience more security in the now, knowing that their parents, hunkered down at their respective Red Squirrel and Ice Station Zebra home bases, are stable and consistently living their lives. Perhaps we even give them more positive energy without all the roller coaster, off and on again marriage distraction and pain that marked the last few years of us being "together."

Navigating my upstairs hallway today is tricky. Boxes, bags and piles of former treasures have become a timeline of sorts. Remnants of a lost civilization about which history has ceased to be written. How to honor what is in my memory, while still moving forward in peace is something with which I still struggle.

Then, amazingly, in this week of strange alignment, where many long buried q