In the following post, guest author S. W. Atwell writes about her young daughter’s surprisingly sophisticated views of marriage. — Paul Sunstone
My daughter was seven when she decided that having a Canadian mother meant that she was a “Canadian American” and began noting differences between the United States and Canada. Mimi has Asperger Syndrome, which causes her to obsess about odd little areas of interest.
AS also makes Mimi prone to utter her thoughts with disarming frankness. She sometimes at a disadvantage when it comes to interpreting new situations. That is why I wondered what Mimi would make of it the evening she walked into the living room, where I was watching a commitment ceremony for two women characters in a favorite sitcom.
Mimi stared at the television, taking in the wedding finery as she moved her stare from the center of the screen to the top of the screen, from the top of the screen back to the bottom.
“Mother,” she stated, hitting each consonant with a precision that nearly pulled the syllables of her words apart. “There are two ladies getting married on the television.” (“There are two lay-ties ge-ting married on the telee-vision”).
Her face still and concentrated, she resumed scanning the screen. Then, her eyes widened, she pressed the palms of her hands together and bobbed forward slightly with the delight of discovery. “Oooh. This wedding must be in Canada!”
She asked no questions, nor offered any comments. She had categorized the phenomenon and that was all that mattered.
That was the beginning. Weeks later, Mimi called me into her bedroom. “Come here, Mother! Two Canadian girls are planning a wedding!”
Indeed, Barbie of Swan Lake was about to marry Barbie with the Dolly Parton hair and the peacock blue eye shadow. It made me wonder if intercultural marriage could go too far.
Then came the evening when I lost patience with Mimi for repeatedly interrupting my housework. “Mimi! Why do you keep coming to me for help with something new every two minutes?”
But rhetoric falls flat when directed at the literal-minded. “Because, Mother, you are my mother and you are supposed to help me.”
“Yes, sweetheart, I realize that, but right now I am so tired and overworked that I feel like I need a mother to come over and help me.”
“But Mother, your mother lives in Canada.”
“Yes, dear, I know–”
“And she has a job and cannot come here.”
“Pussy Cat, I understand this–”
“And my daddy says she does not like you anyway.”
“And anyway, now that your father is dead, your mother could get married again. And if she is in Canada, she could marry a lady. And that lady would be your step-mother. And maybe she would love you and come here to help you.”
I was speechless.
It took me a long time to understand that something was working in my daughter beyond a fascination with differences between American and Canadian culture. It was broader than the differences and similarities between gay and straight marriage. Mimi had the makings of small social engineer and marriage was her engineering media. She knew about relatives who were unhappy about the marriage between her Jewish mother and her Christian father. I assured Mimi that love was the important thing and it was nobody else’s business if people came from different religions or had different skin colors.
Mimi was usually the second arrival at day camp that summer, the first being a four year old biracial boy. Perhaps Mimi considered the little guy “black,” as Americans do when a person’s ancestry is partially African. In any event, Mimi’s eyes lit up the morning he and his very Nordic mother arrived a few minutes after we did.
“Wow!” she told the little boy. “Your parents are different colors, but they still got married! That is so good! Did you know nobody is supposed to tell other people not to get married because they are different colors so long as they love each other?”
The boy was speechless. His mother held her laughter and gave me a “thumbs up” sign as she walked out the door.
As proud as I was of Mimi’s tolerance, you can only imagine my chagrin the day I learned she had mocked another camper because of his religion.
“Over religion?” I spluttered. “But Mimi, of all children, should know better than that! Her father and I are of different religions!”
“That seems to be the problem,” explained the camp director. “Mimi made fun of the boy because his family only has one religion and hers has two.”
I read Mimi the riot act, ending with an order that she apologize to the other child immediately.
“I am sorry,” Mimi began, “for making you cry because I said it was better to have two religions in your family instead of one.”
Then, leaning in confidentially and dropping her voice to a whisper, “But do not worry! Maybe someday your parents will get a divorce and one of them will get married again to somebody who has a different religion and then your family will also have two religions!”
That was when I finally understood that Mimi considered marriage the panacea for all social conflicts.
Liberal she might be, but she would agree with conservatives any day of the week that marriage is the basis of American society. Perhaps one day she will decree that Democrats and Republicans must intermarry. Mimi may be generations removed from the shtetl, but never mind. She is truly a matchmaker for the twenty-first century.
© S.W. Atwell, 2011