For someone who was born in the 1840’s and lived seventy years, the world of their adult life was almost completely unrecognizable compared to the one of their childhood. We think we live in a period of monumental change but it is hidden compared to what we went through a hundred years before.
Think about it.
On the streets, instead of carts drawn by animals and people there are motorcars and trucks. Instead of police officers directing traffic, you’d have to learn the conventions of traffic signals. Easy and cheap refrigeration means the availability of food and type of food has changed and the size of cities can expand because edible food can be grown beyond the immediate boundaries of the city. Most purchases before the turn of the century were done on credit between individuals not cash or credit held by an institution. Not to mention the buildings where you live and work — skyscrapers, revolving doors, elevators, escalators on and on.
By comparison, if you were born in the 1940’s and are living your seventy years, you are in a wholly recognizable landscape. Our current technology has had a profound effect on our lives but it hasn’t had nearly as dramatic physical manifestation as it did for those who lived through the beginning of the 20th century. It’s not surprising that when fantasists of the 1920-50s imagined the next century they imagined physical transformations as dramatic as the ones they lived through — people conveyors in the sky, airplanes and helicopters replacing cars, food in tubes etc.
But it didn’t happen.
Lives inside structures changed – our cars, homes, offices — with the flow of information, ease of communication, changes in materials and social norms. But the space age and information revolution hasn’t transformed landscape the way the industrial revolution before it.
So with the emotional violence and wrenching drama of the Leaver leaving; with all the phenomenal change in perspective and self-definition; with all the coping with loneliness, stress, new responsibilities that has been chronicled in self-indulgent detail here on this blog; it is humbling to realize, that in many ways, our lives, and specifically that of the children has changed little.
“Oh, I didn’t realize that.” That was the answer from both of my children’s teachers when I told them during parent teacher interviews last week of the change in the situation in our home, that my wife had moved out. Both kids are, frankly, doing better in school than last year. Marks are good, behaviour’s are good (my son, seems to suddenly be over-socializing, which is getting to be a bit of a pain, but last year he was a wall-flower, so this is actually good news), they’re engaged in what’s going on, they keep track of homework and take pride in their work — I couldn’t honestly say that about the past years.
So clearly the secret to scholastic achievement in the primary grades is to break-up a marriage?
Of course I’m not saying that. I am not even arguing a cause and effect connection of any sort. I think they’ve just come into their own this year.
Perhaps without the disruption and strife of the past year they would have done even better. Perhaps we stunted their emergence as prodigies or YouTube sensations, juggling Rubik’s cubes whilst singing Adele and we’d all be rich as Croesus by now. Conjecture of this sort — either good or bad — is no less speculative than the jet pack and flying car world of past futurists.
We both imagined a fundamental, cosmic shift in our lives — which has of course happened — but it has been humbling to realize that the changes have manifested themselves more in the how we function in our day-to-day lives not actually what we do. Life in this house, for the children, is much the same as it was, except without their mother around. Life with the Leaver (new place, new cat etc) is more different than just our old life but without me around. Nonetheless, they go to school, they see their friends, they have their interests, activities and virtual lives that have all remained not just in tact but unaffected.
Their landscape has had minor adjustments, and reshaping, not whole-scale demolition and rebuild. They’ve said that sometimes it feels like mom is just on holiday and that she’ll be back. Is that denial or just a comfortable way to process the changes? It helps, I think, that for the most part they are in their home and have stayed in this home and leave only for the occasional visits. It helps, I think, that there was no immediate introduction of a new boyfriend or girlfriend.
It is humbling to realize that the children aren’t pounding the walls pining the absence of one parent or another. Their world is still their world; entirely recognizable and negotiable. The way things happen has changed, in some ways improved in other ways it presents more challenges but it is all very manageable.
The children get on with it. I suppose that’s a lesson well learned by the adults in the situation.