Sunday, August 1, 2010


Children are a whirlwind gift from God. My two daughters made me richer, happier, and more fulfilled in so many ways. They've been my life and my very reason to exist for 29 years. My blue-eyed Snow White beauty with curly tresses received the unique gift of a beautiful operatic voice and perfect pitch. My green-eyed brunette with angel kisses on her cheeks received the gift of a scientific mind and a soprano voice. Both learned to play instruments at an early age and were quite gifted with languages.

I am an only child and always yearned to have siblings. My parents told me that the stork was tired and too poor to fly to our house and drop a sister or a brother. I searched for years to find a stork that could bring siblings and plenty of food. My parents said that this particular stork took up residence in the Far East and was unable to fly back to us. How credulous and hopeful kids can be!

I never had to share toys or food. Food was scarce around our house and I could count toys on one hand with room to spare. There were not many material possessions to become selfish over or share. I suppose hoarding food to stave famine was a selfish expression. It happened in some families, within a thriving black market for hard cash.

Communist children, even an only child, were not often coddled or made to feel special. Hugs were rare, public display of affection was frowned upon, and parents did not usually say "I love you" to their children. Life was too hard and harsh to spend it on fluff. People hugged at funerals, at weddings, and, if they had not seen each other in a long time. Since people lived in the same town or village their entire lives, long-term separation was non-existent or unheard of. Three-year compulsory military service for boys created a vacuum in the family unit and a need for hugs upon their safe return and release from duty.

In recent times, as Romania became part of the European Union, the possibility of employment in Spain, Italy, and Great Britain, emptied villages and families, breaking up the tight-knit communities, and leaving children almost orphaned in the care of elderly grandparents, themselves in need of care and protection. The far-away parents, earning a decent income in other lands, left children feeling abandoned and bereft of parental togetherness. Some children could not cope with this form of abandonment and committed suicide, others tried unsuccessfully, crying for love and attention.

If there is anything positive to be said about communism, and there is scant little, is that it forced families to be close, very close, and stay together. Divorce was unheard of and seldom permitted. It took around six years of waiting on the disposition of a petition for divorce and often times the answer was NO. However, forced cohabitation of people who had psychological problems and irreconcilable differences gave rise to a lot of spousal abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, adultery, and even murder in the heat of argument or passion.

When I decided to marry Sam,* my parents were against it for a very simple reason - I would have to leave my home town and go so far away that they would never be able to see me again. Being a selfish teenager, I never gave it much thought how I and my parents would feel emotionally being suddenly torn apart and separated from our family unit that had been so close-knit for 18 years. Our entire universe revolved around a 20 mile radius, give or take a few miles, with one uncle living about 100 miles away.

I was too ignorant and young to give much thought to the vast cultural differences that would eventually lead to divorce as my husband and I had absolutely nothing in common. We were as different in our life experiences as night and day. Our only common denominator would be our two beautiful daughters.

I was always told to respect the opinions of our elders and parents in general, but, as a teenager, when it came to the affairs of the heart, I decided early on that I would not listen to my match-making grandmother or my parents. My mom had married my dad on advice from my grandfather although she was deeply in love with another man, much more educated than she was and Jewish. My grandfather objected because he felt that Niculina was much less educated than the man she loved and he would eventually lose interest in her for lack of intellectual equality. Additionally, he was Jewish and my mom was Romanian orthodox. Which religion would the children be raised into? A very important issue and tataia Christache was a very wise man. Grandpa felt that my dad was closer to mom's schooling and thus their marriage would be a happier one. As my mom still talks today about her first love, I believed my grandparent's criteria to be a false premise for marriage. I was not going to repeat mom's mistake. I did not want an arranged marriage, I wanted to marry someone I was in love with, whether he was my educational equal or not, and make my own mistakes, which I did. In retrospect, my granpa knew a lot more than I gave him credit for at times.

My marriage was a disaster and doomed from the very beginning, I was too proud and stubborn to admit it. Ignorance and stupidity in my choice exacerbated the problem. Neither Sam* nor I had dated much and married against our parents' wishes. His parents wanted Sam to marry the farmer's daughter next door so that their adjacent lands would someday make for a larger farm with more pastures and cattle. My parents wanted me to marry the Greco-Roman champion wrestler from our hometown. This young man worshipped the ground that I walked on and my daddy and his family greatly approved of a possible marital union. They just forgot to tell me.

Divorces were seldom sought or granted in our family but more casual in the west. As a matter of fact, I was the second person in a family of over 300 members to get a divorce. I was so ashamed of this statistic that I never disclosed the very sad truth to my daddy. He died thinking that his little girl was happily married and his son-in-law was taking care of her as promised.

I was not going to admit defeat, I was going to fight to keep us together at all costs. Mom knew the sad truth that I was abandoned with two very small children in a foreign country, to fend for all of us. She came to help me raise my two daughters and never left. In a way, she is a defector of heart because of her love for us, her daughter and two granddaughters. From our symbiotic relationship, mom received shelter, love, and care for thirty years, and my daughters had a second mom who was always home.

I took responsibility for a third person in my life; it was never easy since she never learned to speak English and could not function outside of home. But she enriched our lives and helped carry the linguistic tradition to my children. I hope they will never lose the ability to speak Romanian - it was mom who patiently opened up their horizons and encouraged them to be proud of their Dacian/Roman heritage.

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