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The Upside of Our Parents' Divorce

2021-07-14 | 🔗

What’s the secret to sibling success? Apparently, an ugly divorce. At least, that’s how it went down for Ellen Umansky and her two brothers. Ellen’s parents separated when she was 9. “They loved us deeply, but there were battles to be won — emotional, reputational, financial,” Ellen wrote in her Modern Love essay. 

As Ellen and her brothers were flung into a new reality of parental feuds and convoluted calendar arrangements, her brothers became her “one constant and comfort.” Today’s episode is about “Team Umansky,” as Ellen’s husband calls them, a unit that has stuck together from adolescence through adulthood.  

You can find more info on today's episode here

Featured stories: 

  • "The Secret to Sibling Success," by Ellen Umansky
  • "Trusting the Edge" by Kim Addonizio
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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a real, lasting bonds and are sometimes bonds come from going through really hard times together. The say is called the secret to siblings. success, it's written by a new man, ski and bread, by Kirsten Potter. The years ago, my brother and I attended the wedding of a childhood friend, held on a high floor of a stylish San Francisco hotel. We were standing by the floor to ceiling windows joking with each other, when the sister of the groom approached you guys are so close. She said it must be nice. Tell me: what can I do to make my daughters? As close as you are,
Her tone was light, but her eyes were searching you on a now Eric said I'll. Tell you you and your husband should separate, then go through an ugly divorce. That'll bring your kids together. I cracked up. Oh, She said uncertainly. I didn't say it would be easy. He added I laughed again the lights of San Francisco spread but us the dark waters of the bay eddying beyond. I remember the hesitation and our friends voice. The half smile fixed on her face Eric spoke to her, but his words were for me as if you were saying this is our history. We can claim it and make fun of it.
was snark and dark, but freeing too, and it made me, love him all the more when our parents separated, I was nine. My older brother David was twelve and Eric was sex. Our parents had previously and their strife behind closed doors, but now no longer have the energy or the well. They loved us deeply, but there were battles to be one emotional, reputational, financial, no one behaved well, my father moved first. when near by apartment and then to a house? While we stayed put with our mother in our home in the hills of LOS Angeles, ours was a typical eighties arrangement. We spend every other weekend with our father and had dinners out with him on Wednesday evenings. As we tried to enjoy
Institute to our new reality, shuttling back and forth between households trying to tune out the fights about money and the sharpness with which they now spoke to each other? My brothers were my one constant and come We didn't know we were doing it, but we created a family within a family. My siblings were my allies. We had roles. David became our negotiator, the one dealt with our parents and the endlessly fraught calendar requests. He was the stalwart who communicated less than pleasant news. Eric became the cut up. when our father was dating a younger woman, we got him to greet her by saying: Hey says: one When he was eight or nine, he begged for a Casio calculator watch that my father wouldn't buy for him
My father had good reason to say no, but what I remember most was Eric's crying and my white hot clarity that he needed protecting, and I was the one to do it. Why can't you be nicer about it? I screamed at our father me who hated arguing above all, why do you have to be so mean my siblings I still bickered constantly we fought physically. I have a scar, on my right hand, from an alteration and my grandparents house, when David furious through me against a cabinet, we were often left to our own devices, with little parental supervision. David, I once cajoled Eric to cram himself into our clothes drier. Another time we folded him up in the sleeper couch. Just as he what would happen, he was finding my brothers
great pleasure in teasing me for my love of little house on the Prairie and General Hospital for my constant reading for my crush on the dodgers. Second baseman Steve sags, but we were comrades when David got his driver's license at sixteen his new found freedom extent. to us. Now he was the one taking us from one house to the other, enabling us to avoid those awkward parental handoffs. I still remember the spiraling fear I felt when we dropped David off at his college, dorm less than a hundred miles away. Who would arrange Wednesday night dinners with dad? What would we do with him gone as we entered adulthood and moved?
different parts of the country. We didn't need one another as much, but we realized something we wanted to spend time together. We took a trip without our parents rafting in Southern Oregon. We mused about how nice it would be if we lived in the same city when I was going through a rough time in my mid twenties. It was my kid brother, newly graduated from college, who came and slept on the fly four of my tiny apartment, not because I had asked him to, but because he sensed that I didn't want to be alone now we're squarely in middle age with family
of our own. Our parents moved on from the bitterness they both remarried happily years ago. For us, though, the time of their divorce remains a potent point of reference, a shared experience that offers a wellspring of BB. Humor. We three now live thousands of miles from where we grew up, but within a few more of one another, just as we talked about were younger. We rented summer houses together for a time Eric and I worked at the same same team. You, man, ski my husband, calls us that closeness gives me a solace. I wish I hadn't needed recently five, years ago, at age, sixty nine, our mother learned she had a rare, aggressive cancer and in that brutal overwhelming period Did we three relied on one another taking turns visiting sharing what little?
permission we had last January, she passed away and since then the three of us said codfish the jewish prayer that one traditionally recites for eleven months after a death. Often we went to services together afterward. We would gossip and get pricey coffee and avoid our responsibilities. Joking about how her mother would approve. Of course she would, when you recite Kaddish as a mourner, you stand
while everyone else in the congregation remain seated in the months after she died. As I rose to say, the short prayer, the holidays, she loved past and my birthday, and hers too, and still she was gone. I would glance of the synagogue window at the tree branches bear when she died last winter, then full and resplendent for months now, skeletal again, this passage of time feels at once inconceivable and heart breaking Lee normal. I miss my mother beyond measure and during cottage I became lost in my thoughts and my own.
I have it morning, but I stood with my brothers. I heard their voices chanting to one time. I walked into services and a woman who is a regular whispered to me. Your brothers aren't here yet and my heart held a little at the idea that even people who barely know me see me as part of this unit. A few months ago I was child's party and a mother there was lamenting how her young daughters didn't get along. It's a parenting fail. She said I thought of telling the same divorce joke my brother had made, but I didn't I wish I had said what I truly believed that these things can't be forced. The best you can do is step back and let alchemy takeover.
A couple of years after the divorce David and I were in our backyard, where she and a friend were fixing up a tiny one person sailboat. They bought painting it red our kitchen, faced the backyard with a big window, the sink and when David went into wash his hands, I had a decent view of him. He turned on the sink disposal I heard the grinding noise and then I'll never forget. He began screaming holding up his red dripping hands. I shrieked his hands caught mangled. Then, pulled open the screen door with disarming ease and bounded outside laughing. It's a joke. It's just the paint he said coming over, see I'm fine, I'm completely fine. I hate you
I said, crying turning away from him. My heart nodded up in equal parts, fear and fury. I really really hate you. I have two daughters of my own now three years apart as my brothers and I are my daughters. Nothing alike they rarely play together. They are not each other's best friends, but in moments of true despair. I have seen them reach for each other, and for that I'm grateful the rest. We will just have to see If the I
after the break, a tiny love story about a brother and sister who hold each other up when the rest of their family is falling apart. Support for modern love comes from good. Our acts looking to take control of your health check, good our acts. Prescription prices can vary between pharmacies by as much as one hundred dollars good I acts finds discounts in comparison, finds the lowest prices even with insurance or medicare good. Our acts often beats your co peg. Checking your proscription conceive. You up to eighty percent with a good hour, acts
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At wirecutter we do the work, so you don't have to for independent product reviews and recommendations for the real world. Come visit us at N Y Times dot com, slash wirecutter. We even have one. That's solar powered. I Kim hi MIA nice to talk to you. Thank you My name is Kim at any Addonizio and I'm going to read If peace trusting the edge a family holiday card that year would have shown our faces scratched our father died. Mother in assisted living. One brother in a calmer I just. Turn with the dishonest, possibly cheating on me boyfriend. My brother Gary took the ice skating at the local rink. He was is falling fluid I tottered on wobbly ankles. He
over with Ibuprofen a walkman and headphones. Coltrane was playing my favorite things, trust the it's scary, said soon I was gliding along no longer depressed or in the face, so I knew he would be there to help me up beautiful. Thank you. So much. Can I ask you what year this was? I know you mentioned a walkman yeah that tastes it doesn't it and it was probably about twelve to fifteen years ago. How old were you at the time and how old was Gary see? I would have been about fifty I'm thinking
and Gary's a year younger, but I've always thought of him. As my twin like we were quite separated at birth, but I feel like the our mothers, eggs, split and and one of his just stayed in the womb and extra year and then came out so I'm the older twin makes you feel like you guys are twins were just really really similar. You know, I really do feel like we share a lot of the same cells. Somehow we have the same sort of Starks of humor. We can talk on the phone and laugh for an hour at which we do quite often, and he's just one of those warm witty people that makes everybody around him happy. Can you tell me more about what was happening in your life during the year that you describe in the story yeah. So my brother John had had a liver transplant a few there's a girl, and he would
in the hospital for a biopsy and ended up. They had him in an induced coma, so he'd been in an induced coma for about a month at this time Christmas time my mother is in assisted living with Parkinson's trying to button, or sweater and refusing to drink her in and my ex husband who I had gotten back together with after several years. Apart, we had bought a little house in Oakland together, and then it turned out that he was less than honest. Some financial matters and then snoop that I am my course at that point. I went looking through his email and turned out. He was less than honest about some sexual matters two. So we were breaking up and my exes living in the bay basement of our house like a troll or a Gollum
and I have run away from from all that and come to d c, and so that was sort of this situation that was happening that year and especially at Christmas, was ice skating, something that you and family did often no, but my brother had introduced me to ice skating. We did it as kids on the Potomac and on Christmas. He just he saw that I was really depressed and unhappy and he just said: hey: let's go ice skating and then so it seemed like you had kind of a tough time on the ice as well at least yeah. I guess reading we didn't do it that often you know asserted bit a long time since I stated in my brother's just going back in a round the ring doing beautiful things and he saw a graceful and fluid and I, like you, know, just kind of tottering along trying to keep together feeling, like
Was this really good idea? Eurasia just stayed home and got drunk or something, and just wanting to to get away from it all Of course, you know there. I am with headphones on John Coltrane is playing music in my ears and the aspirin is kicking in and suddenly you know everything just kind of changes and turns into a place where there I am it's just pure presence now and I'm just there skating and and and happy. You know it's just one of those moments of grace and then your brother. He says the thing to you, which feels so resonant and meaningful trust the edge What did that mean to you at the time? Yeah, it's of course literally. You know when you skate you, you just have to commit like anything you have to commit to that moment and trusting that the the edge of the blade is going to keep.
You on the ice, and so you have to lean in a bit in order to do that, and I think it's just the perfect metaphor for what was happening. you know being on that edge and knowing that was uncertain and not knowing what was going to happen next and then. just having a moment of trust to say. Okay, things will work out. How else has your brother been there for you throughout your life? I know you feel, like you guys are twins. Yeah, you know especially We ve got an older and I ain't, you know we're all in different parts of the country and my family was never really that close of family so he's the one I'm closest to I just think more and more we've become best friends over the years, but he's he's just always always been there to help me out
When I was in New York for three years, I knew there was very little and was sort of going somewhere to sublet and Gary came up to visit me on the train and he brought me a guitar. Cause. He knew I left a lot of my instruments on the West Coast, and so he has brought me a guitar that he hadn't said here. You know, thought you could used to do some playing while you're in New York and that's the kind of thing he would do often just pass something along or give me so Saying that I didn't realize I needed in until I did. Thank you. So much was lovely talking to you. It was a pleasure thanks for having me take care. oh. The
modern. Love is produced by Julia Botero with Help HANS, Buteux and Tracy. Mumford is edited by yours areas in the executive producer is Wendy Door. This episode was makes by Croatia. original music by Marian Lozano? This I say was written by Elinor Man schemes and read by Kirsten Potter came at a neat seo. Wrote are tiny, love story, so No thanks to Julia Simon Murphy, mature body Bonnie Worth I'm honest, remain SAM, Dolnick and Ryan Wagner at honour I'm Dyin Jones and I merely and we'll be back next week with more stories from modern love. Thanks for listening, the I
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Transcript generated on 2022-03-27.