Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Goodly creatures

G got into the car yesterday when I picked the girls up at school. Their class had spent the afternoon with a visiting priest who runs an orphanage in Sri Lanka. We found out the main difference between here and Sri Lanka, G said. It's that, in Sri Lanka, you don't live with anyone before you get married. And, if you have a baby out of wedlock, it's a really big deal.
Those are not the first differences between the South of France and Sri Lanka that had immediately come to mind. Let's see: civil war; poverty; disease; infant mortality...couples living together before marriage.

It reminded me of something E had said a few weeks ago. The four of us went to see Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona--the one, as L helpfully put it, with a three-way. (You took the girls? she laughed. The choice of American movies is not that extensive in our corner of the world.) We came out of the theater afterwards and E said: I think Scarlett Johansson should have stayed with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. They were all three happier together than apart.

C and I grew up in extended families in which living together before marriage was, if not an outright sin, then at least something that you didn't talk about. We both remember when Dan Quayle called out Murphy Brown's unmarried pregnancy and the religious right yammered on and on (and on) about it. And as for a ménage à trois--I'm not sure I even knew what that was until college, if then.

Our girls are growing up in a different culture. It's not just because we live in France now--our Stateside life featured plenty of unmarried cohabiting couples and single parents (although no ménages that I knew about)--but living in France doesn't hurt, either. It means that C and I get to cherry pick American culture: yes Jon Stewart, no Bill O'Reilly, yes The New Yorker, no Teen Vogue, yes Woody Allen, no High School Musical 18 (well, they have seen High School Musical, but only once or twice, and no product tie-ins). And it means that the world they walk around in is one that rejected John Calvin and all his uptight teachings on the evils of sexuality, in which outside every pharmacie is a condom dispenser.

I know, of course, that E and G will still have plenty to sort out about their upbringing. (Can you believe she used to write about us? Oh my god, that was just wrong, I can hear the phone conversation between them when they're 30 right now.) But they already live in a world where there is less shame, and less to be ashamed of, than our world when we were their age. A world in which more things are possible and fewer things are judged. They carry with them an easy confidence, a belief in the efficacity of love and hope. I take no credit: most of the time, I'm just running through my list of laundry and dinner and making sure they've done their homework and have the dogs been for a walk? But I'm so proud and grateful. Oh brave new world, that has such people in it.

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