Back in the olden days when I was considering marriage, prenuptial agreements were just coming into vogue. Steve (my husband to be) and I had many areas of life we’d need to blend to make a successful marriage. The biggest area of concern was around one thing: his children.
Since I’d known Steve first as a friend and knew his children a little as a result, I was aware that a decision to marry a previously married man was not one to enter into lightly, but above all the concerns Steve and I had about each other, we were aware that his kids had already been through plenty. As a result, we were engaged for more than one-and-a-half years as I approached the commitment conscious of my ability to do further harm.
One day, I got an idea. I suggested we should adopt a pig together, the idea being a precursor to the exercises they now do in some schools where you care for an egg to discover how much work babies can really be. Hamlet, a charming pot belly pig with dappled pink skin, joined our family and became our prenuptial pig and our chance to discover if we could handle co-parenting.
Like many youngsters, he was initially adorable and charming. He was a very fast runner and could easily beat all of us running uphill. He loved to have his belly scratched and would lay for hours on the floor of the barn as we tickled and rubbed him.
He was our first baby.
In the beginning, it was easy to care for him. He was young, cute, trendy and made delightful noises. As he grew older and approached maturity, he became surly, crafty and prone to escapes and to stealing food.
Once, when Steve took Hamlet to a specialty vet in Half Moon Bay, Hamlet broke free and tore up main street bringing traffic to a complete stop as he screamed at the top of his lungs. The vet heard the commotion and came outside and lured Hamlet into the office with a piece of food. The trip home was no less eventful, and when Steve pulled in the driveway at my house and rolled down his window, the whole car smelled like pig poop. Steve, Hamlet and the car’s interior were all generously slathered with fecal abundance.
I learned much that day about Steve as he stepped from the car and demanded a hug. I learned he could take shit and keep his sense of humor.
One evening, Hamlet assaulted my grandmother as she ate dinner on a chaise overlooking her pool. He grabbed her tray gobbling her salad, steak, tapioca and her napkin as she screamed for help before he trotted back to the barn to await his own dinner.
My grandmother was not happy and the next day, told me she’d found someone who would like to have him. I talked to the interested party as a curtesy until I discovered that the woman had every intention of EATING him for supper.
Steve and I realized then that the best thing for Hamlet was to find him another home and fortunately, there was a potbelly pig rescue association in Sonoma County. It was hard, but Hamlet was rehomed and lived in splendor with a little girl whose parents owned a vineyard.
Because we’d entered into a formal agreement about Hamlet and our responsibilities to jointly raise him, we were obligated to each other to do right by him. That initial agreement served us well as we moved on to the bigger issues of parenting first two and then three kids as they moved from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood.
When I tell people that Steve and I started our relationship with a prenuptial pig, they think I’m joking but it’s true. It was our way of getting our feet wet before we committed to marriage and children. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if we’d had a child instead of a pig and had then worked our way backwards to cover all the details!
I’m consistently surprised when younger couples today choose to have children as a precursor to getting married. The old system is in many ways, a good system. If we can’t commit to each other when it’s relatively easy and everyone’s on their best behavior, how do we imagine things will be the day we end up humiliated and covered in poop? For one thing, having children before you marry makes the child the mortar to the bricks of the relationship and sets the whole arrangement up as a child-centric endeavor and as anyone with kids will tell you, marriages with children trend that way anyway in our modern world.
I almost married another man before Steve. That man wanted a child without marriage, and though he was in many ways, a great prospect and though I loved him, I couldn’t imagine saddling my unborn yet loved child with the responsibility of being the “reason” I chose to marry.
I still can’t imagine it today. And yet, a modern codicil has come up for some by which you have the baby first and then decide about the marriage later, as if to say, “I can commit to a child, but you, I’m not so sure about you.”
Frankly, I’d run the other way. In fact, I did run the other way. I left the first man and found Steve, finding in him a partner who was more mature and better suited to the inevitable ups and downs of married and family life.
Dedicated to Julie Young.