nest branches
Photo: Gentl & Hyers
Every biologist, botanist, and zoologist will tell you the same thing: Nature loves variety. People may fear it, and some religious or political groups may hate it—but Nature loves it. The desert grassland whiptail (Aspidoscelis uniparens) forms female pairs. And these female couples reproduce...successfully. The anglerfish female is spiny, ugly, and so much bigger than the male that most humans don't even see him: the tiny little glob attached to the lady anglerfish by his teeth. She feeds him and after a while, he loses his eyeballs and she takes his sperm. Normal, among anglerfish. And don't get me started on the saddleback tamarins, monkeys whose families are composed of mother, father, offspring, and an "extra father" serving as mother's lover and nursemaid for the baby tamarin. (It's called cooperative polyandry, and if you're rushing to get to work while trying to feed the baby applesauce and keep it off your sweater, the life of a tamarin doesn't sound too bad.)

It may be that people are finally getting the idea. After years of pretending that Ozzie and Harriet's "nuclear family" (what an expression!) was the norm, we seem to have noticed that it was only ever really widespread among the upper middle class or in parts of the country so isolated and wild that not even mothers-in-law came to call. That vision had its brief and waxily shining moment, for a small portion of the population, for a very little while (by 1980, more women worked outside the home than didn't). For the rest of us, we realize more every day that each branch and twig of love that can be put to use to support our families, whether sprawling and far-flung or tiny and barely afloat, is necessary.

...Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken...

I used to think that Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 was about romantic love. I used to think that romantic love was the only kind that caused fireworks of the heart and deserved serious attention. Then I had children. I nursed people who were dying. I stood under the chuppah with my stepson's mother, at his wedding. Always elegant, always mischievous, she leaned toward me and whispered, "Oooh, they're all thinking, look how those two get along." And even if people didn't think that (I'm pretty sure they were admiring the handsome groom and beautiful bride and not the two nutty ladies chuckling in the corner), it was gratifying that in addition to this payoff for decency, there was even the glint of genuine affection. And my ex-husband's father threw an arm over my husband's shoulder as they strolled beneath the twinkling lights, discussing hockey's greatest moments.

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