Imagine You are Ten Years Old


Imagine you are a nine year old girl. Imagine how excited you are because tomorrow you are going to turn ten. Think back to how you were feeling then. What would it be like to be two digits old instead of one?

You can’t even imagine. Will it feel different than being nine? You will never be single digits again. You  know this means the entire world will be different but you can’t even imagine what will be different about it. You try to remember your first memory but it’s hidden by clouds and you can’t see it.

(Mollie a young superhero, ready to pounce)

Imagine your parents are divorced. You remember them arguing all the time. You remember when you were six, asking them at your older sister’s scared prompting, if they were going to get divorced. You tiptoe into the kitchen where they are arguing, where they ignore you because of their yelling even though they know you are there. They are screaming. They are twice as large as you. You want to ask them a question. Imagine saying, “excuse me”.

Imagine saying, “Josie wants to know if you two are staying together.” And they come over to you and hug you and you don’t know if that’s an answer or not. You don’t know what you will say to your older sister who is upstairs waiting for you. You don’t know whether or not to be scared.

You remember your father getting so angry the police had to come. You remember them walking him out to their car in the middle of the night. You remember being scared. Then the next morning, the sun just barely up, you, your mother and your sister going out into the middle of nowhere and picking him up at a motel. You remember him getting into the car and not saying anything. Imagine the red and orange blurs of the sun rise, obliterating the night that just happened. Nobody says anything. Nobody ever brought it up ever again.

Imagine your father not coming home one day. “He’s working busy in the city again,” you think, even when he doesn’t show up for Thanksgiving. Even when nobody says anything to you.

(Lacrosse at the Chelsea Hotel)

Imagine every two weeks driving seventy miles into New York with your mother so you can be dropped off with your father. Imagine your father taking you and your sister to ping pong, pool, bowling, museums, rock climbing, going ice skating, going to magic shows, eating out three times a day, playing games, eating more, and finally you are exhausted and are driven home late Sunday night before school the next day. You are sad because you are so exhausted.  There was no break. You are too exhausted. You are sad because why isn’t your father driving home with you?

Imagine your father and mother finally telling you they are getting divorced a few months later. You cry because you don’t want to be “one of them”.  You think of the other kids in school whose parents are divorced. Now you are in that club. You don’t want to be. You cry.

Imagine a year later, your father moving back into the town you live. You are so happy. Maybe, you think, you will all be one big happy family again. You remember when everyone is together and he is always making jokes. But you remember the fighting. You remember him throwing things. You remember the police coming. You were scared. But now he’s back in town. You have a bedroom in his house. You imagine what it’s going to look like. You’re excited about the spiral staircase he tells you is in his house.

He drives you and your older sister to his new house for the first time. On the way there he pulls over. He says to you there is also a woman at the house and that he’s in love with the woman and he’s going to marry her. You start to cry. “What!?” you remember saying. You try to picture what she looks like.

But then he says, “She has met you girls before and she will love you girls very much.” And you say, “Wait? Who is she?”

And you remember that your daddy let her watch you a few times when you were in the city and he had to go off to a meeting. And you remember liking her and that maybe this won’t be so bad. But you also, deep down, miss the idea that it won’t be one big happy family like it once was.

Imagine you’re about to turn ten the next day and in fifteen minutes you have to go to school. You and your mother park by the river to watch it flow by. You have a few spare minutes each day before school after your older sister is dropped off. Your mother and you take a walk by the river.

Imagine then your father jogging up to the car. He lives right next to the river. He’s got a bag. His new wife is with him. She’s carrying a bag. The bags have all your birthday presents in them. It’s everything you wanted. They both hug you. You’re smiling. You’re happy to see both of them. You want to open up all the bags and boxes and presents. Before they got there you were reading a book that was a fictionalized version of the young Anastasia. But now all you can think about are your new presents.

Your father and his wife kiss you. You are smiling from end to end. “It’s not my birthday yet”, you say. But tomorrow you will be double-digits. Your father says, “Next year we will turn back the clock and you will be nine again. No more of this double-digit stuff.”

You look at your mom and you look at Claudia. Daddy is being crazy again. You smile. Your step-mom takes out the doll she got. “Isn’t she pretty?” You say, “yes.” You are very happy. Sometimes things don’t work out just right. But sometimes you can be happy anyway. There’s a doll. There’s pencils. There are accessories. There’s going to be a sleepover, and a brunch, and then your daddy is going to take you out for dinner. It’s a weekend of celebration for your birthday

Imagine you are back in the car. Your daddy and step-mom are running in the cold back to their house where you now have a room you share with your sister. They’ve left the presents behind that you can look at in the fifteen minutes before school begins. You are smiling from cheek to cheek, freckles spread across your face like meaning on a tarot card. You think of the weekend ahead

Tomorrow you will go from nine years old to ten years old. And for the rest of your life you will be double-digits. Will you see the other side of that? Will you see three digits? You look at your new doll. Nothing will ever go wrong in the world again.

Imagine you are going to be ten years old tomorrow. Double digits for the first time. You already miss the single digits. You won’t be a baby again. With no worries. You can’t imagine what double digits will be like. Imagine that you are my daughter and it seems like nothing will be the same ever again.

(You and me at your communion)

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  • Andrew

    Imagine divorce sucks for everyone involved. Oh, wait. No imagination required.

    Good post.

  • Feng


    Life is so short, so beautiful. Cheers! Happy Birthday.

  • Phil Morris

    Stop making me cry!

    • dp

      When I read this article, I was thinking it was going to lead no where positive; by the end, I had tears building and was wondering if I am doing the right thing in this moment of my life. Thank you for making me think more.

  • Richard Kligman

    Wow, not your typical James Altucher article. Very powerful, thank you for sharing.

  • the444

    That’s some sweet stuff right there.

  • Jon

    thank you James – you have made this situation less unknown – it is still terrible and scary and empty – but at least through this write up I can see that I am not alone.

  • Amy Mayer

    I wish my parents had “imagined” what it was like for me as a child. This is a wonderful tribute to your daughter. There is no greater way to show you care than to demonstrate that you understand. Wow, James. Now you are not just a smart guy. You are also a good guy.

  • Kai Lofthus

    Such powerful words: “Sometimes things don’t work out just right. But sometimes you can be happy anyway.” Thanks.

  • Meredith Laskow

    Beautiful tribute.  Make sure you always have a copy, and show it to her again when she’s 20.

    And tell her Happy Birthday from me :-)

  • Priscilla Paredes Wood

    Happy birthday Mollie, you have bright red beautiful hair!

  • Sooz

    Please,for me, tell that little ‘PUNK’ ..:))
    that I said Happy..happy..happy dbl digit Birthday.

    (us punks must alaways stick together)

    • Sooz

      ala` ways works too..never stop pouncing..:)

  • Anonymous

    This changed my life. Happy Birthday to your daughter and welcome to the double digit club!

  • 736hundred

    Beautiful.  Just beautiful.

  • James Hamlett

    You got right into the innermost emotions of what divorce can do to a child.  Something to think about.  It makes you realize how sensitive children can be and how much they actually see. Interesting!!!

  • Anonymous


  • Robin Heinen

    I recognize all of this. Especially the part about exhaustion and not having a break, every two weeks. After divorce, sometimes the fight still goes on. My father fought his battle through his kids, blaming my mom for things that go beyond your imagination. I was 7 years old back then. When I was 11 years old, I decided enough was enough! I haven’t seen my father in 14 years. This post shows me you do think about your kids. Never forget to show your kids you love them, never fight battles through them. Kids should be kids, not social workers. 
    Love them. They’ll need it. Great post!

  • Gonzalo Gandia

    My parents never got divorced but they should have. I came from a very fundamentalist Christian home, they weren’t “allowed” to get divorced. At the very least, it was frowned upon.

    My father died at a young age, and his last year years were not good. You have to wonder what kind of an influence that “a bad marriage” has on your health. I would think it would be high…

    You did the right thing for you and your children… 

    • Mmcc

      I also came from a large “Christian” home – first catholic, then fundmentalist. I have vague memories of disagreements – him shouting, bad communication, my mother’s breakdowns and then how she finally just escaped to some wierd zombie bible headspace while staying attached to her Christian spouse.

      My parents were totally unsuitable for eachother and all of us been harmed by the unacknowledged discord and dysfunction: depression, broken relationships etc, Now in our 40’s and 50’s and our parents near end of life, we may find closure.

      Divorced, I now live alone – no kids – have BF, but will never marry again.

      Staying together for the sake of the kids is rubbish – they pick up more than you would ever know – have it out in the open and be done with it quickly rather than a life of hell.

      • Mmcc

        That was depressing – I am actually a fairly happy person, but it took a while. Children model their own relationships on what they see and that is what I did. My new relationship is wonderful and better for respecting each other totally.

        Wishing you and family well, James

  • Bbstammis

    There are two kinds of people in this world, those who have kids when they are NOT ready, and those who never have kids.  We do the best we can.

  • rollingdancefloor

    Yeah, I just woke up, and I’m 60.

  • Jscott

    (Based on previous comments)

    Oddly, I forgot this story had the word divorce in it.  Oh. OH! You wrote it out of existence. May you continue to live it out of existence.

  • Erik Urtz

    It seems like the divorced kids have everything. Toys, games, everything – everything except the one thing they really want.

  • Mehranalmasi

    I imagine the time when there was no internet. I could not read this blog. Days came and nights  went and nothing touched my heart so many times on a regular basis. Nothing came close to aligning me to the part of universe that I need to be aligned with. Thanks James.

  • Tiny

    Great job at once again letting your love for your daughters shine through your writing.

  • SweDee

    Moving! Happy Birthday Mollie!

  • Giovanni

    James, it’s the first time that I write you but this post was absolutelly touching.
    If one day something will go wrong in my marriage I’ll read it another time and I’ll think about the images you described from the child’s point of view.
    Sorry for my bad English but is not my mother tongue.
    Please extend to Mollie my wishes for her birthday. She’s lucky to have a so clever father.

  • Alexis

    Beautiful Post!

    “Sometimes things don’t work out just right. But sometimes you can be happy anyway.”

    I love that line. If a child can do it, why is it so hard for the rest of us?

  • Quietjim

    Total BS. How hard could it be to share a house with someone for another 10 years that you used to love and vowed a few years ago to be with forever? So selfish, I I I, me, me, me. You care more about yourself than you ever will about your kids. That’s fine, but um…you kind of made a commitment when they were popped out into the world. You’re a cool guy but the comments of your groupiesheep are infuriating.

    • Gonzalo Gandia

      Dude, you’re completely wrong. You can be a good father without having to be stuck in a bad marriage. The constant arguing is incredibly harmful.

      “How hard can it be to share a house with someone for another 10 years…” Oh boy, that’s so wrong on so many levels.  

      • Quietjim

         Hipster, so stop arguing. Duh! do you argue with the idiots at work? Who are you to say I’m wrong?

        • Bill

          Ha.  who are you to say the post is “total BS”? Duh!

          • Quietjim

            have 3 success stories also i’m thankful my parents stayed married “for the children”

          • Jscott

            Know your own bias.

        • Mark Edwards

          @11dd38e518a8e6b95d0e66b48c4368ac:disqus “Who are you to say I’m wrong.” Just after you wrote “Total BS.” Hey, Jimbo, who are YOU to say that James’ post is “Total BS.” Instead of jumping all over the guy, maybe make an effort not to resort to an ad hominem attack on James (“so selfish, blah blah blah and other assorted piffel) and consider that other people’s experience might differ from yours.

  • Guest


    I enjoy the vast majority of your posts, but I have to say that, with this one, perhaps your projections as to how you should like your daughter to have felt/feel might have slightly overwhelmed your sense/recollections as to how she actually did feel. 

    Of course, I am not, and never would be, in a position to know that. But I do suspect that divorced parents hope so desperately for acceptance and acknowledgement from their children that they may be tempted to construe any reaction as a positive one.

    As I said, I would never be so presumptuous as to imagine that I know the details as to you and your family’s own situation. But all I would say is that perhaps we all hope for positive reinforcement from our children, particularly during difficult times, and that sometimes maybe we are tempted to see it in full force, when the reality behind the smiles may not be quite so reassuring. Which is not, by any means, to make any kind of judgement as to the best course of action for you to have taken, which again I could never be in a position to have a true opinion on.

    But, in any event, I wish you all happiness

  • Nwmusicblend

    I love these posts, reminds me to be more flexible in how I perceive other people’s situations, including my own.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t imagine 1 blog post covers the amount of pain a child really goes through in a divorce, regardless of how “good” the divorce was. I get that you are happier after the divorce. That’s about it. Is that the point?

  • CLM

    Amazing, one of your best.

  • Brooke Farmer

    This one had me nearly in tears, James. My heart is aching.

  • Veeh Cirra

    I was so touched reading this. Your little girl will be so happy when she reads this 10 years from now.

  • Ben

    Just happened upon this post after having another horrible argument with my wife, and thinking there really is no way out. Thanks

  • Sangeetaphill

    Very touching article. Yes, made me cry. Thanks for sharing.

  • luca

    Thanks for writing it, James…extremely moving and powerful…

  • Raymond Moser

    Imagine your wife away on business every weekend, then she asks for “your” forgiveness and emotional support when her boyfriend goes back to his wife & two kids thus shattering “her” happiness. Then imagine that Spouse conveying a degree of PARENTAL ALIENATION onto your children & against Daddy for “making” a judge award him alimony and the pension fund that MOM tells the kids was going to be their college education fund. So, now the kids have to attend Community College, which was Mom’s plan all along, until the court awarded that IRA to the  Physically Disabled Dad. The modern California divorce is difficult for Entitlement Dreams of the teenagers of 2012. Imagine that the Mister Mom who gladly reversed roles to free his PhD wife’s time up for Tenure Track success and Management Team heights in an International Market. At that point the modern father reaches out to a therapist “across the pond” via the internet, who encourages him to resume his life;s journey. That which excites his very being and brings happiness to all around him, while blocking the depilating pain of his bones and lungs. Then and only until then, is he ready to become the person that he always dreamed of being. The world is fine and he can write the stories that have been part of him, since the grade school of Applachia. His parents, spouse and all are forgiven, especially himself. He hears the mating songs of the birds and feels the beauty of spring. He is at peace.

  • MAKB

    kids or no kids it is very sad for most people when you try to recreate a family unit and it fails. Some people are not cut out for it. My ex was not. No kids. He really dislikes kids. I didn’t want kids either.

    My father died when I was eight and I’ve never known “average” or “normal” however you’d like to think of it.  I lost a childhood and then I was stunted and never grew up to be a human being standing on my own. I am close to my Mother and siblings, too close emotionally, he is not close to his. He spent decades actively disliking his family. I spent decades feeling that  if I lost anyone in my family, if someone died, I would die.

    He and I fought horribly for 15 years. Someone should have called the police on us. At the age of 45 for me and 55 for him a succubus from his past came back into his life and he left me for her. I was sort of relieved of him by the succubus. I still can’t think it was for the best.  He and she didn’t last long. He is sorry he left me now but he has a greater capacity to survive. It’s just there, in him.  I’m just sorry and unhealthy but I keep trying. I owe this to my family.

    All children should be raised to consciously balance their life between family, friends, work and knowing how to make a home on your own, alone, because at some point in your life one or more of these areas of your life will fail you and you need the others to fall back on until you can shift and balance.