Rob's parents and mine celebrate fifty years of marriage this summer. 18,262.5 days (yes, I did include leap days in that calculation.) of wedded bliss? Not really.
What? Am I being a grump, a pessimist, a negative Nellie? Am I about to break the news that after all these years, it's over? No. Of course not. I'm just looking at Happily Ever After from the other side of the wedding day. When the "for better or worse and in sickness and health" really happen.
I used to spend hours on the floor of our den, going through photo
albums and shoe boxes of pictures. My kids love to do the same, only they click through digital photos on the computer instead of flipping through dog-eared squares of Kodak paper. Memories captured and stored away as
keepsakes of birthdays, weddings, camping trips, the rare snow day,
Christmas mornings and Easter egg hunts, funny faces and goofy
haircuts. Faces caught laughing, awkward school snapshots, drooling babies with toothless grins, boys in football and band uniforms, girls wearing sequins at dance recitals, tired parents watching excited kids opening presents under a tree decorated with homemade ornaments. Dusty, Spot, Nicey, Sundance, Diamond, Homer and Duchess... beloved pets pulling off unintentional photo bombs before we even knew what it meant. Camping trips, matching t-shirts, embarrassing fashion statements (I'm looking at you bell bottoms and mesh muscle shirts).
There are some great happy moments captured in those boxes. Quite a lot, actually. So why the question mark after the "Happily Ever After"? The rub isn't the totality of the phrase: "happily ever after". It's the proximity of the words "happily" and "ever".
Through no fault of their own (well, if they're honest, SOMETIMES through their own fault), every day isn't a happy day for married folks. Sometimes I feel like I need a souvenir t-shirt imprinted with the words: "I survived Tuesday, February 4th" because sometimes Tuesday, Monday, Thursday.... they suck! Some whole years need a shirt of their own; 2005, 2008, 2010. Things happen and people are snippy, pushy and take it out on the person they love most. There is baby vomit, all-night ear ache duty, a flooded laundry room, a migraine headache, a disagreement over an impulsive electronic purchase or a $40 lipstick, a fender bender, a speeding ticket, a harsh comment or a mean jib.
What you won't find in those albums are snapshots of the "worse" parts. There are no photos to document the losses and trials. My father-in-law is a veteran of Vietnam. But my mother-in-law is too in her own way. She endured the separation, the fear, the post-traumatic stress too. Miscarriages and illnesses, surgeries, and sleepless nights. "Ever" isn't all roses all the time, is it?
My parents lost their oldest son. They have been caretakers for ailing parents and for each other during a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and a triple bypass and recovery. Both sets of parents struggled to raise their families during the financial crisis of the seventies. They sacrificed and saved and had to say "no" to many of our wants. But they always came through with what we needed.
Daddy, even when he put in 60-70 hour work weeks, always picked out his own cards for Mama for her birthday, their anniversary, Valentine's Day. They are always signed "I love you, David" in nearly illegible scrawl. Some years that simple "I love you" means something different I think. Maybe "I still love you" or "I love you more" or "I will love you even though..."
When I look at my very favorite photographs of their wedding days, the grooms in dark suits with skinny ties, the brides in two piece pastel suits and matching hats, smiling as they begin those fifty years, I think of Gus Waters' words in the book The Fault in our Stars: "I have wonderful news! ... You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!"
They have lived them, shared the joy, the grief, the sadness, the okay. Their cards still say: "I love you."
Handwritten (in mostly cursive!), with words marked through and a few misspelled ones included. Signed, folded, stuffed in an envelope, licked (yes, a face was made at the yucky taste of glue), addressed, stamped and taken to the mail box.
What am I?
An old-fashioned letter of course. Not a tweet, status update, message or email, but a real ink and paper letter! It is one of my favorite things to receive and one of my favorite things to send. The excitement of opening the mailbox to find something good inside. Not a bill or credit card offer or a request from a charity, but forty five cents worth of message.
I confess that I do love the convenience of email, especially for work-related tasks. The capability to send a hundred people something at one time and organize their responses, etc. is both efficient and easy. Instant communication is also really handy for keeping up with friends, old and new, sharing information with everyone at the same time and being able to connect with them whenever and where ever.
But I LOVE letters. My great-grandfather sent a note to his wife, care of my Grandma Addie, general delivery in 1951. She got it just fine, even though the envelope said nothing more than Addie Rhoney, Metter, GA.
I love reading the banal little anecdotes that people share in letters, probably because they can't think of anything else to say: "It's raining here today," or "Bobby Sue is thinking about cutting her hair short," or "Do you remember the old cotton warehouse? They tore it down last week." Simple, boring details that reveal the ebb and flow of daily life.
I love that you can fold a letter back up, put it away and pull it out to read again later. I love knowing that someone took the time to write one. I love sitting down and sorting out my thoughts, putting pen to paper to write one. I love to imagine the journey; from mailbox to truck to post office then plane, truck, mailbox. A little piece of happiness wrapped up in words, carried across town or out of state or half way around the world.
Perhaps it is the sepia wash of nostalgia, but is Grandma’s
house not the safest, most pleasant place on earth? Grandmas are soft and smell sweet no matter
what brand of perfume they wear. Grandpas
are at beck and call to tell stories or read books. The food is perfect… made to order every
time! Baths always have bubbles, no one is too busy for stupid questions, and
if you want to hang out in your PJs all day, then fine!
They think you are the Bee’s Knees! The most brilliant, beautiful, kind, perfect
thing to ever walk the earth. No longer
on the hamster wheel of homework, baths, science projects, dentist and doctor
appointments, Grandma and Grandpa are focused in on being GRAND and not
Perhaps it is a means to thumb their noses at their own
children as they dole out childhood contraband: cokes, cookies, candy, apple
tarts, and unlimited bowls of ice cream. No reminders about vegetables or the threat of scurvy. Or maybe they’ve mellowed with age.
I know I find myself muttering, “You let him/her get away with
that? I’d STILL be grounded if I had
done x-y-z when I was their age!” WHO
ARE YOU PEOPLE? And where are MY parents? The ones who weren’t afraid to ground someone
So is it any wonder that we think of them the same way that
we think of them, our grandparents? As perfection in the
form of gray-haired, wrinkled, wise old souls.
I’m sure my own parents remember
them with less rosy lenses, just as my parents will be remembered as far more
perfect beings by my kids than I will ever credit them with being. Though I will concede they get smarter every
year and also made better decisions in hindsight than I gave them credit for at
the time. But I will never admit it in front of them!
Of course our parents love us with all our hearts, but grandparents are a soft place to fall. They aren't responsible for providing the discipline and tough love that ultimately make you into a responsible grown-up.
I always knew my grandparents
wouldn’t be here forever. They were ALWAYS
old for pete's sake. But I miss them, their gentle love
and wisdom... and their rose-colored view of me. Having someone love you for who you are and everything you have the potential to become is a pretty awesome gift, served up with a homemade chocolate chip cookie and an ice cold can of Pepsi.
Another candle on that cake today. Despite the fact that Rob is telling the kids I'm 40, though I only LOOK 38, I do indeed have two more years until the big four oh. Someone in this household WILL be 40 in 2013, but not for another six weeks.
This morning as I was lying in bed, trying to ignore the buzz of the alarm clock that had already been slapped into snooze submission three times, I realized how very lucky I am. Everything I need, much of what I want, so many people to love and be loved by, new ideas for a new year.... a good day to be grateful.
If you had told me me twenty years ago that I would be married to a fabulous, funny, smart man and have two clever, healthy, beautiful kids, still be bffs with my bestie and have friends in not one, but two hemispheres who are talented and generous and make my life so much better for knowing each one of them, I would have considered my cup overflowing.
Feeling grateful for the great variety of family and friends who want nothing but good for me in this life. Who are willing to hold my hand on the way, laugh with me, hold me, to just be. I have no clue how I got to be so lucky, but I'll take it with both hands and hug it tight. Thank you for allowing me to share my life with you and for sharing yours with me. I know these are deep thoughts for 6:45 a.m., but there you have it. Forever thankful nor for what I've got, but for who I've got.
It has been a long while, too long a while, since I have written in this space. I have often composed the words in my head, only to have them dance away again. The leaves have turned from green to yellow to brown and red and loosened their grip from the trees. Strong winds and rain have sent them skittering to the ground, across the dying yard and into the road. Today it feels like that is me. Clinging desperately, battling hopelessly against the inevitable, losing my grip and destined to fall and shatter, yet hoping that tomorrow is better.
The boy and I are at loggerheads over school. Who knew grade six would be this horrible? Oh the MATHEMATICS. The email reminders about missing assignments and failing grades. I ask about homework and he is clueless. "Mom, it's fine!" alternates with "I don't know!" and "What is WRONG with me?" And he comes home without the right book, or hasn't written down his assignments or can't explain what this means or.... blergh. We've changed study routines and times and tried reorganizing his notebook.... and still the beat goes on. Louder, and louder until my head throbs with coefficients, distributive properties and equivalent expressions.
The girl is 8 going on 18. She insists she is old enough to dress herself, even though her fashion sense is less than stellar. Black and brown mixed together, Uggs and shorts, summer dresses in the winter.... it dements me. She's decided she should be home-schooled because the boys at her lunch table mix all their food together and "it completely grosses me out Mom!" We'd last ten minutes before one of us exploded I reckon! I'd say odds are high it would be me doing the exploding.
The sun sets before 6 pm now. My body tells me it is bedtime long before I have finished with the day. Crawling into bed at 8 sounds perfectly reasonable, but is in fact counterproductive. The laundry, dishes, lunch boxes, baths.... I'm quite certain that the world will end if it isn't done. Perhaps I should leave them alone today and see if the Mayans were right?
It is all too much. No end in sight. School, sports, music, homework, work.... Time and energy to pursue things untried is slipping away. Soon, if only, when this finishes, or that wraps up.... there will always be something new to fill the calendar.
So, I am taking a risk.
Going out on a limb and doing something that is absolutely for me and is highly unlikely to bear fruit (at least financially), but perhaps it will bear fruit in my head and in my soul. As the busyness only increases, I realize that the timing will never be perfect for me to do it. So I've coughed up a considerable sum to take a writing course. Gulp. I keep thinking I could have purchased matching end tables or a new headboard, or repainted the kitchen with this money, but hey, I think I might have earned a little something for me. I won't have anything to show for it. Nothing with any trade or resell value, nothing tangible at all. But what of it it it is something that brings me joy and satisfaction and the knowledge that I wanted something and I'm taking a shot at it. Who knows, three months ago I couldn't run a mile and on October 6 I ran a 5K. I'm doing this.
September is here. Crystal clear days, cool mornings, coleus, mums and pumpkins are appearing at stores and on porches and doorsteps. The beautiful beginning of fall brings with it the pain of September 20, 2005. No, it isn't the gaping, black pit of physical, mental, emotional horror as it was in those first weeks after my brother died, but life has not, will not, ever be the same. Each Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday, wedding reminds me that our family picture will always have a hole in it.
My brother Sidney got married in July. A beautiful day filled with beautiful people sharing love and laughter and commitment. But when I look at the photo, the bittersweetness overwhelms. How much more precious are these days when we are together? How I wish there were six of us in the photos, instead of five.
I think I find it easy to relate to Mom. Her pain resonates with me because I am a mother too. In many ways, I've thought the loss was probably harder for my dad. He's a fixer (like me). He's always been able to solve problems. To support us financially, emotionally, and academically. Dealing with his own pain and watching helplessly while the rest of us suffered was brutal for him.
I don't talk about him often enough. I saw him briefly yesterday and I was overwhelmed by how much I love this man. By how his slightly quirky personality, his funny walk, his inability to pronounce the word camel or flustered (he says flustrated) has kept us in stitches. My dad wears white socks with anything. Doesn't wear shorts. Is
almost 71 and could work circles around someone half his age. Would
rather be in his shop than anywhere in the world. Lined up a job at ACE
hardware BEFORE he retired, so never really retired. Never met a
pickle he didn't like. Spells the word "enter" as "inter" (because you
are going IN! HELLO!) Complains about the TV but loves the History
Channel. Thinks everyone understands incline planes, pulleys, velocity
and all things Physics because he does. Can't get his hair (what's left of it anyway) to lay down
flat for anything. Couldn't manage to look suave with the entire GQ style team in his corner. Doesn't email, facebook, text or tweet and won't read this unless it is printed out in 20 point font on a sheet of paper... and he is STILL too cool for school.
A few years ago I was driving him somewhere, I forget why or where, but he said something that shocked me. He said: "I wish we could have given you children more." It was a moment when everything sharpens and clarity comes in an instant. The proverbial pole falling on the head. Could I, my siblings, be anymore lucky? My parents HAD given us more! So much more than most kids who "have" more.
No we didn't have a lot of money. I'm not sure how much or how little. My parents told us there were things they couldn't afford and there were no new cars, Members Only jackets, Swatches and the like in the budget and when I was very small my dad worked three jobs to make ends meet... but they never said things that would scare us. I know we did things together: yard work, church, meals, camping, kitchen duty. I know my parents did us a favor by telling us "no" when it would have been easier to say "yes". That they were there, are there and will be there for us always. No matter what. What a gift to have that kind of security, as both a child and as an adult. It is why Mama and Daddy, Christie and Sidney are HOME to me now... no matter where we are, we are at peace when we are together.
So thanks Daddy, for giving us everything that matters.
Millions of people do it every day. Lace up their shoes, pop in their earbuds and take off.... running. Add me to the ranks of those millions. Just not the really fast ones or the ones who can go for miles and miles and miles.
I'm only up to almost 2 miles (and at least two-tenths of those miles are spent walking and trying not to DIE). My knees are slightly achy, my shins hate me and my chest is thinking of burning my sports bra in protest. But I'm doing it. I don't LOVE it. But I'm doing it.
For a person who has always thought of serious exercise as a mostly spectator sport, this is a real revolution in thinking! Being on the dark side of 35 and possessed of a genetic history of heart problems is an excellent motivator. So is the sense of pushing through and doing something I really didn't think I could do.
(Blurriness not due to speed, but a rather poor attempt to take a picture of my own foot, which I lack the coordination to pull off effectively)
I may not look glamorous doing it and the weight isn't falling off like I'd dreamed it would, pounds and pounds laying in my wake as I pound out the miles, but it feels.... kind of good. And in deference to the serious eye-strain I might inflict on others, I do try to run after twilight (and after homework, booksbags, baths, etc. for the kids) when my huffing/puffing, sweating like a pig, ancient ipod packed with uncool music (okay Tina Turner will ALWAYS be cool, the Captain and Tenille.... eh), running shorts uncomfortably bunched by thighs that are NOT toned and slender and a crazy dog darting in front/behind due to the slow pace won't cause anyone to drive up a tree.
It's worth it. The sweat, the soreness, the commitment to doing it 5 times a week. Even if I set small milestones (I can make it to the mail box... the third pine tree up ahead.... the curve in the road.... the light pole at the end of the drive...) towards the 5K goal.