The Gifts We’re Given

IMG_2965In an admirable display of self-restraint, my daughter and I managed to make it two hours into our road trip before opening the giant bag of gummy bears.

It had been a good drive, so far. She left the radio tuned to the Prom Channel, featuring party hits and slow songs from the 80’s and 90’s (XM channel 4, check it out). She endured my stories. At least I think she did, but maybe since my eyes were on the road I just couldn’t see hers rolling.

The songs provided good fodder for conversation. We agreed that my essay for English class declaring “Every Breath You Take” as the best love song ever written was perhaps a bit misguided. I took great pleasure in blowing her mind when I revealed the doofus named Marky Mark rapping awkwardly about good vibrations was none other than mildly cool (but “super old”) actor Mark Wahlberg.

The air was thick with nostalgia as I listened to songs from high school, thinking about how many years have passed in such a short amount of time. Thankfully, the steady stream of candy handed to me by my co-pilot helped blunt the wave of melancholy.

Just as I was about to pop the millionth gummy bear into my mouth, I noticed that it was two-toned.

“Did you just bite two gummy bears in half and reattach them?” I asked my daughter.

She laughed.

“No, I tore them apart and then pushed them together. Ew, did you think you were eating a gummy bear that had been in my mouth? So gross.”

“Oh honey, you wouldn’t believe the things I used to let you feed me.”

I attempted to describe what it’s like to have a cherubic 9-month-old try to feed you a drool-saturated Cheerio from the tray of her high chair. The only thing you can do is smile, open your mouth and say, “mmmmmm, THANK YOU.”

“Why would you ever eat that?”

I explained that I was trying to teach her how to share and be kind, so when she attempted to feed me a Drool-io, I knew it was her way of showing love. It was the best gift she could offer me at the time.

Images of gifts from years past started to flash through my mind like an old slide show. I saw chubby, dimpled hands outstretched with a fistful of just-picked flowers, or more likely, weeds. Strings of beads with MOM in block letters. Handmade cards with scribbled drawings and phonetic spelling. Rocks that were almost heart-shaped if I squinted hard enough. Bird feathers of suspect origin.

Time and again, I accepted with wonder and gratitude whatever small gestures of love were offered to me. Not surprisingly, I’m still doing it fifteen years later, since teenagers have remarkably subtle ways of showing they care.

These days I relish a text with a heart emoji the same way I enthusiastically accepted a soggy Cheerio all those years ago. And since bear hugs are now in short supply, I quietly cheer when an arm gets casually draped over my shoulders for a few brief seconds.

My daughter used to tell me I’m as beautiful as a princess, but now compliments are doled out in the form of her declaring, “If you loaned me that sweater, I’d wear it.” My son no longer asks for a bedtime story, but when he nonchalantly announces he’s going to sleep and could talk for a bit if I wanted to, I race up the stairs and then casually walk into his room like it’s no big deal, all the while knowing that it is definitely a big deal.

It seems the rules of parenting don’t change as the kids get older: pay attention; stay open; be grateful. Just like when they were babies in high chairs, my teens are figuring out how to express affection. The love is still there, it just looks a little different these days.

Happy Mother’s Day, may your weekend be filled with love, in all its forms.

Weddings, Then and Now

 

 

 

 

I’ve been married for so long, the adorable little kid who was the flower girl at my wedding was the beaming bride this weekend at her own wedding. In an effort to keep myself from dwelling on how damn old that makes me, I’m choosing to focus my attention on love, in all its iterations – from shiny and new to comfortable and timeworn.

Firmly in the comfortable camp is my husband and I who are celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary on Tuesday. Unsurprisingly, we won’t have a chance to acknowledge the milestone until later in the week during a break between basketball carpool and volleyball games. At this point in our lives, an hour together with a strong drink and an uninterrupted conversation that doesn’t devolve into coordinating our calendars qualifies as a date.

I’m beginning to understand the wisdom behind the adage that the first 20 years of marriage are the hardest. I don’t know who said it or when – it was probably meant as a joke – but the idea actually makes sense. There are a lot of difficult marital miles that need to be navigated in those first two decades.

We’ve faced the typical bumps in the road: cross country moves; stressful jobs; a health scare; kids; vomiting kids; kids who refuse to sleep; kids who go through an Elmo phase; kids who turn into moody teenagers; kids who… you get the picture.

Fortunately, we’ve also developed skills to help smooth the path. We can still make each other laugh. We’re good at picking up the slack when the other person needs a break, ensuring there’s at least one patient, organized and upbeat spouse at any given moment. I’m good at ignoring the near constant din of sports on TV and he’s good at ignoring the basket of clean laundry that sits unfolded for a week. I think that might be the key to our longevity: focusing on the few things that are truly important and offering each other grace with everything else.

The happy couple who got married this weekend is still giddy and glowing and marveling at their good fortune of having found each other. Love was such a tangible presence at their wedding, it probably should have showed up with a gift from Crate & Barrel like the rest of the guests. I found myself emotional (and maybe ugly crying a little) as I witnessed not only the shiny new love between the bride and groom, but also how their parents, family and friends cared for them so deeply and wished them well.

I hope the honeymoon phase of their relationship lasts a long time. But I also hope they grow to appreciate the little acts of daily marital maintenance that help sustain love over the years. My husband making me a cup of coffee just the way I like it or texting me a link to a story that he knows will make me laugh can feel more romantic than the rare candlelit dinner.

Lest we get complacent, I also hope the comfy sweatpants stage of our relationship can be reinvigorated by the newlywed love we saw this weekend. The logistics involved in keeping a family sheltered, clothed, fed and relatively happy can snuff out the levity and spontaneity that fuels romance. And since a marriage can’t be sustained by coffee and Onion articles alone, we need to flirt with the person we fell in love with, not just appreciate our hardworking partner in the journey.

Perhaps the best thing about being in love is that even though it will change over time, if the person in your life can make you laugh, make you think, make you feel seen and understood and desirable, then you’re with the right person — whether it’s been one week or almost 20 years. Congratulations to the newlyweds and happy anniversary to my love.