Looking Back, Looking Forward

It was the end of a long holiday break, and we were trying to squeeze those last few relaxing chunks of time from what had seemed an eternity on day one. The kids were busy, as they often are once they reach the age of driver’s licenses, jobs and “significant others” in their lives.

With four walls closing in on us at home my husband and I decided to visit a park about half an hour away, to hike a trail we haven’t hiked before. We needed to be outside, to soak up some sun and escape the house. When the air is crisp and the sky is a cloudless blue, there really isn’t anything more stunning than a winter day in California.

Hiking boots laced up and water bottles filled, we took off for one of our almost-empty-nest adventures, leaving chores and errands for another day.

When we arrived at the trailhead my husband took a map and we started to plan our hike. We still had a few hours before the sun would begin to set, so we chose a loop trail that would take us high enough for a stunning view of the area, yet be short enough to get us safely back to the car before dusk.

Always cautious. Always planning ahead.

We walked in silence for a while, quietly savoring the fact that we’re comfortable enough to embrace the quiet. After a while, my husband broke the silence with a comment about the view off to the side of the trail.

And that’s when I noticed.

I’m not looking around.

I am so focused on the trail right in front of me that I’m missing the view.

So I forced myself to look up and around and savor the adventure and wow — it’s such a beautiful day, such a gorgeous view. We kept hiking along the trail, passing others here and there with a friendly nod or “hello.”

But I almost immediately went back to looking down. To worrying about the rocks and ruts and uneven trail right in front of me or just below my feet.

So I stopped for a water break, and forced myself again to look around.

Beautiful, yet not perfect.

The years-long drought in California has left towering trees dry and creek beds empty. Recent rains have brought back green grasses, but the long-term effects of drought are still very evident.

I turned around to see the path we had taken up this hill. It was steep and covered in a patchwork of uneven soil, horse tracks and mud. It wasn’t obvious to me as we walked that path just how very difficult it was.

But we did it. Cautiously, carefully and continuously we climbed that hill.

You don’t always realize where you’ve been until you turn around.

Isn’t this the case with life? We trudge along over obstacles ranging in size from pebbles to boulders. Push ourselves through the murky parts when parenting is tough and relationships are cracked. Past broken friendships and milestones reached, straight through our kids’ childhood, which seemed to expire quite a while before we were ready.

Shouldn’t we look back once in a while? See where we’ve been, gain perspective on the road ahead? Not to wallow in the past, but to acknowledge it and more forward?

These feelings hit me in the quietness on that trail — that our 20+ years of parenting hadn’t always been a smooth path. That as hard as you try, your kids need to grow at their own pace, learn valuable lessons for themselves, to fail or stumble on the path — or even get lost for a bit.

Sometimes you need to look back.

Up ahead on the trail? A leafy, tree-covered walkway with towering pines on one side, sturdy oaks on the other.

I might have missed it if I hadn’t stopped.

I spend a lot of my time being cautious, living in this moment here rather than looking forward or back… and fretting about it, too.

I waste time being worried about stepping too far off the path, of stumbling or getting lost.

I’m just looking down.

It’s time I started looking up.

The Christmas Ornament

I found it at the local Hallmark card store, just in time for Christmas.

1981: First Christmas Together

The package included stickers so you could customize your ornament with names. I added them before I wrapped it, and couldn’t wait for him to open it when we exchanged gifts.

Sherri & Scott

In hindsight, it’s an ugly ornament. Made of thin glass with a plastic coating, the Christmas scene on the front — a Victorian couple ice skating — looks cheap and cliché. But to a 16-year-old girl, it felt like something real. Like a way to say I’m crazy about you without really saying it.

So I wrapped it up and presented him the ornament, along with a few other gifts he probably preferred but have been long forgotten. What 17-year-old boy wants a Christmas ornament, anyway? The years I have spent as a mother since then have given me insights into the mind of a teenage boy I didn’t yet have back then.

Pretty sure I should have just kept the ornament for my own tree.

But somehow I was claiming my territory, trying to anchor our relationship within the envelope of his family. To have our ornament displayed on his family’s Christmas tree gave me a tiny shred of confidence that they could see me. See that I was important to him, too.

The holidays can be a particularly difficult time to work a new relationship into the mix. Moms usually have expectations and routines and traditions, certain events and family gatherings that are a “must-do” each December. Some of these begin to fall off the list as the children grow older and Christmas loses a bit of that magic it held when they were small. No more family visits to see Santa, no more driving around the neighborhood in jammies to check out all of the Christmas lights. But family bonds are tight around the holidays, and it’s tough to break in.

I think buying the ornament was a pretty bold gesture, especially from a girl who had only been dating their son for 9 months. But somehow, it passed inspection and his mother agreed (maybe reluctantly) to display our First Christmas Together ornament on the family Christmas tree.

At least when I was expected to visit.

I wouldn’t have blamed her at all for discretely moving it to the back of the tree once I was gone.

You see, there is a special dance between the mother of a son and the girl who steals his heart.  A give-and-take that many young girls take as a sign they aren’t welcome or liked or even tolerated. But it isn’t always about the girl, and that part I didn’t understand until I had a son of my own. Until our first Christmas together in 1981 unfolded into a lifetime of them spent as a couple, then a family.

And while the girl or young woman sees a potential future in the handsome young man, the mother still has her heart wrapped around the little boy who used to sit on Santa’s lap and leave crumbly cookies on a plate each Christmas Eve. The boy who willingly wore a red sweater vest for the Christmas Eve church service and belted out carols like nobody was listening. The boy who untied the bows on the advent calendar with excitement and the anticipation of ringing the bell at the bottom on Christmas Eve. The boy who played with silvery strands of tinsel and stole candy canes from low-lying branches.

The boy whose eyes brightened when the lights were first lit on the Christmas tree each year.

Now his eyes brighten at the sight of her.

And maybe she is very special to him, and the mother understands that to hold her son in her heart she needs to make room for one more.

One more person, one more ornament.

This year, I am that mom.

Our First Christmas Together ornament hangs front and center on our own family Christmas tree, 33 years later.

And I have room for one more.

A Milestone Love

milestone loveThe restaurant is crowded, unusually so for a Tuesday night. The waitress lets the specials roll off her tongue as she does on any other night, and we pretend to listen even though we’ve all chosen our main courses already.

Table for four. While this happens with amazing regularity at home, we don’t often manage to sync our schedules and go out for dinner together. Old habits die hard, and I am usually just as happy making dinner and sharing it around our table.

But tonight is different.

My husband has a milestone birthday today. And while the other diners may think they are having a special meal with colleagues or friends, I feel as if there is a bubble around our table tonight.

A bubble that holds within its rounded edges the three people I hold the most dear in my heart.

A bottle of wine arrives, along with something tamer for the teens with bubbles and cherries. We raise our glasses in a toast to my husband and I catch his smile as he thanks us for spending this evening with him.

It’s magic… like all of the times I have seen this man smile, but deeper, almost. He’s in his happy place, with his family, and there is no place else he’d rather be right now.

I feel a lump form in my throat that I push aside. I don’t want to cry, don’t want to take away from his moment.

He wanted to be with us.

When people would ask, “Where are you going for the BIG birthday?” he never wavered, really. Offers of exotic beach vacations, ski lodges or weekends in Napa didn’t entice him. Sure, they all sound like fun… but he wanted more.

He wanted to be with us.

To start the second 50 years of his life with his family, to listen to our stories and laughter and bask in the glow of that kind of love that nobody else can give you.

And as I watched him raise his glass to us, to another 50 years, to our family I couldn’t help but be in awe of this man who has given me so very much. Family, unconditional love, laughter.

And he wanted to be with us.

Happy Birthday, babe… here’s to another 50.

The Writing of our Story

wedding1

I almost answered too quickly.

Yes! A thousand times!

I really didn’t realize he was going to ask, until the scene started playing out in slow motion.

And then I knew what was coming was a question that would change my life.

Will you be my wife?

Yes.

There was nothing else I would rather be.

We began our journey through young adulthood to parenthood and beyond, not knowing much about the future other than who we would be sharing it with. The writing of our story unfolded one year at a time, through new jobs, new addresses, new little additions to our family.

And now, almost on the other side of parenting, we are at a place that feels much like when we started out.

Not knowing the path, but knowing who we will share it with.

And that question that changed my life?

I would answer it the same 26 years later.

Happy Anniversary, babe.

 

Vows

I watch them from my seat in the dimly lit ballroom, watch the sparkling lights dance on her gown as she spins.

Her smile fills her face and his heart, as he gently dips and sways with her to the music. They are so young, so much in love and so very newly-wed. Less than one hour old, their marriage is as fresh as they come and filled with promise and hope.

I want to stop the music and tell them to go — go NOW and start their life together. Before it’s too late. Before life gets in the way. Before obligations and bills and children and sickness scare them into being adults. Before the drudgery of Monday morning creeps right into Sunday night.

But their smiles, their laughter and their tears while reading their vows are my answer. They ARE starting their life together, and it begins today. She calls him her “person” and she is his “rock”.

I cannot take my eyes off of them as they dance and whisper and giggle.

I try to find a bit of wisdom, something a long-married woman could share with a beaming young bride that would be inspirational or awe-inspiring — a string of poetry, a line from a romantic movie, even something from a cheesy greeting card.

Nothing. There is nothing I can share beyond the simple words they uttered at the altar.

Love. Honor. Cherish.

All the days of your life — for as long as you both shall live. Because life has a way of moving forward, of ticking along when you don’t see it coming, of throwing curveballs at you when you least expect them.

Love can conquer a lot of stuff, but you have to feed it daily. Give more than your share, with no expectations.

And always remember to dance.

___________________________________

This piece originally appeared on Moonfrye

25 Years to Life

He says I still have that new bride smell.

That man I exchanged “I do’s” with twenty-five years ago this week…the man I promised to love and to cherish, to honor and cook for, and to continue to laugh at his potty humor until death do us part.

Twenty-five.

Wow.

In that amount of time, people tend to hoard accumulate things. Things that may or may not have a real use later on down the road, yet they stay on the shelf, tucked away for later. Maybe these things were actually used for years, used to the point that even the donation truck might leave them on the side of the road.

We have things like that.

  1. A kitchen trashcan in the most beautiful 80s shade of baby blue. While it has served a long and useful life of 25 years, the cracks extend a wee bit further down the side each week.
  2. The hamper for our dirty clothes that was purchased on a romantic shopping trip to Cost Plus, during which time we declared, “Let’s join our dirty clothes!” and it still serves dutifully. Unfortunately, there are no cracks and I think this one may outlast us all.
  3. A toaster oven, which was lovingly gifted to us on our wedding day by a wedding guest who shall remain nameless (because I can’t remember). Hubs feels that the toaster oven is the be-all-end-all of kitchen appliances. I feel like it looks like a cross between R2D2 and SpongeBob SquarePants, and have relegated it to the cupboard.
  4. Matching set of bamboo beach mats, purchased on our first trip to Hawaii so many years ago. While they seemed like a great idea, nobody told us about the crazy pattern the bamboo leaves on your exposed skin. Ouch. They have resided in the attic ever since, never to see sand again.
  5. Blown-glass drink stirrers, with various tropical birds perched on the end. These were purchased on our honeymoon in Mexico, and we envisioned raging parties hosted at our tiny apartment where we would pass out drink stirrers to our happy guests. I am still trying to figure out exactly what type of drink requires stirring.
  6. A humongous counter-top microwave oven from the 80s, the size of which rivals a mini-Cooper. After occupying half of the entire kitchen counter-top for years, we moved to our current home which has a built-in microwave. Sixteen years ago. The intended recipient of the microwave (college kid) claims that his roommate has one. I fear I will one day be buried in it.
  7. A VCR. I cannot even imagine why we still have this. For you young ones, this is the prehistoric version of the modern-day DVD player.
  8. We still have the very first can opener we purchased, back when opening a can meant, “Dinner is served!”. I am pretty sure we are all current on our tetanus shots.
  9. The fire extinguisher that hangs in our garage, in that manly section referred to as the “Home Safety Center” by hubs. I fear that when I actually need a fire extinguisher, only glitter and dust will come out of the nozzle.
  10. A large paper-mache parrot, who has been a prized possession since our honeymoon in Mexico. We brought him home on the airplane back in the days when you could carry-on strange objects that could be used to pummel someone and take over the plane. Now he would be subject to a body-cavity search.

 

Sentimental old fools, or hoarders?

What do you still have after all these years?

 

After the Honeymoon…..

Almost thirty years ago, someone stole my heart.

Actually, I stole his hat. In a teenager-infested pizza parlor on a Friday night.
And next week, we will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. You can tell we married in the 80’s if you look closely at the gargantuan poufy long sleeves on my dress. For an August wedding in California. Was I nuts?
With another anniversary looming and another year in the record books, my mind is on the whole weddings/couples/marriage subject in general. So I decided to try and summarize what I think has kept us happily married, through thick and thin, through two babies, two puppies, two apartments, and two home purchases.
Making your Marriage Last
or
Top Ten Ways We Kept from Killing Each Other

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I know, I’m ripping that off from someone (who actually took the time to write a book), but hear me out. If you don’t like how he hangs his towel, either ignore it or re-hang it yourself if it’s that important to you. If he leaves his shoes on the floor, he’s not doing it to drive you crazy or make a statement. People are people and not everyone will do the exact.same.thing the exact.same.way. If you waste all of your energy on small stuff, you won’t have any left for the big stuff that will come. And it will come, trust me.
Share when it makes sense. If you can find a common toothpaste brand, then share a tube! Same mouthwash? Share a bottle! But some things aren’t meant to be shared; like bath towels, underwear, nose rings, and shoes.
Have a money plan. Yours/mine/ours works well for us, and keeps me from demanding “Did you really need that wrench/fishing pole/kayak?” and keeps him from asking “Didn’t you just buy a new pair of sandals LAST summer?” It’s good to have a little mad money for yourself. Not enough that you are running off to Vegas on your lunch break, but enough that you can splurge on a MAC lip-gloss once in a while. Or a secret stash of Dr. Pepper.
Never take each other for granted. For every relationship that lasts and lasts, there is another one that didn’t. Some people leave for work and never come home. Even on the worst, most boring days my heart skips a beat when I see hubby come home from work. And I tell him that. I appreciate that he can fix the water pump on our car; he was amazed when I slip-covered the sofa and loveseat without a pattern.
Go your separate ways. We spend a lot of time together, and hubby doesn’t travel for work as much as he did when our kiddos were little. When we are apart, whether for girl’s night out, having a beer after work with the guys, or a business trip, we have more to share when we are together again. His voice sounds different, he has stories to tell me, and we make more eye contact than usual.
Set some goals together, even if they are silly. Having something you are aiming for together, whether it’s to own your own business, potty-train the puppy, paint the house, vacation in Italy, retire on the beach someday, or just start a family brings you closer. Awww.
Take a look at your honey and pretend like it’s the first time you’ve ever seen him. Or that it’s the last time you will ever see him. I read this somewhere and it really stuck with me. It’s amazing what you notice when you look at someone this way. Diapers, credit card bills, stress at work, and the daily grind have a way of making you forget what it’s all about.
Touch. Well yeah, of course THAT, but I mean other kinds of touches that aren’t expected. Run your fingers through his hair while he’s on the computer. Put your arm around his shoulders and give him a squeeze at the grocery store. Give him a peck on the forehead when he’s watching TV. I don’t know how it works, but it helps keep us connected. I guess it’s magic.
Humor is a key to my marital happiness. Even when a situation seems overwhelming, there’s always something to laugh about. Hubby makes me laugh at least once every single day, and always has. I don’t always think his potty jokes are funny (the kids do) but it makes me laugh that HE thinks they are hilarious. He does impressions. He sings and doesn’t know most of the words, but this doesn’t stop him. He is afflicted with a sort of musical Tourette’s syndrome, which means the mere mention of a word in a sentence causes him to break into a song with the same word in it. Which usually has nothing AT ALL to do with the conversation we were having. And I laugh. Me? I’m not so funny.
Respect each other; the most important thing. I may not agree with everything hubby thinks or says, and he most certainly doesn’t agree with me all of the time. But because of our commitment to each other, we respect these differences. I respect that hubby likes Bob Seger, Johnny Cash, and will eat mushy bananas. He respects that I like Lady Gaga, love broccoli, and enjoy a Dr. Pepper now and then.

OK, maybe he doesn’t respect the Lady Gaga part.