Today marks 41 years of marriage for my parents. There are lots and lots of lessons in that one tiny sentence. Yesterday we had a big family dinner with everyone. All my brothers, sister, wives, boyfriends, kids were there. The table was so full you barely had enough room to just eat. Every two seconds someone was reaching over to get the mashed potatoes or the gravy or the weird looking cranberry mold thing.
And with all that commotion, no one mentioned anything to my parents about their anniversary. We were all too busy chasing around my crazy niece or trying to get baby Alice to smile. Laughing at the dinner table, and telling old stories trying to embarrass my sister because her boyfriend was over. I knew it was tomorrow, I knew I wanted to say something. But I totally blanked on it. Since I started writing I do enjoy sitting down and writing a little story or something I can share with the family when we are together. I thought of it, but this time, not until I was driving from a dance show my oldest daughter was performing in to my parents’ house. Not enough time to think of something meaningful to say. Life had gotten in the way and I missed my chance.
I wonder if my parents though ever look back at when they first starting dating. When my Dad was first a patient in the hospital my Mom worked at and saw all of this. I wonder if they ever sit back and appreciate all they have done, all they have created. The madness that is a Sunday dinner is what makes it great. Our lives are FILLED with the people we love, the people who know our stories all because my parents worked to keep it that way.
Their lives have shifted in a bunch of ways. They raised four kids. And the second that they maybe had a window or a glimpse into a slowed down life their oldest son started having his family. My two daughters were, or are, being raised by an army of people. My wife and I both work, but we never had to pay for daycare because our Moms (and my sister) rearranged their lives to be with them. They put their lives or their plans on hold to just be there. Then, as my kids have gotten older and they don’t require really a babysitter anymore my parents probably saw another chance to slow life down. Well, that didn’t happen as my sister started her family. So, my Mom and Dad went back into helping raise another child. And just as she was getting out of diapers my other brother started his family. My parents are going be 90 before they have some peace and quiet in their lives….
41 years is a long time to us, an eternity to most. But, to them, I bet it feels like it flew by. That’s what love can do, that’s what love can create. My family, my brothers and sisters are so lucky to have them both in our lives. They teach us a lot about love without saying anything. My Dad for example will cook this meal, like what we had yesterday, a big turkey dinner, and he always makes it a point to mention how good the squash is my mother made, or how perfect the peas are that she heated up in the microwave. My mother is a GREAT cook. But, it is one of my Dad’s passions so he cooks a lot. But, he never ever looks for credit on a meal. He always gives my Mom credit though. It doesn’t matter if she only had to set the table. He makes it a point to tell her how good she did at it. It’s a small thing, a small compliment, but it really isn’t. He shows everyone at that table that he appreciates his wife, our Mom.
To me though it’s not the years that impress me, it’s not time that shows love. Sure, time shows commitment. It’s the small everyday things that show what 41 years means. Sure, my Dad is really good at big gestures, surprising my Mom with a ring on their 25th anniversary and a renewal of their vows, or booking a weekend trip to Maine just cause, or buying concert tickets and organizing a meal at a great restaurant. But love isn’t BIG GESTURES. It’s making sure the coffee is made just so, or that a shirt someone might wear to work is dried and hung up. It’s doing the dishes so the other person doesn’t have to.
Dad and I can help. We will watch the kids. We want to take the kids shopping. One of us will be around if you need help. My parents always speak in “we” and “us” language. Sure they are individuals, sure they have their own interests, but when it comes to family stuff or anything related to their kids it is always “we”.
It’s really hard to summarize 41 years together, even for me being alive for 39 of those years. It’s not one big lesson or one big thing I remember. It’s that when I picture one of them in my thoughts the other is right next to them. All my memories with them are exactly that, with THEM. They are my North Star when I look in the sky. They are all my brothers and sisters North Star too. They are always what we look to when we need to find ourselves, when we need to remember what love looks like.
Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad