Today marks the 36th anniversary of my parents wedding. Thirty-six years of life lived together. I always view my parents individually as wonderful, but together as truly amazing. They are not the perfect couple, they don’t try to be or pretend to be. They are just themselves, together, in love, every day, working it out. Having fun, puttering around, sitting in the same room silently, staying up all hours talking. As parents they gave us a clear set of boundaries and a stable safe place, but had the amazing restraint and instinct to give us an unusual amount of freedom to make choices, decisions, mistakes, missteps. They let us sort things on our own whenever possible, they let us know they’d help us if we ever asked. But now, as a married woman, I can see that one of the most important lessons that my parents taught me was that I was part of their family, but not the center of it. Although they never verbalized it just this way, my parents showed and told us that their marriage was as important to them as we were. They showed and told us that their own identities were important to them by having their own friends, going on dates together, going out with friends without each other, having passion for their own careers, having and cultivating interests that weren’t shared between them. As sensible as all that sounds, my experiences have shown me that many people don’t give their marriage priority over children at all, don’t bother with individual pursuits, leave neglected private relationships.
But what I really reflect on when I think of my parents on their anniversary is that, when you do the math, it seems to me that they were married *GASP* before I existed. Eight years before I existed to be exact. So, it would seem, they weren’t just giving lip service when conveying to me that their lives didn’t totally revolve around my existence. After I let the idea of my non-existence sink in, I get this image of my parents just as a married couple, not as parents at all. With some crazy sort of matching frizzy long hair, they drove around the country with a camper. Can you picture that?! My mom was probably testing the limits of peyote while my dad tinkered with the mechanics of their rig using only bungee cords, duct tape and his wits. They entertained friends at their house, possibly rivaling parties that Dave and I have hosted, and they didn’t have to get up in the morning to the sounds of little girls screaming. They had arguments without having to worry about traumatizing some impressionable offspring. They had dogs that they could love like children without feeling guilty about how their actual children would feel about it. They spent their savings on…well I have no idea what they were buying (NOT haircuts, I know that much), but the point is my mom probably bought herself a few new things once in a while without feeling totally guilty for not spending it on us. (Mom, I’m nearing 30 years old, you can let that kind of thing go now)
I take the fact that parents used to be regular people as some kind of sign that I should use this time, when we only have dog-children, to work on my own non-parental marriage. Be better. Try harder. Face facts that we have to be each other’s priority first and foremost if we ever expect to keep a miniature human functioning for any reasonable amount of time. M and D, unbeknownst to you, this is the biggest lesson I’ve learned from you so far. I love you. Happy Anniversary.