Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal, July 14, 2010
A couple of weeks ago, at a birthday party for another family member, my second son got down on one knee and asked his girl to marry him. It’s a lovely moment frozen in time, and emblazoned in my memory along with the facial expressions of surrounding witnesses.
She said yes.
In one tick of the clock, he went from being my boy, to her potential husband. Yikes. Things move quickly, don’t they?
Not really. I know it wasn’t exactly like that. Their relationship built over months, and he adores her. But somehow, it feels more important to his mother, that the girl loves him. And I know she does—I can tell.
From the start, parents want nothing but joy for their children, but those pesky life problems tag along as well. So when something simply extraordinary unfolds for one of them, we rejoice.
May I suggest we also reflect, regroup, and remember that we are no longer (and probably haven’t been for a while) that child’s emotional touchstone. And that’s exactly how it should be.
When my oldest son married in 1999, it was his wife’s affection for him that saved me that day. Because of weirdness and rifts that often exist in families, and for reasons I’ll never fully understand, not one member of my extended family attended the wedding celebration. Not one.
But my new daughter-in-law’s love for her husband was palpable. After the ceremony, I hugged her tight and choked out the words, “Thank you for loving my boy.”
My heart ached, but that day wasn’t about me, or my heart. It was about the newlyweds, and I honored that, even while hoping against the odds that my family would walk through the door.
Late that evening the limousine pulled up, ready to sweep my son and his bride off on their honeymoon. The crowd pressed toward the door wishing them well, and I fell to the back. Right before exiting, my boy stopped, turned around, and found me in the masses. He came over, told me he loved me, topped it with a hug, and walked away into the rest of his life.
To say I cherish that instant would be an understatement. It’s etched in my soul.
I learned that when someone commits to and loves your child madly (even if it’s rightfully different from the way you do), it’s less painful to watch them go off into the sunset together. In fact, it’s life affirming and thrilling to watch new families form.
This, from a mother who has never been very good at letting go; a mother who’s been known to follow her child’s bus to school just to make sure he got there, and into the classroom safely.
Soon, we’ll joyously add another daughter to our clan—a luminous young woman whose best gift to me is loving my son. Each in-law and grandchild brings a new dimension to our family and defines more completely who we really are.
Uneasy experience has taught me that for children to want to come back for a visit, you’ve got to cut the whining, let them go, and do it all with a smile on your face.
For this parent, with a little help from devoted new in-laws, the smiling part is getting easier.