What does it really mean to be married these days? Has the subtext changed enough to infuse it with a meaning different from decades ago? Besides the obvious legal confirmation of unified forces? There is the money aspect of marriage: sharing incomes (and debts) and working toward common financial goals. Income tax status changes. His and her stuff legitimately become their stuff. And any additional beings in the picture get to be shared, whether human or otherwise. Plural homes morph into singular, thereby halving household expenses–in some ways. It demonstrates a clear public solidarity instead of a variable twosome-ness. Those who make their partnerships legal before the state, friends and family are informing the witnesses and themselves: this vow demonstrates my committment and caring. It is meant for keeps. What of those who have lived together for some time already? It is far more common now than I could have imagined when I became a young married woman. A temporary situation can lead to a permanent arrangement. Life alters, figuratively and literally, in some way after exchanging rings and words before a hopeful group of witnesses. But for each it is a different tale.
My youngest daughter, A., is getting married soon. Thanks for the congrats–we value D., the man who is the other participant. They have been together for a few years but this is different even if I may not know just how yet. It feels different to me. And there is so much to do that the classic Wedding List has generated offshoots of more lists. It’s like a lovely clematis vine that has somehow grown into kudzu that creeps into my sleep as well as my daily living. Well, it doesn’t strangle me but it gets much more of my attention suddenly. There is no formal wedding planner. The work force consists of the bride-to-be and her fiance, the MOB (“mother of the bride” sounds much better than MOB), and one granddaughter. And her sisters. Perhaps a friend of hers or two.
I should say, consisted, past tense. Now it is the twenty-two year old granddaughter and myself plus a couple of others who have time to help. A., our daughter just out of grad school, got a great new job fast. Relief! She and our future son-in-law are moving out-of-state in five days. The wedding, of course, is still being held in our home town. The distance from here? By car, two days away. By plane, hundreds of dollars. They will not be here to further inspect, research, interact or otherwise make immediate and minute decisions. So the labor is soon to become more intensive at the home front. I had a couple of days wherein I felt numb, as if I’d been doused with clove oil–delicious but stunning to the brain. I read the list and felt growing within an encampment of butterflies. I am better now, starting to feel lively, rallying around ideas. Find farms on a nearby island that have flowers in the right color scheme. Pick them and design things with them. View and help choose dinnerware for the reception meal. Finish the seating list (Help, daughter!) and print it along with pretty name cards. Centerpieces with little white pumpkins. Guest book–where do I find that? So it goes–it’s a sort of wedding madness. I went to the bookstore, studied their shelf on all things wedding-ish for a half hour, then came home with two. I need guidance.
Did I mention this culminates in only a few weeks? Luckily, this is a smaller wedding of about one hundred people and it is really “Northwest do-it-yourself”. The ceremony will take place at the edge of a forest, in a meadow with fairy-foresty themes. Minimal formality. Except: a vintage wedding dress and a flowing cape added when it is cooler. It works. She will be moving through the greenery, an enchanted woodland creature. They have added many creative touches to the celebration. It will be a fun yet ethereal event. And I will be stifling mother tears without success. My husband will be playing guitar instead of walking her down the aisle. This is, afterall, 2014.
And bam! there it is: the soft spot from whence deeper feelings rush forth.
We have had other weddings in our family. But A. is the youngest of five children. From the first breath she was an exuberant child, full of affection, easily entertained, curious and verbal. Struck by the magic of music. A favorite memory is when she was a few weeks old resting in her crib. I could hear rhythmical cooing sounds as I tiptoed to the room to check on her. I expected to see the frequent morning doves on branches near the window. But A. was on her back, eyes wide open, echoing every phrase that the morning doves sang, a happy chorus of “call and response.” It stirred me as I listened to those duets; it seemed to bode well. I felt gifted with that moment.
A. was also diagnosed with a rare medical condition that has challenged her every day since: extreme growth hormone deficiency (GHD), or hypopituitarism. She was born a nice size, five pounds, four ounces; eighteen and a half inches long. She was the largest of my children; all were born prematurely. But her growth was sporadic, slowed more and more as months and then a year went by. Her cognition and motor skills were not affected. Multiple specialists were consulted, hospital stays endured while difficult tests were run, possible diagnoses considered and rejected. The “likely but still tentative” diagnosis was presented following nearly two long years. It would be over two more before she would qualify for and then be required to maintain daily injections of biosynthetic DNA-recombinant growth hormone. The growth hormone we read about today had its earliest beginnings in the batches used for critical testing on severely impacted children over thirty years ago. It was so new then that the FDA had not approved it. But the alternative was risky: hormone extracted from human cadavers. Without the missing hormone, physical growth would be little to nil, and not just height. (We all, even adults, need continuous, adequate growth hormone for everything to grow as needed, ’round the clock.) Placed into a research study group of only two hundred other children in the U.S. with GHD diagnosis, we also placed our faith in God above and a major research medical center’s renowned pediatric endocrinologists. In time, she began to grow bit by bit. By age sixteen she would be four feet, ten and a half inches; we were thrilled with that height. Those hormone shots, among other medications, have continued.
But this is not an essay about growth hormone deficiency in children. That is a complicated subject, one the general public does not understand. It isn’t a disease, and is not terminal, but a rare anomaly of the endocrine system. People note her beautiful, voluminous hair, inherited from her bi-racial father. They see bright grey-blue eyes with clarity and depth, intelligence that gleams. A generous smile and raucous laugh. A.’s personality is that of a laser beam–brightly focused, intense, powered by wellsprings of energy even when she tires, as happens routinely. As a child people were drawn to her in stores or on streets, spoke with her as if they knew her. I had to firmly request even kindly strangers not touch her hair, not pick her up. Or grab her hand when they told me they wanted to hug her and “Please, can I take her home awhile?” Children always reached for her and talked to her no matter their age. Photographers asked if we had considered her auditioning for commercials; the reply was an adamant “no.” It was her heart they saw, I believe. It was her welcoming exuberance, the openness that children have but that she seemed to want to give away. A.’s way in the world was simple: “Aren’t we something walking around on this planet? Everything is pretty amazing, isn’t it?”
You see how I love her, the last of my children. They all have my heart, and tonight those places with her name embedded are beating strongly.
She grew up, grappled with and adapted to many situations. There were rude remarks to field, questions to answer, peace to be found or made. She carried on. A. still lives life with attention and verve. She has thus far been a songwriter and singer, an activist rallying for others and herself, an academic success, a lover of nature and Divinity. A hard worker who can be counted on. A devoted friend. And loving daughter. She is now perhaps more cautious, is a critical thinker, a careful seeker. But passion emerges as she throws herself into everything that matters. That has primarily included the fine and performing arts in various guises ever since she walked, talked, sang and danced. GHD has been only one facet of a kaleidoscopic life. Still, in elementary school she was given an award for “Most Courageous” and there are many who might still echo that sentiment. It is not so easy to be “rare” in this world, in any sense. So, A. and D. will share spiritual, emotional and intellectual matters as well as all sorts of physical ones. As couples will sooner or later do.
Every partnered duo sooner or later ponders whether the swinging bridge of their union will withstand the weight of their footsteps, if the journey across each plunging chasm will be too precarious to manage. It can seem death-defying, sometimes is so. Scrapes and scars of life give rise to well-honed skills and stamina that carry a couple just enough when there seems nothing left to lift burdens. And as we all learn, the physics of a secure relationship when well-designed and well-tended includes this counterbalancing act: one who can carry the load while the other recoups. Each has her or his tasks, talents and solutions. It’s the mix that makes the whole work, or not.
D. is appreciated by us partly because he knows A.’s medical challenges after seven years with her. He works at understanding the ins and outs of arcane matters. Supports her. Embraces her reality or at the least makes the effort to withstand the hardest times. He would need do almost nothing else for us to love him. She is a dear one, after all, she who has become an even braver woman. But he is also an artist, film and music lover and those provide him with stimulii to exercise a searching soul and diverse aesthetic viewpoints. He offers others kindness along with excellent art work. A. has her own insights into his innermost workings as well as arms and ears to offer reciprocal compassion and attentiveness. They can spark a room with their delight in one another. Surely their debates have interesting resolutions.
What more could one want? There is always a tallying, readjustment, lists of pros and cons about the joining together of two lives under one roof. So, what of actual marriage these days? In some ways it is unlike those in the seventies when I first married. Then it was likely more about security. Or even hard-won status. An expected rite of passage into adulthood. A reasonable semblance of “normalcy”. A psychological and emotional structure within which families grew. Yet I expect not so much has changed over the last few decades. We are still humans seeking love and other comforts of being with someone uniquely, deeply linked to us. Sympatico is still priceless.
But I am not the right author to offer dependable advice on this subject. I’ve been married more than once, with tales and lessons that might one day bear telling. I have thankfully gained some maturity since twenty years of age. I don’t give relationship advice if I can help it, only impressions and thoughts if my children ask. I don’t know what marriage is to mean for each couple, in familiar or different cultures or lands. It might be a lark for some, for all I know, and who know what stories they are making of that? Maybe good ones! People fall in love, for a fabulous moment or an entire lifetime. It is enough to propel us to take the next step forward even if the proverbial bridge swings a bit. It seems a good way to enter the unknown future. So diverse folks set a formal or even sacred seal upon their best intentions and cross over to new territory. And years later, may my daughter and her fiance find it a good homecoming much more often than not.
I stop here, right in the middle of what I am writing as I have in my daily routine lately and ask: What, dear God, am I to do without her near? The smart discussions? The anecdotes shared? The good laughs? Shopping and lunch, for goodness’ sake? This little bird who grew bright plumage, this person that came to me with snug embraces and stirring songs… But we give birth to set our children free. A. is naturally meant for the larger world and other people. For her D., and he, for her.
I have felt my parents’ presence more again even though they are no longer here in the flesh. They had the marriage most people would like to have–best friends first and last, romantic until the end, over sixty years of ups and downs. If here, they would join in the fun, hold her close, share approving words. A. is carrying on their legacy in the arts. She is about to marry a good, capable man. My parents’ example is strong; may she draw from it in the worst and best of times, and cross every kind of bridge with steady feet.
Let this wedding commence, and the adventure that follows be blessed by angels above, friends and family here on earth.