A few weeks ago, I participated in a survey conducted by young psychologist who asked me, “While you and your husband were still dating, what was the biggest impediment to your relationship?” I laughed, thinking about that time, because Tim and I had a standard caveat for when we made plans. “There are only four reasons why I might not make it.”
At the time, our impediments were 7, 9, 12 and 15 years old. Dating is a whole different game for a single, widowed woman in her 40’s with two young kids seeing a single, widowed man in his 40’s with two kids. Needless to say, the logistics were complicated. Between homework, school fairs, parent teacher conferences, sports, scouts, music lessons, social engagements and doctor appointments, the boys’ schedules were packed. It was a challenge even to find a date and time for dinner that didn’t conflict with any of the four boys’ activities.
For the first few months, we did not tell the boys about each other. The children were all grieving the death of a parent, and while Tim and I were taking the risk that our own hearts might break again, neither one of us was willing to subject our sons to this potential. For a while it looked like mom had unusually frequent book group dinners and dad attended a surprising number of booster club meetings.
Once we did let the boys know we were dating, only one of the children was actually in favor of this idea. And even he changed his mind from time to time. At any given moment, our relationship had somewhere between a 0%—25% approval rating from the kids.
At one point, one of the older boys told his father, “Dad, it just looks wrong.” I appreciated his comment, because it was kind and accurate. It wasn’t personal. It’s just that I’m not his mom. Because I’m not. It must have looked wrong: I’m tall, blonde and blue-eyed; his mother was a petite brunette with brown eyes. Furthermore, it is wrong for moms to die when their kids are in elementary school, or high school. Moms are not supposed to die even when the kids are in college or graduate school for that matter. There’s really no good time.
One of my favorite wedding photographs is me whispering into one of my step-son’s ears. In the picture, he is leaning toward me, and I remember promising him that I would never try to take the place of his mother. But I also said that I did hope that someday he and I would have our own thing.
Tim and I celebrated our fourth anniversary last week, which makes us sound a little like newlyweds and I suppose we are. Kind of. But in the same way that dating is a whole different game with four children to consider, the honeymoon with four teenagers and pre-teens isn’t typical newlywed fare. And while we certainly considered the children’s feelings as we were approaching the marriage decision, we did not let the children’s opinions dictate our marital status. Several people assumed that we decided to get married after all four children agreed that it was a good idea. Let’s just say, we’d still be waiting to choose a caterer if we had granted the children the power of the veto.
Actually, the caterer is probably the one thing that all the boys were happy about.
Once Tim and I got engaged, all four boys relaxed just a little. We had six good reasons, really, to get married, but only two of us were permitted to vote. They might not have approved of the situation, but they knew what “till death do us part” looks like, and they trusted it. We told the boys that we loved each other and we loved each of them and we thought that we were stronger together for all four of them.
Our approval rating still hovered around 25%.
We started planning our wedding. In the category of “Things I Never Expected my Life to Include,” planning a second wedding turned out to be one of the items that was loads of fun. My perspective was different planning a wedding at 43 than at 23, and yes, we went over budget, and yes, the coordinator made a huge gaffe, and yes, there were guests who I was really hoping to see that didn’t show, but at the end of the day — whether it rained, or the caterer goofed, or the band was late, or even if a family member said something small and mean — at the end of the day I would be married to this wonderful man. That’s a good day. On the actual day, it did not rain (not during the reception, at any rate), and we had a rocking band, and the bartender was fantastic, and the flowers were beautiful and the kids loved the caterer, even though we didn’t have a cake.
But the matter of the guest list was tricky. Family alone adds up to about 80 people. We essentially had two choices: elope with a friend or two or three (including Elvis), or plan a huge party (including children). We were blessed with so many stalwart friends who picked us up and dusted us off when life was hard, who brought us casseroles and took us to coffee, who walked with us in every possible way that it just didn’t feel good to exclude them from our celebration when life was happy. Ultimately, the decision was easy, but the logistics were complicated. Now we were talking about 500 adults and kids, and that’s a lot of rubber chicken.
Expensive rubber chicken.
Expensive rubber chicken that kids won’t eat.
As for the ceremony itself, we wanted to include our own children, but we didn’t want to put pressure on them. We anticipated that they would each experience a range of feelings, and we wanted them to feel safe to do so. We knew that they would be under the spotlight enough as it was without adding the role of best man to the groom or walking the bride down the aisle. The standard we set was that the boys were required to wear tuxedos and attend the wedding, but they could sit with whomever they wanted. They were not, however, required to smile. As children will do, they pressed the envelope. One of the boys insisted — even on the morning of the wedding — that he would wear the tuxedo but he would not go to the church.
I reminded him what we were serving at the reception.
He decided to sit with his best friend.
While the church seats 500 comfortably (well, our four sons were uncomfortable, but that had nothing to do with church capacity), the matter of a reception venue was a challenge. Of the guests, nearly 200 were 18 or younger. One of the gifts of being a family with lots of children is that many of our friends are families with children. And while children are often excluded from wedding ceremonies (with good reason), our particular circumstances allowed us to blend the traditional with the unexpected. What we most wanted was a celebration of love — our love for each other, but also an acknowledgement of the love that brought us to this place, and our children are an expression of that love.
We had our traditional church wedding, featuring several priests, a best man, a best woman, a flower girl, a long silk dress, a tuxedo, and a unity candle, followed by a celebration at the local park, surrounded by several hundred friends and family, and including a seven-piece band, kids in collared shirts and party dresses, a boy straight from a football game still wearing his grass-stained uniform, a bounce house, an ice cream truck and the In ’n Out Burger truck. Another of my favorite photos from the wedding is one of the boys, tuxedo shirt untucked and stained by chocolate ice cream and a spontaneous nose bleed, holding a cheeseburger in his hand and sporting a huge grin.
I would never have imagined selecting cheeseburgers for my wedding menu. In fact, my initial reaction to the idea was, well… an emphatic NO. But I changed my mind. And I’m glad. Everybody loved it. Especially the dads. Our approval ratings from the kids have steadily climbed (mostly) since that day.
And speaking of changing minds, I recently had a conversation with one of the impediments about that wedding day and he recalled the cheeseburgers in the park with a smile. Then he added, “You know, Charlotte, I am really glad you married my father.”
I am, too.
On the day of our anniversary, Tim and I were sitting down to a romantic lunch. Even with two sons away at college, we still struggle to find time for just the two of us. We both have busy schedules for the afternoon, and we briefly debate whether we should order a celebratory glass of wine with lunch. Just after we select a sauvignon blanc, I get a text message that sewage is backing up into the boys’ shower. We decide to ignore this particular issue until after our lunch. Clogged pipes are not one of our four reasons.
The wine arrives, and we relax. Within a few moments the phone lights up again. This time it is our 13-year-old, the one who suffered a concussion earlier this week. His head is aching, and he is ready to come home. Tim smiles at me, “Go get our son. I’ll meet you at home.”
Half an hour later, the three of us are sitting outside in the shade eating our take-out lunch, waiting for the rooter guy to clear out the main pipe. Not exactly the lunch we had planned, but not bad either, with both dogs wagging hopefully at our sides. I know what a bad day looks like, and it’s certainly not this. At the end of the day, for better or for plumbing backups, with headaches and in health, I face whatever comes my way with this kind, funny, lovable man at my side. Together.
And that’s a good day.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And reasons to celebrate.