T and I are celebrating our 12 year wedding anniversary today: he and Lucy went out early this morning and bought a dozen donuts, then we all blew out candles and made wishes after the girls sang Happy anniversary to the tune of Happy Birthday.
The traditional gift, it turns out, is silk and linen, rather than doughnuts. The website happyanniversary.com helpfully suggests his and her bathrobes, silk boxers and lingerie, silk flowers, delicate scarves, and a visit to the Silk Road as gifts to offer your spouse. I did put clean sheets on our bed this morning, and given the rarity of freshly laundered anything in our busy lives, this could actually count as a themed gift, as far as I’m concerned.
12 years is a third of our lives, as T keeps pointing out to me, and while that seems like a lot in the abstract, when I think about the adventures we’ve had together, it actually feels about right: Kayaking in California, Mexico, Antigua. Hiking in the Upper Peninsula, the redwoods, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas. Phish shows in Maine, Vermont, Virginia, Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, Alpine Valley and Deer Creek, Boston and Camden. Skinny dipping in Lake Superior and Lake Willoughby. We’ve ridden roller coasters and toured historic homes. We can still crack each other up describing the insanity of The House on the Rock. I trusted him to drive on the British side of the road on tiny winding roads filled with wandering goats and stray dogs in Antigua.
Oh, and then we had children. It’s tempting to divide our marriage into two halves: the half before we had kids, when we had plenty of money and plenty of time and plenty of opportunity to get on a plane, get in the car, pack up and go, and the half after D was born, in which we find ourselves with, frankly, less money, less time, more stress.
The last 6 years are different not just because the practical reality of children has meant fewer Phish shows and kayaking trips and more afternoons at the zoo. The last six years have been years in which we have been deeply challenged to show up for one another in much harder times than we ever faced in our 20s. I lost a job. We have both had grandparents die. Friends and family members have struggled through miscarriage, divorce, loss of all kinds. We’ve been through childbirth and sleepless nights and crying babies and terrible twos and first days of school.
When I proposed to T, 13 years ago, at a Phish show, what I knew was that he had this amazing capacity for finding adventure and joy that I wanted to have with me always. I am not adventurous by nature: I don’t like risk, or heights, or uncertainty. With T, I always feel braver than I thought I was. What I couldn’t know or appreciate about him then that I’ve come to appreciate now is his capacity to keep showing up even when it’s not fun.
This is not to say that we have had 12 perfect years together. On the contrary: we have had enormous fights, and lousy days, and times when we were not sure this whole endeavor was worth it. And yet: we kept showing up. When it seemed like D was never going to sleep through the night. When Lucy was tongue tied and I couldn’t nurse her. When I developed preeclampsia after M’s birth and we all—T and M and I—had to stay in my hospital room because I couldn’t be alone with the baby. When we found out I was pregnant this summer and had no idea what this would mean for my health, or our family. Marriage and parenthood aren’t easy. That’s a cliché, but it’s true. I’m not a perfect partner. Neither is T. We make mistakes. We say and do things that are hurtful; we fight and make up. But we keep showing up for one another.
And still, after 12 years, I find myself delighted by his capacity to embrace adventure and create joy and sweetness in everyday moments. Candles in the donuts. Wrapping presents and drinking wine late into the night on Christmas Eve. Sitting around the campfire after the girls are tucked in the tent. Sunday night Mad Men, up too late with gin and tonics and Jackie Kennedy’s avocado crab salad. Braving the frigid water to teach the girls to boogie board in Lake Michigan waves. When I think about it like this, there’s no before/after kids dividing line. Just one winding road, blue sky and water, another adventure around the next bend.