This weekend Erin and T. J. celebrated their first anniversary. It seems so surreal. Just yesterday she was playing with her toys in a toy room that couldn’t – or maybe shouldn’t – be navigated without steel toed boots. John and I were able to go visit the first weekend of my spring break. They seem to have settled in to married life quite easily. I’m sure there have been bumps along the road. While bumps are awfully uncomfortable while you’re experiencing them, they are one of the most effective ways to work out problems and learn. Working out how to be a happily married couple while under a microscope is virtually impossible. That is why, even though I miss her every day, I think it is best that Erin and her new husband do not live within easy “visiting” distance from the rest of her family.
I’m sure that every newlywed couple faces the same issues. They’re universal, aren’t they? Money, vacations, holidays, in-laws, bathroom etiquette. Did I miss one? These issues may be resolved on a regular basis but they do have a tendency to continue to come up in conversations: loud, uncomfortable conversations sometimes. I think the trick is learning to follow the only piece of advice I have ever found to be truly helpful. What is that advice? Pick your battles!
Money has been the impetus for many marriages finding themselves on the trash heap and another in a long list of statistics. John and I seem to have found a way to avoid arguing about this particular trigger topic. I’m not so sure that we dealt with it so much as we have avoided it. For a while we shared a checking account. SO didn’t work for me. While my husband is very generous and has never denied me when I’ve asked for money, the problem is that I can’t bring myself to ask. Sharing an account means that one or the other actually gets custody of the checkbook. That means that person is also in charge of the check register. That horrible little booklet where I’m supposed to list every check I’ve written, to whom, and for how much. Really? I have to be accountable to someone other than myself for where my money goes? Not so sure I’m comfortable with that! It isn’t like I’m funding international crime rings or anything. It’s just that I feel that my money is just that - - mine. I’m sure John feels the same way and doesn’t want to have to tell me where all his money goes, either. I’m not really sure how long the joint checkbook thing lasted, but not too long, I’m sure. We now have separate checking accounts. Whew! Erin grew up in a home where the mother was uncomfortable asking for money. She never had a problem asking for money from me while she was living at home, but she seemed to have the same problem that I have when it came to asking her dad for money. As a result, he never really had a clue how much raising a daughter truly costs. Now that she is married, she is going to have to come to terms with her feelings about money and make sure she and T.J. come to terms about how their money will be handled. What advice can I offer? NONE! It’s none of my business. As long as she is cared for, fed, clothed, and housed, I will be staying out of that completely! That doesn’t mean that I won’t occasionally send a gift card just so she can have some mad money in her pocket.
Vacations and holidays sometimes go together. We were lucky enough to get to go spend Christmas with her. We stayed a LONG time! Probably too long for comfort for the two of them. I’m not really sure how the holidays deal is going to work out. It isn’t as if his family lives much closer than we do. Maybe a couple of hours but no more. His father does come about once a week, but on dairy business, not just to visit. I have determined, though, that working out where they will spend holidays is going to have to be their decision. T.J.’s job isn’t exactly one that he can just decide on the spur of the moment to take a few days and come south. I am determined to be a good mother-in-law and take what time they can give us and be grateful for it. I’m sure I will probably get a bit more possessive when/if grandchildren come in to the picture, but not behaving myself and being gracious would just make their lives miserable. I don’t want to be the relative they tolerate for the occasional visit that, regardless of the length of the visit, lasts much too long. Someone out there, please remind me of this in the years to come. I’m sure I will need an occasional booster kick in the pants.
As is evident, I am just a font of helpful advice! Fortunately, I think, I have been able to keep my wonderful advice to myself and out of my daughter’s marriage. If she asks, what will I do? Answer her. Non-judgmentally, lovingly, and with an eye for fairness. I must remain focused on the topic at hand and remember that she may sometimes simply be venting and not looking for an answer. She hasn’t looked to us to solve her problems in many, many years. Her independent streak is very wide and very distinct. She is also just enough like me that I realize that my taking any side, even hers, could cause a gradual undermining of our relationship. First and foremost it is important to remember that T.J. is her husband. Serious conversations about their problems should be held privately and with no one’s input but each other’s. They are both very young, yet both have also been taught by their parents to make careful, thoughtful, deliberate decisions. That won’t guarantee that all those decisions will work out precisely the way they plan, but then they will know those decisions were their own and weren’t influenced by anyone outside their home. They will just be bumps in the road to their future together. Opportunities from which they can learn and grow stronger. Do I think they can do this? Sure I do. In fact, I know they can. The evidence lies in the looks I see pass between them when they aren’t aware anyone is watching. Their obvious love and concern for each other is obvious. Even now a year later the look in their eyes reflects the same look that was there at their wedding. Their first priority is each other. What mother could ask for more for her daughter?
Erin and T.J., remember to pay attention to little things. Those are the really important things, anyway. Large, expensive gifts make a statement and there are certainly occasions where that sort of thing is appropriate. Your dad has done those things for me, and I remember each and every one. But the ones that touched my heart? The little gestures. You already know the story of when he gave me his heart, both literally and figuratively. I believe I still have them both. Ask me sometime about a particular special evening watching fireworks from a lifeguard stand or a stormy early evening that we spent the time just watching the rain.
You guys are meant to be together – I just know it.