The Very Idea

Whatever happened to marriage and kids? Is it a disappearing act? I hear young people (I’m not one of them anymore) telling me that kids are such a burden, that marriage is too traditional, that life is only worth living if you’re free. Maybe it’s true, because the weight of children, the responsibility of them, can be one of the heaviest weights in the world. No matter what we do, we feel we’re failing. And marriage can be weighty, too–full of twists and turns, loyalties and lies, stress and annoyances (it’s not romantic–it’s work, the work of making a relationship the most important part of your life, of prioritizing your spouse over everyone even when that’s hard to imagine doing when he says he wants to get rid of the meowing cats or when I buy too many things from Amazon without telling him).

Whatever happened to it, though? The thought of sticking to someone, to US, to our families? Instead of flippantly ending relationships for mundane reasons such as, “We don’t have anything in common.” Isn’t your love for each other something in common? Can’t you find things that you both enjoy? Can’t you commit to one person for life?

Whatever happened to the joy that children bring, sitting on top of that weight you carry after spending two hours on six problems of long division, tears dry now, reaching up and giving you her red-rimmed-eyes-wide, grateful hug? After dinner conversations where your teen, just a freshman, still opens up about the truth behind her teachers, her crushes, her plans with friends? About your middle child, oh, your middle child, who adapts to every situation, the school she doesn’t like but gets nearly perfect grades in, the troop she’s smack in the middle of and finds friends on either edge of the age spectrum, whose know-it-all attitude and dry humor is sometimes all one needs to laugh off the pain of the day?

Whatever happened to marriage? Both sets of my grandparents were married for more than fifty years, my in-laws as well, and today my parents celebrate the great forty-two. Forty-two years of trials and tribulations, failures and successes, raising two daughters to be both defiant and reserved, working through marital problems, money problems, commonality problems, and finding the answers in each other’s hobbies and habits and smiles.

My mother texted last week to tell me that the husband of what I would consider my third set of grandparents, who had celebrated seventy-two years of marriage and raised three children, had passed away early in August. He was ninety-two. He always had a white beard and dressed like Santa at Christmas. He hugged with his whole body, his arms up under your armpits as if he were going to lift you to the sky. He and his wife drove through every state at least twice and lived through open heart surgery, the death of two of their children, and every one of their friends.

But they had each other. They had their marriage, and it carried them through a long and beautiful life. Their marriage and their commitment to finding commonalities (he liked to drive and she liked to read, so she read aloud to him while he drove).

Is this a lost cause? Will there be no families in our future?

Whatever happened to the idea, the very idea, of truly being committed to something, someone, other than ourselves?

I hope our families, the very idea of families, aren’t lost between tweets and streaks and posts. Between the balancing act of too much and not enough. Between travel and “freedom” and climbing career ladders.

Because without the love and support and commitment of all of my grandparents and in-laws and parents, I wouldn’t know how to function as a human. Without his love, without their small smiles, without my marriage and my family, I would hardly be myself. And what would ever happen to me?

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