In the 48 hours from our pre-wedding dinner with our families to arrival at the honeymoon destination, a series of unfortunate events that in my twenties I would have considered unmitigated disasters, were in my thirties great fodder for future family story-telling.
As we went through the list with our kids over a wedding anniversary brunch this morning, the stories have only ‘improved’ with time.
We regaled them with the one about their Dad getting back to the hotel suite he was sharing with his parents and younger sister, after he and I had stolen some time together post the pre-wedding family dinner. Entering the room for his last night as a single man, he was expecting some sort of ‘moment’ — only to find a chorus of not one, not two, but all three of them snoring in bad harmony. Then we told them how I also arrived at my brother’s house, where I’d moved all my possessions earlier in the day, to find a still and quiet house. And every bed, couch and possible soft sleeping surface taken by extended family gathered from all over the country. After a silent tantrum and “don’t they know I’m the bride?!” moment, I found a quilt and pillow and curled up in the back room on the floor. At least it was carpeted!
The morning of the wedding my mother and I awoke early to meet my hairdresser and make-up artist. Terrible traffic hindered our return and by the time I came out of my room dressed in my ‘going away’ suit, tiny tiara and impossible heels, we realized the only car left at the house was “Dixie’. Dixie was my beaten up wreck of a Toyota covered in rust, with a leaky floor and bench seat in front. She was also a stick shift (manual transmission) and it had been thirty years since my mother had driven a manual car. So I took off my shoes, slung my wedding dress in the back, and drove us both to the Sydney Latter-day Saint temple where we found the rest of our family (and all the nice cars).
The wedding car was a sexy BMW. We swept from the ceremony to the reception on the cliffs of Sydney Harbour, with the sunroof open and the music blasting. School girls gaped as I sped by, waving in my wedding dress. The afternoon and evening were magical, emotional, beautiful. During the speeches, I cried as I acknowledged my impending move to America, leaving almost everyone in the room behind. We were marking endings and beginnings. It was the most wonderful wedding and I loved every moment.
Beloved and I eventually said our goodbyes and sped off. The next morning, alas, the sexy BMW had to be returned and Dixie fetched from where she’d been parked ready for us the night before. With a flat tire. Turns out my brother had taken out the spare. We spent our first morning as a married couple cooling our heels in a gas station on a highway waiting for him to bring us the replacement wheel. As the saying goes, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Just like most people’s lives.
Our kids loved hearing our tales this morning. Some they’ve heard before, some were new. But in the telling, I could see how family identity was being shaped before my eyes. We are our stories. Our stories not only reflect our culture, they shape it. A recent New York Times piece encapsulated this, highlighting current research into what makes strong, resilient families.
The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative…The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges…children who have the most self-confidence have…a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.
The wedding wasn’t perfect. It had crazy, funny and frustrating moments. But the magic was because of those moments, not in spite of them. It’s a metaphor for a marriage that generally works, because of the hard things we face and the ups and downs we experience. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. Narratives don’t have to end happily ever after to be worth telling, nor living. On this day as we celebrate thirteen years since we made eternal promises to each other, and we navigate crazy children and exhaustion and reality, I celebrate my Beloved. I give thanks for our stories. And I pray for decades more of them.Yes, that is a real sky!
What are the stories you tell that create your family’s culture and narrative? I’d love to hear them.