“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made . . .”
- Robert Browning
Robert Browning’s immortal verse is written on my heart. It gives sweet hope to those of us who measure our marriages in decades rather than years. Where there once was magic, his poem implies, there surely can be again. The best is yet to be!
We humans follow a fairly predictable pattern into adulthood. In general, we are naturally predisposed to seek a suitable mate. We fall in love; we marry. We are deliriously happy. After a time, an echo rings softly, then more audibly, in our heads, becoming impossible to ignore: a baby. An insistent biological and emotional need to reproduce urges us forward to take the plunge into parenthood.
As every parent knows, it’s no exaggeration to say that a baby changes everything. A baby definitely changes a marriage. I know that my husband felt like he’d been demoted to playing second fiddle when our first baby was born. I was completely smitten with motherhood, to the point that my long-suffering husband had a legitimate complaint. For a short time, he really was second on my list of loves. I mean, I loved him as much as ever, but oh, that baby girl! I adored everything about her, with a passion of frightening strength. I had become a mama lion.
Then came a second baby, then a third, then a fourth, bringing their own fierce love with them. In the blink of an eye, we were a family of six. Our house was full of life, bursting with constructive chaos. Our four girls came with an array of tears, exuberance, drama, activities, braces, periods, licenses, proms, diplomas, accomplishments, tendernesses, losses, loves: the stuff of living.
Then they started to fledge. Where there were four, suddenly there were three. Then two. One. Zero. And just as suddenly, we are back to being just us. Our carefully constructed nest has emptied. Our challenge is to figure out who we are now.
Because parenthood changes us! With conscious effort and a little luck, we parents change and grow together. In the face of complex parenting issues, we seek to present a united front while we are actively raising our children. We share many joys and sorrows, worries and delights, as our children are growing up, in the course of which we are formed and matured ourselves. But even as our partnership evolves, we remain the two creatures who fell in love all those years ago. We have on our side history, friendship, and intimacy. We also have, if we have remembered to build it little by little, our holy temple of marriage, sheltering us from sundry storms.
My husband and I are a nation of two again, and after a period of mourning for the last of those babies, we find this new chapter of life to our liking. While we must both continue to fulfill our obligations, we’ve discovered that when we are home together, we feel serene and happy. We are sometimes even a little giddy. If we want to order a pizza, watch a movie, lock the front door and pretend we aren’t home, be romantic, possibly do any of these things while it’s still daylight, we can. What stolen moments of indulgence! For so many years, our time together as a couple was after hours, when children were sleeping, when everything else was done, under cover of night. We feel a bit like newlyweds lately, even if our graying hair and seasoned bodies might indicate otherwise.
We have all heard stories about marriages that end when the kids leave. The kids pack up and move out, and it turns out that the kids have taken everything with them. The couple in love is gone. Two strangers, uneasy roommates, remain. Or perhaps the marriage never officially ends on paper, even though it ended long ago in spirit. A marriage can become an empty shell, an exercise in futility, a sinking boat unable to weather those storms after all.
But maybe we couples can avoid that sad ending. Now that I am half of an older couple, I am officially qualified to urge younger couples: Lay your groundwork now! As you embark on the grand adventures of matrimony and parenthood, try not to lose sight of what makes the two of you uniquely and wonderfully you. Do things together, and do things separately, too. Nurture your romance. Treat your marriage like a rare and precious plant, a living thing that you must care for daily. Treat each other with kindness and respect.
“I can’t see me loving nobody but you / For all my life . . . “ sang the Turtles in the olden days. Living your whole life, before and after children, with the person you love most is a blessing. To all the June brides and grooms who will make their vows of lifelong commitment and undying love, I say: Be happy together. Glow for each other, and grow with each other, so that the best is yet to come.