At age nine, I had an epiphany. I was watching my parents holding hands as we walked across a parking lot after a football game. It was late afternoon, and they were in front of me, their silhouettes tilted toward each other intimately. It was a jolt: the first time I perceived them as something separate from me. They were my parents, but now I saw that they were also a couple, a man and a woman who had fallen in love and whose happiness was captured in those black-and-white wedding photos and who still loved each other enough to hold hands on an autumn afternoon.
Now I am the mother, and I’ve been caught. “Close your eyes,” my 11-year-old tells my 8-year-old. “Mom and Dad are kissing in the kitchen again.” Of course they both watch us, giggling from behind their masks of fingers. When they can’t stand it anymore, they hop onto our backs. They want their kisses, too. My husband and I kiss in the kitchen, we kiss in the hallway, and sometimes we even make out on the front porch. I believe it’s healthy for us to kiss in front of our children. It’s good for them, like fresh air and clean clothes. It helps them grow in tender and nurturing ways.
As much as I think of us as a couple in love, albeit four daughters later, our children see us as their parents first. The dawning realization that we have a separate identity as man and woman comes at different ages. I know our two older children’s initial reaction to learning how babies are made was to picture Mom and Dad doing such a ludicrous thing. “No way!” they said, “Not my parents!” (Or, as a friend’s child said with a sweet smile upon learning the mechanics of sex: “I think I’ll adopt.”) Now I imagine that, as teenagers, they are faintly repulsed at the idea that we “do it.” Our middle-schooler, on the cusp of many things, regards us thoughtfully as she works things out. Our youngest still knows we are entirely hers.
Our children have never caught us in the act, I’m happy to say. There was a close call years ago, when, just as we were catching our breath, a light shone in our eyes. It was the beam of a circus flashlight, a gift that day from Grandpa, followed by a weaving, half-asleep child making her way to our bedroom. No police spotlight could ever seem brighter than that flashlight did. After that we locked our bedroom door.
Although it’s possible that our children have heard us making love, we take our precautions. We check on young sleepers. We say goodnight to teenagers holed up in their rooms, music safely blaring. We close our curtains, light the candles, check the door lock again and attack each other. In some ways we are like wayward teenagers ourselves, sneaking around, having surreptitious sex, giddily celebrating the rarely empty house. But while our lovemaking is discreet, our physical affection for each other is not. Our children have grown up with the awareness that we dig each other.
Married sex continually delights with its intimacy, its innovation, its deepening appreciation for the physical gift of the other. It becomes more pleasurable with time, trust and love. It’s easy to buy into the advertising line that sex is only for the young and beautiful. But the better portion secretly belongs to us: the faithfully married, even with our deepening lines and softer bellies, our visible veins and the gray threads in our hair. Yes, there are dry spells, when life is so busy that we collapse into bed exhausted. We don’t have time for sex, as it’s not on the to-do list. But sooner or later it makes its way to the top of the list, as we drop everything and feast on each other. Then we realize why we’ve been so grumpy lately. Why don’t we do this more often? we ask. It is a question with no good answer.
We are touchers; we are huggers. We hold hands when we walk. Our touching is an expanding circle. We snuggle and smooch our kids. Our teenagers can only handle a brief arm around their shoulders without embarrassment. But this parental touch is just as important as inhaling their baby-sweet necks used to be. A child who is loved and touched affectionately at home is less likely to seek physical gratification elsewhere.
We touch, we love. We have four vivid, beautiful daughters, the fruit of the power of this awesome thing we do with God. Are we role models for their future relationships? I hope so. And I hope the old adage about looking for someone just like dear old Dad is not far from the truth. I could wish them no greater joy than the magic of a touchable marriage.
My parents are soon to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. The waters of joy and sorrow, of success and disappointment, of anger and forgiveness have flowed mightily under their bridge. Yet along their journey, their touches of love have enthralled, have soothed, have healed.
My parents are my daughters’ history and roots. My daughters are my parents’ hope and affirmation. My daughters think their grandparents are adorable as they share their vitamins at the breakfast table and correct each other’s stories of long ago, of the Navy and hard times and their first baby daughter.
I notice that they walk more slowly. They still hold hands.