Love, or the number twelve - FamilyEducation

Love, or the number twelve

July 07,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

We had a fabulous, chaotic, fun weekend, and my son's eighth birthday party went beautifully, right down to the weather that threatened on and off all day Saturday and then promptly changed for the worse the minute we walked out the pool doors and headed for home, a little after 3:00. I have lots to write about, including pictures of the favors if I can get them loaded onto the site, but I'll save that party lowdown for tomorrow, since today is another special day: my twelfth wedding anniversary.

The first thing Scott and I thought about when I had to check into the hospital for a rush induction on July 5, 2000 (a routine ultrasound showed I had no amniotic fluid left) was how we would be sharing our July 7 wedding anniversary with L. for the rest of our lives. It didn't seem so bad then--the idea of almost merging as one both the day we got married and the day our first child was born to us, cementing forever the bond we would share from that day on. That particular wedding anniversary--the one we spent in the hospital as new parents--was unforgettable, of course. The nurses wished us happy anniversary and gave us a card, the atmosphere was festive and joy-filled, even if I didn't feel much like celebrating (it's hard to be too festive when you're recovering from a brutally hard labor and feel as if the lower half of your body was temporarily split in two and then rejoined again). But then we had brought that little person into the world, the two of us, only four years after the day we had stood at the front of the chapel on the campus grounds where we had both practically grown up.

I've been thinking a lot about marriage lately. Two weeks ago in class I had my students do a different sort of exercise on description. (When you're teaching freshman comp for the second time in a row to a different batch of summer-school students, you're always on the lookout for ways to shake things up a bit.) I had them write down a paragraph describing their ideal lifetime companion. There was much snickering and giggling about it, of course, but they threw themselves into the task. What I was struck by the most was how static their descriptions were--they're young, after all. For them, I think, the idea of lifelong love just doesn't move much past the superficialities: nice skin, nice body, long hair/short hair, well-built, good credit (really!), able to hold a job. They don't realize that the person they will end up committing to may or may not have any of those things, and that the most important criterion of all will be whether or not they will be able to grow together. True love and commitment are organic things, not some static, made-to-order concepts. You have to be able to hold onto the sight of that core person you fell in love with--the spark that ignited it all, and keep sight of it through all the tough times. People change and grow, and a marriage changes and grows, too; it rides out the rough patches, thrives under the smooth and joyful parts. It's hard work, much like parenting, always evolving, always challenging.

The day after I gave my students the description assignment, we packed up and went to the beach for a quick weekend. One of the most beautiful things I saw that weekend--something that I have thought about constantly since then because it seems to me to capture so purely what enduring love means--was a couple in their seventies, holding hands as they braved the breakers farther in, laughing as they charged into the white waves. They bobbed up and down together for a bit, riding out the waves, and then moments later they appeared again, this time heading back to the shore, still holding hands. They were so clearly in love, so clearly no different than all the other young, tanned, and beautiful couples at the beach that day; the years fell away from them as easily as the salt water running off their shoulders, leaving a trail of all their love receding in their wake, then surging forward again, unmistakable to all.

I thought to myself then, corny though it might sound: I want us to be that couple some thirty years from now. I want that, exactly that.