As I was going into Mass Sunday morning, I saw a young mom struggling with a preschooler, a toddler, and a bulky, heavy infant seat. I helped her with the door and pushed away a now familiar pang. I know it is a struggle; that stage of parenting is super hard. But I liked it. No, I really, really loved it. Revelled in it. I miss it.
Last September, Mike and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to northern California. It was Mike's idea--completely, totally, and 100% Mike's idea. He's been many times for business and he was certain I'd love it there. I was certain that I have a fear of airplanes and earthquakes and being very far from my children. I was certain that Sarah Annie was not going to be thrilled about weaning (despite the fact that she was absolutely old enough). I was certain it was imprudent to plan any sort of trip out of town during the first week of the school year. He was gently insistent.
I was nervous, too. We'd never been away from our children for a whole week. Come to think of it, we'd never really spent a week together without him working since 1996. And that was the one vacation we'd taken in all our married life. What if we got bored with each other? I knew that this season--the one begun when Michael's engagement coincided with the obvious fact that our baby days are over--was not the season I'd always lived in my dreams. That was the season just ending. What if I hated this season?
He wanted to start in Napa, in wine country. I didn't drink wine. What in the world was he thinking? I am the child who saw alcoholism up close and personal. Wine sets off buzzers and beepers and PTSD. Wine? Seriously? He was thinking that I love agriculture, that I throw myself headlong into the land and I want to see it and smell it and touch it and taste it and... well, frankly winemaking is the total package. I was dubious.
But I said yes. One morning, under a deadline, I emailed him this column to proofread. And at the very end, I wrote "Let's go to San Francisco. I trust you."
So we did.
I know he worried as we drove away from the San Francisco airport. I tried to look cheerful, but my heart sunk. It was pretty ugly. But then, as we drew near to Sausalito,the cloud lifted and my soul soared. From that moment on, the trip was absolutely everything he'd hoped and so much more than I imagined.
First, the whole wine thing was a huge success. I loved Napa valley. Just absolutely loved it. And, now, I kind of like wine, too. It's a hobby we share. From there, the trip just kept surprising me with joy.
One night, in Monterey, after I'd skipped down Cannery Row (yes, really, skipped), and flitted through a Ghirardelli shop, and inhaled the beach at sunset (the first time I'd ever seen the sun set over the water), we had dinner outdoors. Actually, we ate outdoors almost every night, but on this night, I remember revelling in the idea that no matter how empty our house became, the "us"--Mike and me together--would be so full. And I think I was a little surprised.
So, last Sunday at Mass, when that familiar wave of want washed over me, I remembered sharing wine and conversation on the water in Monterey. I remembered that we did this, but I had a growing sense that there is true renewal in this season of life. The end of childbearing isn't the end; it's the beginning of something even deeper.
I nearly cried when Father began his homily by saying that the wine in the wedding at Cana is a symbol of joy and the wedding is analagous to marriage itself. He went on to explain that everyone expects the good wine at the beginning and so, too, everyone focuses on the giddy joy of the newly married years. For us, those were good years. And "giddy" is an excellent word for them. We worked super hard. We also giggled. A lot.
Father went on to say that the bridal couple doesn't even notice as the joy begins to run out. It's the Blessed Mother who watches over the pair and it's she who points to the solution to the problem of lack. Do whatever he tells you. And then, everyone is surprised by the abundant excellent wine later in the wedding celebration. Later in marriage. There is this growing sense of forever joy. Forever.
Fine, miraculous, consecrated, holy. Joy.
We can drink deep and give thanks.