Monthly Archives: August 2014

50 Years

My best friend’s parents will have been married for 50 years this month.  Fifty years.  Living side by side while they jockeyed through careers, children, parents, finances.  Fifty years of tolerating, compromising, communicating, sighing, partnering, and in their case, laughing. “Aren’t they lucky?” you might think, but luck has nothing to do with it.

I first met them when they were about 20 years into their journey, having moved from Ohio to Tennessee.  By that time, they already had three girls and a boy, ranging from high school to kindergarten.  Their home was full of noise, laundry, chore divisions, and chaos.  I loved it.

I’m from a big family too—I’m the fourth of five—but by the time I met the Bettler’s, my older siblings had already left home and we were down to just my younger brother and me. Our house by comparison was very, very quiet.  We had easy dinners for four each evening after school, while they had Kitchen Productions—each family member playing a role in the cast of some hilarious unscripted play that unfolded nightly, with multiple “exit stage lefts” as one left to go to some sports practice, another had to finish an assignment, and the others argued over who was supposed to cook the side dish and who was supposed to load the dishwasher.  Glorious.

He was a chemist and she was going back to teaching now that her nestlings were all school aged.  The way they complemented each other was obvious.  She organized.  He guided and coached.  She planned and nurtured.  He listened and offered comic relief.  A well-oiled machine.  I thought of them as my second parents since their oldest daughter and I were best friends, and we were at their house so often that I’m surprised I didn’t find my name on the duty roster.

After I left for college and they moved up north, I didn’t see much of the Bettler’s anymore, but they were always in the back of my mind as I kept up through my best friend.  I got the annual informative Christmas card like everyone else, followed the multiple marathons that Bud ran—still runs!—and always looked forward to seeing pictures of him in whatever goofy hat he decided to don for the latest race.  Barb was proud of her students and the Odyssey of the Mind competitions she headed on their behalf.   And the grandchildren!  They multiplied quickly over the years and were scattered all over the place, necessitating frequent trips to spoil them all just right.

When I lost my own mother too early—she was 55 and my parents had been married 33 years—I immediately thought of Barb as “mom.”  Whether she knew it or not, when I had my own children and started juggling life, I often thought of her and her family and asked myself what Barb would do in a given situation.  I was at the end of my rope at one point, wrestling with worry over my teenaged daughter, and I wrote asking her advice.  She didn’t get ruffled or act appalled at the ruin I’d apparently made of my child.  In her calm, sweet way she made me feel like I was “doing ok” and that it would all work out, which it did.  When I found her note in the mailbox that day, I cried all the way through it, feeling as though my own mom had been able to give me a reassuring hug and listening ear.

A few years back, our family was on a quest of visiting all 50 of the United States.  We were able to stop in at their house in Delaware and spend a warm, hospitable evening as we checked off another state.  Being the Steve Martin of Granddad’s, Bud knew just what to do to engage my son, Ben.  He treated my children like interesting, intelligent people in their own right, and Ben, now almost 15, still refers to that visit and the cool joke book that Mr. Bettler gave him.

Only 5% of couples make it to their 50th anniversary.  For some, like my parents, the C-word dashes their chances.  For others, they get married at a later age and time just doesn’t allow them to make it that long.  But in the majority of cases, most people just give up.  They let the tedium of everyday life and the stress of children, money, jobs, and car trouble make them forget that once upon a time they actually liked each other.

What’s so readily apparent when you meet the Bettler’s, whether today or over 30 years ago, is that they actually DO like each other.  They always took time to work on their marriage in spite of life’s busyness, treating their union like one of their children, needing to be fed, cared for, and nurtured.   They are true spiritual partners, helping each other grow to be better, serving together in their church and community with the Stephen Ministry and other avenues.    Mentally, they are equal and active, always learning new skills or developing new talents like photography.  They share books.  Physically, they stay active together, running or ball room dancing or traveling.   Emotionally, they support one another, whether through retirement, the death of a parent or the birth of a grandchild.  They’re social butterflies, meeting new people and finding other people interesting.  It’s no wonder that they have been able to reach the fifty-year mark, really.  They have been the perfect fit for each other in every area that matters.  Because they’ve been solid, they’ve been able to raise four successful, independent, thoughtful children who are decent and good.

My husband and I are not quite to the quarter-century point in our marriage.  We often look to the Bettler’s as an example of where we’d love to be in another 25+ years—still enjoying each other, still active and happy, and still working on tolerating, communicating, and appreciating each other, able to laugh often, especially at ourselves.  We have a sign above our bed that bears a line by Robert Browning: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”  Bud and Barb have lived that out in their life together, and it’s been beautiful to watch.  I look forward to the Christmas cards and their tales of family and joy for many more years!

Happy Anniversary!

 

College Bound

 I packed my firstborn off to college last week. Loaded up the car with a ridiculous over-estimation of how much stuff was actually vital to have and spent several hours in the August sun schlepping it all from the parking lot into the 12×12 new space she will now be calling “home.”  Mini fridge, check. Bedspread, check. Every item of clothing she’s ever owned, check.

We were so busy rearranging furniture, meeting the new roomies, and unloading the car that we never really had time to be maudlin about the whole affair.  By the time we left, having handed off insurance information, a check for that last bit of tuition, and a Starbucks gift card just for fun, we were exhausted.  Besides, I felt it in my bones:  after months of college tours, research, and scholarship applications, she was in the right place.

We’d spent the past 17 years in preparation for this moment, right?  From those first steps as a toddler, she was independence-bound, this one, determined to do it herself.  And she has.  She has eagerly tried new things, met new people, traveled new places with courage and a bravery I certainly lacked at her age.  Her dad and I held her hands for a little while (but not long!) until her 16th birthday arrived, the car keys were handed off, and we started to see less and less of our daughter.  Between school, friends, and two jobs, she was always on the go.  And as of last weekend, she has officially landed in a space of her own.  Which is how it’s supposed to be, what you strive for as a parent:  a confident, curious, independent, secure kid.

My husband is a veterinarian, and one day at the office he was discussing the training of a young border collie with his colleague.  The sweet natured black and white pup was set to try his skills that day as he herded cattle for the first time.  It’s what these dogs are bred to do, work that they crave, and you know you’ve trained him over and over with signals, rewards, punishments, and by letting him slowly get the hang of the job by circling flocks of geese and sheep first.  But that first day out with the cows, when he’s bristling with excitement, keyed up and waiting for the release, you still feel anxious and worried as your whistle sends him out to round up the hulking 600-pound beasts, with horns and hooves of steel.  Despite knowing what he’s doing, having prepared for it incessantly since birth, he can still get his head kicked in.  As my husband relayed this conversation to me, I nodded. Yep.  Kinda like dropping off your only daughter on a college campus to face that 600-pound world you’ve been practicing on.

She never was really mine to begin with.  Oh, I got the privilege of small arms around my neck, watching her see and experience things for the first time (dandelions, a pony’s nose, chocolate).  I took her temperature and applied band aids when needed.  But all this time she’s been on loan to me and I knew at some point the day would come when I’d have to give her back to her Father, trusting I’d crammed in all the knowledge and wisdom I could in 17 short years.  And trusting that He knows the plans He has for her, He knows the blessings He’ll provide if she just asks.

For high school graduation, we gave her a necklace with a compass charm on it, the longitude and latitude of our address engraved on it, so she’d always remember to find her way home.  I think she’ll remember where she came from, but more importantly I hope she keeps her eyes on where she’s headed as she’s making discoveries and having the time of her life in the next four years.

When we went out to dinner the other night, my son told the hostess there were three of us to be seated.  I started to correct him–“Four,” I started to say.  But he was right.  I got a little lump in my throat then, as I realized our little family unit really had changed for good.  I kind of lost my appetite for quesadillas.  But she texted me during dinner:  “I’m meeting so many cool people, and I love it here!”   She’s got this.   Pass the salsa.  Good luck, kiddo, and watch out for the cows.

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