1) For the wedding, my husband and I are in charge of making a reel of photos of our daughter through the years. We sit down one night and dig through boxes and boxes of old pictures — stacks of them, disorganized, dog-eared, scattered. Here she is a lovely, round-headed baby. Here she is an adolescent, a toddler, a first-grader, a young adult.

In the background, old houses and former neighborhoods come and go. Our son is born, then loses his front teeth, then grows up. Friends — so young! still alive!– appear, then vanish. Our earlier selves — my husband’s thick, red hair, my own wild perms, our unlined faces — make appearances here and there. “You have a genius for closing your eyes when someone takes a photo,” my husband notes. “How do you do it?”

Finally, we have a ragged pile of acceptable shots of our daughter. Her body grows, her hair changes, her dear, sweet face is somehow much the same. “She’s always been a beautiful girl,” my husband says.

2) No one elopes these days. Also, the only people who have small weddings are people like us who got married 40 years ago. We talk to other parents and agree: We don’t quite understand our children’s generation, these millennials. Are they traditional? Rebels? Formal, informal? Yes, to all of the above.

They have elaborate proposals and expensive rings. They have websites and stories to tell and photos to show. I go on our daughter’s and her fiance’s website, which is wonderful — part tongue-in-cheek, part radiant happiness. I poke around the gift registry and begin to tear up. I have always had an ambivalent relationship with cookware.

3) There are mothers of the bride who run the show, who want to leave their mark with style and elegance. I am not one of those mothers. I lack the gene for organization, flower arrangements, menus, decor, gift bags. The truth is, I don’t care about things like that at all.

Sometimes I feel like apologizing for my missing Martha Stewart gene, other times I don’t. Every day, I feel grateful that there are people with such an abundance of that gene that they make it into a business. In other words, thank God for wedding planners.

4) Two or three years ago, my husband and I drove to our neighborhood grocery store. As he parked the car, my husband reminded me, “We need to get some yun-yuns.”

We both grinned. Yun-yuns was our daughter’s pronunciation of onions when she was a toddler. It’s a term of no possible interest to any other person on earth except the two of us.

Two people sitting in a parking lot, chuckling over a decades-old mispronunciation: This is a picture of parenthood in its waning years.

5) Yes, but — when do you stop being a parent?

I remember the first big leavetaking when our daughter, our firstborn, left for college 14 years ago. I’m pretty sure my husband lay on the couch for a couple of months, dumbfounded and staring. When he slept, he reported dreams about taking care of a baby. Somehow, that baby had disappeared and he was panicked.

I, in the meantime, routinely approached mothers and babies in the grocery store, drawn irresistibly by some internal force field. I couldn’t stay away and I was lucky I didn’t get a reputation as a deranged stalker who hung out in the produce department. I just wanted to admire them and remember what I seemed to be losing.

Now, we are at an age when our children have surpassed us in so many ways. Our once-looming presence has been greatly reduced. Still, I’ve finally figured out we will both be parents until we die or lose our minds.

6) Maybe you, as the mother of the bride, had glamorous, integral duties at your daughter’s wedding. Maybe it would have fallen apart without you.

Me? My daughter, the former Planned Parenthood speechwriter, is dispatching me to the local office to pick up 100 Planned Parenthood condoms for guests’ gift bags. “I don’t want anybody having unsafe sex at our wedding,” she says.

This mother of the bride: no good at flowers and organization, but highly reliable when it comes to rubbers.

7) In an era when premarital sex is expected, babies are routinely born outside marriage, and divorce rates hover at 50 percent, why is marriage still a big deal? I can’t explain it — since human relationships and families are the most intricate, head-bangingly complex systems on earth. But I do believe in it. When it works, it can make such a profound difference in your life.

I’m delighted to see our daughter with someone who understands her and loves her so well. Oh, sure, he isn’t a Texan yet, but we are going to be working on that. We couldn’t ask for more.

(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read related posts about Get the Guest Burnt Orange and The Proposal: A Family Saga


In the Event of My Obituary

by ruthpennebaker on April 10, 2014 · 14 comments

So, I was having lunch with a friend.  Over the entree, she said she would like to die quickly and unexpectedly.  A heart attack, say, would be her preferred exit.
I really like lunches and friends like this.  I mean, who needs small talk?
I chimed in with my heartfelt conviction that — if anybody asks me my preference — I don’t want to go that fast.  I have too many significant memories from the time I really did think I might be dying, when I had breast cancer in 1995.  It was a time that, however temporarily, changed my life.  I spent every minute I could telling my husband and children and friends how much I loved them and hearing how they felt about me.

It was as if a strong wind had swept through my life and blown away everything small and niggling.  I didn’t want to die without saying every important thing I needed to say.  I didn’t want to save my good clothes for special occasions.  I wore perfume every day.  I tried to take pleasure whenever I could.  What had I been saving myself for, I kept wondering?

And, as I told my friend, I went for six months without ever having to pick up the check for lunch.  Believe me, nobody’s cheap enough to let a cancer patient pay her own way.

But time passes and everything seems OK and it’s easy to go back to being the same emotionally constipated person you always were, splitting the lunch tab with your friends.  I’ve always thought 9/11 was very much like a cancer diagnosis.  Something momentous happens and you believe you’re forever changed.  But it’s amazing (and kind of depressing) how quickly you return to your old habits and ways of being.

NEVERTHELESS.  I still don’t want to drop dead, if I get the choice.  It’s kind of like I worry about going missing and having my husband inform the police about my description.  I’m pretty sure he would get my weight wrong.

Similarly, I want a little time before I die to get a few things straight.  I don’t want to write my own obituary (how self-involved and self-referential can you get?), but would like to hang around so I could gently prompt people around me with little reminders, such as, “Remember that great bon mot I spilled out on New Year’s Eve in 1999, before the fire department showed up to put out our bonfire?  Well, you might want to include that in my obituary.”

I’d also want to be there to set up a few more rules about my obituary, such as:

1) No, I did not fight a valiant battle ever in my life.  Not for anything.  I’m also not brave.

2) No, l probably wasn’t uncomplaining, either, unless I was in a coma.

3) You know this business about “never met a stranger”?  Well, I’ve met plenty of strangers in my life.

4) I’ve also suffered a few fools, gladly and not-so-gladly, but I hate cliches, so don’t even think about that one.

5) My husband is loving, but there’s no need to call him that in my obituary.  He’s also the love of my life, but that’s between him and me.

6) Please, I don’t want to leave anybody behind to “cherish” my memory.

7) I don’t think I ever “lit up a room” in my life, although if I’m cremated, I suppose that might be a distinct possibility.

8) Don’t forget about New Year’s Eve, 1999.  And any other smart or meaningful thing I’ve said or written.  It’s even more important than getting my weight (115) right.

(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about Why I Am No Longer Ashamed of My Little Obsession With Real Estate




Looking Ahead

March 31, 2014

Tell me your resolutions about yourself and I’ll tell you your age.

If you’re full of plans for self-improvement and mastery — primo fitness! fluency in Spanish! writing a book a year! — you’re a lot younger than I am.

If you’re planning a much more modest future — say, hanging on to what you’ve got and not losing it any faster than you have to — you’re probably about my age.

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The Audacity of Hops

March 19, 2014

Oh, brother. I may just have to cut out my incessant reading about the latest new trends about people of a certain age staying fit. Either that or go completely bananas.

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Keep the Old

March 14, 2014

In the past several years, I’ve been to funerals for three friends whose quiet lives ended too soon. I sat in chairs or pews, listening to muffled sobs around me, trying to understand what had been lost — and how I’d failed to fully appreciate these friends when they were alive.

Sometimes, that loss was evident from the beginning, from the first news of a death. Other times, it took weeks for those sharp pangs of missing someone to to seep in and hurt. Unexpected emptiness is its own kind of pain.

Read the full article →

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