Flaws meet faith at a family wedding

A family wedding lets us reconnect with relatives, revisit memories, and reflect on the bond that draws families together.

That’s what I did last weekend, when I attended the wedding of my husband’s cousin’s son. While neither of us knew the groom well and had never met the bride, we were happy to visit with so many relatives gathered in one place.

Goin’ to the Chapel

The wedding itself was a suburban Los Angeles affair. Held at a wedding chapel on a trafficked boulevard, the event was relaxed but efficient, a bit impersonal although personalized. The “chapel” had a front room with wooden folding chairs and stained glass windows. Adjacent to it was the dining room, where guests retired immediately for the reception and dancing with a DJ.

Like any wedding, this one had its “moments.” Face it: planning (and paying for!) a wedding is hard. For example, it’s tough to find a bridesmaid dress that suits the array of figure types most weddings entail. Selecting soloists can also be tricky — there were three long minutes last weekend when I focused on the carpet design and thought about serious things in order to keep from giggling. But that was me. Most likely there was a reason behind choice they made.

Weddings can be particularly dicey occasions nowadays, when multiple sets of parents and blended families are the norm. This event was no different, as the groom’s parents divorced years ago. Both halves of his family, plus the bride’s relatives, spent several hours in the same building, but we barely interacted. Photos and table assignments gave us individual versions of a communal event.

This wedding was a notable day for our family, an unforgettable one for the bride and groom. No matter whether the setting is a wedding chapel in California, a cathedral in London, a courthouse in San Francisco or

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Last first day of school

First day of school photo

Yesterday I took my last “first day of school” photo. I have thirty-nine such photos, thirteen of each child. I’ve stashed them in various places around my house or on the hard drive of my computer. But yesterday’s was the last one. The final picture I would take of my child on his or her way to another year — a year of growing up, of learning in the classroom, of learning about himself.

 

 

With my last one leaving home next year, I will have completed my task of raising my children. It seems as though this is all I’ve ever done, all I was ever meant to do. At the same time, it also seems they were here for just an instant.

It’s strange to reflect that my greatest achievement is essentially done. I’m 50 years old, and I’m done.

I don’t feel “done.” As their first-grade teacher had our older kids chant, “Cakes are done, pies are done, people are finished.” I don’t feel “finished” either, though.

 

First Day of School Kindergarten.jpg

 

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My daughter turns 20 today

Today my incomparable daughter turns twenty. It sounds trite to say, “I was there when you were born.”  But I was, actually.

 

 

Where did two decades go? I can see the passage of time in the wrinkles on my own face, but it seems like such a short while ago that I was pushing a double stroller, doling out Cheerios and wondering how I’d make it to the end of the day.

I loved parenting young children, and in my memory those years take on a rosy glow.  But truth be told, it wasn’t always so delightful, so feel-good, arts-‘n-crafts-sy. Baby #2 (Sarah) challenged me with her strength of voice, of will, of personality.  I think she was one of those “spirited children.” But since my first two kids were born seventeen months apart, there were a number of years when I didn’t get past the first chapter of my books — so I never benefited from much of Mary Sheedy Kurchina’s advice. I did, however, enjoy re-visiting classics from my own childhood: Goodnight Moon, Ferdinand the Bull and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

 

 

Now she’s nearly grown.  Not much left for me to do but be her friend, occasional mentor and guide, and forever biggest fan. Happy Birthday, Sarah!  I love you!

 

 

Bring back the joy!

There’s a sign I drive by most weeks, usually on my way to play tennis.  Although it stands outside a car repair shop, it reminds me of a resolution I made when my tendency to self-judge was sucking the fun out of my chosen sport.  I decided, in short, to bring back the joy.

Before choosing to look for joy in tennis, I thought what would bring me pleasure was playing better, so I focused on that alone.  I took lessons, watched videos, read books, kept track of wins and losses.  And guess what?  I didn’t play better, and I didn’t enjoy myself.

Step back, and it’s obvious.  A recreational activity like tennis should be enjoyable – if not, what’s the point?  But it’s easy, especially for us women who’ve given up careers and are looking for a way to evaluate “productivity” outside of making school lunches and coordinating book fairs, to take something we do for fun and start to measure our progress.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  But I let it go too far – I lost perspective.  I lost the joy.

No more.  I’m taking practical steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  To start, I remind myself constantly: “bring back the joy.”  It’s one of the things I say to myself during matches.  Or I ask myself on tough points, “Are we having fun?”  Because whether I win or lose the point, I want to enjoy playing it, and not “having fun” usually means tightening up and playing worse anyway.

Here’s another one, but it’s a bit touchy.  These days I avoid playing with people whose styles don’t match up well with mine.  Many times, it means I try not to partner with women who are more serious and intent on winning.  It’s not that I don’t care about winning – but if I concentrate on the score too much, or think about whether I’m living up to my partner’s expectations for me, I start making more mistakes. I feel bad about playing poorly, so I play worse – it’s a downward spiral.  My progress is slow, but I’m learning to put negative thoughts aside, stay loose and have a good time.  This helps me play better.

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What YOU think of me is YOUR business

I’ve blogged about tennis failures – things like how I’ve let my emotions get the best of me, or how my game has suffered due to a “crisis of confidence.” But I also want to pass along what I’m learning about how to overcome these problems.  My tennis journey may be a long one, but it’s not so different from other roads I’ve traveled.  In fact, there are days when my “tennis journey” and “the midlife passage” have a lot in common.  And I don’t just mean the effects of gravity.

 

I reached a point where I felt as though I had invested so much time and money in learning a sport, watching the pros play it, buying trendy clothes for it, and even taking some “tennis vacations,” that I felt I deserved to be playing better than I was.  I held myself to a higher standard than I should have and was constantly evaluating my improvement against better players.  As a result, I was always coming up short.  By my own standards, I was never going to measure up, never going to get out of my USTA 3.0 “rut.”

But at the same time as I was tired of not improving, I felt locked in: I had put so much of myself into tennis, for so long, that I didn’t want to quit.  I was addicted to an activity that wasn’t going anywhere for me.  Aside from a bit of exercise and socializing on the court, I couldn’t point to many positives about my involvement with tennis – I wasn’t having fun, and I could have gotten a better workout by going to the gym.

 

So what started my turnaround?  Well, I was complaining about my frustration  with poor play in matches and my irritating “voice of judgment” to Coach Alan Margot.  He told me, “You can’t silence the voice, but tell it to quiet down.  When you worry about what other people are the court are thinking about you, remind yourself, as if you were speaking to them: ‘What YOU think of me is YOUR business.’”

This seems simple, but it’s deep.  For years I’ve taken ownership of how others perceive me on the tennis court, and more generally, in most other sectors of my life.  Since I’d rather please people, I end up pressuring myself to make a better shot than I’m capable of, let my partner choose when she wants to serve and whether she wants the ad or deuce side in doubles, try for a heroic poach when simply getting the ball back over the net would be good enough.  Outside of tennis, I rearrange my own schedule to accommodate an appointment that works better for my husband, or I ask a friend to give me a ride so my son can use my car.

At the end of the day, however, I don’t feel satisfied about setting aside my best interests in order to make others happier.  I’m not sure they even notice my efforts, to tell you the truth.  But it’s helpful to acknowledge that what someone else thinks of me is his or her responsibility, not mine.  It doesn’t give me license to be obnoxious — rather, it reduces a burden I shouldn’t be carrying anyway.

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