The other day Josh and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. This does not go without saying as we usually forget it altogether. The day we got married also happened to be the birthday of my matron of honour’s husband which was unintentional and fairly insignificant at the time but has come to be very helpful over the years. Several years ago, about a week after this auspicious date, my friend posted photos on Facebook of her husband’s birthday cake. I thought, how lovely. Then I thought, ah crap. If his birthday was last week does that mean that my wedding anniversary was too? I checked a calendar and sure enough, this was so.
So the following year, because as it turns out if you’re bridesmaid to a certain type of bride your duties are never done, my friend txted me early on the day itself. This was very handy because both Josh and I had, once again, totally forgotten. Do you have any idea how much strength of character it took for me not to rush out and get a present and card for Josh so I could act all hurt and stunned that he hadn’t remembered ahead of time? Mostly what stopped me was the knowledge that there was no way he’d seriously believe that I had either. We’re all about the romance, Josh and I. As it happened my father-in-law was staying at the time so with a babysitter on hand we were able to go out to dinner to this truly superior restaurant where I had a dessert that looked just like a bowl of little penises with dipping sauce (Huhu at Waitomo, for locals who got inspired by that). Good married-couple box all ticked.
Because of this type of memory lapse I now typically get messages from several people every year on the morning of our anniversary, just checking in. Turns out it’s not only raising children that takes a village. Because we had the forethought to get married in the school holidays the children in recent years have often been away with their grandparents so we usually get to go out despite the late notice. The mini penises were off the menu this year at Huhu but the dark chocolate orange mousse, brandy basket and berry coulis was well worth the drive.
I am just going to put in a word here in my own defence while I think of it. It’s not my fault that I never remember because we have a daughter with a birthday a few days before our anniversary (okay, 22 days, but really not many in the big scheme of things) and a daughter with a birthday a few days after and they tend to take up all the air-time in our house at that time of year. I once found a piece of paper on which Amy had started writing her autobiography and it began ‘I was born in Dublin half way through my parents’ honeymoon…’ which is quite a large grasping of the wrong end of the stick. I can confirm that she was born a full year and six days after our wedding. Because it was our first anniversary we had both managed to remember that one and as I recall from the way my feet were puffing over the edges of my shoes she was lucky not to have been born half way through dinner at the fancy restaurant.
Anyhoo. When Josh and I met we were seventeen – young enough that he showed he liked me by holding me off a balcony when I wouldn’t give a chess piece back (as I say, all about the romance) – so it’s been a while. Over the dark chocolate and orange mousse we did a bit of reflecting on the high points and it got me thinking about what we’ve achieved that I really value.
Over thirteen years of having children I’ve spent plenty of time beating myself up and obsessing about what I’ve done wrong. I look back at some of my parenting in the early years and cringe. I worried. Don’t we all? Everything I do, every word I say, has the potential to screw them up for life…I shouted again and I promised myself I wouldn’t…if they’re not totally happy all the time I’ve failed them…
I now have a bit more perspective and I can heartily say, bollocks to all that. As a wise elder woman of the tribe (who also happens to work as a family psychologist for a living so I totally believe she knows what she’s talking about) once said to me, you don’t have to be the best parent. You just have to be good enough.
At the time I was worried I wasn’t even that – surely you can screw up your kids by just spending too much time obsessing about screwing up your kids? – but I now know that I am. Of course I am. Just by having my children in a free, affluent and peaceful country I’ve given them benefits many parents can’t even dream of. By being in a stable relationship with their father I’ve helped them on their way. By living in an environment where they don’t know real hunger or cold or fear they’re doing better than too many millions of children around the world. Ticking some big boxes so far.
Then there are the things we as parents have accomplished. Along the way we worried about the details but we can now see the big picture. Our children are healthy. They eat well. They all eat truckloads of fruit and vegetables and milk and bread and what more do you want? There are lollies and ice cream but when the time comes they’ll be heading off into their lives with good eating habits and that’s not nothing. They also sleep well. They go to sleep and stay there until morning and always have. I believed that helping my babies learn to sleep long and well when they were young was one of the biggest life-long favours I could do them, and I did it. If you eat well and sleep well you’ve got some solid life skills under your belt right there. The rest is just window-dressing.
Well, not entirely, I suppose. Maybe it’s more accurate to say, the rest is what they pick up along the way from parents who are living a decent life with values they want their children to absorb. The rest is creating the environment you want and letting them grow up in it as they will. Within that framework, I have come to see, as parents you can and will make plenty of mistakes and it won’t really matter. Some you’ll need to undo and some you’ll need to apologise for but overall there’s a lot of leeway to stop sweating the small stuff. I was a lot more uptight with my first child because I believed that I had to get it right. To get her right. To get everything right. With my last, it’s all about the relationship. It’s not about every individual behaviour, it’s about the connection. We’re connected, my baby and I. As a result my oldest has a lot of anxiety at times and my youngest runs rings around all of us, which is maybe not ideal. There are things I still need to work on with both of them, and with the ones in the middle. Of course there are. But I’m no longer concerned that I’m not good enough. My children are more or less turning out normal, and that was what I really wanted for them. To be happy and healthy. To just be.
So I say, bring on the dessert penises and chocolate mousse, even if we need reminding again next year. Forgetting the odd anniversary doesn’t matter in this house. We know what’s important.