For anyone who's read this far along in the three part vow renewal report, thanks for following along (if you are just stopping by for the first time since I've been writing about renewing our vows, feel free to check out why we did it and highlights from the ceremony). There have been many times when describing this process has felt long-winded and a bit cumbersome. I hope that, if nothing else, my sharing encourages you to pay attention to your own life's unfolding; to what chapter you're in, what chapter is on the horizon, and to your own role in the emergent story. Life as a general rule, is beyond our control; but the story we choose to tell about it, the way we tell it, and who we share it with, those choices are at the heart of who we are and who we become. "Good stories have the power to save us...The best resource against the world's stupidity, meanness and despair is simply telling the truth...We can all make a difference by simply sharing our own stories with real people in real times and places." --Mary Pipher Thanks for indulging me this particular story about renewing our wedding vows. I'd really love to hear about what is unfolding for you...
As if on cue, the month following our renewal has utterly reinforced the the core experience of our vow renewal. Indeed, we are in a different marriage than we entered into in September 2000. The twenty-something dreams of who we were and who we would be come have given way to this:
Chicken soup: love, attention, and caring cooked up as necessary.
Five cases of an upper respiratory virus (mucus as thick as udon noodles, paired with a hacking cough, maybe you’ve had that one), one case of pneumonia, three stomach flus, and two documented cases of influenza with fever over 102, all have combined to remind me of the fundamental nature of our life together as a family. We are together to take care of each other. In healthier times I am vulnerable to letting this basic concept drift toward a kind of ongoing personal and family optimization that is well supported by our local culture. But as illness set in, I was reminded of a great quote by Ann Patchett, from her book, What Now, in which she says “waitressing is not a leadership position.” I'd second that and add, nor is parenting through the stomach flu.
This past month has amounted to many gallons of chicken soup made, many loads of laundry done, many temperatures taken, many miles driven to find prescription drugs, many trips to the doctor, many more up-all-nights than we’ve in a long time, and a few trips to the vet too. There is not much else, in the normal course of things, that could highlight so well, just how different our marriage is now than it was when we entered it in September 2000.
Which leads me to what we learned by renewing our wedding vows...
1. I'll say it again, we've changed. Starting with deciding to renew our vows, building through the preparation of the ceremony, and culminating in saying our wedding vows again, the process we went through gave us a landscape view of the last twelve and a half years. Actively cultivating an awareness of how different our life is now than it was in 2000 resulted in a very intense experience of both strength and tenderness when saying our vows. The words felt more weighted, and I felt much more soft hearted about the future and what it will hold for us than I did on our wedding day.
2. And yet our story continues. In this process I've felt especially grateful to my father in-law who married us. In our wedding ceremony he read from the Velveteen Rabbit. It was wonderful in 2000, but it was even better in our family friendly renewal One night before the renewal we read it to the girls. They loved it. And after reading it in bed one night, it then anchored them and resonated for them during the ceremony. I am really touched by how this reading is getting a kind of family patina, and this will definitely impact how I help couples pick readings in the future.
3. Love stays the same, but gets acted out in a very specific way in each of life's chapters. I loved taking stock in what love looks like in our family right now. By approaching it very specifically (I'm not shy about admitting I copped the idea directly from the ultimate source of wisdom: Charlie Brown) the kids were able to participate, and we were able to articulate both what we believe and what we actually do based on those beliefs.
4. Witnesses are important. Originally we had planned to do the renewal privately, just the family. But it turned out that family friends were only able to meet up with us on the day of the ceremony. Initially I had hesitated to have a lot of witnesses, because I thought it would distract the kids and make it too big of a deal for them, and I actually think I was right on that front. However, I also became aware of the fact that I really wanted to be low key about what we were celebrating. I think this was a good instinct too. That said, the dynamic shifts when others are bearing witness to your experience. As participants we became more vulnerable, more exposed. And I think sharing that part of ourselves with the right people was a good thing. In addition, when we said our vows again, our friends had the experience of feeling the magnitude of their vows again (this also happens at weddings), and that was also a good thing.
5. We are moving grains of sand and they are piling up--in a good way. In processes like parenting and partnering, there are a lot of small moments, a lot of little tasks and chores and interactions that transpire in a day. From one day to another or one week to another, it is hard to get a sense of what all of these granular moments add up to. And yet, I can feel that something is accumulating, that our skill set, if you could call it that at all (it is more like the un-skill set, the learning process of just showing up, staying, and holding on when there is nothing to be done, no resolution, no outcome, just support and time passing) seems to be growing, steadying, becoming something. Though I’m not even sure what I could call it. Whatever it is, wasn’t there in September of 2000, and now, after facing some individual challenges, three births, two miscarriages, injured friends, sick kids, and the like, something has taken root. It feels simultaneously more vulnerable and more solid--maybe you could call it faith? No matter what you call it, the fact that our grains of sand are piling up into something imbued with that kind of wholehearted goodness, well, that does seem worth celebrating.
PS For those of you who were at our wedding, doesn't Graham look just like he did when he made his toast at our rehearsal dinner. I think you will know what I'm talking about :-)
"Maitri is translated in a lot of ways, maybe most commonly aslove, but the way Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche translated it wasunconditional friendliness and in particular unconditional friendliness to oneself."
Spencer Family Wedding Vow Renewal February 24, 2013 Honolulu, HI Ceremony Highlights Introduction
Spencer family, you are gathered together here at the beach in Hawaii to celebrate love in your family. Your Mom and Dad have decided, that after 12 and a half years that they would like to renew their wedding vows. Renewing wedding vows means that your mom and dad, at this moment in time are choosing to breathe fresh life into the promises they made when they got married such a long time ago. Invocation Officiant:
Dear ocean waves
Dear warm sand between our toes
Dear grandmas and grandads
Dear aunts and uncles
Dear Ed and Frannie
and all the invisible mysteries
who love us so dearly
Thank you for this day
and this time to be together.
Bless this family.
Keep us healthy and safe.
Help us to experience each day
as an opportunity to grow
in love and tenderness.
And may we always remember
that our most important purpose
in this family
and in life
is to love and be loved.
AMEN Declaration of Love in our family
Love is what keeps families together. It is a force like gravity. It holds you close to each other like planets in a solar system or like atoms in a molecule. It is invisible, but we see it all the time.
Dad, Mom, Gwendolyn and Chloe:
Love is having a stuffy AND lego party.
Love is making sure nobody walks out the door without getting a hug.
Love is giving someone a genuine apology when you’ve gotten a little mad.
Love is telling a silly joke to make someone laugh.
Love is holding hands every now and then, even if you think you might be too big for that.
Love is Chloe and Gwendolyn stories.
Love is building forts together.
Love is pats from Eloise.
Love is a nighttime snuggle with Chloe.
Love is a morning hug from Gwendolyn.
Love is dancing together in the family room.
Love is making pancakes on Sunday.
Love is speaking up respectfully when you are not ready, need more time, have something to say, or need something that no one else knows about.
Love is being able to be yourself, even on a horrible, terrible, very bad day.
Love is keeping each other healthy and safe.
Love is anger that is voicing what needs to change.
Love is letting other people love you when your heart might be feeling sad or small like a quark.
And love is never giving up, always trying again, and always believing that we are better together.
Spencer family, if you believe love is all of these things, please say “we do.”
Spencer girls, if you believe that love is all of these things, do you promise to do your best to help love grow in your family, if so, please say “we do.”
Now its time for mom and dad to make their promises to each other:
Cristina, has Graham been your loving partner for twelve and a half years?
Has your love and respect for him deepened as you have grown a family, enjoyed successes and faced personal challenges?
Are you here today to reaffirm your commitment to him?
Then repeat after me:
I, Cristina, reaffirm my commitment
to take you Graham, as my husband;
to have and to hold
to love and to cherish
in sickness and in health
for as long as we both shall live.
Spencer family, when mom and dad married, they chose to symbolize their vows through the exchange of rings, because the rings are circles and circles represent wholeness. Now that you are a family, you girls are a part of this unbreakable circle. No matter where you go or what you become, you will always be sacred to this circle of people, and like gravity, even though you don’t see the force with your eyes, the glue that holds you together will always be there.
To help you remember this, you have all made stones which are in a circle before us.
One at a time you will take your stones.
Now that everyone has their stone, I will read from the Velveteen Rabbit, which Pop read at your Mom and Dad’s wedding:
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real...
It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept...
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
One at a time, you can put your stones into the silver bowl and make a wish or a prayer. These stones will stay in this bowl for safekeeping, but they will always be here to remind you of your unbreakable circle of love.
Spencer family, you are lucky, you are bound together by love that’s been made real, which will last forever.
Rocks painted by our daughters for our renewal ceremony
In a previous post, I explained how, somewhat suddenly, my husband and I decided to renew our wedding vows. Well, the deed is done and we are now officially "renewly weds." I'd like to share our experience in three separate posts. This post, the first, will lay out the hopes we had going into the experience, and the plan we made to support our vision. The second post will include the ceremony itself and pictures to go along with it. And then the third post will be a report on what we learned. Our inspiration was to bring awareness to what we are trying to create and embody as a family, at a particular moment of fullness in our family life. With three children, a dog, all of our parents and biological aunts and uncles living, we are likely at our full familial capacity. Three generations crowd around holiday tables and Friday night dinners. Our dogs collectively bark and whinny just outside the door. Baby clothes are knit by grandma hands. Trips are made to ensure that first and second cousins grow up knowing one another. My brother, sister-in-law and I send smoke signals over text, yes all is ok, we are just super busy. Sometimes, I look across the chaos in my kitchen and take in the literal mass that our marriage vows have manifested. 150 pounds worth of girl children, and growing. The physical weight of it can stun me. Not too unlike the ubiquity of birth, there is really nothing unique about this, but the shimmer of something nearly incomprehensible emerges. Day by day, meal by meal, parents everywhere manifest their love in the pure physical endeavor of growing children. I have to admit, this growing, tires my husband and me out sometimes. The myriad tasks (times three in our house) required to get through the day have a way of cramming out our overall awareness. We checklist and calendar our way through the hours, collapse in front of the TV with a glass of wine, fall asleep before the show is over, and start again the next day. Renewing our vows, for us, was a way to step out of this mode and bring awareness to the larger arc of our shared life together. It was also a way for us to officially welcome our children into this larger vista, a way of telling them what we think our family being together means, and how they are an important part of a story that started before they even arrived on the planet. We hoped that they might learn something about what love means in our family and what marriage means to my husband and me. We weighed our hopes against what was actually possible for girls at their ages (3,7 and 8) and decided to proceed anyway, knowing that our eight year old gets bigger and more tween-ish everyday, and that even six months or a year from now the social anxiety about standing on a beach in a ceremony with her family will probably get more intense than it already is. This was the main factor that drove our instinct to do it when we did, February 24, 2013, twelve years and five months and a day after our original wedding date. Overall, we wanted the experience to be simple, fairly informal and geared toward the children. Even though part of the inspiration of the moment had to do with the fullness of our family life nested within our extended family, our ceremony felt like it wanted to be a private affair, just the five of us, no guests. It turned out, though, that by the usual chaos of family lives, the one day that my good friend's family could get together with us while we were visiting her city was the day of our ceremony. She had been at our wedding and we had been at their wedding, so this turned out to be a very sweet and important part of the experience for us. Knowing that the only thing we can really ever expect in our day to day, is the unexpected, I identified a few critical aspects, that to me, seemed important to the ceremony. And even those, I tried to hold as loosely as possible. The Ceremony: I wrote it with Graham over the course of a few afternoons. We wanted it to integrate elements from our original wedding ceremony, kid friendly language and involvement, and specific aspirations about what it means to love and be loved in our family. I had hoped to work with a fellow Celebrant, however the details on that front, unfortunately, didn't align. The place: We performed the renewal on the beach. We are an ocean family. It's where we go to have fun, and it's the place where my husband and I feel the most connected to nature, awe and the wider aspects of life in general. We offer this to our children, and my thought is, whether they themselves grow up to be ocean people or not, heading into nature as a way to feel connected to all life seems a good habit to cultivate. Our family had a school vacation coming up, and we probably would have gone to the beach anyway, but the decision to renew our vows sealed that decision. The aesthetic: I really wanted flowers and painted rocks. I can't put words to why exactly, but over the last year I have been surprised by how much of a good feeling I get from creating simple scenes that are beautiful visually and tactilely. This was one of the biggest surprises of 2012 and I'm trying to follow this particular kind of instinct more in 2013. I had the girls paint rocks at home, which we packed up in our suitcase. And we chose a hotel which offered a simple vow renewal package including an officiant, a ukulele player, leis, and a photographer. After a little packing and a short plane flight, we were ready to renew our vows.
My next post will include our ceremony and pictures to go with it.
Girls in third grade have a rough time. Their social life is extremely complicated, and they exhibit behaviors that are difficult to understand and even harder to guide them through. Here are some reports from the front lines of third grade, from a variety of girls and schools. There is a lunch inspection in which one child inspects the others lunches, and if she doesn’t like your lunch you don’t get to sit next to her. Someone talks behind someone else’s back, identifying one girl as mean and one girl as nice. Two girls argue, the tangle ends with one girl spitting in the other’s face (this one, by the way, I experienced myself as a girl, and was both surprised and enlightened when I heard this very report from two other moms I know). There is a game the girls play in which one is the judge, one is the police officer, one is the button pusher, and one is the guilty party. They report that this game is fun.
For the record, I do not condone this behavior on any level. But I think to teach through it, we need to explore more of what we, ourselves, know about it.
There is one book that has been recommended to me in this phase is called “Little Girls Can be Mean,” and while the title is spot on accurate, I cannot bring myself to crack open the cover. I’m sure there is helpful information in there about how to bully-proof my daughter, but to label girls in the middle of a developmental transition, mean, is unfair and unwise. I suppose we say that toddlers go through the “terrible twos” but that story, because of its boundedness in time finishes itself.
When, on the other hand, do we declare that girls are no longer in their mean phase? To me, it seems that at this age, girls are beginning to explore who they are as individuals and as a group. They are experimenting with what it means to be part of a group, and how power and strength work in relationships. Its a topic that will be interest them for a long time. Because, meanwhile, in the adult world, Sheryl Sandberg is about to publish Lean In. The book hasn’t arrived on the shelves yet, and already, separate camps of women are setting up. Among my friends and acquaintances some are applauding her advice, recalling what it felt like to not take a promotion or to go part time in order to preserve their personal lives. Some friends are lamenting what they perceive as the inability of Ms Sandberg to acknowledge the impact parents have when they choose to devote most of their personal effort to parenting and creating an inspired homelife.
Did I mention, her book isn’t even out yet?
It seems to me, that before we’ve even read Ms. Sandberg’s book, we are doing that thing that girls sometimes do. We are dividing ourselves into groups to validate our individual identities. We are finding a camp that feels most like us, unrolling our sleeping bags and hunkering into the big old sleepover party that has become our lives. Indeed, I decided to write this blog post upon realizing that, I, myself, had found a nice cozy spot next to a girlfriend, rolled out my sleeping bag, and primped my hair for the party. I found it quite comfortable to pick my safe spot, hang out there, and judge others outside our group.
Sounds a little mean doesn't it?
It is. But in both cases I think the opportunity is to grow past the behavior and its label.
What I’m seeing a glimmer of in my own girl, just on the other side of this murk and mud is her aspiration to be part of the bigger group, to define herself beyond herself. With each t-shirt she dons (and lately, its all about the t-shirts, Star Wars today, neon peace and love tomorrow, who knows what the next day brings) she is sending out a beacon to the world at large, asking to make a connection. By revealing her raves and rants to others, she is exposing herself, searching for that fit in which her individual self finds a tribe. This results in some treacherous, heartbreaking and messy experimentation with identity that will be the primary focus of the next phase of her life and on to adulthood.
But I think the drive behind this process is profound and can be good. Both for third graders and for adult women, we are trying to integrate our fundamental human need to belong and our core desire to connect our lives to something bigger than ourselves. I'm hopeful, that as adult women, our years of relational experience have set us up to make a new developmental leap in this realm, one that, maybe, if we make it ourselves, will help our daughters to get through the tricky, painful phase that third grade seems to present.
Upon the publication of Sandberg’s Lean In, we have an opportunity, as women to show these third graders how its done, how we can appreciate difference, learn from it and transcend it. We can we pause before setting up camps in which women are either validated or shamed by where they pass the hours of the day and instead, push our ability to experience the individual-group identity spectrum as far as we can.
Because, girlfriends, we know the real leaning-in starts with ourselves and moves outward. We must, both, go deeper into our individuality in order to bring to light what is most unique and brilliant about ourselves, and we must force ourselves to experience our connection to ever widening circles of women.
Leadership and service can unfold in infinite contexts. It appears in the boardroom and the playroom, and in a thousand places well beyond those walls. We owe it to our third grade girls to make our own developmental leap this time. It might not be easy, but we can get through to the other side of this divide. And I don’t know about you, but I am up for that adventure. For the one in which we can be different from one another, and disagree, and lead in our own style. For the one and in which we can teach our daughters, not how to label other behavior as mean or otherwise, but how to transcend by stepping fully stepping into our strength as individuals, connected to others who are able to do the same; united not by sameness, but by our devotion to being our best for the greater good.
"You are born completely endowed with the marvelous function of the awakened mind. You are a miracle. You are a genius. You eat when hungry and sleep when tired.
You are a Buddha. But in the same way you will forget the circumstances of your birth, you will forget the truth of your being. And by forgetting what you are, you will suffer in the painful, fruitless search to become something else, striving against your own perfection to feel whole and secure."
Sometimes life is synchronous. Things just fall into place. I'm not sure this was one of those times or if my eight year old was politicking on behalf of her mom. Either way, my daughter's third grade class made banners to auction off at this year's fundraiser; my daughter's section voted for the word CELEBRATE to appear on theirs. I had the pleasure of working as the sous-craft, as I was calling my role, to the uber-crafty, talented, teacher-mom in Gwendolyn's class. I wonder how much it will cost me to bid this banner back into my own hands?!