On the 21st of each month, my dad brings my mom flowers to mark their “monthly” anniversary. On the paper around the flowers he writes the number of months they’ve been married. They were wed on October 21, 1967, and as far as I know, my dad has never missed a month. “Happy 435” will be what he’ll write this September.
Anniversaries were a big deal for my parents, and as a child, I remember having trouble understanding the jokes I heard occasionally about the husband who forgot the anniversary. At first, I thought it meant forgetting the “monthly” anniversary, which I could almost understand. I was horrified to learn that it meant forgetting the actual yearly anniversary. In my family, that would have been unthinkable. For each anniversary, my mother would write my dad a rhyming poem detailing the events of the year. My dad would buy or make my mom something out of the official material for that year of marriage. They would always go someplace special for dinner — I knew it was fancy because my mom took her small black purse, and came home with sesame breadsticks and mints for my sister and me.
In a couple of weeks, Bill and I will celebrate our 10th year of marriage. I have decided to declare a jubilee year for our family, starting on our anniversary date. I thought the Church had an excellent idea with its Jubilee 2000 celebration, which included Masses and events throughout the year. Like the Pope, I see no reason to contain our celebrating to one day. (And like the Pope, what I declare in our family tends to come to pass, though not always without dissention.)
Why a jubilee year for a tenth anniversary? Anniversaries, much as I love them, are like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve in terms of unrealistically high expectations for levels of fun and romance. After 10 years of marriage, romantic nights are not as easy to come by as they used to be. Especially with that crib in our room. A yearlong jubilee celebration gives Bill and me a fighting chance.
A jubilee year will be an opportunity to consciously decide to do more of those things that brought us together in the first place. At our stage of life, marriage can easily spin into rounds of the endless chores it takes to keep a family of five relatively clean, healthy and well fed. But I didn’t marry my husband because I loved the way he could scrape paint off an old window. And I know he didn’t fall in love with me because of my outstanding ability to wipe jelly off the face of a squirming toddler.
I fell in love with Bill as we ran together along the banks of the Milwaukee River. It was during these runs that we’d talk about our hopes and dreams for the future. Now, because of schedules, we mostly run one at a time. During our jubilee year, I am declaring that we run together at least once or twice a week. Jacob and Liam are old enough to ride their bikes for our three-mile run and Teenasia loves her running stroller. I’m hoping for some good conversation as the boys race ahead and Teenasia munches on a graham cracker.
Our jubilee year will be the chance to say “yes” more often to the best parts of marriage and family life. We love going to Lake Michigan and looking at the water as the kids try to skip rocks. We love family bike rides and morning picnics with bagels and hot coffee. We all love playing ball and Frisbee. Why don’t we do these things more often? Well, there are socks to sort and the papers from the kids’ school seem to breed at night and multiply if left untouched. There are big globs of blue toothpaste stuck to the side of the sink basin in the upstairs bathroom. The porch needs repainting and Liam said he saw a mouse in the garage.
It sometimes feels like if we don’t keep on top of our jobs around the house, our home might actually collapse around us. I can’t help but believe, however, that the same must be true of our relationship as a couple. A marriage, like a house and a yard, must be given care and time or it will start to become dilapidated. Without time together to talk, relax and have fun, Bill and I will drift apart and our family will suffer because of it.
The exchange of vows is the first hint a couple receives that marriage is not always easy. And during difficult times in our marriage, Bill and I lean on those vows. We hold onto the sacrament we received one sunny day in September ten years ago. We hold on, believing we are not together by chance, but because there are things we are called to do together that we cannot do separately.
This year, we’ll try to lean on the vows less and celebrate them more. And if you stop by our house and notice that the windows seem more smudged than usual and the lawn needs weeding, don’t be alarmed. We’ll get to lawn and home maintenance eventually. But during our jubilee year, we’ll do the marriage maintenance first.