When my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate our 29th anniversary, it was a low-key event. Despite a reservation made three weeks prior, we waited a while for our table because we chose the most popular place in town. We didn't mind too much. After 29 years of marriage, a few extra minutes are no big deal.
I didn't buy my husband a gift this year, because there's nothing he wants that he hasn't bought himself. As for me, I either want flowers or a big diamond. This year, it was flowers.
We took the requisite anniversary photo when we sat down for dinner and, as with every picture we see of ourselves these days, we were both alarmed and comforted by the older faces that looked back at us. At least if we're getting old, we're doing it together.
My husband had an idea.
"Let's make a list," he suggested. "Let's list the biggest thing that happened to us every year we've been married."
"That sounds hard," I replied, "but let's try."
So, we began. The babies born two years apart. The house in the suburbs. The first days of kindergarten, when we were amazed that our children were growing up so fast. Those days are as vivid as yesterday, because so much that was happening in our lives was a first—from steps to words, from counting to reading. We were so young.
Then came the years of elementary school. We watched children's theater shows and boys' little league baseball. We had so much energy in those days, running from activity to activity, being snack parents or first-base coaches.
For the grown-ups, there were Saturday date nights, parties and dinners with friends at restaurants where I drank Cosmopolitans and my husband drank scotch on the rocks, always a little tipsy and flirty, finding our younger selves underneath Mom and Dad.
"But what happened then?" we asked each other. Our list was missing events for too many of those elementary school years, which ran together in a loud, frantic of ordinary events. Our lives belonged to our children, and we wouldn't have missed a minute of it. But we remembered, and we added the events that made a difference: the all-star team, the business we bought, the shock of 9/11.
"Bar and Bat Mitzvahs," I said, as we approached years 14 and 16—when middle age started to sneak up on us, crinkling and creasing the edges of everything. Our fathers got sick and passed away. We sent our children off to college, taking a breath after thousands of hours of going and doing and watching, helping and listening. The sounds of teenagers stomping through our house to the pool in the backyard faded away as I began to write, and my husband toyed with the idea of selling our business, and then, there we were, at year 25.
"Italy, that was our 25th year," said my husband.
We had not traveled much during those years of softball and football and baseball and illness, high school graduations and driver's licenses and home improvement projects. We looked forward to someday, when we would have the time to go, which we did for our 25th anniversary. We went to Italy, and saw the city of Florence and the hill towns of Tuscany and the magical Amalfi Coast. Over the course of two weeks, between glasses of Brunello and plates of pasta, we remembered why we got married in the first place.
The past few years were as easy to recall as the beginning. We sold the business we had bought 14 years earlier. We sold our house in the suburbs after 24 years and moved to a smaller home near the beach. In year 28, we went to France, where we attended a wedding in Burgundy and walked all over Paris, dozens of policemen armed with rifles on corner after corner. The world was different than when we started out together, 28 years earlier.
Our 29th year of marriage did not, on the surface, appear to be one of our best. My husband changed jobs twice, which included a move to a new city and then, six weeks later, a move back to our house by the beach, which thankfully we had not yet sold. I had back surgery and waking up to the sight of my husband's face in the recovery room was one of my happiest moments, even with the post-op pain and the haze of painkillers and anesthesia. My husband found a job that has him traveling all week, so we savor the time we spend together each weekend. It's like we're dating again. Our 29th year had us a little confused, a bit unnerved, and yet, we're more in love than ever.
For dessert, we had a piece of the most delicious butter cake you'll ever have with vanilla ice cream on top and a celebratory candle for us to blow out together. I'm sure we both wished for the same thing—29 more years of days that run together in a blur of ordinary moments with just enough blips and bumps and ups and downs to keep us alert, aware of what has happened and anticipating what is yet to come.
I framed the list. In 29 years, it's my favorite anniversary gift.