This past Saturday I was in the elevator of my son and daughter-in-law’s apartment building when I pulled out my phone. I saw that I missed a phone call and a FaceTime call from my daughter. I had been picking up sandwiches at the Fairway and, as is often the case for me, I didn’t hear or feel my phone ring. Since I had just spoken to Leah earlier in the morning, I was surprised to see that she had called so soon – especially a FaceTime call. We don’t often bother with that.
I figured I’d call back when I got settled back in the apartment. Gary and I were watching our granddaughter while her parents were working at their new house, readying it to move in the following day. I came in to find Gary on FaceTime with Leah. This was really odd.
“Here she is,” I hear Gary say to Leah.
“Come over,” he says, as he waves me in before I even take my coat off. I sense some impatience.
I put the packages down and come over.
“Hi, what’s up” I say to the screen.
Leah’s smiling face looks back at me. Ben, her partner, is by her side.
“We have some news!” Leah said, as she held up her left hand.
There was a ring on it!
Gary and I cheered for them and expressed our excitement. We told them we loved them and couldn’t wait to celebrate. Leah looked radiant and emotional. Ben was smiling broadly and proudly. It was one of those precious life moments.
While this wasn’t unexpected, we didn’t know for sure when it would happen. And, until it actually does, it is best not to make any assumptions.
Naturally, the emotions and the excitement brought lots of reflections – especially on symbols and traditions. These days there can be so much hype around an engagement – almost like it’s a competition. It can seem staged for social media. I knew that would not be what Leah would want. Thankfully Ben knew that, too. Theirs was low key and simple. Ben didn’t call Gary to ask permission nor did he get down on one knee. Those are traditions that wouldn’t be meaningful to our daughter and we are fine with that. If they wanted to observe those rituals, that would be fine too, but we didn’t have any stake in that. Leah is 32 years old, she is an adult who has been independent for a very long time (and independent minded since birth).
It can be tricky navigating these milestones, though. There are so many messages that children receive about what is expected of men and women. As much as we may have made progress in opening the gender boxes so that there is more room for individuality, there are still boxes. And there are still powerful images of what it means to be a bride and groom. It can be hard to separate what is actually meaningful from what is expected. We may not even be aware of the limitations that we have placed on ourselves. I know I had a hard time with that when I got engaged and that was a time when we weren’t inundated with images from social media.
I also recalled being surprised at how much I loved my engagement ring. I was not, and I still am not, someone who was very interested in jewelry. I didn’t pay particular attention to what other people had or what they wore. I didn’t know anything about quality. I did want a ring; I did want a symbol of his commitment to me. Even though, at the same time, I knew that the object had little to do with his actual commitment. But when he gave it to me and I put it on, I found that I couldn’t stop looking at it. One day I was in the elevator at work and the light happened to reflect off the stone in such a way that I held my hand up to admire it. A person congratulated me. I had not noticed that there was someone else in the elevator with me! I was embarrassed, but I thanked them and laughed at myself.
Who knew it could be so much fun to have something so sparkly on your finger? I realized there was a reason people liked diamonds. Plus, when I looked at it, I was reminded of Gary and my love for each other. It was a more powerful symbol than I previously understood.
Leah’s ring is a ruby. Ben knew that she would prefer that to a diamond. Leah doesn’t like to do things just because everyone else does. But I think Leah is similarly surprised by the power of the symbol. She is already enjoying wearing it much more than she ever expected.
Leah has never worn a ring – I think it was a combination of not enjoying the feeling of her fingers being encumbered and not caring one way or another about jewelry in general. There’s only one exception I can think of – she does like earrings – especially those that have a sense of humor about them. She favors a pair that are yellow and shaped like a banana.
I suspect planning a wedding will bring lots of opportunities for us to think about traditions that are meaningful and those that can be set aside. I have already been warned – she will not be wearing a white or off-white wedding gown. I am not surprised.