As a kid, I remember my parents arguing. But you know what I remember more? I remember them dancing.
No matter what, they danced.
For my entire life, I’ve watched my parents dance. When things were hard, they would make their way to the dining room, open the cabinet, pluck a record from their collection, and put it on. Barefoot, they’d find comfort in each other’s arms, and the stress would fade away, if only for a few minutes. My brother and I would watch them, small faces squished up against the iron bars of the stair banister. I remember feeling the tension break from the air sometimes, sneaking out of my room after bedtime, catching them in a moment of relief. When things were going really well, the music would be a little different, and they would celebrate by spinning a little faster. During these times, they’d invite me and my brother to join them, and we’d laugh as we tried to coordinate ourselves with their rhythm as best as four people can in a giant twirling hug.
As I watched them sway back and forth to Van Morrison at a family birthday party a couple of weeks ago, my eyes welled with tears. Before that, the room was filled with family members dancing away the heaviness that loomed over the city with the storm anniversary. My mom and her cousins, who were also her best friends growing up, were nearly giddy with laughter and happiness at being together. The women on my mom’s side of the family have always been fiercely close, bound together by my grandmother and her sister, nine years her senior. I have known all of them to be witty, stubborn, supportive, thoughtful, loving, forgiving, and occasionally sharp-tongued. Open bickering was not a rarity for these women and their spouses, but instead, something we all came to regard as normal, and a unique sign of love. They always managed to work out their issues and go right back to being affectionate.
Through them, I learned that the ups and downs of relationships were normal and disagreements could be healthy.
I see so much of my parents’, grandparents’ and great-aunts’ marriages in my own. We are no strangers to open bickering: our close friends lovingly say, “Mom and Dad are fighting again!” and another friend refers to us as “The Bickersons.” I’m pretty positive we’ve made someone uncomfortable during a heated exchange in public over something utterly ridiculous and then gone back to what we are doing as if nothing happened. That’s us. It works. The kids see us disagree, but we do our best to keep the really hard arguments out of their scope of awareness. His parents taught him never to go to bed angry, and we do our best to adhere to that piece of advice as well. At the end of the day, no matter what’s happened or how hard things may be, he’s my best friend and my biggest ally. We are going to disagree, whether it be over whose turn it is to let the dog out at 2AM, who was right that one time back in 2003, or which parenting philosophy will be king.
Do we have a thing we do when we are struggling or celebrating? Not that specifically comes to mind, but I bet my parents didn’t realize that my brother and I noticed them dancing as much as we did. My own “family hugs” happen when things are both rough and great: we each take a twin on our hip and lift B up with our free arm so we are one big embrace, with lots of giggles and kisses in between.
Our families probably didn’t anticipate the positive effects their disagreements and difficulties had on us. We are far from the perfect couple, but I don’t need to BE half of the perfect couple. We are flawed humans who make mistakes, get in arguments, and have bad days. I don’t believe in totally hiding those things, because that’s just not real life. Instead, I hope to show our children [and grandchildren] that in spite of real life, imperfect marriages can also be successful and joyful marriages. It is my wish that our kids have such find memories of our ability to navigate the rough waters of life with the same spirit that we navigate the calm ones, just as our families did.