Today I was sad.
So to cheer myself up, I did what any other totally sane person would do: I dug my wedding dress out of the attic and wore it while I made dinner.
It barely fit, four pregnancies having changed my body in ways that would have terrified all of the innocence right out of 24-year-old-blushing-bride me. Thanks to all of that exuberant drinking and dancing we did late into the night on that fateful Valentine’s Day in 2004, the dress was also covered in wine stains and missing half of its buttons, but it still made me feel pretty in a way that my regular evening uniform of bleach-stained yoga pants can’t match.
And maybe more importantly, it got me thinking of that younger version of me who wore this dress so earnestly all of those years ago, walking down the world’s longest church aisle with the courage only naiveté and late-morning champagne can provide.
What would she think of me now? Or of this life that I live so messily and love so much and fail so often at? Would she be proud? Or would she be a little embarrassed of me like I am of her, mostly because she was so incredibly unprepared for all of the huge ways her life was going to change in the next decade. Now that I am older, I’m pretty sure that almost everyone who sat in those pews with their disposable cameras and flip phones and wished us well knew how very unprepared I was as well, making my way down that long aisle with all my buzzed-up sass like I knew a damn thing about marriage.
What would I say to that ignorant blushing bride? I wondered.
You have no idea.
Walking down the aisle is the easy part. Tonight you will celebrate: drinking, and eating and drinking some more, and then dancing so fiercely that your mom pulls you aside and reminds you that “Elizabeth, try to remember that your grandmother is here.” Tomorrow you will have a headache and a wedding band and a plane trip to Key West to pack for where you will sip more drinks on a big boat and wax philosophical about the perfect kids you will have and the dizzying career heights you will achieve. Your collective future together will spread out in front of you both like a open book, and it likely will be the biggest turning point of your whole life.
And then you will come home and make babies and have babies, and life will now stretch out in front of you like one long painful nursing session, and your new husband and you, with bags under your eyes, will scream in the middle of the night that you are still much too young to have to worry about whose turn it is to get the baby, again. That cocky swagger that carried you down the aisle will be replaced by the absolutely crippling anxiety of new motherhood, and you and your marriage will spend long, uncomfortable periods of time teetering on the precipice of not-gonna-make-it.
But you will make it.
And you will fall so incredibly, deeply in love with your babies that it will make you fall in love all over again with your husband. The two of you will make this magical life in a big old creaky house filled with throw pillows that feels like home in a way that nothing else ever has, and you will learn to sleep in a big king-sized bed with four kids in between you and still, somehow, touch.
Still, you should know too that you will break — often — because having this family is like walking around with five open wounds that make you more vulnerable than you ever were before. You’ll find God in a whole new way and pray feverishly that you all stay protected, and of course, you don’t. You will ache and fall on your knees with the force of it and be absolutely, completely convinced that you can never get up again.
And then you will get back up.
You will change diapers and do laundry and make and buy and clean up food until it feels like you do nothing else, and you will go to your therapist (because yes, you will have a therapist) and say “What is the point of all of this?” and he, a gray-haired poet who you would be at a dangerous risk of falling in love with if he didn’t insist on talking about feelings all of the damn time, will say, “The Buddha would say: chop wood, carry water. So maybe for you, it’s change diaper, make mac and cheese.” And you will go home that night, and after everyone falls asleep and the house is blissfully silent, you will suddenly burst into laughter because you actually get it.
And years from now, if you are really, really lucky, you will stand in your kitchen in an old wedding dress, you and your rock of a husband — the island in the swirling chaos of children around you — and he will say to you: “Honey, this mac and cheese is amazing.” And even though you know he’s lying because it came out of a box and is made from orange powder, you’ll take the compliment because that’s what you do for each other.
“Thanks, babe. It must be the dress.”
“Oh, are you wearing a dress?” he’ll say. “I didn’t even notice.”