We rented a Suburban because his Yukon doesn’t have a middle bench seat. I found a house sitter for my three dogs and he got a kennel reservation for his. We had a cooler full of drinks and two bags of car snacks, but we still had to stop at Whataburger. We made another stop to pee, and yet another to quell the infighting over seating arrangements. We added a booster seat for his son. My son Luke’s size 14 feet stretched across the console between our front seats. Top 40 blasted on XM Radio, while Luke’s rap music thumped from his Beats headphones. The entire back of the car was stacked to the roof with luggage. Teenage girls Snapchatted every second of the drive, making phones bleep and ping. Charger cords swam like tentacles from every outlet.
This is reality, people. This is middle-aged romance with six collective children on a road trip to meet his family. This is what baggage really is: a luggage cart at the Houstonian, overloaded with stacked suitcases and hanging bags and purses, drooping heavy like overripe fruit. For one night (yes, a single night’s stay), the poor valet shook his head and smiled wearily, leaning all his weight to push the cart to our adjoining boy and girl rooms.
For some, this may not sound romantic. When I was younger I’m sure I looked at “old people” like us with a vast brood of children, and questioned their sanity. Especially the valiant variety trying to blend a family and give love another try. In this case, there are exes and custody schedules, juggling sports, school performances and travel plans, traditions and holidays to consider, and old patterns of fear and freedom to understand and adjust. Truthfully, it isn’t like falling in love in your twenties, when you are relatively unburdened by responsibility and time is always on your side.
I can’t recall any young love glance that ever held as much meaning or appreciation as the smile shared with my beloved, over my son’s feet, in the din of the Brady Bunch family road trip. When you are young, you think true love will automatically last forever. Later you understand that you have to get up every single day and say, “I do.” When you are young, you can’t imagine that children could ever own your heart and rule your world. Later, you understand that they have empowered you to transcend your selfishness and truly be all in for another human being. You don’t make a relationship work around them; it works because of them, and because they have changed you. When you are young, you are looking for someone to sweep you off your feet. Later, you understand that you are looking for the person you want to have dinner with, for the rest of your life. When you are young you think, “I’ll be happy when something changes.” Later, you realize if you aren’t happy now, you have to change. When you are young, you place high value on what you have, where you are going, and what other people think. Later, you care more about who you are and who you are becoming. When you are young, you are untethered. Later, you have roots. When you are young, you think you can change people or you let them change you. Later, you know better. When you are young, you want to hurry through every phase to get to what’s next. Later, you realize that the magic is only and always right now.
Falling in love again is more of a do than a do-over. It’s the first time for all time, because you begin fully-grown, inhabiting your true self. You have done the arduous work of knowing, accepting, and loving yourself, allowing you to know, accept and love another. It requires more courage to try again, knowing what you know. Experience trumps naiveté, but at the same time reverence and respect fuel commitment. If you know what it is to lose love, you may be more dedicated to keeping it.
Love is still the wondrous, tingly, magnetic, inexplicable thing it always was. If you get the lucky chance to find it again, hopefully you are wise enough to be careful and brave enough to leap.