To my 23 year old Barbara,
Congratulations! Tomorrow you will celebrate your wedding in Qingtongxia, China. You will have one sister, a handful of friends, a hundred or so new relatives, and 20,000 villagers on hand to share in your joy. It will be covered by national news media and bring instant fame to your in-laws, who can count on one hand the number of foreigners they’ve ever seen in person (most of them from this week!)
In a few months, you’ll double own on the love and get married again; this time surrounded by all seven sisters, plus 200 extended family members and friends in the U.S. You’ll have traded your red wedding dress for a long white gown (those puffy sleeves will forever say 1991!) and the humble rural courtyard for a glitzy hotel with a view of the New York skyline. Your husband will know only three people present.
In the short time between weddings, you will have moved from rural China to suburban America. It will mark the beginning of a lifetime of adventure that will include (spoiler alert) living in three different countries and raising two exceptional daughters, who will serve as testament to this marriage. You’re marrying outside your race, religion, native tongue and passport country; yet over the years you’ll managed to not let these define your marriage. Over the next 25 years, together you’ll strengthen and enhance the union of your two unique and complementary personalities.
Despite this rosy picture from the future, I’ll share a few things to consider as you embark on your journey.
Yes, you already speak Chinese, but really make a concerted academic effort to learn to not
only speak and understand, but to read and write at a deeper level. The snowball effect of
studying a mere 30 minutes each week over 25 years will yield fluency you can’t even
imagine today. Flash cards and work books will suffice in the beginning, but it will get easier and more convenient with the advent of internet and podcasts. It will fulfill your
relationships with in-laws and extended family. You’ll be better equipped to have meaningful conversations with more people who know your groom but aren’t bilingual. You will not need to rely on him to translate.
Consider keeping your maiden name
Don’t run on autopilot. Take the time to contemplate the decision by recalling what you
bring, as an individual, into the marriage. If you adopt his name, anticipate what you’ll need to maintain your sense of self. Don’t lose your identity in the titles wife or mother. Fear not, your love of great white sharks and trampolines play a prominent role in your 49 year old life, but you will have a child who graduates from college before you go back for your master’s degree. Take time for yourself. It is not being selfish.
Schedule date nights
Observe them religiously. Give them the same priority you give to your daughters’ swim
practice schedule. Be more creative than dinner and a movie. Consider alternating turns
planning a surprise outing or activity for the appointed time. Remember that simplicity is
highly underrated. He’s more sentimental than he lets on. Similarly, schedule daddy-
daughter time. Give him time and space to develop his own relationship with your
children. Let him parent in his own style.
Don’t be a nag
He will respect and value your decision to delay a career to stay home with the children.
Recognize, however, that he will bear a self- imposed pressure as the sole bread winner.
Go easy on him as he transitions between jobs, and negotiates benefits for your
international assignments. (Yes, you’ll be back in China to raise your children.)
As you celebrate tomorrow, take a good look around. There are many faces that will continue to be present as you celebrate future milestones. There are some who will join your journey further down the road. There are others who will only be here briefly. That adorable 7 year old nephew who is dying for a ride in your wedding carriage will come to live in your home, and become a brother to your daughters. A second nephew will round out your household. Be patient and show grace.
Tonight, you are blinded by love. You cannot comprehend the enormity of his devotion. He is leaving his family, friends, and country behind for you. For You. He will always have your back. And you will always hold his heart. So tomorrow, and every day after: Engage. Say YES. Take more pictures. They will document for future generations the story of the couple who loved each other enough to say “I do” twice.
The 49 year old Barbara.