To my future daughter-in-law and son-in-law

As I write this, we are four months into The Year of All the Firsts Without.

Our Walden family matriarch, The Divine Miss E, keeps us in stitches from Heaven now, her zip code since late April.

This week – yesterday in fact – marked what would have been the 55-year wedding anniversary between Miss E and our Pop.

Their love story, among many other fine examples I’ve been privileged enough to observe up close, has I believe, taught me well about how to one day welcome you into our own little family, and how to take what can often be a tension-filled relationship that instead becomes a blessing many times over.

The first evening I was invited to have dinner at my then boyfriend now husband’s parents’ home, I strode in feeling ever so confident, well prepared to impress.

Gordon and Eleanor Walden, my precious parents-in-love

“I’m so good with parents,” I told myself, sitting down to a pork chop supper that I very gingerly tried to maneuver with a fork and knife until Pop finally giggled and said, “Honey you can pick that up and eat it by hand.”

And I did. Every last savory morsel. Because:

1.) These two Georgia-born and Georgia-bred Southerners don’t play in the kitchen – they know how to cook, and;

2.) His comment was the icebreaker of all the “I want to impress them” and “We are sizing you up to see if you are good enough for our son” stuff that is never said in these situations but always implied.

After dinner, we visited in their family den, cranked up the oldies (Pop’s a sucker for a good shag tune, and you can’t help but dance when you hear Marvin Gaye’s Stubborn Kind of Fellow), and had a little impromptu couples dance. The longtime in love (them) and the starry-eyed newly infatuated (us).

How amazing are these people?! I thought to myself. I was enjoying the evening so very much that I doubted this joyful feeling. Families aren’t really like this, are they? Fun-loving, warm and welcoming, and generally deriving so much happiness from the absolute simplest things?

Well that was in February 2002 and here I am, 20-plus years later having lived the truth that yes indeed, there are lots of families who love as the Waldens love, and my life is immeasurably better for it.

I pray for you, already, future son-in-love, and daughter-in-love. The Waldens never treated me like an “in law”, but always like their daughter. I still have a handwritten card from Eleanor that arrived shortly after Rett and I had gotten serious. She would jokingly tell him, “I’ll kill you if you screw this thing up,” but I knew it came from the place in a mama’s heart that wants nothing more than to see her child loved as they deserve to be. In her beautiful penmanship, she wrote that she’d never seen her son so happy. There was no finer compliment you could give me.

If/when you come into our family’s life, I will honor The Divine Miss E and the way she showed love and patience and forgiveness to me in the way that I treat you.

First and foremost, I will encourage you through my words and my behavior to love and treat my child with the same respect and love that they should show you. So long as my health and my schedule and my finances will allow me to, I will be as involved (or not) as would be helpful for you and the little family you start to build together. With the disclaimer that I’m not signing up for something transactional where you use me at your convenience, talk smack behind my back and make no effort to have an actual relationship where both parties are invested.

But here’s the best part of it all, and the legacy of The Divine Miss E’s love that I intend to honor the rest of my days. There were many times early in our marriage when I was kind of an a-hole. Looking back, it was immaturity, insecurity, general lack of life experience, weakness of faith, and an unhealthy dependence on approval from others. Especially then, this woman, who had not a self-righteous or moralistic bone in her body, loved me through it.

There were hard conversations and tough love moments to be sure, but she taught me more than she probably even realized about what unconditional love looks like, sounds like, and feels like.

And these, my precious future family members, are the gifts I hope more than anything that I can share with you.

Family is sacred. Outside of being entrusted with our own God-given children, I can think of no greater privilege than growing our brood by welcoming you into it, investing in your lives, and being present and purposeful in the future you create together.

I love you always, Miss E, and I hope I make you proud.

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