In Our Own Backyard....Engaged to be engaged
Rules of engagement: "Practices followed, or behavior displayed, by the participants in situations of opposing interests such as negotiations. Rules of engagement tend to be unwritten rules that determine what information is given, at what time, to whom and in what manner, as well as what concessions are granted and what is demanded in return.”
As my husband and I drove to Ironwood, Mich., last weekend for our daughter Allison's engagement party, I found myself wondering what ground rules would apply. She and her fiancé Wil both live and work in Boston, but he's a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and that's where most of his family still lives. We were headed there for a four-day stint to celebrate their recent engagement and meet his family and friends.
We weren't certain just what to expect — who was who, how each of them was related, whether we should shake hands or hug, and how much we dared ask about all of them on the first visit. It was a happy dilemma to have, but it left us wondering nonetheless.
But as those things often go, we needn't have worried at all.
We discovered Wil’s mother was as eager to spend time with us as we were with her. We learned she joined the Marines right out of high school, that she met Wil's dad in San Diego, that she loves George Strait just as much as I do, and that she fondly refers to Wil as "Billy."
I told her how Ken and I met, about going to horse shows with Allison when she was a little girl and about the surgery I had at Mayo Clinic two years ago.
She told us about Wil's six aunts and uncles and all of his cousins, and we told her about Allison's extended family as well. Together we roughed out a family tree so we could begin to understand how everyone was related.
And by day four of our visit, she confided in me that she knew Wil was going to marry Allison the very first time she met her.
We were excited to discover that Wil's kids, 9-year-old Sebastian and 13-year-old Gabrielle, were engaging, polite, lively and creative. They loved everything outdoors — hiking, diving into Lake Superior, shooting Nerf rockets and having bonfires on the beach. But they were equally content to play an indoor game of hide-and-seek indoors or sit up half the night with us watching a schmaltzy old version of the movie, “Clue.”
I pointed out ghost plants to them along the hiking trail and explained how they grow. Gabrielle shared her spring report card with us and told us about how much she’s looking forward to cheerleading this fall.
Sebastian showed Ken how to build a haunted mansion, complete with secret passages, on his Smartphone. In turn, Ken showed Sebastian how to design buildings using a computer program called SketchUp.
They told us about school, their pets and what professional football teams they like most, and we told them about what we do for a living, our two cats and what professional football team we root for.
We met one of Wil's childhood buddies that he's known since sixth grade, and learned how the two of them used to go trout fishing together, got in trouble for throwing apples at cars, shot BB guns and jumped off the swinging bridge at Black River Harbor each summer. When he and I discovered we both liked to cook, he shared his recipe for tiramisu and I told him how to put together a Caprese salad.
We shared tales of our mutual adventures on the North Shore of Lake Superior with Wil’s aunt and uncle. They told us about how their kids were raised on the ski hills of Upper Michigan and eventually settled in the famous ski villages of Colorado as adults. We told them about how our son and his wife both grew up in Minnesota and now run a fishing lodge in Alaska.
And so, by the time all of us raised a toast to Allison and Wil and their life ahead together, we knew a whole lot more about one another than when we first met.
I reminded myself all over again that engagement is far more than a ring and wedding plans. It’s about two sets of friends and families coming together, getting to know each other and sharing the precious gift of our children.
And in so doing, the “rules of engagement” become eminently simple — be genuine, be yourself and keep your heart open to whoever comes into your life.
We shook hands as we met but as we departed, we hugged.