The true gift came later

It is Valentine's Day eve 1980. I am expecting a baby in one month and feel ungainly and uncomfortable as I haul myself back into bed and scooch around for comfort. When I finally manage to stretch out, my toes touch something that feels like glass, smooth glass accompanied by a tinkling sound. This annoys me because now I need to get up to investigate. My husband, who is busy searching for a shirt, looks at me questioningly. "What, you didn't hear it?" I snap. "Something in the bed sounds like glass."

Together we pull back the sheets and there, at the foot of our bed, are nestled four beautiful long-stemmed amber and green glasses, hand blown, with the artist's name etched into each base.

"Happy Valentine's Day," Jay says. I just stare at him, dumbfounded.

"They're beautiful," I finally manage to say. "But they could have broken."

"Ah, but they didn't, did they?" he answers.

I look at him and think, for the hundredth time, how different we are. He's always sure things will turn out fine. I am the one who seems to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders whether it asks for my help or not.

Being in charge of the world's well-being is a burden, of course, and for most of my life, I have been in its grip. But last fall, those glasses set the stage for my release.

It has been 26 years since the glasses made their appearance. Over time, more have joined them – all handblown, all signed, and all exquisite. They have arrived for my birthday, Mother's Day, and the births of our children. The final two joined their stemware siblings on our 25th wedding anniversary.

I have loved bringing them out, a few at a time, for special dinner parties. Our guests exclaim over them, and I enjoy tracing each one's lineage within our family history. As I tell the story of each glass, Jay basks in his just due as a sweet and caring husband.

When the glasses first arrived on the scene, I already had two children; three more followed. I viewed being a mother as my ultimate responsibility to the world. "What if" was my mantra for everything from the small worries – "What if she forgets her lines?" – to the medium worries – "What if he messes up on his SATs?" – and on to the really big anxieties – "What if it's something more serious than they think?"

I always assumed the worst would happen, and Jay reassured me it wouldn't. And it didn't.

Our youngest left for college last September, and I admit I was anxious. Would I be one of those mothers who fell apart at the end of child-rearing? When nothing of the kind occurred, I decided to step up my volunteer activities. And soon I noticed that I was now more fully engaged with the 8-year-old struggling reader and the 16-year-old high school dropout I was helping.

One night in October, Jay and I decided to throw a party, and it happened that our guest list equaled our glass count. I brought out the glasses carefully, one by one, and what a sight they were! Pale pink, smoky red, azure, black and white striped, turquoise, and, of course, amber and green hues. They were a celebration of glass.

I pondered how to arrange them. Should it be by height, by color, or just randomly? I couldn't really go wrong because each was perfect – and who can argue with perfection? In the end, height ruled, so my original green and amber glasses carried the back row.

The guests arrived. Many had been to our house before, but none had seen the entire collection of stemware splendor, and there was much oohing and aahing.

The atmosphere was festive, but finally the evening came to a close. Jay loaded the dishwasher and then left me to attend to my glasses. I filled the sink with warm, soapy water and one by one, gently lowered the glasses into it. My fingers touched each glass, enjoying its silky quality.

Every now and then I would lift one out of the water and blow at the soap bubbles, watching baby bubbles scatter into the air. As I finished soaping each glass, I placed it next to the sink and started on another until there were 35 glasses waiting to be rinsed.

Next I turned on the tap and adjusted the water temperature with the same care I would give to bathing a baby. I rinsed each glass, holding it carefully by its slippery stem and gently letting the clean water wash the film off. Finally, when I was satisfied that they were perfectly clean, I held each up to the light to witness its full glory.

I was totally absorbed with nary a flicker of child-related worry. No "It's 11 p.m., will she be in by her curfew?" No "He said there would be parents at the party. Should I have checked?" I gazed at my splendid glasses and for just one moment, I caught a glimpse of my old "what if" persona. "But they could have broken," I had said.

"Ah, but they didn't," he had answered.

That first image vanished and was quickly replaced by a second one: a woman patiently waiting for the rest of her life to unfold. Me.

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