A New Wedding Ring for Valentine’s Day

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m re-posting this essay that appeared last year on my former blog, Five Dollars and Some Common Sense. I had a fabulous book launch party this weekend and planned to post some photos and other thoughts about it today, but am having some technical difficulties with the photos. Stay tuned!

My Valentine’s Day gift [in 2011] was a new wedding ring. My husband actually had nothing to do with this. I came up with the idea, found a jewelry designer, raised cash by selling off some gold (including my original engagement and wedding rings), and went to pick up the finished product all by myself.

My original engagement ring had a good story behind it. My husband was engaged once before…to a woman I shared an apartment with in D.C. (That is another story indeed, but not for today.) When Daniel decided to propose to me, he took his former fiancee’s ring back to the store where he had bought it, Mervis Diamond Importers. In 1990s Washington, D.C., Mervis radio ads were ubiquitous, immediately recognizable due to owner Ronnie Mervis’ thick South African accent describing adventurous forays into deep, dark diamond mines. The day Daniel arrived to swap the old ring for a new, it so happens that Ronnie himself was manning the store. Once Daniel chose a new ring—bigger, better, more expensive—Ronnie exclaimed, with his distinctive drama and clipped accent, “Ah! A man of decision!”

Daniel presented the ring along with a marriage proposal on the South Transept steps of the Washington National Cathedral, where I had my first job in D.C. after college. Obviously, I said yes. I was so taken with that ring—a large solitaire with five smaller diamonds on either side of it, purchased from the one-and-only Ronnie himself! Daniel had blown his budget on it, though, so we bought my wedding ring—a plain, thin band—from a mall jewelry store in suburban Maryland. I think it cost $99, and we each paid for half. (My grandmother gave me my late grandfather’s wedding band for Daniel, a nice heavy ring that Daniel once lost and then recovered from the bottom of a murky lake populated by splashing children on a hot summer day a few years ago. Sort of Bilbo-esque, don’t you think? The ring will always find its rightful owner.)

We got married at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in the shadow of the Cathedral, just a few hundred yards from where Daniel had proposed. We got jobs and we left them, we moved to Connecticut, we bought and sold houses, we had three babies. When the kids were small and prone to grabbing shiny objects, my rings and watch were the only jewelry I ever wore. I would forget I even had the rings on. I would look down now and then and see my engagement ring, the gold and diamonds dulled by age and grime, but still a reminder of the promises we made when we were living a whole different kind of life—of last-minute dinner plans, subway rides to downtown jobs, and long, uncharted weekend drives south to the Shenandoah or north to Gettysburg.

Then one summer day a couple of years ago, I looked down and realized with a sickening lurch that the diamond solitaire was gone. The kids and I were heading north to visit my sister and her kids in Massachusetts. I figured the diamond had fallen out while I was rushing around packing. Daniel searched the house, driveway, and car with a flashlight. He went painstakingly through the vacuum cleaner dust bag. When we arrived back home, I told the kids I would (really!) give anyone who found my diamond $100. No one ever found it.

For two years, I wore my wedding band alone, figuring that one day I’d replace the diamond solitaire. On its own, the band was so insubstantial, such a poor symbol for a decade-plus marriage encompassing two states, three jobs, one book contract, three children, five homes, 10 broken bones, half a dozen surgeries, and countless baths and bedtimes; dinners out we couldn’t quite afford and On Demand movies we could; family birthdays, weddings, and retirement parties; stomach bugs, colds, ulcers, gall-bladder attacks, and cancers; and trips north, south, east, and west.

A wedding band is just a thing, of course. It’s the marriage that matters, not the wedding or its many culturally mandated accoutrements. But when I looked down at my lonely little band, I longed for something bigger and weightier, not as a status symbol, but as a tangible reminder of our marriage’s longevity and vitality. And I realized that even if, some day, we had a couple thousand dollars to drop on a new diamond, I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. The brilliant, sparkling solitaire that had so captivated me as a young bride no longer seemed right for two people grappling with the myriad daily struggles, fleeting joys, and occasional crises of middle-aged parenthood.

So I sold off some old jewelry, including the solitaire-less engagement ring and the paltry mall-store wedding band, and had a goldsmith make me a new wedding ring. He took the 10 small diamonds from my engagement ring and incorporated them into a simple new design. Purely by happenstance, I picked up my new ring on Valentine’s Day, with my five-year-old in tow and while Daniel was at work. Which seemed completely appropriate for a marriage characterized less by romantic encounters and more by divide-and-conquer strategic planning.

I love my new wedding ring. It makes me happy every time I look down and see it. The ring is not particularly fancy. It wasn’t very expensive. But it seems a much better representation of the life we have built together. One day when our kids are grown, if we’re lucky, we’ll once again make last-minute dinner plans and take long, uncharted drives into the countryside. Maybe then, I’ll ask Daniel for another sparkly bauble to wear—a diamond necklace, perhaps. But right now, I don’t need it. I don’t even want it.

My favorite part of my new wedding ring is how it feels, heavy and thick. The weight is not confining, but comforting, like a down comforter on a frigid night. It is affirming, like a sleepy child leaning into my chest—a concrete reminder that in this mundane, often limiting family life, I have found my calling and my place, and am lucky enough to share it with my true companion.

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