Within a few years, Dovey and Chris had a daughter, followed by three sons. Just as she had in college, she came alive in a new way as a mother.
“They’re just so much fun,” she says of the kids, who range from 6 to 13. But in truth, they’re fun because she’s fun. Above the kitchen table at their home in Ocean City, she painted “Happy Day Cafe.” Outside their bedrooms hangs a white board she updates daily with their schedules and a positive message: “Thank you for making the world a better place!”
Home is “a happy little place,” says Dovey, 42. And like her mother, she has made that place her family’s rock. If one of the children struggles at school or with friends, Dovey will say, “Look what you have here.” This is what matters, she tells them.
Robyn Zgorski’s three youn ersisters married before she did, but that never bothered her. She was busy: earning a doctorate, seeing the world, becoming a teacher, then a principal by the time she was in her early 30s.
She met Tip Clifton in an Annapolis bar the day of a cousin’s wedding shower. Tip and a couple of buddies made a game of shooting bottle caps onto Robyn’s wide-brimmed hat. He memorized her phone number and called the next day. Three dates later, they had their first kiss at the Jefferson Memorial after a wedding.
She was 35 when she headed to the altar wearing her mother’s gown in 1997, and 37 when she had her first child, a daughter. Soon, she and Tip had another daughter, then a son.
Of the five girls, she suspects she is most like their mother, sharing Rita’s high energy and her love of control. But Robyn pushes back against that intrinsic need to protect, not wanting it to limit her children’s ability to grow fully into themselves.
“Giving birth is the first piece of letting go,” she says. “And every day you have to let them go and let them go.”
Robyn, 50, thinks there are advantages to being an older parent and to having only three kids. At night, she lies in bed with her daughters and talks about life, about friendships and heartache and the meaning of it all. She has more wisdom to share than she would’ve had in her 20s, and more time to share it.
“We have such a neat relationship — and I really didn’t have that with my mom because she had seven kids,” Robyn says. “The things we talk about are so different than anything I talked about with my mom.”
And marriage has gotten better as the years went on: “I am far from the perfect wife, and he is far from the perfect husband. But we both know we’re there. We’re in it forever.”
After the trouble around Lambie’s wedding, she and Rita slowly repaired their relationship. But Lambie came away with “a little scar” on her heart and a resolve not to repeat her mother’s mistakes. That pledge would be tested.
In raising her own four children in Fairfax Station, Lambie found new admiration for Bob and Rita. Just as they had, Lambie sent her kids to Catholic schools and emphasized a strong work ethic and high expectations for achievement. In one significant way, however, she hoped to be a different kind of mother: She intended to stop parenting when her children were grown.
In her junior year of college, Lambie’s oldest, Ali, told her parents that she and her boyfriend were planning to travel through South America during summer break. Horrified, Lambie and her husband tried to dissuade her, but Ali was determined. Rita offered a possible solution: tell Ali they wouldn’t pay for the last year of college if she went.
“ ‘No, I’m not going to do it. I will not cut her off,’ ” Lambie, now 52, remembers saying. “So, Ali went on the trip. And we all lived through it.” But there were other challenges to come.
Ali was always a cautious child. Even as baby, she would stay on the periphery, watching other children play until she was sure it was safe to wade into the fray. Lambie sometimes wished that the teenage Ali would be more effervescent — until she realized she was missing the grace in a girl who is introspective and calm.
At the University of Virginia, Ali majored in religious studies and bioethics. In addition to her dad’s thoughtfulness and flexibility, she inherited her mother’s drive, a combination of assets that served her well as she launched a career in health-care policy.
While her friends were still having fun going out to bars every night, Ali was ready for the next phase of adulthood. So, almost three years ago, she followed the family tradition and accepted the offer to go on a blind date. Dinner turned into wine at the Jefferson Memorial and a walk to the Capitol. “We talked all night long,” she remembers.
G.P. Manson could debate politics and philosophy at length, but he also brought out Ali’s silly side, and her sweetness. “We’re stupid together,” she says. “And I hadn’t had that freedom to be totally myself in all those embarrassing ways before.”
A year and a half later, he proposed at the breakfast table in Del Ray.
When Ali and G.P. said they wanted to share an apartment after getting engaged, Lambie’s commitment to letting her children make their own decisions was overridden by her deeply held beliefs.
Lambie and Chris told Ali that if she and G.P. moved in together, there was no point in throwing the big wedding that was in the works. “The wedding is to celebrate that next phase of your life,” Lambie said. “So, if you’re going to be in that phase already, then what’s the party about? It seems like a farce.” The subject was dropped, and wedding planning continued.
Trickier still was the question of religion. Lambie never imagined anything for her daughter other than a Catholic family. But the compromise Ali and G.P. reached was to marry in the Church, baptize their future children and foster whatever natural curiosity might arise, but not raise them with the religious education Ali experienced.
“I think the best you can do is to set the best example and then to pray that if something is going to awaken — if it’s a true faith — that there’ll be some spark of that in the soul,” Ali says.
But Lambie believes faith is nourished by practice and instruction. “So, I’ve had to stop and say, ‘Oh, she is different,’ ” Lambie acknowledges. “She’s not going to have the same kind of Catholicism in her home as I did. Do I wish it were the other way? Yes. But am I disappointed for her? I’m not. Because I will certainly learn some things from her.”
For almost a decade, Ali was the only female grandchild in the family. So, she was drafted for service in all of her aunts’ weddings, either as a flower girl or junior bridesmaid. She watched each of them walk down the aisle in her grandmother’s dress and kept a photo from Bunny’s wedding day on her dresser for years.
Still, she never gave the gown much thought. It was beautiful, but seemed mostly like a memory. When Lambie asked what kind of dress she wanted to buy, Ali was surprised to hear herself saying, “Well, I guess I want to wear your dress.”
Lambie was stunned. After Robyn’s wedding, the dress had been shoved under Rita’s bed without even being cleaned — no one imagined it might be used again. When they pulled it out, the gown was yellowed and torn. Rita and Lambie helped Ali try it on. It was ill-fitting and unflattering, but the sight made her grandmother cry.
Lambie prayed Ali wouldn’t change her mind. In some way she thought that maybe this act — her daughter wearing her mother’s wedding dress — would say what words could never fully express.
“I know how much it would mean to [Rita]. And anything I can ever do to let her know that I really do appreciate her — even if we don’t always see eye to eye on things — is good,” Lambie says. “Because I want her to know that I love her.”
The gown was sent to an expert seamstress, who flattened the sleeves that a previous bride had puffed, and meticulously patched the lace. Ali found a simple sheath to wear for the reception and bought strappy gold shoes to go with both.
The sky was clear and the air was crisp for the wedding this April. Ali stood in her parents’ living room while Rita and Lambie latched each button of the 56-year-old dress. Ali winked at the flower girl, Robyn’s 9-year-old daughter, who watched intently from a corner.
All day, the house had been a frenzy of hair and makeup and bridesmaids. Just before it was time to leave, Lambie told her husband to turn on the music. “Chapel of Love” began to play. Dovey danced around the kitchen with her son. Robyn organized gift wrap, and Rita gave Ali a blessing. Kitt, Bunny and their broods were already en route to the church. Lambie leaned against the door frame and sighed. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at her daughter, grown-up and gorgeous.
“It looks just right,” Ali said of the dress. “It looks like home. It looks like family.”
Ellen McCarthy writes the On Love column in Sunday Style. Her last stories for WP Magazine were on people who never found The One, why so many people divorce and the professor of pickups. To comment on this story, send e-mail to email@example.com.
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