Toddlers are connoisseurs of quality media. Four-year-old me was no exception. As a young tastemaker, I had Disney princess movies on rotation. Cinderella would traipse across my screen in glittery, billowing skirts. Ariel swam under the sea with ocean friends. There was one movie, however, that I liked better than anything Walt Disney could create — it was my parents’ wedding video.
Growing up, the easiest way to entertain me while my mom cooked tortillas on the stovetop was to pop my parents’ wedding videotape into our static-filled television. I would lie for hours on my parents’ bed, entranced by the low-resolution video, with my head propped up on my hands and feet kicking back and forth. My mom was confused (and mildly concerned) by my constant demands to watch it, but each time she would comply.
My parents were married in August of 1991 in muggy southern California at the age of 23. Their limousine was late, the church was stuffy and the wedding cake had a built-in water fountain. My mom, with her poofy, beaded wedding dress and hair coiffed up to the skies, was more beautiful than any princess I had ever seen. My dad was equally as charming in his single-breasted suit and bowtie. Their cheeks were rosy and glowing; they radiated hope. (Maybe it was due to the intensity of the California sun.) As a child, I liked to believe it was an outward expression of their joy at having found a “happily ever after.” To my four-year-old self, my parents looked so wise and sure. They would be untouchable by any obstacles for forever.
As I got older, my obsession over my parents’ wedding video was replaced by other media. First it was an ardent love for “High School Musical.” Then, in middle school, it became Young Adult fiction novels, and in high school, it was old boy-band albums. At the same time that I was discovering my other interests, I was also adding my own memories to the family video collection. My school performances, quinceañera celebrations and graduations are all immortalized on tape. My adolescent life gradually filled with memories and people of my own. I relished the newfound independence.
But the wedding video never really disappeared. Every few years through my teens, my family would watch old family videos to fuel their nostalgia. I couldn’t understand my childhood fervor for their wedding video whenever I rewatched it. The video was cute, but I preferred watching home videos that featured myself to relearn the moments of my life I’d forgotten. What could have driven my four-year-old self to watch their wedding video multiple times a day?
I believe that most media pieces can be completely understood and appreciated only when your life circumstances align. One could argue from the perspective of a child psychologist that as a toddler, I was more than ready to receive my parents’ wedding video. The people in the wedding video were family members, emotionally securing my family networks and helping diversify my limited childhood vocabulary. In contrast, as an older kid and teen, I was no longer in that headspace. I was moving away from solely my family’s worldview and becoming more independent. It was a time for focusing on developing my sense of self. Now, as a young adult in college, I think the circumstances of my life are aligned again.
Over quarantine, I watched my parents’ wedding video and was shocked by how young they looked. At 23, my parents were only three years older than I am now. The self-assurance I had once seen on their faces then appeared to be a sense of youthful hope and recklessness. I saw two young adults bravely plunging forth into the great unknown with only a few clues to go on. Unlike what I had once thought as a toddler, my parents were not motivated by the prospect of a happily ever after, a life without difficult times or hard work. They were driven by the joy of possibility with someone they loved, every day a new adventure, a new challenge.
When I look at my parents today, they are no longer the aimless young adults I saw in that video. The creases around their eyes have deepened after a lifetime in the sun, and their hairs have started to gray. Their faces are colored by the stressors and joys of a life well-lived. They have built a home, lost sleep, accomplished goals, found purpose, lived through recessions, tasted new dishes simmering in old pots and, best of all, raised me. My parents are different people than they were thirty years ago on their wedding day. Yet, while life has thrown them many obstacles since then, my parents’ cheeks have yet to lose their rosiness.
Like my parents, I have changed with time. I’ve grown from when I watched their wedding video for the first time. Now, as a young adult, my brain has almost finished developing, and while I am still occasionally shaken, my sense of self has crystalized into something I’m proud of. After years of hopeless romanticism and photo albums documenting my Halloween princess costumes, I no longer buy into the idea of happily ever after. Instead, although I still struggle to find courage to swim in it, I’m more comfortable with the idea of ambiguity. I know now that life isn’t all peaches and sunshine; challenges arise when you least want them to, and even the good things, especially the good things, take effort. Every day of my life isn’t and won’t be a “happily ever after.”
While I’ve grown, remnants of the four-year-old little girl I once was still exist inside me. I can articulate her thoughts with more clarity. I think that little girl has intuitively reached a conclusion about courage, one that I was only able to reach with deep reflection. There is a reason I loved my parents’ wedding video so much — sometimes, in life, you just have to jump in headfirst and say “I do.”