Ever-Patient and I just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary this past Saturday. We’ve been together for 20 years and I talked about this milestone in a previous post. It was a milestone for us but our wedding anniversary is a whole different special.
It’s the day I decided to actually take this whole long-term relationship thing seriously. It was the day I decided to really try. It was the day I decided to not have “BAIL” as my go-to option. It was the day we became a family. It was the day I came home. It was the day that I made a public declaration of commitment and love. It was the day that I made promises and would be held accountable.
We did things unconventionally. We had a baby. Then we lived together. Then we bought a home. Then we decided to get married. My mom had a wonderful idea of a destination wedding so we could get a vacation out of it. On June 28, 2000 we were married on Paradise Island in the Bahamas by a lovely Bahamian female minister with 40 of our closest family and friends in attendance. Our 2 year old daughter was our flower girl and my 6 year old brother was our ring bearer. My 10 year old brother read this Khalil Gibran passage at the ceremony. There was a violinist, champagne, bubbles, and a Caribbean sunset. It was lovely. We recited our vows that we wrote ourselves and hopped in the ocean afterwards. There were things that happened that I never thought would come to pass: our daughter fully participated in our wedding, I saw my mom hug her new son-in-law, I danced with my father at my wedding reception, and my in-laws held each other affectionately and looked at us with the same affection as Ever-Patient I made our promises to each other.
It was a beautiful week. Then the hard part began. The actual marriage stuff.
My parents are divorced so of course I automatically assumed that any bumps in the road meant the sudden demise of our marriage. The urge to bolt was a frequent feeling in those early years. It was pretty alarming for my new husband. He had to constantly settle me down and reassure me that everything was ok and that we just needed to work at this, little by little, day by day.
In the last 14 years of marriage, we added 4 more children to the mix. We moved 3 times. We decided to homeschool. We made about 9 career changes between the both of us. We’ve ebbed and flowed in our relationship. In the early years, when the children were little, there were months when we barely spoke and our schedules were completely opposite. The long days. The stoppages in “us” and the ongoing sagas brought on by “them.” The out-of-balance years. The nit-picking and the fights brought on by noise and exhaustion.
Those years with the littles tested us. We were best when we kept moving. Kept moving forward. Focusing on the present and knowing one day we wouldn’t be so taxed physically by them. It was when we stopped and looked around that things got hairy. When we looked at the mountain of laundry, looked at the sink full of dishes, and looked at the garbage full of empty take-out containers, we turned on each other and ourselves. We beat ourselves up and used the other as the punching bag when our own selves couldn’t take anymore beatings. We would compete over who was more tired and stressed out with both of us always losing. Marriage was more of a parenting partnership. We passed the kids back and forth. We exchanged pleasantries and logistic details in the hallway. We could fall asleep anywhere. Life was on a loop. Loading and unloading children our of car seats, high chairs, and wraps. Taking turns getting up at night. Changing diapers over and over again. And relishing in the moments when we actually took delight in the chaos. Because we really did love it all – the messy, the loud, the disorder, the naysayers, the laughing at each other, and all those nights we laid in bed wondering aloud, “Whose idea was it to have FIVE?” and sighing/laughing in unison before passing out.
How did we survive? How did we get here? How do we keep trusting this “us” will make it through? How do we keep trusting each other and ourselves?
We survived all the yelling, the ultimatums, the separateness, the apathy, the immovable. Whenever we were on the cusp of giving up, of succumbing to defeat, we would always make that one last ditch effort that barely kept us afloat and was just enough to keep us falling over the edge. What made us push through? We can say that it was all for “the kids” but we know better. We fought tooth and nail for this “us” we keep believing in. We never lost ourselves or diverged on different paths. Some of us may have taken the high road more often but at least we were traveling in the same direction.
There used to be times when a fight would turn into an exercise into looking back at the past and keeping score. We would open old wounds and pick at the scar tissue until we bled again. We bled all the same pains and same hurts. The trauma from the past was re-lived. We re-lived the ugly on the regular as if we were addicted to it. And the fight would end in the same way – we would use band-aids and numbing agents to recover – to “re-cover” the wound without really healing it underneath.
Now I see how we deal with disagreements a little differently. We are always tempted to pick at that old scar. We feel the itch but we are conscious of it now and we make valiant efforts not to pick at it, always being honest with the other of how tempted we are to do it. We are more vulnerable with each other. We step back together and look at the big picture – we return to the past not to pick an old wound but to marvel at how far we’ve come. Sometimes the scab gets picked due to exhaustion, hormones, or lack of awareness. But now we don’t pick the easy fix, the topical treatment to stop the bleeding. We step back and ask ourselves how we’ve been nourishing our bodies and our spirits individually and together and what we really need. We ask why did we pick that scab in the first place. We ask hard questions and listen to even harder answers.
I can reflect on these last 14 years of marriage and see how we were focused on fulfilling the most fundamental needs of our family – physically taking care of our children often at the expense of our physical needs, securing a place to live, maintaining financial security as we grew up and as our family grew, and making choices that helped shaped our family identity. This year has marked a transition. We are no longer just roommates passing each other in the hallway. We started to be serious about dating each other again. As we get more sleep and have more time to take care of ourselves through physical activity, it’s easier to laugh again. As time goes by, it gets easier. We speak in a language of honesty with messages of trust and faith in tones of understanding and love. It’s taken a while to build this language. The increased hours of sleep definitely helps with the humour and the patience.
We have become thieves. We steal quiet moments. We steal time together throughout the day. We tiptoe to the porch and sit for a minute. We seize these moments with stealth and cunning as if we are breaking some law of parenthood as we tear ourselves away to be with each other away from the children. Whispering, winks, and coy glances. Like teenagers again, we sneak around. This time, we are keeping our little secrets and inside jokes from our children. They catch us and they roll their eyes or they come between us and break up the “love-time” as they like to call it.
For this anniversary, Ever-Patient surprised me with this tiny loveseat for our porch which was immediately taken over by this guy:
A month ago, I had this idea that we needed a smallish sofa for the porch that only the two of us could sit on. Our porch is large enough to fit a big sectional but I wanted to create a space just for us. We could put the kids to bed and have a mini “date” on the porch or we could spend a few moments out there together at the crack of dawn. The kids could use it too as a space to be by themselves throughout the day to read or just have some alone time. But when Ever-Patient and I want to use it, they need to vacate and give us some time alone. For the last few days, we have sat and had our coffee out there. We have sat and chatted about the upcoming weeks and plans we are making. We have laid down awkwardly in exhaustion. We have sat and read side by side. We have sat, held hands, and just stared at the darkening sky.
We also go for walks together after dinner. The kids clean the kitchen and get ready for bed while we head out for a walk. This is a new thing for us. We – mom and dad – are back to an us. We walk and are grateful for this time now. This time to get to know each other again after years of being just mom and just dad. This slowing of things down. During those busy years, we wondered if we would still like each other after all of it was said and done. Would we still have anything to say to each other? What would we talk about? Is there anything else there besides our mutual love for our children?
On a recent walk together, I spotted this:
Yes. This is us. We still aren’t finished what we have to say. We still tell our stories and learn something new from each other. We grow stronger with each insight shared. We have more and more to say to one another as the time passes and as we collect more memories. Sometimes we spend our alone time reminiscing and lamenting over those early years and other times we spend our time looking forward and getting excited for our next adventure. Most days, we are just happy to look around and be grateful that all is good right now.
We celebrate our anniversary as the birth of this us and the birth of home.
We ebb and flow. Together and separate. But we always come back to the basics and the simple: A walk. A talk. Sitting together.
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