"This is how we do." Rapid fire: a funeral, a wedding, a new house and a baby in two years. Boom.
It would not be embellishing if I were to say I do things at "break-neck" speed. I always have. Talk, walk, type, you name it, I'll get it done -- pronto. Josh was similar although he was much better at hiding it. Need to furnish the house? We'll have it done in a day. He decides he wants a new car? Bought one in 48 hours. Perhaps it is a bi-product of growing up with no control, we take it now, commit to it and pull the proverbial trigger.
That is why our life, as it unfolded, did so... quickly. Without going into more detail than necessary (Ha! Imagine that? Too bad.) I will summarize. I had broken our first engagement searching for ways to "live more" and "work more" and figure out who I was... that was my story, at least.
So we broke up. Both of us were dating other people for a time. My father died suddenly in 2002 of a heart attack. It shook my universe. Julia packed my bags, and hugged me tightly. Josh drove me to Iowa. He pallbearer-ed with me, held my hand and stood stable in the darkest time of my life. From there, a tectonic shift (of sorts) began for me.
We were engaged shortly after that, married six months after our engagement, and I was pregnant eight months after the wedding. So we adapted. We functioned. That's what we do.
Our wedding was in January. We only invited 48 people. My rule was "I want to look around the room and truly know and love each person present." No show. No frills. It was a beautiful night. My cousin walked me down the aisle in the absence of my dad. We wrote our own vows and we began.
My rush was an internal yearning to build. A catalyst, Josh was willing and understanding of; and therefore, he complied. Even our wedding gifts (t-shirts I wrote copy for) said we wanted to "make babies." After such a grave loss of family, all I wanted was to create a family.
In one year we built a house in the suburbs of Chicago, I quit working, and we became parents. We were 27 years old, and this was the first time in my life living outside of an urban environment. And still we adapted, we had an entire childhood's worth of experience that taught us to acclimate.
Human chameleons, we accepted our surroundings and adjusted in the whirlwinds (self-created or not) that we found ourselves in. I had lost an identity and honesty with myself. This happened unbeknownst to me, overshadowed by the gain in a family. Thus, I felt my inability to complain or question. This is precisely what I had pushed for, no?
He too was spread thin. Supporting both of us financially while going to grad school at the University of Chicago part-time. He was still working full time and managing the stresses of a new family. That was no easy task. There was a string of seven months during our daughter's infancy that I would only see him on Friday evening and Sundays. Silently, we suffered, but we functioned with understanding and fortitude. I got a nanny three days a week and went back to work, which helped immensely.
I look back now, and perhaps I'm only "knee-deep "in myself for the first time ever now. I still have so much to know, but my goal is to one day, hopefully, be fully submerged in whoever "I am" and who I'm "meant to be."
I do know we were too young, too fast, and too ill-prepared, but we did it. A solemn promise that we would never, not under any circumstance, transfer our issues to our kids, not fail to communicate with them, and with every fiber in our beings we swore neither guilt nor fear would stop us from trying to parent fully. We hold to that standard today, and our kids prove it to us daily.
What I have learned is that life happens. We are not merely a sum total of our choices, but of our inaction and also the unspoken. What I need to say is that we are exactly where we should be. I have never felt surer. From the outside we elicit pity or judgment, but I would trade my life with no one.
We have kept our promises of being kind, gentle and understanding with each other. Especially when the burning judgments of our peers and strangers tested our core senses of self, and unity. We have both made mistakes. All humans do! During all challenges, growth and falls of marriage, parenthood and life, we know that. We accepted it at first "I do."
I am not impressed with the length of a couple's marriage if they did not do the same. Empathy, compassion and the ability to communicate in the torrid storms of life are what I respect. To look in each others hurting eyes and dig deep for common ground to add levity, team up against rumors, lies and all that can be lost when people have preconceived ideas that affect everything. That said, what we think matters only to the people we love. That is why I now keep my opinions to myself. For I know not, what any couple is managing behind closed doors.
Nothing I've tried to do has worked out as my idealistic naïveté would have wanted. No, I got--we got -- so much more. We built a life of friendship and love. We fashioned a boat, within which we are going to do this "parenting thing" together until we take our last breaths.
We got to watch three little people learn how to walk, talk, discover summer, and water and laughter. We have this silly thing we do called "Fam-i-ly!" It began when Josh and I were just the two of us. When one of us was angry, I would make us embrace each other jumping up and down while fake laughing. Seriously. Try it. See if you cannot laugh!
It morphed into three people hopping, and then four, and just a couple days ago it was six. (My daughters make me hold the stupid dog now, too.) We scream "Fam-I-lieeeeeeeeee" in a three part inflected scream-three times, all of us jumping in a circle, hysterically laughing and screaming. The kids beg for it.
Someone asked me last week if my kids are safe when home with me. I was beside myself. An extreme round of emotions hit, I was furious, shocked and crying. My 9-year-old asked what was wrong, and I told her: She inquired more, and I said: "Just a bad day, hon." The she pushed, using my words: "Mom, if we're a team telling the truth goes both ways." (Boom.) So I replied: "Mommy's friends hurt my feelings. I guess people think I'm too sad or too stressed to take care of you guys." Her reaction shocked me. She laughed!
Guttural laughs from an innocent face and the kindest soul she is, genuinely asked: "How would anyone know? No one comes for play dates or to visit but Julia! We are good, really good, and normal. How do they even know?" I stifled a crying laughed and we hugged. My kids? They are good.
They are better than good. They are amazing.
Nothing is easy. No one said it would be. We laugh a lot, at ourselves, at our children, and our history. We love with a deep empathy that people change and grow, and get lost too.
Today, as he pulled the U-haul truck into the driveway, I face the scary depths of being alone. I face being an outcast as a "single mom" in the small town with a herd mentality. I face loss and pain and loneliness and doubt, but I know in my heart we owe each other everything. We both deserve the best, no matter how that ends up defining itself.
Like with a loss or death, I'm doing what people do. I am celebrating the life that has perished. I am remembering the beautiful in the brave and grave truths of a life built, lived and broken. I publicly and with resounding respect say:
Everything I am today is in some way possible because of the husband and father he has been. For that, I am eternally grateful and blessed to know that we share a boat, a life, and the greatest gift of parenting... together.
Thank you for being you so I could learn, fail, fall, create, mother, build and become me.
Check back for (gulp) part three: "Come What May."
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