Whew. Just weathered a Mammoth Meltdown (one of many in the last three years, but this was definitely in the top ten), courtesy of my three-year-old. The better part of an hour of screaming/crying, along with intermittent hitting/kicking. All this – at least initially – because I wouldn’t let her put the cap back on her toothpaste. (Actually, I did let her, and then when she took it off again so she could lick the inside of it, she lost her chance.)
MAN, it’s hard work, sticking to your guns. But the worse things get, the more you have to stick, because otherwise you’re telling the child this works – this gets you what you want.
I don’t really want to talk or write about it. But I do want to mention my gratitude for my Hubbibi today. For being level-headed, for being my tag-team, for being a good sport, for being a great story reader, for being willing to listen and improve, for helping me improve, for being straight with me, for taking straight talk from me, and for giving the best hugs in the world. Oh, and for cleaning the eavestroughs today.
It’s hard to believe that it has been ten whole years since the day we pledged ourselves to each other as husband and wife. A decade sounds long, but feels short these days.
On the other hand, ten years is short, in a way, since our story began long before that.
It has been almost twenty-four years since we shared a Grade 9 Enhanced Math class, in which you were gregarious and funny and cocky, and I was quiet and cerebral and nerdy, and you volunteered to run our Christmas gift drive, and I noticed when you were writing on the blackboard that you had a cute butt.
It has been twenty-two years, give or take, since we spent enough time in our mutual group of friends for me to know that, in addition to your class-clown side, you also had a quiet, cerebral, nerdy side, and a philosophical, argumentative side. It was a mysterious and interesting combination.
It has been nineteen years since the high-school graduation breakfast where you made everyone at our very long restaurant table laugh so hard we practically choked on our pancakes.
It has been close to fifteen years since we both prepared to leave our hometown on long-term journeys, and you suggested unexpectedly that we should write letters to each other – letters that would become highlights of my challenging, exciting, homesick, turbulent, emotional, unforgettable European odyssey.
It has been thirteen-and-a-half years since the Christmas when you thought you’d lost your chance, and wrote me a story to win me over – not realizing I was already yours.
It has been twelve years since we euphorically painted the walls of our first shared apartment in our new city, so broke we could only afford to rent kids’ movies at the video store a block away.
It has been almost eleven years since the Tuesday night in October when you proposed to me, in our bedroom, with me in pjs and my hair a mess – partly to cheer me up after a bad day, and partly because you simply couldn’t wait for the weekend and the official proposal plan. I was struck speechless by the beautiful ring you had chosen. (To this day, you can’t sit on a secret gift very long.)
On that beautiful wedding day ten years ago, I promised that for the rest of our lives, I would laugh with you, play with you, challenge you and protect you; that I would not hide from you, but would confide in you and be true to both of us; that I would be your comfort, your friend, your lover, and your partner in times of joy and of pain; and that above all, I would love you. And of course, you promised the same to me.
We’ve done, and still do, all of those things. In these ten years, we’ve had the joy and the pain. We’ve both changed workplaces more than once. We bought our first house. We conceived four children, birthed three, and were blessed to keep two.
We have struggled with work and stress, sleep and health, time and money, and finding those often-delicate lines of communication between openness and injury. We have been stretched by the delights and demands of parenting our dazzling, frustrating, wonderful kids.
Despite three very close calls that almost ended our relationship in the first two years, and many experiences to test us since then… I’ve never doubted the strength of our promises. We are a great team, and I feel so lucky to know it.
I love parenting with you, knowing we have each other’s backs, and knowing that if I’m not at my best on a particular day, you will summon your extra patience and balance things out.
I love that we laugh at the same things and enjoy the same forms of entertainment, especially the games we geek out on (Settlers, Yahtzee, Cribbage, Gin, all forms of Trivia…).
I love that we can have a difficult argument but still manage to listen to each other; that we can make our way through thorny topics, and still hug at the end – and mean it.
I love that I’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve rescued me, in both big and small ways, and always without complaint.
I love it when I make you laugh unexpectedly, and you hug me and say, “I knew I married you for a reason!”
And I love the moments when the reasons I married you are so clear, too. When we’re snuggling – still one of my favourite activities in the world – and we get the giggles, and then the kids pile on top, and there’s tickling and limbs in faces, and it’s the best.
When you’re telling me about something you’ve been learning about, and your curiosity and passion remind me of the importance of wonder in life.
When I’m fretting for some reason, and you make the kind of frank-but-insightful comment that cuts through my overthinking, and brings the issue down to its essence.
When our children do something cute or astonishing or both, and we look at each other incredulously: how did we ever make those??
When we suddenly find ourselves in a moment too steamy to blog about.
When you know the answer to that question I’ve been wondering about, or know how to fix that thing that’s not working right.
When you squeeze my hand because you know we’re thinking the same thing.
When I can hear you reading stories to the kids, and you’re so tender and great with them.
When we’re singing together in the kitchen or in the car.
When we make a new plan for our life together, and I am buoyed by your optimism.
In just a few weeks, we will move to the next chapter of our lives, in our new house. I can hardly wait to see what the next decade will bring to the little family we’ve made.
“How’s your relationship these days?” is not a question most of us ever ask people. I’ve probably only ever asked it of newlyweds (where it’s more like “How’s married life?” nudge-nudge) or of very close friends with whom I have a precedent of relationship discussions.
It is a bit odd, though. Among parents, there are the constant “how are your kids” conversations, and it’s expected that you’ll dish on the hard parts as well as the fun parts. But for some reason, even though Sean and I are at the age where the majority of our friends are in committed relationships, we rarely discuss that very important aspect of daily life. Somehow, it feels rude or intrusive to ask, even though we certainly care about the answer.
One result of this is that when friends have major relationship troubles or break up, it’s often a complete shock – sometimes even to close friends. You think, But they always seemed fine!
Obviously, the reasons to break up are as diverse and numerous as the couples who do it. For the couples who stay together, there are myriad reasons for that, too. Presumably, though, most couples who’ve had a long-term relationship – whatever its future – had a period of awesomeness at some point. A chapter, of whatever length, where the connection was uplifting and the chemistry was wild and both parties thought, “This could be IT!”
Setting aside the Big Bad Wolves of Relationship Destruction (infidelity, abuse, addiction, etc.), how else do those paths diverge, such that some couples stay together and some split up?
I can only speak for myself in this, of course. I’m no expert. If someone asked me, “How can you be sure you’ll be together forever?” I’d say, “I’m not. It’s impossible to be a hundred percent sure. But I am supremely confident.”
How, you ask, can I be supremely confident without blind faith? What’s the secret? And could it be helpful to anyone else?
Well, shucks, that’s why I’m writing this. So that you can all SOAK UP MY GLORIOUS WISDOM. Alors, voilà: here is my carefully crafted counsel, based on my own untrained and entirely non-objective experience of thirteen years with the same person (9.5 of them married).
1. Let Your Inner Grub Out.
If you’re gonna be with someone for the long haul, they need to see the real you, and your real habits. Not dressed up, not scrubbed down. When Sean and I moved in together, cohabitation was our way to make sure that neither of us had habits that would be deal-breakers for the other. We are lucky to have very similar scores on the slob-to-neat-freak scale. If I forget to put the CDs back in their cases (yes, we’re sooo retro, we still have CDs), or if he forgets to put his nasal rinse packet in the garbage, we know we’re about even. We have also found we’re able to handle each other’s dirty laundry and live with each other’s stinkier sides, and we like each other even in comfy pants and scruffy hoodies.
2. Get Used To Non-Perfection.
Speaking of grubs, your personality-related grubbiness is gonna need airing out too. We all have our flaws. We all have at least one side that’s lazy or naggy or procrastinatey or judgey or grumpy or insensitive or whatever. (Fun game: guess which ones are mine!!) And if you join yourself with a person, you join yourself with their flaws. Those flaws are not going anywhere. And Sean and I are well aware of the less awesome parts of each other – and ourselves. Sometimes we drive each other a little bit bonkers with that. But even though we know we can’t change each other, we do support each other’s quests for self-improvement, which are constantly evolving.
3. Forget Sweet Talk. Try Straight Talk.
Speaking of imperfections, it’s good to know we can live with each other’s, but sometimes discussion is necessary. It’s amazing how easy it is to find yourself playing games, manipulating, expecting someone to read your mind if you’re feeling pouty. But that’s lame. If my husband is driving me bonkers in some way, and I never articulate it to him, then what chance is there to improve things? If he’s upset with me for something, I want him to tell me – even when it hurts to hear. (Contrary to some beliefs, it is NOT more respectful to say nothing in an attempt to spare someone’s feelings.) It usually hurts, although we also take pains to word things as plainly-but-tactfully as possible. Those moments are really hard, but bearable – and worth it – if they come from a place of caring. Leaving those unsaid things to fester, on the other hand, is a great way to drive spikes into the potential cracks in a relationship. (We consider that, true to our marriage vows, being irresponsible with spikes is not an option. We have invested; what we have is not disposable or replaceable; therefore, proper maintenance is necessary.)
4. Learn To Mess Up Properly.
Speaking of upsetting each other, Sean and I have learned, many times, that if you handle mistakes with honesty and sincerity, it works way better than denying or deflecting blame. THIS IS HARD, too. Admitting you’re wrong… I honestly think everyone struggles with it. True apology feels deeply vulnerable. But it’s also humbling, illuminating, disarming, and endearing. It allows a couple to be a team, with both members party to the resolution. And I’ve noticed that when a person can be candid about mistakes, those aforementioned flaws and foibles can sometimes even be… kinda cute.
5. Never Mind About That Honeymoon Phase.
Speaking of admitting things, let’s be frank: the exorbitant new-relationship ecstasy does not last forever. Sometimes Sean and I look back on how snuggly-wuggly and cutesie-wootsie we once were, and we think, Yeesh. Our friends must have been nauseated. That swooning stage is not sustainable, long-term. And to be even franker, in a long relationship, there are sometimes downright cool periods – times when you feel distant or annoyed or just not that attracted to each other, or even disconnected.
N.B.: DON’T PANIC. It doesn’t mean the spark is gone forever.
For me, those are usually the times when I’m feeling deflated about life in general. Fortunately, I’ve learned not to put stock in those times. I know that that’s just how I feel if I’m short on sleep, or not eating right, or stressed out about certain things. I wait it out. I know it will pass. It always does. If it needs a little nudge, some of that straight talk (see #3) comes in very handy. Invariably, the moment comes when I look at my husband and feel the affection/happiness/spark surge back in.
It’s also worth mentioning that, in my experience, the settled, solid, non-swooning phase is, in many ways, more sublime than its predecessor. And it still includes kisses that make me weak in the knees.
6. Go Ahead And Take Love For Granted.
Speaking of sometimes-latent affection, one of the perks of being in a committed relationship is getting to take love for granted – in a way. It’s not that I take love in general for granted; it took me ages (years, even) to tell my high school/university boyfriend that I loved him, because I wanted to be absolutely sure I knew what I meant, and meant it well. But once you’ve taken that leap and decided that yes, this is love!, it’s your right – and responsibility – to trust that it’s there… even at times (see #5) when you feel crotchety and not-so-loving. My Hubbibi and I always end phone and text conversations with “I love you.” Especially if we’ve been exasperated with each other, or having a difficult conversation, we both know that by saying “I love you,” we’re affirming that we don’t take challenging moments as bad signs, that we both trust in the proof of our history. Unless one of us were to go through a fundamental change, we know: I’m me, and you’re you, and we love each other.
Furthermore, I really believe that the out-loud declaration of “I love you” is, for lack of a better analogy, like a valve that opens to let the love flow. The absence of “I love you,” on the other hand, is not just a silent moment; it’s a gaping hole through which the love can gradually – and painfully – drain out. I know couples have very different outlooks on when to say it, how often to say it, not wanting it to “mean nothing” if said too often. I see where they’re coming from, but I don’t think saving I love yous for special occasions makes sense. Love, with your life partner, is a gift – but not the diamond-bracelet kind of gift. It must be a practical, everyday gift, like a high-quality glue that can get kinda grungy but does not let go. Even if you say it dozens of times a day, it still means everything.
7. Love Is Not All You Need.
Speaking of love, it’s not the last word. It’s also really important to like each other. If you don’t enjoy each other’s company, all the good chemistry in the world won’t make up for it. I always smile when I see that quote on someone’s wedding program, “This day I will marry my best friend,” etc., because I think that’s the dream. What more could you want? Permanent sleepovers with your best friend! Always coming home to your favourite person! Once you cohabit, and more so once you have kids, it won’t always be “quality” time. There will be many humdrum household activities to share. Once in a while you might think, “Remember when we used to do FUN stuff together??” And you will again. But in the meantime, even if you don’t spend lots of time together (couples on opposite shifts, or with very different hobbies, for example), just sharing those run-of-the-mill activities can be lovely with a cherished friend.
8. Smarten Up And Be Grateful.
There are lots of couples out there who make their marriages function even though they’re not particularly happy or compatible together. Sean and I are fortunate in lots of ways some couples aren’t: we have very well-matched senses of humour; we enjoy the same simple ways to spend time together; we like the same music; we have similar nerdy and/or intellectual tendencies; we have harmonious politics; we genuinely love each other’s families.
We do, however, have differences that can be difficult. We aren’t passionate about all the same things; we don’t have the same style of communication; we have different instincts on a lot of minor issues; but all those things are surmountable with some conscious effort. And with the time we’ve already spent together, we owe each other that conscious effort. Who are we to let small things mess up our relationship when other couples have such larger hurdles?
Ignoring my good fortune seems spoiled to me – like living in such abundance that you feel entitled to waste perfectly good food – and I HATE wasting food. I’ve made a habit of intentionally appreciating the good things, so that when things don’t seem super-rosy, I never forget that I’m still an extremely lucky gal.
One more thing… A Note About Mental Illness.
As many of you know, my beloved Hubbibi is subject to chemical depression sometimes. It took a long time for both of us to understand that while depression can be triggered or catalyzed by circumstances, at its foundation it has nothing to do with how many things are good in one’s life. I have had to pull myself back from feeling like my failings were directly contributing to his depression.
The thing is, before our marriage, we did almost break up – several times – and I mostly blame the depression. It’s an illness that steals your mojo, takes the glow out of even your favourite people and things, makes you feel like stuff isn’t worth doing, saps your motivation to do even the things you know are good for you.
So again, speaking just from my own perspective… If your relationship seems lacklustre despite solid history, consider that mental health (or lack of it) could be an issue. Because there are ways to deal with that. We would never have gotten through those almost-breakups, not to mention having children, not to mention losing one child, without confronting those issues head-on. Being open about this, and being a united team where mental health is concerned, has saved us multiple times.
So, to sum up:
If someone were to ask me, “How did you know that Sean was THE ONE?” I’d say, “I didn’t. But I knew he was a super-special-awesome one.”
If someone were to ask me, “How do you know Sean IS the one?” I’d say something annoying like, “He is… becausehe is.”
I don’t necessarily believe there’s only one human in the world I could possibly make a life with. But Sean is the person I’ve chosen, who has also chosen me, with whom to build something special and interesting and beautiful. He is the only person with whom I can have THIS life, and this life is the one I want.
P.S.: To read more about mental health struggles and successes, please click here.
I should mention that one of them is: my blog is working!!! Almost basically back to normal! YAHOO! (Big thanks to my dad for helping and putting up with lots of rigamarole regarding my blog issues.) So now I’m looking forward to backdating the happy days I’ve stored up AS WELL AS posting new ones.
Then we have my Hubbibi, who magically procured groceries at some insanely late hour last night or early hour this morning (he works at 7 am) because we had somehow gotten ourselves into a situation of almost-lunchlessness for our son.
Plus, he’s cleaned the kitchen for the last two evenings in a row, and when my husband cleans the kitchen… it’s lick-the-counter clean, baby. (Not to be confused with “lick the counter clean,” which he does not do. Gross.)
AND he brushed off the car for me before he left this morning, which was a blessing, because SNOW and ICE are apparently all the rage. (I love you, Sean! xoxoxoxox)
Then, also, there’s been sunshine on snow today. That makes me happy in spite of snow pants and scraping windshields, because it’s just so pretty and sparkly and brilliant.
AND, you gotta be stoked if you’re not in Buffalo right now. (And if you are… my heart goes out to you.)
Here we go, Americans: the Day of Reckoning. I hope you’re on your way to vote – or have already done so.
According to the Chicago Tribune, lots of voters wait until Election Day to decide whom their ballot will support. That seems so strange to me, in a country with what is essentially a two-party system, with wildly differing candidates.
As I see it, if you support the Republicans under Romney, there’s no way you can support the Democrats under Obama – and vice versa. Either you blame Obama for stuff that’s occurred during the last four years that you consider bad, or you credit him for stuff you consider good.
It’s not really my place to weigh in on the American election (even though I know who I’d vote for – and can’t imagine doing otherwise). Frankly, I’m fairly disillusioned up here in Canada, where we’re currently living under the sneakiest, most underhanded Prime Minister in history. I don’t want to talk about that guy either.
What I’m wondering today is what those two women are feeling – the ones who are poised as potential First Ladies for the next four years.
Over on BlogHer, shortly after the big presidential debate, I read posts by each of them, talking about their husbands and the campaign trail. It’s pretty interesting reading. Naturally, each woman speaks of her man with esteem and love, vouching for his character and her faith that he can fix things. I hope that all of this is sincere, but I can’t help wondering if these women would like to say things they don’t say.
Ann Romney has battled multiple sclerosis and cancer. She writes that Mitt is her hero, and that he has always stood by her during the tough times. She also writes: “I have to admit, though, five years ago at the end of the last campaign, I told Mitt I would never do this again. Mitt laughed and said, ‘Honey, you say that after every pregnancy.'” (The Romneys have five children.)
This has been a vitriolic, exhausting lead-up to the election. Is there part of Ann that wishes her family weren’t having to go through all this? Has the presidential race turned out to be more than she meant to sign up for? Does she ever worry about how things will be if her husband actually becomes the President?
Michelle Obama writes very proudly of her husband’s election priorities, as well as his accomplishments thus far. She also mentions that the night of the debate was her and Barack’s 20th wedding anniversary – a big milestone.
When you’re the First Lady of the United States, do you ever get to show frustration at the inconveniences that must be part of that role? Does Michelle ever wish she could just go back to being normal? Does she feel that the man she married has changed in ways she doesn’t love? Does she secretly kinda hope Barack will lose, so that she can, in some measure, have her husband back?
I’m sure that each of these women feel just as passionately about the outcome of this election as other engaged voters do: they want their candidate to win, because they feel strongly that he will help her country the most.
But, to be blunt, I think I’d hate being a First Lady. I mean, I get exasperated when Sean works extra hours unexpectedly and it infringes on our plans; I also treasure my freedom to disagree with him. And for that to be our business only. I have no desire to be nationally – much less internationally – recognizable and famous. I could probably adjust to the adoring masses’ adulation of my husband (eventually), but I’d be severely uncomfortable with the vilification that would be just as inescapable. As a borderline introvert, I’d be drained meeting and chatting graciously with so many strangers all the time. And I really don’t think my fashion sense would pass muster with the critical public.
It must be really tough. I don’t envy Michelle or Ann at all. But I hope, for each of their sakes, that they love their roles – and their husbands – as much as they seem to.
It’s gonna be a crazy, difficult day for both of them, no matter what happens. I’m wishing them strength… and some relaxing, quality family time some day soon.