Tag Archives: marriage

The Moment Between

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 6.29.22 AM

The night is over but the morning hasn’t arrived. I can tell because the roosters are crowing. If it was 2 a.m. or even 3, there’d be no sound. At that hour, the cars have stopped whizzing down the nearby arterial, and the wild chickens haven’t started up. At that hour, it’s as if even the second hand stops its advance.

How do I know this? Because I often wake up. I read that my segmented sleep was once normal, when, before electricity, people went to bed not long after dark and got up during the night to think, write or even visit friends.

I used to argue with myself about whatever was on my mind, harrangued myself “go the f*** to sleep.” Then I played yogi and tried to think relaxing thoughts — which may be part of the problem, since a yogi would know you can’t “do” relaxation.

But now I just listen. First I listen for the cars and chickens, so that I know what time it is. Then I listen to my husband breathe. A few weeks ago, he sounded like a slide whistle, starting on a higher pitch and sliding a few notes lower. Every so often, he changed keys. It may sound annoying but it wasn’t. I was smiling, next to him, almost giggling. I picked up my iphone, recorded his little symphony and thought about posting it on my social media. I thought the better of that idea — his revenge might be too sweet since I’m the snorer — but in the morning I played it back for him and we laughed about it.

Most nights, my husband’s breathing is heavy and regular. Listening to him breathe, I stop worrying about sleep, about the approaching day, about all the problems I can’t fix. His breath surrounds me.

 

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The Clueless Bride

The happy couple - wearing a 1906 wedding dress and tux in 100+ degree heat!

I had no idea what I was doing when I married my husband, 33 years ago, at almost this exact time. Oh, I thought I did, in the way 25 year olds think they have everything figured out. I remember how I felt the morning of my wedding. After a restless night, I woke up next to Ellen, my best friend, who would stand up for me later. I had expected to sleep deeply, as I had done so many times before, when Ellen and I talked deep into the night. But I was nervous. And that was silly, I thought. I was in love and marrying a good guy and I knew what I was getting in to. Being anxious about the ceremony — that was silly, too. In our hearts Todd and I were already married.

I could write a book about what I didn’t know. Practical things like: how to sleep with a 6’3″ person in a water bed; where to look for missing things when you live with someone who likes things neat.

None of the practical things mattered. I quickly learned to search the drawer closest to where I last saw a missing item, even if it made no sense to put it there. We got rid of the water bed after a year of rough seas. Those early lessons were mere anecdotes.

It took years, decades, to understand the big themes. How hard a man will work to preserve a marriage. How unconditionally loving he is of his children. How there for family — mine and his. How supportive of friends. How committed to faith through service. How responsible to people he does business with.

When I was 25, I glimpsed these qualities but, without context, without experience, didn’t know what I was seeing. Is he perfect? No, but he’s pretty damned special. I’ve now lived with him longer than I lived without him. Clueless no longer, I know what I’ve got.

 

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An Anniversary Tale

The happy couple - wearing a 1906 wedding dress and tux in 100+ degree heat!

The happy couple – wearing a 1906 wedding dress and wool tux in 100+ degree heat!

A few minutes ago I saw my classmate’s post after she received her first feedback from her advisor since beginning our graduate writing program. Within the space of minutes, she reported that went from feeling curled in a fetal position to feeling Determined.

After my first workshop at graduate school didn’t go so well (the most favorable comment was “weird but interesting”), someone at home asked me if I was going to continue. Well, of course! It’s not so much that I’m a when-the-tough-get-going kind of girl, but that I’m a tell-me-what-I-can’t-do-and-I’ll-try type.

This characteristic has led to some stunningly stupid outcomes. When I was in fourth grade, my brother told me I wasn’t brave enough to jump off the roof where it was two stories high. Well, of course I was! It worked out well for him and for me: he got a chance to practice his Boy Scout first aid skills and I got street cred with my brother.

In the still-early years of my career, I was told I shouldn’t apply for a promotion because I was pregnant. Well, of course I would! Though I didn’t regret it in the long run, I would never advise someone to take a new job when six months along.

Trouble arises when my narrative collides with someone else’s. For example, my husband’s. About nine months after the birth of our first child, we talked seriously of continuing our family. He had waited eight years for his sister, and he believed that having a sibling was a good and a joyful thing. Then I returned home from work one day, fresh from my performance review, and announced to my husband that I’d made a decision. He looked at me expectantly. I’m going to get my M.B.A., I told him enthusiastically. Dead silence. He had his own story arc in mind: happy couple marries, happy couple has some time to enjoy their freedom before settling down, happy couple starts family, happy couple has baby number two within three years (three years seen as ideal spacing), and the family is complete. We were telling different stories to ourselves.

Here is why this is an anniversary story. Today, my husband and I have been married 32 years. Looking for something else over the weekend, I found the notebooks into which we wrote our hopes and fears when we attended an Engaged Encounter retreat four months before our marriage. He wrote of his hopes for five years out, “I want to raise a family with you, badly. To nurture, protect, and to love.” I was a little more tentative. I wrote, “I’d like to be about ready to have our first.”

Marriage and family hadn’t been part of the stories I told myself in my early 20s. It was the Seventies, and I was Going Places. Then I met Todd. I couldn’t imagine life without him, and my narrative changed. I’ve always been the type that opened door number one without much idea of what might lie behind it. When he proposed — complete with a fake plane ticket made out for Mr. and Mrs. Todd Stone to Hawaii — I said yes. Here I come, I said, and there I went.

I wasn’t prepared for marriage. I didn’t know how the story would unfold. I called him “my puppy and my knight in shining armor” when I wrote my betrothal pledge at age twenty-four. (Yes, I really used those words.) Deciding to say “yes” to my love’s proposal was the scariest thing I ever did. And the wisest.

I wrote that I wanted to be “sensitive, supportive, vulnerable, loving, protective, and broad shouldered.” Turned out that my husband was. Every time that I suddenly changed the story line, he wove himself right back in to the narrative.

My story would be incomplete without him.

Dear knight in shining armor: you still are.

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The Valentine’s Day Card Dilemma

Todd and Betsy Stone

My husband makes me happy. He gets me, even though I am a complex person. I get him, even though he is about as straightforward as a human being can be. The relationship between us is a reaction. We are better and more interesting together than either of us is alone. Even after thirty-one years of marriage and thirty-three years of couple-hood.

But I hate shopping for Valentine’s Day cards.

“You are my soul mate,” one read, in loopy script.

I have never felt that my husband is my soul mate. I’ve never told him, “You complete me,” movie-style, because it isn’t true.

I look at the racks of cards and mostly want to vomit. These are the sentiments that are supposed to express our hearts. There are the “big-strong-man” hubby cards that ooze with compliments about how virile and protective and kind he is. There are the “you’ve still got it, baby” cards that wink at continuing sexual attraction. There are the “old reliable” cards that speak of gratitude for years of steadfastness.

Valentine’s Day cards always make me wonder: is the problem me?

An article published by Aeon provided an explanation that made sense to me:

“…(I)dentities are not fused — they are shared. Profound romantic satisfaction is not about possession but about flourishing; the other person is not an extension of you, but a partner for a dynamic and fulfilling way of life….(T)he partners’ personal characteristics do not have to be the best in town — they just need to be in harmony.”

That rings true.

In the end, I chose a card with an up-close picture of a cow with a baying bull reflected in its eyeglasses, a jokey card. My husband got it, though: a reference to a funny, horny dream I had a long time ago that included a man sidling up to me and suggesting his secret fantasy. “I like to moo,” he whispered to me.

One of the most romantic things I ever saw written said very little. It was a photo of a plane, underneath which my mother wrote, “The plane that brought him home.”

Maybe the perfect card for my husband would say, simply, “It’s you I want.”

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My Parents’ Gifts of Love

With the latest salvos in the Mommy Wars, I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents’ push-me pull-you influence on my professional development.

When my father told me in high school that I had to take typing in case I ever had to support myself, I rolled my eyes. I thought it was stupid. I had no intention of making my living from typing.

By the time I graduated from college, I was ready to pursue the career that was my right. Women could succeed at anything they chose, if they were willing to work hard enough. Marriage or family could wait until my mid 30s — if they came at all. I had too much to do.

My mother was by no means pleased about the prospect of me pursuing a career. Work, yes. Career, no.

Tension between my mother and me surfaced as soon as I launched out on my own, following our usual pattern of escalation: explosion, “disagreeable disagreement” (as my mother put it), letters and rapprochement or at least truce.

On a telephone call home to Tacoma from Davis, California, I told Mom that I wasn’t ready to get married anytime soon although I was dating a great guy (now my husband of 31 years). Mom asserted that I was “throwing away a personal life.” The call did not end well.

I think I wrote first. She wrote a five page letter back. She explained, “There is a big difference in being work-oriented and career-oriented…. Career women were admired by my peers and sometimes even envied – but it was also expected that women would be women first and career women secondly…. But I don’t want you to think for a moment that I believe I did not have a career – I know I did have, and I am grateful to have lived at a time when being a full-time wife and mother, with all that entails, was possible….. Most parents want for their children what they feel they missed or wanted and didn’t get – I am just the opposite – I want my children to have what I have had. I really do believe, Betz, that a better state of affairs would exist in the world if mothers were home with their children…. I really have not meant to sound in any of our conversations as though I did not understand what you wanted – I really do – and I do understand what is happening with your generation. I know it is not possible – or perhaps even desirable – to live the kind of life I have lived. Though I do admit to wishing it were, but only because my own life has been one of satisfaction and fulfillment, and because I am wise enough to know that I have been singularly fortunate in having been on the receiving end of so much love…. I respect your desire for independence – that is certainly one sign of maturity – and in spite of how I may have come across to you, I surely want you to to find a job-career that will be challenging to you and which will utilize the many talents you possess…. What I hope you will find ultimately is a combination of personal and professional life. I really don’t believe you yourself will feel complete or whole unless you can function in life as a professional, but also as a woman…. It won’t be easy, when the time comes, to balance professional obligations with personal relationships – and since I can read, it obviously isn’t easy for any one, but if anyone can do it, I think you can.”

I did marry (at which Mom probably breathed a sigh of relief) and my career in marketing continued to advance.

Several years later, I phoned home on President’s Day weekend to share the good news that I’d been promoted. I stood on one side of the counter that divided our kitchen from the family room while my husband puttered away next to the sink. I could picture my parents hovering over the white speaker phone on the long formica counter in their kitchen, with the Springers, Katie and Beall, curled up underneath. Outside the window, the rhodies would be huddled close to the house as protection from the cool, wet weather. Mom would be wearing one of her thick woolen cardigans – maybe the fisherman’s knit with the Nordic buttons – and Dad would be clad in his usual winter uniform: heavy Pendleton shirt, Filson tin cloth trousers and suspenders (which Mom said made him look like a hick).

Even after four years of marriage and seven years away from Tacoma, I still missed home.

“I have some good news,” I began. Then I explained how my title had been changed from “manager” to “director” reflecting my broadened responsibilities.

My husband watched my face, smiling. Neither of my parents spoke right away. The expectant look slipped off my face as I waited. Finally, Mom blurted out, “That’s all fine, but what I want to know is when are you going to become a real woman?” By which she meant, a mother. My husband left the room when he saw my face tighten just before I started hollering. In Tacoma, I’m fairly certain that Dad did the same.

She wrote the next day: “Now to the nitty-gritty of children. Yours that is. Because I like babies – I hope you will have some, Betz. But that isn’t really any reason you should have one – or some. The only real over-riding reason for having a baby is because a particular moment is so special that there has to be an ultimate result. A moment of love so caring — so intense — that the only possible response of trying to produce a lasting memory of that time is to throw caution to the wind and trust in God and His purpose – and hope that a child of that moment of union and unity of spirit will produce a child of real love.”

Not long after, Mom must have conscripted Dad into a sit-down with me. She told me in no uncertain terms that she feared I would lose Todd if I kept on as I was — which was to say, pursuing a career. I don’t remember Dad saying anything during that conversation. There was simply no way to reconcile the world my mother grew up in with mine. She consequently watched the early years of my marriage with an impending sense of doom.

Eventually, Mom got her wish. Less than six months after the “when-are-you-going-to-become-a-real-woman” confrontation, I was pregnant. It turns out that fertility was an inherited trait.

I can’t say that I knew what I was getting myself into. Not the motherhood part, but the work-home balance part.

While I was pregnant, I was interviewed for local newspaper feature called “Women Trailblazers.” Noting my rather impressive belly (I had pregnancy-induced hypertension and had swelled to the size of an exercise ball), the reporter asked how I thought my career would change after I had the baby. I remember saying I didn’t expect anything to change. I would continue working and be a mother. Easy.

What I didn’t understand then was that attempting to have a career while being a good mother would push and pull me for the next 20 years. And that my career strategy would be to oscillate (or maybe vacillate): drive hard, succeed, cut back (with its commensurate loss of authority and/or influence), accept new challenge. Repeat three times.

Not until the end of my father’s life did I understand how he hoped to protect me from one of the worst things that he felt could befall a woman: being trapped in a marriage without an escape route. As his mother was. My father’s hopes for for me were shaped by his position as the middle child, a vantage point from which he witnessed his father’s verbal harangues and his mother’s suffering as his father departed each night for his mistress Erma’s home.

My grandfather apparently thought that he was marrying into money, knowing that my grandmother’s father was “the grand old man” of Yakima. When he learned that the family fortune had been decimated by investments in my great uncle’s failed ventures, he no longer had a reason to be pleasant. The relationship that my grandmother had been warned about continued after the marriage. At best, it was a loveless marriage. At worst, abusive.

My mother wanted to ensure that I did not lose out on love – either the love of a husband or the love of children, while my father quietly strived to make certain that I could never be trapped in a loveless marriage. What gifts.

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With Love, to the Last Breath

roses

At 6 p.m. tonight, Dad took his last breath as my brother Dean told him that he loved him, and as I read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, one of Dad’s favorites. To understand why my Dad loved that particular sonnet so much, you have to appreciate how he “fought for his pants” every day of day of his wonderful marriage to my mother. Not long before he died, his eyebrows lifted up, the way they would when he saw someone who delighted him, and his lips moved as if he were speaking to them.

Dad, this is for you and Mom, thanks to the Bard:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.

Their love was rare, and they are together again. But, dear Dad, I will miss you.

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My husband, the unsung hero

(Before you read this post, stop remembering the Andy Kaufman version of the Mighty Mouse theme song. I mean it. Stop. It. Right. Now.)

My husband and I have always had a 50-50 arrangement, if you average it over time. Statistical nerd that I am, I know that the average can mask a labile distribution of responsibility for household and familial duties. Sometimes it’s 75-25, sometimes 25-75, and occasionally even 90-10 (as in the time when we were preparing to move and my husband managed to break his knee on a guys’ trip).

Every time someone says to me that I’m an angel for taking care of my Dad, I remember that the guy holding my halo in place is my husband.

When I stop to take inventory, I realize that it’s a whole bunch of little things he does that accumulate to make a difference. When he comes home from work every evening, he asks if my Dad has his glass of wine. While I scramble to do my “magic” in the kitchen (anyone who knows me knows this is not a joyful experience), he’s contributing the comfortable routine of my Dad’s life. Dad used to have a couple of scotch and waters before dinner that over the years morphed into a glass of red wine. Dad’s almost lost his taste for wine at all, but that pre-dinner libation is a nicety in the not-so-nice world of advanced age.

Sometimes my husband “covers” for me if I have a morning meeting or am entertaining a couple of girlfriends. I’ve never detected a moment of resentment if I ask him to fix Dad’s breakfast or put his dinner on the table.

Taking care of Dad severely limits our flexibility to accept invitations from friends or go out of town for the weekend, things my extrovert husband would enjoy. But he never complains. Ever. I’ve never detected resentment, though he would be well within his rights to feel some.

And he shares his space often, as family members come to visit my Dad.

Perhaps most significantly, he doesn’t try to fix my problems when I feel down or a little worn out. Earlier in our marriage, we learned that my sharing a problem led to him trying to solve it, when sometimes all I wanted was the opportunity to vent. He sits with me and empathizes. I feel held inside even if we are not touching outside.

Next time your mental jukebox plays, “Here I am to save the day!” remember the great men who are out there standing behind the “angels” like me.

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