Friday, December 31, 2010

To Write or to Live my Marriage?

One blog in five months does not a blogger make.

I took a look back at posts I have written over the last year, and it is evident I have made a choice. The days, months and weeks when my husband and I were not together were my most productive writing months, and since we have been in the same state, I have not uttered a public word about him. I have chosen to live our marriage instead of write about it.

I am still writing, finishing my first book, (Choosing to Grow: Through Marriage) but my daily reflections about what it takes for us to stay married have gone mute.

Are we still married? Yes.

Are we in a good place in our marriage? Certainly.

Have I plateaued with my current growth? Maybe.

My marriage toolbox got a whole lot bigger over the last seven years. I picked up so many ideas about how to better communicate, how to have strength to change my own behavior, and how to love him better.

Tools that sit in a box are useless, so I have chosen to open the box, put the tools to work and reap reward for effort. In choosing to do that, however, I have had little time to write about it.

Places I knew needed mending have taken top priority for me, and that emotional effort takes minutes out of my day. I don't regret any second of our romantic vacation to Hawaii because, except for the flights, my computer stayed stored. I have soaked up time simply "hanging out" because for so much of the year we do not get to do that. Our marriage needed that. I needed that.

I am a writer, but I am a wife first. I can hardly claim to write about how to navigate the minefield of marriage, unless I am actually taking steps myself.

There will be time to write, to vent, to grow, but the last few months have been the time to live my marriage.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Free Beer for Moms

"Hey're a mom!  You should go over there and get your free beer."

I glanced up at the spray-painted sheet hanging from the porch of the self-declared party house, and pretended  I would actually take them up on it.

"That's true!  Do you think they meant me?"  I asked with an exaggerated tone as I took a few steps in the direction of the ad.

I stopped, of course. 

What kind of coach do you think I am?  More than that...what kind of mom do you think I am? I'm a respectable mother, wife and coach who holds herself to the highest standards of professionalism.  I don't think I'd ever be the mom who walked away from my kid as he/she unpacked his/her college things for a first year away at school just so I could have a few bevvies with a young good-looking college kid.  I'd have to be completely desperate, right?! There were moms who stopped, and I was so curious about why they did.  Were they single cougars looking for a young victim?  Were they frazzled, emotional wrecks who hoped that a free beer might calm the overwhelming emotions of saying goodbye?  I don't know. 

I also don't know the intentions of the young men who decided to wave the invitation in the first place.  Were they looking for single cougars who could dig in their claws?  Were they hoping to meet the "party" moms of daughters being delivered to school so they would have first dibs on a girl with good genes?  I can only guess why they invited the moms, but I grappled with what it feels like from a mom's perspective.

On one shoulder I heard the logical professional side of me: "Keep moving those and welcome all the students and their families...make them feel everything you do with joy and treat them the way a good coach and mom should."  On the other shoulder I heard:  "Do it. Just walk over there.  Screw it all.  Would it kill you to lighten up a little? Those boys are sure creative if nothing else, and it would be fun."

Professional shoulder always wins out with me.  I probably always want it to, but there are days when I just wish I could go back to irresponsible, unprofessional me.  Oh wait... I never was one of those!  I told someone the other day how I wish I could just go back to college for one year.  A year when I wasn't worried about playing on a team...a year when I wasn't frantic about my GPA...a year when I could fully invest in getting to know the kinds of boys who dangle interesting messages on bed sheets.  Is this what mid-life crises feel like?  I would venture to guess that if the intensity with which I have felt these emotions the last couple of weeks increases steadily until my kids are heading off to college, the obnoxious, irresponsible shoulder may move my legs to actually cross the street to claim my free beer.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Our Friends Help Me to Love Him Better

They are who I call when I'm frustrated, when what my husband does drives me crazy, or when circumstances make marriage seemingly impossible.  They are the right people to call.  Our best couple friends absolutely support our marriage, and I don't think you can ever have enough friends like that.

Through hormonal tears and laughter about the changing phases of our lives, they have been our steady companions.  Our friends have seen us in different places in the country and they have always been one phone call away.  My girlfriends are important to my emotional health, and I lean on them too, but there is something so powerful about calling "a couple" for support and guidance.  It's funny that I feel doubly supported by our husband-wife friends, because I only call the women, but they are the type of couples who share everything, and I always feel like I am talking with the both of them with one phone call.  I know my story will be shared with the husband, and when I get that call back to check on how things are going, I can hear his input on the other line.

In our best couple-friends relationships I have a deep friendship with the woman and my husband is good friends with the man.  It is important for his friends to have a chance to remind me what makes him such a good guy.  They will defend him, and that is incredibly important to the strength of our marriage.  When I am not necessarily feeling like going to bat for him, our couple friends will.

My husband and I are approaching our twelfth anniversary, and we threaten practically every year to throw an anniversary bash that looks a whole lot like our wedding reception.  Part of why we want to do it is to have a chance to celebrate with the friends who have played such an integral part in our marriage.  One of my favorite pictures from our wedding reception is of the groomsmen holding me up.(the picture above is not me, nor is it anyone I know)  Many of the guys who physically held me that night, have been figuratively holding me ever since.  We have added other supportive guy friends to the mix, and with all that support, a bride/wife has a hard time falling.  When we get our anniversary bash organized, it will be a celebration of our years of marriage, but it will also be a chance to thank the friends who have consistently helped me love him.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Can I Bleach His Collar?

It has been fifty-four days since my husband has taken a full day off of work.  It isn't the sit-behind-your-desk or hide-inside-a-cubicle sort of work either.  It is demanding and physical, resulting in weight loss and fatigue.  He has probably lost about twenty-five pounds, and anyone who sees him this time of year notes how tired he looks.  He is tired...and skinny.  It has started to take a toll on him.

As his wife, I feel a sense of responsibility for his well-being.  "Have you eaten today?"  "Can you get home to get a nap?"  "Here is a gift of a massage...will you please go do it?"  I want so badly to wave my magic wand and turn his dirty t-shirts into white-collared business attire.  That might mean a five-day-a-week schedule, a steady paycheck, regular weekends and a well-rested husband.  A girl can dream, right?

I know to my core, that even if I could change the color of his collar, I couldn't change the worker inside.  My husband loves to work with his hands. He uses his down time (at our cabin) to build things and renovate. He enjoys the rigor of his job and the variety of the tasks.  What drives him hardest is the fact that working like this through the summer affords him the opportunity to do what he loves more than anything in this world: to coach hockey.

He's not a cubicle kid, and he wants to use his suit and tie money to buy the color-coordinated ensembles he can wear standing behind the bench.  It is not my right to deny him that.  It is what breathes life back in to him after he lays limp at the end of the summer.  I support him the only way I know how.  I shuttle kids from here to there.  I plan excursions and soothe frustrations.  I distract the kids and count with them the days until we can rest with him.

I took the girls to see Ramona and Beezus as part of my distraction technique yesterday.  I cried in so many places in the movie, and for completely different reasons.  There was a part in the movie where the dad explains how he was forced to take a "real" job after his kids were born so that he could support the family.  His passion for art was not a feasible means to an end.  The dad in our house has the same problem.  He has a passion that could not support our family of five right now, and he is married to a woman who wants nothing more than to write for peanuts.  Maybe I should don the white collar...and give him a chance to rest for a while?  I don't know whether we need a white collar in the house, or just some centering to get us back on a track with what works for everyone.

It's all still a progress.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It Matters Not How YOU Define Marriage...

If you are not my husband, your definition of marriage is of little consequence to me. I might bend my ear to hear what you think, but in the end, what has any effect on my marriage is how my definition lines up with my husband's.

I recently asked him, as far away from context as I could (I waited until we were talking about sausages---NO, not those sausages!)

"Hey, I have a question for you, and I want you to say the first thing that pops into your head."

"Okay," he looked at me curiously.

"What is your definition of marriage?"

I love that he barely moved his gaze from mine.

He was somber when he listed, "Companionship. Friendship.  Someone being there through the hard times and good times.  Being there to listen."

I wrote it down, internally calculating how we were doing.  My definition was almost exactly what he had said...which is a good thing.  We both think that marriage should be a relationship built on friendship and propelled by commitment.

"How do you think we are doing...this time of year?" I pressed him.

"Horrible." He admitted.

He's right.  We can hardly call ourselves companions when I see him maybe ten hours in a week.  We are comfortable roommates during the summer months.  The difference between us, and other couples who find themselves regularly passing each other in the hallway, is that the current state of our relationship is temporary.  We will be close companions in a few months when we huddle in for the frigid Minnesota winter.

One of the questions on my marriage survey, distributed during my book research, asked about a definition of a successful marriage.  There were 173 responders to the survey, and there were 173 unique definitions.  The only way I could analyze the definitions was to take out the keywords and categorize them.  Two words won out for the most important things to remember in a marriage relationship.  RESPECT and COMMUNICATION.  Thankfully, no matter how often I see him, I can still wholeheartedly respect him, and we can maintain good communication, even if we talk for a few minutes at a time.

My husband and I will celebrate our twelfth anniversary this August.  Researchers have moved the seven-year itch to the twelfth-year turmoil and it's probably important to take stock again.  I'm so happy we are on the same page.  It is comforting to know that he is as frustrated, in the moment, as I am, but that we are both still moving in the same direction.

At church yesterday, the priest used a timely analogy.  He was talking about the Martha and Mary differences and whether it is better to serve or to be present.  He commented about how it is more about the state of your heart than it is about the choice you make.  The analogy he used was about marriage and  when the spouses are forced to conduct their lives apart (I'm not kidding...this is what he talked about). He explained hearts that stay true in separation is how our relationship with God should be. 

Our marriage definition... today...Friendship propelled by commitment with a goal of respect and open communication.  We can do that!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

An Intent to Define Marriage

I was looking at my husband last the dark...right after we had fallen into bed.  For a moment, I felt a question forming on my lips, "How would you define marriage?" I wanted to ask.  I heard the immediate heavy breathing that finds him so quickly this time of year, and I stopped myself from asking.  It's not a time for those philosophical discussions; the ones I love so much and that can last into the wee hours of the morning.  It was a wee hour of the morning. He had been working, and I had been hanging out with him...actually I should say I was hanging out "by" him.  But I laid for a while pondering how I define marriage. I fell asleep too quickly to come up with a good definition.  But when I woke up this morning...I kept thinking about it.

A definition of marriage, according to Bing, is:   a legally recognized relationship, established by a civil or religious ceremony, between two people who intend to live together as sexual and domestic partners.

Marriage is a noun.  It is not something you do, it is a state of being.  I find it interesting that in the above definition, the word "intend" is used.  Brilliant.  It is a marriage as long as there is intent.  As soon as a member of the couple no longer intends to be a sexual partner or to shack up domestically, the marriage is beginning to break.  We intend to be sexual a point in time when our three kids are not sleeping soundly at the other end of our room, and we also intend to re-establish our relationship as domestic partners.  So I guess we are in a marriage, by random online definition standards.  

The word "married" does not further my understanding of what our relationship is.  According to Bing, married is an adjective and it means, having a spouse. Great.  So yes, I guess I have one of those.  I am indeed a married woman.

My personal definition is still formulating, and my desire for more time to hash it out with my spouse is still there.  I will ask him in the next few days what his definition of marriage is, and I'll report back about his response.  Maybe by then I'll have a definition that more fully explains what I think about it too.  For now, I'll just intend to be his partner.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cheating Men...The Uncivilized Choice

I recently read an article, Do All Men Cheat?, and I can't seem to shake my opinion about this one.  I thought I would vent a little here in a warm-up to my book-writing session today.

Anyone who follows my blogs, or my life, knows that I have a somewhat unique marital arrangement.  (more unique than most, I should say).  We spend weeks and even months away from each other, and even when we are living in the same place, we spend quite a bit of our time apart.  "That's a recipe for disaster..." I can hear the naysayers warning.  "How can he get enough if you are not with him?", and "Not getting enough leads to trouble!!"  I cannot seem to shake this part of the internal chatter spurred by the recent article. (written from the perspective of the mistress, mind you)

 There seems to be a movement excusing men from extra-marital activities, arguing that they simply have an insatiable desire for women, and one wife cannot satisfy their needs.  Monogamy is a construct of religion, but not the way that people would operate otherwise, I have heard people say.  I completely and wholeheartedly disagree.  Marriage is a social and religious construct, yes, but the effectiveness of its presence in society cannot be denied.  My opinion about marriage is personal, but there is some science behind my defense of monogamy.  Scientists have found that happily married women are the happiest kind of women there are.  Health, both mental and physical, are improved when men and women are committed to a monogamous relationship, and length of life and quality of life are both bi-products of monogamy.

I have no problem with men who know that they cannot keep their zippers zipped and who find life too boring without the thirty-one flavors...there is a place for you in the world.  My issue is with the men who agree to make a monogamous relationship work, and then cop out of their commitment  because they want a younger and firmer flavor.  It is not excusable man behavior, it is chicken.  It takes real work to keep things interesting, and although men may have picked vanilla and sometimes don't feel like vanilla, it is more manly  to dress it up with some flavorful toppings, and stick with what they promised to love.

My husband and I are human too, and we have our needs, most definitely, but we have both committed to one another, to this relationship and to our children, and miraculously we are disciplined enough to wait until we are back together.  Simply put, it matters not where we get our appetite, just that we come home to eat...that is what we promised to do!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

He Wants to Spoon...And I Feel Like a Fork

I know it's me and not him, but I can't help wanting it to be him.  We are finally in the same state (something that hasn't been consistent since April).  Granted, it is not our home state, but it is the same.  What is hard, at the moment, is that I probably talked to him more when we were in separate states, than I have since we got here.  His phone is broken and his work schedule is the same.  He is comfortable to fall asleep, as long as I am sitting next to him, and when we are not acting like an old couple dozing on the couch, I am running around trying to catch up with friends. 

I knew it was going to be like this.  It is like this every summer.  The twenty-hour work days are still the twenty-hour work days and when I look in my rear view mirror, there are still three little faces who depend on me to feed them and keep them busy.

I'm not sure why I feel so differently this year.  The romantic buzz about this summer business is no longer all that romantic.  It is wearing on both of us, and I just know that something is going to give. Part of me is terrified to put a stick in the spokes of these out-of-control wheels, but I know the crazy ride has to end. I fear we'll all get up from the fall with scrapes and bruises that may take a while to heal. 

Dealing with bandages in a full-family transitional recovery still sounds better than what I am trying to do now.  I don't want to be the fork in the bed.  I can feel my body posture tightening when the couch sleeping moves to the bed for sleep, and I cringe at the idea of spooning like we usually do.  I am not in a spooning state of mind.  I have some typical women tendencies I guess:  when I am not in a good emotional state I guard my  physical self too.  It is not how I feel about my husband, our marriage, or our life, but I am finding it difficult to soften the prongs into a spoon, and it may take something drastic to balance us out again. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Family Reunion...A Celebration of Marriage

 There was a migration of hundreds of McGuires last weekend, and all because of Richard P. McGuire and his wife Margaret.  Every five years, the family descends upon the small farming community of Wisner, Nebraska.  The weekend is spent  connecting with immediate and extended family, relearning or being introduced to the history that defines us, and feeling genuinely connected to something much bigger than any of us.

At the Sunday Mass, a couple from another branch of our family celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary.  We were all witness to the renewal of their vows, and for me, it was one of the more touching moments of the day.  Sixty years!!  Are you kidding?  It reminded me that no one in that room would have been sitting there had it not been for the decision by Richard P. McGuire to marry Margaret McMahon.  In six short generations, there are enough people to fill an auditorium every five years.

The family operates on a constantly changing bell curve.  The older generations are smaller each time while the younger generations often grow with marriages and children.  The generation pictured below is the fourth generation.  This is the group that should include my dad, but he was not there and, barring a miracle,  he will likely never be able to attend another one of the McGuire reunions.  For me, my closer connections are my dad's four brothers.  It is through them I feel woven into this group.  It is through them that my son learned about who his grandfather used to be, and it is though them that I will forever have pride in my Irish family.

I don't imagine that R.P. and Margaret were perfect, nor that their children led lives free of mistake, but I took several minutes over the weekend to look around at the room they had created, and I couldn't help but to think that they had done something right.  They loved well enough, they passed down a strong pride in heritage and the people in that room had an air of open generosity that is well-worth celebrating.

My brother, (pictured below) and his wife are expecting their first child, and he/she will be the only "McGuire" baby in my immediate family.  As my brother stood and contemplated the headstone of his great-great grandfather, I said a short prayer in thanks for all that marriage can do.

The marriage of my great-great- grandparents is ultimately responsible for my children.  How could I ignore what that means?  I am so grateful for the willingness of this family to continue to gather.  How else could I foster in my kids the kind of pride that encourages Big Sprout to sport an "I'm proud to be Irish" button while embracing his second-cousin-once-removed (or however he's related to the son of my dad's first cousin)?
It was a wonderful reunion and I think we all feel a bit more grounded after the McGuire reunion weekends.  I recognize the miracle of those who remain and continue to want to organize, but I celebrate the power of marriage to do wondrously miraculous things too.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Seventh Inning Stretch

Soccer and hockey rule this house, so I am biased, I know, about the sports we play.  I find it interesting that my husband and I played such similar sports:  the flow, the objective and the energy of both hockey and soccer are the same.  Successful teams are seamless, and victories are won with guts and miraculous endurance.  I have my theories about the positions played by people, and whether the chicken or the egg comes first,  I think personalities fit those positions.  My husband is a goalie and I am a midfielder ( playmaker and goal-scorer).  He spent the better part of his life in a defensive mindset: stoic,  under control and curbing emotion.  I played driven by emotion; riding the waves of passion to do what needed to be done.

Don't get me wrong, he was, and still is, incredibly passionate about hockey.  What I mean is that he has found that magic formula to internalize and dissipate any emotion he may have. Because of the demands of his position, he had to find a zone of calm.  He still behaves a lot like that.  Maybe he should take up poker?

The interesting thing that has happened since we got married, and most certainly since we had kids, is that we have had to start playing baseball instead.  Not literally...we don't have a baseball player in the house...but figuratively.  We have given up our skates and shin guards to find a spot on the baseball diamond. This time of year, when my husband works nearly twelve-hour days in one part of the country, and I manage things here at home, I am the catcher and he is running around in the outfield.  The kids are staggered at positions in the infield, and as a family, we play defense constantly.  Life is the opposition...working to get hits off of us.  It is us against life, and with only two adults in the house right now, the best way to guard our diamond is to have one of us in the outfield and another at home plate.

Our roles shift in the fall when I am coaching full time and he is home more.  I chase down the long balls, and he stays closer to home plate.  Then we switch back again when hockey season rolls around and he does coaching of his own.  The reason the baseball analogy works well for our family scenario is because I have never played baseball, and my husband played on a limited basis in high school, so we are learning how to do this as we go.  We are trying to anticipate the bunts, the pop-flies and the line drives.  I can't have him flake out on his job out there in the outfield any more than he can have me lose interest at home plate.  We are a team.  When life really throws us a curve ball, the kids have stepped up to be more prominent players in our game.  The older they get, the better fielders they have become.

I love this picture of the ripped baseball, but the quote that goes with it, says it all:  "The harder you work the luckier you get."  At this rate, we are going to be the luckiest family in the world!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Flowers

I found this flower blooming near our front porch this morning.  For the first time in my life, I am in Minnesota for Father's Day, and I discovered  beautiful potential in a plant I obviously know nothing about.  We have never been here this late in June, and I had no idea that what looked like tall grass to me would bloom into this startling eye-catcher.  Throughout the last week, I could tell that the plant was preparing itself to flower, and I anticipated a subtle yellow flower.  I was pleasantly shocked at the vibrant color of a flower I have never been here to experience.

It is a gift of Father's Day for us. We can only share it with my husband via the internet, but it is a symbol of hope for me, and a reminder that only because of him, am I here to witness this. He is the Minnesotan, I am not...not yet anyway.  I still feel like a tourist here.  I drive from place to place with my GPS and I frequently navigate informational websites.  I learn something new about this place, and about my husband, with each passing day.

This flower has impressed more upon me than its vibrant display.  It represents for me all it is I strive for in life and in my marriage.  In the spot where this flower popped this morning, snow and ice sit for nearly five months.  The pile of snow was above my hip this year.   In the middle of winter, it is impossible to imagine that fragile beauty like this could exist.  Nothing is more hopeful than knowing that life can survive and eventually thrive after the harshest of conditions.

It is not the first time the kids and I have spent Father's Day without their father, but it is the first time we will not see him at all.  My husband has worked twelve-hour days EVERY Father's Day since I have known him.  Usually we track him down at the festival where he works, but we are allowed only fifteen minutes or so as we follow him from one place to another.  We have managed to stay optimistic about the fact that the beauty of our family togetherness is simply laying dormant.  Just like this flower, it will bloom again...even from ground that seems impossibly frozen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Where are You Right Now? and What are You Doing?

The Sprout household is wilting.  Pappa Sprout has been gone from home for most of the last month and a half.  Our leaves are drooping. He'll be back to visit on Monday, but my heart knows we won't really have him back until October.

Of all of us in the house, Little Sprout wears her sadness most publicly these days.  She cries and stomps and throws something across the room declaring, "I miss Daddy!"

"I know, honey.  We all do." I console.

Then when she gets her dad on the phone she consistently and predictably asks him, "Where are you right now?"

Every single time she talks to him she asks him where he is.  I want to ease the phone from her and tell her, no one really knows where he is right now.  The daddy you are missing won't be back for a while.

He has been in that "working" place, increasingly since April.  It's the place that deadens his smile and changes his posture.  With the approach of opening weekend, he has been pulled further and further from us, and Little Sprout knows it.  Saturday marks the opening of the Renaissance Festival, and although I know the difficult preparatory work will be done, I know too well that my husband's focused work will only barely fade after the last cannon fires. 

It's not that he doesn't want to be with us...or there for us...he does.  He just has so many responsibilities and demands that his emotional energy cannot be on us.  I'm seasoned.  We've navigated this ridiculous schedule for fourteen years, and even though the spiral is predictable, it doesn't mean I have to like it.  I can hardly expect the smaller sprouts in this house to like it either.

I don't ask him where he is, but I do ask, "What are you doing right now?" I try to conceal my increasing worry about his welfare. He does too much, in my opinion. His answers this week have been, "I'm moving hay bales." , "I'm raking sand.", "I'm shopping for food.", "I'm rebuilding a game.", "I'm scrubbing a fryer.", "I'm doing contracts in my office." "I'm running orientation.",  "I'm meeting with the fire inspectors."

"Did you eat lunch today?" I ask at 2:00 his time.  "How much sleep did you get?" I ask each morning because he sounds more and more tired each time he calls the kids before school.

The phone conversations have gotten shorter (three minutes tonight) because I hope he'll actually get more sleep and I don't really want to know the answers to my questions this time of year.  He's so tired, he'll barely remember whether I asked him or not.

I'm missing his side of the conversation.  So, I'll pretend he has time to ask me the burning questions, "Where are you?"  he  would ask. "Oh, I'm sitting at my computer," I would answer.  "What are You Doing?" he would wonder. "I'm missing my husband," I'd sadly reply.

Monday, June 7, 2010

REALLY?!? Phone Company to Blame for Divorce!!!!

I am not sure what appalls me more...the fact that a woman cheated on her husband OR the fact that she is suing the cell phone company for the fact that her marriage is done.

Toronto resident Gabriella Nagy is suing Rogers Wireless Inc. for $600,000

 Nagy claims her husband left her after seeing several phone calls to the same number, calling it and confirming her affair.  She blames the phone company for the break-up of her marriage.  Plus, she has the gall to think that someone owes her money for it.  Their marriage is that her husband knows of her affair, but her loyalty to their marriage was obviously over well before the cell phone bill mix up.

My approach to marriage is incredibly different than this woman's.  I don't want you to think that I am high and mighty and that I have never made terrible decisions when it comes to my marriage, but I have ALWAYS taken responsibility for my own behavior.  If, by some off chance, this woman wins her lawsuit, I hope her ex then civilly sues her for minimally half of the money she wins.  His argument would be that if they had not been together so that she could cheat on him, she would never have made any money from the cell phone bill mistake.  Real news never ceases to amaze me!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Appreciating the Wedding Tent

We opened our last wedding present this weekend. In August we will have been married for twelve years, and we finally got around to using one of the gifts.  The two-bedroom, six-person tent that we have lugged through eight moves, came out of its packaging on Saturday.  Big Sprout and Papa Sprout spent about forty-five minutes putting up the poles, setting in the stakes and prepping for a night of campfires and tent-talking.  Talk about delayed gratification! There was something so magical about sharing the initial use of this gift with our kids.

The tent was a present from a group of our college friends.  It was likely intended for our use as a newly-married couple, and they probably had no idea that we would be too scattered during the first part of our marriage to use it.  I can hardly believe that it has taken us twelve years to feel settled enough to set down those stakes, but we finally are.  The tent is now safely housed at our cabin, and I anticipate years of memories, but the tent stories will primarily belong to our children.

I think I've always known that this was going to be the way.  It never bothered me that we moved the tent box without opening it, because I knew we would, and I knew we would open it with our kids. 

It  makes me pause when our kids ask questions about our wedding.  It feels like they were there.  It's still strange to me that they weren't.  We talked this weekend that we should renew our vows at our twentieth anniversary, so that the kids can be a part of the celebration.  They have earned their time in our wedding tent.

It is so symbolic for me that we opened the tent on this particular weekend.  I had an epiphany of sorts about wedding miracles.  We went to a beautiful wedding on Friday, and the shift in my mentality was clear.  I used to cry watching the ceremonies because of what emotions I remembered from my own wedding, but the tears fell at this ceremony in remembrance of our wedding but also in anticipation of the weddings for our kids.  I was crying from the perspective of a mother, and I admittedly had  more tears.  Mothers have the emotional perspective of going through their own days, and the overwhelming reactions of letting go.

I am starting to understand the possible tension that happens with mothers and daughters and mothers-in law and daughters-in-law.  It is part of a chapter I've been formulating for the Choosing to Grow book, and it all came together for me this weekend. My understanding mimics the popping of the tent.  As a bride I saw weddings in one dimension, much like the flattened out version.  Through my research I realized that in order to fully appreciate the complexity of the full-family wedding experience there is some building that needs to be done first.  The husband and the wife each bring their own parts of the tent, and they are uniquely equipped with their own tools, handed down from families and established through experiences.  Recognizing the uniqueness of this union opens someone up to appreciation.  When the tent is completely assembled, it is a three-dimensional reality of wedding bliss, complete with past, present and future. I am beginning to look at weddings from the perspective of a previous bride, as a newlywed, and now as the mother of children who will eventually lay out their own wedding experience.  It is three-dimensional and I am grateful to have my 3-D glasses.

The mother of the bride commented as we were leaving the Friday wedding, "It is amazing to see the layering of their lives manifested here in one day."  It is most definitely layering that happens.  We are building the base layer for what our kids will take to their wedding tent, and there will be countless layers added in the years to come.  My greatest hope for them is that they can appreciate the three-dimensions of the wedding tent much earlier than twelve years after it happens....but it's really never too late to put up the tent, right?!?

Friday, May 28, 2010

He's Baa-aack! and I'm Adjusting

My space has been invaded.  Glad he's home. Extra dishes. Glad he's home. Bed unmade. Eyes closed...glad he's home. Clothes strewn. Deep breath... glad he's home. Bathroom's crowded. Move through quickly...glad he's home. Vibrating phone alarm clock. Sun's up anyway...glad he's home. Typing elsewhere so I don't wake him...cathartic...yes, I'm glad he's home.

I'll have someone with whom to share my coffee.  Little Sprout will have a playmate when I am off running games for field day, yardwork will get done faster at the cabin with two more hands.  That elusive campfire will be built because I am not the one building it.  Fish hooks will be properly set,and  caught fish will be handled less squeamishly.I'll have someone to marvel at fireflies with me...when the kids have all faded to sleep. Laughter will be louder, hugs will feel tighter, conversation will grow to its normal length after being stunted by telephone awkwardness. Children will will feel full...Absolutely...I'm glad he's home.

The real kick in the pants is that just when we have all adjusted to the newness of his presence here, and yes, after three weeks of life in his absence, it feels new for a few days, he will leave us again.  Back to work...for both of us. One more long stretch before we come to invade his space, and we all adjust to a different kind of newness. 

So yes, the space feels crowded, and slipping right back in to the habits I abandon when he is gone, well, that's okay with me for a weekend.  Letting myself quickly drop my guard so that I can feel all the joy the next few days...that makes the time he's home better, but it makes the adjustment when he leaves that much harder. I could sabotage. I could spend time pointing out and embracing the discomfort of an extra body in the house. The weekend will happen at weekend pace whether I am joy-filled or frustrated.  So, I choose joy-filled.  I am going to leave this on my computer screen, pick up the strewn clothes, make the bed, do the dishes and wrap my head around living joyfully in the moment.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is it Possible to Over-Propose?

If you haven't already seen it, you should take a few minutes to check out this Flash mob marriage proposal..  The guy hired about 100 dancers to make his marriage proposal.
I loved this.  I got weepy watching it and I so wished I had stumbled upon the scene in person.  Proposal stories are the best, and this one is a doozy.  How do you outdo that?  Someone will, I'm sure, but this one will rank pretty high for a while. here comes synical-move-past-romantic-phase voice...I have no intimate knowledge of this couple, all I know is that this is a pretty impressive way to ask someone to marry you, and I can hardly imagine every anniversary, birthday, or holiday that follows will fully measure up. How is this guy going to be as great as he is during the proposal?  How can he recapture what is probably going to be the most romantic moment of their relationship?  Maybe he's not supposed to. Maybe the proposal is allowed to be so crazy and big that it propels a relationship for the long-haul when the couple retells the story, again and again.  Being the realist who has been married almost twelve years, and who didn't really like the landing when I came down from the high that was the proposal and the wedding, I cannot help thinking about whether this guy is setting his marriage up for disaster by going over-the-top with the proposal?   Maybe she is not that high maintenance, and he knows that she would have adored the quiet one-flowered wedding proposal just as much.

What do you think?  Can someone over-propose?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sometimes it's Better to Just Hang up the Phone

Yesterday was big, and it was hard on us...on all of us.  Big Sprout celebrated a milestone birthday, and he never likes to have birthdays in the absence of his dad.  It has been a longer stint with my husband gone, and both me and the kids are starting to show signs of wear.  Littlest Sprout gets physically violent (mind you, she is four and half-laughing as she does it), but she will sprint across the room and tackle down her brother at his knees.  He laughs too, but it is a very real attempt at getting out frustration and aggression.  Big Sprout wears his emotions on his sleeve, and the birthdays he has had to spend without dad have often resulted in some loss of privilege. Yesterday was no exception, but the "trouble" he got himself in this year was at school.  Middle Sprout quietly keeps things together while her bookend siblings are tearing things apart, and then when she has bottled enough, it comes out in champagne-cork popping fashion. I anticipate an emotion explosion sometime this weekend.  Add to all of that the fatigue that spring brings, responsibilities that remain at work for me, and you have a perfectly disastrous recipe for a bad phone conversation.

Proud of myself, though. I think that I have identified that Middle Sprout and I deal with emotional stress in the same way.  During the day, I put on an air of calm (tongue in cheek, because even yesterday I wasn't able to stay totally calm with the kids), and then when the kids are sleeping, my husband's voice is on the other end, and my walls drop, I pop the top.  Last night, I made the other decision.  Instead of staying on the phone too long, and letting my own little emotional volcano spew all over my husband, I abruptly ended the conversation and went to bed.  I used to hold tightly to the idea that I should never go to bed if my marriage was in that angry place, and in the past I would have tried to draw out that frustration for much longer than necessary.  I read recently though, that it is a myth that you should never go to bed angry.  When you are so gosh dang tired, it makes no sense to try to fix things, and a morning perspective is often much clearer. Things do look better this morning, and I have every confidence that today's conversation will be much better.

I suppose it is a good thing that we all miss my husband that much, but the kids and I can cling to each other while he's gone.  Sometimes I forget that he doesn't have someone on his end to cling to, and I'm glad I made the decision to get off the phone...he doesn't need the reminder that his absence is hard on us. He doesn't need to be the one fielding my frustration. When he is my only sounding board for emotional stress and then when the frustrations include him, I sound accusatory.  I  want to simply vent sometimes, and at least with my husband, he wants to then take what frustrates me and fix it.  He can't fix then he gets frustrated too.  I just wrote myself to an epiphany...  Note to self...either write out frustrations prior to a phone conversation, or call a good friend and tell her, "hey...I just want to talk and you need to do nothing more than listen", or if it's too late to call up a friend and/or I'm too tired to get a single letter down on next best solution is to just hang up the phone.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seeing my Husband's Reflection in the Bonfire

I sometimes learn more about my husband in his absence than I do when he is right here beside me.  Today marks the start of week four that he has been gone, and the connection he and I have seems to be deepening.  There is the part that happens to my heart in his absence...I do grow a little fonder, but there is also something else transforming in me.

My husband grew up in Minnesota and I in Colorado.  During these months when he has to leave for work, he goes to Colorado, and I stay in Minnesota.  I'm glad that I get to experience Minnesota spring and summer, and thrilled that I get to do it through the eyes of our kids.

Weekends are usually the hardest for me.  People are huddled with their families and it is too much of an imposition to ask to crowd in at their dinner tables. Often baseball and soccer schedules keep people moving, and since we are in our lull from sports, it gets hard to stay connected to people around here.  Not this weekend.

Friday night we spent on our own, but something very Minnesotan happened for us on Saturday.  We know the people in our neighborhood much better than in past years...and I must tell you that it seems somewhat dependent upon fire...winter makes it seem like nothing but cars and snow blowers occupy the houses around us, but you can find groups of warmly-clothed folks warming themselves around a fire. 

Saturday night, when I had walked one of my son's friends' home, we found ourselves included in the bonfire that was happening among those neighbors.

"Mom!  Mom!  Can we stay for their bonfire?  PLEEAASE?" my kids begged and Big Sprout ran back with his buddies before I could even really make a decision.  Bonfires are not something that I grew up doing.  I was taught to be terrified of fire and fireworks because even just thinking about those things could start a forest fire.  But Minnesota is different.  This fire was in a pit in the ground, right in the middle of their back yard,  and the adults crowded around it in chairs while the kids ran around playing games.

We left that bonfire party, I put the kids to bed and then I saw one of our cul-de-sac neighbors also stoking a fire.  I sneaked over with my glass of wine and sat visiting under the stars.  The older kids in the cul-de-sac played kick the can (which the adults had to teach them) and I started to know just a little more about the heart of my husband.

Minnesota is bonfires and boating...fenceless yards and spontaneous community. People work hard and play hard and they have a laid back attitude about who shows up at the party.  That is my husband.  Informal and inclusive, hard-working but fun too, and learning this without the present-day him around, is like being handed the gift of a marshmellow on a roasting stick.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wedding Story

Book beckons.  My words are all finding their way to the drafts of my book chapters, so ideas and inspiration for blog writing are pretty pathetic.  I thought that little blurbs of what I create on a daily basis for the book might be worth sharing in small snippets as I go.

Lately my mind has been floating in the champagne bubbles of wedding bliss, and here is what I remember from my own wedding day:

"You see, in my memory, I saw my husband as I walked down the aisle, and he and I were practically the only two in the room.  No really…we were the only two in the room.  We decided to take our pictures before the wedding so that we could go to the reception with everyone else (remember… formal kegger…didn’t want to miss it). So instead of ruining the groom seeing bride thing, we staged my entrance like a run-through and then it was ok that we saw each other.  In my memory, we spent the better part of forty-five minutes ironing the bride’s maid dresses that had wrinkled in the car as they baked in their plastic bags.  In my memory, Pudge remembered to get the keg delivered to the reception place but forgot to pick up his mom and grandma to get them to the church.(you guessed it…kegger)  In my memory, Pudge’s grandma told the photographer she would stay for one more picture, and before the noise of the click had reached us on the steps, she was walking off.  In my memory, Pudge put on his tuxedo only to find a fist-sized hole in the crotch.  I don’t want to guess what the previous wearer had done in those pants.  He was able to switch with his brother who mended the gaping hole. In my memory, I walked in to the same song as my bride’s maids…purposefully…I told myself that it was because I didn’t want the day to be about me, but more accurately I probably didn’t want to draw too much attention to the fact that my brother walked me down the aisle instead of my dad.  In my memory, there was laughter and tears and a gripping ache in my stomach as I watched my new husband say a public remembrance for the dad he missed so much. I remember too, walking out of the church and into the arms of another dad…the dad I wasn’t sure would be there."

Excerpt taken from Choosing to Grow: Through Marriage...a book in progress.
Copyright 2010 Meagan Frank

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fun-guy feeds Gastro-girl

Something is happening to me.  I actually woke up this morning and started surfing the net about fungus. No, we don't have any fungus that I know of, and I am not in the market for any fungus, but I wanted to find the natural example of what moved in me this weekend.

You see, my husband was back in town this past weekend.  Glory be!  We went to the cabin, and after the weather improved enough to be outside, that's where we were.  We melded our two love languages (his is acts of service and mine is quality time) and we worked on the rock that flanks our cabin.  Piles of dirty rock needed to be sifted and sorted and replaced on the newly laid felt, and there was no way I was going to let him do it alone.  I had some annoying to do.

My guy loves to do projects, and it seems the harder the project, the better.  He puts up with me when I "help" because I am not always a quiet worker.  I was not quiet this weekend either.

"Hey, what is a symbiotic plant?" I asked after the silence had caused too much firing in my brain.

"What?!" he rightly responded.

"Oh nothing, I was just thinking that there has to be some symbiotic plant relationship that one plant depends on the other.  You know, like a barnacle or something?"

"I don't know," he politely ignored me.

My head kept working and I managed to make my mouth stop.  There are always such great examples in nature, and with all the choosing to grow stuff that bombards my mind, I should probably learn more about plants, I thought.

So, that's why I was on the computer this morning reading about fungus.  There is a natural example of something that I think works really well as a symbol of a strong relationship.  It is the relationship between a symbiotic plant, Gastrodia, and the root-rot fungus that feeds it, Armellaria mellea.  Without getting too technical and in hopes of letting the scientific explanation  speak for itself, I can tell you that the fungus (or Fun-guy for my purposes) is the sole source of nutrients for the Gastrodia (or Gastro-girl as I'll call her).

Gastro-girl does not have the equipment of other plants.  No green leafs so no chlorophyll and no roots.  Fun-guy is the only source of nutrient for this plant.  I am more like Gastro-girl than I want to admit.  Anyway, the even cooler thing about this relationship is what Gastro-girl does for Fun-guy.  See Fun-guy is mister destructo-man.  He cannot help himself and he normally feeds on any living crop or tree that he can get his tendrils on.  He is singularly focused and he just goes.

Similar to what happens when my human guy is left to his own devices.  Anyway, Gastro-girl does something pretty miraculous, and not totally explained, she slows down the appetite of Fun-guy and keeps him from destroying the life around him.  Even cooler than that, when the two are working at the right levels on each other, out sprouts a tuber orchid.

Life is amazing.  The way that these two seemingly mismatched organisms are not only beneficial to one another, but perfectly designed.  It is just enough to bring out the beauty that can only happen when they are in sync.  Fun-guy is his own guy and Gastro-girl is an independent gal, they can both grow on their own...but the orchid will not bloom under just any circumstances.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Our Marriage does not Depend upon Co-Dependency

People don't talk about co-dependency so much anymore.  It's still an understood dysfunction of some relationships, but it is no longer the coin phrase for struggling couples who are most comfortable bringing out the worst in each other.  I have spent a good part of the fourteen years that my husband and I have been together working on being dependable, allowing myself to depend on him, but moving beyond co-dependency.

What's the difference, you may ask?  Well, it is healthy to open yourself up enough to trust and depend upon someone who is trustworthy and dependable.  It is also incredibly important to be that dependable counter-part, but it is not healthy when everything that the other person does or feels becomes what you do and feel too...that is being co-dependent.  When your mood depends on his mood, and when your day is only bad or good depending on how his day was...then you are co-dependent.  I don't have to feel sad when he feels sad, or expect that when I am mad that he should project that same emotion.  He is his own person and I am my own person.  We have chosen to be a couple to go through life together, but I am starting to be okay with the independence that comes with that decision.

It is somewhat counter-intuitive to say that being married has made me more independent, but it absolutely has. I married the right guy.  He has encouraged me to carve out my own space, to feel my own emotions, and he has gently taught me that it's okay if he is his own person too.  What people think of him is his business, and what people think of me is their business.  I have let go of the need to control any part of the relationships I have that are truly not mine to control.  I have learned to set my boundaries, to identify my needs and clearly express them, and to accept that everyone else has a right to do the same thing.

What freedom!  When seasonal living is the course of things, it is much easier to track growth.  This time last year, when my husband was getting ready to leave our home for a few months to do his job, I was more than a little distressed.  Better than the year before, but still physically agitated by his impending departure.  I am sad that he has to go, don't get me wrong, but a lot has happened for me in the last year to better prepare me for what I need to do. I have more clearly defined what I need to feel fulfilled, and it is not solely dependent on my husband.  That is the way things work best for me.

This is our marriage.  It depends upon him leaving to earn his keep.  It depends upon my strength to be here at the house and with the kids when he is gone, but I am much happier that I have abandoned co-dependent tendencies to expect that someone else has to see me as a victim in that.  I am not a victim.  This is the life we have chosen, and if there is something that does not completely work, I  am in charge of changing it, or at least working through the emotions I need to so that I can better deal with it.

Sure, it helps that the kids are older and much easier than they were in years' past, but I am older and wiser now too.  Life is good.  This marriage, with all of its quirks, is good.  I am not defined by my husband, nor is he defined by me, but our marriage depends upon our efforts to abandon co-dependency...together.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Kids...You're Cramping our Style"

The first time I heard the expression, "you're cramping my style!" was when my husband said it to me in college.

I was cool.  He was cool.  Well, at least we were both cooler than we are now.  He was helping the hosts of a college party we were attending, and what that meant was that his job was to "man the keg."  The Football House, as we so affectionately called it, was having a spring dance party, and the senior football players had adopted my then-boyfriend to be their bartender.  We often went to the college parties separately.  He with his friends, me with mine, and then at some point in the night we would find each other and leave the party together.

He got there first that night...and to be honest he had probably been testing the keg for a while.  When I walked in I saw him across the room and he was stationed on his usual stool.  The stool that flanked the keg and was immediately surrounded by the true occupants of the house.  They were his football friends, but to be fair...they were my friends too.

Anyway, I walked across the room carrying the I'm-a-college-girl-and-I-know-it-swagger. (for those of you who follow my other blog you know that I was a tomboy college girl, so you can imagine the awkwardness of what I thought was a feminine walk)  It was smooth...I'm sure.  So, we made eye contact as I got closer to the temporary bar, and a group of keg guards glanced my way.  Before my lips had even parted with hello, my then-boyfriend said, "Hey, beat it, you're cramping my style."

My lips then parted with a surprised expression and I froze where I was.  It was a joke, and I laughed just as hard as his friends did, but as we all know, there is truth in joking.  I was not an over-bearing girlfriend, and I had plenty of other things I wanted to do at the party (like dance), but he wanted a night with the boys...a night without a girlfriend.  We have since used that expression a number of times when we feel like our true selves are being strained.

Right now, it is the kids who are cramping our marriage style.  Just like when we were in college, in order for that expression to carry any weight, the person who says it has to actually have style to begin with.  The reason it was so funny when my boyfriend said it to me in college was because he and I had already been dating for nearly two years, and everyone knew we were going to be married some day. He didn't have any more style for me to cramp.

The same can be said for how cramped our married life is because of our kids.  They are such an integral part of our lives, that we have probably lost the style that we would have had without them.  It's hard to imagine life without our kids, but there are so many days when I wonder how much more connected my husband and I would be, if the kids weren't around.

Kids bring us together for lots of things, especially when we are in the middle of school, sports and  music schedules.  We have to coordinate and cooperate regularly so that the house runs smoothly and everyone eats.  The problem is that the kind of connectedness we get is not usually at the level we desire.  Our conversations are snippets, the topics are often inane and then when all is quiet, and the kids are in bed, we are too tired to be the way we would normally be.

"Hey, meet us out for drinks," I hear our imaginary kidless friends saying.

See, our friends have the same kid-style-cramping problem that we do.  We can't just decide on a whim to go out for drinks or to stop by a local eatery for some appetizers.  Popping out for a movie takes planning, babysitter scheduling and double the cash just for an evening out.

I know that the grass is not greener on the other side, and I feel blessed to have three healthy kids to drive me nuts, I just understand why kids are the number one stress on marriage.  Marriage becomes defined by the small people who live in the house.  The relationship between a husband and wife becomes more complicated and more exhausting when daily decisions are based on how to manage the other people in the home.  How do we schedule our work?  How do we want to spend our money:  do they need clothes or is that camp more of a priority?  Can we take everyone to a movie? Which one of us is going to take care of the bills?  The health care decisions? The financial planning for college?

Marriage is work...marriage with children is more work.

So, would I encourage a newly-married couple to have kids?  Unquestionably, positively and absolutely yes!  It might be the new configuration of a marriage to have kids, but I truly wouldn't have it any other way.

Nothing is quite like watching my husband teach our girls how to build stairs or watching him share the best parts of himself with our son.  I knew when I married him that he was a good friend, a good son, and a good match for me.  Having children has helped me to know him at a level that I would never have an opportunity to know otherwise.  He is a great father.  It is a style that suits him well.

Although our relationship as a couple is often thwarted and cramped by the kids who run around here, it is the phase of life that we chose. We just have to take advantage of the times when we are alone...try to capture the style that is uniquely ours and remember that the kids will eventually grow, and we will indeed get our groove back.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Be the Color in the Moment

A moment at a time. That's all we really have, right? It is so much easier said than done to purposefully take life a minute at a time, but that is what I am trying to do right now. With the end of my husband's hockey season, I know that we are just that much closer to his departure. He'll be leaving soon...making his annual trek for his "real" job. The job that takes him away from us for long stretches of time, but the job that keeps this entire circus running.

It is all sortof routine for us now, but there are parts of the transition that don't ever get any easier. We'll miss him, and the things I let myself depend on him for, will soon be my sole responsibility. I have caught myself the last few days right when the words were about to leave my lips.

"I can do that. I'll have to do it soon anyway..."

I've done that in the past, and my subtle bitterness comes out in the breath between words. I am sad, but I don't want the moments we spend to be about the moments that have not yet been. I am notorious for letting impending doom be more present than the life that is happening right in front of me. I want to change that routine the most. I cannot change the fact that he will be leaving, but I can change my approach.

Finding moments in the midst of our busy schedules is often hard, but my husband and I took full advantage of our no hockey and no soccer schedules this week. We spent lots of time together, including breakfasts, working out and a walk to and from lunch. We decided to walk the long way home from the restaurant, and the moments were amazing. Not much moves during the frozen winters of Minnesota, and when the snow and ice finally start to melt, the motion of spring seems startling. For our walk, the surprise came on the wings of a bright red cardinal. It lifted up to the leafless branches of a tree and then sat there in complete contrast to its surroundings.

I want to be the surprise along the monotonous path. To say the joy-filled comment instead of the expected drab that blends into the sad background. Red cardinals rock, and especially when the sun hasn't shone for a week and the backdrop is void of any other color. That is how we should live every moment, and especially when time does what it always does...tick away. I want to be the color in the moments we have. Now, where did I put those red wings?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Marital Advice: Space and Spa Treatment

On the heels of a difficult and combative week for me and my husband, I thankfully had a girls' weekend getaway. I had scheduled the weekend because my sister was celebrating her fortieth birthday, and it was at a time when my husbands' hockey team has traditionally been done for the year. His team won their game the weekend before, earning a roadtrip playoff during my getaway, and I am sure part of the tension we had was a direct result of the fact that we needed to schedule childcare for a weekend that was supposed to be easy. Thanks to supportive family and friends, we deposited the kids in two different places, and off I went.

I should know by now how therapeutic time with women can be. When we are without our husbands, our children, and any real responsibility, women are pretty awesome. We talked and talked about some of the craziest things, laughed regularly at stories that were both familiar and new, and without being direct counselors for the frustrations I was feeling, the support of loving women can be more powerful than any counseling session.

The young woman who did my nails talked about the goals she and her husband have to move from their apartment to their own home. The young couple in the bar, who bought my sister a drink to celebrate her birthday, were on the first night out since the arrival of their second child in three years. I identified with those stages. I was able to reflect on how far my husband and I have come since then, and I started to appreciate where we are.

My older sister and I got married the same summer, so there are quite a few similarities with the habits of our husbands. Our younger sister just got married this past fall, and she reminds me of the excitement of being a newlywed. The other two women who were able to join us for the weekend are at different stages with different challenges, and I soak up what each story offers me for my own life.

There is a reason that the tea parties were so important to me. Not only for my book research, but for my soul. When I was in the middle of my research and I got a call from a seventy-five-year-old man asking why I wasn't interviewing the men about marriage, I stumbled over my response saying something about my target audience. I think I know now why I was drawn to talking with just the women.

Women are supportive, and I can identify with the emotions that encompass women for relationships. I realize that marriage is dependent upon both men and women, but my personal navigation of the pitfalls of marriage is dependent upon the willingness of women to be there for me...even when they don't realize they are doing it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I am an awful wife...

Despite my best intentions, I fail so miserably sometimes at being the wife I want to be. My ideal wife is soft-spoken and joyful, patient, kind and slow to anger. I was anything but her today.

I yelled, cried, threw angry comments, insulted, belittled and generally did my very best to make my husband feel bad.

Why did I do that? Something exploded in me and a compilation of stresses, that are not entirely tied to him, came pouring out in the ugliest display of wifeliness (I just made up that word).

I hate her! I hate the woman who comes roaring out from deep within me and I can do nothing to control her presence. I don't even have the blessing of multiple personalities, because if I did, I would at least be able to black out when that evil side of me arrives.

She's getting louder too. I don't know if the stress of our lifestyle has finally gotten the better of me, or if I am keenly aware that we are nearing that mid-life stage, or if I am feeling more and more helpless as our kids grow, but I am grasping at something...anything...that I can control.

And now I am feeling like I can't control her either! She arrived tonight...pretty much out of the blue. After a night of fatiguing dealings with our middle kid, I came downstairs and simply lit into my husband.

Note to self: He never has, didn't tonight, and probably never will be goaded into a fight.

I felt like punching something, or expending some bottled up energy, so instead I went for a sucker punch, and now I am downstairs by myself...self-loathing.

So, how can I possibly claim that I am Growing Through Marriage when what I did tonight did not resemble the behavior of a grown up?

I catalog this because it is indeed part of what being married looks like. I am grateful that it is not a regular part of our life, but I am not going to pretend that it is not a part of what it means to be married. I didn't fight fair tonight, and I intend to make the appropriate apologies and work even harder at resolving my emotional issues in a more productive manner. (crap-that didn't sound too genuine...way too clinical) I'll say I'm sorry for the parts that were most certainly my fault, and I'll buy a punching bag. Then I just have to catch her before she wants to come out, and convince her to punch at something that is ready for it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

From a Bride on Her Wedding Day

Don't ask me why I felt compelled to drag out this eight-year old poem. When I wrote it originally, I framed it and gave it to one of my best friends as a wedding shower gift. I also used this poem during the tea parties as a conversation-starter, and it was amusing to hear how else a couple might use their hands through a lifetime of marriage. For some reason it has been on my mind the last few days, so I thought I would revisit it. I have a new appreciation for it, from the perspective of a woman now married nearly 12 years. If you are so moved, feel free to add your own verses, in the comment section, about how a married couple might positively use their hands through the years.

From a Bride on Her Wedding Day

You asked for my hand, and I give it to you,
A sign of my love, forever steadfast and true.

With hands held tightly on our wedding day,
We'll vow to each other that together we'll stay.

We'll promise that each time the other might need,
A hand will reach out to comfort...or lead.

The first years we live as new husband and wife,
Our hands will be clenched, as though clinging to life.

We'll have time to enjoy every knuckle and nail,
And our love will seem like it never could stale.

Then that day will come when I'll reach for your hand,
And you'll know not to question a laboring woman's demands.

You'll smile and comfort through pain from my grip,
And you'll start to wonder if you're ready for this trip.

When the pain has subsided and new life has begun,
We'll have new hands to hold with a daughter or son.

We'll still hold our hands, though possibly spread,
Over little bellies and toes and adorable little heads.

We'll watch them grow up and hold them in our hands,
We'll wipe away tears and we'll be their biggest fans.

I'll still seek you out, as my strength and my love,
With hands I will find you and thank God above.

The children will grow and seek lives of their own,
And we'll proudly let go of the miracles we've sown.

Then once again each others' hands we will find,
A bit changed and sun-aged, maybe scarred by the grind.

We'll learn what it means to hold hands once again
And we'll remember how it was we first became friends.

We'll be thankful to hold hands when loved ones pass on
And we'll try not to think about one of us being gone.

Those times will inevitably find us some day,
Of course, holding hands when there's not much to say.

Goodbyes will seem lacking for our loving bond,
So we'll silently hold hands until one of us is gone.

Then one day will come when the split seems too long
And our hands will rejoin and we'll remember our song.

This moment, I give to you my hand to hold,
To cherish and honor until we both grow old.

A lifetime of memories to discover and know.
Take my hand, hold it tight, and together, let's go!

Copyright 2001 Meagan M. Frank
All rights reserved

Monday, February 22, 2010

Training our Kids for Marriage

Chinese Children Dressed As A Couple Perform In Wedding Dress Show

Marriage intrigues me. The concept and complexity of marriage is too big to contemplate at times. I have been fascinated with the intricacies of relationships since I was a little girl, and most likely because the first adult relationship I knew intimately, my parents', was a marriage that couldn't work. I realized, before I could even verbalize it, that there is a lot about relationships that is out of our control, and that is a scary proposition. I wanted to take control of what I could, so I became an avid student of relationships and marriage, well before I did "real" research for my book.

I know that in my first grade journals, I talked about how much I "loved" one of the boys in my class, and there were games we played on the playground that simulated being married. As I got older, and into high school, I studied the way my friends' parents would interact and I started to catalog some of those traits I hoped to emulate. I am sensing relationship curiosity for all three of our children, and I am thrilled that they are comfortable enough to talk to me while still at the age that they might listen. That is why I am actively promoting "Marriage Training" for our kids. My definition of "Marriage Training" is a fostering and encouraging age-appropriate relationships with members of the opposite sex.

Humans are selfish, Anyone who has raised children knows how naturally selfish people can be. Strong relationships are grounded in selflessness and I am challenged to prepare our children for the sacrifices that will be necessary for a healthy, sustainable marriage.

That starts now. So when my nine-year old hints at the fact that he likes a girl in his class, and he knows that she likes him back, I don't discourage the relationship, I just try to positively guide it toward health.

"She asked you to go watch her dance recital?" I ask excitedly.

"Yes," he coyly responds.

"Oh, would you humor me please! I have been married to the same man for twelve years, and I don't get those fun butterflies anymore. Can you just lay the scene for me so that I can live vicariously through you?"

"Okay," he laughs, because he and I have always had fun with dramatic presentation.

He dims the lights (literally, I'm not kidding)

"So, we were in math," he somberly begins.

"Oh, I can picture it now," I lovingly mock.

"We were playing a game," he continues.

"Oh, wait, so did you ask her to play the game or did she ask you?" I interrupt with enthusiasm.

"The teacher assigned us," he said. "Anyway, we were playing the game and she told me that she danced."

"Wait, hon, you already knew that she was a dancer," I interject.

"Well, I forgot," he admitted.

"Oh, hold on there bubs! I enthusiastically wave my arms. "That is cardinal sin number one when you are into a girl! You have to know what she is into. Never, ever forget what she's into!" I beg dramatically as I lean over our breakfast bar.

He laughs, and nods in agreement.

We continue talking about how he might actually want to go watch her dance, and I agree to take him if he gets all the information.

The next day, by chance, I have an opportunity to talk with his "friend who is a girl" and her mom at a school lunch. My son had pointed them out, and before I could go up to introduce myself, the girl had approached with her mom to do it first. I am pleased with the quality kid and family with whom he wants to start a relationship, and I will do what I can to help him. For instance, I will follow him sprinting out of church so that I can catch up to her mom. My son had noticed that the entire family was at church, without his "friend who is a girl", and he wanted to find out where she was. (she was at girl scouts)

There are twinges of excitement coming from the other camp in our house too. There must be something in the air. My seven and four-year-old daughters are also interested in talking about love interests and relationships. The other night we spent some time telling "secrets" in the pop-up tent in my daughter's room. I told them that "what is said in the tent, stays in the tent" so I can't reveal all the gory details, but I will say that I am hoping to positively guide them through relationship minefields too.

I am not sure that we are ever too young to learn about healthy and appropriate relationships. I was surprised by the comment of a friend of mine who overheard my oldest talking about his dating rules (group dates seventh grade, double-dates eighth grade, parent driven dates from 9th grade until he gets his license).
She told me that she asked him, "Are you really excited about all of that?"

I am not sure how he responded, but I hope he'd say yes. The most significant relationship we will ever have in our lives is our marital relationship. We spend so much time investing in academic training, career training, and athletic training, why would we neglect the training necessary to be highly successful at marriage?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Still Healing Broken Places

THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK PROPOSAL "Choosing to Grow-Through Marriage"

We bought a fixer-upper and my husband spent most days renovating, telecommuting for his “real” job and going to hockey practices and games. I tried to get used to the grey skies, to life with a two-year-old and a newborn, and to living in a place where I didn’t have a network of friends. My husband was happier and happier every day… and I was not. I was hormonal, sleep-deprived, lonely, frustrated and increasingly anxious. I realize all of what I felt through hindsight observation, but I really was unaware of what was happening to me at the time.

By middle of the hockey season, things were getting better for all of us. I had met some really great people and Haley was not nearly the needy newborn. Nate was coming through his terrible twos and the renovations were getting done. Then our experiment was brought to a screeching halt. It was made clear to my husband that the company ran better with him in Colorado and the request was made that we move back full-time. We were in our house only 5-months and then we had to turn around and head back. We had our moments of anger and frustration about this new reality, but our plans had revolved around his “real” job and we weren’t ready to risk that for our family of four. Hockey wasn’t going to be able to foot the bill, so we put the house up for sale, loaded up the cars, and started back.

I’m sure both my husband and I struggled separately with the emotions we held because of the forced change of plans, but we really didn’t talk as much about it as we did about other things. We simply resigned ourselves to yet another reality and we got so caught up in the details of the move back that we didn’t have time to grasp what we were feeling about it. That drive back was hard for a number of reasons, but most pointedly was the fact that I rolled my car just outside of Des Moines, IA.

It was really icy because a wet snow storm had just blown through and the temperatures dropped quickly just after. We were caravanning, and for a while I had both the kids in my car. We stopped for dinner in Des Moines, and the decision was made to move Nate to his dad’s truck so that he could watch a movie. Seven-month old Haley was going to go to sleep and I had planned to listen to a book on tape. So with Pudge in the lead on I-80, I followed behind with my car in cruise control and Haley quickly dozed off in the seat directly behind me. I could tell that the roads were starting to get slick so I tapped the brakes to disable the cruise and slowed just a little. We started up a slight incline and the back of Pudge’s truck did a fishtail. As I accelerated to make the hill, in that same spot, I felt the ice take control of the back wheels of my car and then as I started into a 360-degree spin toward the shoulder I realized there was nothing I could do.

I hit the grass just off the right shoulder with my back wheels first, but I was coming in sideways. Everything caught once I was off the ice, and I saw the ground come up to meet the windshield. The windshield shattered and the crunch of the frame of the car was instantaneous and terrifying. We rolled once and landed at the bottom of a hill, perpendicular to the highway, on the wheels, and with the engine still running. I couldn’t see the highway where my husband had been, and I didn’t know that he had seen my lights disappear off the shoulder in his rearview mirror. I reached for my cell phone, and simultaneously heard Haley crying in the back. I was relieved to hear her before I even had a moment to wonder about her. I jumped out of the car, phone in hand, oblivious to the freezing temperatures. I threw open Haley’s door and after merely glancing at the crushed and mangled side where Nate had been sitting, I snatched Haley out of her seat and pulled her tight to me. I stared in shock at the tv/vcr that had flown from the back of the car and had landed in the seat next to Haley’s backward-facing car seat.

I think I was trying to dial my husband when I realized that someone was yelling at me from the road. A car had pulled over and asked to help. Dazed by what was happening, I muttered something incoherent and then saw the reverse lights of my husband’s truck. He was backing up on the shoulder and I didn’t need the help of the person who had stopped. Everything was happening in exaggerated slow motion during the crash and I let down my guard a little when I saw Pudge. Before I knew it, he was ushering me through the grass to the warmth of his truck.

He put me in the driver’s seat, handed me his cell phone and said, “Tell them where we are and that you just had an accident.” He then ran back to the car to get some of our things out.

Haley was loaded in next to Nate, who thankfully had no clue what was going on, and I heard a woman talking to me saying, very matter-of-factly, “Ma’am, now where are you?”

Literally, I was between mile-markers on the side of a dark highway and I squinted to see the De Soto sign several hundreds of feet in front of me. But figuratively, I was at a major turning point in my life…I just didn’t know it yet.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I Love You For All My Heart

Our Valentine's Day was last Tuesday. Yes, I live in the United States, and just like most people, the calendars in our house argue that February 14th is the actual day of the holiday, but for my husband and I, Valentine's Day was last Tuesday, February 9th.

As usual, we didn't exchange cards, candies or gifts, but rather, as a wonderful present, my husband called for a sitter, made the dinner reservations and surprised me with a date. It has only taken him twelve years to catch on to what sorts of things really seem romantic to me, and I am so happy that he has never given up on working at it.

We had no problem getting a reservation and the evening was quiet and romantic. The movie theatre was nearly empty and my husband joked that he rented it out just for us. He said that as a courtesy, he agreed to let those other three people sit in on our special movie date. We had a great time, and I was quickly reminded why I work through those occasional frustrations to keep loving this man. It is good for my heart.

It is through loving him that my heart is rewarded. It struck me when our littlest hugged me with her valentine the other day and said, "I love you for all my heart mom!" It was an innocent miscue, but when I really reflected on how the changing of that one little word changed the meaning so entirely, I realized how the rewording better explains what happens because of intimate relationships. I think it is not an accident that loving others can be so enjoyable for the one doing the loving.

Sure, we love people because we want to make them feel good, or they are an important relationship in our lives that we want to keep, but I think we often forget how loving someone pays such amazing dividends for our own hearts. Loving people makes us feel great. In one of the books that I read for my Choosing to Grow book research, there is an argument about how doing for others creates more genuine happiness. Isn't that really just an example of how loving others is good for our own hearts? Studies suggest that charitable activities bring more joy to peoples' lives than money, and from personal experience I concur with that conclusion.

I love my husband because he makes me laugh, he challenges my thinking, he is an unbelievable father to our children, he dreams big with me, he is dependable, he is talented, he makes me proud to stand next to him, he makes a difference in the lives he touches and when it is occasionally hard to love him, I just need to remember that loving him is for my heart too.