Protecting My Marriage

My favorite wedding pic...
I've been thinking a lot lately about marriage. We've been married for about eight and a half years, and in this time we've watched quite a few of our friends' and acquaintances marriages crumble. Each time we hear of another couple we know separating or divorced, I just get so sad. There's no other way to describe it.

It's no lie: Marriage is hard. The first three years of our marriage were rough as we struggled to figure out how to be grown ups (we were both young) and how to be married. I was in my third year of college and Nate in his first year of teaching, so we had no money; we were insecure ourselves and insecure in our relationship with each other. Quite honestly, I think I expected my marriage to fail, so when times got tough, divorce seemed like a solution. It was always a passing thought, but there was one argument in the parking lot of the Columbus Hy-Vee--I don't remember what the issue was, but I mentioned divorce out loud to Nate through sobs. I didn't ask for a divorce or anything, but I said something like, "Maybe we can't fix this..." but we did. We dug our heels in the metaphorical ground, and screamed and cried it out. And in the car that night, we decided that divorce was not an option for us. Some will argue with me, label me as idealistic, and throw out "what if" scenarios. Our marriage has never been perfect. We've hurt each other (sometimes deliberately), we've been tempted, we've been unkind, we've been torn apart by grief, and we've been confused, but I simply refuse to give up on my marriage. I've thought a lot about why our marriage hasn't ended in divorce. I keep coming back to these qualities:

1. We realize our need for a Savior, so we share a foundation in Christ that drives our decisions and sometimes, our actions (we both could use some improvement in this area!).
2. We have fun together. One of the things I love about my husband is his sense of humor and fun-loving personality. We don't do a great job of going or getting out, but we laugh a lot. Even if we're just doing mundane housework at home or watching a stupid YouTube video, we manage to find ways to laugh by being sarcastic.
3. We talk. Too many couples don't find time to talk honestly, and we struggle with this at certain points each year. When our communication decreases, the tension increases, so we try to touch base with each other. We talk after school, as we're getting dinner ready, after we put the kids to bed, and as we fall asleep. These chats aren't always sit down, face to face talks that last a long time. Sometimes they're phone convos, sometimes they're short. We make do with the time we have. It's not always convenient or comfortable, but we realize it must be done.
4. We try to be honest. This is the most difficult for me, I think. I'm not a pathological liar who likes to keep secrets from her husband, but because I'm a thinker and a dweller, I will run things over in my head for weeks wondering if what I have to say will upset or hurt Nate. I'll come up with five different ways to talk to him about whatever it is I need to say instead of just saying it, so before I can even get it out, I've exhausted myself. Then when I do finally say something to Nate, I'm often at the end of my rope. I'm learning to be honest and open right away with Nate (he's a forward person, so he doesn't struggle with this quality very much!).

Nate is a swell dude.  He prays for me when he's not praying with me, he makes me laugh, he's supported me 100% in every decision I've made, and he does dishes. But even being married to a great guy takes work to make it right because sometimes, our spouses can be downright annoying (like right now, he's snoring loud enough for the neighbors to hear and farting). Our marriage is far from perfect, but we will continue to work to protect our marriage.


Reflections from a tired momma

K's arrival to our home seemed rushed and a bit unplanned. It was a delicate situation for various reasons, and K didn't find out she was moving in with us until the week she moved in. Nobody really explained to her what was going to happen and why it was happening. So, we had lots of explaining to do when she moved in. We noticed that she was not very expressive--she didn't say how she felt about the situation, she didn't ask questions, she didn't ask about her foster or biological family. She would just get kind of a blank stare whenever we talked about it. Towards the end of week two she told us, "I like y'alls house. I get to play in the living room and y'all cook good." It was her first display of expression--I wanted to hug her, but I didn't want to freak her out because she hadn't been affectionate with us (though she would try to touch strangers' hair or jewelry and give them hugs...).

It's been a little over five weeks since she moved in, and she's opening up more and more over time.  She's expressed a fear of being adopted--mainly because she's afraid of the judge. She told us a few weeks ago that this is the first time she's ever had her own bed. She's asked questions about her birth mom and foster mom and has accepted the truth very well. She has taken to Nate a lot quicker than me--she's never met her birth father before, so Nate is the first male to be in her life. She calls him dad sporadically and she tells him she loves him at night. But it hasn't been so easy for her to make the transfer that I will be her mom. She calls me mom 5:10 times, and she's only returned my "I love you" with an "I love you too" once...and it was mumbled and uncomfortable. If I'm being honest, this is really difficult for me. I understand that it will take her a while to trust me because the "moms" in her life have not been trustworthy. I understand that she has been hurt by these women, but it's a hard pill to swallow. 


For the past few days J-man's been talking an awful lot about police officers, asking questions like, Why do police officers ask people to put their hands up? What happens if someone doesn't put his hands up? Why do police officers point guns at people? Tonight the questions continued in various forms. I know J's bio parents have a history with law enforcement, and he's seen his fair share of violence. When he first moved in, he told us lots of stories involving violence, arrests, and his birth parents. I've learned with J and other foster kids to let them talk and ask questions, answer honestly, and then use it as a moment to ask my own questions. So tonight I asked if he had ever seen his birth dad be arrested. I knew the answer to my question, but I wanted to give him an opportunity to talk about it if he wanted to. 

"Yeah," he said hurriedly. "And, and [he stutters when he gets excited] the cops were pointing a gun at the house like this" he blurted as he kneeled on his chair and mimicked holding a shot gun or a rifle. "I don't know why they were pointing the gun at the house," he said curiously. 

"Well, did your birth dad have a gun?" I asked. 

He said that he didn't have one, so I explained that sometimes when police officers are called to a house, they don't know what's going on inside, so they have to be ready to protect themselves and the people around them just in case the people inside are doing something really bad that could put others in danger. J explained that the cops took his birth dad to jail. 

"Is that when you went to Aunt C's [his foster mom before us]?" 

"Yeah," he said in between bites of rice, "but I didn't get to go with the police. I asked them if I could, but I went with two guys instead." And as quickly as our conversation started, it ended as he changed topics like five year olds are known to do. J has been with us for over a year, but tonight reminded me that his trauma is deep. 

As I reflect on all of this tonight, I am pissed that parents could neglect their children. My heart aches when I think about all my babies have seen and been through. If I could transfer all of that to me so they could be trauma free, I would. I feel inadequate to help them through all of this in a loving and patient way, and I feel tired. The tantrums, the out of control, over the top behaviors  (while all justifiable considering what they've experienced), constant redirection, etc. etc. have just worn me down and left me feeling...well, tired, I guess. My whole body feels it. My arms and back ache, I'm not motivated to run or cook, and all I want to do is eat cereal. When I talk to some people about this, they kind of brush it off and say things like, "Yeah, parenting is hard." I recognize that...I do...but what bothers me about statements like this is that I don't think people (unless they've been foster parents themselves) really understand how hard it is to be in our shoes. I don't want a pat on the back or an award, but what I do want is acknowledgment that our situation is different and complex and difficult. I guess I want my feelings to be validated--which sounds lame now that I've just typed it. I know this stress is worth it--but parenting two children with backgrounds like ours is just tough...and tiring. 


Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?

Author’s Note: It’s been a while since I posted any of my personal writing that goes beyond thought spewing or a chronicle of life’s happenings, so I took time today to work on a poem to get it ready enough to be posted on my blog. This is the second draft of a poem I wrote after my grandma’s auction last month. It’s not perfect yet; it needs at least one more round of revision. I didn’t think her auction would be difficult, but, apart from the funeral, this day turned out to be the hardest part of saying good-bye to my grandma.

Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?
Unfamiliar with the narrative behind each item
the auctioneer held out each thing or box up for grabs
and simply spit out descriptions and dollar amounts to start the bidding

Lining one room in the exhibit hall at Ag Park in Columbus were
rows of banquet tables, 35 total tables separated into sections--
knick-knacks, kitchen items, antiques, toys, electronics, books, glassware
each table piled high with Corningware, brass figurines, china,
stuffed animals, pots and pans, VHS movies, toys, baskets, afghans, and other trinkets
One smaller room connected to the larger exhibit hall contained furniture
Appliances and antique chests and chairs and benches and upright radios
stood like soldiers around the tables
and a 1961 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 was parked in front of it all
gleaming white, hood propped open for passersby to examine
an American flag stuck proudly in its antenna hole
and the doors open displaying the car’s maroon leather interior: flawless
Strangers and a few distant relatives and family friends filed in and rifled through boxes
turning things over to examine and then dropping the items carelessly back in boxes
making lists of what they’d bid on

I weaved in and out of the aisles thinking of the memories attached to each item
the apple peeler---
that peeled the skin from Red Delicious apples--
a luxury our parents denied but grandma gave into
the multi-colored afghans---
my cousins and I layered on the living room floor,
enough to make us feel like we were sleeping on a mattress
sleepovers at grandmas watching
The Sound of Music, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Lion King, and others all on VHS
a cast iron skillet---
grandma used to teach Shantelle and me how to fry an egg
7 years old, pieces of shell stuck in the yolk,
the eggs scrunched into an accordion
as we made our first attempt at flipping an egg.
that held orange jello salad, deviled eggs, tortilla roll-ups,
cranberry jelly in the shape of a can, and instant mashed potatoes at every Thanksgiving.
A clear coffee mug--
the only mug I ever saw grandma drink from,
coffee, hot water, or a little boxed wine.
I moved to sit on the side with my kids resting next to me,
coloring quietly in their notebooks unaware of the significance of this day
and I watched the items disappear from the tables and into the hands of strangers
the remnant of my grandmother fading
and suddenly I found myself desperate and frantic to hold something of grandma’s
My legs wobbly, my hands shaking, I hurried to the row of kitchen items
Where’s grandma’s clear coffee mugs? I asked a cousin, my voice breaking
She reached into a nearby box and withdrew the only clear coffee mug left

Do I hear five dollars? Five dollars?
Unfamiliar with the narrative behind each item
the auctioneer held out each thing or box up for grabs
and simply spit out descriptions and dollar amounts to start the bidding
and strangers and a few familiar faces held up numbered slips of papers
and carried away the apple peeler, afghans, skillets, and Corningware
back to their homes where the items would take on new narratives
but the clear coffee mug rested safely in my bag

After the auction ended, and the stuff in new homes,
I slowly sipped my coffee from the clear coffee mug
watching my kids play the night away
Mom, that’s a weird mug, my son quipped as he pumped his legs on the swing
My voice steady, I replied It’s from Great Grandma Kush
and satisfied with that answer, he went back to his swing
another sun setting
another day gone.