Distinctly Gifted

Distinct but together
Complementarity Beyond Gender Roles
Sharing distinct talents
Photo by Alvin Mahvudov

Complementarity in marriage, the idea that the spouses bring unique gifts to the union, which work to create a cohesive whole, has often signified specific, rigid gender roles. Our complementary experience, has been, however, much more dynamic and distinctive.

Pope Francis expressed our lived truth well when he addressed the Humanum Conference in November, 2017. He told the gathering, “Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children —his or her personal richness, personal charisma.” https://www.foryourmarriage.org/blogs/complementarity-is-at-the-root-of-marriage/

Drawing on Our Distinct Gifts

The need for Jay and I to call on our distinct gifts in our roles as parents, while active from the moment our oldest child Kristin drew her first breath, became increasingly apparent as we sought the best possible classroom setting for her education.

At her birth, we welcomed Kristy into our life and our hearts with great joy and

Distinct parenting skills
Photo by Wes Hicks

with every intention of giving her everything she would need to grow into a happy, healthy adult. Because we were distinct persons, our ways of fulfilling those needs would be different in some ways. Yet, the intensity of the devotion was evenly shared.

Our Family Reality Shifts

Caring for Kristy was easy in many ways.  She was a loving, affectionate child with a happy nature. Easy to please herself, she also tried to please others. But her natural inclinations were undercut by an insidious disorder, the nature of which we would not fully comprehend until she was in her twenties. This disorder, neurodegenerative encephalopathy, https://www.neurodegenerationresearch.eu/what/first presented relatively mildly in the form of myoclonic seizures.  Many small children have fever convulsions. I had had them myself when younger. So, at first, we were not overly concerned. Except for the occasional epileptic seizure, Kristy’s physical and intellectual development followed a typical pattern.

A distinct child with distinct needs
Photo by Kelly Sikkema

By the time Kristy was ready for kindergarten in 1974, however, it was clear her ways of learning didn’t fit well with the normal classroom pattern. She needed a learning environment more freely structured to encourage her to learn according to her strengths while giving more intense concentration to skills with which she struggled. Imperative also were teachers prepared to cope with her seizures, which occurred without warning. We were totally unprepared for what a difficult task this would be.

An Appalling Situation

A congressional investigation into special education in 1972 had discovered that within the United States, “of the more than 8 million children . . . with handicapping conditions requiring special education and related services, only 3.9 million such children are receiving an appropriate education. 1.75 million handicapped children are receiving no educational services at all, and 2.5 million handicapped children are receiving an inappropriate education.” In response to these appalling numbers, in 1975, Congress enacted Public Law 94-142 in 1975, also known as The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. Congress intended that all children with disabilities would ‘have a right to education, and to establish a process by which State and local educational agencies may be held accountable for providing educational services for all handicapped children.’” https://www.wrightslaw.com/law/art/history.spec.ed.law.htm

Seeking the needle in the haystack

Mandating and acting are, of course, not the same reality. State legislatures

Seeking solutions
Photo by Debby Hudson

and public-school systems struggled to find or sadly to avoid implementing this law during the years that our daughter’s needs became increasingly complex. No school in our immediate Lincoln Park neighborhood offered any special education classes. In the 1970s the Chicago public schools had no system in place to aid parents in finding the appropriate classroom setting for their child with special needs. Jay and I would have to do this for ourselves.https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/marriage/new-year-new-beginnings

complementarity in action

The unique gifts that Jay and I brought to our committed partnership came very much to play in the ensuing search. Jay’s talents and training as an attorney would be called into play over and over. The law included an elaborate system of legal checks and balances to assure that the funds for special education were properly allocated. Were a child denied the appropriate education, a due process of law gave the family a way to pursue their child’s established rights. The parents could take the school system to court to demand the proper placement.

A complex search
Photo by Jason Leun

While Jay could fight in the courts for Kristy, we had to first find the right place for her. For this task, my professional experience working to supervise the placement of children in foster care proved invaluable.  I became my own caseworker, dusting off my old skills and bringing them to bear on our present situation, making dozens of phone calls, reading reams of records, and making field trips to visit schools and interview teachers. The vast difference was I was driven by a desperation I’d never felt as a social worker. And my mistakes were all the more heartbreaking.

a possible solution

Before Kristy turned ten, she had attended special education classes in four different public schools. None of the placements had worked out.  She was losing rather than gaining ground. (We would later learn that, for the most part, these loses were causes by the disease itself, but we didn’t know this at the time.) In 1979, I discovered a Catholic school for girls with developmental disabilities, St. Mary’s of Providence. This school had multiple classrooms, each very uniquely structured, none with more than eight students. One of these seemed to be ideally suited to Kristy.  https://www.smopchicago.org/index.php?page=about-st-mary-of-providence

But we had to go to court to have the funds for Kristy’s state-mandated education applied to a private school. As Jay prepared for our day in court, he

Evoking the law
Photo by Tingey Injury Law firm

read every word of the law, talked to experts in the field, and scoured records of past cases. He wrote and rewrote his brief over and over until he felt he “made his case.”

our day in court

On the day of hearing, Jay and I all filed into the cavernous room lined with wooden-benches. Each of held one of Kristy’s small hands in our own. How, I wondered, had it come to this? Fear and anger warred within me, but I kept my expression placid and ushered Kristy onto a bench at the front of the courtroom. When our case was called, I listened with pride to Jay’s calmly argued, yet impassioned, plea. He basically told a story, something he was very good at.  He even managed to bring a smile to the judge’s lips.

Kristy just colors
Photo by Aaron Burden

Kristy sat silently at my side, coloring a picture of a small pony, giving it a pink tail and mane. I kept my eyes on the judge’s face, watching his expression, trying to discern how his decision would go. When Jay finished, the judge looked over at me, “I need to speak with Kristy,” he said.

I bent over her shoulder, “Let’s put the book down, Honey.” Compliant as usual, Kristy followed me to stand with Jay in front of the bench.  But the judge couldn’t see her so he came down around the clerk. “Can you tell me your name?” he asked.

“Kristy Ward,” the slur caused by medication apparent in her speech.

“And who are these people?” he continued.

“My mommy and my daddy,” she beamed.

“How old are you, Kristy?”

Her eyes got big. She looked at me and then at Jay.  I wasn’t sure if she didn’t understand the question or why she was being queried, but instead of answering, she burrowed her head against my side and didn’t answer.

The judge nodded slowly. He went back up on the bench. “Your petition for special funding is granted,” he intoned and then he smiled.

finding our village

What a relief and how grateful we were that this was a time our different talents, our unique gifts had dovetailed so well to form a cohesive whole. Kristy blossomed at St. Mary’s. Until she was eighteen, it provided the best possible educational environment for her. It didn’t solve all her problems, but it provided loving, knowledgeable people with whom we could share her care.  It gave us a village.

“To reflect upon ‘complementarity’ is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation.” Pope Francis I

Please share a time when being complementary to one another was a bonus for your committed relationship.


Back to School’s a Mess This Year: Tackle It Together

Being Together at library
tackling hard decision together
Bacl-packed children going to school
Photo by Note Thanun

Making decisions about your children’s schooling is never cut and dry, but in this year of the pandemic parents are scrambling with so many options, their heads are swimming. Warnings rather than encouragements swarm in from the CDC as well as from many other authorities. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/prepare-safe-return.html

Although my days of choosing schools for my children are over, I can easily relate to what parents are experiencing this year.

While completely buying into the proposition that you cannot expect to “complete” your spouse, Jay and I made a point over the years to do as many things together as possible. https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/old-questions-new-answers This was as true of little things like running errands together on Saturday mornings as it was of really important concerns like choosing our children’s schools together.  Just because we did these things together didn’t necessarily mean we did them well.  Sometimes we really messed up, but at least we didn’t end up pointing fingers at one another.

for better, for worse, we’re in this together

We showed so much poor judgment when we chose the schools for our three

Couple together on swinging bridge
Photo by Daniel Schwartz

daughters and our son, it is amazing that they became as well educated as they were by the time, they reached their twenties. Granted our choices were often limited by circumstances beyond our control, but we added to that our own tendency to indecisiveness. The truth is we had no real educational plan for our children.

Jay and I were both products of the Catholic school system. We had been enrolled in parish schools by our parents who believed that there was no alternative. Sending children to the public schools was pretty much forbidden to faithful, practicing Catholics. https://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/06/education/the-changing-face-of-catholic-education.html  He and I had both also attended Catholic colleges. Thus, the closest we came to having any kind of plan was an assumption that when we had children old enough for school, they would attend the local parish school. In the meantime, life, as they say, was making other plans.

we plan together – then life happens

Our first child, Kristy, first began having epileptic seizures when she was nine

Ready for kindergarten
Photo by Joseph Chan

months old. While these did not at first seem to affect her development, by the time she was old enough for kindergarten, she was clearly experiencing learning difficulties. Also, our parish school, St. Clement’s did not have a kindergarten, and we needed to enroll her at the nearby public elementary school. After she had been in kindergarten only a few weeks, the principal called us in to say that Kristy wasn’t “mature” enough for kindergarten and we should try again the next year. Kristy’s expulsion from Lincoln Elementary initiated a series of school placements, none of which worked for her.

Over the next five years, she attended a Waldorf Kindergarten https://www.waldorfeducation.org/waldorf-education and special

School bus
Photo by Kenturo Toma

education classrooms at three different public schools, one of which was in Indiana when we were living there for nine months. Finally, with the help of friends of Jay’s mother we found a Catholic school for girls with learning disabilities, St. Mary’s of Providence. It was a perfect school for Kristy, but it was an hour from our home. Fortunately, school bus transport to St. Mary’s was available, but this limited our choices for our next daughter Carrie. Since being at home to wait for the school bus was not something we could do together as Jay had to catch the train to work, the task fell to me.

prioritizing options: location versus caliber

Waiting for the bus locked me out of walking Carrie to school. To circumvent this barrier, we chose St. James Lutheran School, located just three short blocks from our home. Carrie could walk there with several of the neighboring children. It seemed the better option than St. Clement School, which was several blocks away and required crossing three very busy city streets. We pushed aside our concerns about religious differences because the logistics worked so well. Carrie loved St. James.  The caliber of her education was

At school with strangers but a good teacher
Photo by Leonardo Okubo

excellent. The solution held until it didn’t because we moved to Indiana for nine months in Indiana. Carrie attended first grade there. It was a good program with a superb teacher, but she had to go to school with strangers – and take a school bus to get there.

Jay and I had made the decision – to move to Indiana together, but there were so many disasters that year, only the fact that we had jointly agree kept the Home in Chicagochaos from taking over. By spring we were back in Chicago. Kristy was back at St. Mary’s. Carrie was thrilled to join the first grade for the rest of the year at St. James.  The following fall, she and her younger sister Betsy both went to St. James.  Betsy now got the benefit of one of the best kindergarten teachers in the whole city, Inge Teske, and Carrie sailed happily in second grade. Our son Johnny was still too young for us to be worrying about school for him – or so we thought.  It was more ad hoc thinking on our part – the go-with-the-flow rhythm of our life that tended to paint us into corners.

a faith crisis faced together

For one year the pattern held, and then the stitches started to unravel yet again. While St. Mary’s continued, at that point, to be a good place for Kristy, John and I had begun to have our doubts about keeping Carrie and Betsy at St. James.  We had been approached by church members about joining the congregation, something as active Catholics we couldn’t consider doing. Then the girls started coming home with questions that demonstrated that, young as they were, they were confused by the differences between what they learned in religious education classes on Sunday mornings at St. Clement or what they heard in their classrooms. Because they were only seven and nine years old, we didn’t feel they should have to deal with those issues. https://qz.com/1301084/should-you-raise-your-kids-religious-heres-what-the-science-says/

a brave experiment
School for the Arts
Photo by Van Tay Media

Then we heard that the city was opening a magnet school for the arts at a grade school that was on Jay’s way to the office.  After visiting the impressive new school and interviewing both the principal and the teachers, we became excited about the program. Betsy was already a budding actress and Carrie loved all the arts. In September, both girls enrolled at Franklin School for the Arts.  But by mid-October, it became clear that although the art program was stellar, the academic program was very substandard to the learning environment at St. James.  Neither of our daughters was learning anything new.  We worried that they’d begin to fall behind. We revisited St. Clement Elementary. Maybe it’s where we should have simply started in the first place, but we didn’t. Now it appeared to be the best option for the girls.  We pulled them out of Franklin and enrolled them at St. Clement.https://www.waldenu.edu/programs/education/resource/what-is-a-magnet-school-and-does-it-offer-a-better-education


When I look back, it is with amazement that neither of them protested the changes that year, but simply accepted our explanations and took the transfers on the chin without complaint. Both Carrie and Betsy remained at St. Clement through eighth grade. They thrived there. Carrie went on to an International Baccalaureate Program in high school.  Sounds like a happy ending, right?  Well, actually that didn’t work out for her.

when the going gets tough, the tough stay together

In the meantime, Johnny’s entry into pre-school went very badly. Johnny, like

Pre-school goes badly
Photo by Marcus Spiske

Kristy, had a serious seizure disorder. But unlike Kristy, Johnny developed serious behavior problems that made adjusting to the classroom situation very difficult for him at first.  When pre-school didn’t work out, he and I together enrolled in a special education program that ran five mornings a week. It was run under the auspices of Children’s Hospital and required a parent’s attendance with their child. Johnny made great strides in the program, but it wasn’t easy for him or for me. It did heighten our already intense bond.

By the time he was five, he was able to attend a special education kindergarten, but following that year, it took three schools before we could find a program that combined behavioral management and learning skills in the right combination for our son. The school was in Skokie, a northern suburb, quite a distance from our Lincoln Park home, but Johnny loved the bus ride. He remained there until he “graduated” at age 18.  That’s the age that funding for special education ceased.

being together in hard times makes good times better

We did it together, Jay and I. Somehow the family held. The marriage held.  And our children learned what they were capable of learning.  What did we learn from all those mistakes?  What love lessons? Don’t beat yourself up too much for what you do wrong because what you do right and you will do so very much wonderfully, will far outweigh your errors.

“Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.” – Albert Schweitzer

What big mistakes have you made and still come out intact on the other side?

Racoon goes to school

New Year, New Beginnings

Couple by the sea
happy new year!
New school year desk
Photo by Elements 5

Happy New Year! September 1, not January 1, is the true beginning of the new year. The year’s date doesn’t change, but the whole rhythm of life changes. For our youngest generation, those from age three to age twenty-one, it’s the start of a brand-new school year (Even in 2020 when most classrooms are virtual.) As the children head back to the classroom, their parents’ year renews itself as well. For the formative years of our lives, this was the month of new beginnings and by now the urge to “get going” in September is written in our DNA.

For thousands of adults, this is also the beginning of their professional year. Preschool teachers and graduate school professors are all welcoming a whole new set of students into their classrooms.  Even if they teach actually the same lessons this year as they did last (and most don’t), the new group of youngsters sitting in front of them will make this year unique.

Student, parent, teacher – I have lived all these roles over a period of sixty-Celebrating my birthdayeight years. That alone would be enough to ingrain a sense of September as a launching season deep in my soul. Add to all those years in classrooms or engaged with school activities, the additional detail that my birthday falls at the beginning of September and it becomes obvious why I’m shouting, “Happy New Year!”

new year, new-ish blog

That makes it time for me to review and renew this blog. When I constructed the website and began publishing the blog, I chose as my motif, “It Takes a Lifetime to Learn Love’s Lessons.” My intention was to focus the blog posts on life experiences that were for me opportunities to learn those lessons. In my stories, I hoped that my readers might find ideas, feelings, memories of their own that resonated with mine.

An unstated purpose I had in choosing this topic was to answer a question posed to me many times over the last forty years – ever since our tenth wedding anniversary. Since that time, my husband, Jay, and I have often been asked, “What’s the secret? How have you stayed happily married for so long?” The short answer is, “By accepting that a lot of the time we wouldn’t be “happily married.” But that’s not a very satisfying response.

possible pearls of wisdom

In this post, therefore, I’m offering seven tenets that show up pretty often when couples are asked how they’ve managed to stay together and be relatively happy over the years. From now on, I intend to weave the wisdom from these thoughts into my posts in a more deliberate manner. In my last post, I wrote that Jay and I have always tried to be “intentional” in our relationship, meaning we didn’t just assume it would take care of itself.

I’ve complied some thoughts from various authors that reflect what intentionality means to us .   https://everydaypower.com/marriage-quotes/

Couple pulling in different dirctions
Photo by Emma Frances Logan

I’ll start with one that should be obvious, but wasn’t to my husband when we married. Be aware –even happy couples fight. What ever disagreements Jay’s parents had with one another, they managed to keep their children from seeing these moments of discord.  So, my poor hubby thought we were headed for the divorce court the first time we started shouting at each other. It’s impossible for two people to live in such close intimacy all the time without getting on one another’s nerves some of the time. Lots more could be said about this, but here I’m just listing tenets.

We found, however, that one way to steer away from letting the arguments

Focus on what you love
Photo by RMlogo

rule is to intentionally focus on what we liked each other, to recognize what they were particularly good at and give them their head in certain areas. This may be a bit too traditional for some folks, but it worked for us.

As much as you love and really like one another, we discovered, you can’t be everything for your partner;  there will be some part of their ideal where you fall short. Sometimes we completely disappointed one another in this area. I

couple back to back
Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde

thought all men were handy – not true! Jay thought all women put on make-up first thing in the morning – also not true.


Yet, even everyday chores and errands can be fun

Couple cooking together
Photo by Soroush Karimi

because you share them. So, we choose to do some things together that could be done alone, like the Saturday morning shopping. And, although it took me a decade, I learned to love opera as much as Jay does.


Older couple embracing
Photo by lotte-meijer

This one is hard. Sometimes, we had to choose to be attracted to one another. Familiarity can breed contempt, but it doesn’t have to. Staying faithful to one another has never been difficult for us, but staying passionate about each other has taken work.


Have a good time with one another. Everyday life can weight us down. We

Couple on bikes
Photo by Everton Vila

purposely go to movies with happy endings and watch really silly films that have us laughing.  That shared laughter strengthens our bond, helps us get through the harder times. We’ve also begged on street corners together. Was it fun? Yep. More about that in a future post.

Man comforts woman
Photo by Alex Bocharov

Remember your kindergarten manners when you are together. Please and Thank You and all that good stuff our teacher and our parents taught us about how to be kind to others gets good practice right in our own kitchen and bedroom. Charity begins at home. Sometimes you are the only one who might be kind to your partner that day.

Celebrate all possible occasions.  Jay and I even Couple on merry-go-roundcelebrated the 500th month anniversary of our wedding day. We know and celebrate the date we first met – Nov. 4, the date he gave me his Notre Dame class miniature ring – Dec. 6, the date, he asked me to marry him – April 19. We spent hours one steamy, day when torrential rains kept us locked down in a tent in the middle of the African bush, making a list of the best things that had happened to us each year since we had been married. We are a unique couple.  There won’t ever be another committed partnership just like ours. That’s really special and deserves to be honored more than once a year.

Here’s the “tenets” in summary:

Accept that even happy couples argue – and not just even not and then.

Highlight what you like about each other.

Don’t try to be everything for one another.

Wedding rings
Photo by Sandy Millar

Choose with intention to stay attracted.

Have good times together.

Be kindest of all to your partner.

Celebrate YOU whenever possible.


I promise to shine intentional light on these topics in future blog posts.  I will put my life experiences under a literary microscope, searching for those times when as we encountered both the ordinary and the extraordinary moments of our everyday life, we navigated them by paddling through the rapids steering our course with these seven tenets.

Watch for these themes to be front and center in my upcoming blog posts.

Some exercises I developed in working with engaged couples demonstrate how intentionality works. You can find them on this website.  https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/for-better-rather-than-worse-fun-fill-ins-for-couples

Do you have some tenets of your own, you’d like to add.  Please, write and tell me about them.

“Thus, the critical dimension in understanding whether a marriage will work or not, becomes the extent to which the male can accept the influence of the woman he loves and become socialized in emotional communication.”

John M. Gottman, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/14734208.John_M_Gottman