A Special Place in My Heart

Young couple kissing
first love

Do you remember the first person you fell in love with? I bet you do.  And maybe, like me, the place in your heart that person occupied has remained theirs for years after. It will most likely never be given to anyone even though you will have greater loves, more endearing loves, maybe even permanent loves.

Even to this day, I can never scramble eggs without feeling my first love, hovering behind me. It was he who taught me how to make them “just right.” The sight of the yellow whirls in the frying pan evokes his presence like incense burning in a lamp.

high school sweethearts
Vintage classroom scene
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton

Mike and I were sweethearts in high school. We never actually met one another. Rather we slowly came into one another’s radar. I cannot pinpoint the moment when we realized that we were “together.”

I felt like I knew Mike long before I actually came face to face with him. By the time I was in junior high, I had determined that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew. When a ninth-grade English teacher required our class to interview an adult working in our hoped-for future career, I called Dorothea Bump, who wrote a weekly column for our local newspaper. Ms. Bump and I had a delightful conversation. She didn’t pull any punches about how challenging it was for a woman to succeed in the world of journalism, but she encouraged me to pursue my dream.  While we talked, I learned that she had a son my age.

different spheres
Basketball game
Photo by Klara Kulikova

My curiosity piqued, when I started high school the next year, I paid attention in classes and at school events to see if his name showed up.  And it did. Although it was a huge school and we didn’t have many classes in common, he was on the football team.  At a high school in central Indiana, this was not the big deal it is in many other places in the United States.  At our school, basketball was king.  Football games were not well attended.  In fact, girls, who wished to be cheerleaders for the basketball games, tried out at the football games.

More notably, Mike was very involved in student government and in speech and debate clubs. That meant he appeared on stage at student assemblies. A charming and persuasive speaker, he was a popular choice for campaign manager for kids who ran for office. At that time, however, I had an enormous crush on a guy from my junior high and Mike didn’t cause my heart to turn over.

enter drama
Actors on Stage
Photo by Kyle Head

Junior year brought us into the same circle. My best friend, Nancy, dreamed of a career in theater. She was involved at some level in every production our school put on.  Usually, she played a lead role as she was (and is to this day) a fine actor.  I had no theater ambitions, but I liked being where Nancy was. So, I signed on to build sets, procure props, and help actors learn their lines.

Mike’s closest friend Kelley was another young actor.  Kelley’s involvement with the school theater drew Mike in.  Mike had no desire to act, but he had a fine voice and got “volunteered” for the chorus for musicals – not just to sing, but to lend his strong back to scene construction.

backstage romance
Backstage of a theater
Photo by Jonny Rothwell

This convergence of interests put Mike and me backstage on the sidelines with the rest of the support crew for long periods of time. Most of us tried to get some homework done as we curled in whatever comfortable corner we could find, but with all the comings and goings of the rehearsals, concentration was pretty hard.  We couldn’t distract the actors, so we would converse in notes. Finally, Mike got frustrated enough by this abbreviated way of communicating that he asked me to go for a coke one evening.

meant to be

The rapport that began backstage blossomed at the diner. I don’t remember that Mike actually asked me for a date after that. We simply started being together.  Anything he was involved in, I engaged in as well. He did the same for me.  We attended all the school dances as a couple for the next two years.

New York City neon
Photo by Florian Wehde

In senior year, he, for some reason, decided not to take the class trip to Washington D.C and New York City. But as soon as our bus pulled out of the station, he realized he had to share it with me.  He hitchhiked to New York. Washington had been fascinating, but lonely. What a wonderful surprise to find Mike sitting in my hotel lobby when my classmates and I arrived in New York.  I fell in love with New York with Mike.  It’s still my favorite American city.

Our romance unraveled when we graduated high school and attended different colleges. It wasn’t easy. We both ended up with broken hearts. Few people marry their high school sweethearts.  Those who do often don’t stay married to them.  It’s way too early for most young people to make a life-long decision. That doesn’t make the end of the relationship any less harsh or the memories any less poignant.

The love lesson of our romance, however, never faded.  Mike taught me that I could be loved wholeheartedly for exactly who I was.  Because he believed that, I could believe it.  The knowledge that I am worthy of unconditional love was his gift to me long after our young romance slipped away.

Room for One More

Father walking in sunset with kids
life keeps changing

In my blog post on the last Monday in January, I recounted how turning the year I turned thirteen my life turned, if not full circle, then at least by 180 degrees. My vision of what my future could hold had expanded at the very time my family had left behind Detroit, Michigan, the city of my birth, to move to a much smaller city in central Indiana.

1050s car in front of frame home
Photo from Boston Public Library

One unexpected change, however, may have happened whether we had moved or not. In the summer of 1956 when we piled our station wagon with items too precious to entrust to the movers, we then squeezed in a family of six. Dad drove and Mom navigated. Between on a booster sat my four-year old brother Terrence. My brother John, twenty months my junior, and I commanded the window seats in the back. Despite her loud laments, we crowded the eight-year-old “princess.” Nanette, into the middle. Two girls. Two boys. A dad and a mom. A nice round number – a family of six.

an anniversary surprise

Baby drinking from a bottle
Photo by Kelly Sikkema

By the time the kids entered school in September, however, the numbers were not quite so even. When we had sat down for a celebratory dinner for my parents’ fifteenth wedding anniversary, Dad had announced with tears in his eyes that by spring a new sister or brother would be joining us. A new baby for the new abode. Everyone of us cheered.  At least, I think Nanette did.  I don’t remember checking.

The gap between the new baby and me would be almost fifteen years. Mom’s pregnancy helped to make me a celebrity at school.  Few of my freshman year high school classmates were expecting a baby into their family. For many of us, our other siblings had been born before we knew “where babies came from.” So, it was exciting to skirt around the issue that someone’s parents had actually “done it at their age.” Although my mom and dad were only in their forties, many of us knew grandparents who were not much older than that.

an anxious father

Man staring off into woods
Photo by Madalyn Cox

The closer the time came for the birth of the new baby, the more anxious and nervous my father became.  He found it hard to go off to work in the morning. He lost his temper quite easily with us for the slightest infraction and spent lots of time in his woodworking shop producing nothing.  Excitement and happiness about the new baby so filled my heart that I couldn’t figure out what was causing him so much grief. Mom was healthy. She was just pregnant. Had I not been so absorbed in fitting in to my new school environment to which I’d basically taken like a duck to water, I might have been able to discern why Dad was so tense all the time.

home birth emergency

His trauma had its root cause in my sister Nanette’s birth. Because my mother’s labor with her had proceeded so quickly, there was no opportunity to head for the hospital. John and I, only three and five at the time, had not been told we’d be having a new sibling. Rather, that Sunday morning in February, 1948, we had been awakened by our mother’s screams and had run to her room.  Dad turned us away, ordering us to go downstairs and keep still.  We sat clinging to one another in the big gold chair by the victrola, still in our pajamas when our grandmother rushed into the front door in her housecoat shortly and ran upstairs without looking our way.

Doctor with his bag -vintage photo
Photo from Shutterstock

Then we heard only muffled sounds for what seemed forever until our dad’s footsteps pounded down the steps and to the door. The doctor, black bag in hand hurried across the room.  Just as he passed us, a baby cried out. (For a very long time I was totally convinced that new babies were delivered by doctors in their black bags.) Then we heard sirens as an ambulance pulled up out front. Our grandmother came downstairs and hustled us into the kitchen. We heard a lot of commotion on the other side of the door and then the sirens again. Still, no one told us anything except when I asked to see my mom, grandma said she was sick and had gone to the hospital.

five people in the family

Tiny baby girl
Photo by Jenean Newcomb

Our father didn’t come home that night, but he was in the dining room the next morning and his smile lit up the space. “You have a new little sister,” he told us. Now we’ve lived on a block in the city where new babies showed up at friends houses all the time.  The big mystery, of course, was where did they come from.  But come they did.  So, John and I were not all that surprised. He asked when would Mom be home and I asked what the baby’s name was. “Mary Antoinette,” Dad said.

“I’ll never be able to spell that,” I told him.

Mom, despite her unexpected home birth was fine and so was the new little one.  They came home the next day. I started calling the baby “Nanette” almost immediately – but never when my mom could hear me.

another birth trauma

Delivery room birth
Photo by Amit Gaur

Life returned to a normal rhythm until four years later when my brother Terrence’s birth shook the family to its core.  In mid-twentieth century America only hospital deliveries were considered safe.  The fact that my sister had been born at home without any problem and that both mother and child had been healthy carried no weight.  When Mom became pregnant for the fourth time, the doctor was determined that the child would be delivered at the hospital.  He decided, therefore, to induce the birth around the time of the baby’s due date.

Because I was only ten at the time, I never knew exactly what went wrong just that it did go bizarrely off track.  For one thing, the doctor misjudged the due date. When my brother was born, it became clear that he was premature. He needed neo-natal intensive care immediately and couldn’t leave the hospital for a month.  For some reason, delivery did not go well for mother either. She also was hospitalized following the birth becoming ill enough that my dad feared for her life. My grandmother led the three children at home in daily rosaries praying for our new baby brother and our Mom.

Baby in isolette incubator
Photo by Sharon Mc Cutcheon

What I recall most about that time was a sense of dread.  Although no adult had ever shared with me the dangers of childbirth, I had experienced death intimately twice that year.  My best friend, Patti, had died four days after being diagnosed with polio.  And my grandfather had died unexpectedly of a heart attack.  I did my best to be a “little mother” to my brother and sister, but I knew how inadequate I was.  I cried myself to sleep while keeping a brave face for my dad during the day. What a relief when Dad announced that Mom and Terrence were coming home.

at home at last

Children on step
Photo by Mallory Di Maio

It was a lovely May day and we waited on the front steps as Dad helped Mom, holding the blanket-clad baby out of the car. John held the front door.  I ran ahead to stand by the h bassinet so I could have a first peek at the baby. But when Mom laid him down, horror gripped me. He was red and wrinkled like a prune.  His little arms and legs were stick-like not the chubby baby limbs I expected. Was he really okay to come home?  Mom saw my look. “He’s fine.  We just have to fattened him up a bit.”

just as it should be

Now with the unexpected home birth and the disastrous induced birth ever in his radar, my dad couldn’t help but be a nervous wreck the closer the fifth baby’s due date got. But when it came, it went just the way it was supposed to go.  Mom awoke with mild contractions. There was plenty of time for Dad to take her to the hospital.  I was old enough to care for home and hearth while he

Blonde newborn
Photo by Yves Scheuber

went.  A robust, healthy baby girl came into the world without any complications. Three days later, we welcomed home a chubby, big-eyed cherub with a wisp of blonde curls – a true Gerber baby.  My happiness at welcoming this new family member knew no bounds.  I called everyone I knew to say that “Mary Elizabeth” had joined the family and they should come and see the most beautiful baby in the world.

What, even in all my happiness at the time, I couldn’t know was this precious child would continue to be a blessing to me throughout my life. I’ll have to tell you about that in another blog post.

Siblings: children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together.
Sam Levenson

I would love to hear any stories you have about welcoming new brothers or sisters into the family.

 

Learning to Love Unconditionally

Couple looking over horizon
From one generation to the next

Grandmother in kitchen w grandson
Photo by CDC

Almost from our first meeting, my husband Jay and I recognized each other as steadfast, loyal people who held deep affection for family members and friends.  We both enjoyed sharing stories with one another about our families. We could not help but admire the authentic fondness we each felt toward our parents, our siblings, and the many members of our extended families. One of our favorite ways to spend time then and now is to reminiscence about our grandparents.

Our grandparents had helped to mold the persons we had become. We treasured them individually. Yet, we didn’t realize how fortunate we were that between us, we had six living grandparents, all of whom attended our wedding. They had just always been there for us. So, it seemed perfectly natural that they should share this important moment.  I regret that neither we nor anyone else took a photo of all six of them together that day.  We do, however, love the various shots of all of them joyfully celebrating the marriage of their oldest grandchildren.

a legacy of great worth

Couple grasping arms
Photo by Elahe Motamed

Now, a grandmother myself, I fondly reflect upon the hours and days I spent with my grandparents as I grew up. I realize now that our grandparents’ lives taught Jay and me the very traits that drew us together – steadfast loyalty and devoted affection. When Jay and I lost our grandparents to death, they left no monetary inheritance, but the legacy they left us was far richer than any financial gain. They left their stamp on our character.

The deep affection we received from our grandparents, we quite naturally pass along to our grandchildren.  Through sharing their stories in my writing, I also hope to leave a legacy not only for our grandchildren but also for their children. I want them to know how greatly they were loved even before they existed.

leaving an old world for a new one

Cattle Ranch
Photo by Lukas Gachter

In planning my blog post for the next year, I chose as a theme, “Leave a Legacy.” I begin today with one of my favorite memories of my Grandmother Wilhelmina DeJager. I know only the vaguest outlines of my Grandma Minnie’s life before she became my grandmother. What I do know is fascinating enough to make me wish I could uncover more. As a teenager, she migrated from The Netherlands with her parents and siblings to Alberta, Canada, in the early 20th century. They left behind city life in Amsterdam to settle on a cattle ranch.  It sounds so much like the “Little House on the Prairie” stories that fairly breaks my heart that the story of those days is nowhere recorded.

Minnie met my grandfather, Ted, also a Dutch immigrant, when he was working on building the trans-Canadian railroad. They fell so deeply in love that when Ted migrated to the Detroit, Michigan, and wrote to ask her to come and marry him, she did. Imagine trusting love that much!

a twentieth century dutch homemaker

Braided rug
Photo by Viktor Fopgacs

Only twenty years old when she gave birth to my father John, Minnie had every skill needed to be an accomplished homemaker and mother. She could sew clothes for her whole family. The braided rugs for the floors, the curtains on the windows, and all the bed linens were also her creations.

Grandma planted a garden. At the beginning of every winter, she canned fruits and vegetables to last until spring. When I was a child, she canned enough for our family as well. And, of course, she cooked. I loved sitting in her kitchen and dreamed of having one that would look just like it someday because the white cabinets with red trim entranced me and the smells of stews and roasts made my mouth water.

a favored grandchild

Patterns for little girls' dresses in the 1950sAbove and beyond all else, Grandma Minnie loved me unconditionally. She had only had sons and thrilled to the fact that her first grandchild was a girl.  She’d been waiting twenty-five years to make like girl clothes! The lovely thing was since she was a grandmother, there was no subtle rule that kept her from making me her favorite. Those restrictions apply to parents, but grandparents needn’t abide by them. Thus, many times during the year I had the chance to skip out on my role of “mother’s helper” in my family of five siblings and become the “one and only” pet child of my grandmother.

These opportunities would usually begin following Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ home. Instead of going home with my parents, brothers and sisters, I would stay at Grandma’s house until the next Sunday. Those weeks were truly magical. My grandmother never gave me chores to do. Although she kept busy all day long with gardening, cooking and sewing, I was free to either tag along and chat or I could entertain myself however I chose.  Both alternatives were heavenly.

a magically ordinary household

Bright kitchen
Photo by Douglas Bagg

I loved watching her feet pumping the wheel on the sewing machine and marveled at the garments that arose from under the needles. My imagination took me back in time when she covered my head with a sunbonnet and gave me a basket to hold strawberries from the garden.  She didn’t mind at all if I became bored and dug for worms instead. If she was canning, I stood on a kitchen chair right at the stove – something my mother never allowed.

Carpentry shop
Photo by Adam Patterson

My grandfather had an enormous workshop in their garage.  Despite working all day as a ship builder, he still loved crafting with his tools once he was home. For me, he created a dollhouse with four rooms of furniture. He also built a child-size hutch to house my doll dishes and doll clothes.  I had a full wardrobe of clothes for my two favorite dolls because every time my grandmother made an outfit for me, she would make identical ones for my dolls.  Grandpa also crafted a dolls’ bunk bed for them for which my grandmother made mattresses, pillows, sheets, blankets, and quilts.

total belonging

Furnished dollhouse
Photo by Krysztof Kowalik

Often, I would wander away from my grandmother’s activity to curl up on her cushy sofa to read a book.  Sometimes, I’d turn her whole living room into a stage for my paper dolls. At home, my play was relegated to a basement playroom.  Children were not allowed in the living room. Most weekdays, at five-thirty, I’d walk to the end of their block to wait for the city bus that brought my grandfather home from work. Neither of my grandparents drove a car. Then, as we headed home, he’d tell me stories about the ships he was building. How I wish I could have written those stories down! At home, he strode into the kitchen and encircled Grandma’s waist and kissed the back of her neck.  She always said, “Oh, go on with you, Ted. Mind the child.” He would turn to me and wink.

On Sunday morning, although my grandmother was a staunch Presbyterian, she would walk me to St. Peter’s Catholic church several blocks away to attend Mass. My father had converted to Catholicism when he married my mother.  A stipulation of allowing my grandmother to have me at her home was that she promised to take me to Mass on Sunday.  My grandfather would pick me up when services were over. As a child, I often sought solitude and actually loved being able to attend church all on my own.

being loved for being you

I have no memories of anxiously awaiting my family at dinner time.  Mostly I felt sad that I was leaving my grandmother.  These visits stretched out from the time I was five until I was thirteen. Even when I was little, I suffered pangs of guilt at being so happy to be away from home and felt bad that I got my grandparents all to myself so often.  But the joy I experienced in my grandmother’s home more than compensated for any remorse I felt over my lack of homesickness.

Not for one moment of my childhood did I doubt that I was the light of my grandmother’s life. As sure I was of this truth, I realized that she loved my siblings and my cousins very deeply as well.  It didn’t diminish our relationship in the least.  At home my parents tried to be even-handed in their treatment of five very different children. I didn’t feel cherished as “Jule,” someone unique. My parents, I felt, most valued me as the oldest, the one who could help.

John and Jule at Latrouelle FallsMy grandmother’s unconditional love had no strings attached. I did not have to earn it. Experiencing such love taught be to be openly affectionate without fear. This is a trait my husband recognized early and treasures still.

“Grandparents hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.”

Please share a favorite memory of your grandparents?

 

Surviving the Holidays

Dog in a gift box
pulling it all together

Cupcakes and candy
Photo by Brooke Lark

The holiday season is a time of abundance, a time of more of everything. And one of the things there tends to be more of around our household at this time of year is conflict. This is not a new experience, but one that descended upon us the first time we set out to celebrate a major holiday together. It took us completely by surprise.

Familiar as we were with the biblical verse, “And the two shall become one flesh’ so then they are no longer two, but one flesh,” its full meaning didn’t reveal itself until the Easter Sunday just three months after we married.

who is the family?

Gathering before dinner
Photo by Antenna

For both of us, holidays were first and foremost about spending the day with our family and secondarily about the actual feast that the day commemorated. But in our first year of marriage, the meaning of the words, “our family,” became confused. Who were “our family?” What John Gottman has named the “we-ness of us,” meaning the solidarity of husband and wife, was still so new that neither of us considered our married partnership a “family” per se. My husband and I were both the eldest children in large families. Although we never voiced it aloud, we assumed that a couple without children wasn’t a family.

A couple of idiosyncrasies in our family backgrounds also left us unprepared for a holiday battle.  Jay’s family had simply always celebrated holidays and every occasion of note with his mother’s family.  No questions asked. His father’s family history stayed shrouded in mystery. During my own childhood, my extended family was small enough that we all gathered, my mother’s and my father’s family, together for not only holidays but vacations as well.

reasonable versus fair

Couple holding tightly and tensely
Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk

Then that Easter rolled around and a decision had to be made, one neither of us had ever faced before. With which family would we spend the day? Jay assumed we would do the “reasonable” thing and join his family at his grandparents’ home, which was only a half hour from our apartment on the northside of Chicago.   I maintained that we saw plenty of his family in any given week. It was only “fair” I declared that we drive to St. Paul to spend Easter with my family.  When the lines are drawn between “reasonable” and “fair,” even Supreme Court Justices have their hands full. The decision process overwhelmed two young people in their early twenties.

at odds and out of kilter

Hands letting go
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Conflict between committed partners is inevitable.  As true as I know those words to be, whenever I find myself at odds with my husband, life feels out of kilter. Thus, when a rancorous debate drove Jay and I apart for days and seemed to have no possible solutions, it convinced me I had married the wrong man.

Experts tell us that it isn’t fighting that drives couples apart, but the nature of their arguments. That early clash followed none of the experts’ rules. We were so shocked to be enraged with one another, words of contempt and distrust flew threw the air like knives in a circus act. And just as miraculously none of them resulted in a fatal wound. What won the day finally were tears. I broke down sobbing about how much I missed my parents and siblings even though before our fight I hadn’t been conscious of that longing. That won Jay’s heart.

healing as we journey

Toast a feastOur trip through Wisconsin affected a sweet healing.  The countryside was bursting with new life in the happiest of yellow-greens. Roadside stands sold daffodils by the dozens. It rained much of the way, but just past Eau Claire, a rainbow broke through the clouds.  By that time, our seven-hour conversation had led us to our own pot of gold.  We had worked out a way to alternate with whom we would spend our future holidays.

Jay and I not only resolved that conflict, but more profoundly we learned that we could engage in even deeply rancorous disagreements, but our solidarity was stronger than we had known and would see us through such troubled times. Since that time, this stalwart sense of “we-ness” has gotten us through hazards much difficult to negotiate than that first major confrontation.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength. While loving someone deeply, gives you courage. Lao Tzu

Have the holidays raised a conflict for your family?  How did you find your way through?

Most Unexpected of All Things

Tender moment - elder couple
Life’s Revolution

Leon Trotsky is best known as vital leading figure in the Red victory in the Russian Civil War.  One would think that the outcome of that tumultuous time would strike him as the most unforeseen event of his lifetime. Yet, he actually claimed, “Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man.”

He was so right. We dream so many dreams when we are young, even dreams

Protestors amid fire
Photo by Hasan Almasi

of a grand revolution, but we never dream of becoming old. So, we are flabbergasted when we realize it has befallen us. In some ways, of course, it is a blessing in disguise. We cannot help but acknowledge that the only real alternative is considerably less appealing.

love beyond the grave

Being an elder is on my mind this week, both because yesterday was my father’s birthday and the anniversary of his death and because I’ve just finished reading Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv. Berg’s protagonist Arthur, an endearing widower, reminded me strongly of my dad. Both men recalled wives, who were challenging companions, with great fondness and kindness, a kindness that extended beyond death. Arthur goes daily to have lunch at his wife’s grave. My father gave up his lake cabin because it was too lonely without my mother. Both men invariably spoke well of their departed spouse.

Death did not sever the bond of marriage between Arthur and his wife Nola anymore than it did that between my parents, John and Peg. The relationship pattern that had kept their commitment strong through thick and thin continued. Their partner’s physical presence perished, but their spirit remained within the heart of the husbands they left behind.

fond memories

And those husbands continued to treat the wife of their memories with tender kindness. They didn’t do this by sanctifying them.  They could still admit to the flaws and idiosyncrasies of the women with whom they had spent more than sixty years. But they never spoke of them with disrespect or contempt.

As I read The Story of Arthur Trulove, memories of other elder couples I’ve loved flooded my heart and soul. I could see again my grandfather sneaking me sips of his rich, milky coffee and my grandmother scolding him, “Now you know, Ted, that baby doesn’t need coffee.”

“Ah, Minnie,” he’d reply. “It’s more mile and sugar than coffee.  It’ll put roses in her cheeks.” My grandmother would sigh and I could feel the electricity that sparkled in the smile they exchanged.

Sixty-year romance

When Nola in the book is in her last illness, I remembered my Uncle Jim and his wife Betty. Theirs was a relationship I witnessed from beginning to end because when I was ten, my grandmother set me up to chaperone my young uncle when he borrowed the family car for a ride with his girlfriend. I thought Betty with her dark page boy and luminous brown eyes was as glamorous as a movie star.  They probably could have dumped me at a soda fountain for all I cared.  But they didn’t.

Sixty years later, my uncle suffered a debilitating stroke. My aunt, devastated that he was too heavy for her to care for, allowed him to move to an excellent assisted living center. I was sometimes lucky enough to accompany her on her daily visits to the facility. Every afternoon she joined him for lunch and a one-sided conversation until he fell asleep.

When he died, she buried his ashes in their church garden so that he would be

Church garden
Photo by Samala Sarawathi

right there where she could visit every Sunday. Uncle Jimmy loved that church. It was such a great kindness on her part to bring him to rest where his favorite hymns would waft over him every week.

expect love

Newlywed couples receive the admonition, “Be kind to each other; treat each other with civility even in discord.” If as an elder couple, Jay and I live by that same maxim, we can hope that although we might not have anticipated being old, we did expect to be well-loved and in that we were not disappointed.

 

Have you read any books that sparked memories for you lately?

Worthy of Honor and Respect

Couple in the rain
an election day anniversary

Droping vote in box
Photo by Element5 Digital

Only one more day until November 3, 2020, Election Day in the United States of America. It also happens to be the fifth-ninth anniversary of the day Jay and I met. Such a unique twist of fate brought us together that we celebrate the anniversary of that evening every year. One of the commemorations I remember best was the anniversary we spent campaigning. In 1966, November 3 fell five days before the first election of our married life.

Before my marriage, politics held a place at the edge of my peripheral vision. But marrying into an active, political Chicago family sharpened my understanding of the local democratic process.

worthy of honor and respect

Couple holding hadns
Nathan Dumlao

My blog post for September 7 this year, “New Year, New Beginnings” announced my intention to share with you some principles I believe helped sustain our fifty year plus relationship. https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/marriage/new-year-new-beginnings.

Near the top of the list I placed recognizing a partner’s expertise in some areas and accepting their lead in those domains.  This premise resembles one of the principles found in John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, often cited as the definitive guide to developing a relationship’s full potential.

In his work, Dr. Gottman observed that admiration, the belief that one’s partner is worthy of honor and respect, is crucial for a committed relationship. Jay and I can’t help but notice each other’s flaws. (And living together 24/7 since the pandemic has only acerbated this.)  Keeping in touch with what we admire about each other stops us from being driven to distraction by our individual  idiosyncrasies. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-much-do-you-admire-and-respect-your-partner/

politics, our everyday fare

City of Chicago
Photo by Pedro Lastra

Jay never ran for political office himself.  His passionate engagement in the political life of our community,however, became part of the rhythm of our daily life as soon as we returned from our honeymoon. He involved himself at the most basic level as a Democrat precinct captain.  The City of Chicago is divided into fifty legislative districts or wards. Each district is represented by an alderman who is elected  to serve a four- year term. Each ward is divided into as many as forty-four precincts. And that, according to my husband, was where the real politics took place.

His work in the precincts was a far cry from our college discussions. Those, while fascinating since Jay majored in Political Science, were highly theoretical.  Politics at the neighborhood level, I discovered, was a whole different animal. I watched as Jay went out every night to knock on doors in an effort to speak with every potential voter in his precinct and it swelled my heart with pride.

He worked hard all day, processing dozens of cases as a State’s Attorney in Traffic Court, came home, ate a quick supper and headed out. I could have felt abandoned.  We were, after all, close to being newlyweds. The emotions, however, that filled my soul were admiration and respect. Jay said his precinct work was a necessary link in the democratic process. I chose to believe him rather than listen to the grumbles I heard at work about the cronyism of the Chicago Democratic party.

politics in his dna

Jay’s participation in the Chicago political scene also had another dimension. His father, John F. Ward, Sr., was the purchasing agent for the City of Chicago.  He had been appointed to that position in 1948 by a reform mayor, Martin Kennelly.  When Richard J. Daley was elected, Jay’s dad assumed he’d be asked to step down.  Daley surprised him by asking him to stay, saying that Mr. Ward was known for his honesty and professionalism.  Daley wanted that to be a part of his own administration. Because of his father’s position, Jay had sat in at lunch with the leaders of the city, county and state Democratic parties since he had been a young teen. What he learned from those sessions, he kept to himself. I honored him  for that.

campaigning as celebration

Bridges of Chicag
Photo by Alex Livingston

It was no surprise, therefore, that when the fifth anniversary of the day we met came around, we found ourselves not going out to dinner and a movie, but passing out campaign leaflets. Although the Democrats felt their usual security about the city and county offices, there was enormous concern about the Senate race. Paul Douglas had held the seat for eighteen years.  A prominent member of the Liberal Party, he was a great friend of most of the prominent Chicago politicians. For Jay and me, he was more than that.  He was a passionate crusader for civil rights and had helped pass the Civil Rights Act just two years before. But he was in a tight race with a prominent Republican businessman, Charles Percy.

Union Station
Photo by Danielle Rice

Our position for passing out the pamphlets was the Washington Avenue bridge that spanned the Chicago River just west of the Loop. Commuters streamed over this bridge on their way to Union Station as they headed to homes in the south, west, northwest, and north suburbs of the city.  There were thousands of them. The timing was perfect.  If they held onto our reading material, they could study it on the train. We were bundled into several layers so we could withstand the long hours on the bridge. The temperature did not drop below freezing until after dark, but the sun set at five-thirty. We remained at our posts until the last stragglers from the Loop offices scurried to catch the final trains around seven-thirty.

fondness and admiration: a system

Couple under umbrella
Photo by Clay Banks

My feet felt frozen to the bridge, but my heart was warm with pride. For four hours, I had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my husband and collaborated with him. Together we had attempted to make a difference in the way our nation would be governed.  Jay would always be more invested in politics than I would be.  Sometimes his active lobbying took him from home for days at a time. My admiration for his dedication assuaged the annoyance I felt at being left to run the household on my own.

On his side of the coin, he often assured me that his confidence in my ability to care for our family  on my own when necessary served as a ground for him to do the work he loved. Most likely this is putting what Dr. Gottman calls “a positive spin on our marriage history.”  But that’s actually a good thing, a true test of a couple’s “fondness and admiration system” and a good predictor for future happiness.

evaluate your admiration system

Kissing couple
Photo by Scott Webb

Kyle Benson, who works in the “Love Lab” at the Gottman institute loves doing something similar to what I do in the Relationship Guides on this website. (https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/for-better-rather-than-worse-fun-fill-ins-for-couples.) Benson takes the research on successful relationships and transforms them into practical tools for romantic partners.  If you would like to try one of them, try his brief quiz designed to evaluate the fondness and admiration system in your own relationship. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-much-do-you-admire-and-respect-your-partner/

If you take the test, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

“America’s higher purpose is not just to allow you to have what you want, or to allow me to have what I want. Our higher purpose is to give everyone a fair shot at making their dreams come true.’

Couple sharing coffee
Photo by Christine Hume

October: Love Among the Pumpkins

Kristy in a pumpkin patch
turn to each other

Older couple embracing
Photo by lotte-meijer

Celebrating whatever we could whenever we could added reserves to our marriage’s emotional bank account, a concept offered by John Gottman in his relationship guide, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  This principle works just like a monetary bank account. Every day couples have opportunities to turn toward each other in small and big ways that build up a reserve of trust and goodwill. Couples can draw on this through stressful and conflictual times. https://psychcentral.com/blog/7-research-based-principles-for-making-marriage-work/

maximize the “maxi-moments”

As much as such crucial feel-good mini-moments have contributed an overall sense of well-being to our marriage, Jay and I have also regularly relied on turning as many of them as we could into “maxi-moments.” In other words, we sparkle the glitter of celebration’s magic over life’s small achievements and imbue them with extra joy. We are now

martini splashing
Photo by Amy Shamblen

coming into the time of year that is a heyday for celebration. The pall that has been cast of 2020 causes some people to feel as though hoopla and revelry might be out of place, but the rest of us are proclaiming, “Not at all.  Never has there been a more crucial time than now to commemorate life small joys and blessings.

Through the past year I’ve taken my readers along with Jay and I through many adventures and good moments during our earlier married years – the time before we were parents. Once, we began welcoming children into our family, lots of things changed – even our love for each other. It became deeper and more meaningful as it blossomed into new life. The times and ways we celebrated also evolved.

getting ready for halloween

When our children were young, Halloween beckoned them from the end of every October, transforming the entire month into one of almost daily merrymaking. Often planning for costumes began even before October 1.

Fairy in woods
Photo by Anthony Tran

Almost daily, my children feasted on stories about dragons and princesses, fairies and witches, sprites and elves, magicians and wizards. For most of the year, those wondrous creatures were confined to the pages of fairy tale books.  On Halloween, they came alive.

My children planned their costumes with dedicated enthusiasm and amazing creativity. They didn’t simply “dress up” as some fantastical character.  At the core of their being they transformed into their roles. For that one night, they’d be actors on national stage. They took their parts in that performance very seriously.  Many educators have noted the academic, social and emotional benefits of “dressing-up.”

Child as dinosaur
Photo by Jeremy McKnight

https://blog.bellalunatoys.com/2016/10-benefits-of-dress-up-play-for-children.html But my children didn’t need grown-ups to tell them this. They could no more resist the pull of this alternate reality than they could resist the clanging of the ice-cream truck.

a month is a long, long time

But waiting for Halloween, even with all the costume preparation, can seem very long.  A month is a big percentage of a small child’s life. Thus, like many other families, we built other rituals into October, milestones on the way to Halloween. They didn’t equal the excitement of the big day, of course, but they enhance both family bonding and holiday exuberance. Among these traditions, a visit to the pumpkin patch was, perhaps, the most anticipated.

Pumpkins
Photo by Kathleen DeNapoli

Like the grape stomping featured in last week’s blog post (https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/laugh-together-stay-together-side-effect-of-grape-stomping), a visit to the pumpkin patch offered the chance to flee the city for the day.  While we all loved the vibrancy and convenience of city life, a trip to our favorite country haven helped our children learn first hand about the source of our food through a learning process that felt to them like sheer fun. Instead of heading toward Michigan, the pumpkin search took us north out of the city to Wisconsin.

city family’s day on the farm

All Southern Wisconsin, many working farms opened their gates to city

Girl holding bunny
Photo by William Daigneault

slickers like us, giving our family a peek into rural life at its best – at harvest time. We didn’t always choose the same farm because we loved exploring new places, but the experiences often mirrored one another enough that we were never disappointed. We enjoyed picking apples, drinking cider, and, of course, selecting a pumpkin for each child to take home and carve. The kids usually demanded that a corn maze and a petting zoo be part of the experience.  They loved hold and petty fuzzy bunnies and feeding goats kernels of corn right from their hands.

Hayride
Photo by Indianapolis Chronicle

We usually ended our day with Jay accompanying the kids on a hayride. I never wanted to go because I remembered the hayride of my childhood on my cousin’s farm. Horses pulled those wagons. At the Wisconsin farms, giant, rumbling tractors pulled the load of high-spirited kids and parents.  They loved it. But it wasn’t for me.  Instead, I’d wander into the farm stand and buy cider, apple butter, and pies. They were expensive but so worth it.

carve the pumpkins, eat the seeds

It would be evening by the time we headed back to the city with a car full of tired children. The next day we’d carve the pumpkins so they’d be ready to put on the front porch for Halloween. I would painstakingly clean all the strings off the seeds so we could salt and roast them. My children would not ordinarily have eaten anything quite so gritty, but it was part of the ritual. So, they savored them.

emotion bank account: in good shape

October filled our family’s emotional bank account. We would drawn down on the reserves of joy and enthusiasm in times of challenge and stress, grateful that we made plenty of space in our lives for the renewable resource, celebration.

If you are thinking that this sounds like something your family is up to, there’s sure to be a welcoming farm somewhere near you wherever you are. https://www.travelchannel.com/interests/fall/photos/top-10-pumpkin-patches

Making cider
Photo by Rosalie Barley

” I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne.

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=Quotes+about+pumpkin+patches

 

 

Laugh Together. Stay Together: Side Effect of Grape Stomping

Vineyard
Laughter: the secret of staying married

Hands filled with grapes
Photo by Labros Lyrakoris

Pretty often, Jay and I field the question, “How have you managed to stay happily married for over fifty years?” Usually we laugh because we know the questioner is looking for some deep wisdom and not expecting the response that we like to give, “grape stomping.” But we love to tell stories about driving our four kids, all under age ten to Michigan. Once there, we tossed them into a half barrel of ripe fruit and encouraged them to “smash those grapes.”

 

a tumultuous decade

2020 has been a really rough year for just about every person in the world. That’s why it vividly brings back my memories of the 1970s. In that decade our

Protestors amid fire
Photo by Hasan Almasi

children were born, grew into sturdy toddlers, and started elementary school. At the same time grand-scale tumultuous events tumbled over each other with such rapidity that we wondered if we would survive the chaos. Everything we believed in as children was called into question – our nation’s standing in the world and its ideals, our religion and its practices, our society and its standards, our culture and its aesthetic. To keep one’s balance on such shaky ground demanded not only a commitment to love, but also an ability to embrace good times when they offered themselves. Grape stomping was just such an opportunity.

necessary escapism

Grape vines in autumn
Photo by Herbert Ritsch

We found our chance to jump into this activity in southern Michigan. When most people thought of American wine in those days, they thought “California.” It’s easy to associate the growing of grapes and the production of their juice with milder climates. Today, Oregon has as wide a reputation for fine wine as her southern sister. But fifty years ago, Michigan was the third largest producer of wine in the United States.

tabor hill winery

In 1968 two twenty-something Chicagoans, Carl Banholzer and Len Olson, bought forty-five acres of farmland in Buchanan, Michigan. Totally inexperienced, they relied on knowledge gleaned from a book called American Wine and Winemaking by Phillip M. Wagner. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/03/us/philip-m-wagner-92-wine-maker-who-introduced-hybrids.html

Olsen and his wife Ellen moved into the farmhouse in November plowing

Plowing through snow
Photo by Richard Ciraulo

through a nineteen-inch snowfall to get to their new front door. The next fall the young vintners bought two tons of Delaware grapes from another local vineyard. They produced two and a half tons from the fourteen acres of young vines they had planted the year before. Now it was time to make some wine.

crushing grapes – the old-fashioned way

That’s where our family, along with dozens of other Olson and Banholzer friends, came into the picture. The two men decided to crush their first grapes the old-fashioned way, finding it easier to stomp the grapes than hand crank the grape presser. Grapes were placed in sawed-in-half wine barrels. Off came our shoes and socks and into the barrels we went. That first year we foot-stomped 400 gallons of juice for wine. Although the first bottle of wine would not be sold for two more years.

Children stomping grapesI’m not sure whether it was more fun to feel the grapes squish between our toes as the juice splashed up to our knees or to watch the delight on our children faces as they stomped merrily around in the barrels, turning shades of purple and dying their clothes with grape juice.  This was adults gone completely berserk. They were being encouraged to get “dirty,” and their parents were joining in. Adding to the merriment, the vintners hired local musicians to play upbeat jazz and country music while we stomped.  Grape crushing turned into dancing and many of us continued stomping even out of the barrels.

just recompense

When the last grape had been squished into oblivion, we ushered the children into the barn, where big tubs of warm water waited.

Cheese, grapes, wine
Photo by Jasmine Bartel

Getting rid of the purple stains had to wait until we got home.  Instead, we rubbed the kids with old towels and got them into warm clothes. Then we joined the small crowd who’d gathered to relax after the day’s labors – grape juice for kids and wine for adults. Then to say thank you, Ellen Olson treated us to a gourmet picnic spread.

A number of the people at the stomp had also helped with the work of planting and harvesting the vineyard. Olson would later say that he believed the labor-intensive work and the camaraderie it entailed helped many of his friends adjust to life during and after the Vietnam war – both those who had served and those who had struggled at home. https://silo.tips/download/michigan-wine-industry-research-state-of-michigan-department-of-agriculture-7

lifetime of laughter

Although not as deeply involved with the vineyard as those friends, Jay and I shared some of the same benefits.

feet in purple grapesJay’s work as an environmental attorney at a time when the national and international standards for the protection of the environment had only begun to be developed meant long hours, difficult briefs, and tense negotiations. It didn’t leave him with much energy or time to spend with family. During those carefree days in the vineyards, he could completely leave his worries back in Chicago. Stomping to music beats banging your fist on the table while demanding that the northern Indiana steel companies stop belching black acrid smoke into the air over the dunes.

Wine picnic
Photo by Ariel Vanessa Valdez

What I loved most was letting go of civilized standards.  I never realized until it happened to me that you give birth to stone-age humans and have only five years to transform them into citizens of the twentieth century. Those times when I could not only allow, but actually encourage my children, to be carefree and silly were few and far between.  The need to break the confines of civilized behavior made Halloween my children’s favorite holiday. Grape stomping fit into that same set of rituals, harking back to times before Victorian rigidity and contemporary rationality.

Laughter: The Cheapest Medicine

Laughter ruled the day. Everything was funny. Nothing felt forbidden. We would all be laughing in the car on the way back as we recalled various moments during the day. Of all the ties that bind Jay and me laughing together is one of the best. The silly laughter we shared during the grape stomping drew us together then. We laugh again when we remember those days and the ties become even stronger. https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/marriage/new-year-new-beginnings/

If this sounded like fun to you, you can still get in on the merriment. https://www.harborcountry-news.com/features/a-decade-of-grape-stomping-at-baroda-founders/article_5a408380-d4ba-11e9-bb5d-eb685c3388da.html

Grapes hanging on the vine
Photo by Jeremy Lwanga

And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh. — Friedrich Nietzsche

https://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/quotes-about-laughter/

 

 

 

Keep Passion Ignited

Golden Dome of Notre Dame
winging it on oxytocin

Couples are often determined to keep the passion ignited in their committed relationship, but find it a principle more easily stated than lived by.

Lighting your fire
Photo by Wesley Balter

For one thing, our neurobiological system is a delicately-structured instrument that needs regular fine tuning to play its best music. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, oxytocin levels peak in our blood streams. This happens because couples falling in love open the dam so to speak on the flow of this hormone.  When they hold hands, touch the other gently, kiss, hug, and stroke, the floodgates lift. Oxytocin floods every each of their body and brain. Nothing feels as good as being with this other person.

Other responsibilities, other tasks, even other pleasures often get shoved to the back burners of daily life to make room for being together and being physically close. We know this is true from everyday experience whether we are in love ourselves or not.    But the phenomenon is also backed by careful scientific research.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3936960/

coming in for a landing

Cooking together
Photo by Sorous Karim

This high state of romance cannot last forever. Once couples set up a household together, whether they marry or not, the multitude of daily tasks confronts them willy-nilly. We get busy with work, school, household chores, childcare, and social engagement. A day can fly by in what seems a minute and the most “romantic” thing we did was kiss our partner briefly on the way out the door.

That’s what can happen. Luckily, it’s not what always happens. Scientific research has also discovered that couple who test for high levels of oxytocin in the early stages of the relationship frequently test high later in their partnership as well. Behav Sci (Basel). 2020 Feb; 10(2): 48. Published online 2020 Feb 2. doi: 10.3390/bs10020048   Interview with these couples revealed high engagement in affective behavior that had continued past the initial stages of their romance.

lots of ways to light a fire

Football players at edge of field
Photo by Mike Benson

In our relationship, Jay and I found many ways to re-ignite the passion that first drew us together.  One of the best ways is also a lot of fun as well.  We go back to school together.  Well, not actually back to the classroom although some couples we know have done that very thing with great success. Jay and I join the myriads of alumni returning each fall to campuses all over the United States for football games.

In general folks may be divided on whether sporting events constitute a romantic venture.  I sit on the fence on this one because although I can thoroughly enjoy a local baseball game and can get really excited at the chance of seeing the Trail Blazers play, only a trip back to South Bend, Indiana, to see Notre Dame engage a foe counts as a truly romantic journey.  For Jay and me, it serves as an almost, literal re-enactment of the days when we first fell in love.

in the beginning

To enhance that feeling, we begin the day by parking on the St. Mary’s College

Tree-lined avenue
Photo by James Beeser

campus. When Jay and I were in college, Notre Dame students were all men and St. Mary’s was a college only for women. It still is although Notre Dame is now coed. By stationing our car at my old alma mater, we can walk down the broad avenue, lined with giant elm trees, which leads from the highway into the heart of the St. Mary’s campus, put our lives at risk by dashing between cars across Highway 190, and proceed down the leafy dirt road that winds past the priest’s cemetery, between

St. Mary's Lake at ND
Photo by Annie Maher

St. Mary and St. Joseph Lakes, and around the Lourdes Grotto and onto the campus itself. This path retraces the one we took whenever Jay came to pick me up at St. Mary’s for a game or another Notre Dame event.  Every step of the way holds memories for us.  We, of course, hold hands the whole way and cannot stop by kiss several times before we actually walk up the stone steps past the Grotto and into the mayhem that is the campus on a game day.

one day’s journey

We wind through the white-stone dormitories and classroom buildings and across the broad green lawns. Even the newest buildings on campus, ones we’ve never seem before imitate the style of the ones we know from our sojourn as students. Outside every dorm, a grill is going and the students, usually still guys, are selling hamburgers and sausages.  They taste even better than they did decades before because they drip with nostalgia. Slowly we make our way east toward the stadium, the same one in the same location.

Along with a knowing segment of the crowd, we veer off toward the library

Notre Dame library
Photo by Cong Wang

rather than continue on to the playing field. We mill around with a restless assortment of folks sporting the green and gold until we hear, “Here they come.” It’s the Notre Dame marching band.  The crowd splits apart, the band passes through. We reform behind them. They play. We sing. “Cheer, cheer, for Old Notre Dame. Ring out the echoes calling her name. Jay and I wrapped our arms around each other waist and let ourselves be swept along in the surge. At the stadium, the band marched down into a tunnel that led to the field and we turned toward the gate to our seats.

different, perhaps better

Notre Dame Stadium
Photo by Alex Mertz

The fact that we were going to sit together diverged from our school days when Jay would have headed off the Notre Dame student section and I would find my seat in the part of the visitor’s section reserved for “St. Mary’s Belles.”  In those days, following the game, finding each other again in the crowd took strategic planning, but now we held tightly together as we pushed through the gates and up the steps to our bleachers. As soon as the game began, it demanded our full attention, but we celebrated every good move of the team with a hug, happy that, though our seats weren’t as good as they’d been in our students, they were together.

We wanted the team to win, of course, we did.  And, unlike in our student days, which had been marred by five losing seasons in a row, Notre Dame usually came out the victor.  But win or lose, we were high on the excitement of reliving a time when life was just opening up for us, when we had found the special someone with whom we wanted to spend whole our life. On the walk

Country road
Photo by Alex Jones

back to St. Mary’s, on the ride back home and many days following our trek to South Bend, we once again ran on high octane (so to speak). The “real” us was still young and in love even if to the world we just looked like a couple of doting grandparents.

while in quarantine

Most of the time, we don’t have a whole weekend to devote to rekindling romance.  For those times, we try fun at home exercises like the ones on “For Better, Not For Worse” page of this website.  You might like them to. https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/for-better-rather-than-worse-fun-fill-ins-for-couples

Also, I’d love to hear your special ideas for rekindling romance.

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”
Maya Angelou

 

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