A Different Kind of Family: The Year of the Giraffe

Beward of ghosts and monsters sign
cooperating not completing
Couple holding hands behind children
Photo by John Mark Smith

One of the principles I outlined in the post in which I outlined the themes of this blog was partnership. https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/marriage/new-year-new-beginnings.  For me, partnership signifies that while Jay and I recognize that we are not meant to “complete” each other, we do realize our marriage works best as a cooperative. With two typically developing children and two children with special needs, working in partnership proved to be a key ingredient in creating a “good enough” family.

Siblings of children with special needs have many advantages, but they also shoulder tremendous burdens that are not easy to talk about. This is true not just because they are challenging and difficult, but also because they can be quite subtle.

Halloween: A holiday of contrasts

Halloween brought the differences between the two “halves” of our family into sharp contrast. Kristy and Johnny remained essentially remained toddlers in heart and mind all their lives. They didn’t quite “get” the rationale behind their costumes, but enjoyed the attention of “dressing up” on the night of

Dad taking little costumed girl out trick or treating
Photo by Haley Phelps

Halloween. They then accompanied their dad around the block. He rang doorbells and urged them to say “Trick or treat,” which they sometimes did and more often did not.  Neighbors smiled and complimented their costumes and dropped candy in their plastic pumpkins.  Often, Jay ended up carrying the pumpkins home and usually he rounded up the ritual after about a half dozen houses. That was fine with them because as soon as they returned home, they got to eat some candy, the one part of the whole rigamarole that actually made sense to them.

sanctioning breaking the rules
Artistically decorate pumpkins
Photo by Drew Hays

Carrie and Betsy, however, took to Halloween with a fervor that would have done their Druid ancestors proud. Of all the year’s holidays it was, hands down, their favorite.  Yes, they greatly anticipated Christmas. They loved getting a pile of new gifts and enjoyed getting together with the big extended family for dinner. But Christmas’s traditions lacked the mystique of Halloween. It was a time that sanctioned breaking the rules. Most of the year, we taught our children the expectations and responsibilities of the society into which they had been born. As they grew, the rules became more demanding.  Most parents do that, but Jay and I had to ask more. We expected them to be more empathetic, more responsible and more resilient than other children their age.

imagination fireball

Thus, a holiday that invited them to do all the things that were normally forbidden sparked their imagination and kindled their creativity into a fireball of activity. As much as they anticipated acquiring a huge hoard of candy, that wasn’t the main focus of their excitement. What really got them going was

Kids in costumes
Photo by Conner Baker

planning to wear the best possible costume possible. They were quite dedicated to crafting their own Halloween attired because they valued originality.  They determined to take on a unique character, one entirely different than any other child of their acquaintance. It was a project that often began no later than October 1 as I mentioned in last week’s blog post. https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/marriage/celebrations/celebrate-october

over the top creativity
Giraffe in wild
Photo by Kelly Arnold

The ambition led to the “Year of the Giraffe.”  Our daughter Carrie’s closest friend Thea matched her enthusiasm for creativity. They often turned our basement playroom into wholly other worlds from space stations to Sherwood Forest. So it was not surprising that for their ninth Halloween, they decided to be a giraffe. Their vision and zeal was astounding in two such young artists. They decided to create their giraffe from paper mache.

Making even a small object using this technique takes numerous supplies, careful planning, and enormous patience.  Yet these two little girls were planning to make a human-size (albeit child-size) animal with this technique, guided by a library book.

challenge of papiermâché.

Thirty years later, I would visit the beautiful baroque town of Lecce, Italy. There I watched in fascination as artists fabricated beautifully intricate statues using the art of papiermâché. Even a small piece took them several days to complete, and they had trained since adolescence in this craft.  I thought back to those two little American girls, once again flabbergasted at their bravado.

the giraffe

Carrie and Thea conceived a plan where Thea would be the front half of the giraffe and Carrie would be the rear.  Thea would work the giraffe’s mouth, begging “Trick or treat,” and opening its jaw with a lever. She’d hold a box for the candy to fall into. Carrie’s job was to hold onto Thea’s back and wiggle the giraffe tail in “thank you.”

Giraffe's face
Photo by Chris Leipelt

Once their plan was complete, they set to work. Thea’s family generously offered their basement as a work space. The girls used chicken wire to fashion the head, the neck, and body of the giraffe, which would extend just past Carrie’s shoulders. With Thea’s dad’s help, they put the lever in place for opening and closing the mouth. Next, they dipped strips of newspaper into a mixture of flour and water and draped them over the form. It took several layers and they had to wait for each to dry.  The final piece really looked quite giraffe-like. They spray painted it and drew on the eyes. Their last task was the easiest. We had bought them gold-yellow turtleneck shirts and tights.  They drew, a giraffe-coat pattern on these with markers.

ready, set, go

They only just managed to finish the day before Halloween. They brought the costume to our house and practiced prancing from the kitchen, down the back hall, through the dining room, into the foyer, and into the living room.  There were a few glitches, but eventually they had it working like clockwork.

Blurry rain storm
Photo by Matteo Catanese

The next day by the time my children arrived home from school, it was pouring rain. Surely, Jay and I told each other, it would let up by dark. But it didn’t. We decided to pass on taking Johnny and Kristy out.  Betsy and Carrie were undeterred.  Thea came as soon as her mom would allow her.  With Jay and Thea’s dad holding umbrella, the two girls slipped into the costume and started down the sidewalk. Drenched children in dripping costumes trod up and down the steps of the Victorian rowhouses, a task that wouldn’t have been easy for a two-person giraffe under any circumstances, but one made almost impossible by the downpour.

dissolution

Still the girls pushed on. Slowly the giraffe dissolved around them, strip by

Ghostly hot drink
Photo by Toa Heftiba

strip, it slid to the ground until they had to concede defeat. What was left of the giraffe was shoved into the trash can on the way into Thea’s house.  Her mom hustled them into dry clothes and gave them steaming cups of cider to drink. Both girls were too disheartened to even cry. Thea’s brother offered to share his candy. They didn’t hear him.  Finally, Thea’s mom called us.  Jay went for Carrie. She didn’t want to talk about it. After all what was there anyone could say?

Even now the memory churns up so many conflicting emotions – pride and sympathy, disappointment and admiration.  And, of course, the knowledge that there would be other Halloweens, other celebrations.  It’s a lesson the whole world is learning every single day in 2020.

Have you watched your child experience disappointment and defeat? Can you share the story?

Halloween Moon
Photo by Altinay Dinc

“There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch.”

— Robert Brault

https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/g22656178/halloween-quotes/

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

 

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

Can Marriages Really Last a Lifetime?

Wedding rings
My Parents’ Marriage

For the first half century of my life, the end of summer meant one last celebration before summer was officially over –  My parents’ lifetime promise to one another, their wedding anniversary, August 31. They never commemorated it by going out just the two of them, but always at home with their children. As we grew older, my siblings and I would take the planning for the evening into our own hands. My brother John, born twenty months after me, and I took the lead. Our dad was a great cook and John followed in his footsteps. My main task, with the help of over willing younger sibs, was baking and decorating the cake. Because this occasion had always been a family feast, I was a teenager before I wondered why Mom and Dad didn’t chose to celebrate their anniversary in some more romantic manner.

Just you and me

Jule kisses Jay on NYE With few exceptions, from our first anniversary to our fiftieth, my husband Jay and I marked the day of our lifetime promise, December 19, with “just-the-two-of-us” dates.  The first exception was our sixth, the day we brought our second child, our daughter Carrie, home four days following her birth.  That lovely evening was still a quiet, intimate affair, shared only with the baby and her eighteen-month old sister. I sat in a comfy old high-backed upholstered chair, nursing the baby. Jay light the fire in our tiny fireplace and popped the cork on a bottle of champagne. He gathered Kristy in is arms. We sipped our wine and gazed at the fire, content with our laid-back salute to our love, which at that moment seemed best embodied in the reality of the two little girls on our laps.

romantic getaways

Yet, the date continued to be one that over the decades we chose to “get Jule and Jay on cruiseaway” to celebrate.  Sometimes, while the children were very young, the get away was simply dinner at a restaurant with food and ambiance the children couldn’t appreciate. Many years, we extended that into staying overnight in one of Chicago’s better hotels and spending the whole shopping on our beloved Michigan Avenue before dinner and a show.

Jule and Jay in ParisAs the kids and our marriage matured, to celebrate our promises to each other we fled our hometown. We took a train to New Orleans for our tenth anniversary and flew to Paris for our twentieth. Then, we were tragically grounded on our thirtieth by the accidental death of two of our closest friends. A funeral is a sobering way to commemorate an anniversary, but it most definitely strengthened our gratitude that we still had each other and could hope for many more years together. https://www.families.com/what-are-the-7-stages-of-marriage

holding it all together

Jay and I had not consciously decided to observe our anniversaries differently Jule and Jay at breakfastthan my parents had celebrated theirs. We just did. Now, as another summer ends, I remember as I do every late August my parents’ marriage. I suspect that many newlyweds felt as we did when they make that initial lifetime promise.  We see our parents’ marriage as somehow staid and boring. Or maybe, as lifeless and hostile. As kids, maybe we witnessed arguments and saw tears. Young and idealistic, we vow that the romance will never die in their relationship. We will always love one another as completely as we do today and with the same amount of passion.

what exactly is marriage?

Easier said than done, right? Was my marriage really that different than that of my parents? Or do all marriages simply follow a similar pattern of beginning on high hopes that fade as the years go by and we could no more escape that fate than escape the wrinkles and grey hair than came with the ensuing years? Can any promise really last a lifetime?  I don’t have a universal answer to the second question, but I have pondered the first and my honest response is that our marriage has been a very different he experience than the one my parents lived.  At the same time, many aspects of it are not just similar but almost identical.

Marriage is a complex social contract. https://www.thespruce.com/definition-of-marriage-2303011 If we look at the history of marriage, we see that before the modern era, it was an agreement between families rather than between individuals. One of its central purposes was to bring stability to society at large, not to provide happiness or fulfillment of any kind to the couple. I want to avoid swirling down into a sociological/historical treatise here (something I’m easily drawn to). So, I’ll just say, that the marital contract of our time has evolved into two-person covenant, a promise of fidelity and love “until death do us part.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/marriage

a social contract

As we go about choosing a mate and promise ourselves to them for a lifetime, that’s the pledge that fills our consciousness. But, just outside our peripheral vision, the ancient social contract remains intact. When we say, “I do,” we are still vowing to contribute to the joining of two families in a manner that will contribute to the stability of society. That is a big task, made even larger because most young couples don’t realize just what they have promised until they are smack in the middle of it. Creating a stable base unit within the social order requires complex time management and careful financial management.

“Adulting,” as it is now popularly called is tough work for any individual human being. It becomes much more complex when two people must manage the multitude of grown-up responsibilities at the same time in the same place.  If this doesn’t sound romantic, it’s because it isn’t.  The couple, who has promised to “love and cherish,” wasn’t thinking of doing dishes and balancing check books. But nonetheless they’ll spend more time on those two activities than they ever will having sex.

My parents could not avoid the move from couple in love, swept along by the At Clinton Inaugurationforce of passion and romance, to married pair, properly feathering a nest – nor could Jay and I. In that way our marriage were similar. Like my parents and like Jay’s, we worked and budgeted our income, we bought and furnished houses, we beget and cared for children. We belonged to communities and made friends. Those everyday activities of the stable base unit of society repeated themselves from one marriage to the next in our families.

mission: intentional commitment

DePaul CentennialIn one important way, our marriage differed from theirs. From the beginning, we strove to keep our relationship intentional. Deep, abiding love for one other person above all others is not easy to maintain for a lifetime. You have to fight for it.  There are far too many reasons promises can slip away or even be snatched from you. Most of us develop other passions over the course of our life.  We love our children to the moon and back. A hobby like gardening or painting absorbs our souls and frees us from stress. Our profession prospers and demands almost constant attention. A volunteer activity desperately needs our help. Some one new and exciting becomes attracted to us.

Marriages, like that of my parents, lasted through the force of society’s will and expectation.  That is no longer true.  Divorce in no longer frowned upon, but considered the reasonable decision in many situations.  If a couple wants to stay in love, they have to choose it against all odds.  They can’t just assume that if it’s good, it will last on its own.  At lease, that’s what we have found. Like any living thing, love thrives on nurture and nurture takes time. https://www.families.com/?s=blog+the+beauty+of+mature+love&submit=Search

For us, that has meant both a commitment to spend time alone together and to spend time with other couples who value their lifetime promise as much as we value ours. Being alone together out of the house lifts our spirits. It’s fun to put space between ourselves and our responsibilities.  And when someone is your regular companion for having a good time, it’s easy to feel caring toward that person.  Add to that the intention of love – and voila! Romance – even at the garden store. The exercises on “For Better or Worse,” a page on this website address the subject of intentional relationships. https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/for-better-rather-than-worse-fun-fill-ins-for-couples

We enjoy a diverse group of friends, married and single, young and older, but CFM meetingthrough the years regularly gathering within our faith community with other couples committed to intentional marriage gives us a chance to talk about love and committed relationships, the ups and the downs in an honest way not available in casual conversations. These deeper dialogues help us work through some of the thorny issues of our own relationship and have served as an anchor for us over the years, especially when we were working our way through some tough times.https://www.cfm.org/

To those friends, if any of you are reading this, I say “Thank you so much.”

What do you think? Can the promises made on your wedding day last a lifetime? Why or why not? Let me know. 


  “Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
Henny Youngman

For My Eyes Only

Coffe and journals
private, secrets thoughts

Keeping a travel journal has been a life-long habit for me.  The pandemic has, however, not halted this delightful occupation. In fact, many times in my life I have kept a journal for weeks or months at a time whether I was traveling or not.

Typewriter w "Diary"
Photo by Marcus Winkler

Journaling is a pastime we often associate with another era, a slower-paced time. The diarists of the past give us fascinating insights into personal life in the centuries before our own.

Now, however, the pace of life may seem too hectic for journal keeping. With all the social media out there, aren’t we leaving enough of a record for the generations that follow us?  Who has time to sit down and actually hand write words into a blank notebook? It is my guess that most of the

Journals in bookstore
Photo by Tezzerah

beautifully bound journals that book stores and gift shops sell are received with gratitude, then sit on a shelf for an indeterminate period of time before being shipped off to a thrift store.

 

Yet, for me, it was in the years when I had the least amount of “free” time that I was the most prolific journal writer. One whole summer I journaled when I first woke in the morning before I even ran to the bathroom (I could never do that today!). I sincerely believe that journaling saved the integrity of my intimate relationships as well as my sanity. https://journey.cloud/journaling-benefits

an alternative life

When I examine what famous diarists say about journaling, I find a close resonance with my own experience. http://navigator-business-optimizer.com/2018/12/10-famous-journal-keepers-inspire-journaling/.

Girl in front of fireplace
Photo by Marco Paulo Prado

Noted essayist of the late 20th century, Susan Sontag wrote, “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Sontag#Nonfiction  Like Sontag, I often tried to create a better world through constructing it on the page. In my journal from 1987, I recorded my final struggle to find a program tailored to the way our Johnny learned so that he could be “normal,” rather than labeled “disabled.”

gaining perspective

Unlike the diaries of Samuel Pepys, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Pepys, English diarist of the 17th century, who provided us with such a wonderful eyewitness account of the historical events of his time, my journals more closely resemble those of Franz Kafka.

Silhouette and journals
Photo by Recovery Ministries

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/6150947-tageb-cher-von-kafka.  He highlighted the perspective on can gain from keeping a journal. “We may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”

Following the crash of 2008 and the loss of our life savings, I see myself meet the challenge of a drastic change in lifestyle not necessarily with dignity, but with a certain amount of courage.  I wrote, “I hate the ‘camping out’ at the homes of others. Yet, that’s what Jesus expected his disciples to do – go and depend on the hospitality of others. . . In a way it is a witness that allows others to practice the virtue of generosity.”

never mind the stumbles

Like Virginia Wolfe, I write as an avocation and like her, I enjoy the freedom that journal logging allows. Wolfe says, “The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do, I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus must lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.” https://lithub.com/essential-writing-advice-from-virginia-woolf/.

It’s a fun way to compose. Where else but on a page, I wrote only for myself could I write as ridiculous a sentence as, “I think I’m going to have to be very disciplined about everything in the weeks to come. I’ve made too many commitments, none of which can be dropped. So, I need to find a way to accomplish them all. It need not be forever – just for the next eight months, sort of like being pregnant – except that I feel like I’m giving birth to quadruplets!” I’m so glad I didn’t have to edit that for any publication.

illusion of acceptance

Wolfe enjoyed the creative freedom of journaling, Anais Nin found acceptance

Candle and journal
Photo by Naemi Jimenez

in her diary. “Writing for a hostile world discouraged me. Writing for the diary gave me the illusion of a warm ambiance I needed to flower in.” https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/09/20/anais-nin-on-writing-1947/

My journals are my confidants. I share with them feelings and thoughts that I don’t dare reveal to another human being. They are my rehearsal stage for relationships. Before making important decisions or taking significant actions, I assess them on the pages of my journal. My mother, famous for pithy sayings, always proclaimed, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all.”  Sometimes, biting our tongue is difficult and putting the complaint on paper helps. One of Love’s best Lessons is knowing what not to say.

sometimes sensational

As much as I rejoice that my journals are not for public publication, they still entertain me. Oscar Wilde once claimed, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/oscar-wilde-writing-quotes-slideshare

Somewhat the opposite is true for me. Cooped up in my own office/bedroom on a rainy November day in Portland, Oregon, I delight in reading, “Today, Nancy hired a driver she met in the street and while it rained all day, that didn’t stop our adventures as we drove up into the hills of Bali to visit charming

Rice paddies
Photo by Sam Bayle

villages, each of which specialized in a different ancient art from woodcarving to silver jewelry making.” In an instant, I’m back on those steamy mountain roads as our jeep rolls back almost as far as it inches forward. We get out in mud up to our ankles.  The driver enlists the help of several village boys to free the jeep from the mud. Soaked, but happy, we hop back in and are off to the next amazing turn in the road. Without my journal, I might have forgotten that wondrous moment.

 

inspire wisdom

Ralph Waldo Emerson kept diaries for fifty years. https://www.azquotes.com/author/4490-Ralph_Waldo_Emerson/tag/writing  These tomes are filled with nuggets of wisdom. If he hadn’t written less, what he did write might be less inspiring works. A willingness to write regularly and frequency develops a habit of reflection, he believed, that expands the mind and can lend itself to the expression of profound truth.

I hear him. Everyday life is filled with thoughts about what we are to eat, drink,

Dog and journal
Photo by Alexandra Lammerink

and wear. We engage in ongoing conversations with others to work out the logistics of the home/work life balance and individual relationships.  Ordinary discourse doesn’t often lend itself to deep contemplation. But journal keeping does. It can give each of us an “Emerson moment.” That’s the theory anyway. In pursuing my own journals, however, I have not uncovered such a moment. Some important love lessons, yes. Profound wisdom, maybe not.

resistant rearrangers

I fit, perhaps, more into the Joan Didion mold. Didion writes, “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” https://fs.blog/2013/12/keeping-a-notebook/ There I hear an echo. Many, if not most pages of my journals, reveal struggles, fears, and challenges. Such a perspective comes back around to Sontag.  “Rearrangers of things” try to recreate, make over, or undo. Such attempts fill my pages in my diaries, mostly in the form of promises to have fewer expectations of others and more of myself.

Gratitude journal
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson

So bad was this habit that five years ago, I began keep a “gratitude journal.”  It’s not the only one I keep, but along with any other recording I do, this little purple, bond book requires that at the end of the day, I log one thing for which I was grateful that day. Sometimes, I’m really stretching, such as “Discovered ‘Yukon Vet on TV with Evelyn; much better than teen comedies.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Oakley,_Yukon_Vet  Other entries smack of complaints in disguise, “So glad Nancy encouraged me to swim laps in the pool today. Always enjoy it more than I think I will.” This journal, if nothing else, is good for a reality check.

fahrenheit 451

Are these diaries and journals just for me? Will I burn them before I die? Hard

Piles of journals
Photo by Julia Joppien

to think of all of that going up in flames and yet, weren’t they for my eyes alone. Henry David Thoreau thought otherwise. He claimed, “Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal?” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/what-thoreau-saw/540615/  Thoreau makes an interesting point, but I think he mistakes journals for memoirs. The life narrative I wish to share with future generations unfolds in my memoir, which, while honest, is not all revealing. The musings of my diaries really do need to be buried with me.

the good place

As you read, you read a journal of sorts. That’s how blogs originated. People began sharing the thoughts they had formerly casually record in leather-bound or paperback lined notebooks online instead. The first blogs were “bio” + “logs.” Now blogging is an industry. Most blogs intended to inform or to sell. The fragile connection to journaling has grown tentative. https://themeisle.com/blog/history-of-blogging/  For me, though, writing this blog conforms to John Steinbeck’s dictum about journals.

Journaling in a coffee shop
Photo by Tyler Nix

“In writing,” Steinbeck noted, “habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently, there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established.” https://www.theexaminedlife.org/the-freedom-and-energy-of-discipline/  Because this blog is a promise not just to myself, but to those I hope will read it each week, it provides the writing discipline of which Steinbeck speaks. By establishing writing as a strong habit of mine, it sets in motion the wheels that turn my other creative endeavors. http://navigator-business-optimizer.com/2018/12/10-famous-journal-keepers-inspire-journaling/

Do you keep a diary or a journal?  What do you most like to record in it?  How frequently do you entries?  Let’s compare notes.

“The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she doesn’t give a darn. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way. If I’m being completely honest, I’ll have to admit that it does matter to me, that I’m trying very hard to change myself, but that I’m always up against a more powerful enemy.”  https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/anne-frank-writes-her-last-diary-entry

Anne Frank's Diary
Photo by Dessidre Fleming

 

Aversion to Gardening

Backyard garden
in your own backyard

After a summer of daydreaming about wonderful destinations and fun-packed adventures that could be mine if only I wasn’t locked down by a pandemic, I turned my sights last week to pleasures readily available to folks stuck at home. With great joy I reflected on my life-long love of reading, a pleasure still easily indulged.https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/romance/addicted-to-reading

House and Garden
Photo by Ben Ashby

Today the pendulum swings to an engrossing activity that I personally dislike so much I hate to even write about it.  But it’s so big and obvious that it can’t be ignored, especially because thousands of people find that tending their garden tops the list of summer delights. There are literally dozens of magazines devoted to the topic. Talented photographers spend a lifetime capturing the beauty of gardens in breathtaking panoramas. Neighborhoods across the world host garden walks so folks can take a peak at each other’s hidden gardens. A public park without a garden would hold little appeal for most people.

she loves me, she loves me not

I have to clarify that I don’t hate gardens. Beautiful gardens, as small as a neighbor’s patio and as magnificent as Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada, https://www.butchartgardens.com/have enchanted me since I was a tiny girl picking the daisies from my mother’s garden. The enchantment and its consequences may, however, have something to do with my present aversion not to gardens themselves, but to gardening.https://www.butchartgardens.com/

I can remember that summer afternoon of my fourth summer as vividly as last summer’s trip to Portland’s International Rose Garden.https://www.portland.gov/parks/washington-park-international-rose-test-garden Having gathered a fistful of the pretty white-petaled blossoms with their fuzzy yellow center, I headed into our backdoor and up the steps to the kitchen. “These are for you,

Little girl with flowers
Photo by Caroline Hernandez

Mommy,” I chirped.

Instead of the smile I expected, my mother’s response was a horrified, “Oh, no.” She ran to the kitchen window and peered out at our yard. “You’ve wrecked the daisies!” She was screeching, or so it seemed to that four-year old. “Don’t ever touch my garden again. Do you understand?”  I nodded and backed out of the kitchen.

grandparent retreat

One incident alone isn’t enough to set up a lifetime resistance. But other experiences amplified rather than diminished that first vivid impression. My paternal grandparents bought two city lots at the end of World War II. On one they built, a charming Cape Cod two-bedroom. The other one, lot line to lot

line, was a vegetable garden. Most Sundays my grandmother prepared dinner for her sons and their families. Often after these family gatherings, I remained at their home for a few days.

Staying at my grandparents’ home gave me the chance to do whatever I

Carpenter at work
Photo by Dominik Scythe

wanted from playing dolls in the living room to exploring the near-by creek.  Grandma fixed all my favorite foods. Grandpa, who had been a ship builder until his retirement,  often built toys for me.  I loved watching him take small piece of wood and turn it into doll furniture. They didn’t ask me to do a single chore and let me read myself to sleep at night. Grandpa would walk me to the candy store on his was to the tobacco shop to buy his weekly cigar.  He also begged a cigar box off the tobacconist for me. Staying there was my own little piece of paradise.

forbidden eden

Only one thing was forbidden. I could not bother them when they were in the

Vegetable garden
Photo by Mario Rui Andre

garden. Looking back, I think that for each of them, the garden was a time of escape, a time to be alone with their own thoughts. Or it could have been that producing an abundant crop of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, and corn took all their concentration and they just didn’t need to be distracted by a small girl who asked a thousand questions a minute. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, Grandma taught me to sew, can, and braid rugs, but never to garden.

if at first you don’t succeed. . .
Flower border
Photo by Stella de Smit

Years passed and the summer arrived when I acquired a garden of my own. It came with our first house, a tiny Victorian cottage in the suburb of Western Springs. We bought the house not to obtain a garden, but because apartment dwelling had become uncomfortable with two small girls. We moved in when the garden was in full bloom. Flowers of various shapes, sizes and colors grew in a bed that ran around the edge of the back yard lawn. We enjoyed their beauty that summer without giving them a lot of thought.  Then came a typical Chicago winter. Everything died back and was buried in snow.

Finally spring came, the snow melted, and small green shoots sprouted up all

Weed-filled yard
Photo by Adam Winger

over the edge of the yard. Somewhere, somehow I’d learned that you had to get rid of weeks so they wouldn’t choke the emerging flowers. So, while the girls took their nap, I labored in the cool, damp April afternoons, pulling weeds. In May I waited for the flowers to start.  None came. In my ignorance I had uprooted not only weeds but flowers as well. http://wssa.net/wssa/weed/articles/wssa-what-makes-a-weed/ Too disheartened and busy to plant a whole new flower bed, I concentrated on raising children instead.

workable compromises
Conservatory
Photo by Robert Bye

Two years later, we moved back to the city away from the suburban landscape and the dreaded garden. My girls and I lived close enough to the park to enjoy the wonderful flowers that bloomed there, changing with the seasons.  In the winter, we frequented the conservatory, taking a morning-long tropical vacation in the middle of a Chicago January. The closest I ever came again to “gardening” was filling

Geraniums outside window
Photo by Sabita Sahu

window boxeshttps://blog.gardenloversclub.com/gardens/flower-box-ideas/ with geraniums and petunias. That was just right for me.https://blog.gardenloversclub.com/gardens/flower-box-ideas/

the end of the trail

Lounge chairs in our Portland yardIronically, now in my wisdom years, I once again live in a house with a garden, an unexpected series of events plopped me down here. I remain, however, unwise in the ways of flowers and flowering shrubs. Here is where the Love Lesson comes into this post.  This time, when I moved to a home with a garden, my stalwart husband Jay had retired from professional life. Fortunately for me, he has discovered a late-in-life passion for caring for the flora that fills our Portland outdoor space.  Nothing could be more ideal – a garden without gardening.  At the back of the yard there’s a beautiful lounge chair under a pear tree. It’s my favorite spot for my true addition – reading.

Where do you weigh in on the topic of gardening?  I’d love to hear from you.

Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/gardening-quotes
Black-eyed susans
Photo by Joshua Cotten