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?
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
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
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
Our 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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
“Please stay home” I hear this plea every time my husband turns on the television. The same desperate words jump out at me the minute I click my computer power button. The warning comes because the desire to leave home overwhelms me, and most of you, more at this time of year than at any other. But this year we must not give into this yearning.
This is the month that our culture has set aside for thanksgiving. It ends with a day we usually gather to feast, but all through the weeks leading up to that day, we focus our hearts and thoughts on gratitude. We give more than the ordinary amount of time and energy to naming and reflecting upon those things for which we are grateful.
no family is an island
By the time Jay and I had been married not quite a dozen years, we were caring for two children with perplexing, challenging special needs. I am convinced that these experiences drew us closer together rather than pushing us apart because we didn’t have to cope with those challenges totally on our own. Answers to why Kristy and Johnny suffered the disabilities they did never appeared. But, throughout their lives, there were “answering people” who empowered us to be the best possible parents who could be for them.
This month of Thanksgiving I dedicate my blog to them.
This is the time of the clan gatherings. We don’t call them that anymore. But those with whom we spend our holidays, those with whom we celebrate the gifts of life, whether blood related or not, are our “clan.”
thank heaven for brothers and sisters
Just as we need families, the family needs a “clan,” a network of support beyond the walls of their immediate abode. These are the people who will be there for them when their own resources, material, psychological, emotional, or spiritual run low. And it is to these same persons, we turn when we want to celebrate because they are the ones that best understand what it took to get to a place where festivity is the order of the day.
Jay and I are both the oldest children in our sibling group. While that may not have always seemed like a blessing when we were growing up, our brothers and sisters are first among those for whom I give thanks this November.
the last shall be first
My youngest sister, Beth, had the most direct impact on Kristy and Johnny’s well being. From the time she was thirteen through the years she was in college, she came to spend summers with our family. In Beth, my children had a “big sister” extra-ordinaire. She fully engaged in every moment of family life. When she was with us, our family had two “mothers.” What made her sojourn so valuable was that by living with us, she became completely comfortable with caring for two children with a seizure disorder. Her competency and confidence meant that we gained the freedom to spend time alone together, doing things that were actually fun, like going to the movies. She put some “ordinary” back into our inordinate lives.
She enabled Jay and me to continue to grow stronger, not just as parents, but as a committed couple. Without Beth’s presence we might have lost track of each other completely. Because she was there for us, we are still “us.” Thank you, Beth.
Would love to hear what about your siblings makes you grateful.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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 papier–mâché.
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 papier–mâché. 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.
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.”
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.
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.
Still the girls pushed on. Slowly the giraffe dissolved around them, strip by
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?
“There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch.”
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Olsen and his wife Ellen moved into the farmhouse in November plowing
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.
I’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.
When the last grape had been squished into oblivion, we ushered the children into the barn, where big tubs of warm water waited.
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.
Although not as deeply involved with the vineyard as those friends, Jay and I shared some of the same benefits.
Jay’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.
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/
Couples are often determined to keep the passion ignited in their committed relationship, but find it a principle more easily stated than lived by.
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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
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
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.
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
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 chaos 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
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
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?