Second (Uh Third, Forth, …) Chances

I’m sitting here on a cold, grey, rainy day being absolutely awed by life. Sifting through memories while undertaking a major project of simplifying & organizing. I’m coming across old artwork, letters, & keepsakes. The goal: streamline our household into a smooth oiled-yeah let’s just get this place picked up please-we’re running out of room. Besides, most normal people do not take up this task until the kids have grown and left. But, I know well we are not normal. This project means going through the collection of “stuff” accumulated over 21 years – 21 YEARS?!?! That fact alone is enough to stop me in my tracks.

Tomorrow is our 21st Wedding Anniversary- a fact that has me blown away. Statistically speaking, this was never supposed to last. Honestly, I’ve wondered if we should last more than a time or two over the years.o-DIVORCE-INFOGRAPHIC-900We married young, we were immature (of course we didn’t know that then), we thought we knew what we doing. Babies came, life got complicated hot&fast, and soon we were sailing far off of the island of security, comfort, and sanity.

We’ve been through the Army National Guard stint (it wasn’t just one weekend a month & two weeks a year when your husband was in leadership, the time committment was exponential). Let’s see we’ve been through car accidents&freak accidents-like the one that landed Larry in & out of the hospital, rehabilitation (learning to walk again), and over a year of home health care. All this without health insurance during his career change. Topped off with a newborn, 16.5 month old, tantruming 2 1/2 yr old, and a kindergartener during that year alone. I KNOW STRUGGLE. Happy first 6ish years of marriage.

We’ve been through other serious health problems. In this family, if we get sick, we go all out-no simple little virus or infection for us. We’ve had one hospitalized for MRSA, one with an infection behind removed tonsils that mimicked meningitis & required home IV therapy, infant pneumonia, head trauma (This End Up Furniture was durable; the running toddler’s head was not); rushing to John’s Hopkins in a crisis, stitches, staples, broken bones, heart problems, and digestive problems. Heck we even got sick-all 6 of us-the entire house down with H1N1, or there was the stomach virus of 2000 that ended with having to call in ServePro to clean every carpet, pieces of furniture, and curtains (serious projectile) ’cause little people couldn’t grasp said concept of run to bathroom. We’ve been through nebulizers, hand sanitizers… We had a break for a few years then recently- 2012, a long complicated mono virus that almost took out a spleen & liver, and a kid- resulting in the entire summer of 2013 in & out of the hospital. I semi-cringed when Ebola hit the news. No I fainted really.

Oh goodness. What about job/career changes?? Been there, done that. Both us changed the direction of our careers( & I’m gearing up to do it again {see more a few paragraphs down}). With one of those changes, came one returning to school in a far away state-meaning we lived apart for many months. I lived kind of like a single mom with a preschooler & infant. Then it was onto a degree & umpteen “gold ticket” certifications to land some impressive jobs-just that there is such a thing as too many job changes. Five job changes in 18 mos. Don’t get me wrong-in his field it was a common occurence and each time it was a step up the ladder. I was still a stay at home Mom with 4 kids at this point. But each change brought about yet another change in time commitments and schedules. I haven’t even mentioned what was going on with the kids but that is another story. Then I returned to the work force 8 years ago.

Another big marriage killer: Finances-we had that too…I mean we didn’t have finances. We’ve just about lost everything. I’ve learned to stretch a shoestring budget (thanks to some faithful friend’s teachings) to the point that if I didn’t do my best to cut corners, it came with ugly consequences. We’ve been the recipients of foreclosure & repossession notices along with mounting bills. Talk about a killer. Yet to trump the misery, we’ve also been the recipients of groceries left on our doorstep, holiday meals brought by churches & motorcycle clubs, meals made by friends,family, and co-workers, mysterious checks, a magical mailbox, a hand me down vehicle or two… Once a box of cheer (literally a Cheer laundry detergent box filled with chocolate candy, mints, a scented candle, bubble bath, Tylenol, hand cream, a handwritten thoughtful note-it was a personalized box of encouragement sent to a despairing young mommy from another young mommy at the time). We’ve received notes, letters, cards of encouragement or just funny cards that made us laugh instead of cry…..we’ve had some great people in our lives, for long or short times. We’ve lost some pretty incredible people too. Relationships have been drained, strained, left, lost, found, and new friends and family have entered. We’ve been blessed to have some pretty great neighbors too, having a big loud family means your neighbors could make or break you! We’ve been made better by our neighbors.

We’ve been through unemployment more than once. Most recently was last year. Just when you think we can’t take anymore, or we’ve paid enough dues, the crazy came all over again. It was a long hard painful time. The kids were old enough to understand/pick up on things without us saying anything- despite the effort to sheild them from the seriousness- which made it difficult. The stress took a toll on them too. We were going off like a bunch of Poprocks…no, more like Mentos in Diet Coke. Additionally, in between the mono outbreak of 2012-2013 and this recent unemployment, I was offered a scholarship & had been accepted into two different colleges. I was suppossed to finally finish with that college degree from so long ago. Yet, I had to give up both the scholarship & my place in the college program.

Another killer of marriage: the art of making each other miserable. We made this an art for quite a few years. Our tongues are so sharp that we decimated each other more times than I care to re-call. Our attempts to help each other have backfired a time or two. Here’s a humorous example: after witnessing one spouse not standing up for themselves in other situations & on more than a few occasions, one encouraged the other to “call an ace an ace and a spade a spade”. “Just speak up and say something-just stick to the facts”. I think the “encourager” could be regretting that teaching. Now since the encouragee has learned ace/ace to spade/spade like a pro…well it has been a helpful skill when the need for advocating has come up.

Surprisingly, we haven’t had substance or alcohol abuse-that is really amazing to me. We’re prime candidates, in fact we’d be poster worthy for every reason one would drink or abuse drugs. I mean there may have been an evening or so along the way, that the quota for what we should have consumed in a healthy way, was liberated to regurgitation, I mean days regretting such foolishness. Yet, that liberation hasn’t happened often.

But the story doesn’t end here. There is so much more I could write about. I could probably write a series of books…but here’s the clencher: We have defied every statistic. We’ve grown through all of this. We’re no longer the same, not even the same people as a last year. Through each of these many circumstances we’ve gained strength, insight, compassion, and honesty. We’ve been humbled. We’ve been torn down and rebuilt. We’ve learned (ALBEIT PAINFULLY SLOW). We’ve learned to view life through a different lense, we’ve learned perspective, we’ve learned to laugh, we’ve learned what really counts, and we’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff. Well, one of us is still working on that small stuff… We’ve learned what a little mustard seed of faith can do. Most importantly, we’ve learned committment (although there were times we could’ve been committed;) and that is the bottom line. The fires of our marriage have been brought to a mere smolder more than once, yet miraculously the smoldering ash pile has re-ignited more than once. That, dear readers, is what love looks like. Love isn’t a feeling-it is a committment. It has it’s ebbs and flows. Up and downs. High and lows (yes it feels like it gets really low too). Love takes time to grow. The longer you let it grow, the deeper the roots go. We’ve arrived to the eve of 21 years, and I’m still amazed.

Oh and the Second,(Third, Forth…)Chance title…opportunities that were sacrificed for the sake of the family seem to come around again. I’ve returned home, I “retired” from the school system 6 months ago. The kids (3 teens & a twenty) have calmed greatly. One changed schools again, yet the evidence of maturity & growth for all four is showing -although we have our days ;). Financial struggles are still very real (especially since I left the workforce & gave up the best health insurance). In fact just last week, I wondered if we really had made a good decision for me to come back home. We still have awhile to go before we financially recover from last year. Who knows? I don’t have a crystal ball or a vending machine- so I can pick what does or does not happen. Then, I got a text message “I had to go to the principle’s office (crap here we go again I thought as I braced for the next text). “Mom, I’m part of the fabulous 50’s-I’m in a group of the top 50 students school wide that doesn’t have low grades or behavior issues-Mom I did it!!!” Yes, sweatheart you did and we’re all doing it now. I was nominated (again) for the scholarship I gave up two years ago. I’ve been offered a chance to do some family training-no longer an attendee, but a presenter after I finish with my little scholarship opportunity. I was worried that maybe now still wasn’t a good time. As I talked to my family, their excitment for me validated that maybe this is time. As I talked with some other professionals, their excitement seemed to be more than mine. I’m still in a “probation” period where I am gathering letters of recommendations and having to prove that I am committed (here comes that word again-just don’t let me get committed). We’re not quite in the clear yet, but when measured by what marriage and family really means- we’re getting there. WE ARE 21 (again) 🙂