What I Know About Marriage On The Eve Of My 30th Anniversary

On March 22, 1986, at 2:00 p.m., Alan and I got married.

Our wedding day...so young and in love!

Our wedding day…so young and in love!

We had dated for five years already. We were young, naive and in love. Thirty years later, we are older and wiser but we’re not “in love” anymore. What I feel for him after 30 years has no resemblance to the feelings I had on the day I said, “I do.” At 25, he made my heart flutter…and I thought that’s what love was.

The boy I fell in love with at 21. Isn't he adorable?

The boy I fell in love with at 21. Isn’t he adorable?

At 55, he makes my heart swell…with gratitude and pride…gratitude that we are still together and pride that we have beat the odds (And he does still make my heart flutter…just in a deeper, more profound and more meaningful way!).

Statistics say we shouldn’t still be married. I’m damn proud of us…for course-correcting as we go and for keeping our eye on the prize. There aren’t a lot of folks our age who can say that they’ve only been married once because it’s hard work. There have been many times during our thirty-year marriage when one of us may have wanted to throw in the towel and we’ve both given each other many reasons to do just that. But we didn’t.

So, in a spirit of self-congratulations, I offer you my unsolicited advice on staying married. Wherever you may be on the relationship journey, here’s what I know to be true:

  1. Start by choosing well. We knew enough about each other’s basic value system that we could confidently state we shared same approach to life and wanted the same general outcome. Before Alan, I had never met anyone who looked at life and its purpose through the same filter as me. We shared the same basic philosophy about religion, politics, money and family, although we were too young to have tested any of the theories we held on these topics.
  2. Always respect each other. We may not always agree and we definitely utilize different tactics to get where we want to go but we have a deep and abiding respect for what the other brings to the table.
  3. Understand that if you dissolve a marriage, the issues within that marriage will follow you. The problem with getting divorced is that unless you do a tremendous amount of personal work, the issues that broke up your marriage will continue to haunt you…and they will be magnified by the divisions divorce creates. We figured we might as well stick it out with each other because had we chosen to walk away from our marriage, our personal shortcomings would still be there, staring back at us in the mirror. We both have a lot of personal growth still left to do but we’ve always agreed that it would be easier to do that growth side by side than it would be to do that work apart, with the complications of second marriages, stepchildren, and all that goes along with divorce.

    Our young family in 1992

    Our young family in 1992

  4. Find things to be passionate about together. From the Beatles and the arts to Alabama football, we have always looked for ways to share mutual enthusiasm. There are lots of things we enjoy separately and those things are important to us as individuals but there are some things that we invest our energy into equally. These shared interests give us something to focus on when our separate interests collide.
    He likes to fish. I like to shop.

    He likes to fish. I like to shop.

    And we are lucky that all of our shared passions clicked together when we created Merrimack Hall.

    With a few of our students in 2014

    With a few of our students in 2014

  5. Focus on the legacy that your marriage will leave. I imagine that all people who have long-term marriages have a commitment to leaving some sort of legacy – for their children or their religion or their profession or their community. Alan and I both know that separately, we can leave a mark and we both have. But together, we can make a more powerful statement. I bet every couple who’s been together long enough will say the same thing.

And the most powerful thing I know about being married is this:

7. “We” is more important than “me.” We have approached every challenge and every triumph from the mindset of “we.” There have been dozens of times when what was best for “we” might not have been what was best for either of us personally but we were committed to the notion that when we said, “I Do,” we were forging an alliance that was more important than either of us as individuals.

As I scrolled through photos to use for this post, I was struck by the fact that we all have pictures of ourselves and our lives at our best. I have hundreds of photos of Alan and me at moments of great personal achievement and of great happiness.

Meeting Sir Paul McCartney...definitely a high point

Meeting Sir Paul McCartney…definitely a high point

Receiving the Humanitarian Award in 2014

Receiving the Humanitarian Award in 2014

I wish I had photos that show the turmoil, heartbreak, anger, frustration, chaos and sadness that have marked our 30-year marriage because those would be the photos that really tell the story: when the bank balance is “zero;” when parents age and die; when children veer off course and we fear for their future happiness; when arguments escalate into low-blow name-calling; when business ventures fail; when we embarrass ourselves in public; when we make mistakes that the other predicted but we wouldn’t listen to their advice; when we vehemently disagree on matters of great importance; when we hurt each other…these are the photos I wish I had because they would be the ones that tell the story of staying married for 30 years.

I treasure the moments of heartache and hurt almost as much as I cherish the memories of happiness and joy because it was in those moments that seemed the most hopeless that we chose to remember that WE are more important than ME. And that’s why we’ve managed to stay married for 30 years.

So, Alan, love of my life and best friend forever, congratulations to us. If we’ve made it through everything life has thrown us so far, I’d say we’re golden for the next 30 years. And to borrow Chelsie’s phrase, Alan…you I love.

 

 

I Owe You An Apology

Dear Readers:

I did a crappy thing on Tuesday. I hit “publish” on a blog post about what happened when I went to the polls and didn’t bother to think through all the implications of my words. I was angry and wanted to make a point. In doing so, I undercut my own position.

If you read the post, you will remember that I took a potshot at an ignorant couple who made a disgusting and disparaging remark about a person with special needs – a potshot at what I presumed to be their religion based on their attire. I mocked their appearance when it would have served me much better to let their words stand for themselves.

To me, someone who uses the “R” word is ignorant and heartless. It makes no difference how that person looks or dresses…it only matters that they are a lowlife who disparages someone because of a disability.

Amazing, isn’t it, how the more heated and emotional we become, the more we ratchet up our rhetoric? I complained in my post about people who take to Facebook to insult others because of their politics and then I did the exact same thing. My ego prevented me from using my head. “I’m so clever and funny,” I said to myself as I wrote my description of the couple. Only problem is, I was so caught up with being clever and funny, with presenting my one side of an argument that I neglected to think about friends of mine who might be hurt by my words…which is what I meant to point out to other people. Hypocritical of me to say the least.

I have friends who go to churches that encourage its members to wear certain things or dress in certain ways…Hasidic Jews, Pentecostals and others. As I wrote my vitriol and congratulated myself on my sanctimonious stance, I forgot about them. I have felt guilty and ashamed of myself ever since.

I stand by every word I wrote about people posting their politics on Facebook and every thing I said about voting rights for people with special needs. I even stand by my use of the “F” word and by my assertion that you shouldn’t complain but take action. But how I wish I could take back those few sentences that called attention to the assumptions I made about the religious affiliation of that horrible couple.

I have learned my lesson and to anyone who was offended by my remarks about the couple, I am hope you can accept my apology.

Can we all have a great weekend and take a break from divisive social media posts? I’d love to see lots of grand babies, vacations, uplifting messages and funny stuff in my newsfeed tomorrow morning!

Thanks for reading,

Debra

 

 

I Witnessed Something at the Polls That Made Me Sick

I’m about to do something I’ve never done before on my little blog. I’m going to rant. Big time. About politics and voting. May not even proofread. Will probably use a lot of expletives so now might be the time to click off this page if you don’t want to read a profanity-laced diatribe about what happened when I went to the polls today.

Also, this post is very long.

As I approached the precinct where I vote, I noticed a young adult woman with Down syndrome and her mother entering the building. Standing outside the building was an old man, dressed in denim overalls next to a woman who I presume is a member of some fundamentalist cult because she was wearing a long denim skirt and had that hair…you know the kind. The hairdo that Warren Jeff’s wives wear. As the young woman with Down syndrome walked through the precinct doors, the man said to his wife, “They’re not gonna let that retard vote, are they?”

I was disgusted and sickened. I wanted to slap the man but I was afraid his wife might have a rattlesnake in her purse – you know, for church services later today. Instead, I just said, “Well, they let you vote, you idiot,” and went inside. I didn’t bother with the “R” word issue because you can’t reason with stupid. I’ve been investigating voting rights for people with special needs all afternoon and will share what I’ve learned in a minute…first, I have to rant.

Clearly, this election cycle has us all riled up. I’m sick and tired of scrolling through Facebook and seeing posts about it. Facebook is not a legitimate source of news, people! And no one asked for your opinion to show up in what is supposed to be a social arena. I wouldn’t walk up to you at a party and ask you about your politics or religion and I don’t want you to shove yours in my face when I’m trying to enjoy a nice cup of coffee in the morning. I have “unfollowed” so many people the past few months because frankly, I can’t stomach the ignorance.

It seems to me that the people who have the most vitriolic opinions on social media are usually horribly uninformed, blithely dogmatic and almost always, they are the people who do nothing. Nothing.

Instead of spouting off your philosophy on social media, why don’t you go make a peanut butter sandwich at Manna House or come over to Merrimack Hall and volunteer with people who could use your help? You’re unhappy with politics? Then get involved at the local level or volunteer with your candidate’s campaign. You’re dissatisfied with the school system? Then sign up for the PTA or better yet, ask teachers what you can do to HELP. Shut your mouth unless you’ve taken some action.

I got angry on Sunday when a person who I am real life friends with took to Facebook and publicly shamed people for attending the Trump rally that was held here. Like, she actually said she was ashamed of her friends who went to the rally. I personally know 6 families who took their kids to the Trump rally and to the Rubio rally held the previous day, just so their teens could experience the political process. Four of those families are actually Democrats.

And for the record, I can find something shameful and/or frightening in all of the candidates on both sides of the aisle. Don’t shame people for being part of the political process. Mind your own damn business and get the hell off the internet.

I got even more angry when a friend who lives up north, in a state that is not part of Super Tuesday, shared a post today that said, “To my friends in the South…please enter the voting booth thoughtfully today.” What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I enter the voting booth thoughtfully every time I vote. Was that some sort of veiled insult directed at ignorant Southerners who can’t be trusted to use good sense when we vote?

So, I was already boiling about politics when that pathetic old man made that offensive comment. I came home and got on the phone. I surveyed parents of people with intellectual disabilities. I talked to five different people in my county’s voter registration department. I researched some things online. I even got to speak with my county’s Probate Judge and with an attorney in the office of the Alabama Secretary of State to get clarity on voter rights for people with disabilities.

See what I did? I experienced something upsetting. I researched the situation. I asked questions of officials. And I’m writing my opinion in a blog. I DID something instead of writing a Facebook post. It’s not that hard, people. 

Here’s what I’ve learned so far. A person with special needs can register to vote at the age of 18, just like everyone else. Anyone who receives Medicaid benefits is frequently offered the opportunity to register because the federal government carefully monitors access to voter registration made available to Medicaid recipients. Once someone is a registered voter, they remain a registered voter unless and until they are ruled mentally incompetent by a court of law. My county’s Probate Judge said the best way for people with disabilities – intellectual or physical – to vote is to request an absentee ballot. Anyone with a disability can ask for help at the polls and can receive help from a precinct staffer or from a person of their choosing, as long as that person is not their employer. And there is no physical or intellectual threshold a voter must reach before being granted the right to vote.

If there were an intellectual bottom-line, I’d wager that a huge portion of “normal” people are just too damn stupid to be allowed that privilege. 

In the morning session of our day program for adults with special needs we took an informal poll and found that one-third of them voted. These adults may have a low IQ but they take the responsibility of voting seriously. They discuss current events and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them are better informed on issues than I am.

My bottom line is…I trust people with special needs to make good decisions fifty times more than I trust politicians or idiots on Facebook.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you should register your child to vote as soon as they turn 18, if you believe they are competent enough to participate in the process. If you didn’t register them at 18, download the voter registration form and submit it. One of the parents I called said, “I’m not sure it would be fair for my child to vote. She would just vote for whoever I tell her to vote for.” So, let’s think about that a minute.

I have an opinion about who to vote for that is influenced by my husband and his opinion is influenced by mine. My opinions were definitely shaped and informed by my parents just as I have informed the opinions of my children. We do not make voting decisions in a vacuum and I see nothing wrong with a parent assisting and guiding the voting decisions of their adult child with special needs.

The last time I voted, there was an old man who appeared to be 117 and obviously had no idea where he was or what he was doing. His son had no problem ushering him into the polling precinct and filling out the old man’s ballot. No one would ever speak up and say that perhaps Grandpa is too old to vote but they will say that someone with an intellectual disability shouldn’t? I call “bullshit” on that!

Special Needs Votes Matter – let’s start a movement and get them registered!

p.s. Instead of sharing your opinion directly onto social media, you can go to wordpress.com and start a blog like this one. This would prevent the rest of us from being subjected to your vile opinions unless we wanted to know them. Otherwise, I’d love to see pictures of your grand baby or your vacation.