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.



This Mom Has The Back-To-School Blues

Emma, 2nd grade; Austin, kindergarten; selling wrapping paper for PTA

Emma, 2nd grade; Austin, kindergarten; selling wrapping paper for PTA

For the past two weeks, my Facebook newsfeed has made me weepy. All those pictures of kids on the first day of school…where did the time go? Wasn’t it yesterday that I was getting my kids ready for the first day of school?

Every year, I couldn’t wait for May, when we would be freed from the rigors of schedules, activities, PTA fund-raisers. But by the 4th of July, I was ready for school to start back, ready for those schedules to create order out of the chaos of a houseful of kids who always needed a snack and an adventure.

My favorite commercial of all time is this one, from Office Depot, as this is totally how I felt when it was time to go back to school

But once your kids are out of school, you realize that it doesn’t matter when Spring Break is or when the holiday break starts. The school calendar no longer defines your life or dominates your plans. Freedom from the school calendar comes with a price…the price of knowing that an important chapter in your life is closed…forever.

Austin's first day of first grade

Austin’s first day of first grade

Once, when my kids were pre-schoolers, I was at a meeting at my church. Child-care was provided so I gratefully checked Austin and Emma in with the sitters and was looking forward to an hour with adults, talking about anything that didn’t involve Power Rangers or Barney.

Seems like last week….

Seems like last week….

I was one of those moms who always made sure my kids looked cute, even if I didn’t, and this must have been one of those days when I should have spent a little longer in front of the mirror because a friend who was older than me, and who’s children were grown, approached me and said, “You look like you could use a hug.”

How I envied her easy elegance! She was so “put together.” She didn’t look haggard or rushed. I imagined that she had started her day with a cup of coffee in her orderly home, maybe reading the paper or returning phone calls and emails in peace and quiet.

My day had started with crying babies and barking dogs, with tugs on my pants leg and little hands reaching up for me every way I turned. I had left my house in a hurry, always late, with dirty dishes still in the sink, with dust so thick on the tables that my kids had been drawing doodles in it, and a pile of laundry sitting by the washer. I was holding on for dear life until naptime, when I hoped I could run the vacuum or dust the furniture or just sit and breathe.

Three-year-old soccer…why?

Three-year-old soccer…why?

My friend took both of my hands in hers, looked me in the eyes and said, “It will get easier.” I was surprised that it was obvious that I was struggling so. She went on to say,

“I promise you…one day you will realize that it really only takes about 15 minutes to load the dishwasher and it really only takes about 30 minutes to go to the grocery store. And when you realize this, you’ll realize that 18 years wasn’t enough.”

I thought, “You’ve lost your mind…18 years is forever” because when you’re knee deep in diapers and school calendars and soccer practices, you can’t see that the finish line is looming closer every day. I didn’t know how right she was until I left my daughter at the University of Georgia and cried all the way back to Huntsville because my friend had nailed it …18 years wasn’t nearly enough.

I will never pack another school lunch again. I will never have to bring snacks to the ball field again. I will never have to attend a teacher conference or sell wrapping paper or sit, shivering, in the bleachers at never-ending hockey games. And it makes me sad to know that part of my life was over so quickly.

Now, don’t get me wrong…there were many days when I wondered why in the world I ever thought it had been a good idea to birth these two tiny people. Here are some of the things I remember thinking or saying…often…when my kids were little:

How can you possibly have so many opinions? You’re two!

How in the name of God did you climb up there/break that/do that? And why?

Where did you learn to do that gross/silly/maddeningly annoying thing?

Why was I so proud when you started speaking in complete sentences before your first birthday and when will you ever shut up?

I’m in the bathroom/on the phone/hiding in the closet and refuse to come out unless you promise to bother your dad for the rest of the night.

I don’t know where your action figure/doll/tricycle is but if you find it, you’ll probably also find your missing shoe/backpack/brother.

Why did I think it was a good idea to invite the entire neighborhood over to play in the sprinkler and what can I tell their mothers that will make them call these heathens back home?

Where the hell is a babysitter when I need one?

Austin in curlers?

Austin in curlers?

But even on the days when I wanted to drop my children off at the nearest fire station, with notes pinned to their clothes that said, “Our mommy has lost it…please help us,” I reminded myself of my friend’s words. Her caution helped me keep my perspective. I could say to myself, “this phase won’t last forever…they will become independent…someday, I’ll have time to myself again.”

So, I pass this advice onto you young moms…

It really does only take a few minutes to do the things that you struggle to complete in a day, 18 years isn’t nearly enough and you will be sad when there are no more first days of school…

For about a week…and then those feelings of wistful nostalgia will be replaced with relief that you’ve already done that. And you look forward to grandchildren…so that you can watch your children play for the other side and struggle just like you did.

Dear Problem Parents: 3 Ways You Sabotage Your Kids

Dear Problem Parents:

I care deeply about kids. As a volunteer who provides an arts education program to children and adults with special needs, I’ve chosen to invest my life in them. Like other teachers, coaches and volunteers, I do my best to make sure every child gets the attention he or she deserves. I’m taking the liberty of using the collective “we,” because I’m fairly confident that others who work with kids will agree with me. We want you to know about three issues you create for us – and by default, your kids.

By no means is this a blanket statement about all parents, nor is it an indictment of parents who raise legitimate concerns or want to share constructive ideas with us.

No, those of you who are Problem Parents are the ones who raise questions but never offer answers. You’re the ones who fixate on the small things so much that you miss the big picture. You’re the ones who think everything is someone else’s fault.

We understand that you probably don’t realize how your well-intentioned actions are actually detrimental to your child. There aren’t many of you Problem Parents but you can be found everywhere. There are one or two of you in every group of kids, from classrooms to ball teams to cheerleading squads. If you’re reading this and feeling defensive right now, then you’re one of them so … you should probably keep reading.

You’re that mom who complains about the classroom teacher to anyone who will listen …
….. but you never think to ask if there’s anything you could do to help him or her.

You’re that dad who rails at the coach at t-ball games
…but you don’t care that the way you act might bother the others on the team and in the stands.

You’re the one who finds fault with everything the scout leader does
…..but you aren’t willing to volunteer for the position yourself.

As summer winds down and you are preparing for the next year of school and extracurricular activities, we thought you should know about how your behavior affects us — and can get in your child’s way.

1. You think yours is the only child who should matter to us.

We know who you are right off the bat, from that first open house or registration … and we tell our co-workers, fellow volunteers or employees about you.

You’re the one who simply must pull us aside the first time we meet so you can tell us about your child, to make sure we understand that your child is different than the rest and to tell us, sometimes directly and sometimes through thinly veiled demands, that you expect us to go out of our way for your kid, even at the expense of other kids.

You have certain expectations of us and how we interact with your child and when we don’t meet those expectations, you are quick to call us on the carpet. Do you know that we wait with dread when class rosters, team assignments and group membership is developed, hoping we don’t get your child on our team or in our troop or in our class? Because word spreads fast about parents like you. Maybe you would be embarrassed if you could be in the teacher’s lounge or the office of the ballpark … if you could hear how many people are saying, “Please don’t put that child in my group … I can’t handle that parent.”

It’s not your child we dread…it’s you.

2. You don’t understand how to tell us what we need to know about your child without also telling us how to do our job.

You know how whenever you want to talk with us we are swamped with paperwork or in a meeting or on a call or heading out the door? Yeah, we’re really not. We just don’t want to talk with you because we know your broken record and we’re tired of listening to it.

Your complaints, your demands, your unsolicited advice on how to run the classroom or the squad or the team … this is what we hear if we give you that quick minute you ask for and we will do anything we can to avoid it. Your negative energy dampens our motivation to cultivate all that is wonderful in your child. It’s you and your treatment of us that is preventing your child from getting what you want – the chance to make the all-star team or get the lead in the play or be featured in that choral concert.

No matter how devoted we are to kids or to our jobs or to our sport or to our art form, you make it impossible for us to see your children as the unique individuals they are because all we see when we look at them is you. If we give your child that break – the one they may need or deserve – it means we will have to interact with you even more and that’s the last thing we want.

Maybe you think we have favorites or teacher’s pets … and we do. They are the children whose parents partner with us. They are the kids whose parents appreciate our efforts, or appropriately tell us how we could improve. Our favorites are the children who may not be the brightest or most talented, but their parents are the ones we all clamor to have on our side.

Our favorites are the children whose parents come to us with legitimate concerns or conflicts or needs that we are happy to meet because they don’t accuse us, they don’t blame us and they don’t irritate the hell out of us by acting like theirs is the only concern that should be important to us. And just to be clear, we quickly recognize those insincere suck-up types. We know which parents think they can curry favor with us by buying us gifts or heaping gushing praise on us and consider them to be Problem Parents too.

3. You don’t realize that we take it personally…because we genuinely care about your child.

When you fixate on that small detail instead of looking at the overall picture, when you complain about things we have no control over, when you blame us for things that just might be your fault – like that email we sent, but you never read – we are truly upset.

We fret, we worry, we drive ourselves crazy trying to find a way to satisfy you … not because we care about you, but because we care about your child. But your persistent negativity eventually wears us down until you finally extinguish our desire to mentor and nurture your child … and we move our attention back to those kids whose parents are our partners, those parents who don’t accuse and point fingers.

We’re telling you this now … because we genuinely care about your child.

We know you want the best for your child. So do we.

Let’s work together to be our best for them.