When a Marriage Grows Up

Anniversary flowers

Mike and I celebrated 19 years of marriage this week, the same age we were when we first met. It wasn’t love at first sight, and we didn’t marry our best friend, but dammit – we make a good team. If our marriage was a person, it would be an adult now. It could drive a car, vote, and go to war.

As we raise our own teenager, I can’t help but reflect on this second half of marriage. I’m realizing that as our marriage leaves its teen years behind and we begin our third decade together, our marriage has grown up. Just like raising a kid, the changes are subtle. I didn’t wake up and think, “Oh glorious day! We’ve been through so much, and our marriage is perfect now!”

No, the first time I really thought about it was after we’d had an argument. I couldn’t even tell you what it was about – we argue over a lot of stupid stuff, along with a handful of some big stuff. (I’m very suspicious of people who say they never argue with their spouse. These same couples also seem to have sex multiple times a week after years of marriage and have never had a conversation with their spouse while the other one is pooping.)

The argument was resolved without any slamming doors, whatevers, or a prolonged period of existing with each other while doing everything we could to pretend the other person wasn’t actually there. (If that doesn’t describe at least twenty arguments you’ve had with your spouse, you may want to move along. Nothing to see here.) Soon after, Mike commented that he was happy that we were at a place where we could argue and get through it without hating each other for the next three days. Here’s the crazy thing: I was thinking the exact same thing.

Somewhere along the way our marriage had grown up to the point that we were able to fight fair. Lord knows we’ve had lots of practice, but being able to hash out grievances without name-calling or dropping totally unrelated emotional bombshells on your partner is a game-changer. It doesn’t mean we just call each other out willy-nilly. Instead it means that there is room for all kinds of growth and hope for our future – and that’s a beautiful thing when you hope to spend another few decades together.

Part of not calling each other out for every little petty thing has been learning to let go of control. After nearly twenty years of marriage, we have a pretty good idea of what our individual strengths are. Knowing that the other person is better suited to handle certain things didn’t mean the other person didn’t feel compelled to micromanage or share their (unsolicited) opinion. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, though, that we’re both more comfortable with letting each other be responsible for handling certain things and being okay with keeping our hands off of those things.

At the same time, we’re getting better at not tuning out completely. Yes, Mike pays the bills and reconciles all the expenditures against our checking account. I used to let this be his completely, to the point where I’d let my receipts pile up and hiss at him if he tried to enter them into the budget for me. But once he showed me exactly what he does, and how difficult the job can be if you get too far behind, I understood where he was coming from. It’s still his domain, but I can be as helpful as possible to make the job easier and grateful that he does this task for me. I’m in charge of the kids’ schedules, from dentist appointments to rugby carpool and homework routines. But it’s not cool to have a clueless spouse, and so we worked together to figure out a calendar system that we both use and check routinely. He may not ever need to take a kid to the doctor, and he may not be responsible for getting home in time to get Elena from her choir rehearsal, but he knows when it happens and appreciates the time I spend getting everyone where they need to be any given day.

The other big thing I’ve noticed as our partnership has matured has been the most important thing of all. More often than not, we speak well of each other in front of others. In the infancy of our relationship, this didn’t seem like a big deal. Of course we would gush about each other! We chose each other for all these amazing reasons, and don’t you want to hear about each and every one of them? But then someone won’t un-ball their socks before putting them in the dirty laundry even though you’ve told them it makes you want to stab someone, and the other person keeps trying to sneak weird stuff in your food and changing perfectly good recipes, and GOD, CAN YOU BELIEVE I MARRIED SUCH A HEARTLESS IDIOT?

We struggled with this for so long, often using each other’s “quirks” as fodder for conversation with other couples. It’s passive-aggressively amusing for the one doing the talking, humiliating for the other. And for what purpose? I’ve yet to change any of my annoying ways because Mike told that “hilarious” anecdote over dinner with friends. Once we stopped doing it (mostly), it made me realize how terribly awkward it must’ve been for everyone around us. Once you’ve been the couple on the receiving end of one of these exchanges, where you’re not sure if you’re supposed to laugh or tear the offending a spouse a new one, you think long and hard about calling your partner out.

That doesn’t mean if you invite Mike and I over for drinks that we’re going to fawn all over each other and tell you how wonderful the other person is. Nineteen years is a long time to come up with reasons we’re not so wonderful. And also, we’ve seen each other poop. But we will try our best to follow the sage advice of Thumper, and if we can’t say something nice about each other we’ll change the subject or suggest tequila shots. And because we aren’t each other’s best friend, we each have a small handful of trusted friends with whom we can vent when we absolutely need to.

If that sounds terribly difficult (and believe me, I know in some seasons of marriage it truly is), try to take a step back and see your partner as others see them. Up close we all have faults, and no one knows them better than the person we married. Step away, and suddenly you’re able to see them in a completely different light.

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Happy anniversary, Mike. Thanks for giving me a place to sit and a warm bowl of Kraft Mac and Cheese when I got locked out of my apartment 22 years ago. You’ve been keeping me safe and cozy ever since, and I’m so very glad.

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Same Old Song, Different Dance

Last week Elena and I found ourselves sitting across from a cheerful fellow. Eager to shake my hand, he introduced himself as the man who would see us through to Elena’s graduation from high school. He’s her high school counselor, and we were there to schedule her freshman classes. He must be completely immune to the look of panic in parent’s eyes at this first introduction. I can assure you it was there, and it didn’t phase him one bit.

Preparing for high school as a parent

I’ve long been a fan of the mantra “The days are long and yet the years are short.” Lately, however, I feel a strong urge to change it up a bit: “The days are short and the years are even shorter.” I’m not upset to find myself here, in my 40s with a high schooler. It’s how this parenting thing works, after all, and it’s much better than the alternative of not making it to this point in one piece. I just want to make sure we get through this next phase in one piece, too. I want to do it well, ensure smooth sailing, and make sure we don’t want to claw each other’s eyes out when it’s all said and done. Basically, I want complete and utter control of the situation, which isn’t how this parenting thing works.

Parenting a teenager feels like learning choreography to a dance where the moves keep changing. Up up left back. Repeat. No! It’s up up left front! God, mom! (Cue eye roll and annoyed sigh.) Even when you get it right, you’ll end up wrong a few beats later. When you get the moves right you’re elated. We’re doing it! We’re making it look so easy – isn’t this fun? And then you say something in the wrong tone, or they do something super boneheaded, and you’re stepping on each other and falling on your asses.

Parenting teenagers

I was enamored with parenting books when my children were small, and then they all but disappeared from my nightstand. Now they stack up and tumble over, their titles an insight into what’s plaguing my soul and turning my hair grey: How to Hug a Porcupine, The Secrets of Happy Families, Unspoiled, Untangled. I used to be obsessed with picky eating and crafting the perfect sleep schedule. Now I want to shout at my old self: It doesn’t matter!!! Who cares if they eat peas or took good naps? It matters that they don’t end up in jail or dancing around a pole. Where’s that book, hmm?

But there is no book that will magically get me through these years. Nor is there a magic formula, a sure-fire method or a guarantee. She’s her own person, who will make her own choices. We’re her parents, who are doing the best we know how. There’s only one guarantee: she’ll screw up and so will we. We’ll love her and embarrass her and remind her that we have her back. She’ll love us and embarrass us and say awful things about us to her friends behind our backs. That’s how this parenting thing works.

I hated junior high and truly enjoyed high school. It’s where I found friendships that still endure, first love, and opportunities to pursue passions that still bring me joy. Elena’s face lit up when the counselor suggested an alternate class for her, one that speaks to her love of creating and performance. She’s a good kid, and I feel pretty sure that she’ll find her own way in high school. I also feel pretty sure that it will be completely unlike the way Mike and I experienced high school, or what we imagined for her.

Parenting teenagers

By the time I walked out of that meeting with the counselor, my panic was gone. I can’t believe we’re here, for sure, but at the same time I’m so glad we’re here. When we’re not tripping over each other, we’re having a good time. I enjoy her company and she makes me laugh. She’s going to be leaving us sooner, rather than later, and that will probably suck. And then we’ll move on to the next phase and wonder if we’re doing it right. Same partner, different song, completely different moves. That’s how this parenting thing works.

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What We’re Doing in 2016

Mike was the first person to notice them. Walking by the printer, he spied them fresh off the press.

“This year I will” he read … “Oh no, are these for us?”

They were indeed! Cute New Year’s resolution printables courtesy of Pinterest, one for each of us. Sigh.

“You’re going to make us do those, aren’t you?” Elena was the next to notice, after I’d cut them out nicely and arranged them on the kitchen counter. Sigh.

Eli lived in New Year’s resolution ignorant bliss, until I whipped them back out later that evening as we waited in a barbecue restaurant for our food to arrive. He stared at the blank page and grimaced, as if we’d told him we were all having the ribs and he could have some tofu. Sigh.

So maybe they don’t enjoy self-reflection as much as I do, but in an attempt to humor me they rallied and reflected. And I have to say, they all put great thought into their resolutions. I’m hit or miss when it comes to making big changes when the new year rolls around. For me, I feel more compelled to make changes when the school year starts. That feels like the beginning of a new year to me. Still, I thought it would be fun for us to try coming up with some resolutions together and to share some individual goals with each other. As an Obliger, I know how important it is to have outer accountability when it comes to meeting inner goals. I suspect I’m not the only Obliger in this little family. Here’s what the members of the Six family would like to accomplish in 2016:

This Year Angie Will:

Start a new habit: Aim to get 10,000 steps at least 5 days a week
Read a good book: Harry Potter (finally!)
Learn a new skill: Periscope
Go on a visit to: My niece’s house. We’re always talking about visiting, but are terrible at making it happen.
Break a bad habit: Failure to floss on a regular basis
Look forward to: Our trip to California
Try something new: Cooking ahead and doing meal prep at the beginning of the week

This Year Mike Will:

Start a new habit: Walk Gus more often
Read a good book: Finish the Harry Potter series with Eli
Learn a new skill: Household DIY projects
Go on a visit to: Hocking Hills, Ohio (Our friends went last fall and it looks like a fun and quick family getaway)
Break a bad habit: Skipping family meetings (we’re all guilty)
Look forward to: Going to see Twenty One Pilots as a family (we have 4 tickets to the Indy show this summer)
Try something new: New food (It’s going swimmingly so far, can’t you tell based on Mike’s helpful editorial comments on my suggestions?)

Getting to Yum seasonal new food suggestions for winter

This Year Elena Will:

Start a new habit: Draw every day
Read a good book: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Learn a new skill: Something art related
Go on a visit to: California
Break a bad habit: Going to Taco Bell (cut down to no more than twice a week)
Look forward to: Hopefully going to a Ryan Ross concert
Try something new: Skydiving (!)

This Year Eli Will:

Start a new habit: Brush teeth in the morning without being asked
Read a good book: Finish Harry Potter with Dad
Learn a new skill: BMX tricks
Go on a visit to: California
Break a bad habit: Leaving lights on (praise Jesus if just one kid could figure this out)
Look forward to: His first concert (Twenty One Pilots in July)
Try something new: The ukulele

This Year Gus Will:

Start a new habit: Letting my owners clip my nails without freaking the freak out
Read a good book: The Ultimate Guide to Dog Training
Learn a new skill: Wipe his own muddy paws before coming in
Go on a visit to: Barkefellers without getting kicked out for “aggressive mounting”
Break a bad habit: Chewing the most expensive socks we own while overlooking the cheapo Target ones
Look forward to: Finally catching those squirrels
Try something new: Watching the nice old lady walk in our cul-de-sac instead of barking as if she’s an ax-murderer

Just kidding, Gus can’t write … yet.

We also came up with a few family resolutions. We’d like to start having family meetings again once a week. We fell out of the habit over the summer, but have missed that valuable connection and opportunity for communication. We want to work on a big jigsaw puzzle – the kind you get started on a table and leave out for people to work on as they please until it’s finished. And finally, we have a goal to play each and every game we own. We’ve amassed quite a collection, some of which the kids have either outgrown or that we don’t enjoy as much as we thought we would. We’re on a game buying hiatus until we complete this fun task.

Did you or your family make New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, do you talk about them together or keep them private? I promise to report back at the end of the year and let you know how we did with ours!

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