I have never followed the typical path. Whether becoming a long-time working writer at the age of 13 (after precociously contacting my local editor and explaining how much they needed to hire me), going to my first prom before graduating from the 8’th grade, or entering college at the awkward misnomer that is 16. And even though my early induction to society may seem impressive – including the ensuing aptitude involving 4.0’s and various publications – I am somewhat the runt of my family. As the baby of 5 kids roughly resembling The Royal Tenenbaums– spanning from photographic-memory Shakespearean masters and Army war heros- it takes a lot to stand out.
My youngest daughter is named after my paternal grandmother who was in the FBI, CIA and the first woman in her family to graduate from college (William & Mary, in fact). Her husband (who died unexpectedly at the age of 43- leaving her to raise both sons alone the rest of her life, never remarrying again because he was the love of hers) played for the Boston Redsocks, before becoming an Assistant Attorney General to the United States during Truman’s administration. Her youngest son (my Dad) has seen nearly every country in the entire world, been a multi-millionare businessman, curated collections of African American artifacts at the Smithsonian, written novels, and pops in to a fashion show once in awhile as well. Suffice to say… no matter how young or brilliant we may be, the legacy of my family leaves me feeling like Rosemary Kennedy…. Gian-Carlo Coppola…. Rob Kardashian (you get the picture).
Despite all of this, I stumbled upon a series of unfortunate events (hooray for unnecessary literary references) when I was 18 involving a lifetime of unrecognized poor health… the proclamation by physicians that pregnancy would likely never happen.. my own naivete towards Sex Ed… and a burgeoning summer fling becoming a “bound for the rest of our lives” relationship in a matter of months. Of course, for all of the mistakes he and I went on to make (namely existing as a unit for that long), you have to give credit to my 18 year old self for trying to make it work. In the same way that I never took dreams of journalism or early collegiate endeavors lightly, I saddled up for a lifetime of self sacrifice and putting my child first. We married young as good Catholics do (“and peace be with you”), went to differing therapies and counseling over the years, bought a home and a Nissan Murano, and I worked more jobs than Ryan Seacrest to make ends meet.
It’s interesting how in looking back on this previous marriage, I hate using the word “marriage”. I hate denoting something with which we may never fully recover from a title worthy of love exemplified by beings like my parents (married for almost 50 years). In the world of setting the familial bar high, my clan has done the same with matrimony- listing little to no divorce amongst it’s successful, enduring unions. Regardless, there is one thing I can never regret when reflecting on those 6+ years of commitment: who I became as a mother. Even in times of enormous pain, strife, and discord, the millisecond I stepped in to the role of “Momma”, I was devout above all else.
I could go in to the nasty details that no one wants to know- the dark corridors and ugly corners of the life we attempted to endure- but perhaps it goes without saying that the day we fled the situation (after adding another munchkin to the brood), was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life. Warranted or not, I try to never publicly speak ill of the man that helped me create my two little ladies, and he is also happier than he has ever been (and in turn, a better father).
Perhaps some of the reason the word “marriage” feels odd is because there are so many levels and layers of negative connotations with my first relationship. Maybe it’s because we never had a real “engagement”, or marriage, or wedding pictures, or… well, any of that stuff. Yet after over two years of testing the waters, rediscovering myself, standing on our own six feet (the girls and I), and doubting almost anything of the XY chromosome variety…. you may be shocked to find that I am engaged for what feels like the very first time.
There is no perfect way to correct mistakes or right wrongs in one’s life but I can say that we put the children first, we took our time, we sheltered them from our burgeoning love until it was the right moment, and we are both rather nervous about “tooting the horn” that we’re happy again. Or rather, happy now… for real. Once you’ve been hurt (as we both have), letting yourself savor tiny triumphs feels wrought with fear that, one day, you’ll be regretting this too. We never became a ‘true couple’ on Facebook until recently (because that means everything, right?), and when he posted photos of our engagement himself… I was admittedly too scared to spread the news to my own network in my own words. Pourquoi, you might ask? There is something to the adage of “love, loss, and better than never having at all”, but the idea of losing again is… something only those who’ve walked this path before could understand.
Fortunately, everything about this experience has been different in the most perfect of ways (even if our time-line is periodically wonky from the apparent norm). Because I have been so “mum” about all of these “words” in recent months, I figured I was more than overdue for a healthy dose of happy over-share to the friends and family who have not heard our story in full fruition.
Our Story In 300 Words or Less:
No relationship is perfect, and ours has been full of “reality” from the beginning. He is a teacher, and I’m a professional flibbertigibbet. We are both word nerds (and yes, he learned ASL specifically for me since people love asking). One of the first times he asked me to marry him I was turning blue in the ER from a bad lung episode (although maybe that was just my “something blue?”) I choreographed a full, pre-professional dance for my company’s February show as a belated “answer”. It began with “Reign of Love” by Coldplay, yet surprised everyone by shifting in to “I Think I Want To Marry You” by Bruno Mars- which happened to be my youngest daughter’s favorite song while we were dating. We decided we wanted to be committed to each other- and even planned a casual engagement party- before he’d fully proposed, because with two little girls in the mix… who has the luxury of not ‘shooting it straight’, right? By the time a full-fledge proposal in the traditional sense had occurred, both my girls were with us, and his parents watched while his mother’s former engagement ring slid on my finger on the very same campus where we met [the local deaf school]. He asked the girls if they approved as well (they said “yes”), and his mom explained that her ring had “never known a relationship without kids.” In the same way their 40-ish-year marriage was inducted amid little ones, we are creating a love that will never wake up past 8 AM, and consists mostly of the words “Are you sure you don’t have to go potty?” on repeat.
Naturally, the best thing of all was not the size of the ring, or the order of events, or the formality with which we pursued things… but rather, how he treated my girls, and in turn treats me. In truth, I was hesitant to change my last name after finally creating happiness for the girls under my own… but to him, family is not about monikers. I didn’t want to walk down the aisle and be “sold like a goat” (irrelevant since there won’t be an aisle)… instead, we will walk side-by-side, as we hopefully will walk through life together. And yes, I won’t look the part of the perfect bride (he’s marrying someone with faulting organs, and countless scars, and a tadpole-shaped-lump of a port in my chest)… but he’s a lucky dude, because I’m pretty durn cute anyways [confidence, ladies, confidence.]
If my girls ask for marital advice one day, I will be tempted to forewarn them about a thousand different things. But in reality, the biggest part of becoming “one” with another is knowing your half in the first place. Making mistakes, leaping before you look- it’s all part of knowing not only who you are and what you can endure, but what you’re worth as well. Never once have I thought: “Why would this man want to marry a super sick girl with astronomical medical bills, who lost her hearing and communicates the most clearly in another language, and who has two wild-child children?” (And as much as I love them, let me add that I don’t have plucky, lovable Jerry McGuire, Little Miss Sunshine type of kids…. They are tiny Tenenbaums). So why not? Because if you can’t take me as I am – and love my greatest successes as much as myself – than it was never meant to be in the first place.
We all have our baggage. It doesn’t matter if this is your first marriage, or your last. If you’re merging names and stomping on glasses, or having a tiny ceremony with a $100 dress (oh yes, details coming soon!) If you find a person who can parent with you… who can be your peer… who can look you in the eye and never make you feel lessened: then make it work. Who cares if you’re legally bound or committed in spirit. We, as woman, deserve to be deserved. We deserve to know our own worth, and to pass that along to our children.
And if in the least I can pass that along to my own little girls one day, than all of that pain, and suffering, and baggage from my past … may just have been indefinitely worth it.
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