A couple years ago I was working in a childcare center. One morning I had a rotation into the quiet baby area with a young mom who was also working there and we had the opportunity to chat while bouncing babies. We soon discovered that we shared the same wedding anniversary although many years apart. She was coming up on her first anniversary as I was approaching my 18th. After sharing a desire to make her marriage work despite the example of her mother's 3 failed marriages she looks at me and asks me how I did it. What is the secret of being happily married for 18 years? She then stops talking and waits for me to impart some great wisdom upon her. No pressure. Just sum it up in the next 15 minutes before we rotate to different parts of the room.
I have thought often about this young woman in the past couple years and her question. What is the secret? How do I answer that question? Why do some couples stay together, sometimes despite huge obstacles, and others give up without even trying?
This week John and I celebrate 20 years of marriage. More than half our lives have been spent together. Every significant thing that has happened to us, every insignificant thing that has happened to us since we were seniors in high school has been experienced together.
I have been thinking about our wedding vows; for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Check, check. Check, check. Check, check. In 20 years we have experienced it all.
There have been wonderful times of joy, the births of our children, fun vacations, and just moments of happiness simply being together, laughing and experiencing the dailiness of life. But there have been bad times, dealing with infertility, job loss, car problems, parenting frustrations, big and small fights over things that mattered and things that didn't.
We have been sick, I have complained over my many health issues until I wanted to kick myself to the curb. John has suffered through many injuries along with sickness and discovered why his wife didn't go into the medical field. We became experts on the subjects of ear infections as we spent much of Jake's first year at the doctor. And we can tell you far more details than your health teacher ever thought to share about exactly how babies are made...or aren't. But then we all experienced improved health together through nutritional eating and dairy free living. We ran together, hiked and biked together and were able to be more physically active during the second half of our marriage than the first half.
And while some days it seems like we have only experienced the poorer side of our marriage the truth is we have had both. We certainly started at the bottom but we aren't there anymore. We have made some very good choices over the years and some very bad choices. We are better off than we were 20 years ago and look forward to making more good choices than bad in the next 20 years when we will find ourselves facing retirement.
It is life. It is our life.
This weekend John and I went away to celebrate our anniversary. We love to get away and have gone several times over the years having a wonderful time enjoying each others company without having to worry about our children or the responsibilities of life. This year we went up to Duluth where we had spent a couple nights on our honeymoon. The first time we were broke so while we walked along the shore of Lake Superior and enjoyed watching the lift bridge go up and down we really didn't do anything else. This time we were able to tour the Glenshen Mansion, eat at Grandma's restaurant and still walk along the shore of Lake Superior. We really did have a lovely time.
John had worked almost non-stop in the days leading up to this trip literally working all night long 2 nights in a row. While I voiced my concern he would be no fun because of how exhausted he was he assured me if he could sleep on the drive up he would be fine. We were both looking forward to the trip and decided to pretend that was true. And for the most part he was fine. But we had a hard time really connecting because the truth was that he was tired. And I didn't sleep well so then I was tired, and then there was hours of traffic, and somehow the second day was not quite as lovely as the first day.
That is life. That is marriage. It is hard to look at a woman who has been married for 1 year and express to her that they joy of 20 years comes from both the ups and the downs of a lifetime together. That I look back and cherish the bad as much as the good. Each experience, good and bad, goes into making a marriage. It isn't about any one moment but about every moment coming together. And as we go through it we become more and more a part of each other.
Not every trip is wonderful and has us floating home on a cloud. I would love it if they were. But then how would we ever learn that when John has been working 48 hours straight the best thing to do is stay home? Plus you can't anticipate everything that will happen. How could we have known that it would take us 3+ hours to get out of Duluth on Sunday afternoon because of very poorly organized road construction detours? Life happens. Some days you choose to make lemonade and some days you just suck the lemon.
Through it all, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows I am so glad I stuck it out and so glad to have married a man willing to stick it out with me. There is no one else I would rather experience a lifetime with than John.
And as we look forward to our anniversary tradition of attending the State Fair (another thing we did on our honeymoon) I will be sure John gets lots of sleep in the days leading up to it.