Every Day is Valentine’s Day

If you and I are friends on Facebook or if you follow me on Instagram, you are more than familiar with my #everydayisvalentinesday hashtag.  You see, one day, when I least expected it, love happened.

Tory and I first met in 1987, when I started junior high.  A few years later, we became closer friends during my freshman year, his junior year.  We were BFFs the next year, and in the time before email, My Space, and Facebook, we were pen pals when he went to college.  My senior year, I broke up with my boyfriend two days before prom, and Tory came back and took me.

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Then I went to college in Virginia, he started working full time and going to school, and after the summer of 1994, we kind of lost touch.

Fast forward 21 years to 2015, we reconnected.  We had both split from our spouses, and we both had children.  We met for lunch one day, only expecting to catch up with an old friend, but we soon realized that there was much more to our unfinished story.

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Having a relationship that is based in this deep friendship, caring, and genuine love for each other (you should read what I wrote in his yearbook senior year.  #humiliating.) is amazing.  We love each other’s family, and we love each other’s children as our own.  When we started posting pictures on social media, all of our friends from back in high school were so happy for us.  And soon, #everydayisvalentinesday was born.  Pictures graced our feeds from restaurants, Christmas parties, the beach, volleyball games, Angel games, Disneyland.  Jen told me once that it’s like we’re living in our twenties again.  And you know what, it is.  Christmas Eve is even Valentine’s Day.

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But before I continue to gush, let me be clear.  We are not perfect.  Life is also tough.  We both have major things in our past that affect our everyday lives.  We cry.  And bleed.  And our hearts break.  Through custody battles, court dates, money issues, going back to work, we have made a pact:  we will get through it…. together.

Now, in my 40s, I don’t want what Valentine’s Day means for most people:  big gestures professing one’s love, on one day of the year.  The #everydayisvalentinesday that is in my life now is the feeling that is supposed to lie beneath all those flowers and chocolates and fancy necklaces.  I don’t want the prince in the shining castle.  No, give me the farmer who smells like the earth, works his fingers to the bone, and has the scars to prove it.  Tory is Ride or Die.  And I will Ride or Die for him.  He is devoted to me in a way that I have never experienced before.  Our Valentine’s Days are filled with electrical work on the house, with sewing curtains for our kitchen. Valentine’s Days are when we’re sick and lie on the couch.  They are days when we meet our parents for breakfast then shop at Costco.

One #everydayisvalentinesday we even got married.

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Our Valentine’s Days celebrate our accomplishments, but they are also when we lose our battles.  Because when you let go of ego, when you are honest not only with your partner, but with yourself, when you bear your soul, and when your partner does the same, #lovewins and #everydayisvalentinesday.

Men

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Last Sunday, my dear, sweet, wonderful husband was putting up the Christmas lights outside.

Gabriel was helping him, which at the moment meant entertaining Annie who decided that she also wanted to “help”.

They had the wiggle car scooter out and were riding it down our sidewalk, which has a bit of an incline.

And my husband looked at them riding down the sidewalk and thought to himself “I’ll bet I can jump over them as they go by.”

It did not occur to him to warn Gabe.

So when all 6’5” of daddy came running at him, Gabe did what any sane child would do: he stopped cold.

Causing Daddy to hook a foot on his shoulder and land awkwardly on his knee. The “trick” knee, the one that has a tendency to “go out” every now and then. That one.

He didn’t tell me for an hour. He said because he knew my reaction was predictable.

Whatever that means.

We’ll know how badly his 43-year-old-but-I-still-think-I’m-20-year-old-knee is after an MRI on Tuesday.

 

Hurricane Mama

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Why are we changing the rules? Did something happen when I looked the other way? Why do things feel different? Are we ok?

This is what anxiety sisters do when the applecart is upset. We ask a lot of questions, rapid-fire. We wait a good 1.5 seconds for answers. When they don’t come, we know this is a sign of the apocalypse.

I’m going to give you a moment to send blessings on my husband.  Especially since most anxiety sisters are of average size and turn into Category 3 hurricanes at the most.

Not me. I am six feet of Category 5 coming at you.

The last seven days have been stormy in my house.

I have a child in a new school through no fault of his own. Because he came from me, he also hates change. And now he is the new kid. Again. In the middle of the school year. Again. He doesn’t know where the pencils are. Again.

Plus, when you’ve been bullied repeatedly over a long period of time, you may come out of that with some anger. You may have a really short trigger when you think people are not listening to you. You may even feel guilty that all of this is somehow your fault.

Then, it was Thanksgiving. We do it small but still. There’s shopping and parties and 3 year olds who run fevers right before the whole world goes on vacation for four days.

To call the pediatrician or not call the pediatrician?  That is the question that will spin a tropical storm mama into a Category 2.

Then on Friday after dinner my mom was crying into the phone. I think the number of times this has happened in my life is less than the fingers on one hand. My dad—who’d had surgery ten days before—was experiencing a complication that required another emergency surgery. They’d been up since 4 am, sitting at the ER since 10 and my dad was so hopped up on pain meds that he was barely awake as they rolled him away.

WEATHER BULLETIN: Hurricane Mama is now Category 5 with winds in excess of 200 mph and a 100% chance of precipitation. All humans living within the affected area are directed to take shelter immediately. And STAY there, for the love of God.

It was a dodgy 12 hours. I activated every prayer chain I know, and women all over the country called down the power of heaven to be with my family.

My dad came through surgery like a champ and is on the road to recovery. My mom got some sleep and her feet back under her. Gabriel came home from school with an invitation to a birthday party. Some might even say that things are looking up.

Hurricane Mama is not so sure. Or maybe it’s that the stress of it all seems to linger. Why these things seem to come in clumps, I’ll never understand. I am grateful for the calm after the storm, I truly am. I revel in it.

But it takes me a minute to get there.

If you have an anxiety sister in your life, can I make a plea on her behalf? This is a tough time of year. Chances are, she’s had it planned out in her head for months, but life happens, like last week. She’s going to need a minute to reorder it in her head and her heart, and there may be wind and rain before she does.

Tell the kids to take shelter, because we don’t need to add guilt to the storm. Then help her by doing something, by taking something off her list. The fastest way to calm the storm is by controlling the things that are easy to control. I can’t explain why, but it makes the big, out of our control things seem so much easier to bear when the little things are going right.

It will pass and she will be your uber-competent, joyful wife-daughter-sister-friend again before you know it

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)

 

 

 

Called to Less

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Last weekend we met the coolest family camping.

The kids met first, as kids will do in a campground. Kate and Ezra were a perfect match, two cuties in glasses laid out on a blanket playing with their dolls. Her younger brother Phoenix, and Annie, just a year apart, took to each other like fish and water. There was a dump truck involved, and lots of giggling. At one point they were just laying on their backs in the sunshine, laughing up into the clouds.

Even the older ones, Micah and Gabriel, found kinship in their reading habits. As I listened to them talk about books, I felt the sweetness of a conversation between a boy and girl just on the edge of being too embarrassed to talk to each other.

Mom and Dad—Amber and Sundance—made the most amazing decision a year ago.

It’s not for everyone. But it confronted Shea and me, in a good reflective way. So I’m going to share it.

They sold their house and bought a trailer.

Sundance has a job that travels for weeks at a time, and Amber and the kids got to missing him. So Amber did a little research on homeschool and talked Sundance into making their lives mobile.

Usually they go where he goes, but Amber wanted to spend the summer among the redwood trees, which is how they ended up in Klamath, camping across the row from us.

All of the questions that may be popping into your head can be answered over at Amber’s blog, www.notsopermanentpillow.com.

I will tell you that when I asked if it was forever, she shrugged and said that was the beauty of it. If they are done, they’ll just go back home. In the meantime, they are together, having adventures and learning how to function as a family in a 28 ft trailer.

That was the part that confronted me. They down-sized their quantity of life to up-size their quality of life.

No big house where everyone has their own room, tons of toys and three TVs. Just one shower, one toilet and one closet.

It made me think What would it take to get my family down to one closet? The answer is a lot. It would take a lot. And that made me sad.

It’s been on my heart for a while now. Our home in Oregon is everything we thought we wanted in a home, brand new and beautiful. Our So Cal money went far in Oregon, but the truth is, we could have chosen something smaller. Something less. That would have allowed us room to travel more, tithe more, share more of what we have.

But when we bought this house last year, we let our egos make the decision. That’s a hard and humbling thing to admit. And now too much of what we have is tied up in the house.

I don’t think it was by chance that Amber and her family were camped across from us at the mouth of the Klamath River.  I think God was saying Look. Listen. See what life can be when you stop trying to keep up. You already know that keeping up is not what I want. But you have to find the courage to let it go.

I’m not packing up my kids and heading off into the sunset, because homeschooling is not my gift. No, no, no.

But Shea and I have some praying and listening to do over the next year.

 

 

 

Surviving a Mixed Marriage

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I knew it going in.

And I knew what a big deal it was. Marriages have broken up over less. But Shea is such a good man.

So I did what women do: I told myself he would change. For me. Or when the kids came. And if he didn’t, I resolved to stick it out no matter what. I put on a brave face for my concerned family and friends.

When my hair dresser took me by the hands and said “Jen, you cannot yoke with a non-believer” I laughed it off.

“Darlene. It’s not like he doesn’t believe in God. He’s just an Angels fan. We’ll make it work.”

I come from a family that bleeds Dodger Blue, so far back that my grandparents watched them play in the Coliseum when they first came to LA from Brooklyn. All through my twenties, I was the queen of the last minute $8 ticket.

I know how to get out of Chavez Ravine ten different ways. Only real Dodger fans will understand the value of that. They also know that we don’t need no stinking tail-gating, not when there’s Dodger dogs and cold beer walking up and down the aisles. Plus, there’s nothing like a late September sunset over the hills of Griffith Park.

And Vin. Let’s don’t forget about Vin.

Shea became an Angels fan during his college years. He and his two best men were season ticket holders. They have tail-gating under the A down to a science. He was at that World Series game in 2002—you know the one, Game Six when the Angels were trailing 5-0 to the Giants going into the 7th inning. They rallied to win, forcing a Game 7. Which they won.

I don’t mind telling that story since, it’s about the Giants. I’m sad to say that we have Giants fans in the family. Every family has a burden to carry and this is ours. We married into them, but still. Shameful.

Before I would agree to Shea’s proposal, I protected myself. Our pre-nuptial agreement concerned one issue—team loyalty. We agreed that our male children could be Angels fans and the females would wear Dodger Blue.  That technically puts me up 5-2, if we count the four-legged females (and we do).

After a few years, we amended the agreement to include the rule that there could be no quoting of statistics over breakfast. No late night discussions on the strength of the NL West vs the AL West. No usurping of football games for baseball games unless it was a playoff situation. We do not rush home from anywhere for a baseball game and HGTV trumps baseball every time.

If either team ever made the World Series again, we would go.

If both teams made the World Series at the same time, we would legally separate for the duration of the Series and only reunite after a renegotiation of the terms of the agreement.

Every year at this time, we revisit the rules of our mixed marriage. Because almost every year, both teams hover on the edge of the playoff picture, forcing us to consider our options.

We also have a football conflict. I am a NY Jets fan. Shea is a Buffalo Bills fan. These teams play in the Same. Dang. Division. So two Sundays a year, we invoke the pre-nup for football.

This is a less stressful situation because neither of our teams have been any good for a long time.

I am sharing our story so that others know it can be done. Marriages can survive rivalries. Children of these marriages can grow up to be normal, functioning sports fans. It is even possible to sit in a rival team’s stadium and enjoy a game for the sake of your spouse. I always wear my Dodger Blue when I go to Angels stadium.

Once, a guy bought Shea beer out of sympathy.

Sometimes, you have to take one for the team.

Dishes

At some point in my growing up years, the household chores got divided along gender lines.

My brothers did all things outside and trash related. I was in charge of the kitchen.

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Although I do find immense satisfaction in a completely clean kitchen, and no one loads a dishwasher like I can, there were moments when I was 16 that I hated it. I wanted to be in charge of trash, something that happened every other day, but my brothers were no one’s fool.

When I came back home for my first college break, they gleefully stepped aside so I could resume my duties. I wanted to at least share them with whoever had been in charge of the dishes while I was gone, but nothing doing. “It’s your job” my brother said, patting me on the back, grabbing a soda and heading for the family room.

I made a vow that in my own family, things were going to be different. None of this genderized division of labor in my home!

I thought of this last night as Shea and I made our way through For Better And For Ever, a marriage preparation guide for engaged couples. We are training to join our parish’s sponsor program, so we need to go through the book ourselves to prepare to help others navigate the pretty tough topics and questions.

This is an interesting thing to do after ten years of marriage.

Somewhere, we have similar books from our Engaged Encounter weekend. I kept them because wouldn’t it be fun to look at them in the future and remember where we started?

Yeah, or scary.

Because we were so young. And idealistic. And we really had no idea what was going to happen next.

Take for instance the division of duties. I was determined we were going to share it all. No traditional 1950s housewife over here.

Shea does dishes. I do dishes. The rule generally is the person who didn’t cook cleans the kitchen. The truth is that he will offer to do the dishes when I am just too tired. And he did them every night of all three pregnancies. I keep the kitchen clean during the day because I’m home. It’s a pretty fair trade. We both like a clean kitchen.

But I do not take out the trash. Or pick up the poops. Or water the garden, pull weeds or mow.

I make sure that Gardener Cory shows up to mow, so that’s something.

I do laundry, pay bills, vacuum and yell at the kids until they dust. I make beds and clean bathrooms and grocery shop. I master the coupon apps. I shop for shoes and clothes and school supplies. I do doctor’s appointments and manage the family calendar. I take care of sick kids and sick dogs.

Shea brings home the bacon. This is a big deal. It’s what keeps me at home, running the Command Center.

I am very happy with this arrangement. Shea is very happy. But last night we realized that we have the very thing I was determined not to have—a fairly traditional marriage.

Why wasn’t I going to have it, again?

I can’t remember.

And there you have it.

Fishsticks and Champagne

The story goes like this:

In August of 1969, my aunt and uncle were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary on August 15 and my mom and dad were celebrating their 1st anniversary on August 17. They all lived in San Francisco, my parents having recently graduated from the University of San Francisco and my uncle finishing up law school in the city.

My mom and dad on their honeymoon, August 1968

My mom and dad on their honeymoon, August 1968

So Lesley doesn't know when this picture was taken, but I am guessing late 70s.

My aunt and uncle, late 70s.

My parents lived in a small walk-up near the university. This means is that they had a second story apartment in an already hilly city. Think stairs, indoors and outdoors. Everywhere.

This will be important later in the story.

They had no money. My mom and dad were 23, my aunt and uncle not much older. But they decided to celebrate the anniversaries together. So my mom cooked up a bunch of frozen fishsticks and someone—probably my uncle—found deeply discounted (because their labels had fallen off) bottles of champagne.

I know exactly what this party looked like, even though I was only a prayer two years in the future. I have seen the four of them like this many, many times in my life—joyful, loud, carefree. Full of laughter.

But not always making top-notch decisions. Because, fishsticks. And champagne. A combo that has trouble written all over it, like prosciutto and margaritas, or brie and beer.

Sure enough, by the end of the night, they were sideways. My dad was getting reacquainted with his fishsticks. My aunt couldn’t manage the stairs down the hill to the street in an upright position. She slid down them on her bum, howling with laughter all the way. Of course.

Then some poor fool had the audacity to cut my uncle off at a stop sign.  The way he tells it, he just barely got hold of the back of her pants to stop her tumbling out the window after she rolled it down to give the guy a piece of her mind.

This night is legend in our family, part of the fabric that holds us all together. Not just how silly and funny it was, but how my uncle’s eyes still twinkle when he tells the part about my aunt. Or the lesson we absorbed about the importance of celebrating wedding anniversaries, even with fishsticks. How my mom tilts her chin defiantly and says “That’s all we had, so that’s what we did!”

This August, they will celebrate their 51st and 47th anniversaries.

Last week, we were in Canada with my cousin and her family for their 11th anniversary. It was the last day of a visit that had ten of us staying in one house—six kids under the age of 10. A big night out was not in the cards.

But there was champagne in the fridge.

We contemplated fishsticks. We really did. For a good half second. And then we got our feet under us and ordered sushi. Luckily, we are twenty years older than our parents were on that fishstick night and more financially secure. We crammed everyone around the dining room table, poured the champagne into half-pints because we couldn’t find any Solo cups, and went at it.

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Alas, we only had one bottle of champagne, so the night was tame. No sliding down the stairs required.

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Yes, a tiara is normal Friday night attire for Lesley. It’s one of the reasons I love her so much!