The Status Quo

Unfortunately, under all of the positive, there ran a constant current of sexual discourse that had been present since the beginning.

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion” ― Voltaire

Francis started seventh grade and we enrolled Sara in a preschool program close to home. The teachers were warm and loving and she treasured going there two mornings a week. It was my first experience with the traditional ‘suburban mom’ protocol. Someone organized a coffee morning for the moms, allowing us to become more familiar with one another. As may be typical of this kind of gathering, a few of us generated an immediate connection. One woman in particular – I will call her Dee – was super friendly; we seemed to have a lot in common.

Dee and I quickly established a rapport as we recognized how many common interests we shared. We would stand outside of the school in the mornings chatting away as long as the kiddos we still had in the car either napped or played nicely. We each had three children although our oldest and youngest were very different ages. We loved to cook. We loved to sew. As weeks went by we drew closer and the friendship deepened. I was still talking with Michele almost daily but Dee filled another gap in my life, offering local comradery. We developed the habit of spending those two mornings a week together, either running errands or sitting with our coffee and planning our family dinners. Her husband travelled most weeks for work and since my marriage was either hot or cold, we seemed to fill a companionship need for one another.

One evening in the late fall as it was just beginning to turn really cold, Dee’s heater went on the blink. I was talking with her by phone as I prepared to leave for a cake decorating class I was taking weekly and suggested that she come to our house for the evening. Hubby had heard me talk about Dee and the children incessantly and as our home was large, there was plenty of space in the basement rec room for Dee and her kids to bunker down for an evening. I let him know she may be coming before I got home and left for class.

Later that night as I pulled into the driveway, I saw her car and was really glad to know that my friend had taken me up on the offer. At least she would be warm until the furnace was repaired the following day. I hurried into the house and found them – Hubby and Dee – drinking a beer and having a grand time laughing, stating that they were sharing stories of one thing or another – getting introduced. I joined them. We were up fairly late but it was the best kind of ‘sleep over’ and I was just a little sorry to know that she would be going home in the morning. As it turned out, she had to stay one more night before the heat was completely repaired. It was time that cemented our bond. Our friendship grew.

We began spending time together as families. Her husband was generally home on the weekends and so at least bi-monthly we would take turns hosting one another (and family) for dinner and movies or cards. Generally, the kids got the movies and we intended on cards but rarely completed a game. We laughed, told stories, and talked about children. The men shared common interests as well, even if most of them centered around cigars and beer. We spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t long before Dee would call our house if she needed help with something midweek while Tom was out of town. Hubby would run over and fix whatever needed addressing; sometimes we would do it together. Tom was always grateful. The ‘helpfulness’ was reciprocated. If I got sick, Dee would show up with a complete meal – kid friendly – and include a six-pack of Hubby’s favorite beer. One winter evening the four of us had attended a comedy show in town but had driven separately I think. I specifically recall that on the way home, we discovered them on the side of the road with a blown out tire. Hubby stayed with Tom to address the problem and I took Dee and her babysitter – home. Being friends with them was easy and comfortable.

Also notable in this time period is our change in Church affiliation. Our pastor was deepening his fundamentalist perspectives and many of them fervently contrasted with some of our individual core beliefs. Although we definitely enjoyed the community and the musical elements of the worship services, the sermons (and expectations) were developing further than our spirits were comfortable with. We instinctively knew it was time for a change. Fortunately for us, a new Lutheran church was being started in our area and we were introduced to the founding Pastor by way of a family friend who had been part of his old congregation. He was seeking charter members and with our ‘spiritual pioneering’ expertise, we were easily recruited. Once again, we were insanely involved in the operations of a young faith community.

This time around, the tradition of the Lutheran service / doctrine was more pronounced. In actuality, we were challenged to introduce any contemporary components mostly due to the aging demographic of the people who were showing up on Sunday. We held services in a school cafeteria but everything else reeked of old customs. It was comfortable for me although it dampened my spiritual growth temporarily as it wasn’t tested –  openly at least. We were both participating in several areas as neither one of us felt as if we could say no to God.

For the most part, our lives were full. We had a new house, a new church, a new baby on the way and we had just branched out on our own professionally. For the first time ever, we were not affiliated with any other ‘entity’ or group. Hubby became a ‘sole practitioner’ and I was his associate. My role was administrative and extra support when the occasional need occurred for my area of expertise. Most of the time I worked from home at night – after everyone was in bed. I didn’t earn an income from working as we already paid the full Monty of self-employment tax. Had I taken an income from our business, we would have paid double. (P.S. – Don’t ever do this!! Each person should be contributing to Social Security so that you have a genuine earning history.)

Our financial situation was pretty rough during these days. Starting a business takes a fair amount of capital and financial risk and we worked in a commission only based business. We struggled to make ends meet and got really creative with when to pay Peter and put off Paul or vice versa. I made a pound of hamburger stretch for two meals and repurposed everything WAY before it was cool to do so. One of my favorite things to do was go ‘yard sale’-ing. In fact, I looked at it as an adventure! At least, that’s what I told the girls. On Friday mornings I would put them in the car (with a properly packed diaper bag) and grab my map that had been routed and planned based on how much gas money I had that week.  I bought clothes, toys, household items, and Christmas presents at yard sales and auctions whenever possible. Actually, I had a reputation for doing so too. People eventually would ask me to be on the lookout for an item on their own wish list. Essentially, I learned how to make a little go a long way. It was my contribution to our goals of building the business as most of the money we made, went right back into it.

Unfortunately, under all of the positive, there ran a constant current of sexual discourse that had been present since the beginning. It never went away, just ebbed and flowed from day to day or month to month. Sometimes it was okay, others it was unbearable; it was never just good.

*some names have been changed in the interest of privacy

God’s Will

I remember thinking that it wasn’t fair of me to make the decision based solely on how I felt, that as his partner, his wishes should also be a major consideration.

“As much as you want to plan your life, it has a way of surprising you with unexpected things that will make you happier than you originally planned. That’s what you call God’s Will.” – Unknown

My friend Michele and I talked daily. Since I had crossed state lines, we found a discount phone company that offered us a really low rate. It was a pain to call a number, enter a code and then another number but it saved us a ton of money on a monthly basis. We talked about our families, our challenging relationships, our soap operas. We would get together every week or so with the kids so that they could play and we could chat. It was an easy relationship to have and I depended on her friendship. We could talk about anything.

One morning in early October we were chatting away and Michele shared that she thought she might be pregnant as she was a couple weeks late getting her period. This would be baby number four. We gabbed about babies for a few minutes when the wheels in my mind started churning… remembering prior talks… wait a minute. “Michele… I think the last time we spoke about this it was because we seemed to be on the same cycle… I remember laughing about it – that even through phone lines, our pheromones were in tune. “Michele” I cried, “If you are late – then so am I!!”

Just a handful of weeks ago Hubby and I had talked about having another baby. Frank was 12, Sara 3, and Erin 2. He really wanted to try and have a boy he could name after himself but I was pretty sure I was finished having children. It had been a hard couple of years with two only 16 months apart, an older child who was involved in activities, I was working part time out and part time at home for Hubby, and I had a household to manage. I attempted to keep up an appearance that I was maintaining it all and in control. In truth, many days it was simply too much. I never said no to anyone. I gave and gave and gave most days until I felt flat. I continued to believe that if I was unable to give to people what they needed / wanted from me, that I would be – could be dismissed. That belief ran just under my subconscious for more than a decade, only a few times bearing itself for all to be seen.

Generally, this stress manifested as if I was someone who had to be in control of all things. I eventually came to realize that I didn’t want to control anything, frankly I had more responsibility than I really wanted. It was the load of that however that made it necessary for me to manage MY life in a way that allowed me to feel emotionally and physically safe. It was always about generating a sense of safety for my own mind. After abandonment by both my mother and of course the death of Rocky…. I felt unsafe under a lot of layers. Obtaining control of my environment assisted my psyche with the idea that pain would not exist there. If a person was IN my space, then they were sucked into the ‘controlled circumstances’. Of course, I wasn’t able to touch those realizations back then and eloquently describe what was happening so instead, I was simply known as a ‘control freak’ and people internalized my intent. *sigh*

I recall one of the most intense arguments that Hubby and I had was over a simple question regarding a diaper bag. It was when Erin was about 14 – 25 months old and we were trying to get out of the house to go somewhere – his mom’s house maybe? He asked if there was anything he could do to help.

Great question – I appreciate that you offered, I think. I replied “Yes, you can pack the diaper bag”.

Considering we had carried a diaper bag with us now for almost three solid years, I believed it was a task of little effort. His reply:

“What do you want in it?”

In that moment, something snapped. Everything that was ‘too much’ came up – overflowing my being, through my eyes in the form of daggers, through my hands as I threw something, and through my mouth as I shouted unending obscenities at the highest decibel I had available.

“How is it possible that you don’t know the answer to that question?”

“WTF do you think goes in a diaper bag?”

And the insults continued to travel through the air from my overstimulated voice box throughout the house and probably through the walls into the universe.

Needless to say, my rage was not received well. This man who was my husband was only trying to help by making sure everything “I wanted” was in the bag. His intention was to be supportive and helpful but that’s not what I heard. I heard ‘do a little more work and tell me what to do. Keep this on your plate and describe to me step-by-step how to make your life better.’ Sadly, in that moment, if I was going to keep it on ‘my plate’ then explaining only made it worse. I could do it much faster and with less effort if I just did it myself. It was not one of my best moments. Nor did it turn out to be one of his…

The fight was ugly. He left, I stayed home. I honestly can’t remember how many, if any, or all of the children went with him. What I do know is that in this one argument, the energy of far too many elements had come flying from my inner self as if it had vomited relentlessly the essence of all the surly, fearful, and distressed thoughts I’d been accumulating for several years. It took a few days but we agreed to forgive one another and to keep moving forward. We should have taken stock of that moment right then but instead, we plowed along doing our day to day stuff that kept our ugly files tucked neatly in the very back of our mental cabinets.

So, here I was, talking with Michele and remembering the discussion I had with Hubby about more babies. I remember thinking that it wasn’t fair of me to make the decision based solely on how I felt, that as his partner, his wishes should also be a major consideration. I agreed to let God decide. We would stop all forms of birth control and see what happens for a year. I was 35 by then and would be in the category of high risk if we waited too much longer. Now, discussing biological processes with my girlfriend, I am realizing that nature took its course quite quickly. Michele and I were both going to have baby number four. Our due dates were two weeks apart.

 

 

Dreams Come True

I saw us here. I imagined our first Christmas tree, birthday parties, and social events. I was filled with excitement for everything to come.

“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination.”  – Roman Payne

I’ve never had closure over that photo. The explanation just did not set into my sense of reasoning. It may have been my growing sense of insecurity, or my fear that I wasn’t ‘enough’ for this man I married, or jealousy of his ability to have such extraordinary alone time. My only option was to ‘drop it’ and yet somehow it got tucked into that old mental file of mine, the Yuck file that had been created just a few years back.

We were outgrowing our inner city townhome. We were facing the reality of educating three children with a private education due to the impotence of the local public school system. Additionally, the neighborhood in which we lived was changing; becoming a less desirable location for raising a family. We began house hunting. We looked at house after house, week after week and the discouragement began to build. Simultaneously, we had our home listed for sale at a price far below our cost and offers were not flowing in.

One evening we were pouring over a real estate magazine (before the internet, we had to look in newspapers and weekly magazines) and saw a four-bedroom home on an acre of land in our price range. It looked amazing but we didn’t know anything about the location as it was in a neighboring state. We agreed to drive out and investigate. Thirty minutes over the state line we found ourselves in the country where curvy roads wound around gently sloping landscapes dotted with small communities in a suburban fashion. It was so pretty. We eventually found the house from the magazine and immediately became captivated by its position on an acre of hundred-year-old oak trees. It looked small from the outside but since it was empty, we stole views of the inside from each window. We walked around the circumference of the building, creating an image of the layout in our minds, based on the visual information we were gathering. It seemed perfect! We made an offer that was accepted and relented on trying to salvage money from our townhome and sold it for a low number. We were scheduled to move Labor Day weekend, in time for Francis to start a new school at the beginning of the year.

Our new house was perfect and there was so. much. room. Francis started 7th grade and we found a preschool for 3 & 4 year old’s that Sara could attend that fall. Our settlement date wasn’t actually scheduled until mid-September but the owners allowed us to ‘rent back’ from them for two weeks so the kids could enroll in school. It was a dream come true for me. We had a house in the country (on a cul-de-sac in a tiny neighborhood) and children in the rooms. I walked from room to room, relishing in the fact that there was space for all of us, playroom, bathrooms, laundry, kitchen and dining rooms… I saw us here. I imagined our first Christmas tree, birthday parties, and social events. I was filled with excitement for everything to come. My dream of love and family had come true. It wasn’t perfect but it was mine and I allowed myself to be happy.

I’ve been remiss in omitting memories of a very important friendship that I developed shortly after marrying Hubby. Michele was the mom of another boy who was a classmate with Francis and very graciously agreed to keep him while Hubby and I honeymooned in Spain. Afterward, we formed a great bond, forged on our sons, our time as single mothers, and our new relationships with men who loved – or at least accepted our children. Shortly after I married Hubby, she also remarried. When I discovered I was preggo with Erin, she announced she was also expecting; our due dates were a week apart. She delivered 6 weeks early but now we each had three children – two of whom where the same age – and our husbands, although NOT the same age, had the same birthday. It seemed destined for us to be allies. We talked almost every day. In many ways she was my barometer of normal. She was clearly my sounding board and allowed me to vent on any subject at any time. I’m not sure I would have survived the life I lived without her.

In any regard, our move happened with the whole of Hubby’s family as helpers. They showed up ‘en mass’ to assist in unpacking and to satisfy their curiosity about our new digs. It was such a great home for family, for big families to gather. The house stood on an entire acre, tucked in at 1:00 on a circle at the end of a small street. There were only six neighbors and we didn’t meet them all at once, rather one at a time although no one was really similar to us in age or station. No matter, it was such a far cry from the crowded, noisy, and unsettled part of the city we came from that the absence of sound was its own music to our ears.

When the contract to the house was accepted, Hubby darted to the home improvement store and purchased a chain saw. It was a boy toy by any definition but in fact, it was logical for the acre of trees that we had acquired. The day his family arrived seemed to be a good day to demonstrate that toy even though we didn’t exactly OWN the house (or the trees) quite yet. There was one – out by the sandbox – that was overshadowed by larger trees, unable to thrive in its location and sure to be a problem as time went by and so – they (Hubby and the brothers) decided that tree needed to be removed.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable with Hubby’s tree removal knowledge, as far as I knew it was extremely limited. There were no ladders, no ropes, no professionals. I corralled all the women and children into the house for prosperity sake as the men fired up the chain saw and pumped their biceps. The testosterone level was almost measurable as the sound of the saw meeting the tree permeated the house in a noticeable tone. And then… the sound changed. In less time than it took my heart to engage a single beat there was an audible “oh shit” and a tree came crashing over the roof to expose its crown against the window of our new dining room. Suddenly, we noticed an absence of sound. I ran outside to see this ‘little’ tree (about 6 inches in diameter and 25 feet tall) laying across the roof of our new home. Nothing appeared broken or significantly damaged thankfully. My heart was sitting in my throat and something was trying to pass through my vocal chords but it wouldn’t move. I wanted to laugh and part of me was attempting to cry – everything was fine but it scared me. It took some time for me to understand that I was reacting to the ‘accidental’ nature of this event. That something dangerous was happening and the outcome could have been disastrous. It was a chain saw and a little tree but it was a big deal for me. I didn’t communicate this message, instead I was bitchy about doing something irresponsibly before we actually owned the property – about taking unnecessary risks.

It was a trigger I didn’t realize I had.

All About Trust

Slowly, I began to trust. I trusted that this was my destiny; that all of the events leading to this point were divinely driven and therefore, worthy of my commitment.

“Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.” ~Lisa Weedn

I woke each morning to the sound of children. It was either an infant cry or a toddler’s chatter, or a young boy’s question. Francis would leave for school each morning with an energy that I coveted while I began a day of caring for baby girls only sixteen months apart. The joy they brought into my life cannot be exaggerated. Sara loved her baby sister and was gentle and caring, as if infant Erin was a thin piece of glass. She attempted to share everything she loved with this new sibling and would express frustration from time to time as baby just sat and smiled. Sara wanted to play.

Francis was the most amazing big brother and completely cherished by his little sisters. Sara would sit at the window and wait for him to appear on the sidewalk as he returned from school. I was also anxiously awaiting his return but for a completely different reason – I needed the help. By four in the afternoon I was in serious need of a break. As unfair as it may have been, Francis was my relief. Day after day, he accepted the responsibility of helping to care for his sisters, and ultimately, his mom. I always said he would grow up to be the most amazing father ever or a monk – having emptied all of his paternalistic caring resources before the age of twelve.

Our life was tremendously full. Each hour of the day was filled to the brim either working, raising children, little league, household responsibilities, or another of the seemingly million things that make a family function. I felt overwhelmed with a lack of time and emotional resources on a fairly regular basis. Hubby was a good provider and we had enough. Although he was a loving father, he had little patience for the chaos that existed in our evenings. Rarely was I able to get a break. My emotional tolerance was generally low by that time of night. Most of the time, by evenings end, my energy reserves were depleted completely; not Hubby’s.

During this time in our lives, conflicts were generally around the subject of how much vitality and vigor I had failed to reserve for him. It’s true that I was not educated, versed, or practiced in balancing my emotional stamina. I gave everything I had to give to my children and family life from six a.m. to eight p.m. and then, what I needed was sleep. I instinctively knew that I had an obligation, a responsibility to my relationship, to offer myself – not just sexually – but intellectually and emotionally, to my husband. I did the best I could. I would say yes to sex and try to appear motivated. It wasn’t honest. In fact, it was during this time that I trusted Meg Ryan’s famous example in the movie Harry Met Sally and just portrayed my best version of an orgasmic apex. I just didn’t have any more of myself to share. As it would in any relationship, my inability to divide my personal resources more effectively left my husband feeling unloved and unappreciated. I was unable to understand. In my mind, I needed him to be supportive, helpful, and understanding. I didn’t experience any of those things and quite the contrary, I just felt as though one more person was making demands on my day. I did what I had to do in order to have peace at the end of the night.

Stress was taking a toll on our relationship. Hubby dealt with it by drinking and smoking, I just got mad and ugly. Since he was unable (or unwilling) to stop smoking, I became passive aggressive and stopped telling him I loved him. He would say it to me and my reply was mostly “thank you”. It wasn’t one of my best decisions. The distance between us grew until we decided to try marriage counseling.

Faith was still very dominant in our life and so we opted for a Christian therapist. I recall the church, the room, and vaguely, the man. He held a bible on his lap and let us know that God believed in our union. He heard each of our perspectives and offered some bible passages that spoke to the sanctity of marriage. I felt shame. There, in that church office, a Christian environment, without substantial feedback, all I remember feeling is how much at fault I was for withholding love from the man I committed to cherish. I didn’t wait until we got to the car before I turned to Hubby with tears and extreme humility to say how sorry I was. I was sorry for not being a better wife, for withholding words of affection, for not being stronger. I pledged to try harder and to find a way to bring more balance into my life so that I could be there for him. I’m not sure if we ever went back.

Slowly, I began to trust. I trusted that this was my destiny; that all of the events leading to this point were divinely driven and therefore, worthy of my commitment. I looked at my family each evening and saw that I was blessed; that life was full. I was beginning to understand the concept of submission in a way that I had been unable to this point. I was submitting not to Hubby directly, but to life, to God’s will. I was embracing where I was and the people with whom I was sharing life.

In the summer of 1994 Hubby went out west with his brothers to participate in a Scouting event near and dear to their hearts. He arranged to make a couple of side trips to the Colorado mountains and was excited about them. I arranged to make a hearty road trip with my mother and three children through the New England area. We were going to be camping at KOA camps (in cabins) for most of the journey and being as organized and particular as I was – it was mapped out in detail as if I was preparing to perform a surgical procedure on a mass of spider veins. We drove the highway all the way up to Skowhegan, Maine but never again – over the course of two weeks – hit a main freeway. Without going into explicit detail of each day, let’s just say that it was an amazing journey with people I love. It offered my children and me an opportunity to spend marvelous time with my mother. Not only did we see beautiful and amazing parts of our country, but we had the opportunity to have quality time together that has yet to be replicated.

During this time away, I took the opportunity to write to Hubby each night, sharing our day’s journey and the highlights along the way. My intention was to embody the spirit of participation in our experiences similar to the letters I wrote Rocky when he was overseas when Francis was an infant. I also used those letters to express my love and support for our family, for our marriage. It was an excellent time of reflection and it offered me time to seriously evaluate the life I wanted to live; the life I wanted for our family; the dreams we hoped to manifest.

Both Hubby and I had rolls and rolls of photographs to develop (back in the day we actually had to turn in film) and we turned them in for processing together. After picking them up, it was fun for us to sit down and share our travels, to swap stories about our time apart. One by one, we flipped through the photographs and laughed or ohh’ed and ahh’ed over the incredible scenery each of us had seen. One photo in particular caught my attention. It was of him, alone – in a time WAY before selfies were possible or a ‘thing’ – it was a full body photograph of Hubby against a backdrop of mountains. He explained how he had gone back to that trail without his brothers for a couple of days, to fully experience the intensity of nature in that part of the world. He continued to tell me that his time there on the first part of the trip hadn’t been complete and here was this photo, taken by another traveler on the trail. He looked happy.

Something about his picture disturbed me.

 

Little Hurricane

I was quick to remember the emotional turmoil that I experienced less than two years prior and I went ‘on guard’ to protect my heart.

“Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.” – Alain de Botton

Our little family was running on auto-pilot. My twin sisters took turns spending the summer with us to care for baby Sara and Francis while I took my Series 7 licensing classes and exams. By then, they were turning 16 and ‘playing house’ was fun. It was great to have them around – what new mother doesn’t dream about having a built in mother’s helper? Hubby and I – always in unison while planning – were redesigning our business plan and imagining an environment that offered maximum flexibility while also maximized income potential. With me as an administrative principle, it left him available to optimally utilize his talents. It seemed like a match made in heaven – he got to be the brightest star in the constellation and I managed the sky.

I had given up trying to reconcile how I felt about our physical life. The only communication skills on that front existed in the form of lingerie, toys, and erotica. If our encounters went to a place that I wasn’t ‘comfortable’ with, I simply went out of my body. I became another person very much like my time in high school when I adopted a character in a play and presented that personality to the audience. She looked like me, talked like me, and laughed like me but she didn’t think like me. In fact, she didn’t think. She didn’t have emotional feelings, just the ability to experience physical things, most of which ‘felt’ good. She rather enjoyed the carnal reactions of those nightly encounters. That is unless ‘I’ was exhausted or menstruating, in which case there was a perceived expectation to ‘make it quick’ or provide pleasure, which ever was more appropriate. In those times it was harder for ‘me’ to escape and then the emotions would flood my psyche with feelings of disrespect, insensitiveness, and/or distrust.

If ever I attempted to communicate these feelings, I experienced rebuttal in the form of disparaging comments, criticism, or complete discredit for what I expressed. It seems that I ‘was naïve’ and unaware of what ‘most people did’. It was always pointed out that my body said one thing and my words said another. I didn’t know how to argue that point and it always ended with a passionate seduction that took the form of intense physical pleasure. I resigned myself to the understanding that ‘this’ was love.

In October, my dad died. My rock, my foundation, the man who always had my back – died suddenly. He had called one morning to find me busily preparing for a conference trip to Florida. I chatted briefly but told him I’d call next week after we returned and I’d catch up. I never got the chance. We were only in Orlando for a few hours when we got the call and by the next afternoon, I was back home, repacking and flying out to Cincinnati. The second funeral I had ever attended. One – two. Two funerals in my life so far and they were the most important men in my world.

That year we spent Christmas in Virginia with my mom and step-dad. My brother was working down in Atlanta by then and came home as well. Our other sister lived in the area and of course, the twins were still at home, in high school. The whole family was there and it was good. It was baby Sara’s first Christmas and we all spoiled her with attention. I missed my family. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive and 250 miles is not a Sunday dinner distance. We drove down fairly often. We had a big ‘ole conversion van in those days with a five-inch television in the back. The only VHS movie we really had was Top Gun and Francis would watch it once on the way down and at least once on the way back. It got to the point that Hubby and I would sit in the front seat acting out the parts of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis – having memorized the parts by osmosis.

On the way home after Christmas I was sitting in the front seat talking to Hubby about my emotional goodbye just hours earlier. I was still feeling rather funky and complaining about my body’s aches and pains although I was just 32 that summer. Quite suddenly, it occurred to me that I was late for my period and with some thought, realized I was three weeks overdue. Baby Sara was in the back seat only eight months old. Oh my goodness… holy cow… I think I’m pregnant.

…….

It was confirmed and I had an adjustment period. I was still changing several diapers a day and now there would be another little behind needing wiped, bathed, and patted. My body changed rapidly. Our wombs are like balloons, the doctor explained, after being blown up a few times, it just kind of remembers which shape to take. This new baby was due in September which meant all of my maternity clothes were going to be the wrong season. That felt like a minor inconvenience compared to the anxiety I felt about pregnancy in general since my last one was so full of marital discord. I was quick to remember the emotional turmoil that I experienced less than two years prior and I went ‘on guard’ to protect my heart.

It was rather unnecessary as it did not get repeated (which, flipped the switch on my wariness scale and left me feeling unsettled about the fears I had experienced then). This pregnancy, in fact, was completely different. I felt happy. Life at home took on a comfortable routine and I didn’t gain much weight; thankfully because I still had 25 pounds of baby Sara weight left over.  I only looked pregnant from the side for most of the term. I experienced a sense of contentment for the first time in a long while.

The twins again took turns staying with us that summer. They were 17 and turning into fantastic young women, looking at colleges and anticipating their future. They were each little mothers and delighted in making sure Sara was a baby fashion icon, adorned (as was insanely popular in the 1990’s) in matchy-matchy top, bottoms, socks, shoes, and headband. We have dozens of photographs from that summer documenting the current toddler styles as introduced by Gymboree and Baby Gap. I loved having them around and was eternally grateful for their help. As a two-year-old, Sara was talking up a storm, repeating her vocabulary on demand as we, very proud parents, put her on display for family. It was a personality trait that blossomed through the years as she always created some kind of dance or skit to be performed before bedtime.

Labor Day weekend was approaching and we would be losing our teen help because she had to go back to Virginia to start her Senior year of High School. On the Thursday morning before, I woke early to discover that my water had broken. I wasn’t exactly laying in a pool, but soaked enough that a shower was necessary when I noticed contractions had begun. I quickly cleaned up and we headed to the hospital where again, the doctor opted to induce my labor. I experienced a panicked memory of the last induction and the intensity of it so we agreed to take it slow. The Pitocin rate was reduced and I settled in for what turned out to be a manageable but long day of labor.

The pregnancy had been so completely different than the one I endured with Sara that we were convinced the baby would be a boy. So much so that we only had one name chosen; Phillip. By 4 pm, we had another daughter. A daughter with no name. We had thought about Erin Nicole or Alexandra Nicole but couldn’t decide. We decided to sleep on it and see what we thought after holding her for a few hours. Hurricane Emily had just decimated Cape Hatteras and many of the babies in the hospital were named Emily that year and while we didn’t name her Emily, she did somehow get nicknamed Little Hurricane. Finally, when they pressured us to choose, we dropped the Nicole and took our little Erin Alexandra home.

We were now five.

Loving Contradiction

Night by Night I felt a contradiction tugging at my soul.

“What women rightly long for is spiritual and moral initiative from a man, not spiritual and moral domination.”  ~ John Piper

We were members of a Lutheran church not far from our home that was undergoing a major transition, moving toward a more spiritually inclusive, contemporary practice. The pastor had returned from some mission work in Central America where he had experienced a transformative epiphany. He formed a men’s group and invited Hubby to join him. In addition, small home groups were established to encourage the personal development of the Holy Spirit within our congregation. We were traditional Lutherans – I was a traditional Catholic, practicing to become a Lutheran – and we were transforming into contemporary Christians. We were becoming comfortable with waving our arms in the air during melodic praise, vocalizing a random ‘amen’ when something poignant was spoken, and dictating prayers beyond those that had been written for us by saints.

*no disrespect intended here, simply pointing out that this behavior was ‘non-traditional’ for both of us.

Something inside of me was stirring. Occasionally, I experienced a deeply intrinsic ‘knowing’- a sensation that I was encountering a sublimate and perfect truth. It was as if I was looking intently into the eyes of love and acknowledging its abyssal source. Those moments were few and far between but they were intense and they pierced me. I was hungry for more and began searching for ways to satisfy my appetite.

Something was happening in Hubby as well. I can’t speak as to what it actually was but I saw an awakening in him too. I’m not sure what actually woke up but I know he was experiencing challenges. In many ways, it appeared he was having a spiritual revolution, a burgeoning emotional war, but it seemed to be drawing him closer to family, to me. I was not complaining. In my mind, the closer he was to God, the closer he would be to me, to his commitment of marriage, and of our home.

It was, that the Pastor responsible for this metamorphosis evolved a bit too much for the comfort of more traditional congregants and he was encouraged to find another flock to lead. He gathered those of us who had made the deep water dive with him and we formed a new entity; a church attuned to Scripture and spiritual growth more fundamentally than any other religious experience I’d yet had. I loved much about this church. I really enjoyed the fellowship, the music, the intimacy within our community. Hubby and I were both on the new board, leading home groups, and on different worship/leadership committees. We were busy. It felt great to be a part of something new and growing, in many ways, as we were giving birth to our daughter, we were also giving birth to a renewed faith and commitment.

Consequently, my prayers – frankly, all of my spiritual energy was being directed into making my marriage reverent. The Pastor’s wife guided us ladies in the art of submission. “It was God’s will”, she said, “that we submit our desires to our man. That we trust him to provide for us, not only in the material dimension, but also in the emotional. She explained that submission was about TRUST”. I was already suspicious about trusting my man. He had lied to me about smoking, he had let me down about quitting, he was suspect about why things had changed so dramatically… I was not very open to the concept of trusting. In fact, I was downright stubborn about it. In every single prayer I prayed, I sought guidance to find, honor, and embody submissiveness in the way that we were being taught. I struggled and developed impatience, frustration, and ultimately anger that I was being led to trust someone that didn’t feel ‘trust worthy’. I felt as though I was failing.

In the interim, I was reading the bible. Peter, Colossians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Timothy, and Matthew. They all reinforced the idea that if I was Holy, my husband would follow suit. I ‘heard’ that it was my job – in my submissiveness – to honor my husband and my God, regardless. There was an incredible conflict in my heart over this proposition. I was experiencing God in a way that felt comforting and beautiful yet the idea that I was to submit myself completely to my man in all of the things he asked of me was contradicting my heart. Our pastor tried in vain to help me settle this internal dispute but it just wasn’t to be reconciled. Ultimately, the banter in my mind was too much and I resigned myself to how I understood the concept of submission – just do what he asks.

Frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. I have control issues and the concept of total surrender was unable to take root in my psyche at large. Instead, I opted to surrender in the bedroom. His desires became the focus of my attention. If he asked me to wear high heels, I wore high heels. If he wanted to watch porn, we watched porn. If he wanted to talk dirty, I talked dirty. (Well, actually that part I had to practice… I bought Forum magazines to learn the proper vocabulary.)

What became the most problematic for me was the discrepancy in my own mind about what constituted ‘sin’ in terms of sexual behavior. On one hand I recalled the Catholic teaching that Rocky and I had participated in that taught whatever happened between a husband and wife and was consensual, was honoring your love for one another and therefore, honoring God. Then there were the thoughts about respecting women and the line that separated disrespectful behavior. Where was that line? And more thoughts about what was inherently authentic for me – as a woman. I didn’t have a broad repertoire of sexual interests necessarily although I enjoyed physical pleasure to be sure. I was curious about many things but experienced a very blurred line between the limits of my personal desire and the need for me to submit to desires of my husband which encompassed a much larger, comprehensive, and broad set of variables.

I experienced a rather continuous flow of antagonistic chatter in my mind. Internal criticism and chiding coupled with self-talk that pushed for conformity and compliance so that my marriage could be free of conflict. In the end, I consciously moved myself into compliance via the least resistant avenue. I convinced myself that I was working to be a better wife even if it meant that I was not listening to my inner voice. I found myself focusing on meeting the needs of others over my own once again and persuaded my heart that it was in the name of my faith.

Day by day I was actively engaged in promoting the vision of myself, of us, and of our family as blooming Christians, moving closer to God in our tithing, being prayerful, and committed to building the Church. Night by Night I felt a contradiction tugging at my soul.

Family of Four

I sat down to write the most difficult letter of my life.

“Many men can make a fortune but very few can build a family.”  – J.S. Bryan

We were sitting at the dinner table one evening discussing baby names; girl names, boy names, first names, middle names … we said the name and added the last name. One by one, we drifted through a selection trying in on for size. Suddenly, Francis looked up and asked with a very serious and sobering voice “Why does my last name have to be different?” Hubby and I looked at each other – oh boy. I didn’t see this coming. My heart leaped and hurt at the same time. What is the right answer here? What can I say to this precious boy about his name, about his new brother or sister and their name… What?

Hubby and I talked and talked about how to answer his question and facilitate a sense of belonging. I struggled. By now, Francis was calling Hubby ‘daddy’ and he had no memory of his father. Rocky’s parents lived in the Midwest and many of his siblings were in the Northwest; I only saw them the first few years after Rock’s death. In fact, after meeting Hubby, I hadn’t gone at all. I was terribly conflicted about having residual feelings for my dead husband and wanting a relationship with his family versus keeping my attention on the man in my current life and his family. It always felt as if I was being disrespectful to one of them if I was thinking of the other… I chose not to think. I focused on what was in front of me. Hubby was in front of me. I focused on him.

Francis went to visit every summer however, at least until Rocky’s parent’s health failed to the point where they required a caregiver. I recall the one time they came to visit us, Hubby wasn’t around at all. I’m not sure if it was because it was awkward or if he was simply giving us some space. I never felt he was very accepting of my prior life. He had never been married and therefore didn’t have a reference point from which to allow for me having feelings for or a relationship with another whole family. Rocky’s siblings were great people yet I hadn’t been ‘in’ the family for long and we never lived close. We were all raising our children, building careers, leading busy lives and while we did exchange Christmas Cards each year, it was generally the extent of our connection. Furthermore, I’m not sure that having meaningful relationships with them would even have been acceptable to Hubby, my perception was that he resented my enduring feelings toward the family-at-large. Although I don’t recall a confrontation, I distinctly remember feeling like I had to choose. It’s entirely possible that I was just too immature to process being a part of two families; the absence of connection wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Never-the-less, without his family in the picture on a regular basis, Francis didn’t have a compass from which he could experience his Rockefeller identity. Of course, a healthy child needs to feel as though he/she is a part of something larger than themselves and Hubby had a large family close in proximity. They were big on birthday’s and Holidays. There were a lot of them actually and it seemed as we were always celebrating something. They would be good surrogates.

The tug-of-war was constant – or seemed so at least. I sometimes dreamt of Rock. He was here – in real life, telling me it had been a huge mistake, that he hadn’t died – he had amnesia. (Remember, I never saw him in death … it makes one wonder.) It had taken him a long time to figure out who he was and to find us. He wasn’t the same as I remembered him. He was distant, happy that I had moved on and acting aloof with me. This dream would happen on and off for years and always I felt torn and devastated – wanting to go back to my life with him but realizing that I had a different one now, with someone else, and had committed to it. I always woke disappointed and emotionally exhausted.

Ultimately, we agreed on adoption – it seemed to be the only reasonable option. Francis and all of his siblings would have the same last name. I sat down to write the most difficult letter of my life. I wrote to Rocky’s parents to tell them that I was expecting and that my hope was to create a family for Francis – a mom, dad, and now a sibling…. And I explained how important it was for Francis to have a sense of belonging – to know that he was part of something big and special, part of this family. I shared that Hubby had a large and loving family also. I poured my heart out to them, told them how much I missed their son but that I was trying to move on – to live. I wished that we had lived closer and that we could somehow have established a more concrete sense of inclusion for Francis but I felt it was in his best interest to allow Hubby to adopt him. I promised to keep Rocky’s memory alive for him, to share stories, and photographs. I promised that they would always be a part of our lives, and that they could see Francis whenever it was possible. I cried through the entire process but I believed I was doing the right thing. They reached out in love and support – as they always did. It didn’t feel good, but I did feel settled. We set the wheels in motion.

My due date came and went – I walked and walked. (Someone told me walking would help with labor). Finally, on April 28th, I went to the hospital with some mild contractions and we agreed with the doctor that it was time to induce labor. In just under three hours our baby girl was born. Hubby was a trooper during the labor even though I didn’t know which end was up and Francis was able to hold her within the first hour. We named her after my childhood baby doll – the name I had always dreamed of for my daughter – Sara Elizabeth. Her big brother wouldn’t leave her side even when he was given the chance. I allowed the vision of our family to swell into something picturesque and I hoped.

The adoption had been approved and finalized just weeks before Sara’s birth and we celebrated both children on the day of Sara’s baptism. We were a family of four.