Fitting IN

Continued from Growing & Going Deeper

“The best feeling in the whole world is watching things finally fall into place after watching them fall apart for so long.” ~unknown

Our work on the shop progressed with buckets of sweat and dozens of late nights. We worked side by side, each of us with our tool belts on, attempting to decipher who would be the chief over which project. He was better with the construction pieces and I headed up the painting and design elements. We realized that we worked together well – managing to iron out the kinks when they arose. Some of our first major disagreements happened over that project but for the most part we calmly and (most importantly) respectfully – broke them apart to understand where our communication had lapsed.

So many things were different for me in this relationship – we both came into it aware. We were self-aware, which I find to be a full one-third of the challenge when attempting to address problems. We both had a good idea of the baggage we had accumulated as a result of our prior relationships and the distorted ways of thinking that were generated in various parts of our childhoods. We were pretty typical in that there were some combination and degree of control issues, abandonment, trust, self-perception, self-esteem, self-worth… the same kinds of things that are common in adulthood throughout our culture – varying only by extent and juxtaposition. For the most part, we were conscious of how those elements played out as we interacted – how the defense mechanisms were triggered – and how we consequently reacted.

Knowledge is great but we both had developed some habits that were harder to break. I was quick to shut down – to withdraw and go silent. That had been the best way for me to cope for a lot of years but now, it wasn’t effective. When I used that technique, it spurred a different reaction in him. We had a lot to learn about this dance that we did – it was early in our relationship and our starry eyes often provided cover for the growth that was ready to sprout. It was a wonderful beginning and we both felt it.

My brother was getting married and the construction was not yet complete. We really needed to open for business when we returned from the Caribbean and so we handed the project over to an extremely reliable and trustworthy contractor (extended family member). The five of us (all three girls, Harlan, and me) boarded a plane and made our way with taxies, boats, and rental cars – eventually arriving at a three bedroom house we rented on the island of Vieques – just off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. It was one of the first times that Harlan and I openly shared a room within open sight of my daughters.

I had talked to them about it when I booked the house. They knew he stayed over from time to time and they knew we traveled together but it was still a bit awkward having a full-on relationship with a man who wasn’t their dad. They thought I was weird and gross for ‘wanting’ to sleep in the same bed as him but it was a turning point for us and the environment was supportive of the change. Our house was part of a larger complex but small enough to feel intimate and it sat right on the beach – overlooking the ocean with the British Virgin Islands off into the distance.

Vieques used to be occupied in large part, by the US military and so there is a major portion of the island that is still raw and undeveloped. It is accessible by jeep and there are some incredible, unspoiled beaches if you are willing to drive slowly and patiently across tough terrain to get to them. We rented a jeep and explored the island for a few days before other family members arrived. It was almost like a honeymoon – well, maybe not a honeymoon considering the girls were there and I still cooked dinner most nights… but it was a getaway.

Our time on the island felt like a family vacation. Harlan got along amazingly with the girls even though they were hesitant about his presence there from the beginning. He had a special way of being supportive when they needed it but allowing me to be the parent. He never tried to be that to them, recognizing that they had a father. He did want to offer confirmation or affirmation when it was called for – he went to swim meets and concerts, was open to talking with them but rarely… expressed criticism or attempted to discipline. It was as if he knew their limitations and demonstrated respect for them.

One afternoon, while we were all enjoying some beach time and the older girls, were getting surfing lessons from a couple of other teen boys – a great pick up play – I noticed some quick movements in the water and then saw Harlan holding Emily in his arms. It seems that she got hit by a wave and went under – apparently in a way or for long enough that it was cause for concern so he scooped her up; bringing her into the safety of strong arms and fresh air. Since then, it has been a ‘remember when you saved my life?’ moment memory.

This man protected my child. Any parent out there knows the depth of feeling… is it gratitude, appreciation, satisfaction, or acclaim?? When someone ‘cares’ for your child. When they put the needs of your child above their own – it’s as if they are on your team – automatically – partnering with you. I saw that in Harlan that week. He looked out for my girls in a way that allowed me to know that he had their best interest at heart. He had demonstrated that before – when he let them know that they had to be happy with my choice in him – but this week he cemented it for me. I was madly in love with this man.

We ducked out of festivities one afternoon, leaving the girls in the care of the family who had finally arrived in preparation for wedding festivities and drove out to one of the secluded beaches. We kept driving until we found one that was deserted. We wanted a bit of alone time. We didn’t have our suits or towels for that matter as we had been at a barbecue – a ‘get to know one another’ for both of the families that were there. We pulled up to this Caribbean cove of white sand and aquamarine water. There were clusters of palm trees in each direction and a soft breeze that seemed stimulated by the waves crashing on the beach. It was warm and the sun was intense.

We stood in the shade – on purpose – while we observed the incredible absence of human intervention and appreciated the exquisite beauty. Harlan stepped out onto the beach as I looked around to make sure that no other human being was in sight. I took a deep breath and stripped off the limited amount of clothing that I could tolerate in this island heat, leaving every stitch in a pile and ran across the sand, buck naked, right past Harlan as fast as I could into the safety and protection of the crystal blue water.

All About Trust

“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.