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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Happily Ever After

A few weeks before we were married my mother said something to me I won't ever forget. "Doug is a great guy. But you need to understand that no matter how much you love him, marriage is hard." I smiled and thought to myself, "Sure. Maybe for most people, but they don't know us!"

I don't have to tell any of you who have been married longer than a year, that my mother was right. Marriage is hard. (Imagine the courage of my husband who decided to do it twice!) But after nearly 23 years of wedded bliss and more stretches of empty-nest-edness, I'm happy to report we are really starting to get the hang of this marriage thing. With a bit of thought, I've determined that there are three distinct challenges in marriages to conquer: career, children and domesticity.

Career:

I was studying for my MBA when Doug and I met, so he knew I was going to be a career woman. I'm pretty sure that was part of the attraction–someone who was driven with a goal. He was also driven with a goal. We both fervidly agreed that we each needed to be happy in our own professional lives before we could be happy with each other. I still believe this to be true. But there was a slight problem with how each of us interpreted this belief. Doug and I both threw ourselves into careers without any real thought of supporting each other. I had to learn that he would simply be absent during the fall and spring. He had to learn that I might be gone at times as well for work–even traveling overnight. It took a while for both of us to really understand how we needed to support each other. And now? I will stomp through cow manure with him to fix fence. And he will attend a work event without bitching...as long as there is beer of course. But that goes without saying.

Children:

Who would've thought the thing that reflects your closeness as a couple could cause so much discord? For the year following Alex's birth, I was questioning how much I really liked Doug. (I knew I loved him, but liking was difficult–even with his ability to make me laugh.) Obviously, he loved the cute little baby, but he seemed to think of her as more of a pet than a responsibility. There were town-team basketball games to play, bars to keep open. One time, Doug and his friend, Pat, went golfing as their wives stayed home with the babies. The weather began to shift and tornado warnings were issued. It was upsetting. I was scared and wanted my husband to be home with us. So, I called Doug and said something to the effect, "It's really bad outside. You might want to watch the weather before you come home." What I really was saying: "GET HOME RIGHT NOW! YOUR WIFE IS NERVOUS AS SHE'S CLUTCHING THE BABY IN THE BASEMENT!" As it turned out, Doug hung up the phone, turned to Pat and said, "Hey! Stef says the weather is bad and not to come home right now." Thus, another late night ensued with a touchy morning in the Kramer household.

By the time child #2 came around, things had changed considerably. There was an understanding
that both of us had to raise the kids. Of course, it helped that Doug was getting too old to play basketball. And since #2 was a boy, there would be baseball lessons to teach. All kidding aside, we did began to understand each other's parenting strengths and we play to them the best we can. I happen to be the more nurturing type and do things like cut the kids' meat. Doug is more practical and knows that it's his job to teach the kids how to cut their own meat. The partnership has worked pretty well.

While raising kids certainly has had its challenges to our marriage, at least we have been committed to do the right thing for our kids' sake. Mistakes? For sure. But at least we've become a united front in this area. This means that the biggest challenge to our marriage has been...domesticity.

Domesticity:

In my opinion, there are three legs to this domestic aspect of marriage: cooking, household projects, and the horrible chore of cleaning.

I remember being quite proud of my young husband, many years ago, when someone asked him, "How can you stand your wife getting home so late from work? Don't you want supper made for you by then?" My very-evolved farm boy responded, "I don't expect her to cook for me. She works hard too." What a guy. But I'm not sure he completely adopted this philosophy, until recently. The "What's for supper?" mentality was too far engrained in his soul.While he didn't think it was right for me to do all of the cooking, he really didn't want to do it either. So for many years, we ate out a lot. Then, one day, we began to watch the Food Network. It honestly changed our lives and gave a boost to our marriage. We BOTH began to experiment in the kitchen with foods and flavors. Together, we found the joy and reward of making a savory meal. Now cooking isn't a chore for us. It's bonding time. Thank you, Bobby Flay!

I ran with this Food Network idea and began flipping the channel to HGTV. Sneaky, huh? Sneaky, maybe. But effective. As Doug and I would watch episodes of Fixer Upper, we began to get ideas for the house. Most recently, we've installed a limestone border, created a berm for our front flower bed, built a brick border for the fire pit, and have lots of ideas for new projects–much of them involve repurposing stuff from the old farmhouse for our current residence. I still can't believe how crafty we've become. Of course, I am much more of a director and Doug is very much the brawn. No matter, it works. Thank you Chip and Joanna Gaines!

PROJECT LIMESTONE. CHECK!

As for cleaning? We really don't have a great and fair system for this. Honestly, we both bicker about it a bit...mainly, because we both really hate to clean. But I have faith that very soon there will a new channel to inspire us to dust and vacuum more. In the meantime, we'll continue this marriage adventure by finding more and different ways to bond. Hey...I got an idea! Travel. We have yet to become addicted to The Travel Channel. No worries, Doug is great with the remote.

Headstart...in Chicago.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Backseat

My husband and I are sitting in the backseat of what used to be our good car which has been handed down to our son. Cole is practicing the route to Council Bluffs for when he turns sixteen next month. This will come in handy for things like soccer practice and apparently dates, he says. Our baby is almost sixteen. Ready to escape.

Our eldest daughter stayed at college this summer, opting to make money and hang out with young adults in a fun town. Since she is waitressing, it's difficult for her to come home on the weekends. And if she happens to come across a free weekend, she'd prefer Chicago over Earling. Go figure. Anyway, I was determined to reunite our family nucleus, so on the 4th of July we met in Des Moines for lunch. We skipped barbecue and fireworks in favor of Chinese food, the bookstore, an action movie, and of course ice cream. (There were actually quite a lot of us celebrating our patriotism this way. I guess that's why they call it America, baby.) Anyway, the day was peaceful and filled with laughs. I felt sad when my daughter departed for Iowa City, since there are fewer and fewer times we get to be together.

When the kids were little, we'd always attend the Dunlap 4th of July parade. It was (and still is) the quintessential Iowa parade: billions of tractors, marching geese dressed up like cowboys, fire trucks who like the sound of their own horn, melty tootsie rolls, and pretty horses who practically wave to the crowd like beauty queens. Then one day as I was instructing everyone to put on their patriotic Old Navy tees before the parade, they asked, “Do we have to go?” It was Independence Day, and they were testing their independence. Sure they were older, but still pretty darn young. My heart tugged a bit, and I realized there would be many more moments like that. I had to adjust to the facts. The kids would continue to grow up. They would continue to have their own interests. They would choose what they really wanted to do, like miss parades. Effectively, they'd be the drivers of their own lives. 

I'm not sure I love sitting in the backseat. But I'm getting used to it. And to be honest, Baby Driver was pretty freaking entertaining. And as long as our kids never outgrow ice cream, they will always be the young toddlers in my heart.

"Kids! We're taking you to parade!"
"Just kidding. How about a movie?"