We were asked to present our ‘love story’ today for a Valentine’s Day service at our UU ‘church’ (I may forever need to place that term in quotes of some form). Seems appropriate to document here, in the spirit of both Valentine’s Day and being in the midst of our 20th year of marriage. I should note that my beloved and belovedly strange husband managed to ad-lib the term ’24-hour leprosy’ into the mix. I happily post the text here minus the ad-lib:
We were honored, but admittedly a little daunted, upon being asked to share our story as part of a service on “the miracle of love”. Religious baggage aside, the bar of “miracle” seems unattainably high, although perhaps we, like many couples well past the honeymoon phase, have grown to take our story, and our relationship, for granted. So we’re grateful for this opportunity to honor each other and share with you a little bit of our storybook on this Valentine’s Day.
Nearly 20 years ago, we walked down the aisle to a little song actually called “Storybook Love”; some of you may know it from the movie “The Princess Bride”. Looking back, the path to the aisle was perhaps a little more miracle than storybook.
The miracle began…
When two 17-year-olds who lived 6 hours apart somewhat begrudgingly went to a college visitation overnight in Peoria, Illinois…
And happened to find each other across a room filled with a few hundred high school seniors…
And walked around outside for hours in freezing cold weather, “talking” until the wee hours of the morning…
And, after they left the following day, a young boy with phone phobia braved his fears and picked up the phone anyway…
And a young girl who already had a prom date felt compelled to invite said young boy instead…
And the young boy’s parents let him spend a summer driving back and forth across the 300+ miles of distance between them…
And they weathered the even greater 800-mile distance separating them (and the astronomical phone bills that resulted) as they embarked on their journeys to college.
And all of that was the easy part!
From this chance meeting, our 17-year old selves from very different backgrounds and bearing very different personalities, built a relationship.
If the people in the world came in 31 flavors, Andrew would be the 32nd. He was irreverent, hilarious, brilliant, volatile, and unrestrained, someone unlike anyone I had ever met – and not surprisingly the child of hippie parents.
To continue the ice cream analogy, even though it’s not very vegan, Julie was afraid to be anything but everyone’s favorite flavor. Good at everything (even things she didn’t want to do), grounded, popular, athletic, smart, with a hidden wild and silly side that was carefully managed in order to not stand out or ruffle feathers.
And yet something about the combination sparked more than tumultuous arguments (of which there were a memorable few); there was something truly miraculous about how the puzzle pieces of ‘us’ fit together and brought out the best and tamed the worst.
The recognition that this was more than fleeting young love must have extended far beyond ourselves; this is the only explanation we can find for why our friends and both sets of parents actually ENCOURAGED us to marry when we were barely 20, before our senior year of college. Even the minister we approached to marry us rallied his support, expressing no reservations about our youth or our differing (Methodist and Jewish) religious upbringings.
And somehow, despite a year of engagement that challenged us in many ways, including witnessing the unraveling of my own parents’ 20-year marriage and experiencing a life-threatening illness only weeks before the wedding, we took the leap.
Over the nearly 20 years since, we have in most senses of the word, “grown up” together.
This is the part where those of you who know Andrew can have your little chuckle about viewing him as a “grownup”.
Through everything, we are each other’s support systems and confidantes. We’ve experienced many of life’s joys and challenges together, and our shared sense of humor and trust in each other often carries us. We are best friends in every sense, sometimes to a fault, as we have to remind ourselves to include others in our world. What I find most miraculous is how different we each are today in many ways from the kids that fell in love at 17, but as we’ve traveled the path of growth together, we always seem to arrive at the same core values and life goals.
The birth of our daughter, Alli, 9 years ago yesterday, brought yet another miracle as we moved from ‘couple’ to ‘family’ after 10 years of marriage. Now we have this little (ok, not so little anymore) creature that is in all ways a product of our love and carries so many bits of each of us in her. It also gives us new perspective and new things to love about each other as we see each other in our roles of mother and father.
I am as in love today as I have always been with Andrew for his unique sense of humor, his frightening intelligence, even his irreverence – but most of all for the incredible amount of caring, kindness and generosity he gives to his family and the world around him.
And I love Julie most for her ability to understand my unique sense of humor, her ability to keep up with my frightening intelligence, and of course her tolerance of my irreverence. I love her for all the same reasons I did when I met her. She makes me a better person. I love that she is still grounded, but that her wild and silly side makes much more frequent appearances, sometimes even overshadowing mine. Who else would pierce their nose as a 40th birthday present for their spouse? I’m constantly in awe of her ability to know how to handle every situation, and watching her as a mother and teacher constantly inspires me.
So on this Valentine’s Day, a day we often let pass with little fanfare, we are grateful for this opportunity to not do so. It is our hope that you and your loved ones, who we know have your own unique stories too, will be inspired to a little fanfare as well.
I had a bit of a stress meltdown at the end of this last week. Actually, the week of home schooling was a reasonably good one. I think that the added stress of Andrew being in job hell, working crazy and unpredictable hours, not being home pretty much at all during waking hours (and many sleeping ones) just put me on edge. Home schooling is a wonderful experience in many ways so far, and I can already see the bond between Alli and I deepening and some of the everyday struggles between us easing as a result of this new sense of partnership. I am also becoming more aware of the tremendous opportunity we have to both work through some of the challenges Alli still faces and really engage some of the amazing strengths she has – both areas that I think aren’t possible to do under the confines of school. But it’s also still a huge adjustment for both of us. For me, without a partner in parenting this last week of Andrew’s work insanity, the 24/7 intensity of being teacher and parent felt incredibly heavy. Andrew and I often move as one in our marriage partnership, and we haven’t had much time to connect on this new experience – really bad timing with this big transition in our lives and the crises at his workplace. It’s also caused us to fall behind on a lot of non school-related stuff at home, which tends to stress me out as well.
Of course, both Alli and I are still adjusting from being a part of a greater school community – Alli seems to have adjusted to this easily (as she makes connections with others far more easily than I do); for me, it feels right now a bit like I have taken on a new job but without coworkers for chatting, sharing and commiserating. We’re continuing to work on developing relationships with the home school community, and are making headway, although this takes time. Classes are starting to kick in little by little and will be in full swing over the next week or two, so I know that will increase our sense of community. In general, I have found area home schooling families to be very generous with the sharing of resources and support. But it’s also a group where everyone’s philosophies and approaches are different, and folks tend to be somewhat protective of talking about the specifics of what they do (and also a little bit in who they allow into their already well-functioning close networks of friends). I’m used to being incredibly open, and like the process of sharing this kind of detail and bouncing ideas off others as part of the support process – something that I haven’t necessarily found a group of peers yet to do that with quite to the degree that I’m craving. While there are many things I like about the flexibility of our 1:1 time, I still harbor a desire for a bit more co-operative schooling model, and I haven’t really come across the right fit and interest level for that yet either.
Anyhow, I’m hopeful that as Andrew’s work settles down and we continue to find our groove on this new path, things will settle into a good place. I am looking forward to getting a sense of how things feel with our new schedule of classes, and have noted already that once I get a sense of things I need to devote some energy to finding more time and space for “me” in all of this.
Balance. I think this week just felt a little unbalanced for me.
But really, it wasn’t such a bad week. We had a great field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry on Tuesday, and Andrew was miraculously able to join us with only a few urgent phone interruptions, although he still pretty much worked a full day, working well into the night upon our return home (long story, one which has me ready to unionize the IT field). I’m so glad we waited to hit the Harry Potter exhibit (nice exhibit, btw) until school was in session – made the whole museum a much more manageable place for Alli and I, both crowd-phobes. Alli no longer refers to it as “the loud museum” – she had pretty much the run of everything she wanted to do, and had a great time. We came home with some owl pellets that we’ll probably be dissecting this week in an effort to see what kinds of things owls eat. Sweet.
We continue to forge along in Math, and I’m blown away by how strong Alli’s thinking skills in the number theory arena are. She really gets some pretty advanced, well beyond her years concepts, and it makes for some really fun problem-solving and discussion. Still, there are some mechanics we need to hit on so that she can do some of the more advanced things that she’s craving to do. So we’re working on things like building more automaticity in basic operations to support her in that. We continue to play a lot of games, and we’ve had 2 sessions of the multi-age Math Games sessions I’m running weekly for a small group at the public library. That has been going well, and I’ve gotten great feedback from the families participating. I enjoy supporting the kids as they learn to work together, and it’s a great experience for Alli too. She’s exerting more patience and more willingness to be a mentor to other kids, which is a lovely thing to watch develop. Her competitive need to trounce others when playing them in games? Well, that is still a work in progress…
We’ve also mainly kept up with some form of writing every day, and continue to focus on editing skills. This week Alli also created a spelling list from words she’d accumulated (she jots down words she comes across that she either doesn’t know or wants to learn more about or wants to challenge herself with), and she had to be able to provide definitions for them as well as take a little spelling quiz (the latter was at her request). Despite her strong spelling skills, she does still struggle (and resist) looking things up in the dictionary (I think dealing with alphabetical order poses a challenge to her still), so I’ve added a little bit of focus and support in this area for her. We’ve also continued a lot of reading, silent and aloud, and have started the book for our upcoming Mother/Daughter book club meeting (Wednesday Wars), the content of which is occasionally a bit above Alli (she’s just under the general age range for the book club girls – plus the book is set in the late ’60’s with several Vietnam War references), but it’s well written and funny and with some support and extra discussion, she is engaged.
Alli’s also been working on some crafts that she’d like to sell for a homeschool craft fair in December, so she’s put some of her planning, sewing and crochet skills to work again this week. Choir started too, and piano resumes Monday, with art class starting the following week – so I’m glad that the arts are feeling more integrated into her day. I have officially committed to resuming my Halloween seamstress duties (skipped a few years by buying costumes), so I guess I’ll be having to nurture my rather lacking skills soon to come up with some form of vampiress costume.
Thursday we went to an area nature center with the goal of trying some geocaching, but as the equipment was down, we had to settle for checking out an “Explorer’s Backpack” for a nature hike with a great new friend/fellow homeschooling family that both Alli and I connect with. Alli and Noelle were given complete responsibility for navigating the guide and map, and got us all back to the finish line with only one minor directional debate (and a fair number of insect bites)- a productive afternoon of exploring!
Exploring at Emily Oaks
Our project this week was inspired by our visit to the Science & Industry museum, yet one more place where Alli got absorbed in an exhibit about outer space and demonstrated her obsession with size, distance and scale. A perfect opportunity for some integrated learning! While discussing whether we could construct our own scale model of the solar system, I offered up the task of finding out using real numbers, and Alli was all in. With little support, she was able to find the diameters and distances from the sun for all of the planets (she included Pluto, but isn’t sure whether she really wants to include it – an ongoing debate that makes me giggle every time), and she input all of the information into an Excel spreadsheet. I gave her a little help in then setting up a formula to convert the large mile measurements into smaller centimeter scale measurements, in such a way that she could simply play around with the scale factor and it would recalculate all of the formulas for her. She really got this concept, and could predict with surprising accuracy what would happen to the numbers when she changed the scale up or down. We then got sidetracked by her trying to prove or disprove a fact that she’d taken in from a book that she read – that Jupiter was almost 1.5 times bigger than all of the rest of the planets combined – because we had built a “how much bigger/smaller than Earth” column from just the diameter that wasn’t showing this (her quote: “Excel must be wrong then, because how could they publish a book that had something wrong in it?” – LOVED that!). Anyhow, I had to go a bit above her head finally for this one and build for her a “volume” formula for spheres, but we ultimately were able to support the books assertion, and my child could not have been more delighted with herself.
We moved on to reach the conclusion that we could not use the same scale for the size of the planets as we used for the distance from the sun and come up with a model that would fit on our street block. Conclusion: it is NOT possible to build an actual scale model of the solar system in which the planets would all be even as big as a pinhead but the distances could be contained to even several street blocks. An awesome piece of learning, and a lot of fun! We might still do some form of model at some point, but we learned that we’d have to use a different scale for planet size than for planet distance, and we learned that the exhibits we’ve seen at museums thus far have all had to do that as well.
Solar System Scale Worksheet
One more little artifact – I found this later in the week and realized that Alli must have written it just after she watched Obama’s speech to kids on Tuesday. She told me she wanted to ‘take notes’, but apparently it morphed into this. So cute. (Btw, the ‘principle’ she’s referring to is one of the 7 principles affirmed by Unitarian Universalism – the adult version has to do with the “inherent worth and dignity of each person” – Alli knows it as “we’re all equal and valuable”). I find it so interesting to see what she takes away from various experiences in her life – referring here to both Obama’s speech and her experiences in UU religious education:
Extreme Home Makeover (a la Ty Pennington) is currently doing the house literally right across the street from my sister’s (so much so that one of the cameras is mounted on her house’s roof). Apparently it’s quite the production, with the neighborhood practically becoming a gated community/film set for the next week. My sister and her husband got to witness the big kickoff, and just left for an extended weekend anniversary trip to Atlanta, but will be back in time for the big reveal next week. If you’ve ever doubted that this stuff actually gets done in a week, I guess we’ll know for sure!
[link removed due to highly irritating unchangeable auto-run feature]
All of the neighbors were solicited well in advance by the production team, and had to sign a variety of permissions (and I think are reimbursed for a variety of things, including any damages to their property). I assume this pre-production also included zoning and construction planning and approvals. Apparently there were 3 “contenders” in the Cincinnati area that were all scouted out this way in advance, and ultimately only one is chosen — imagine it would be heartbreaking to be one of the other two.
We’ve begun planning an actual, more than a weekend, non-visiting-family-somewhere vacation, something we haven’t officially done since the big Germany trip with Alli in utero. Oma is once again accompanying us, only I think her duties of entertaining a 7-year-old in the backseat of a cross-country drive will actually be more stressful than those of listening to a pregnant mommy with mega sacroiliac pain whine on an intercontinental flight…
The big plan is for a 10-day, slightly insane but hopefully fun “out west” road trip that will take us through the Badlands of South Dakota and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Yes, South Dakota Badlands in the end of July with at least 2 severely heat-intolerant travelers (me and Alli), sounds like a good idea, eh? Um, yeah, that’s why there will be more days spent in the cooler altitude of the Rockies.
We’ve begun reading books and recording nature programs that can get us all a little more educated about what we may see or try to see. Alli’s class studied a bit about the US this year (although some of her knowledge comes from various tall tales, so it’s interesting to watch her sift through fact vs. fiction), but she’s got a real interest, and it was neat to see her identify the presidents on Mt. Rushmore.
We happened to be watching a show about the Badlands that also showed the in-progress work on the Crazy Horse carving. Alli immediately asked about Crazy Horse, and we responded by basically telling her that he was a famous Native American leader (then making a mental note to do some additional research so that we could answer that more literately). Alli thought about it for a bit, then asked straight-faced, “Wow, he must have been really crazy as a little baby”.
While I dashed off to lend assistance and consolation to my friend whose mother passed away unexpectedly in Peoria, Andrew, Alli and visiting cousin Jill were able to lift my spirits a bit upon return with documentation of their silliness in the park while I was away:
Posting this lovely chat will come back to bite me, I’m sure, and cost us hundreds of dollars in therapy for our child one day, but some of the most delicately funny moments in life just HAVE to be preserved. Plus, she’s growing up in THIS household; sharing about bodily functions is easier than breathing…
7:29 PM me: i just spent 20 minutes reteaching Alli how to wipe her a**.
This after the 3rd day of finding poop on the bathroom floor, her feet, and her leg.
7:30 PM andrew: Wow
What was her style before?
7:31 PM I think ill stay here tonight. Sounds scary there
me: throw gigantic gobs of paper at her buttcheeks and see what happens.
no effort at the crack whatsoever.
and gobs too big to fit said crack.
hey, you asked.
7:32 PM You cracking up the room
7:34 PM me: you owe me.
she’s a Bernstein thru and thru.
andrew: Ill teach you how to wipe your a** when I get home
me: I’m good, thanks. But maybe you can share some of your art with your child.
7:35 PM andrew: You saying hartmans are good wipers?
me: I just thought you had the whole bathroom routine mastered.
7:36 PM I even put the paper in the toilet when I’m done