I could start this with a million clichés. “We made it!” Like it was a race. “Ten years flew by!” As if it were a breeze. “I can’t believe I married my best friend.” I can and I did.
There is some truth in the clichés, obviously. (Except the last one. I mean, what’s not to believe?) What I have trouble with is how shallow these statements are. I mean we are talking ten years of marriage, not ten years of the same hair color.
We were young-ish when we got married. Twenty six these days seems infantile when compared with our millennial cohort. We were young lawyers in love just embarking on married life together. It sounds pretty yuppie and basic.
Our lives have been anything but.
Early on in our marriage we struggled with crippling debt from our first careers as students. Our jobs out of law school did not even cover our rent and student loan bills. We explained nervously to the Catholic priest who married us that we lived together (in -gasp!- sin) prior to marriage for purely to share living expenses.
Before this point is romanticized by some Boomer who likes to regail “kids” about the broke days of his/her youth, let me remind you that we are the generation of the Great Recession.
The total of our combined "good" debt could have bought us a nice house in the suburbs. Roll that into the fact that we entered the job market as it was plummeting towards recession. The economy was in free fall and we could not find jobs in the same city for the first FIVE years of our marriage. We moved, we changed jobs. We hoped for the best. We moved again. We barely could afford to pay attention but the bills kept rolling in.
"It will be fine!" Folks would tell us. "It's hard starting out." Older lawyers who went to school at a time when higher education was 350% cheaper attempted to assure us. "You just have to work harder." Folks would say to us paternalistically. As if a bit of elbow grease would solve our problems. As if we were not trying hard enough.
Terry landed a job that promised to pay the bills and we decided to move to make it work.
This started what would become a two year cycle of more moving and crushing job loss. You know all of those jokes about unscrupulous lawyers? Well they are founded in truth. I was seven months pregnant when Terry's firm "downsized." We were suddenly two unemployed lawyers and about to become parents.
I’ll spare you the timeline of painful details but suffice to say it was not the rosy, yuppie lifestyle either of us hoped for.
We had each other and that was it. This was our cliché. We owned it. We lived it.
Born out of this mentality was the notion that we had become a team. We had each other and by golly, we were not going to give up. We had been teetering on the brink of poverty and we kept pushing forward. We budgeted, planned, stuck to our principles, and with a bit of luck we steered our team away from rock bottom.
Our choice to have a baby when we were not yet on solid footing in life may have seemed strange. To start a family and figure it all out later even seemed old fashioned, as if one of us would simply get a good union job and we would be set for life. Nevertheless, we became parents. Our sweet little son, Cameron, became the light of our life, the reason to get up and keep moving each day, the end of despair, and the hope that we needed.
There must be a billion pieces written on how parenting drags on a marriage. It's not a secret that making a hundred decisions a day about a tiny person will create conflict. Terry and I have our disagreements in these moments just like any couple. But in a way, the kids saved us.
Our kids brought our lives into focus. We molded our careers around our family, around our team, and the success followed. When you have had a point in your life where you are insecure with money, it no longer matters who makes more. It all goes towards the same goal: making a life for this family.
I look back on the photos from this day ten years ago and I think about how naive we were. We stood up in front of our friends and family, professed our love, and entered a contract. We became a team. We signed onto team "marriage" as if we were a couple of professional athletes with a baby or two to be named later.
Our experiences, terrible as they were, laid an unshakable foundation.
These days our team is renovating and redecorating a house. Our team balances meal planning and lunch box packing. Our team schedules summer camp, daycare, babysitters, swimming lessons, baseball, gymnastics, soccer, dance and manages to fit in time with dear friends who are all doing the same. Sometimes our team decides we need to order a pizza. Our team supports our careers. Our team made it possible for me to open my own law practice and become the owner of a small business. Our team sings and dances show tunes in the kitchen. Our team hosts parties and wears matching jammies. Our team, frankly, is crushing it.
Terry and I had a rough start to marriage, but it gives us perspective. It was pretty bad, but it could have been worse. We were broke, not terminally ill. We remind each other frequently how fortunate we are.
At the beginning of my career a retiring colleague told me, "the best steel is made in the hottest fire." What rustbelt kid doesn't love a steel analogy for marriage?
The fire, it was hot.
Ten years. I look at my kids, my husband, and our life and I know that we are leaving it all out on the field.
Photo credits: Jules White Photography - she is the best.