The Unexpected Marriage

The Unexpected Marriage

The day I met my husband was the same day that I met Princess Diana.  It was a glorious June day in 1996, and I was working for the Lurie Cancer Center while in my senior year at Northwestern.  Her Royal Highness was in Chicago to speak at a Symposium on Breast Cancer.

The princess made a stunning impression on me with her eloquence, grace and compassion.  Fresh from the glow of meeting her, I hopped into a car with one of my dearest friends from my hometown of Tampa.  My friend was in Evanston visiting me and another one of her college friends — a guy who happened to be from Evanston.  He was driving the car and he called out a cheery, “Nice to meet you!  I’m Andrew!”  My first impression of him was that he seemed like a nice, balding Jewish guy.

A year later, I was visiting the very nice, now balder Jewish guy in England, where he was studying for a master’s degree in theater.   On the second day of my visit, there was a terrible car crash, and Princess Diana was killed.  I felt real grief for the lovely woman whose life was cruelly shortened.  Andrew and I walked to Buckingham Palace, and I took small comfort from the fact that I could lay my small hand-clutched flowers down with the masses of bouquets placed to mark the passing of the beloved princess.

It was all so unexpected.  That came to be the hallmark of my relationship with Andrew – unexpected.  Unexpected events, matched by unexpected amounts of strength, love and devotion.  I was not looking for love when I met Andrew, yet love found its way to me.  Our love was fiercely strong.  Once it formed, it was unbreakable.  I was glad that he was the one by my side when I learned that the Princess Diana had died.  Our week in England was different than we expected it to be, but it still felt right.

Shortly after Andrew returned from England, we were engaged.  We knew we wanted to be together; there was no point in delaying.  We married young – two weeks after I turned 26 – and we were expecting our first child by the time I was 28.  But once again the unexpected redefined our plans.  Our baby’s kidneys were irreparably ruined, and the boy we named Matthew never came home with us from the hospital.  Our grief was horrible.  I was young and old all at once.

We hung in there with each other (more him trying to hang in there with me, as I was a wreck), and we moved forward in building our lives together.

A year later, I was working at my computer, when I received the most unexpected and joyful news.  The baby girl we had been visiting each weekend in foster care was available for us to adopt.   Could we hop on a plane and come to the court for the Transfer of Custody, the guardian ad litem wanted to know.  Yes, yes, we could.

Our life began anew, graced by the presence of Katie.

And so it has gone, each year bringing its own surprises and unexpected curves.  Some surprises have been devastating, like the time we learned that the second baby I was carrying was suffering from a bilateral pleural effusion in utero and chances of survival looked poor.  Other surprises have been miraculous, such as when that same baby pulled through and was delivered to us, our beloved Annie Rose, who started off with a combined Apgar score of 2, yet can now quote the Gettysburg Address at age five.  Five years that required ridiculous amounts of intervention and therapies in the early years, but we made it work, and we celebrated the successes, because that’s what good marriages do.

Sometimes the unexpected is so completely unpredictable that we shake our heads in wonder, hang onto each other, and fly where the wind takes us, such as when I wrote a simple blog post about Katie being picked on for carrying a Star Wars water bottle, a blog post that launched a thousand Geeks and led to a much larger amount of Star Wars paraphernalia in my house.

It has not been a boring marriage.

Two years ago, on our first day of vacation in Jamaica, our third baby girl, Cleo, developed a fever of 106, went into seizures and stopped breathing.  We did a medical evacuation to Miami, where we spent our vacation at Miami Children’s Hospital.  With Andrew by my side, I felt less alone, less frightened.  We found a way to laugh about how bizarre it is that we rarely go more than a year or two without some crazy drama, but we are hoping to stretch that record to a decade or more.

I think of Andrew, and the first phrase that comes to mind is: He is my best friend.  There is no one in the world with whom I would rather spend time.  Sometimes we border on being antisocial, because we prefer each other’s company so much that we usually elect a quiet dinner on date nights as opposed to going to a party or a gathering.  We have great influence on each other’s interests.  When I first met Andrew, he preferred fruit desserts- gasp!  Now, he fights me for every bite of dark chocolate.  He has converted me from a Cubs fan into a White Sox fan – I know, I know, I probably just lost some readers there and gained some readers there.

The past year has been smooth in many ways, and difficult in others.  Smooth in that we have not prepared to lose or gain any of our children.  Our biggest hospital crisis was Annie Rose’s back-to-back calamities in the summer that led to stitches in the chin and a leg casted to the hip, but we have long since returned the wheelchair, and everyone is in good repair these days.

The difficulties have been less crisis-oriented and more the troubles that destroy a marriage bit by bit:  exhaustion, insufficient amounts of child care, two working parents trying to scrape together dinners and carpools and grocery shopping and visits to the orthodontist.  For the first time in our 13 years of marriage, we have found ourselves squabbling over household duties and even resenting each other’s schedules.  My work has taken me out of town and out of the house during many evenings, and the kids don’t like it.

More than ever, this year has taught us that marriages require work.  It fascinates me that the trivial details of keeping the house running smoothly have presented a greater threat to our happiness than the stress of losing and gaining our babies.  Maybe it’s because we knew we were in crisis mode when the medical tragedies occurred, and we focused so completely on hanging together as a unit?  And now we are lulled into thinking that all of our attention belongs to the kids and our jobs?

What I love about Andrew is that he refuses to go quietly into the world of tedious marriages.  He emails me articles about making time for spouses.  He sends flowers, just because.  He snaps me out of my working fugue and asks me to pay attention to us.  And it works.  I know it works, because now we make schedules to divide the household drudgery.  We plan dinners out and dinners in, and we laugh at the same things.  We laugh.  The glue of a good marriage. There is still no one I would rather be with, any day of the week.

Today is our 13th anniversary.  Lucky 13.  We already celebrated on Saturday night by going out for an awesome dinner (where I ordered the biggest piece of cake I’ve ever seen for dessert), followed by watching a performance of Julius Caesar at the Shakespeare Theater.  See, we knew that tonight, on our actual anniversary, the schedule would be too hectic to plan an outing.  Katie has a class and Annie Rose has piano lessons, and it’s a school night, blah, blah, blah.  But we found a time, and we made our plans, and we honored each other and our marriage.

Tonight, as we manage the chaos of dinner, bath, bedtime and cleanup, we will smile at each other, and say Happy Anniversary, and feel fortunate for all the gifts in our lives.   Marriages have ups and downs, and we do not know what the next unexpected event will be.  But I have come to expect one thing – we will meet the unexpected as a team.

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