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Sunday, June 29, 2014

20 Love Letters

June 30, 2014
Dear Sweetheart,
Twenty years ago a couple of crazy kids had their first date on St. Patrick's day, became engaged in April, and got married in June. It was a whirlwind romance, and I've never stopped spinning. What can I possibly do to show my love for you? On this, our 20-year mark, I'd like to give you a love letter for each year, for you to savor one by one.

1994: Our courtship was so fast this is one of only two pictures 
taken before our engagement!
1994 On our second date, I borrowed my sister's black top with that 1980s-fashionable sweetheart neck and wore daringly wide-leg jeans with boots. After dinner at the deli (where you gallantly sacrificed your pickle for me), we walked to your old elementary school and talked and talked as we sat on the swings in the dark. You told me about a poem in the college literary journal that you found out was mine that you had loved so much you had shown it to all your friends. I was so flattered. Sitting so near to you, I could almost hear a crackle of electricity between us. A switch inside me flipped. I thought, "This guy is amazing. I could really see myself with him." I just wanted to be with you always. I got my wish. Just over three months later we tied the knot. I'd do it all over again.

1995: Nap time
1995 Fast forward through dating to becoming a dad in 15 all-too-quick months. Fatherhood brought out a whole new side of you that was a wonderful surprise to me. We'd just come home from the birth center with the baby about 9 p.m. We were bone-tired exhausted when he started to cry at 11. We'd both been up at that point for about 36 hours, much of it in labor. You said, "You sleep. I'll stay up with the baby," for what was the first of many times. For two hours you tried to console a screaming infant until you finally came and woke me up: "Honey, I can't get him to stop crying. I think you need to feed him because he's hungry." The crying stopped! Poor you had stayed up two hours trying to calm down a starving baby! But thank you for letting me sleep for those precious two hours!

1996 For our evening entertainment we would sit a few feet apart on the living room floor in our 900-square-foot house with the hand-me-down furniture. Holding up the baby who hated to sit but wouldn't take more than a couple steps on his own, we'd coo with arms outstretched, "Come on, take a step, you can do it!" Over months those staggered steps turned into actual walking, but those room-brightening toothless smiles when he did it were the best reward in the world. I felt like I would burst with joy looking at you and our precious toddler, our love made flesh.

1997 I wanted to beautify our house, so even though we were poor as mice, you scraped together enough to paint the ugly brown house trim a lovely gray and hammer together some teal green shutters. We planted roses and a twig of a tree and some grape vines from my dad. I knew you loved me because you wanted me to be happy and to live in a lovely home. You took such good care of us.

1998 Another new baby brought more sleepless nights. You would sit in the rocking chair endlessly, and when you carefully inched your way toward the crib, the little limp baby on the shoulder still had bright eyes that were darting around. Back to the rocking chair. Or that was when you would put him in the baby swing, wind it up to maximum, and lie down on the couch! Thanks for letting me get a few hours sleep in a row. Again.

1999 Pregnant with #3, we needed a bigger home. We'd moved into a rental house, and that same night the couple downstairs got into a terrible fight. We woke up with a jolt to a loud crash of breaking glass. You peered deeply into my eyes in the dark, then grabbed me and held me. We strained to listen, scared. More yelling and things breaking. You decided to call the police. Later, the wife thanked you for stopping her husband from doing more damage to her and the home. You always protected me.

2000 Bathing three boys was a chore, but putting them all in the tub at the same time sped the job up a bit. The only problem was that Littlest Guy was a tiny daredevil, trying to stand up and take steps in the tub when he couldn't even walk yet. You were more worried than I was that he would hit his head, so you would sit and hold his hand the whole time he was in the tub. You kept our kids safe. There shall be no head injuries on my watch! And there weren't!

2001 You always encouraged me to develop my talents and pursue my love of singing. Despite adding a little girl to the family this year, there were many nights when you still told me to go to choir practice and you would stay home with the kids. When I got a solo with the community production of Handel's Messiah, you were so excited. You were like my fan club president/paparazzi/agent. You perched on the front row to get this shot and then submitted it to the newspaper, and they printed it with the article about the performance. You made me feel so cherished.

2002: Saying goodbye
2002 The economy tanked, your company was failing, and so you got a new job lined up--out of state. We would have to leave our beautiful new dream home with wonderful friends and neighbors and cousins across the street. No buyer in sight, a bad economy, a ton of other houses for sale in the neighborhood that been on the market for a couple of years--and yet we had an undeniable feeling that it was time to go and that God would provide. The last day in our home I walked around and took pictures of the house and of you with each child in front of the trees you had slaved to plant in the hard clay soil, one for each of them, in our weed-patch of a back yard. Our kids were supposed to grow up with these trees. Why was our dream being wrenched away? My chest ached. My eyes felt like sandpaper from so much crying. The children got in cars with relatives and you and I took one last, hard look around the kitchen and then at each other. We fell into an embrace and sobbed as we felt maybe something like Adam and Eve did as they left Paradise. God had something different and better planned for us than we did for ourselves. Leaving that home and trusting that things would work out was the hardest thing I had ever done. A month later a buyer came out of the blue with an offer for just a few thousand below what we'd asked. It was unexplainable. It was manna in the desert. It was evidence that God knew us and our little lives and knew that two house payments would have bankrupted us. We had to act first for Him to give the blessing and to prove that He is faithful. We came through that together, with a deeper understanding of the power of faith. You showed me how.

2003 I gained another appreciation for you as a devoted father as you searched for ways to help the kids make friends in our new community. You found a community Cub Scout pack, jumping in as a Tiger assistant den leader on top of already being a Tiger parent who went to all the activities and meetings. I was a little overwhelmed by this whole Scouting thing and all the requirements/uniforms/sayings/handshakes, but you jumped in and immediately made a difference, not just for our kids but for all the families in the pack. It took me a year to even consider participating in more ways than just showing up at pack meetings, but you helped me understand that it wasn't scary and I didn't need to feel overwhelmed. That started my love affair with Scouting that continues to this day. I think of all of the wonderful times I've had and all the boys whose lives I hope I've touched in some way over the years as a den leader in every level of Cub Scouts, and I never would have started that journey if it wasn't for you.

2004 Working as a civilian contractor at a National Guard camp meant lots of times when you stood alone as that Mormon guy who didn't do this-that-and-the-other. More than once you'd overhear "Army language" as you were out in the hall and then when you entered the room, a lot of the cussing stopped. Your co-workers respected you and curbed their language. You weren't preachy about it, but you quietly lived your beliefs--and people noticed. I'm grateful that you stand up for what you know is right.

2005: Taken from the front yard. Best. View. Ever.
2005 Living away from extended family was tough for me. I missed having that support net and wished our kids could grow up closer to their cousins. Although you were very happy in your job and in our neighborhood, you took another job back in our home state (with a significant pay cut) so I would be happy. It was a sacrifice for you on many levels. I know you are happy in our current home, but sometimes I still see a little wistful look in your eye as you think about our old neighborhood. You loved me so much that you made that sacrifice for me.

2006 As our kids got a little older, you made sure that you and I got some time to ourselves on an overnighter alone once a year when we could. It was tough to make it happen, but you worked hard to get the money saved up, the time off work, the places for the kids to go. This year we went for the longest we'd ever left the kids, three days, to a beautiful old hotel about 20 minutes away. We brought our files, shredder, a bunch of parenting and self-improvement books, notepads and paper, and scriptures. Only you and I would have an "executive retreat" with meetings instead of hitting the town. We went through all the business of running the home and family. We put our house in order. We talked about how we could improve ourselves, our marriage, and our family. We talked and prayed about each of the children and our hopes and concerns for each of them. We did business during the day and then played in the evenings. One night you went to the Farr's ice cream and brought back the biggest banana split I've ever seen. I couldn't stop laughing as sticky sauce and melted ice cream dripped everywhere. They didn't know how to box it since no one had ever asked for a banana split "to go" before! I knew you loved me by the way you made the effort to still romance me.
2006: We asked the owner of the Mongolian grill 
for a shot with her. She couldn't understand us, 
but she posed for it just the same!
 Don't you love Photoshop? Ha!

2007 A great love story isn't just about the things that happened but about the things that are
actually aren't in the story as well. In 2007 we got to stay at a friend's cabin, and you took a day to do your favorite thing--fishing with your friend. You had such a wonderful day. Now, I know some guys who fish a lot. They fish every weekend, and they even take fishing vacations with buddies. You love to tie flies, read fishing magazines, and wear the hat proving that you are an "official member" of Trout Unlimited, but when you take your vacations they are with the family (or with Scouts, don't get me started!). You enjoy fishing as a hobby but you are a family man first. You show your love and your priorities by where you spend your time.

2008 I had to include a Scout picture. This one makes me laugh and cry all at once, because I love all these leaders and boys. The boys look so very young here, but many are now Eagle Scouts and missionaries. No one but the angels has kept a record of all of the thousands of hours of your life that you have silently, unselfishly dedicated to help hundreds of boys become upstanding men. I know that I sometimes complained that your vacation days went to Scouts, but that was just selfishness on my part. Your influence on the boys that you have shepherded will be felt for generations, just as your wonderful Scout leaders changed the trajectory of your life. You paid it forward. I couldn't be prouder.

2009 Our baby turned eight years old this year. For the fourth and last time you dressed all in white, entered the baptismal font, and held out your hand to your child to join you in the water. As one ordained with and worthy to hold the priesthood power of Jesus Christ, you took our precious daughter in your arms and gently pushed her under the warm water. As she emerged she had a giant smile and a hug for her dad. You then bestowed on her the gift of the Holy Ghost through the power of God. Along with baptizing all of our children, you gave them each a priesthood blessing when they were new little babies. You have administered blessings of healing when they were sick or blessings of comfort when they were sad or worried. I'm not trying to put you on a pedestal here, but I know that in every way you have done your best to show them what a righteous father does and is. Before I chose to marry you, I looked deep into your soul and saw that man inside you. I knew you would be the kind of father I wanted my children to have. And you are even more wonderful than I imagined.

2010 We finally got to go on a really way cool vacation this summer: a trip to San Diego, including fun at the beach, Sea World, 
Lego Land, and lots of other side trips. You got on Excel and for months plotted our daily itinerary plans. What to do? How can we pack the most in to our week? Well, we went, we saw, we did. I have many great memories of this trip, but maybe it's the unusual that sticks out. You wanted to go to the Mormon Battalion Museum in Old Town. Come on, you said, it'll be fun, you said, we'll have a great time. Oh, the uproar from the children. BOR-ing, they said. Dad, that is so lame. I'm sorry to admit I was more of the kids' mind than yours. You stuck to your guns. We started with a delicious Mexican dinner in Old Town and then marched the grumpy troupe up the block to that museum. Guess what. It was a really cool museum. By the end where families can pose for a free picture, everybody was smiling. I guess it proves a couple of points: 1-It's always better to just shut up and DO something than complain about having to do it and then doing it with a bad attitude -or- holding back to watch and sulk, and 2-Dad is always right. I'm so glad you took us on that vacation and that you actively work on ways to bring the family closer. Even really lame ways.

2011 For Christmas this year you drove us to Oregon so we could celebrate with that set of  grandparents for the first time. It was tough to put together Christmas at home as well as "to go." We didn't know if the roads would be icy. The red van was loaded up with wrapped boxes. It almost looked like Santa's sleigh. Yes, it was crowded, but we had a big bag of licorice for the kids and a few liters of diet Pepsi for the driver, so we had a good time road-tripping. I never worry when you are at the wheel because you are such a careful driver. It was so fun to experience Christmas in that new way. I'm glad you are the kind of man who cares and makes the effort to keep good relationships with his parents. You show our kids how to honor their father and mother by how you honor yours. 

2012 "Daddy, please get us a puppy!" Oh, those dreaded words--especially when they come from
2012: Max
your wife. How patient you have been with all our/my clamoring for pets. I know that as the provider of the family, it makes your heart seize just a little as you think of all the money you have spent on animals. The food and vet bills are understandable expenses, but then add regular grooming, human-quality dog food we once had to buy for the poor allergic dog, toys and treats and leashes and accoutrements, AND THEN.... enter the most expensive "free dog" ever, Max. Now add in obedience training class that didn't take, ruined furniture, broken wood blinds, chewed up books (leather-bound like Scott's scriptures seemed to be the tastiest), and carpet that had to be professionally cleaned repeatedly due to pet accidents, ad nauseum. That little face was so adorable. We just kept thinking it would have to get better since it couldn't get much worse. We've had a lot of pets over the years, most of them wonderful animals who were part of the family and brought a lot of satisfaction of ownership and love. But
 there are also a few that have taught us in a different way about what kind of personalities fit best with our family. I know I'm probably a terrible person for thinking this, but I have rarely felt so incredibly relieved as I did when I found a young couple who wanted to take Max to be their baby! Thank you for letting me bring these pets into your beautiful home to disrupt your life and chew up your possessions and cost a million dollars and ruin your carpet. I know you love me because you keep letting this happen repeatedly!

2013 This is the year "you earned your Eagle." And boy, did you. The oldest had his board of review, a special "Dad trip" to Seattle, and court of honor; the next did his Eagle project, also had his "Dad trip" (luckily it was a fishing expedition, woot!), and had his board of review and court of honor; and the third did his Eagle project as well and is working toward finishing merit badges.

2014: Eagle #1
Almost-Eagle #3
Eagle #2
 If it were me I would have been all "eagled out." But these lucky boys had Mr. Scout as their dad, and you worked tirelessly to help them do badges, fill out lots of paperwork, help them pick the projects and then actually work on the projects with them, then plan and execute two courts of honor. It was so much work. But you didn't complain--you put your shoulder to the wheel and just did it. Unlike many people, you didn't just do the work for your sons, but you enabled them to do it and let them learn from the good and the bad of the experience. It's a tough job parenting teenagers. You're doing it right, Dad. And I love you for it.     

2014 Pike's Peak. 14,114 feet--almost vertical three miles--above sea level. The words still make my heart race. We go to Colorado. What should we do? I know, a relaxing drive up the mountain! I drive so I don't get so carsick on the winding roads. Our relatives suggest piling together in one car even though that means two people are now sitting on my van floor. I'm a strict seatbelter but suddenly I'm like, Um, okay? I thought I was used to high altitudes, but I am now am now driving higher than I have ever been in my life. Oh look, there's the tree line! Oh look, there are clouds below us! The narrow mountain road falls off in a steep precipice. The air grows seriously thinner, and I wasn't expecting this, but my breathing gets shallow. I become nauseated as I realize I have a serious case of vertigo.
2014: The valley is so far below you can hardly see it. We are above the clouds.
I am responsible for getting 10 people to the top of this hill and not going off a cliff and killing them all in a fiery crash. There is no stopping, no turning around on this road. I can't freak out or I will scare the children. I grit my teeth. You start "labor coaching" me. Breathe in, breathe out. I've never had a panic attack, but I get it now. You murmur encouraging words from the passenger seat even as you probably feel like screaming in terror. "You can do it. You're doing great." My foot is shaking on the gas pedal. We inch up the mountain. Finally I see a parking lot. I pull in, smile weakly at the children, and rush to the bathroom to vomit. I am shaking so hard I can hardly walk. I am stuck on this mountain and don't know how I will possibly get down. I know I will not make it down without Heaven's help, and I ask you to give me a priesthood blessing of comfort. We go to the van and you say the words the Spirit directs, of peace I need so desperately, that the Lord wants me to hear right then in that moment. The fear dissipates quickly. I feel secure now knowing that if you will drive, I really will make it okay. On the way down, I try to maintain the calm by closing my eyes, but I know I am safe because angels are protecting me from above and you are protecting me from below. In this moment I loved you and trusted you more than at any other time. Thank you for getting me off that mountain alive. And thank you for being the man I love and know I can trust more than anyone.

                 *                               *                             *

Over the last 20 years, we've gone through more together than I can even comprehend now. The years tell much that the days never knew. Each often seemingly meaningless day was a dot on the canvas of our life painting.

The joy and the pain, the dirty diapers and the pets, the Scout meetings and recitals, the tearful nights spent worrying about a child, the humdrum daily routines of paying bills and doing the laundry and going to work--all of these are dots that now have created something surprising and meaningful and lovely.

They are the reason we laugh when the other says something random in a silly voice. They are the reason I can catch your eye and smile because we have this silent telepathic voodoo where we know what the other is thinking. They are the reason we both look at the old, dirty carpet and sigh. They are the reason we sit on our back porch and survey the scene and I get a little happy bubble in my throat, because we have built this home and this life together.

Our children make up a large part of our painting, but the canvas is ours. We've started a mural that goes on forever. I can't wait to see what the next 20 years with you brings. And the next. And the next...


1 comment:

  1. For the record, not all of us kids were all gloom-and-doom about the Mormon Battalion Museum trip. It was one of the highlights of my vacation, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in history/church history.
    -Child #2