The Day(s) My Marriage Ended

The Day(s) My Marriage Ended

I married my husband, Daniel, on a warm spring day in 2011. Actually, since we were married March 19th, it was still technically winter. But a Georgia winter, meaning it was 65 degrees and sunny.

It was a beautiful day. My father-in-law performed the ceremony, and that day still goes down as one of the most fun of my life. We danced to all the wedding cliches, had enough candy to feed a medium-sized village, and even broke out into a flash mob at one point. It was perfect.

And then real life began. Ours, like so many young couples’, began with a joy all newlyweds have: The joy of lying. Not big lies. Not like you forgot to tell them you’re wanted in five states. But little, easy lies, like, “This dinner is delicious!” or “I definitely like this painting.” I used to sneak out of bed in the morning and brush my teeth before Daniel woke up so he would think my morning breath was naturally minty-fresh. You’re welcome for that free tip, humanity. We wanted to make each other happy, so we were willing to overlook towels on the floor or accidentally-destroyed projects (I’m still really sorry, Daniel). We made the extra effort because it was worth it.

We had been married for a year-and-a-half when we found out we were expecting our first baby. We were thrilled! As you probably know, our firstborn arrived a bit less traditionally than the average bear.

And that’s when our marriage ended the first time.

Gone were the days where our biggest worries were over whether to order pizza or go out for dinner instead. I didn’t get enough sleep to even think about waking up early to brush my teeth and sneak back into bed. Towels on the floor became just one more nuisance on a never-ending list I kept tabs on in my head.

Joshua needed our constant attention. After four months in the NICU, he came home to therapies, specialists, oxygen tubes, apnea monitors, and more. As time went on, the needs changed, but the stress of having a special-needs child didn’t.

You want to know one of the truths about having a kid with special needs? It kills your marriage. Kills it. We were both still there, still married, but the marriage we had known was gone forever. In its place was something almost unrecognizable. And it was getting worse every day.

I’ve said before that having a child like Josh changed me. In so many ways, it changed me for the better. It made me more compassionate, and more understanding of the struggles of others, and opened my eyes to an entirely new world.

In some ways, though, the changes weren’t as great. These were the changes that were the hardest to resist. I was so angry at God for allowing Joshua to have so many issues. I was angry at myself for not realizing something was wrong sooner in my pregnancy. I was angry at everyone around me. And while throughout the day, I made an effort to at least smile at other people, by the time I got home from the hospital or new specialist or therapy session, I decided I had given all I could. I couldn’t possibly deal with one more thing. And I took it out on Daniel.

Every forgotten task, every misunderstood conversation, every dish I washed alone – I kept track of it all. I knew how many times I had done the laundry and how many times Daniel hadn’t. Sure, he was working all day, but I was busy with the baby. It wasn’t fair. That’s what I kept repeating to myself. It wasn’t fair. I was a stay-at-home mom, but not by choice. I had never asked for this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it for a long time. But then it arrived and was so much harder than I expected. And I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge. And not being up to the challenge made me defensive. And being defensive made me resentful. And being resentful made me bitter. And all of that culminated in my marriage slowly dissolving into two bickering parents who didn’t know how to stop arguing.

No one is ever 100% innocent in these kinds of things. But I will be honest and tell you that a lot of this was on me. Daniel tried his best to help me, but I didn’t want his help. And then I got angry at him for not helping me. And then he tried to help me again, and obviously that meant he thought I wasn’t doing a good enough job, and then I was angry again. And then he didn’t help, and how dare he not help me? It was a vicious cycle.

We went on like this for a few years. We had our daughter, Jenna, just 15 months after Josh was born. Daniel worked full-time, and I worked part-time for a while, eventually moving to a full-time position where I worked from home. We had two kids under the age of two, hectic jobs, financial struggles, and so many appointments to go to. Life was busy. Too busy. Jenna was a fussy newborn. Josh didn’t walk until Jenna was almost a year old. There was no rest, no time for our marriage anymore. Even if we had wanted to work on it, there was simply no time.

Same people. Different marriage.

And then one day, Daniel and I had a big argument. (I’m not trying to air our dirty laundry or anything, and I asked Daniel if he was okay with me writing this. Just want to put full disclosure out there.) It was bad. I was so angry and so tired. Josh had started an intense feeding therapy program. Daniel was dealing with some (thankfully resolved!) health issues. It was stressful. And we argued, and then I shouted that I wanted a divorce.

It wasn’t true. I didn’t want a divorce. I was so tired, so angry and bitter, and I just decided to say it, to goad my husband into arguing with me. But he didn’t argue. Instead, we sat in silence for a while. I knew I should apologize. But I wouldn’t. I didn’t.

I thought that I was already so broken that nothing could touch me anymore. But I was wrong. The look on Daniel’s face when I said those words to him made me feel like I had shattered all over again, like the day Josh was born, and all the days after when we heard more bad news. And so I made a choice.

I decided to try to let the little things go.

It was hard at first, and is still a struggle for me, if I’m being perfectly honest. But my goal was to stop looking for ways to blame Daniel, and instead look at the ways he loved me and showed me his love every day. I decided to think about his intent – did he not take the garbage out just to make my day harder? Probably not. Probably he had just come home from a really hard day at work and it slipped his mind while he was helping me with the dishes or feeding the kids. Probably I could just remind him, or even do it myself. And then we wouldn’t have to fight. Things didn’t have to turn into an argument every time one of us made a little mistake.

My other goal was to get to back to reading my Bible every day. That isn’t meant to sound self-righteous; I just knew I needed to hear what God had to say instead of screaming my own words at Him. As we say in this house, it was no longer my turn.

So I started working on my goals. And I’ve messed up so many times. But it’s been getting easier and easier.

And that’s how my marriage ended the second time.

Same people. Different marriage.

Slowly but surely, the arguments grew to be less frequent. We sought ways to work together instead of ways to blame each other for the stresses in our life. Our other situations didn’t change. Josh still had a lot of needs and was a lot of work. We still had two very little kids and very little time for ourselves and our marriage. Those things wouldn’t change. But we could. We did.

When I first decided to write about this, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to paint Daniel in a bad light, because he is a wonderful, godly man, who married a slightly crazy, super short woman. I didn’t want people to judge us. I didn’t want to come across as having so many struggles.

But I don’t think we’re alone in these struggles. Even if you don’t have a kid with special needs, your marriage has likely hit a rough patch. If it hasn’t, please submit yourself for testing at the nearest health facility, because you might be a robot.

And if you do have a kid with special needs, and your marriage is struggling, and you’re not sure how you will possibly make it through one more day of therapy, and leg braces, and helmets, and practicing stairs, and giving choices, and being a constant cheerleader and advocate for your child so they never have to feel different – it’s going to be okay. Things might not change. But you can.

Same people. Three different marriages. And we would never change a day.

D and K

Marcus

Marcus

Hello, adoring fans <–Josh wrote that part. I would never be so vain.

I hope you find yourself well this fine, frickin’ freezing day. Are you well? Text me about it.

As you probably know, Joshua started the Marcus Autism Center’s feeding program this week. A few of you have asked questions about why he goes and what he does there. As always, I live to serve each and every one of you, so here is the Official Marcus Autism Center FAQ By Kristen And Not The Actual Center – OMACFAQBKANTAC for short.

Why do we go? 

Josh struggles with eating in a major way. He’s very underweight and has a hard time gaining any weight. May we all be so lucky, amirite? I kid, I kid; it’s fairly terrible. So this feeding program basically teaches kids how to eat better. Every kid’s experience is different, but the goal for every child who attends is to improve their eating skills in the way they need it most.

What do they do there? 

Josh’s main goal is weight gain, so they are working to increase both the variety and volume of table foods he will eat. Every patient has a schedule – it starts with 40 minutes for breakfast, then a 40 minute break; 40 minutes for snack/oral motor therapy, then another 40 minute break; 40 minutes for lunch, then a long two-hour break; 40 minutes for “dinner,” which is what they call it but it happens at 2:30 for us.

During the 40 minute sessions, Josh tries small bites of each of the four foods they have. They try to incorporate foods he likes alongside foods he resists, i.e., all fruits and vegetables ever. They give him a spoon with a tiny bite of whatever he is eating (it’s diced up into super tiny portions), and they let him feed himself. After he does that, he gets several seconds to chew and swallow, and then several more seconds before the next food is presented. They use a fairly rigid routine and verbal cues to prompt him to eat; in between bites, the therapists get silly with him and will sing songs or play little games at the table. He rotates through each of the types of food several times in one session, and they record how long it takes him, if he chews and swallows it all, if it makes him gag, and a whole bunch of other little squares that they fill in. They must have a huge spreadsheet budget at this place.

When he gets a break, we head to the main playroom. He likes the toys in there and he made a friend today! They also have a playground (we tried that yesterday and instantly froze to death; I’m actually writing this from heaven) and a family lounge where we can eat. He gets his own nap room, and today we spent some time in there so he could have a little rest.

What do you do the whole time, Beautiful and Amazing Kristen? 

Oh, stop. (But go on.) I can observe Josh during his sessions, so I have been watching those. I sit behind a two-way mirror so he can’t see me, but I can see and hear him. During the breaks, I just follow Joshua around until he stops to play. Much like every other day of my life.

Don’t you have a second kid? 

I do! Jenna is being a trooper and will either be with me, my mom, my very sweet neighbor, or a fire station of my choosing. She is allowed to come, but I don’t want her to have to spend all day down there too often, plus she has school twice a week, so we’ve worked out a little schedule for my little girl. The schedule has significantly fewer sparkles than the girl.

How long will this last? 

This is an eight-week program, and we are there Monday – Friday, 8:45 – 3:15. In Atlanta time, this means 7:00-4:00, but the day goes by a little faster since it’s broken up into blocks. I don’t think we run into any holidays during our time there but I’m pretty sure they have therapy basically every day but Christmas.

 

Why does it matter if he eats and/or gains weight? Plenty of kids are small for their age. 

Josh has cerebral palsy, and his muscle tone is all wacky. He needs to gain weight and strength and muscle tone to keep up with the demands his body makes for physical activities. A walk around the block is a much bigger effort for Joshua than the average bear. So he needs to get stronger, and this is the way to help him do that.

Cool? Cool. See my secretary with questions.

josh-hospital
I mustache you a question…but I’m shaving it for later. 
Special Needs Adjacent

Special Needs Adjacent

Here’s to you, sibling(s) of a child with special needs.

Here’s to you and all the different waiting rooms you’ve sat in for hours, waiting for the doctor to finish checking on your brother.

Here’s to the way you defend your sister when you think someone isn’t treating her well because of her needs.

Here’s to you and the way you learn how to help your brother calm down when he’s struggling.

Here’s to your patience as your mom and dad explain that we can’t go to this place or do this thing because your sister isn’t able to deal with the noise or activity or stairs.

Here’s to every time you tried to comfort your mom and dad when they seemed sad after a visit to the doctor.

Here’s to you giving up time with Mommy and Daddy so they can work on exercises with your brother.

Here’s to the way you learn to do things for yourself, because while you are no less loved, you know your parents need to help your sister.

Here’s to you giving up soccer practice so your mom can drive your brother to therapy on time.

Here’s to you as you encourage your brother while he struggles to learn a new skill.

Here’s to you and the way you have cultivated patience and understanding for all types of people with all types of abilities.

Here’s to you, sibling(s) of a special needs kid. You had to learn early on that sometimes life isn’t fair, and that sometimes you have to pull more than your share of the weight. But, with any luck, you also learned that you are a vital part of your family. Not just because of the way you love your sibling, but because of the way your parents love you. Thank you for all that you do.

j-and-j

On Your Fourth Birthday

On Your Fourth Birthday

Dear Joshua,

Happy birthday, big boy! Four is a legit big boy age. I know you’re about 78 on the inside, but four seems pretty old, too!

This year has been huge for you, dude. You have accomplished so much. You can walk on your tippy toes now, and you are rocking the scissor crafts! Bumpy slides, climbing stairs, and riding the therapy peanut have been no match for you as you master them all!

Of course, I think we can all agree that one of the biggest skills you’ve developed is your speech. Joshua, I love you. And you are the chattiest person I know. You ask me what we’re doing, where we’re going, who we’ll see when we get there, and if I remember how much fun we had the last time we were there. I might not remember, but you do. You remember everything. You call a doorbell a “dingbell” and you have a little lisp, so when you say things like “Thanksgiving,” it sounds more like “Skanksgiving.” You’ll probably grow up thinking Thanksgiving is a holiday to celebrate giggling since I laugh every time you say it.

I love to hear the stories you make up. They usually involve Marshall from Paw Patrol and Batman or Captain America, always fighting bad guys. And they always win. You like to tell me which Bible stories you like the best, and even though you still insist Jesus will return to Earth on a rocket ship, I love to hear what you’ve learned about the Bible.

Josh, I just love to see your personality develop. You like to be silly but you do not stand for shenanigans. You like The Rules and you make sure everyone is aware of them. We all know that you’re pretty much raising Jenna at this point, and I do appreciate it. You remember every detail of every conversation we have, and you love to answer questions!

There is a possibility that you’re a tad stubborn, too. In fact, I think you get more stubborn every year. But you know, Joshua, for every moment I am frustrated with you digging your heels in, there is also a moment of admiration for you and the way you fight. You’ve been a fighter from literally the first seconds of your life. You had to be. And while we can butt heads sometimes, I would never change that about you. It’s made you who you are. It’s what kept you with us four years ago.

I know some things are more of a struggle for you. I’m sorry, because I know it isn’t fair. But you don’t let anything get you down. You don’t worry about what other people think of you. You just go out there and do your thing and if someone wants to follow, they can. And they do. Your smile is ridiculously contagious. Sometimes I know you’re up to no good and then you look over and grin at me, and I have to smile back.

Remember when you broke your arm? We didn’t even know it was broken for two weeks. Because you’re half human, half superhero. And you rocked that neon green cast.

Joshua, I want you to know how much I love you. And how much I admire you. You have accomplished more in your four years than some grown people ever will. You’ve had to work harder for every little victory, and you’ve had to struggle over the small things. Part of me is sad about that. But part of me know that it has shaped you into an incredible person who never stops trying. Your work ethic is better than mine, kid. And you have compassion for so many people in different situations. You’ve learned about different disabilities and struggles, and it’s made your heart even bigger. You love to love people.

Happy, happy, happy, happy birthday to my big little man, who always has a smile and a reminder about using our indoor voices. I hope this next year is just as great.

Love always,

Mommy

Today’s the Day

Today’s the Day

Once upon a time, there was a woman who lived in the merry lands of Georgia. She had a lovely life, with a husband who loved her, and whom she loved, and two children whom she only rarely considered selling on eBay. She spent her days raising these children, and providing mediocre meals for her husband, and writing on a giant whiteboard calendar that she made herself in spite of her inability to craft. And it was a good life.

But the woman wanted to do just one thing more: She wanted to be healthy. Not, like, to run a marathon, because that sounded terrible. More like healthy enough to live a long life and set a good example for her children.

The woman tried lots of different ways to make this work. She took advice from trusted friends, and tried various programs that had been proven to work. And sometimes they did. The woman would always start out strong, and she would slowly become healthier. But life, as it so often does, would get in the way, and the woman would have to miss a weigh-in or stop by a drive-through. When that happened, the woman felt like she had failed. And if she had already failed, what was the point of continuing?

When she failed, the woman was ashamed. She was angry at herself for not working harder to stick to a plan that she had promised to finish. She was sad that she had disappointed herself and others, especially her husband and kids. She was embarrassed that she had let herself become so unhealthy to begin with, regardless of the reasons. She did not want to tell her friends and family that she was trying to be healthier, because she did not want them to watch her struggle and fail.

One day – probably a Tuesday – the woman found herself sitting on her couch at home. She had spent so much time researching the best ways to be healthy, and joined all the right groups on the Facebook, and became a gym member, and yet, she was no healthier than before. She was a few pounds lighter, but she knew she had such a long way to go. And as she sat on her couch, she wondered where it all went wrong. Why wasn’t she motivated to do anything to become and stay healthy?

That was really the heart of her issue: She wasn’t motivated. Because she didn’t believe anything would work. Life, though still a blessing, had beaten down the woman’s spirit over the last few years. She wanted to be strong and joyful, but it was just too hard when something went wrong. She had taken the hopefulness and positivity that was once part of her and slowly put it away. Oh, she could get to it when she wanted to, but she found those instances were fewer and farther between. And the more she put away, the less she wanted to find it again. And so it went.

As the woman sat on her couch, lamenting the woes of her life, she found a picture of herself from long ago. Well, it was really only about six years ago, but the woman was going for a dramatic effect in her story. The picture showed a man and woman on their wedding day. They were, of course, dressed up; he looking so handsome, and she so beautiful. But it wasn’t their clothes or their weight or her makeup or the lighting that made them look this way.

It was their absolute joy.

And as the woman looked at the photo some more, she wondered if, maybe, she could have that joy again. She knew it wouldn’t just come back right away. But if she believed it would return, it would.

That was the key to her struggles the whole time. Every weight-loss program, every announcement of giving up sugar, every promise to make it to the gym four times a week  – she had never believed she could do any of it. And after she tired of going through the motions, she stopped.

So the woman made a decision. She decided to believe that she could become healthier. Not to fit into a certain size or wear a special outfit, but to prove to herself that she could. And to prove to her own daughter that she could. And to finally feel the joy that she had contained for years.

The woman knew that, ultimately, no number on a scale would bring her the joy she sought. She knew that her ultimate identity was found in Jesus, and from there she was so much more than a certain weight or measurement. But she also knew that this was the right step to take, both for herself, and for her children. And she believed she could take it. No special classes or outrageous goals or shame if she stumbled. Just belief that she could take the first step. And then the next. And then the next. And then the rest.

So she did.

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