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

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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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40 Thoughts Every Parent Has While Watching The Octonauts

40 Thoughts Every Parent Has While Watching The Octonauts

1. How did all of these animals even get together? Where is a polar bear going to meet a house cat?

2. While we’re on that topic, why is a house cat even one of the Octonauts? Aren’t cats scared of water or something?

3. He has an eyepatch. Naturally.

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4. Wait, the eyepatch doesn’t even cover anything. He just lifted it up and there’s just a regular eye under there. So he just wears it to inhibit his vision?

5. They named the penguin with the Hispanic accent Peso. Tell me that isn’t racist.  Read more

The Curious Case of the Invisible Need

The Curious Case of the Invisible Need

“But he doesn’t look special needs!”

“Well, my son does that, too.”

“Everyone has trouble with something, you know?”

Like sands through the hourglass, these are the words of our lives.

If you have a child with a special need, you probably know those words, too. You probably hear them every time you explain why little Johnny won’t go in the sandbox. Well-meaning friends, family members, even doctors say these words to you, not out of malice, but usually in an attempt to help.

You hear them because your child’s disability is invisible. Maybe not all of it – maybe only sometimes – but it’s there, invisible to the naked eye.

When I tell people my son has special needs, they look surprised. I think they must be looking for a tell-tale sign, though I don’t know what that would be. Maybe if he had tentacles? That would actually be pretty cool. But I digress.

The thing about a disability that isn’t super obvious is that parents often find themselves having to defend the reality of their situation. You don’t want to overstate things and make your situation sound dire, but you also don’t want to pretend the need doesn’t exist. You feel guilty for using phrases like “special needs” or “disability” when your child is thriving and running around at school. You feel guilty for not using those phrases when you see your child struggling and hiding at school. It’s a lot of tricky waters to navigate.

A common response, at least in my circles, is for people to sort of write off the special need. My son has trouble with noises, but “Aren’t all kids sensitive to loud noises?” My son struggles with balance and strength, but then someone reminds me that “no one ever goes to college without learning [insert skill].” My son gets overstimulated quickly and easily, and misbehaves as a result. But “All three-year-olds misbehave – it’s just a phase,” I hear.

The impression I get is that this kind of response comes from one of two places: 1) The person feels the need to reassure me; they want me to know that my kid will be okay and his needs are just as typical as the average child’s. 2) The person feels the need to make it into a competition – a Pain Olympics, if you will, that consists of comparing children to determine who has it worse. (That type of response baffles me more than the first one, but I’ll add it to the list of things I’ll never understand, like calculus and people who exercise first thing in the morning.) The over-arching theme seems to be that Joshua’s special needs are actually manifestations of the needs of every typical child, using the evidence that he looks, speaks, and acts like a typical child.

But I have a secret for you that will blow your mind. Are you ready? Take a swig of your Coke, splash some cold water on your face, and really prepare yourself.

You can have a special need and also have a lot of typical traits.

That’s right. It’s true. Having special needs doesn’t define your entire personality, anymore than being short has defined my personality (but the struggle is real). You can struggle with loud noises and still enjoy a movie. You can despise the feeling of sand on your fingertips and still brave a beach trip. You can throw a tantrum like every other toddler and still need extra help to calm down. Special needs, like all needs, are fluid. They change. You might even say they don’t make sense, because they are unique…special.

A special need is exactly what it sounds like: A unique trait that needs extra care. It might not look the same every day. It might not even be the same every day. It might come in a limp, or a sensory disorder; a feeding tube, or a special vest; a hearing impairment, or a compulsion to count trains. You might recognize it; you might not. That’s what makes it so special.

Please know that I don’t harbor any ill will towards anyone over their response to Josh’s needs. I really do understand that you don’t understand. And I don’t expect you to. I have zero clue on what it’s like to struggle with many issues that others deal with. And I can’t always relate when you tell me what you’re struggling with.

The good news is that you don’t have to relate. You don’t have to get it. You don’t have to experience it. You don’t have to give me advice. You don’t have to compare our children. You just have to trust me.

Trust me when I tell you that my son is not just being a grumpy toddler; that he is actually struggling with sensory overload and needs some time alone before he melts down. Trust me when I tell you that even though he put that bite in his mouth, his eating issues are far from over. Trust me when I tell you that I am exhausted from having to help him with every little thing that is often taken for granted. Trust me when I tell you that my son really does need help with these steps, and no amount of “tough love” will cure his low tone. Trust me when I tell you that while yesterday he was fine, today he cannot stand the slightest touch on his skin. Trust me when I say that I am not trying to compete with you or your child’s needs, or pretend like things are worse than they are. Trust me when I tell you that my son is like your son in so many wonderful ways, and different in so many others. Trust me when I tell you that while I am far from a perfect parent, I know my child and I know his needs. Trust me when I tell you that the skill he just accomplished really is that big of a deal, worthy of cake and ice cream and a thousand parties in celebration. Trust me, and smile at me when I drag my screaming child from the store, and forgive me when I decline playdates because we’re having a bad day, and pray for me when I tell you I need it, and then let it go.

You don’t have to understand. You don’t have to relate. You just have to believe me. That’s how you see an invisible need. 

It’s Okay – No, Really, It Is.

It’s Okay – No, Really, It Is.

Joshua “Are You Sure You’re Doing That Right?” Eleveld started school this week! He loves it, just like last year. And I love hearing him tell me the highlights of his day (spoiler: it’s usually the playground).

For those of you not in The Know, Josh is part of the Gwinnett County Special Education Pre-K program. The goal is to prepare him for big boy school (even though I’m pretty sure he’s already in his forties, mentally speaking) and make sure that he has the tools to succeed in a typical classroom down the line.

Which leads me to yesterday. 2:00, elementary school lobby, sitting awkwardly because I am not sure if I am supposed to be sitting, but there is a chair here, so why not?  Another woman sits next to me and tells me she’s waiting for her son. I say I’m doing the same, and after we chat for a minute, she asks why I’m not in the car rider lane like most of the parents picking up their kids. I tell her my son is in the Pre-K class, and I come in to get him, like most of the rest of the parents in his class.

She makes a face. Not a disgusted or angry face. It was a face I have internally termed the “Poor Little Buddy” face. It’s the face people make when they want to convey that they are sorry for you and your situation.

“Oh,” she says, the Poor Little Buddy Face alive and well, “he’s special needs, huh?”

I smile and affirm her suspicions. Sometimes I take the time to explain more about Joshua, but as I had just met this woman moments before and as I was positive Josh would be in the lobby any second, I just say yes.

She continues speaking.

“Oh, well, that’s okay! We need those special needs guys, you know?”

I do know, actually.

I think my response was to smile again and agree. I don’t totally remember because, to be honest, she caught me by surprise. It’s okay that some kids have special needs? Does that really need to be spoken?

Apparently, it does. Not because it’s a lovely thing to hear – it’s not – but because it is indicative of a much larger problem: The idea that having special needs is actually not okay.

Look, the unknown is scary. I get that. Kids or adults with special needs can be an unknown quantity if you’re not part of that world (and sometimes if you are), and I respect that. But if there is one thing I have learned about all types of children, it’s this:

Children are listening.

They can hear you. They can read your body language. They understand a smile. And they know when you’re afraid. They see your Poor Little Buddy face and they make the connection that their special need or the special need of their sibling requires pity. But pity is the last thing my son needs.

Read these next words carefully: I am not angry at this woman in the school lobby. I am not offended or upset with her. She seemed like a lovely mom who loved her kids. When Josh did arrive in the lobby, she greeted him and spoke with him. He liked her. She liked him. I am not out to demonize anyone.

I am out to educate everyone. My goal here is to bring an awareness to the fact that we are afraid of special needs. You can pretend that isn’t true, but, frankly, you would be wrong. And we need to change the conversation around it, and the way we teach our children to react to it.

Special needs are okay. Just like brown hair is okay, and being tall is okay, and being afraid of spiders is okay (that one is REALLY okay). There is a special need in all of us, and we all want to be accepted. Not pitied. Not told that we’re accepted in spite of our shortcomings, or in spite of our need. Accepted for the way we are.

Do you want to know the secret to special needs kids? Treat them like every other kid. Recognize a need is there, find out how you can fill it, and encourage them and educate them and smile at them. My daughter has no “official” special needs, but I spend part of every single day pretending to be a puppy with her, because that’s what she’s into. That is her special need. So I try to meet it.

These kids (and adults) need you. They need you to be their advocate, to be a positive influence on them, to reassure them that everything will be okay. Find the balance between “special” and “typical” – and leave your pity out of it, pretty please.

So it is okay that my son has some extra special needs. It is okay, and I know that. I’ve always known it, because it’s an essential part of who he is. And I know you don’t always know what to say. That’s okay, too. I’m not perfect, either. None of us is – and that’s kind of the point.

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