It Started With an Email

I was working as a long-term substitute with my own computer log in when the email came through: “Hey. Is everything Ok?”

I stared at the computer screen and then minimized my email, turned to the incoming students, and went about teaching for the morning because no, everything was no Ok. Nothing felt Ok.

When I had a minute to collect myself, I re-read the email. It was from my friend, Cortney, who shared an apartment with my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend. He was concerned because I had come over on Sunday and rather than using my key, I had knocked. I then disappeared into my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend’s room and he could hear serious discussion going on.  And my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend had seemed tense and weird and when Cortney asked him if everything was Ok, his answer was, “no,” and that was it.

So he emailed me because he couldn’t stop worrying about us.

I ended up spilling the entire sad sack story of the weekend and how it ended in the demise of my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend’s and my five-year relationship.

His response? “Don’t take this the wrong way, but that is actually a relief. I thought you were pregnant.”

Thanks, yo.

From there, we emailed back and forth sporadically for the rest of the school year. He had a tendency to worry about me–we had been friends for years, after all–and he wanted to check in to make sure I wasn’t making destructive choices (I was) and that I was eating (I wasn’t) and that I wasn’t holing up in my house feeling sorry for myself by crying to the cat (I was).

For awhile I only responded to his emails and didn’t initiate any threads because thinking about him made me think about my ex-boyfriend and it was just too much. But once school got out and I didn’t have a regular job to go to anymore, Cortney and I started emailing more often. He would stop over after work with a pizza to hang out–his way of making sure I got a decent meal since he knew I was broke and living on vodka and Doritos if left alone to make my own choices.

It wasn’t my proudest moment in life, Ok?

After my summer of wallowing, I ended up getting the full-time teaching job I am in now, and shockingly (to us anyway) Cortney and I started dating. The emailing did not stop; in fact it increased now that we weren’t seeing each other all the time due to my actually having to go to work. If I could look back on those emails, they were probably so sweet and carefree. It makes me smile to think about how young and starry-eyed we were back then.

We still email back and forth every day and I have been in this job now for almost fourteen years. One of us will start the daily thread with a “Good morning!” or “Hope you got in Ok!” Some days–like when my students are working on a test independently and Cortney is at his desk all day, we will go back and forth rapidly exchanging silly jokes or thoughts about anything from what next week’s dinners should be, when we should have our own date night, or even what is going on with our kids. Some days we only have the morning check in and then not much for the rest of the day because I am on my feet with students all day or he is out of the office or busy with calls.

Some days the topics get pretty serious. I tend to write out my feelings better than verbalize them, so there have been times I have spent my lunch period on my email typing out long messages about my mental health or other serious topics that I need to make sure I get my words just right. He will do the same. It has always been a way to give each other our thoughts and then let them sit before we respond either with another email, or in person later that evening.

We don’t do everything right as a married couple, but one thing I am proud of is our communication. Long before that first email, Cortney and I were friends who shared with each other and empathized with each other. We celebrated the great things, but we also cried about the bad things. His reaching out to me that day was just an extension of that.

We still reach out to each other every day. When Cortney was traveling for work recently, the loneliest I felt was during my work day when there were no emails coming through. After fourteen years of check-in’s and random banter, going a few days with complete silence was hard.

People who know us sometimes like to give me a little grief about how “chatty” Cortney and I can be–how we tell each other everything and send each other photos. When I was in Atlanta, Cort and I texted constantly, and my friend The Pastor’s Wife teased me a bit of being like a teenager. I know she was kidding and that it was actually out of love for us that she said what she did, because really, it’s that goofiness that has carried us for this long. It’s the easy way we communicate with each other that has made our relationship not just survive the past fourteen years, but actually build it up.

When Kids Happen To Your Marriage

I have mentioned before that marriage is hard work.  Love is easy, but marriage.  That is hard.

Cortney and I never argue about money.  We never argue about who was supposed to do that one chore.  We never even argue about things like socks on the floor or leaving the toilet seat up.

Before we got married, we sorted these things out.  We quite literally sat down and made decisions about stuff as big as finances and budgeting to small things like who is in charge of which chores.  We compromised on things like the location of the dirty laundry basket so that socks and undies wouldn’t get tossed on the floor instead of put in the basket. And we both agreed that toilets come with a lid for a reason…to be closed when not in use (plus we had a cat at the time and no one wanted to deal with walking in the aftermath of a midnight splash fest).

The one thing that causes tension in our marriage is parenting.

I never feel so far away from Cortney as when we have just disagreed or misunderstood each other in terms of how the other is (or isn’t) handling a parenting situation. And I feel pretty confident he feels the same way about me.

I remember when I was raging with undiagnosed postpartum mood disorders, I wondered if I could ever like him again.

Sure, I loved him.  Loved him like crazy.  Had my heart melted every time I saw him being gentle and kind and fatherly with Eddie.  Every time Eddie snuggled and slept on him.  Every minute I loved Cort.

But I when the baby was screaming and he couldn’t fix it, I didn’t like him.

And I am positive that he didn’t like me.  I mean, I was screaming and throwing things at him for doing “it” wrong.  And neither of us knew what “it” was that he was doing wrong.

I know that  makes no sense; welcome to PPD! Weeeeee!

But seriously, when I was finally diagnosed, properly medicated, and going to therapy, I thought all those Blerg feelings would go away.  The ragey totally illogical, irrational dislike went away.

But certain tensions didn’t go away.

Since Charlie is small and easy, we generally don’t disagree on anything with that guy, but with Eddie? Let’s just say that so far, he is our challenge.  He has my personality (to a fault, unfortunately) and while Cort has learned how to deal with my moods and such (and I am better able to use my words when I am upset), he is not as adept at fielding Eddie’s explosions.

Not that I am either, I just understand where they are coming from better.  Usually. I mean, kids are weirdos, so sometimes he is a total mystery to me too.

Let’s see…here is an example…

Last night I went to put Eddie to bed.  Cort had gotten him a new nightlight and was putting it in his room while I supervised teeth brushing and such.  When it was time to go in his room and crawl in bed, he walked over to his new nightlight and fiddled with it.  It got messed up.

We call daddy down to see if he could fix it.  I told Eddie to get in bed.  He didn’t. I told him again.  He didn’t.  I told him he was going to lose book privileges and he finally, all sobby-like, crawled into bed.  At the same time, Cort announced the nightlight didn’t work and he would go get the old one.

Eddie lost his mind.

There was scream-crying and ridiculousness.

I knew he was upset because he believed he broke his new thing.  He was sad that his new thing didn’t work.  I told him it would be Ok; that daddy would either fix it or get him a new one tomorrow.

He didn’t stop crying, and he never once used his words to actually explain to me what was wrong.  He just got screamy.  And sobby.

He didn’t want to read books with  me; he didn’t even want me to be there.  The only thing he would say was, “Daddy.”

So I gave up and got Cortney.

I could tell he was annoyed that he was being asked to do bedtime yet again, but Eddie was having a fit and I thought he wanted Cort as comfort.

So Eddie is downstairs crying his face off…loudly, and Cort is sitting calmly in his chair with the information that Eddie would like him to come down.

And he sits.  And Eddie cries. And Cort sits.  And Eddie cries.

“Did you want me to go back down?” I ask.

“No.” He says as he logs in (or off, not sure) to his laptop.

I stand and watch him; he sits and pays no attention. Eddie, this whole time, sounds as if he has a flesh-eating disease.

“So are you going to go down or what?” I ask impatiently.

And that is when he explodes.  Or, since Cort never explodes, he gets all firm and grouchy with me.  “Yes, Kate. I am going. I’m just giving him a chance to get it out of his system. I can listen to it from here or in his room, and I would rather not sit there with him screaming…” and he trails off as he angrily descends the stairs to put his computer away and tend to the Screamer.

And the tension arrives.

I lie down for a bit to lick my wounds.  I know he was justified in being annoyed, plus with a screamy child, everything is at a heightened stress level.

At the same time, I am not a mind-reader and I didn’t know why he was just sitting there while our little guy freaked the frack out downstairs.  I felt he needed comfort and someone to explain to him that the nightlight situation was not life and death.  I didn’t feel that Cort had enough urgency.

He didn’t feel the situation warranted urgency.

We were both right.  And wrong.  And whatever.

In the end, he chilled Eddie out, read a few books, and got him to sleep.

I wrote a blog post.

We talked about it.  We know tensions ran high and that we snapped at each other because we didn’t use our communication skills in the moment.

As much as we agree and collaborate on almost everything, we still have moments of miscommunication or failure to communicate all together when it comes to parenting.

We are a team.  A good one.  We have more wins than losses.  But it doesn’t come easily.

I would say the biggest challenge in our marriage is being parents together.

The good news is we are always working on it.

The better news is that we are a committed team.  We are in this for the long, forever haul.

my michigan adventure

Seventeen years ago I was a high school junior.

I was taking physics.  The class was all seniors except for me and two other junior girls.

Each May, Michigan Adventure–an amusement park here in West Michigan–has a “Physics Day”.

Each May, my teacher, Mr. Janssen, took the physics class to participate with other area schools, but my junior year, we got rained out.

May of my senior year rolled around.  Physics Day was during the seniors’ last week, and I got it in my head that I should be able to go.

Throughout my four years of high school, I had Mr. Janssen for three math classes and for physics.  We were tight.

(Ok, if you know Mr. Janssen, you are rolling on the floor laughing at that statement.  I simply do not know how to describe him other than and introverted math teacher with an incredibly dry sense of humor. Who stands in front of class tossing the chalk in the air saying, “ah, umm…well…” when he is answering questions because he is so much smarter than you are, dummy. But he would never say that.  And he smirks, but never all out smiles.  I loved that man.)

Anyway, because I loved Mr. Janssen, and for some reason I decided we were tight (which he found humorous.  shut up, he did), I went to him and begged requested that he get me out of class for the day and let me come along to Michigan Adventure with his physics class.

I totally expected him to say no.

I mean, it’s not like I would be doing the packet of physics problems…I wasn’t in the class.  It would be nothing but a super fun day off from school for me.

There was zero educational value in having me go.

Also I was absolutely math dumb.  I, to this day, do not know how I even passed physics.

But he said yes.

And this is when I realized I had no idea who was in the class or if I would even have fun.

It just so happened that about a day after he said yes, I had to go to his classroom for something for a teacher.  I walked in to what happened to be the hour he had his physics class–mostly juniors, but some seniors.

And ALL dudes.

Not one girl in the class.

What had I gotten myself into?

But I wasn’t going to back out of a free day to ride roller coasters instead of being in school.

So on Physics Day I showed up to the bus, climbed those black tread steps, and stood at the front surveying the possibilities.

Which of these lucky dudes was going to be my new best friend for the day?

As I made my way down the long bus aisle, I flashed a smile, gave the obligatory “dude nod” to a few of the senior guys, did the finger point at a couple fellas who had zero chance of having me sit down, and finally stopped next to a seat with a junior in it that I knew a little bit through mutual friends.

He smiled back and I said, “move over, Curly.  You’re my friend for the day.”

He shoved over to the window and I plopped down next to him.

Before we were even out of the parking lot, I broke the ice with the big question the answer to which would set the tone for the rest of our day: “So, do you have a girlfriend?”

“Sort of.”

“How do you ‘sort of’ have a girlfriend?”

“Well, she doesn’t go here.  She lives 45 minutes away.”

And from there we chatted for the entire hour drive to the amusement park, deemed ourselves “Coaster Buddies”, and made let his lab/project partner do all the work on the packet problems.

Curly was one of the nicest guys I have ever met.

We became super great friends very quickly.  I met his girlfriend, Trisha, and loved her too.

Fast-forward approximately 14 years.

New Year's Eve 2009: Ben & Trisha with pregnant-with-Eddie Me (don't worry that is non-alcoholic) &"Curly"

I’m so glad Mr. Janssen said yes to my going on the Physics Day field trip sixteen years ago.