Today is my 41st birthday, and it's difficult to avoid the introspection. Last year, hitting that big-4-0 was more than a little anticlimactic, probably because I was just a little over a week and a half out from major surgery and felt like doing little more than curling up in a heap of pillows and sleeping. This year, I still don't have the fanfare of birthday celebration ... it quite literally is "just another day". I made breakfast for everybody, washed everyone's laundry, and will spend the rest of my day doing the same things I do every other day of the year. That's pretty much the way it's always been. My husband is not one to go out of his way to make grand (or even small?) romantic gestures, and as several have quipped, at my age anything grand or spectacular could be dangerous to my health ...
I shouldn't be surprised that things look different at our house than in most other households. We've never really done anything the way "everyone else" does it--be it birthdays, Valentine's Day (most people don't have birthday celebrations ON Valentine's Day ... but we do!), Mother's Day, birthdays, anniversaries, even Christmas are all rather unconventional here. That's just how we roll.
Pete and I have always marched to a different drummer. In fact, by almost every societal standard, we are marching to the WRONG drummer. We have done everything "wrong" since our relationship began. I really wonder sometimes how on earth we've managed to keep seven children alive, considering how completely incapable we are of doing anything right! (If you can't appreciate sarcasm ... well, you might want to stop reading my blog. I season liberally with it.)
Our relationship began under the most ridiculous of circumstances. I said yes to that first date because I couldn't get RID of the guy. I knew he'd asked out one of my best friends and she'd said no ... and I knew I was his second choice. I'm ok with that; I just wanted him to leave me alone, and if that meant going out with him just so I could break up with him, then fine. Anyway ... we never should have even dated in the first place. He was a senior, I was just a sophomore. Neither of us had a clue what a healthy relationship was supposed to look like. He was from a military family, and the military was completely foreign to me. We had two completely different religious backgrounds. Hmm ... pretty much the only thing we had in common was music. Ahhh, yes, that band geek thing. Disaster waiting to happen.
Actually, it really was.
Instead of doing things the way everyone KNOWS they are supposed to be done--graduation, four years of college, getting the career started, THEN looking for a mate and starting a family--oh NO. We just threw all common sense to the wind and broke every rule in the book. I quit high school because I was pregnant, we got married, he joined the Army and started basic training ten days after the wedding, leaving me to live at my parents' house until the Army decided his wife could live with him. Instead of staying in the "teen parent program" (which, quite frankly, was a complete insult to anyone with a brain ... just because we did something we shouldn't have doesn't mean I suddenly went from AP-level courses to below-average grade level ability), I signed up for the GED test. Of course, taking that exam without all of the suggested preparatory classes was a bad idea; I have no idea how on earth I managed to ace the exam the first time. Must have been sheer luck. It's sad that my parents will never be able to say that both of their children are successful; I'm so thankful that at least my brother graduated from college so they have someone to be proud of.
We never should have made it to our first anniversary. We were way too young and immature. People told us we were being stupid, that we should either give the baby up for adoption or abort him so we could both "enjoy our youth" and get married when we were actually ready to instead of when we "had to", because we might decide that we didn't want to be together anyway. The big question was how would we ever manage to have a successful life without college, and how would either of us go to college if we got married and started a family so young? Everyone knows that the military isn't a good way to support a family. With all of those deployments and separations and all of the hardships that we went through, combined with never having enough money to do anything other than survive from paycheck to paycheck, how were we ever going to get ahead, or even be happy?
Of course, we have a whole list of did-it-wrongs. There's that whole homeschool thing ... you know, our children should have turned out to be antisocial pariahs, completely incapable of holding intelligent conversations, and there's no way any of them would ever be able to get a job. How would they, as crippled as they are by our poor parenting choices? And then there was the fact that there are SO MANY of them. Goodness knows we obviously just had no self-control; it's a shame we never figured out what caused it before we were "stuck" with seven children. Surely we'll never have any way to buy them all the best of anything, and they'll never be able to go to college and escape the cycle of poverty that we cursed them with. Right?
Sound harsh? Guess what? I have heard EVERY SINGLE ONE of these zingers over the course of the last twenty-five years.
Since when did it become okay to tell people that there is a right or wrong way to approach this life? Since when do we have to follow a formula to achieve that level of success that we're "supposed to" achieve? Since when is success measured by the number of degrees we manage to attain or the number of zeroes in our bank account balance (although ... we've had plenty of zero balances over the years, so ... hey, success!!), or even the order and spacing of major life events? Are children who are born 11 months apart really going to be that messed up?
My hard-working hubby will start yet another college term tomorrow evening. After completing his work day, he'll spend five hours in a classroom. He's just two classes away from completing his Associate's degree, and after that will only need a few more credits before he's finished his Bachelor's degree. He spent twenty years in the Army, working harder than many people ever will. Funny thing is, even without a single day of college, he was able to secure his DREAM job--one he'd told me ten years prior to retiring from the Army that he wanted to have "when he grew up". He didn't need a degree to support his family for 25 years. He's only going to college because the corporation he works for wants its employees to have a degree. His degree isn't even related to what he does for a living. If it wasn't for his GI Bill, I'd say it was a complete waste of money ... except it gives him job security. Am I proud of this man, who is living his dream despite doing things totally contrary to the norm? YOU BET I AM. But I can also say that him getting a college degree won't make me respect him ANY more than I already do. The only thing it will change for him or for the rest of the family is a slight pay raise--the incentive his employer offers for their ability to say that hey, all of their employees have done things the right way!
We've both done a lot of growing up in the two and a half decades we've been together. We're both far more mature, more secure in our own skin, and far stronger spiritually than we were when we made that rather brash decision to cast off all common sense and get married. But looking back, now at the "old" age I'm at now, I can say with 100% certainty that I wouldn't change a thing. We have a WONDERFUL life, even if we did all of it completely WRONG.
**DISCLAIMER** My adherence to grammatical rules was tossed aside while I composed this blog post. To. Make. A. Point. Mmmkay?