2016 was rough.
It seems weird to say that about the year I got married. It’s especially weird to say that since when people ask me how our “married life” is going, I can honestly say being married to Tom is the best part of my life right now. Sure, it’s been an adjustment–and I’ve had my own personal struggles with change and identity–but our transition together has thus far been remarkably smooth. I mostly chalk that smooth transition up to two things: one, he is incredibly gracious and patient, and two, we each have our own full bathroom. (Every time I tell someone that second part, their eyes get wide with envy and amazement).
I wanted to say that part about being married first because it’s ok for me to have had a rough year despite also being really happy about one facet of it. But I also want to make it clear that our so-far smooth transition is truly remarkable and probably not typical. Please don’t expect that yours or anyone else’s transition into being married will be easy, or for that matter, comparable to anyone else’s. Share your honest story and let others’ stories be what they are.
Speaking of which, that’s what my holiday newsletters are about: being honest. Too many holiday communications are unrealistically cheery and don’t tell much of what’s really going on in people’s lives. I’ll admit that what follows certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of my 2016, but I have tried to at least give you a slice that includes a proportional balance of the hard, the delightful… and even the mundane.
January: In January, I turned 30. It was kind of anti-climactic. I think most people were focused on the fact that I was engaged and getting married in 4 months, so it easy to miss my entry into a new decade. And really, I was the primary one who lumped the two together, making my One Days Wages fundraiser for women’s empowerment a combination “birthday/bridal shower” present.
We did, by the way, raise almost $2,000 dollars! One Day’s Wages included my story on their holiday blog this year. Included is a short bio of Christine, a Ugandan woman helped by your thoughtful and generous donations.
February: I can’t remember when exactly each phase of the wedding planning was completed, but since I can’t remember much else about February, I’m going to lump it all in here. I truly enjoyed much of the wedding planning. It was fulfilling to pick out the simple yet meaningful ways to convey who we are individually, who we are as a couple, and my convictions about what marriage means (and doesn’t). (I’m still going to write a post about all of those choices eventually, now that I’m starting to get the emotional distance to do so).
I didn’t enjoy the planning so much once more people were involved. That’s when you get into other people’s issues and expectations, and that was not fun.
March: In January and February, my mom purchased a condo for herself and sold what had been our family home for over 25 years. That was hard. It took quite an emotional toll, saying good-bye to a place that housed so many memories (especially memories of my dad). We helped her move in February and March. It happened so quickly that I still feel like I didn’t quite say good-bye. I regularly have dreams about being in the house, and being confused that my things are still there because I thought my mom already moved.
Then, there was the practical challenge of somehow making it down to Virginia to pick up the long-promised-to-me family piano (along with a loveseat my mom was graciously giving us). Remember, this was as we approached the one-month-till-wedding mark. Through a lot of tears (mine), an abundance of patience (Tom’s), frustrating coordination with moving companies, and driving a U-Haul through some wintry weather, we got the piano (and the loveseat) to my house.
April: As I mentioned in last year’s newsletter, I had a uniquely challenging class last school year. If I was getting through on determination alone the first few months of the school year, by the last few months, I was getting by on sheer grit. I was genuinely fond of each and every one of my students, but it was a case of the enormity of the needs outweighing my ability to meet them. I felt constantly defeated and frustrated.
April 21st–two weeks before our wedding–was the fourth anniversary of my dad’s death. I took Tom to the cemetery to see my dad’s grave for the first time. It was an intensely personal gesture, one I would not offer lightly. It was also a trip I needed to make with him before we were married. I so wish my dad and Tom could have met each other. They would have really liked one another.
Also in April, Ruth La Ferla from The New York Times contacted me. She had come across my piece for Converge, Why I Won’t Wear White On My Wedding Day, and wanted to interview me about the decision to wear (or, in my case, not to wear) a veil. Here’s the article she wrote, a conglomeration of interviews with several different women with varying decisions on the topic: When It Comes to A Veil, Brides Can Take It Or Leave It. She also included my comments about my silvery-blue wedding dress in a piece published in October, The Breakaway Bride.
May: I had my emotional ups and downs in the weeks leading up to the wedding, but I’m told overall that I seemed remarkably calm. There were some people that really, really came through for me and for Tom. Those memories still brighten me to think of them. And there were some people that really, really didn’t. Those memories are still painful.
Once the day actually came, the wedding ceremony was my favorite part. I wore my silvery-blue wedding dress and Tom and I walked down the aisle together. My nieces and nephews sang “Seek Ye, First,” and my sister and my music director sang a song I’d picked out years ago, Fernando Ortega’s “A Place on Earth.” One of my best friends read Psalm 139 and two of my other best friends stood by my side as witnesses. Tom’s best friend and my brother stood as his witnesses. The pastor (and friend) we’d asked to lead the ceremony gave a sermon that not only poignantly described the importance of relationships of all kinds, but also respectfully avoided language and concepts that I find excluding.
The reception was fine. Our coordinator at the hotel screwed a bunch of things up, but no one really noticed (and the coordinator’s supervisor refunded us part of what we had paid). The breakfast-themed food was delicious, with the bacon getting particularly rave reviews. But I was quickly getting tired and I’m not much for light conversation, especially with several different people one after the other. Highlights for me were my best friend’s meaningful toast and cutting our cake with the same cake server my parents had used at their wedding over 40 years ago. There was a ton of cake left over, so I hope the catering employees went to town on it!
Many people took us up on our request that they consider donating to a cause rather than giving us gifts. I’ve not actually totaled what people donated, but it was definitely in the hundreds of dollars to multiple important charities and organizations.
After the reception, Tom and I went to an inn in the Poconos for a long weekend. It was a sweet time filled with much-needed rest and quiet.
Then, it was back to work again, finishing out a difficult school year while moving into married life (and, literally, moving Tom’s things in my–now our–house … second U-Haul trip in as many months).
June: The school year truly drained me. It was one of the those years that I felt like Bilbo Baggins, “butter scraped over too much bread.” I remember, on one of the last days of school, a student did something unkind, and I just stared at the student. I didn’t have any energy left to react and I just wanted to cry.
June was also a month of making medical decisions that sent my mental/emotional state into a tailspin. Frankly, after school let out, some days were very difficult to just get through. I cried a lot and felt terribly that I was feeling terribly so soon into our new marriage. Feeling badly about feeling badly is an endless, crushing spiral. But I plodded along, checking off small items on my to-do lists, many of them having to do with writing thank-you notes, sorting through my stuff to make more room for Tom’s, and getting my last name changed (more on that decision in a later post).
July: Tom and I spent July 4th weekend at my mom’s new condo. It’s on the tenth floor with huge sunroom with a beautiful view of the river. I loved sitting out there in the morning and trying to pick out fireworks in the distance at night. The move has been really, really good for my mom, and I’ve gotten to the point that the walk down the hallway feels somewhat familiar. The scared 5-year-old in me has stopped whispering, “My mommy doesn’t live here!” (But typing it just now still brought up a whole lot of feeling, so I guess I’m not over it.)
At the beginning of July, I was just starting to round the corner to a better place emotionally. I dealt with the remnants of terrible feelings by taking naps every afternoon and by reading Garfield comics before I went to bed at night.
The next weekend I traveled to Alabama with my mom and my brother to a family reunion of my mom’s dad’s side. That trip was a doozy as it was, so I’m glad I was starting to feel better before undertaking it. It was a rare opportunity to see and learn about my family history, so I’m glad I went, even if we spent more time in the car than we actually did at the reunion.
The rest of July was a lot of time alone with my to-do list, a context that was easier than it had been in the beginning of the summer, but still trying. One of my main tasks was preparing to teach my first grad class, which caused me way more anxiety than it warranted. When my emotional balance is off, I tend to get focused (obsessed?) with one issue and I have a difficult time putting it in perspective. This time, it was preparing for the grad class.
August: Tom and I went to Disney World for our week-long honeymoon. We had so much fun. Heading into the trip, I was concerned that I still wasn’t on top of my mental/emotional game, and I had been looking so forward to this trip. And I did have my moments. But that’s not what comes to mind when I think about the trip. What comes to mind is a lot of fun and good food and special moments and silliness and a chance to escape the world’s pressures for a time.
The rest of August was annual get-ready-for-the-school-year crunch time. I spent a lot of time in my classroom, feeling weird that my last name would be different and hoping for a calmer year.
September: September was exhausting. I went to bed early most nights. Between starting the school year with a very talkative and energetic group of 6 and 7 year olds and teaching the above-mentioned grad class, I was tired more often than not. I did get used to my new last name pretty quickly… being called your new last name hundreds of time a day by surprisingly loud little voices will do that.
September also marked a year since my grandmother passed away. While that anniversary doesn’t carry the weight of my dad’s passing, I was surprised how often I thought of her as that one-year mark passed.
October: Tom was gone on business trips for much of October. I dearly missed him. At the same time, I enjoyed my brief returns to my single lifestyle, kicking my shoes off wherever I felt like it (and leaving them there) and having the bed to myself.
At the end of October, I went to visit my best friend and college roommate for a long weekend for her 30th birthday. From the moment she picked me up from the airport, I don’t think I stopped talking for at least six hours straight. Apparently I had a lot to say! It was a sweet, fun weekend with her and her husband.
Unfortunately, what was a hint of a cold turned into a very bad one by the time I returned home. I took several half-days off of work to get through while trying to maintain a semblance of routine for my students.
November: As I recovered from the cold/cough/whatever the nasty thing was, I started to get back into the swing of things, exercising and getting my workload at school under control.
And then, the election happened. I had been paying quite a bit of attention to the lead-up, but in the past month, had made a concerted effort to “detach from the madness.” Either way, the reasonable candidate was going to win against the terrible candidate, anyway, so why make myself crazy with all of the hype and news bytes? But then… she didn’t win. Not the electoral college vote, anyway. Along with millions of others across the country, I was devastated. I was devastated that another millions of people in my country had justified voting for a man when he has proven himself not only unqualified, but completely unfit to be the leader of a country that–however many times it has stumbled–supposedly continues to strive towards ideals of freedom and equality. As I wrote at the end of that month, “I am not ready to ‘get over’ the fact that nearly half of the voting public supported a man who degrades the worth of human beings again and again and again and again.”
I’m still not over it. And I don’t want to be, at least in the sense I do not want to be lulled into complacency by my relative privilege. I will not live in denial of the ways the election and its implications have marginalized already-vulnerable people. (If you don’t understand what I’m talking about–and want to try to understand–I’d recommend John Pavlovitz’s “Here’s Why We Grieve Today” and Shannon Dingle’s “I want to help you understand my lament.”)
On a completely different note, I watched the new Gilmore Girls season on Netflix. And cried my eyes out. I know there’s a LOT to talk about in that four-episode revival, but the girls’ grief over the passing of Ed Herrman’s character hit home with me. It was sensitive and real and tore me to pieces.
December: As I’m writing this, December just ended yesterday. That strangely makes it harder to remember. I was not so into holiday celebrations this year. The falling out of the election was, to say the least, very distracting. I resented my Christmas to-do list adding to everything else I needed (or wanted) to do. I’m in a tricky place with church and faith in general right now, so religious year observances brought more tension than comfort.
I’d love to say I found some beautiful resolution within this season. But I didn’t. I did, however, enjoy my Christmas with Tom’s family–my first Christmas without my own family. Being from a large family, Christmas is often chaotic and stressful, and I have hurtful memories associated with it. While I missed my family, it was nice to have a Christmas that was calm, sweet, and markedly different from what I’m used to.
Whew. Without actually counting to check, I think is the longest of my “honest holiday newsletters” so far. This has been a full, complicated year. I’d be ok with my next newsletter being shorter, because it would mean 2017 was calmer and simpler.