On Marriage: Defining My Role as Wife

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Before Jord and I were married in 2010, I had a major conflict of identity that came from a rather unexpected source: a rubber stamp.

For our wedding, Jord and I had a wishing tree, which was basically a few manzanita branches (from here) arranged in a flower pot. Jord and I asked guests to write down their wishes for our marriage on cardstock and then hang the wishes on the branches of the tree. It ended up being a creative way for our guests to wish us well. However, when I was conceptualizing how the wishing tree would come together, I never imagined that it would be the source of a name-change-related breakdown for me.

In order to decorate the cardstock, I commissioned a local stamp shop to make a custom rubber stamp for me, which said the following phrase: “Wishes for the Mr. and Mrs.” Cute, right? That’s what I thought, too; I saw the phrase somewhere in the blogosphere, and I promptly ordered the stamp. I then purchased the manzanita branches, the flower pot, the cardstock and the ink for the stamp, and I didn’t think anything of it until the stamp came in a week or two later.

It was around that time that I read this post (and then this post) on A Practical Wedding. And truthfully, these posts (together with a post that I can’t seem to track down on Project Subrosa on name-changing and the Ms. vs. Mrs. debate – this post is similar, though with decidedly less sass – which is a bummer, because I love me some sass)…well, they threw me big time. I had never thought about changing my name before…I had never thought about the fact that I had a choice of whether or not to take my husband’s last name. What’s more is that I had thought much less about which choice was right for me; I always thought that I would take my husband’s name, because that is what women do in my family, and in my state (South Dakota). And now, because I ordered a stupid six-dollar stamp that said “Mrs.” on it, I felt like my choice between Ms. and Mrs., and my birth name, was being made for me.

So I cried. A lot. I cried to my mother, to my guy (now my husband), and I cried even more when re-reading the posts and the comments on APW and Project Subrosa. I felt like I had failed my cultural position as a woman by rejecting the rights available to my beloved-yet-too-often-marginalized womanhood. [Big stuff.] So, I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to use the stamp, because gosh darnit, I paid for it, and I wasn’t about to throw money out the window, but then again, it was only six dollars, and was six dollars worth chucking my oh-my-gosh-I-guess-I-am-a-feminist-wow-this-is-strange-I-didn’t-notice-this-before-now self out the window? Was six dollars worth me compromising my identity as a woman, my identity as me, as Sara?

In the end, it was my mother who helped me the most. She said that my identity as a wife, my identity as a woman, didn’t have to be determined by a stamp. She rationalized that while the majority of our wedding guests would call me “Mrs.” on our wedding day, as a cutesy ode to my newly married status, that after the wedding, I was able to stipulate whatever name I wanted for myself, and that people would either abide by my wishes, or they wouldn’t. She cautioned that in our area of the United States, it isn’t common for women to keep their birth name [which is true], so I had to brace myself for many a mailing/solicitation/family Christmas letter/invitation error. I had to be okay with mistakes.

Fast-forward to a few weeks before our wedding day. The scene: The Clerk of Courts office in our home state of South Dakota. The action: Jord and I, standing, awkwardly, nervously, in front of a window, applying for our marriage license. As I shuffled my feet back and forth while waiting to fill out the necessary forms, I seriously considered what I wanted for myself when it came to being a woman, being a partner, being a wife. And I thought about the women who came before me in my family, who didn’t seem to know (or, rather, to care in the same way that I did) that even though they were married, they still had the right to keep their birth names.

I thought about my grandmother, my father’s mother, who is one of the best women I know, and one of my most favorite people. She’s a sassy, faithful, family-oriented, inspirational go-getter at 81 years old. But in the 44 years that she was married to my farmer-tractor-driving-grandfather (who sadly passed away before they reached 45 years of marriage), she loved nothing more than to cook and care for him and for their nine children. Yet even so, my grandmother, who took my grandfather’s name, which is my father’s name, and which is my birth name – she never lost herself. She never let go of her role as a woman to take on her role as a wife, and her name certainly had no impact on her wifehood, on her womanhood.

I thought about my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who died when I was in high school. I thought about how she would respond to my internal debate regarding whether to take on Mrs., or to keep my birth name. And then I smiled in knowing that she would support me no matter what choice I made, because that’s the woman she always was. She was a supporter to her core.

And I thought about my mother, who took my father’s name when they married, and who never seemed the slightest bit inhibited by her choice to take on a different moniker.

In thinking back to all of the women that have come before me in my family, I made my choice. I took my husband’s last name, but I remained a Ms. It was a compromise that I was willing, no, that I was overjoyed, to make. My choice was an acknowledgment of my identity as Sara, and my new identity as the partner of Jord. And for me, I also made another compromise, a symbolic one, to honor myself as I’ve always been, and the new self that I was about to become, as a partner, a wife: I hyphenated my name professionally. To me, my career was (and still is) my own, and by symbolically hyphenating my name professionally, I was able to ensure that I entered into marriage with my feminist womanhood in tact.

In looking back on our first year of marriage, I have no regrets regarding my decision to take my husband’s name. I’m especially proud of my decision to remain a Ms., and I’m reminded of that every single day, when my students call me Ms. XXXX-XXXX. But as I reflect on the choices I’ve made, I think back to that silly little stamp, and I feel blessed to have had compelling blogs to read in that moment and in many more, precisely because blogging continually forces me to make choices with intention. And I know that I did just that.

Marriage: A Look Back at Premarital Counseling

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I thought it might be fun to take a look back at the premarital counseling that Jord and I did, given that we’ve been married for one year already – where did the time go?!

After being engaged for three and a half months, Jord was offered and accepted a job that required him to move approximately one hour away from where we had been living. Jord moved to a small efficiency apartment, and I moved back in with my parents. We had been living together for a year prior to Jord’s new job. With our wedding only seven short months away, we knew that this job was temporary for him, so we committed to making it work for such a short time.

However, the fact that we were apart Monday through Friday and were only together on the weekends complicated one thing that we both wanted to accomplish prior to our wedding: going through premarital counseling. But, it all worked out well, so I wanted to share our strategy in hopes of helping other couples who may be facing a similar situation.

What worked for Jord and I was to read a book together that still acted as premarital counseling for us, but allowed us to read the book, chapter by chapter, separately. We then got together to discuss each chapter. The book we used is 10 Great Dates Before You Say ‘I Do’ by David and Claudia Arp and Curt and Natelle Brown.

We really enjoyed working through the book together, as it answered all of the important questions that we thought should be answered before committing to someone for a lifetime. Everything from communication to finances to children was covered in this book, and best of all, each “issue” or “question” had a bit of “homework” (mostly list-making or freewriting) that each of us would do prior to our “date,” or the time that was set aside for discussion of the chapter.

After finishing the book (actually, I think that we cheated and only got through nine of the ten dates before our wedding day!), we also met with my uncle, who married us, for a premarital counseling session. My uncle had us fill out (before meeting with him) personality inventories that were full of more critical questions about our expectations of marriage and what we desired to achieve in our lives as married people. We then met with my uncle to discuss the results of these inventories. This was such a fun part of our wedding preparations, especially because Jord and I were exactly where we should be prior to getting married, according to my uncle!

This approach worked for us, because it allowed us to maximize our geographical differences while still maximizing our marriage preparation. We would recommend the book to anyone, and we’ve even passed the book along to another couple who is considering marriage in the future!

Did you do premarital counseling? Do you plan to when you get married? What method did you/will you use?

NOTE: I wasn’t paid or perk’d to feature the book by the Arps and the Browns – we just had a great experience with it!

On the Importance of Family History & Traditions

As I daydream with Jord about our future someday family, I often find myself reflecting on my own upbringing. When I think about my childhood, my favorite memories involve reading Golden Books with my family, rollerblading in the unfinished basement with my brother Brian, and playing Barbies with my cousin. I remember riding bikes with Brian inside the warehouse that my Dad worked in. I remember fighting with my brother about which one of us deserved or was assigned the “better” side of the Christmas tree to hang our ornaments on. I remember traveling ten long hours from Missouri to Sioux Falls every Christmas to spend time with our grandparents and our cousins. I remember crying whenever we had to leave Grandma and Grandpa’s house to head back to Missouri, but always feeling excited to see my friends as soon as we arrived home.

These memories, still potent and redolent with child-like joyful emotion, make me think about how simple memory-making is. As a child, all it took for me to make a lasting memory was an empty basement and some rollerblades, or a warehouse with high shelves and forklifts and trophies and pallets and long, geometric alleyways perfect for bike-riding. And now, as an adult, when I’m examining my life honestly, I’m finding that the same is true – I still delight in the simple opportunity of taking a walk with my husband and our dog to explore a little more of our town. I still feel energized whenever I head home for a weekend.

It’s memories like these that make me motivated to start traditions with my own children someday. I can’t wait to leave cookies for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph with my little ones. like we did as children. I am anxious to see what memories my children make with something simple like an empty basement, a Barbie, or a book. Or, maybe my children’s memories will involve something else entirely, like a river, or a camera, or a dog. But whatever object or occurrence catalyzes the memory-making of my future children, I know one thing for sure: I’ve found throughout my life that in simplicity, memories can be made. For my brother and I, it was never in grand vacations to far away places or in expensive toys that memories are made (though I won’t doubt that memories are in fact made in these instances). We never embarked on any fancy vacations as a family, but what we did do (rent a boat and a tube in Okoboji for a few hours, or go to Sioux Falls at Christmas, or play kickball with our neighbors in our cul de sac) was memorable enough for me. For me, for my childhood, and for my future children, I know that memories can and will be made from anything and nothing at all – even from a seemingly boring warehouse full of shelves.

The Wyatt Files: A Look Back at Puppy Potty-Training

Oh, the joys of house-training a puppy. To sum up our adventure with trying to potty-train Wyatt the dog, all I can say is this: we had NO IDEA what we were getting into.

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We purchased Wyatt the dog from a breeder in rural South Dakota. Upon bringing him home, we quickly learned that while the breeder said that he was “relatively potty-trained,” apparently the key word in that explanation was “relatively.” The pee on my in-laws’ kitchen floor would beg to differ with “relatively.”

Thus began the efforts to house-train Wyatt. We began by sequestering Wyatt in the first floor bathroom of our home when we were gone. We would give him food and water, and we would lay down “potty papers” in the bathroom for him to go on. Why didn’t we put Wyatt the dog in a kennel when we were gone? He was scared of the kennel, and me, being the marshmallow Mama that I was in the early stages of Wyatt’s life, didn’t want him to be scared.

After a few days of that plan, we realized that A) Wyatt always found a way to pee not on the paper, but in the shower, on the floor where there wasn’t paper, etc., and B) that Wyatt was teething. How did we know that Wyatt was teething? He chewed the floorboard molding in our bathroom. In the bathroom of our RENTED apartment. Yup. Paid for that one.

After that plan failed, we began to see the error of our ways. Out when the “potty papers,” and in came the kennel. We were big, bad doggy parents by that point, so we didn’t care if Wyatt was scared. That solved the potty issue while we were at work or out and about in town, but when we were at the apartment and Wyatt was running around and playing, he had no idea how to control his bladder.

So we tried everything. Treats, taking him out every half hour, praise, punishment – you name it, we probably tried it. Before long, Wyatt just ignored our desires to house-train, and would just run upstairs in our apartment (we rented a two-level townhome) to do his business. Soon enough, one of us (either Jord or I) would notice that he was gone, and, carpet cleaner and paper towel in hand, we would run upstairs to see A) where Wyatt had decided to make his presence known, and B) clean it up to the best of our abilities. We became steam-cleaning and vacuuming experts.

After a year in our townhome, Jord accepted a job in another city, which meant that I moved back in with my parents for the six months that we had left before our wedding. Wyatt the dog moved with me, and it was finally when we were living with my parents that Wyatt and I got down to business with potty-training. I took him out ALL THE TIME. I’m serious – whenever he would sniff something, we would go outside. Whenever he would run away from me, I would chase him, and we would go outside. With my parents to help praise Wyatt, he was literally bathed in praise. He got treats, he was petted, he was treated like a King whenever he did his business. By this time, he was also one year old, so he was no longer a tiny 3-lb puppy. He was 5 or 6 pounds by now, and he was learning what was allowed and what wasn’t. He caught on so quickly, and the accidents went from one to two per DAY to one per month (or never!) in about two weeks.

Now that Jord and I are living in a new apartment together as a married couple with Wyatt, we’ve worked hard to ensure that Wyatt still knows that he must do his business outside. We take him out every 2-3 hours now (it’s wonderful – as he’s gotten older, he’s able to control his bladder for quite some time), and he diligently does his business whenever we prompt him to. We’ve made sure to stay consistent (ever since we were living with my parents) to use the phrase “Do Your Business,” coupled with the words “Potty” and “Poop.” We always took him to the same spot in my parents’ yard, and we always take him to the same spot near our complex. We also always ask if he needs to go outside using the same voice inflection and the same question phrasing (“Do You Need to Go Outside?” in an excited voice) every single time.

What I’ve learned about house-training a puppy is that sometimes, it isn’t possible until the dog is ready. And sometimes, you as the doggy parent have to lay down the law. Finally, consistency is the key – consistency in word choice, in the spot in the yard where you take the dog, and in praise. Good luck!

One.

One year ago today, I married my most favorite person in the world. I married the world’s best cuddler, the world’s best doggy-daddy. I married way out of my league, because I married the best man I’ve ever known.

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I’m a lucky gal.

To my husband of one year, Jord: here’s to many more years together. I’m so excited for the adventures ahead of us!

And also, a reminder of the reading that was read one year ago today…I still feel these words to my core, my love.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a person loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Love always, your wife, Sara.