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On Marriage: Defining My Role as Wife

Our-Wedding-Reception

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.

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.

My wife and I are both fans of the dramatics.

A really great situation happened this last week. Actually its an unfortunate situation that spun into a dramatically great situation that I’m going to possibly* blow your mind with today. First let me introduce you to my wife. She’s an amazing student, wife, daughter, dog parent who is the spitting definition of excellence. She is also a huge Backstreet Boys fan, which is why I drew her below wearing a pink BSB shirt with one of the goofy dudes pasted on there:
Because of my art skills are shaky at best and drawing hair is hard, we’ll assume that Sara here just got out of a Backstreet Boys concert, and she loved it.
Now here is my wife outside on a perfectly beautiful day, nothing is wrong and all is well. There’s birds flying, flower blooming and a perfectly good looking tree everywhere you go. How about that.
In this instance my wife decided to go visit a friend in town by riding my bike. I know this because she gave me a quick call while she was on her way, and during the call she presumably fell. Here’s a quick lesson to all the kids reading out there:

Don’t ride your bike and talk on cell phones. 

Sara then got off the phone with me, fairly quickly I might add, leading me to believe that there was little damage done. So I immediately went back to my work and basically thought nothing of it.
I got off of work, sent Sara a quick text, went home, ate dinner, and went to my baseball game. I heard nothing from Sara during this time, so my assumption was that she was either perfectly fine or dead. Because both of those outcomes leave me with very little in my power to do anything about I went about my evening without a second thought.
Towards the end of my baseball game I got this ominous text message:
This text that I got on my work phone, which left me to wonder what is up. Here’s the flurry of thoughts that crossed my mind after receiving this message:
  • Has she been knocked out cold this whole time?
  • Did she crash again?
  • Was she brutally injured by a pack of clown ninjas?
  • Should I mention that the guys want to go out for some beers afterwards?
I’m sure more meaningful and meaningless thoughts crossed my mind. I quickly answer her text with a text of my own that said something like: “what wounds” which came back with the response, “the ones from my bike crash earlier”.
I am now worried and curious at this proposition. Is she really hurt? The crash had occurred hours ago, so it is very likely that the wounds are healing already. If they are not already healing, I had to quickly imagine the worst case scenario situation that could have caused her to be still in need of wound dressing five hours after in the injury.
This is where the theatrics of our relationship really take off. When either of us are hurt, sick, or pissy, we both tend to exaggerate to epic proportions. So being a veteran that I am, I quickly imagined her laying in the grass, with one limb completely severed, another one bleeding, the flowers wilted, birds falling from the sky, a thunderstorm and obviously the tree has to spontaneously combust.
Coming out of that thought, I would have been mostly worried about her staining her BSB t-shirt which no doubt cost $75 at the concert when she theoretically bought it in my little fantasy story here. Followed by the leg being cut off.
Surprisingly enough the texts we exchanged until I eventually left my completed baseball game to come home did not disprove my worst fears. In fact I do believe she got more hurt as time went on.
Imagine my horror and surprise when I walked back in the door to our apartment, seeing her laying out he couch with a big sad face. Her sad face lead to her finger pointing to her knee and ankle which had almost identical “wounds”.
To her dismay, I elected not to dress her “wounds” as they were already healing and cleaned. This did not make her very happy, but she did end up surviving some how. I love my wife more than anything, I told her about the dramatics, and we shared a good laugh.
Then she said her leg hurt so bad it was pretty much going to fall off….welcome to our lives!
*If your mind wasn’t totally blown by this point, feel free to send me hate mail.