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Three.

Three years ago today, you wore the baseball cuff links I got you. Three years ago today, I wore a garter for the first time in my life, a sacred rite of passage that I had saved for this day. Three years ago today, I already knew that my life was fuller, funnier, just better with you in it, but I had no idea that it could get better-er.

Three years from the day that I wore white and cried as you slipped a diamond on my finger, I’m sitting here, watching our baby son snooze. His breaths move in and out in even measure, and I can’t believe that he’s mine. That he’s yours. That he’s ours. He is the best thing we’ve ever done.

And it’s all because three years ago today, we promised forever and always, and we meant it. We live it every day, even when times are challenging – especially when life is a chore to bear, when we don’t want to, when we’re sleep-deprived or waiting to move or challenged by our ever-changing routine. We wake up every day and recommit to forever. And I, for one, feel so blessed to get to share this forever, our forever, with you.

Here’s to more dogs, more (and more!) babies someday, and more anniversaries where we stop to be grateful for forever.

Love,
S

How We Define Ourselves

A college classmate and I had a disagreement a few years ago when I was planning my wedding. As my soon-to-be-husband and I compiled our guest list, tough decisions had to be made – ah, the tired old adage of wedding planning, what else is new – and in order to invite all of our beloved (and numerous) families and friends to attend our nuptials, classmates turned informal pals sadly weren’t in our budget to invite. After realizing that she hadn’t “made the list,” so to speak, this friend became unfortunately accusatory, saying things that I’m sure she didn’t mean, but were uttered as evidence of the hurt that she felt in not being invited to our wedding. Here’s what this friend had to say:

“All you ever do or say or think about is this wedding. When it’s all over, you aren’t going to have anything left in your life.”

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And I rationalized, self-justified, and became defensive. Of course I’m thinking about and talking about my upcoming wedding. It’s a big deal! It’s what’s going on in my life right now! Sure, I am working full time, and I am thinking about going to graduate school, but I’M GETTING MARRIED. What does she expect me to think about – world peace?

But the more that I think about it, she was right.

How do I know that “bride-to-be” became all I was? Because when the wedding was over, when my beautiful ivory lace gown was slung over the easy chair in our gorgeous two-story hotel room, when all of the bobby pins had been plucked from my hair and stowed on the sink in our hotel room’s massive bathroom vanity, I didn’t know who to be anymore. All of a sudden, I wasn’t a bride-to-be; I wasn’t even a bride. I was a wife. But what did that mean?

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I soon figured out what it meant, to me, to be a wife. It meant loving my husband deeply and truly. It meant forcing myself to communicate with him, even when I was cranky, even when I was upset, especially during those times. It meant having a partner to share my joy over ‘A’ papers with. It meant having a partner to hold my hand when my perfectionist tendencies drove me to my breaking point. It meant having someone to take care of me when we saw the word “Pregnant” on a little purple test last October.

Maternity-Photo

For the past two years, I’ve allowed myself to be defined by the word “wife.” I’ve taken on that role proudly, seriously, and with gratitude for the man that my husband is. Sure, I was – and am – other things, too, like a daughter, a sister, a friend, a student. But I most identified with my role as a wife; it was how I described myself.

All this to say, when our son was born in June, I became something new; I became a mother. And now, if a person were to ask me to describe myself, mother would be the first word that would escape my lips, followed quickly by a smile stretching across my face.

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I know that I’m only {nearly} four months into my role as a mother, but at this point, I couldn’t be more pleased to be defined by my role as mother, as Mama to my little man. How lucky am I to be defined by something so precious, so sweet, so innocent?

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And yet, I can’t help but wonder if the way in which we define ourselves matters, especially when it comes to a role, like motherhood, that has no end, only a beginning. Should the future have in store for me some tragic occurrence in which my beloved son is taken from me, I feel firm in my belief that I will remain a mother, no matter what life brings about. While terms like “bride” and “student” are fleeting and transitory, the role of “mother” is earned, and not simply in the way that one can study or strive to be something, to achieve a new title for themselves. No, when a woman becomes a Mama, she earns that title, from the very first bout of morning sickness to the very first stretch mark to the kissing of the owies and scrapes that cover her children’s knees to the scoldings and the doling out of advice and the punishments and the celebrations and the accomplishments, all the way to when they, her grown children, hold her hand as she, an elderly woman, takes her final breath. To become a Mama is to permanently be a Mama – to forever have a piece of your heart beating outside of your chest, beating inside the chest of your children. And I can’t think of any better way to define myself.

{Top three photos by Creative Kindling; bottom two photos by me}

Two.

Jord, my love,

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It’s been two years since we exchanged vows, and today, I wanted to tell you that I’d do it all, every minute of these past two years, over again, as long as I have the you and the me that exist today.

This year has brought many a new adventure, including the birth of our son. It’s been such a pleasure and a joy – and an honor – to parent alongside you for these past six weeks, Jord. I look forward to many more years with you, my sweet husband, and with our son.

With love,

Sara

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!