June 21st is one of my favorite days of the year. It is the first day of summer, the longest day of the year (summer solstice) and it is the anniversary of my marriage to my best friend. Today is our 20 year anniversary. Holy Cow, that is a long time but sometimes it feels like it has flown by. Mark and I met in 1988 and were friends for eight years before we began dating. He has been a part of my life for almost 30 years and it’s hard to recall a memory that does not involve him in some capacity.
Our son has started to show a slight interest in the opposite sex therefore resulting in some interesting conversations. The other day, the topic of girlfriends came up. Mark explained to our boy that there might come a day when he begins to like a girl in more than a friend sort of way. He explained to Thomas the possibility that the girl may only think of Thomas as a friend.
“Buddy”, Mark explained, “some day you might find yourself in the Friend Zone.”
Mark proceeded to explain to our first born, that sometimes it might take a loooong time for that girl to realize that she is ready to move a guy out of the Friend Zone. He told Thomas that when that day comes, it will be worth the wait, even if the wait is eight years. Clearly my dear husband was referencing our eight year friendship prior to me finally realizing that what I needed and what I wanted in a partner was right under my nose and he had been there for eight years.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to an acquaintance. She has been divorced for a couple of years and is still trying to navigate co-parenting with her ex husband. She explained that she and her ex had been very driven by their careers and after having children, the pressures of working and raising kids became too much to handle.
“Our parenting was uneven. We both worked full time but whenever the kids needed one of us it was always me that had to take the time off from work. He never shared that responsibility.” She went on to explain that the inequitable workload in their parenting relationship eventually led to the demise of their marriage. I listened intently, feeling genuine empathy for her while at the same time feeling extremely fortunate.
“I’m so sorry.” I said.
“You know, you and Mark, you guys always seem so equal in your relationship. You really balance each other out.” She said with a smile and perhaps a slight hint of envy.
And it was at that moment that I started thinking about my marriage over the past 20 years. I sometimes think in images and I could not help but see our 20 year marriage as a balance scale. There have been times when one side might have been carrying more weight for a short time but eventually the other side would begin to bulk up, lightening the load so that the balance could be established once again.
Mark and I do balance each other out and this is why…..
We were friends first. We had eight years of friendship under our belt before we decided to take it to the next level. That friendship has served as an anchor for many storms over the years. When you are friends with your spouse, you understand one another, there is harmony and companionship in the relationship.
He prioritizes his children’s needs. After a long day of teaching children, that are not his own, he comes home and immediately asks me what I need. Whether it is powering through homework with the kids, driving Thomas to after school activities or taking Leah to the doctor, he will do what needs to be done. Last week, Leah had her first swim meet and he knew how important it was to be there. He came straight home after work, skipping his afternoon workout at the YMCA and rushed over to the pool. I was volunteering for the first half of the meet so he was responsible for keeping track of Leah until she swam her first heat. At one point during the evening, I walked over to talk to Mark who was chatting with some of our neighbors. One woman asked him why he was still dressed in his work clothes when it was a sweltering 90 degrees outside. That was the first time I noticed that he was wearing thick khaki pants and a long sleeve shirt, sweat beading on his forehead. I knew the answer to her question before Mark could even respond. He knew I needed and wanted him there for Leah’s first swim meet, and changing clothes to make himself more comfortable was not important. Getting to his daughter’s swim meet was his first priority. His priorities are always in line with mine.
He works hard. It goes without saying that teachers have difficult yet rewarding jobs. They choose the profession to make a difference in the lives of their students. It never fails, every time I start to get cynical about the fact that we live pay check to pay check and Mark has not had a raise in years, I am reminded of why he teaches. We live in the same community in which his students live. Everywhere I go, I see my husband’s influence. There have been days when I am at the grocery store and the clerk takes my credit card to swipe it and sees my last name. They usually look at me with a squinty side glance and say something to the effect of “Are you related to….” and I usually answer the question before they are finished asking. “Yes I am, he is my husband.” They ALWAYS smile and say something like “Mr. B. was my favorite teacher.” or “He is so funny.” or “I didn’t have Mr. B. for health and PE but my friend did and I was so jealous!” or “He is the best dancer.” or “I hated PE until I had Mr. B.” My kids think their father is a rock star because everywhere we go, we run into his current or former students. They are waiters at restaurants, lifeguards at the pool, members of our church, neighbors, and some are even friends now that they are grown ups and have families of their own (that makes me feel really old). When I am at the pool chatting with neighbors, the parents of Mark’s students frequently mention how wonderful a teacher he is. They share stories of how he has challenged their son to meet a fitness goal or encouraged their daughter to be proud of her body just the way it is. Recently one of Mark’s former students reached out to us about her upcoming wedding. He was her volleyball coach at Highland Springs high school for four years back in the early 2000s. As she and I messaged one another about the details, she told me how important it was to her to have Mark present at her wedding. She explained that he had been a father figure to her during high school and she wanted him to know how much his presence in her life meant to her. I cried like a baby, reminded of how hard he works to do the right thing for his students. He has a strong work ethic, as do I.
He is self-assured and does not feel the need to prove his masculinity. He is not scared to show his emotions. He refuses to watch scary movies because of how they make him feel and he always cries at sad movies. He will buy me tampons and keeps a variety box of feminine hygiene products in his classroom for female students who get surprised when they start their period earlier than expected. When we were struggling with infertility, he never once complained about the tests he was required to undergo to determine our diagnosis. We eventually turned to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Anyone familiar with the IVF process can tell you that it is one of the most difficult and laborious medical procedures any couple can face. The intimacy of creating a child, in the traditional sense, is completely devoid in the IVF process. It is humiliating to have every aspect of the reproductive process (both male and female) manipulated by medical professionals. Mark never complained. He did what was asked of him and was able to keep his sense of humor throughout the process. We still have inside jokes about the IVF process, which I intend to keep between the two of us because let’s face it, nothing about IVF is private.
He is empathetic. If I am struggling with something, he feels the need to suffer along with me. After I gave birth to Thomas, I was overwhelmed with fatigue, anxiety and worry. Getting up every two hours to nurse a newborn was extremely challenging. The first week after Thomas was born, Mark insisted on getting up with me every two hours. He would get me water, food, and note the time so that we could report to the doctor how often Thomas was nursing. Initially, I found it a bit annoying but in retrospect I realize it was because he wanted to share the burden. He did not want me to think that I was suffering alone.
He is gentle and kind. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. I rarely see him angry and even then it looks more like annoyance rather than anger. Our daughter has him wrapped around her little finger. When she wakes in the middle of the night and needs some comfort, it is her daddy that she asks for because she knows he will always come. Leah has him trained well. All that all she has to do is come to his side of the bed, tap him on the shoulder until he wakes, turn and walk back to her room. She knows that her daddy will follow on her heels and crawl into her bed to snuggle until she falls back to sleep.
He is hysterical and ridiculously witty. We have a LOT of inside jokes and he never misses an opportunity to make light of even the most difficult situations. He can remember and recite lines from movies and his impressions of people is always spot on. His humor is not only bust a gut funny but it is also cleverly funny. Sometimes his wit is so over my head that I need him to break it down and explain to me on a level that I can understand. Once I understand the logic and intellect behind the joke, then I bust a gut laughing.
He is incredibly smart. His ability to remember even the simplest fact, data or detail astounds me. As a teacher, he constantly seeks new information to share with his students. He attempts different methods and approaches to ensure that each student is learning. He is frequently recognized by his peers and administrators as a leader in his field. Other professionals regularly seek his guidance and input. Even though he is incredibly smart, he has a way of making others feel at ease, not at all intimidated by his intelligence.
He respects me as a woman. He holds doors for me but also knows when to let me open the door for myself. He knows that it is just not in me to be a stay at home mom. He respects that I choose to be a working mother. These days it takes two salaries to survive but even if money were not an issue, I would choose to work. There was a time, early in our relationship where he was in school full time and I worked a full time job to support the both of us while he finished his degree. During those difficult years, I was the bread winner and it never bothered Mark. I wanted to support him while he finished school and I had the skills and the income to do so. He was always grateful, never embarrassed that I made the money for our family. When I gave birth to his children, I felt admired by him, appreciated and cherished.
I often tell the story of the night I realized that Mark was the man I was supposed to be with for the rest of my life. It was 1995 and I was going to a concert with my friends Kimberly and Krista. We met up with Mark and his sister, Ali, at the concert. It had been about a year or two since I had last seen Mark so we were catching up and he was getting acquainted with my friends. We were all having fun and Mark was being his usual charming self.
Eventually, Kimberly turned to me and said, “Mark is so funny and charming. He is adorable. Why did you two never date in high school?”
I was a little taken aback by her question and paused for a couple of seconds, thinking of a response. Kimberly continued to stare at me, waiting for my answer to her question and when one did not come, she just winked at me and smiled. I turned to Mark who stood on the other side of me.
“Hey,” I said to him and he turned to look at me. “Kimberly just asked me why we never dated in high school.”
“Oh Yeah?” he said flashing a wide smile.
“Yeah and you know what? I could not think of one reason why we never dated.” I confessed, a bit puzzled.
Mark paused took a step toward me and said, “Nickie, I have been trying to tell you that for the last eight years.” and immediately, I knew he was the one. He had been there all along. And that was that. We have been together ever since.
Happy 20th Anniversary to my personal comedian, my co-parent, my best friend and my husband. Thanks for working so hard to balance us out, I love you!
“A great marriage isn’t something that just happens; it’s something that must be created.”
“The greatest marriages are built on teamwork. A mutual respect, a healthy dose of admiration, and a never-ending portion of love and grace.”