Christmas Is For Lovers


IMG_1485Our first Christmas together, my husband did not want to get a tree. He reasoned that we would be spending the holidays with our families and were at home so little it wasn’t worth the effort. To me, no Christmas was complete without a real tree shimmering with lights and tinsel. So I was feeling glum as I made my way home from my teaching job one cold and wintry December evening. When I walked in the door, I was surprised to find my beloved kneeling at the base of a lovely tall fir tree, screwing the posts of a tree stand into its trunk. Next to the tree were boxes of lights and shiny ornaments he’d bought. He had carried the tree on his back for three blocks and up the three flights of stairs to the condo where it now stood in all its majesty at the big picture window. I was thrilled and touched.

Something about the holidays moves us to be kind and generous to each other. And over the years, it has been a time when my husband has gone out of his way to show me how much he loves me.

One of my favorite Christmas tree ornaments was given to me by my sister. It is a Precious Moments ornament with the inscription, “Our First Christmas Together 1988,” and I have always given it pride of place on our tree. One Christmas, one of my kids was attempting to hang it on the tree when it slipped out of his little hands and broke in two. I was inconsolable. Of all the ornaments we had collected over the years, that one was irreplaceable. That Christmas morning, in the pile of presents from my husband, was a small box with the very Precious Moments ornament I thought was gone forever. My husband had searched for its replacement and special ordered it for me.

Through the years, somehow my husband has found ways to give me gifts with deep emotional meaning. One year he had restored and tinted a favorite old photo of my sisters when they were little. Another year, I unwrapped three fancifully decorated letters of the alphabet representing the initials of each of our three children. But there was a fourth box of identical shape. When I opened it, tears came to my eyes. It was the letter “O,” representing our hope for the fourth child we were in the process of adopting.

Christmas is an emotional time for many people, and I am an extremely sensitive and emotional person. The year my father died, I could hardly bear to celebrate Christmas. The holiday that had always been marked by my father’s birthday on Christmas Eve would feel so empty without him. That year, my husband gently coaxed me through the season, helping me decorate the house and reminding me that our kids needed to feel the joy of the season – but also allowing me space to grieve.

The true magic of Christmas is that it can bring us closer to the people we love. That has certainly been the case with my husband and me over the years. I cherish the memories of almost three decades of Christmases together and pray that we have many, many more.


Great Expectations



I have grown used to my husband being the more common-sensical person in our marriage. With his take charge personality, he seems to know how to handle just about any situation. I have grown so used to this trait of his that I find myself disappointed when he is wrong about something or admits he doesn’t know what to do. I have this expectation that he will keep us safe and well-functioning as a family no matter what.

What a heavy burden that is to place upon a person! I think men in general carry a lot of emotional weight around, not really allowed by society to crack or show weakness. While we women also bear much responsibility in our families, we are given leave to vent, to ask for help, and to lean on others.

Expectations can be difficult to live with. When our child fails to meet our behavioral standards, our parental disappointment is felt keenly not only by ourselves, but by our kids as well. I know I have felt betrayed and disillusioned by catching my child in a lie or in finding out they were unkind to a friend. Parental expectations can also put undue pressure on our children. Right now, my youngest daughter is going through high school final exams. She wants to do well, and that fact contributes to her stress. But she also has to live with our expectations as parents that she excel academically. As often as I say to her, “Just do your best,” she knows in her heart that I am hoping for a perfect report card.

Our children, for their part, often have superhuman expectations of us as parents. As they get older and see our imperfections, as they realize we are not infallible, they lose some of the comfort and security that their wide-eyed innocence afforded them.

It’s hard to see our heroes fall. Recently, Tiger Woods was arrested for a DUI, to the disappointment of many fans who idolized him for his golfing prowess. It’s the same for other athletes, political leaders, artists, and anyone else who has attained a larger than life persona. We have set them on pedestals, and it is all too easy to fall off those exalted mounts.

On the other side lies cynicism. We start to doubt anyone who attains acclaim for great talent, public service, charity, or career success. We become jaded by scandal and the inevitable recognition that being human means making (sometimes huge) mistakes.

We need to attain a happy medium wherein we can admire and hope for the best in people, where we can encourage goodness and excellence without crushing someone’s spirit when they fail, where our expectations of each other are tempered by compassion and the recognition that we are all imperfect beings and that most of us are trying our best to be good people.

For my part, I will try not to expect my husband to be my constant rescuer. I will love my children unconditionally and let them know that nothing they could ever do will change how I feel about them. I will even try not to be so hard on myself when I inevitably stumble. Better to practice great encouragement than to saddle people with great expectations.


Mixed Marriage



The other day while I was putzing around in the kitchen, my husband tuned in to Donald Trump making one of his self-congratulatory speeches at a rally in Florida. Given that the mere sound of Trump’s voice, much less the content of his speech, makes my blood pressure shoot up, I decided to hum a tune quietly to drown out the sound.

What popped into my head was an old disco-era song, “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees. I had to laugh at the aptness of the tune. How deep indeed must my love be to have abided my hubby’s right wing conservative politics all these years.

Since we met back in the 80s, my husband and I have had many an argument about politics. I liked to call him a right wing nut job while he would tell our friends that I was sad about the fall of the Soviet Union. We were quite a pair. Back then, we compared ourselves to James Carville and Mary Matalin, a high-profile married couple with diametrically opposed political views. Carville managed Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign while Matalin headed up George H.W. Bush’s run for the White House. The two would appear on Sunday morning news shows and argue politics.

As my husband often likes to point out, one would think that our irreconcilable political differences would make us shy away from conversations about politics. However, we are both strongly opinionated, and neither of us likes to back down from an argument. So if a political gauntlet is thrown down between us, a battle is sure to ensue.

The effect of all this arguing about politics over the years is that our children are somewhat a-political. They have seen first hand the pointlessness of our disagreements and noticed that neither of us has ever budged even an inch in the political direction of the other.

Luckily, my husband and I have always found common ground in the important things in life: our children and our personal values, which inform our relationship with each other and extend to our family and friends.

We may be in a politically “mixed marriage,” but we have found that in most other ways, we blend well together. And with the Trump presidency and Republican dominance over government looming head, at least things will never get boring here. Meanwhile, I’ll be expanding my repertoire of corny old disco songs to get me through.


I Still Do



Twenty-seven years ago today, my husband and I were married. There were minor mishaps the day of our wedding. The flowers didn’t arrive on time. Then, as we left the church after saying “I do,” the heavens opened, and we were pelted with rain while a friend furiously rolled up the roof on the convertible we were taking to the reception. Best of all, a stranger crashed our wedding, making off with a bottle of booze. A friend of my husband’s, who shall remain nameless, chased the thief and bashed in the window of his car. Good times.

Over 27 years, we have had our share of hardships and blessings. Four children, financial stress, cross-country moves, emergency room visits, career successes. During the early years, I felt lonely and stressed. We had moved to Los Angeles for his work, and I often found myself alienated and alone, caring for two young children while he tried hard to make rain at work. We finally moved back home when I was expecting our third child. Aside from figuring out how to acclimate myself to cold weather again, I was happier, but he was less so. As each stage of our family life proceeds, we have sometimes come together and at other times threatened to break apart.

Marriage is hard. Everyone knows that, but until we experienced the ups and downs ourselves, my husband and I never realized just how challenging it could be. There have been many days when I don’t much like my hubby, and I know there are times when he’s only half joking about where he’s going to bury the body (mine).

Still, I miss him when he’s away on business and the weight of his body isn’t next to me in bed. I love his smell and the feeling of his strong arms around me. He makes me laugh, sometimes so hysterically the tears roll down my cheeks. He anchors me and makes me feel safe. He accepts all the little quirks of my personality, and I do the same for him.

As our children grow up, we can see the empty nest phase looming. I look forward to the many things I pray we get to share together: retirement, grandchildren, travel, and seeing our own children happy and successful.

That autumn day in 1988, I felt certain I had found my soulmate. Twenty-seven years later, I still do.

A Better Man Than I



My husband loves his car. It is sleek and black and purrs like a lioness. He maintains it lovingly, gets it washed regularly, and doesn’t allow anyone to eat in it. So I might have expected him to get miffed when I smashed it into the rear end of a taxi the other day.

It wasn’t my fault! I had just dropped the hubby at his office in downtown Chicago and was heading to our dentist’s office. I was stopped at a light behind a red SUV that happened to be a taxicab. When the light changed, the taxi started forward and so did I. Inexplicably, the taxi stopped, and I didn’t have time to stop before crunching right into it. The sickening thud told me that my husband’s beautiful car had sustained some major damage. I called my husband’s office, my heart in my throat.

He was completely calm and came to survey the damage. The first thing he did was wrap me in a hug and tell me he was so glad I was okay. Then he looked at his beloved car. The front headlights and grill were smashed in, and the hood was bent. It looked like the automobile equivalent of a boxer who has been punched right in the kisser.

Hubby’s reaction? “It’s not so bad.”
“I am so sorry,” I said. “I feel sick about it.”
Still totally calm, he said, “It’s no problem. We’ll get it fixed. I’ll call the body shop and tell them you’re going to bring it in.”

And as simply as that, I made the necessary next moves: calling our insurance company, clearing out the car, and dropping it off at the premier auto body repair facility. Let’s hope it comes out good as new.

My husband and I are like any other couple. We get annoyed over little things, have arguments, and get on each other’s nerves. I don’t handle crises very well, and in this particular instance I made a number of logistical errors that totally inconvenienced him. Yet he never got upset or yelled, something I feel pretty certain I would have done had the tables been turned.

I am grateful for the level-headedness and compassion my husband showed after I wrecked his car, and I only hope I will treat him with equal kindness should the shoe ever land on the other foot.

The “WEs” Have It



When my husband and I were first married, we had the annoying habit of constantly asserting all of our opinions with the pronoun “we.”

“WE loved The Terminator.
“WE hate people who talk during movies.”
“WE don’t watch baseball.”

WE, WE, WE! It was nauseating to others, I’m sure. It seemed neither of us had a mind of our own. It was just that we were so in love that we felt a strong need to be seen as united in everything. It was like verbally holding hands.

It’s not as if we were in total agreement, however. How could we be? He is interested in tax law and college sports while I prefer literature and night-time soap operas. Politically, I consider him a right wing nut job while he thinks I lean to the left of Karl Marx. Certainly over the years we have found much to fight about.

But that identification as a couple has been really good for our marriage. As Bruce Feiler puts it in his book The Secrets of Happy Families, “We is a particularly good pronoun because the ‘we-ness’ is a mark of high togetherness.” As parents, we have found that it is usually best to present a united front in conflicts with our children. The feeling that we are in this together makes us both feel more secure.

As our marriage has evolved, we have been able to enjoy our own separate interests and to forward our individual opinions without feeling as if we are threatening the relationship. My individual happiness has certainly been positive for our relationship. And my husband’s ability to enjoy his own pursuits builds up good will between us.

Still, it is nice to think of ourselves as “we” most of the time. And I hope WE will continue to find common ground as a couple in the years to come.