I was hired by a local magazine recently to write a feature story about a new documentary called “I Do?” and it got me thinking about my own I Do.
After making it through a rough patch in his 29-year marriage to Minnesota news legend Joan Steffend, Director Joe Brandmeier hit the road to talk to other couples about “this crazy concept of marriage.”
One question he explores is When we say “I do” . . . what exactly do we say “yes” to?
I was pondering pretty much the same thing 22-and-a-half years ago as I pulled up in my red Toyota Tercel to a US postal box, located on a street corner near the tall fancy building I worked in at the time.
According to my wedding planning guide, I was already several days late sending the invitations, which were packed snugly in an open shoe box on the seat next to me. They looked like a bunch of nervous airline passengers waiting for safety instructions.
Pre-marital jitters had been looping and twirling inside me for weeks. As the last of nine children to get married, I surely had witnessed how wonderful, but also how complicated marriage could be.
Did we two 20-something fledglings truly know what we were signing up for? I’d always been an overthinker.
Our first encounter was at Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream Shop in uptown Minneapolis . . .
He was the blue-eyed blond wearing a baseball cap turned backward and rummaging in his pockets for more change to pay for his ice cream cone. Although we’d never officially met, we knew of one another. Long story short, my roommate dated his roommate.
There was something refreshingly good-natured about him as he looked back apologetically for holding up the line. I dug in my purse for some change, walked up, and set it on the counter.
He proposed a year-and-a-half later. No big production. He knew by then that wouldn’t be my thing. It was a simple, lovely question while pulling out a simple, sparkly ring, tears in his bright eyes looking into mine.
“Yes!” I screamed and cried with certainty . . . until those doggone jitters slithered in.
Time for take off. I pulled down the lid to the mailbox, lifted the first stack of invitations up, took a deep breath, and in a leap of faith, let go.
I’m happy to report I’m still hanging out with the guy who didn’t have enough change to pay for his ice cream cone. We’re now parents to two teens and a tween, for whom I’m constantly digging in my purse for some extra change, too.
It’s an abundant life of tables cluttered with homework, entryways blocked by stinky sports bags, and sporadic family nights watching Shark Tank while eating deep bowls of ice cream.
But of course, it’s not all blue skies and smooth landings.
Some days, as we muddle through mundane tasks and unmet longings, it’s storm clouds and coffee spills.
So in the spirit of this month of love and romance, I jotted down a few of my own responses to Brandmeier’s question:
When I said “I do” . . . what exactly did I say “yes” to?
Here’s a teeny tiny glimpse:
• I SAID YES TO sharing my life with the guy who adds salt to our water softener, checks the air in our daughter’s car tires, helps the kids with fractions, and waits until I arrive at gatherings before going through buffet lines.
• I SAID YES TO tolerating some habits that make me want to bounce a big crouton off his forehead, like leaving socks on bathroom floors, some nights whistle snoring, and eating only the top of a muffin with the rest of it left in the pan.
• I SAID YES TO making time for occasional midweek dates at a little yellow cafe with checkered floors and menus with coffee stains.
• BUT I ALSO SAID YES TO romance more often being like changing into comfy clothes, warming up a batch of nacho cheese dip, then looking under couch cushions together for somebody’s lost calculator.
• I SAID YES TO letting go of that corroding, half-baked notion that our marriage should in some way look like somebody else’s marriage. I’m sure even Chip and Joanna feel like two sloths slurping soup on some days, too.
• I SAID YES TO indulging in our own interests and spaces. An afternoon with him in a crowded sports stadium drinking a tall cup of Diet Coke with ice. Me at my wood-grained writing desk sipping a mug of dark roast pretending I’m at a secret lake.
• I SAID YES TO understanding there will always be somebody else with better fitting jeans, more charm, or cooler song lists, but probably nobody with as much stick-to-it-ive-ness through all my random cycles of yammering and yo-yoing.
• I SAID YES TO coparenting—our hearts equally brimming, bursting, and breaking right in half as our squabbling, self-willed wonders navigate friendships, try out for teams, rise from disappointment, and learn to shut dresser drawers.
• AND FINALLY, I SAID YES TO waking up tomorrow and choosing “I Do” all over again . . . whether it’s one of those days we’re all soarin’ in sync or buckling up and white knucklin’ it ‘til the wheels touch down.
What did you say yes to?
I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom to two teens and a tween, freelance writer, editor, and co-author of HERE IN THE MIDDLE: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between.
This blog, Carvings on a Desk, is where I reconnect with my own voice swirling around in the middle.
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