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What Happens When a New Reality Steps In and Changes Your Plans

woman embracing man

My first year of married life was nothing like I’d expected it would be.

When my husband and I decided to make our partnership officially permanent, we were adamant about defining our marriage in a way that would work for us. Both of us had seen examples of marriage that we desperately did not want to repeat, and I had zero interest in playing the traditional role of “wife” as I had seen it modeled for me. So we set about designing our own blueprint for marriage on our terms.

I fancied all our pre-marital planning as very mature and proactive and imagined it would help us intentionally create the life we wanted to share. Oh, the places we’d go! The adventures we would have! The Big Life Goals we would tackle!

Then, a few months before our wedding, we had the chance to offer a home to my two young nieces. We knew only that the living arrangement would probably be temporary and the time period was undefined. I hesitated. My husband and I were urban professionals/extreme sports enthusiasts united in our desire to remain childless. Adding an actual baby plus a three-year-old to our brand new baby family was definitely not in our blueprint!

As the compulsive planner in our family, I busied myself over-analyzing the situation and fretting over all its potential outcomes while my husband calmly embraced the unknown. “They’re family. We’ll figure it out,” was his simple decision process. And with that, we doubled the size of our family and turned our world upside down.

The house was rearranged and work schedules were shuffled to make it work. Our calm sanctuary of a home was suddenly filled with rambunctious roughhousing, baby dancing, and tearful temper tantrums. Our evenings and weekends now involved violin lessons, playing in the park and kid yoga.

We moved from my downtown condo to my husband’s house in the suburbs and gradually settled into a new home routine. We scheduled a standing date night so we could have some time to just be newlyweds. But mostly we enjoyed the kids and our unconventional little family. The girls got to know my husband’s family and we awkwardly tried to explain to my niece why his parents weren’t her grandparents before giving up and agreeing she could call them her “farm grandpa and grandma.”

My husband had never really interacted with children before, but he turned out to be a natural. Watching him bottle feeding the baby early in the morning and swinging the older one around late at night, I fell in love with him even more. When our niece turned four, my husband anointed her his “sous chef” and they made countless real and imaginary dinners together. He let her “help” with his furniture building projects and rigged up a sled to attach to his harness so she could go kite boarding with him on the frozen lakes. In the spring, we cleared out a plot of land for “her garden” and she planted it with the flowers she had carefully selected from the farmer’s market. The baby took her first wobbly steps between our hands and soon graduated to a waddling run.

As we planned for a fifth birthday party, we learned the girls would be moved to another state to be closer to their father. We lobbied for them to stay but the decision was out of our hands.

A week before our one-year wedding anniversary, we took them to the airport and I watched my sister shepherd them through security. The youngest screamed inconsolably as her shoes and bottle were taken for screening. I willed myself to keep it together until the four-year old broke free and darted back to me. As she clutched my neck, she whispered fiercely, “I need you to always remember that I love you.” It was all I could do to blink back my tears and carry her back to my sister, repeating our mantra back to her. I smiled and waved cheerfully until they were out of sight then got into the nearest elevator and lost my shit.

Through the car ride home and the days and weeks that followed, my husband held my hand and we talked through our conflicting emotions and fears. He planned a flurry of activities to keep us out of the oddly quiet house and remind us of all the fun we could still have together. It’s been a few months now and we still miss the girls, of course. But we’ve also re-discovered the joys of being just the two of us.

There’s a lot we didn’t do during our first year of marriage. We didn’t have any of the adventures we set out for, but the ones we had instead were even scarier and more rewarding.

We didn’t visit a foreign country together. But together we navigated our new family roles; we faced the unknown and supported each other in this unplanned adventure. Then together we worked through the readjustment back to a family of two again.

I didn’t learn to kiteboard, but I did learn how to withstand the force of a child’s tantrum, to play like a kid again and to stop and notice the everyday wonders of the world.

I learned my husband doesn’t differentiate between his family and my family. He considers them all our family and will go to the ends of the earth for them.

I learned my husband has a practically limitless potential to sacrifice for our family and yet never plays the role of martyr.

I never made it to that aerial yoga class. But I did learn that my partner is a trustworthy safety net when I’m afraid I might fall flat on my face or just plain fall apart.

I learned that planning for an intentional life is important, but it is no guarantee that life will go according to plan. You can’t control the circumstances life throws at you, but working ahead of time to build a solid foundation will keep you standing when the ground is shifting beneath you.

When I wrote about my wedding day, I said it felt like we were the main characters in a story that was so much bigger than ourselves. This year underlined how true that is for us. Our commitment to each other did more than sustain us as individuals; it also empowered us to go out of our comfort zone to support the people we love. And doing that opened us up to experiencing a whole different kind of love.

Above all, I learned to appreciate, I mean really appreciate, how lucky we are. As adults, we get to decide for ourselves. We each get to share our lives with the people we’ve chosen, the people who love us and make us better people and make our journey both easier and more epic.

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