Fifteen

Fifteen years. Just like that.

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These past fifteen years haven’t really seemed linear. I know there’s a clear beginning to our marriage but I’m not sure if this is the middle or what and I can’t even begin to guess what the end will be.

These past fifteen years instead are just jumbled memories of babies and doctor’s appointments and diapers and houses and vacations and deep joy and health crises and holidays and homework monitoring and weird rashes and belly laughs and grocery shopping and intense grief and settling arguments and drying tears and calling kids by the names of their siblings instead of their actual names.

Each year that passes adds to the jumble but is also feels like it’s just always been like this. This chaotic and busy and tragic and lovely. This wonderful life.

After fifteen years, I barely remember the before.

On Generosity

The five of us spent a long weekend this past July exploring the western side of our home state of Virginia, puttering down and then back up the Shenandoah Valley. It was a fun few days of exploring places we had never been before. We found downtown Roanoke to be delightfully eclectic and Natural Bridge State Park to be rightfully impressive but, more than any other stop on our trip, we really loved the little town of Lexington, Virginia.

Lexington is home to two universities that sit, quite literally, side by side: Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. We set out to explore both while we were in town. We learned that Washington and Lee was named to honor, in part, George Washington. He saved the school from what was certain closure in 1796 through the gift of about $20,000 in stock. A gift that, at the time, was tremendous. It allowed the university to stay afloat and continue operations.

A friend had recommended touring the Lee Chapel while we were on campus so we headed there next. We were probably the only ones on the tour that didn’t know Robert E. Lee’s history with the university or that he was buried in the basement with the majority of his family members only one floor removed from where we were standing. The chapel itself was simple but lovely and, as we learned from the docent, had been saved from ruin in the 1960s by a corporate benefactor that funded the restoration of the trusses that give the chapel its beautiful curved interior ceiling.

A building we would not be standing in on a campus that would no longer exist if not for the generosity of others.

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When our summer travels took us back to the Midwest earlier this month, we decided to break up the long drive with an overnight stop near Pittsburgh. I booked a hotel and messaged a lovely friend I met earlier this year that I remembered lived nearby. I asked if she’d like to meet up for dinner and we made plans to pick a restaurant. When I mentioned I’d have my family with me, she didn’t even hesitate to suggest that we all congregate at her house instead and order in pizza. “The kids can jump on the trampoline and run around,” she explained. I’d never been to her home or met her children or husband nor had she met mine but when she realized we’d all be there, after traveling a fair distance in the car, she was quick to offer an evening that would be easier on everyone.

During that same trip home, a neighbor from the street I grew up on made the same offer when I asked about grabbing lunch together while we were in town. I used to babysit her kids when I was Henry’s age and I had not seen her or her husband in way too long. She didn’t even blink before suggesting we all congregate at her house for lunch. Which we did, spending a glorious afternoon in her home and on her back deck, enjoying great food and great company and gorgeous midwest summer weather which is better than anyone else’s summer weather anywhere. It was so much more pleasant than navigating a restaurant with my three kids.

Two generous women, crafting some of our favorite memories of the trip through something as simple as hospitality.

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Millie has recently taken up skateboarding. She borrows Charlie’s board and helmet and tools around the garage or the nearby school’s playground. I’m not surprised. Millie and skateboarding: makes sense. Last weekend, she convinced Bob to take her to Starbucks and then over to the skate park in the neighboring town. Bob said yes. Bob always says yes.

Now, the skate park is an intimidating place. The first time we took Charlie there, he was too overwhelmed to enter the fray. But, Millie wanted in. In with all of the people that really know how to skate. The experts whizzing by without helmets and knee pads – or shirts – doing fancy footwork and trick moves. It’s all very busy. Except for the teenager there early that Saturday morning that wasn’t too busy to spend 45 minutes teaching Millie some basic skateboarding skills. Bob relayed the story about how kind and patient this kid was. I was surprised and also touched at how much time he had spent with her.

Turns out, Bob said the kid was there with his father who was also helpfully pointing out useful things his kid could teach Millie.

Generational generosity, taught by example.

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I’ve been looking for more ways to be generous. Looking for more ways to give of my time, my talents, my voice, my money. It’s so easy to get busy and frazzled and to forget. Forget to help. The teacher that needs a room parent. The friend that needs a night out. The kid that needs an unbelievable amount of patience.

Generosity is rarely about the big stuff, like saving a university. It’s really all about the other stuff – the smaller stuff.

My hope is that we all find ways to be more generous. To recognize a need and step in to fill it.

Can’t hurt, might help, as the saying goes.

The Little Big Things

I landed my first job when I was fifteen years old. After years of babysitting for neighbors, I marched into my school district office, requested a work permit, and headed straight to the local mall, where I was employed part-time until I left for college.

I have always worked. Always. Except for when I had my third child and I gave up trying to make it all work and left work behind for a bit. It was hard. I missed work.

When I started back up with paid employment in 2016, as Millie was turning five years old, I decided to open up a local bank account. We had an account where Bob worked in the city but it made sense to have easier access to our money locally, too. His pay went into that account and my pay would go into this account. It didn’t matter that everything mine is his and his is mine. It just mattered that after a dozen years of managing every aspect of our budget, investments, and overall financial health, I would be once again contributing to our budget, investments, and overall financial health.

It made me so happy to go back to work – to have an account that reflected my work.

On new bank account day, I gathered up all of my new job deposit information and headed to the bank branch bringing Bob in tow. I knew he needed to be on the account, too, in case I ever died tragically in some Joanna-appropriate manner (which, would be, like, trespassing on someone’s property to get a better look at their house or something). So, Bob was with me at the bank branch and I asked that he be added to the account but it was absolutely clear that he wasn’t the one opening the account. It was me! I was opening the account! With my new job money!

Imagine my dismay when the account statement arrived and I saw it was addressed to Bob. His name was the primary on the account. My name was secondary. The checks arrived and Bob’s name was listed first, too. This was especially grating as I’m not entirely sure Bob even remembers HOW to write a check.

It was such a little thing – the manager opening the account for me but listing him first. Her not bothering to ask who should be the primary account holder. Her assuming it would be my husband. The man in the equation. It seems so inconsequential, my rage. Like it shouldn’t even matter. But, it did matter. It mattered to me. A lot.

It mattered so much that it made me want to close the account.

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A week or so ago, I bought a new car. We’d known for awhile that our minivan needed to be replaced but Bob and I were unable to decide on what kind of car to replace it with. Finally, after way too many months of indecision, Bob arrived home declaring that the minivan needed to go! It was time! The impasse must end! So, I said I would take care of it. I’d figure out a new car I thought we could both agree on.

The next morning, I notified work I’d be late and I drove to a dealership a little ways away but one I knew that had the model and color I was interested in seeing. I’ve bought a few cars over the years so I knew how it all worked and I knew how much I wanted to pay and I knew how all car salesman have treated me in the past so I arrived with an all business demeanor absolutely loaded for bear.

It was a gorgeous day and the salesman I approached was lingering outside in the sun. I asked to see the car I had found online and he said, “Sure,” without even once looking around me to see if my husband was behind me. When I sat in the car, surveyed the cargo space, had him point out where the closest USB ports to where my children would be seated were located, he kindly showed me all of the features without even once asking if my husband would be joining us. When I asked him for his best price, let him know he was in competition with another dealership, told him I could close the deal on the spot, he never even once asked if I needed to consult with my husband. That night, I got to surprise my husband with a new car, in the make he had wanted, and I have to say it was a very Lexus-December-to-Remember type thing but without the red bow (or the Lexus actually).

It was such a little thing that the salesman at that dealership wasn’t asking. He could have easily asked. Could have easily assumed that I couldn’t do it on my own. But, he didn’t. He never once assumed that there was anyone else in the car buying equation but me. That mattered to me. It mattered a lot.

It mattered so much that it made me want to buy a car.

I’m not really entirely sure what my point here is other than I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important our words are. How much weight they carry. What we do say and what we don’t say. What we do ask and what we don’t ask.

It’s hard not to think about it when things seem so broken – the vitriol amongst us at a fever pitch. It’s hard not to imagine that some of that could be fixed or mended with a better choice of words.

Being inclusive, reserving assumptions, watching our phrasing are all such little moments. Little opportunities to do better by someone, for someone. I hear people complain and bemoan the extra steps it takes to be cautious and mindful with our words. That those little things shouldn’t matter. I think they do matter. I think they matter a lot.

What if all of the little things add up to much bigger things?