This is Us

In Kiddos, Payton Denney by Lola Magazine

My wedding dress isn’t the only thing that no longer fits. I’m not the same person that my husband married. Fifteen years in, I remember what that woman looked like, but I have no idea who she was. We’ve changed.

At the age of 24, Pat and I were married in a large wedding in our home town. There were 20 members in our wedding party. I remember our vows and that Pat sweated profusely throughout the entire ceremony. But mostly I remember crying in the bathroom at the reception because his fire department buddies ripped him away from me on the dance floor. There I stood alone, while they took him out back for his embarrassing “welcome to manhood” initiation. My mother said an ugly word to his best man. It wasn’t our best moment.

To escape the emotionally taxing task of Southern wedding planning, we took a week-long honeymoon to Mexico. We came home to new dishes, a full work schedule and unsecured debt. Pat and I talk often about how we could have used the money differently.

After a year of eating frozen dinners, we paid off our debt and saved enough for a down payment on our first home. We were well-rested and had disposable income. Our baby had fur and four legs. We traveled and hosted parties because spending time with friends was priority. Our new perspective on life allowed us to offer regular parenting advice to our siblings as they raised our nieces and nephew. Work/ life balance was a reality. There was time for the gym and each other. We had the adulting gig in the bag.

And then we had kids.

We have learned many valuable lessons. Note to self: When the red light on the septic system blinks, it’s about to overflow. Calling your spouse an ugly name in front of her mother is a terrible idea. No free trip to Las Vegas is worth the harassment you’ll endure from the timeshare salesman. There are no exceptions to using the phrase, “My kids will never…”

Our life today runs at the pace of a sprint but is more like a relay. Between growing my business and Pat’s shifts at the fire station, we’ve gotten good at passing off the baton. Our commonality and our life’s joy at this phase in life is our kiddos. I keep everyone fed and the toilets clean. Pat delivers the discipline and does the math homework. We both shuffle kids but often with a divide and conquer playbook. Pat’s at his best on the kids’ sporting event sidelines, while I’m at my worst. We switch roles at the parent-teacher conferences.

We still travel, but the car conversation is different. We play the license plate game under a fog of flatulence, but I’m still riding shotgun tapping to the backbeat. A few days of recuperation after we return home is necessary. The primary concern is making memories while the kids are under our roof. With each tick of the odometer, we anchor our hearts closer to the foundation we are trying desperately to instill. Once a year, we still escape for an adult Mexican respite. Together, we may just get this right.

Pat says that we’ve switched roles over the years. I’ve learned to be tough in uncomfortable or highly emotional situations. And while I’ve learned to cry less, Pat tears up more often. Speaking his mind happens less and less these days. On the flip side, my opinion runs loud and loosely.

Our bodies are – different. Daily, the following questions are discussed between us: “Does this look cancerous?” “What, exactly, is happening right here?” “Why is hair growing here and not there?” Then there’s a burst of laughter. Aging isn’t so bad as long as we’re doing it together.

As partners, we not only raise human babies but feather ones, too. I trap the chicken predators, and Pat shoots them. He puts hammer and nail to the projects I dream up, but he occasionally carries a terrified opossum inside the house to harass me. I guess that’s a fair tradeoff.

One thing hasn’t changed. Pat’s pranks have remained a constant source of joy — for him. He’s still catching snakes and chasing me with them. A few years back, there was a handful of flour following my ice bucket challenge. Nightly, he switches off all the lights in the house and then lurks in the shadows awaiting his chance to pounce on someone. Once, there was a weight-bearing firecracker placed under the toilet seat. It’s a miracle that I haven’t gone into cardiac arrest.

We’ve had some scary times, too. Shortly after our first anniversary, we discovered that I had atrial fibrillation. An erratic, racing heartbeat is unnerving at best, especially when your parent died at an early age from cardiac complications. Pat’s been my anchor when my nerves flirted with lunacy. I know that many times he had to be worried when doctors didn’t have an answer, when an emergency heart cath was ordered, when vision was temporarily lost in an eye. But Pat never wavered. He stood by my side, encouraging and supportive. He has the “in sickness” part in the bag.

A few months ago, it was my turn to stand firm. Pat was scheduled for shoulder surgery. And even though it was considered minor surgery, there were still risks to be considered. The nurse came in to give him his loopy meds, and then I was dismissed to the waiting area. I kissed his surgery-capped forehead, squeezed his hand and walked away. As I sat down in the lobby, I felt a lump form in my throat. My life, my joy was in someone else’s hands. I needed to pray.

For over a decade our house has remained the gathering place because even though free time is scarce, friends remain our lifeline. Our friends are invested in the success of our marriage and us theirs. Together we’ve watched life come and go. The first of our friends have divorced. We’ve wrestled to make sense as other friends have taken their lives or engaged in infidelity. With each year that passes, life seems more uncertain. And while we agree that life doesn’t make sense, we’ve rested on our foundation that in time God makes all things right.

Our marriage hasn’t been perfect. We’ve had rough patches, said things we couldn’t take back, entertained visions of choking the other out. But neither of us has ever given up on the promise we made — for better or worse. We’ve created a soft space for the other to land when life takes us out at the knees.

Next up for the Denneys: puberty, clicks and backtalk. And those are just the challenges that we know are coming. But we’re ready as a team. We are stronger and more mature than our 24-year-old lookalikes. Our values are the same, but our convictions are stronger. We’re faithful that the good times will be more plentiful than the bad. Because this is us, till death do us part.