i’m making steve read it when he gets home. and i’ll reread it. and we’ll cry together. it’s that powerful.
I thought that on the occasion of our third anniversary, I would begin sharing our story.
I know first-hand that there was a helluva’ lotta’ curiosity surrounding our “courtship” if you will. I totally get it. Had I been a student (as opposed to THE student) at the college at the time, I would’ve had a ton of questions resembling, “Huh?! Whaaat? How? Who?! No way!” Maybe yours went something like that.
(Although, those of you who were just plain mean–and there were some of those–I’ll never understand. But, that’s probably none of you.)
Or maybe you didn’t go to the college and you just wonder how I had four older children in such a flash while maintaining my narrow hips.
“She must not’ve posted the pregnancy pictures on Facebook.” Naturally that would be the explanation.
So, whichever school of questioning you find yourself in (or if you don’t even care), here goes. And just chapter 1. Chapter 2 will come some other time. My shameless plug to keep you coming back (and because I don’t feel like typing the entire thing).
Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with A, B, C… ah, I’m getting off track. Where was I?
I’m at college. I was a freshman (you see? I’m going way back.) with a schedule-in-hand for my second semester classes. Pan down. The schedule read “New Testament” with a certain Dr. Hunt. This guy required that you make a short trek across campus to buy his specially constructed notes that would aid you in your note-taking. So thoughtful.
So my friend and I headed on over to buy the aforementioned notes. Small, red, camp-resembling building… Here we are. Enter office. There he sits. My first observations? He’s young and he’s handsome. He pushes back from his desk and gives us a smile. He’s suave too (seriously honey, you were… are… suave).
“Hi, I’m Bridget.” I say walking forward and holding out my hand.
He’s totally hip too, requiring that we call him by his first name instead of the official title. No crotchety, pen in shirt pocket, poor fashion taste professors in this room!
He comments on my friend’s last name, a Swedish one (those Swedes). Maybe asks us where we’re from? I don’t know, details get fuzzy and this was, after all, six years ago.
We leave, notes in hand, and probably both comment on the fact that we thought he was cute, seemed sweet, and was, what was it again, oh yes, suave.
I soon discover that this little pseudo-crush I had was shared by many of the female students. You only had to mention his name and another crush-confession would come out. Totally harmless though, the guy was married, and come on… he was a professor after all. Student-professor relations… that didn’t happen here.
I take his class, skipping only a few, but basically consider it one of my favorite classes. Tell my Mom about him. Take a few tests. Turn in some homework. He hands back homework, smiles at me as he passes, I turn to giggle at my friend sitting next to me (true story) who also has a crush on him because I knew she’d be a little jealous. And so the spring semester goes.
Fast forward through summer. Fall semester, sophomore year. I take another class of his and contemplate a religion major in addition to my English major simply because I enjoy his class so much (pseudo-crush aside, he’s a great teacher). He’s a fresh voice, makes you laugh, is really quite smart, but, perhaps best of all, challenges you and makes you think in new ways about religion (sometimes to the dismay of more conservative students… but for me, it fit).
In October, he missed a few classes (eventually missing the entire second-half), and I suppose it quickly came out that his wife had cancer. Soon after, we discovered that she was really very sick. Prayers went out from all corners of the campus. Four young kids–the youngest being only two–made it all the more grave. The campus, in my opinion, was consumed by it. I was literally consumed by it. There was little else I could think of throughout the whole ugly time.
From discovering she was sick to her death, was only about one month. Crazy.
Chapter 1 isn’t entirely happy. But it eventually gets there and this is a big part of the whole thing.
Fast forward again. Junior year. Early on, by way of my older sister who was in a small group through her church where Steve also went, I discover he’s in the market for a babysitter. I had thought so much about him and his kids (who I didn’t know at all) over the year that I really wanted that job. I really did.
So, I got it.
i am determined to do some of my own things instead of just featuring ones others have done. but it’s rainy here in massachusetts, and really gray, and i’m not feeling terribly motivated, and i ran out of milk for my cereal so i topped it off with half-and-half and it was delicious, so what?
do you have any awesome DIY to share? i am obsessed.
As is customary in this house, the birthday weekend started with breakfast in bed for the birthday girl–or boy, depending on whose it is, we’re not sexist. And a very excitable Gracie fully participating in the wake-up call. Crumbs in bed are one of my biggest fears. Chocolate milk for children is another. So, this tradition has forced me to confront my fears and to tell them, “Fears, relax. This day only comes around a few times a year.” They chant back at me, “Crumbs. Crumbs. Crumbs on the sheets. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate milk in the bellies of young children first thing in the morning.”
I really am a freak (and it was Trader Joe’s chocolate syrup and organic milk, so all in all, it wasn’t so bad).
When Bridget asked me to write the “2nd chapter” of our story, I thought, “No way!”; but one full week of cajoling later, here I sit at the computer. It’s 12 degrees out, classes start for me tomorrow, and so, it’s now or never. So here goes.
When the phone rang in August of 2005, little did I know what I was getting myself into by answering. “Hi, this is Bridget Carmody, from the college.” I knew who she was; she didn’t need to add “from the college.” First, I remembered her from the spring of 2004 when I taught a large freshman survey course that she was in. In addition, after Shannon passed away, we had talked several times throughout the spring term of 2005 in my office. She would pop in from time to time to chat. She was funny, beautiful, smart, etc., but not once in that spring term did I ever think that anything would come of those conversations.
Where was I? Oh yes, “the phone call.” “So I heard from my sister that you were looking for a nanny,” she said. I had shared (do non-Christians “share” or is that just a Christian thing?) that detail the night before in my small group. Apparently her sister “shared” it with her later that evening. So to be getting “the call” maybe 12 hours later was quite surprising. But here we are. “Yes, I am,” I said. “Do you have your own car?” I asked. “No, I don’t”, she said. “Well, I could drive you back and forth,” I offered. Again, I thought nothing of this. I did think it would be nice to spend some time with her just chatting in the car though, so the drive back and forth would be kind of nice. And the fact that I was on Sabbatical made it so that I wasn’t driving to work at the time anyway.
Her first day came. I had the kids all spit and polished and ready to be on the their best behavior. When we arrived at the house, the construction crew was working on the third floor. I remember a couple of the young men looking at Bridget. One came down to throw some stuff away in the dumpster. They met on the driveway. Eventually, everyone on the crew got introduced to Bridget (in fact, later that fall, one of the guys asked me about her relationship “status”). The kids and she and I all decided a bike ride would be a good idea. I wanted to hang out with them just to make sure she got off to a good start. That’s all. On the ride, it became clear that Bridget’s gaucho pants (I just asked Bridget for that word “gaucho” as well as the spelling of it–I described them as “black baggy sweats”) were having problems with the chain. I rode up and suggested that she roll them into some kind of knot. She struggled with the idea. I offered a hand. Then it happened. I touched her bare calf. She has a nice calf. Instinctively, I pulled back. Teachers don’t typically handle students’ calves. Or at least they shouldn’t.
The ride went on for a while and I returned to the house. A while later they came back and she took off with Jordan alone while I had the little ones and the oldest. A while later, here came Jordan and Bridget riding up the path from the woods. Their legs were dirty from the trail. Jordan’s jeans were filthy. I thought at the time, “Wow, she’s pretty cool for sticking with that trail. No girly-girl here. I like her even better.” I left then for a counseling session. Returning to the house later that night, the two little ones were in bed and Bridget, Nathaniel and Jordan were watching TV in the living room. Allie, our yellow lab, was snuggled up with Bridget on our chair and a half. I liked her better still. I took her home to the college. We talked the whole way. It was easy, refreshing. I hadn’t talked to a girl (besides my three year old) in a while. When we got there, I dropped her at her dorm. She got out of the car right away when we arrived. Very appropriate. I drove home listening to George Strait.
Another week passed in my mostly miserable life. I picked up Bridget in the early afternoon and returned home. She stayed with the kids, while I was off to counseling. When I returned later in the evening, she had made a salad and spaghetti and meatballs for me to eat. I hadn’t had a home cooked meal in what seemed like forever. She offered to stay while I ate. We talked in the kitchen. Again, I just felt really comfortable with her, totally at ease. She told me that she gave the little ones a bath before they went to bed. At that point, I couldn’t remember their last bath. I was so grateful. I took her back to the college. We talked the whole way about love and marriage and how you know when someone is right for you. It was nice, but completely natural–no big deal at all. She got out of the car right away when we arrived. I drove home listening to Kenny Chesney.
Around that time, I met another girl and asked her out on a date. It had been a while since my last date. I asked Bridget about my outfit when she came to watch the kids. She said, “no, not that jacket, this one”, etc. I liked having the help. Clothes aren’t really my thing. The date was fine–she was a very sweet woman. We went out a few more times after that. But we struggled with conversation. Bridget and I began referring to her as “the mute”. One night “the mute” and I drove Bridget back to the college together. Bridget and I talked the whole way while “the mute” said nothing. After Bridget left, “the mute” and I struggled to talk about weather patterns on the way home. I began to wonder if this fledgling relationship was going to work.
More weeks passed, more babysitting, more counseling. I remember coming home late one night to Bridget and the kids and a waiting meal. And when I saw the meal, and her snuggled up on the couch with the kids and the dog and a fire in the fire place, I began to cry in the kitchen. (I cried a lot back in those days–more than you want to know.) She knew. She came in asking if I was ok. I told her the counseling was rough. But it was more than that. It was everything. It was missing normal life most of all, knowing that I would be going to bed alone…again. I hated nighttime. Sometimes I fell asleep on the bathroom floor rather than in my bedroom. So I drove her home again. We talked about life and death. We talked so effortlessly. I found her very bright, with good insight–every bit my equal. I was really impressed. At her dorm, she got out of the car right away. I listened to Restless Heart on the way home.
At dinner one night (frozen pizza again), I was crying in front of the kids. I was a bad dad. I was having a very bad day. William’s 5 year old eyes sparkled and he said compassionately, “Dad, I know what you should do. You should marry Bridget!” This was sometime in October. In all of his innocence, he thought that would fix everything. I said, “William never say that in front of anyone, especially not in front of Bridget. She would be very embarrassed.” But when I went to pick up Bridget the next day, I told her what he said. In part I wanted to prepare her for William’s inability to keep his mouth shut on sensitive subjects, but I suspect now that I wanted to see her reaction to the ridiculous suggestion. I mean, seriously, she was not yet 21 and I was 38. It’s not like we live in Hollywood. The notion is crazy. But when I brought it up, Bridget’s reaction was perfect. She laughed with me, but she didn’t act at all like she wanted me to pull over and let her out of the car. When I drove her home that night and dropped her off, we lingered in the car finishing a conversation outside her dorm. It was maybe 5 minutes. A little awkward–not the conversation–but the SITTING IN THE CAR IN THE DARK WITH BRIDGET CARMODY WITH THE NICE CALF. She didn’t seem to be in any rush to get out of that car. I drove home listening to Rascal Flatts.
I went on another date with “the mute.” It turned out to be our last. While at dinner, during a rather tortured conversation about Samuel Alito’s confirmation proceedings to the Supreme Court, I remember thinking, “I just wish I was back at home with my babysitter right now”. That entire thought process really scared me. I remember thinking about the ramifications:
I am going to get fired.
I am going to lose the respect of my students and colleagues.
I am going to wreck the relationship I have with Bridget.
I am going to ruin this nice thing that my kids have going with their babysitter.
I am going to go to hell.
Again, she was 20, I was 38–you do the math. I did not sleep through the night again. Not for quite a while.
I went to Philly for a conference, and since that’s near Bridget’s hometown, I made a few phone calls to her from the road to find out where to get a Philly cheesesteak, etc. We were finding more and more opportunities to get on the phone with one another in those days. At one point, I even ended up speaking with her Mom. Yes, that was a little awkward (of course, her Mom will say now that she knew something was up–I’m not so sure).
Once when Bridget was not around, I saw my kids trying to tap dance in the kitchen. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Bridget taught us!”, they replied. I called Bridget later in the day to talk about “babysitting.” We talked about tap-dancing (and about a million other things). I said, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “You must be quite the sight on the dance floor, all long and lean.” I told her also: “you have an elegant neck.” Are you allowed to say that to a student? We laughed about it all. She took my pseudo-compliments in stride and laughed right along with me. I liked her even more. I did not sleep that night. I wondered how hot hell was.
I planned to throw a Christmas party for my colleagues at work. They had carried an inordinate burden for me over the previous year. Extra advising, classes, etc… The College was very kind to me. I hired a caterer. I asked Bridget and some other students to help with the event. Some to wait the tables and Bridget and another to babysit all the kids, including my colleagues’ kids. I told Bridget before the party that we were expecting her to tap dance for our entertainment. We laughed. The night was splendid, a perfect success. The food was fabulous. I didn’t see much of Bridget that night, as she was upstairs. But I knew she was there. I knew she was upstairs with my kids. I liked that. She came downstairs once and poked her head around the corner. Our eyes met. We smiled. I liked that too.
As I was saying, it was near Christmastime and Bridget and I had talked about watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” with the kids–one of our family traditions. We toyed with the possibility of doing it that night after the party (oops, it was too late, the kids would be in bed!). Unfortunately the other students from the college lingered too long after the party and then, on top of it all, offered Bridget a ride home. Darn. She wore white corduroy pants and a black turtleneck sweater. She looked very nice. I didn’t sleep that night either: “Wasn’t Joseph much older than Mary?” “Was there biblical precedent for such a thing?” “Think, Steve, think!” At around 12:30 in the morning, I called Bridget. The reason for the phone call was to apologize for joking about her height in front of the other students (not like she even minded). Naturally, 12:30 was the appropriate time to make this call. It couldn’t wait. I began to notice that she never used my name in these phone calls when she was in the dorm. Her voice seemed muffled too, like she was in a closet or something. I also noticed that she was never in any hurry to get off the phone, no matter when we talked or for how long. That night we talked for quite a while. When we finally hung up, I rolled the conversation around in my mind again and again. What was she thinking? What was I thinking? At this point, I was in big trouble.
The very next day would change everything and show just how much trouble I was in. But this is where Chapter 2 ends. What happens next is another story altogether.
No guest blogger here. Just me, and my keyboard, and my tea. Does that disappoint you? If you say yes, maybe it’ll get him back for Chapter 4. But, it will also make you my enemy, so watch it.
I thought it was high time to start Chapter 3. I drag my feet a bit to do this because all the remembering, the “shoot-I-forgot-that-part!”, whether I should include this and not this, and the writing can just be a bit of a task. But, at the same time, I really like it. I like it for the memory that will forever be in the blog archives (unless another Y2K hits, but then it wouldn’t be Y2K now would it? Think Y2K+10.). I also like it for the sole purpose of clearing up what really happened with some of you, nay-sayers or not. Cause let me tell you, we heard some crazy stories about how we apparently came to be girlfriend and boyfriend… husband and wife. Were they true? Um, no.
So where were we? Where did that darling husband of mine leave off?
Something about a calf (dirty man!)… and a Christmas movie… oh yes, and some chastisement over my height. I know just where we are.
The signs were there. If he were a guy my age, I would have been absolutely certain he was into me. That is not to say that they were entirely overt… no, they were subtle, but present. Some lingering eye contact, happy smiles, calls about “babysitting schedules” that lead into conversations about a million other things. But, as is only natural, I doubted and doubted that I was reading those signs properly. Because, as it was, he was older than me (quite a bit), and a professor (though–nay-sayers listen up–not my professor at the time! Remember? He was on sabbatical.). This could be all sorts of wrong.
There were only two dear friends who I trusted and loved enough to share my feelings with. This isn’t something that you go around and bounce off of people for their take. No, this was personal and private and could’ve been real troublesome if the cat got out of the bag. So, they heard my tales of woe (and laughter, and giddiness, and confusion) with patience and an open ear.
I decided I had to say something.
And when I say it was surreal and my palms were sweaty, I mean it was surreal and my palms were sweaty.
“I really enjoy our conversations and our friendship. But, ya know, we’ve been talking more often and…”
I might’ve just stopped there and left him hanging. I can’t even remember.
By the first few seconds of the conversation–that turned out to be nearly three hours long–it was confirmed that he liked me too. You’d think we were breathing sighs of relief knowing that the elephant was finally banished from the room. There were small sighs. But, this hopeful relationship wasn’t going to be easy. Professor. Student. You remember.
The next day we saw one another. Could I describe how weird it was seeing this man who before was only a professor and friend to me, as a potential date? A love interest? A boyfriend? No, I couldn’t describe it. I don’t think there are words. But trust me–it was cah-raaa-zy.
I really just had to trust God on this one. It was all so big for me to handle. Exciting, yes very exciting, but big (You know that moving forward with this one would’ve made me a mom of 4–at, oh, 22 years of age. It was a package deal.).
We spent that day together, with the kids, talking, getting to know youuuu, getting to know all about youuu–we treated it as a normal baby-sitting day, but I did less baby-sitting and more spending time with Steve who never actually left. I made sure I was still paid for the day though.
He deemed it only appropriate that he tell his boss about this first thing the next day. I mentioned sweaty palms earlier? I think he was the one who had them this time.
So, we were given a–how shall I describe it–cautious blessing. And a request that we keep it quiet. If it were not going to become anything, what would be the point in having a thousand-plus students hear about it? Made sense to both of us.
There was a little healthy sneaking around to do. A no-hand-holding-on-campus policy. A need to travel a bit further from the college in order to go on dates (Funny story: we did run into some people from the college once when on a date. We were 40 minutes from the college–this was our turf! We knew they knew. We were spotted. Anyway, we had to ask them before they left the restaurant that they kindly keep this juicy gossip quiet.)
Where was I?
We dated and got to know one another. And he immediately decided he needed to meet my parents–and sisters. I was already home, he flew in, they met. It went wonderfully. My Dad gave him a huge hug and had tears (happy ones, people!) in his eyes more than once thinking about the whole story, what his daughter’s life might now look like, and the fact that this widower might be finding love. My Mom was a bit more on the hesitant side–can you blame her?–but still welcomed Steve in with open arms. My sister Kate burst in the door exclaiming, “Where is he!?” You had to be there.
We dated. He made me laugh.
That might’ve been the best part (and still is).
The dating continued through the spring semester and we happily kept it quiet for months. Well, hang on, I might retract that. It was a challenge to keep it quiet, to worry about how people would perceive the whole thing when it finally was public knowledge, let alone worry when it would be public knowledge. How the cat finally got out of the bag is completely silly and, I’ll have you know, was not our fault (or any of my dear friends whom I trusted!). But, whatever–summer was approaching, and we were happy, and life was grand.
I was committed to take a 3-week trip to Israel for school as soon as college got out. This was not easy. Leaving a new relationship is tough. We wanted to spend every waking hour together. He wrote me 21 letters, each labeled by day, until I reached day 21 and we saw each other again. You want me to love you? Write me a letter, it’s one of my love languages. Not only one, but 21 did I have from him… I thought it very likely that I would marry this romantic man.
Summer presented a road trip out west to meet people who should be met at this stage of the game–Ohio (his cousin’s house), Minnesota (his late wife’s family’s home), Colorado (his folks’ and brother’s family’s home), and back again–and then… a trip to Switzerland (friends of his live there–yes that, and the magic that is the country of Switzerland).
And, what do you know, something special happened in Switzerland.
It really is high-time to write chapter 4. It’s been about two months since the last chapter. I just don’t think chapter 4 is as exciting as chapter 3 was. It also has no semi-inappropriate video (what’s that? You were hoping for one? Get your mind out of the gutter!) to accompany it and everyone loves a semi-inappropriate video now, don’t they?
Anyway, where did I leave off? Ah yes, the film was “running out of tape.” Alas, we found ourselves perched on the most gorgeous mountaintop in Flumserberg, Switzerland. I had a shiny new diamond doning my left hand, and a very happy man sitting next to me. We had cheeses, and breads, and fruit for our picnic and we were taking pictures, and a video (as you all well know at this point) as to not miss a beat. I tend to miss beats, many beats, during the times when you especially hope not to. It’s like life gets so big, so important, so significant that my brain just shuts off. Maybe I would miss the feeling if I were so concerned with remembering. Maybe.
As I was saying, we were engaged.
It was July 16.
We returned to Massachusetts for a lovely summer complete with boating on the lake, bbqs, and friends. Not only was I dating that once-professor of mine, but now I was actually engaged to him. Wowza.
Wedding planning arrived quickly. We were planning for the following June. In St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Yes. It would be perfect. I had been there once before and fell in love with the place. And for some reason a destination wedding felt right. That way the papparazzi would have a harder time finding us and getting their pictures for the magazines. Of course.
June was far off though. It was particularly far off for a man who really needed me. (And, in a different way, I needed him too. I suppose that’s just the way love is though.) It’s like the grieving process would be near completion (not complete, it’s never complete) if normal life could finally resume. And of course, all the unromantic details like dinners and laundry and butt-wiping… doing them by yourself for another whole year, being a single dad for another whole year, going to bed alone for another whole year… he’d found me. I’d found him. Why the wait?
So, it was October when we decided to get married in December. Ladies, it is altogether possible to plan a lovely wedding in that short a time. Never did I picture myself having a Christmas wedding. But, never did I picture myself being a stepmom at 22 either. Life threw me a few loops, so what’s a few more? We planned and purchased and primped. And on December 22nd, I married the love of my life. The ceremony was perfect. In this small chapel that we filled to the brim. There were holly sprigs tied to candle sticks that were lined up the aisle. There was a lot of red in the room–red dresses and lips–and he sang to me! He sang Kenny Chesney’s “Me and You.” His friend played guitar. And he sang. And that man is a good singer. I was told only recently that my cousin thought it was streaming out of a stereo and that Steve was lip-synching. Hilarious. Can you imagine lip-synching at your own wedding?
Then, of course, the reception and the pictures and trying to scarf some food down in your rarely free moments, and dancing to Sara Evans “I Could Not Ask For More,” and floating through the room locking eyes with the Mr. that just made you a Mrs. from time to time and realizing that while there is all this fanfare bustling about you, you just got married and you’re going to be with this man forever.
Like I said, I forget a lot of things when life gets big. So as I look back, I remember moments, many moments, but they are hazy as though I’m seeing them through a fog. I think subconsciously the idea that I not only became a Mrs. but also became a Mom was so large and so difficult for me to grasp. As you might know, I have a hard time with change. And it’s not like I wanted to change anything–no, I loved this man… that was certain–but blending my life with his was not going to be easy and was going to be perhaps the biggest thing I’ve ever done. And right then, as I think of it now, I had not a clue how hard it would be. My Mom asked me, months after the wedding, if I felt sort of unprepared for what my new life was like. I would say 100% yes. But, how do you prepare someone to be a Mom? How do you tell someone that it won’t always be easy and expect them to actually get and feel what it is you’re talking about? Sure, people could’ve told me, “Sometimes it’s really not fun. They whine and they cry. They sometimes throw up in the middle of the night. It will be tougher for you because you didn’t actually birth them.” It wouldn’t have made any difference. Until I experienced it, I wouldn’t know the emotions that would accompany those tasks. I wouldn’t know the absolute breaking point that a Mom can reach when she can’t be pushed any further. I wouldn’t know the anger a Mom can feel when a child just will not listen. I wouldn’t know the worry a Mom can feel when a kid is having a tough time in school. I also wouldn’t know the delight a Mom would feel when everyone is well and it is a beautiful day and you are all together. And of course, I don’t yet know the difference in feeling these things for kids who share your DNA and kids who don’t. I imagine there is a difference, but I don’t know yet. To really know, you have to go through it.
Now I do know (most of those things). And I am still standing. Our road has not been an easy one. It has had its share of stress and heartache and tears. But we have our health, our laughter, a roof over our heads, our family, our memories, our joy, our friends. We have a big God on our side. You take the good with the bad. And though, I can honestly say (and have said) that I did not know what I was getting myself into, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because I still have my best friend to do it with.
And a heck of a lot of life lessons under my belt.