“Married with kids” is both a description of who I am, but also what I do. I am married with kids, yes, but I also think of marriage and kids as verbs. Marriage is work, a process, a state of being. Having kids, raising kids properly, is certainly work. Perhaps more of a vocation, really.
I come from a long line of “married with kids,” too, as my parents did not divorce. I am the youngest of four. My husband descends from the “married with kids” lineage as well. And, yep, all our grandparents do, too.
As we wrap up the closing of my Dad’s home, the last connection to my parents as anything other than memories, I feel reflective. So, please, if you will, indulge me. I think it is the photos that are doing it to me.
Boxes and boxes of my parent’s photos sit downstairs in my home, waiting for the day that all four of my siblings can sort and organize them together. I am curious to look through them myself, but it seems a bit unfair, somehow, me having access that my brother and sisters do not. So, sit they will. I snapped a few photos of photos as we did a cursory sort over the holidays and I keep coming back to them, swiping my thumb back and forth, watching the history of my parent’s marriage unfold.
When I was a child and imagined myself as an adult, I was always alone, living in a high rise, doing amazing things (magazine editor! flight attendant! psychologist!) and, always in my imagination, wearing knee high boots. My adult reality looks nothing like that. I am married, the mother of three, live in a condo, and earn a little money writing, but for the most part am a stay-at-home-mom. Married with kids.
My own marriage looks, I think, quite a bit different than my parent’s marriage. We have more money than I did as a child. There is more grief, for sure. Our roles, while on the outside appear very traditional, from the inside are quite egalitarian. We don’t fight the way my parent’s fought. Our two boys are having quite a different childhood than I had myself.
Today’s “married with kids” is, I think, a lot more kid focused. A child’s needs and wishes are front and center in many modern marriages. Is that a reaction to our own childhood where kids were present and appreciated, of course, but not the focus of the family? Methinks so, yes.
Both sets of my grandparents were immigrants. My Father’s parents were born in Ireland and my Mother’s parents came over the great ocean from Croatia. They had childhoods and lives that looked absolutely nothing like my own.
My Irish grandmother came over hoping to find a better life than the one she had in a small cottage in western Ireland. She worked as a domestic for wealthy families on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. My Irish grandfather first spent time in Massachusetts before claiming Chicago as home. He owned his own wholesale candy distribution business before he lost everything in the Depression. He raised his family in a series of apartments in Chicago’s now infamous Englewood neighborhood.
My Croatian grandmother came to America as a very young child, originally settling in St. Louis. She, too, found more promise in Chicago and worked as a seamstress for the Pullman Rail Company. It was her history with them that allowed me to become a Pullman Scholar in college and qualify for some much needed scholarship money. My Croatian grandfather grew up in the mountains of Croatia, outside Split. His family were farmers. He fought in WWI, but for the other side. Like many Croatian immigrants, he found work in Chicago’s steel mills and earned enough to buy a modest sided bungalow that was almost lost in the Depression, but for the kindness of a single banker.
All of my grandparents were gone by the time I was a young, single woman, when marriage and kids were but a twinkle in someone else’s eye. I never got the opportunity to ask them about raising children or being in a long term marriage. I would hazard a guess that having the luxury of musing or writing about marriage and child rearing would be outside of any of their experiences. Perhaps they would have little to add. Their lives, at least some of their adult lives, were all about survival, not if their oldest was being challenged enough creatively in his gifted elementary school.
My, parents, too, I think would also have a hard time relating to being “married with kids” in the way my husband and I are. I had been married only three years before my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. She truly adored my husband and was proud of my career, I think, but it was her being sick and needing care that helped me realize I myself was ready to be a mother. Before her illness, I was looking for excuses to put off the family my husband wanted to start.
This period of reflection I am wading through this past year has me thinking a lot about being “married with kids.” Looking at photos and imagining my parents’ and grandparents’ own experiences with something so common and yet so profound as being “married with kids” is sparking a much welcome connection to them.
We each approach our lives coming from a specific generation and our own unique experiences. My grandparents or parents never lost a child to cancer. My husband and I never lost our livelihood due to global economic duress, or had to move from small apartment to small apartment. We have never had to assimilate into a country of people different than ourselves. We never have had to rely on food stamps or the generosity of strangers to put food on our table. We’ve never left friends or family across an ocean, searching for better or more.
So many struggles across so many generations and through them all, marriage and children. I am grateful for the connection.