Ben and I started dating when we were sophomores in high school - 15 years old! We spent the next 2 years getting to know everything there was to know about each other. (In case you're doing the math, there was a brief period during high school that
Ben was determined to surprise me with an engagement ring even though we had been talking about a wedding since we were 17 years old. I still don't know exactly how he pulled it off be he managed to get my parents alone and ask them for permission to marry me. (Fortunately, they said "yes.") Ben proposed to me while I was at my parent's cottage, sitting outside at a picnic table, eating a bowl of chili. He caught me COMPLETELY off guard. You can imagine my shock when I looked up from my chili bowl to find him kneeling on the grass with a tiny box in his hand.
We spent a little over a year planning our perfect wedding. I am a compulsive planner so I had thought out and planned every single detail of the day. As in any normal engagement, there were occasional discrepancies over insignificant details that got blown out of proportion. We had to figure out how to come together in agreement and compromise. It was a learning process for both of us. That was when we first realized that the merging of our two families - and lives - was certainly not going to be easy.
As if planning a wedding and attending wedding showers were not enough to keep the two of us busy, we also had school to finish. Ben graduated in May and was commissioned into the Air Force the same weekend. I continued to student teach through the summer and graduated in August.
The day of our wedding arrived and we were absolutely certain that God had brought us together. We chose our closest family and friends to stand by us and witness the joining of our lives together. We were surrounded by the people we loved and we were thrilled to be standing on the alter together, totally in love and ready to become husband and wife.
Our wedding reception was a blast. There was dancing well into the night - even after Ben and I left the party! We next day we took an early morning flight to Florida where we boarded our honeymoon cruise to the Caribbean. Our honeymoon was wonderful - we were in love and we were in the Caribbean! What more could we ask for?
It didn't take long for reality to set in when we got off the cruise and back to Ohio. The Air Force had delayed Ben's orders yet again so we had to find part time jobs until we could start our lives as a military family. I worked in a daycare and Ben worked in a department store. Believe it or not, he worked as a shoe stocker and then a light bulb changer. (No kidding!) There we were: two young college graduates, living in a cinder block apartment and working part time jobs to make the rent money every month.
The Air Force had given Ben orders to report to Grand Forks, North Dakota so while we weathered the cold Northeast, Ohio winter, we anticipated the even colder temperatures that awaited us in North Dakota. We bought heavy down filled coats but I'm not going to lie - I was terrified. By the grace of God, two days before we were scheduled to leave Ohio, Ben's orders got changed to Salt Lake City, Utah. We were thrilled and relieved at the same time.
The packers came and loaded up the little furnishings that we had and shipped it all to Utah. Before Ben and I could get to Utah though, we had to make a 3 month stop in Wichita Falls, Texas for training. It was the first time that I had been that far away from home and it was an adjustment to say the least. We had to figure out how to rely on each other completely. I was pretty lonely during the day while Ben was at class so we decided to add a companion to our family. This is where our beloved black lab named Maggie came into the picture. She was energetic and fun and she proved to be just the distraction that I needed.
When the day finally arrived that we were headed to Utah, we rented a Uhaul and packed everything we owned, into our trailer that was hitched to our Grand Am. The three of us were setting out for another adventure. (If you've ever pulled a trailer through the mountains with an underpowered car, you know exactly what I mean by "adventure". We were excited to be leaving the state of Texas and heading West.
We moved right into a rental house that was off-base. I got a job teaching first grade at the local elementary school and Ben was working in the maintenance squadron on the Air Force Base. It felt like everything was as it should be. Ben was doing what we had been trained to do and I was putting my teaching degree to good use.
Our first anniversary fell on a Sunday and if you've ever been to Salt Lake City on Sunday, you know that EVERYTHING is closed. Seriously. After driving around for at over an hour looking for a place to eat, we had given up on romantic and were willing to go anywhere that was open. We ended up at a restaurant called the Prairie Schooner. (I will NEVER forget it!) Picture a very dark room with covered wagon tables. There were preserved coyotes and fox placed around fake campfires in the middle of the room. Cowboy music played in the background, complete with wild animal sounds. Romantic, no - memorable, yes. We were happy that we had survived our first year of marriage even though it was somewhat chaotic. (We moved 3 times and lived in 3 different states before our first anniversary.)
Winter came and for the first time in our lives we found ourselves celebrating Christmas completely separated from our families by hundreds of miles. We learned to rely on each other more than ever. We took turns opening the thoughtful gifts that we had wrapped and carefully hidden away and until Christmas morning. After the gifts were opened, we just sat, staring at each other and wondering what to do next. There was no big family dinner to get ready for or cousins arriving to open gifts. Everything we knew about Christmas was different - it was just the two of us. It took a little convincing but Ben managed to talk me into a new tradition - a Christmas Day ski trip. I'm so glad that he convinced me to go - it was incredible.
We moved yet again just a few months after Christmas to a house on the base but the price was right - free. We were finally able to save a little money and buy some much needed furniture for our home. (We still used the speaker end tables though.)
Our second year in Utah brought even more changes to our family. We bought a second car so that I could get back and forth to school. It was a blue Honda Civic with no power windows, no power locks and no radio - none! I had taken a Kindergarten teaching position and I loved it. Life was good. As if things couldn't get any better, I found out in June that I was pregnant. We were thrilled! We planned and prepped and did everything that we possibly could to prepare ourselves for the arrival of this baby.
We had two weeks of family time before Ben was headed across the Sea to meet up with his squadron. It was a lot for a new mom to take in. (Talk about postpartum.) I will never forget dropping Ben off at the airport and hugging him goodbye with this tiny infant in my arms. Driving back to our tiny home on the base I was overcome by panic. I didn't know how to take care of this baby and I certainly didn't know how to live life without my best friend by my side.
Thankfully, my wonderful mom came to my rescue. She flew out to Utah and together we packed up ALL of the baby stuff. The first day we put the dog on a plane and my dad was there to meet her at the Cleveland airport when she arrived. The next day, my mom and Ryan and I boarded a plane and once again, my dad was there to meet us at the airport. I was an emotional wreck and probably really hard to live with but I'm so grateful that my parent's allowed us stay with them while Ben was away. Once again, Ben and I were forced to communicate through letters. We had no cell phones and no email. I'm so glad that we did it old school - now I have a box of treasured love letters.
Baby Ryan proved to be great entertainment while Ben was away - even though he wasn't much of a conversationalist. I took hundreds of pictures of him and mailed most of them to Ben overseas.
In June, Ben arrived home safely and we packed up our family and drove back to Utah. We were absolutely thrilled to be a family again and to figure out this new family dynamic together. Don't get me wrong, it's never easy to readjust to living together again after a deployment, but we managed. We were glad to put that deployment behind us.
Just when I thought everything was getting back to normal, Ben came home one night and announced that he had been given orders to go back to Texas. We were not very excited about heading back to Texas but we approached moving like an adventure so we headed out, eager to start a new chapter.
I was eager to get out of base housing so we made the decision to buy our first home in San Antonio. The cost of living in Texas was low so we were able to get a beautiful home on Ben's salary. (This is the point that we finally got rid of the gigantic speaker end tables too.) We had some of the best neighbors that I could ever imagine. Ryan had lots of friends to play with and we had plenty of babysitters to choose from. We settled into our new life in Texas very easily. We learned to love the city of San Antonio and all that it had to offer.
About two years after moving to Texas, we found out that we were pregnant with our second child. The experiences that I had with baby #2 were drastically different than they were with Ryan because I was forced to get all of my prenatal care at the base hospital. (It was minimal care to say the least.) I had been praying for a girl but I couldn't seem to convince the doctor to give me a ultrasound. I could hardly stand the anticipation of not knowing the sex of the baby. In a night of desperation, Ben and I headed to a friends veterinary clinic to use their ultrasound machine. Yes, I sat on the big metal table and put the probe on my overextended belly in a desperate attempt to see something that might give us a clue to the baby's sex.
The wait for this baby was grueling. The Texas heat was unbearable at times and the anticipation was overwhelming. Ben's parent's flew out to be with us when I delivered and my due date came and went and still no baby. Unfortunately, they had to fly home even before she was born. Eventually, I did manage to go into labor (10 days late) and Courtney was born! We were overjoyed.
Courtney brought a whole new level of excitement to our home. Courtney absolutely adored Ryan from the very day she was born. There were days that she absolutely refused to eat anything that I offered to her but she would willingly open her mouth as wide as she could and let Ryan shovel in spoonful after spoonful.
Ben was now working as a munitions officer and was very happy with his job. Unfortunately, he was approaching his one hear remote tour and I really didn't think that I was ready to face a year without him.
God came through in a big way, once again. Ben got a offered a job at Sony in Pennsylvania. I was excited about moving back to the East - closer to my family. We said goodbye to our friends, we loaded everything we owned into an even bigger moving truck and headed to Pennsylvania, leaving behind an empty, unsold house. We moved our family into rental house and Ben and I adjusted to civilian life.
Once we sold our Texas home and were able to buy a little cape cod home in Pennsylvania. It was cute but it was a fixer upper. (The draft through the closed windows was enough to blow out a candle.) It was within walking distance from Ryan's elementary school so on the day that Ryan started Kindergarten, I walked with him to school while pushing Courtney in the stroller. I loved that little town.
Within two years of moving into that home, it became clear that God wanted to move us yet again. Ben was offered job with Kirklands so we sold our house in less than 3 weeks and moved our family to Tennessee. By this point, I considered myself an expert in packing and managing the chaos of moving. We moved to an apartment while we took our time to find just the right home for our family. We made the conscious decision to leave the Air Force to try and give our family a little more stability and we were ready to put down some roots and stay in one place for a while. After 3 months of renting, we bought a house and happily moved our family yet again. Unfortunately, Ben's job didn't turn out to be the dream job that we had hoped that it would be.
Ben started to apply for other positions and got offered a job with CR Bard in Atlanta. Determined to not repeat the mistake that we made with our house in Texas, we decided that the kids and I would stay behind in Tennessee while Ben moved to Atlanta to start his new position. It just made sense really, the kids were finishing up their school year and it would be easier to sell our house while it still had furniture in it. We spent a very difficult 3 months apart while Ben started his new life in Atlanta and the kids and I tried to carry on without him in Tennessee. Even though he traveled back and forth on the weekends, nobody was happy with the living arrangements, including the kids.
I married my best friend when I was 22 and I've grown up (whatever that means) alongside him. We've had our share of struggles but it's not because we got married young, it's because we got married! We've learned that people change over time - but that we can't change each other. (No matter how hard we try.) I'm thrilled that our love story started as a couple of love smitten teenagers in a small little Ohio town. I love that we've witnessed each others best and worst moments from teenagers to adults. I guard those memories close to my heart.
Ben - you are still my best friend and you will forever be the love of my life.