Mama used to say that if only she would’ve had someone to help her pull her wagon, things would’ve been a lot easier for all of us. She meant another adult, of course, but what she got was a couple of kids. We weren’t very good pullers, my oldest brother and I, but our hearts were in the right place. We tried.
Since I starting “dating” my sweet husband in 2015, I’ve thought a lot about that “pulling the wagon” image of Mama’s. It’s apt, actually. Those little red wagons aren’t at all easy to pull, particularly if the terrain is rough or if you get it too heavily loaded. When we were growing up, there were very few patches of smooth ground. And there were four of us, so the wagon’s burden was never light. Some of us fell out sometimes. We got hurt or lost or both.
When Hubby and I got together, his wagon had been stuck in the mud for so long that he’d given up trying to move it. The kids had taken it over and made a useless mess of it; it was no longer fit to move anything anywhere or to keep anyone out of harm’s way. Indeed, they all had cuts and scrapes from the wagon’s rusty edges, and we worried (and still worry) about infections that never fully go away, that could be life-threatening.
My husband is a hard worker and he brings home a decent paycheck. He is also a wonderful man with a huge heart, and for several years before I arrived on the scene, he was dad, mom, and sole breadwinner for his three children. Unfortunately, it was just him trying to do all those things (aside from occasional help from his visiting mom). Like Mama, he needed serious, permanent help to pull his wagon, and the oldest boy (no matter how good his intentions) wasn’t getting the job done.
When I talk to Hubby about that time, he says there was no opportunity for anything except triage, trying desperately to prioritize on the fly and decide who most needed help. I can’t imagine how horrific it must’ve been for him to see all his babies in trouble and to only be able to offer temporary help to the one who was bleeding out the fastest. I’m sure his persistent worrying (over a situation he had no power to fix) is to blame for most of his current wrinkles and health problems.
I knew my husband for 25 years before we ever got together, and I think every day about how much different both of our lives would’ve been if it hadn’t taken so long, if we both hadn’t taken so much damage beforehand. I came in to our relationship with a feeling of worthlessness that was directly tied to how much money I was making. He came in with the persistent and nagging feeling that he was solely responsible for getting these three little people he’d made into adulthood alive.
I’ve said it before, but I think I was born to be a mother. As soon as I walked through the door, I started trying to make a safe home for these kids that I really didn’t know at all except through occasional pictures and stories my sister (in-law) told. At the beginning, hubby gave me $400 a week to buy groceries and the stuff the kids needed. They had to come to me with their requests instead of to their dad. I cleaned, went grocery shopping, cooked actual food, and enforced a go-home time for the oldest’s friends. (Hubby was working midnights, and five days a week, I had to make sure nobody ended up injured, traumatized or dead.) I bought clothes and school supplies, toiletries and tampons. I discouraged Hamburger Helper and fast food wherever possible because none of them needed to continue to live that way now that I was there. Hubby seemed to drop 50 pounds overnight.
My very presence was enough to ensure that within a few months, the kids had new beds and we lived in a nicer house in a better neighborhood. There was also a new school for the youngest two (the oldest moved away when he hit 18) and car insurance for my husband, who hadn’t been able to round up the extra money to start it while he was busy putting out fires. This fall he’s going back to school to pursue a dream and to work toward getting the hell out of the factory.
The point of all this is, the experience of marrying my sweet husband and becoming step-mom to these awesome (if occasionally irksome) kids has shown me once and for all what it truly means to be and to have a partner, how it feels to help someone pull their wagon and to know that they are there to help you pull yours, and how sometimes you can help without bringing a single dime of your own to the table. I would never have guessed. Seriously. That was not at all the lesson I’d spent the preceding years of my adulthood learning.
Even more than a year later, it still blows me away when my husband (or my mom or my sister) points out all the ways that the lives of these three people have changed and improved in the time I’ve known them. I say “I didn’t do anything. I just showed up.”
My husband says “Baby. I love you. You’re so silly.”
*Inspired by The Daily Post prompt Partner.