My husband and I recently did the Empty Nester basement purge thing and a newspaper article about a sad chapter in our lives resurfaced. We found ourselves at the kitchen table talking to our children, now young adults, about the details of how things unfolded when they were too young to remember. Their jaws slowly dropped as they listened 14 years later, taking in the previously hidden details of an underlying saga that spoiled our dream for them at that time. And almost ruined our marriage. But we didn’t let it and that is the happy ending.
Once upon a time my husband and I had a dream to live a simple life in a nice midwestern small town with our 2 young children. Our expectations were this change in location would provide time and space we yearned for to more fully appreciate our young family. Before they were even born, we both agreed we would “marinate our children in love.” This became challenging in our suburban setting with busy schedules and my husband’s nonstop work travel. So we chose a radically different path, my husband even changed professions, and off we went to rural America to start over.
It should have been a warning sign to us when trouble seemed to be brewing from the beginning. We purchased several acres of land that had been designated for part of a neighborhood development and then all hell broke loose. There was a dilapidated, decades-old dairy barn on the property that we viewed as “charming.” This became one of the the ways the Homeowners Association began punishing us for daring to have a dream. On numerous occasions, we were summoned to City condemnation hearings brought by the residents of the neighborhood we purchased the lots in. They wanted this (justifiably historically significant to the area) “blighting eyesore” removed from their neighborhood. We knew they just wanted to trouble, inconvenience and punish us for existing.
We tried an approach we were sure was a “win/win”: we offered to donate the dairy barn and surrounding property to the City as a public park. There was a Parks and Recreation Commission hearing for public comment and the neighbors showed up very angry. They were not interested in creating a common, beautiful space for the community to enjoy. Even though the country club lay directly behind them, they wanted more exclusivity and privacy. They didn’t want to see children and families from other neighborhoods enjoy their serene vistas. In the end, the “park” became part of their privately owned space.
In hindsight, I wish I had had the time, resources and strength to have the dairy barn designated a Historic Site and restored it to its original beauty. Instead, for our sanity, our family walked away and the City lost a beautiful treasure when the Homeowners Association got its way and tore it down, like it had never existed. This isn’t a story about winning or losing, it’s a story about how small conflicts can often cloud the greater good. And what a pity that is. A friend texted me the day the neighbors tore the beautiful barn down and I became nauseous at the thought of their celebration of their small victory. A park dedicated to the memory of the designer of the barn would have been, from a historical preservation context, the wise thing to do. Our family doesn’t live there any longer (and it’s just as well!) so I am not reminded on a daily basis of the punch in the gut.
Why is this story important or at all relevant today, in the midst of a global pandemic when people are suffering and struggling to keep the pieces of their lives together? Why should anyone care? One day, many years after the dairy barn debacle, my husband and I were struggling to begin again back in our hometown of Kansas City. I had years of lingering resentment for what I believed I had endured during the small town years and he was exhausted from reinventing himself. He looked at me one day and said something that suddenly made everything vividly clear for me: “I love taking care of this family.” In the midst of the struggle, I had started forming the belief that I was the only one “taking care of this family.” We may have even divorced if my husband hadn’t uttered those 7 words at exactly the moment I needed to hear them. That exchange has been my anchor every single day since. Telling me he loves taking care of this family meant that had always been in his heart, even on the darkest days. I had forgotten. I allowed the outside forces that began needling away at us to toss me about. I focused on the struggle instead of our basic strength, and that’s how I almost got lost forever. Now my young adult kids will know how their parents persevered and weathered tough times: because we love taking care of this family.