So, a marketing director marries a chicken farmer . . .
It’s not the start to some off-color joke. (Or is it?) It’s not the script for the Green Acres reboot. It’s my life. Our life. Eight years ago this month, I met my hard-working He-Man of a husband, Bobby, and life has been down-home country ever since.
In the beginning of our relationship, it was blankets under the stars with no city lights to block their brilliance. It was date nights on the back deck overlooking the forty acre empire he had built and was so proud of. He went hunting and I packed a five course meal of man snacks (#beeranddoritos) for him to take on his expedition to kill food so his family could eat (#slightexaggeration). I delighted in my new-found identity. I made preserves from our pear trees and bought at least six pairs of boots for different ’round the farm activities. Chicken house boots. Gardening boots. Walking to feed the goats next door boots. Expensive boots that you didn’t wear on the farm but wore to look cute when we went to the Tractor Supply Store. Just a lot of boots. I longed for people to ask what my husband did for a living. “He’s a chicken farmer” just happens to be one of the best conversation starters on the entire planet. I would puff up proudly in response to people’s intrigued reactions and then fake my way through the conversation when they asked specifics about the business because, well, Haley don’t actually chicken, if you know what I mean.
We dreamed big dreams for the land and our future and our marriage. Just the two of us in the quiet, rural expanse was simple and easy and romantic. Lots of fresh air. Lots of high hopes. I felt like I was living every girl’s fantasy. Haley and her wood choppin’, land tendin’, chicken farmin’ husband. Just loving each other and falling asleep to the sound of the crickets and the coyotes. (Just kidding. You don’t fall asleep to coyotes. They make, quite literally, the most terrifying sound ever. It’s like Satan himself screaming.)
We lived in a double-wide trailer for the first three years of our marriage and built our dream home just in time to welcome our first baby eight months later. Now, two kids, four years, another mega chicken house, and a cancer diagnosis later, the shine has worn off the country charm; and I have to admit that recently, I’ve only being smelling Bobby’s dirty chicken clothes instead of the proverbial roses of our farm life.
I think it’s a stage of life most of my friends go through. Small kids. Working parents. Activities. School. Housework. Obligations. Orchestrated fun. Organized chaos. There isn’t room for the nights under the stars or dreaming of a detached guest house that doubles as a writing/hunting haven and champagne bar. There are baths and bedtime routines and ROTH IRAs to make sure our kids can afford to go to college. Reality sets in, and structure and responsibility overtake spontaneity and desire.
I’ve caught myself mourning those precious times with just me and my farmer. Does more of everything demanded mean that the love has been lost? It is definitely less romantic than those first years in the double wide. I can’t remember the last time I had flowers delivered to work “just because” or my husband dug all the red Sour Patch Kids out of the bag and put them in a Ziploc just for me. I don’t get to rub my husband’s arm every night while he falls asleep (his favorite) because there’s a thirty-five pound needy three year old in the way.
Where did the fun and the fire go? Literally — where’s the fire? We used to make bonfires all the time, but now there’s no time (coupled with obvious dangers of toddlers and open flames. Geez.)
I was feeling like romance was dead until I saw my husband’s tennis shoes sitting in the laundry room the other day.
I remember thinking to myself, Has he not bought tennis shoes since we bought those? That was three years ago. Surely that’s not right. But it was. The shoes themselves told the story. Broken. Beaten. Misshapen. It would be different if my husband didn’t need good support for his feet, but my husband does manual labor every day. He’s active for a living. Lifting. Moving. Chickening. My heart broke when I remembered the back surgery he had endured in the second year of our marriage and his occasional, quiet complaining of pain since. When I asked why he hadn’t gotten any new shoes, he shrugged and said, “We needed other things.”
I’m going to call Merriam Webster and request they put a picture of those shoes next to the word “love,” as it is the perfect depiction of what love truly is. Love isn’t romantic. Love is dedication and selflessness. Love is working hard to provide for those you love. Love is going without.
I may not have as many Instagram-worthy moments of trips to sunny destinations or expensive date nights out, but I wake up every morning knowing my husband is doing everything in his power that day to protect and maximize our life together. It’s deeper than occasional grand gestures. It is a constant commitment flowing in the background of our lives. We’re in this together. Smelly chicken clothes and all.
It’s hard to believe in a world of overwhelming promotion of self and where we’re endlessly told we deserve to be happy at any expense, that men like my husband still exist. When I get frustrated with the lack of sparkle in our everyday life, I need not look further than the early mornings my husband spends cooking the tiny humans breakfast while I get ready for work or the late nights he puts in when it’s time to sell chickens, to feel loved. It’s not a Nicholas Spark book by any means. Our days don’t typically involve getting caught in the rain in a rowboat (gah — Ryan Gosling — amirite?). But, they are full of picking blueberries in our yard, never-ending laundry, paid bills, and a whole lot of chickens. A life worked to build and protect. An everyday commitment to our family. There’s nothing more romantic than that.
I bought Bobby new shoes. It felt like it fell short of what he really deserved, but then again, it’s not the over-the-top declarations of love but the little I’m taking care of yous that add up to months, and then years, and then a lifetime, together. When he opened them he said, “Do these have good support? My back has been bothering me.” ((Heartache.)) Then he said, “Did they have them in any other colors?” ((Eyeroll.)) Marriage.