14 year old me / by Carey

I always got nervous butterflies in my stomach right before a new school year started.  That wonderful anticipation of what the next scholastic adventure held.  Which teachers, which classes, which friends, what chair in band...  I loved school fervently.  That particular year the anxiety was even stronger than usual because not only was it a new school year, but a new school altogether:  the high school.  Beginning ninth grade.  I had turned fourteen two months earlier.  14.  I felt so old then.

To say that 14 year old me was shy, timid, and awkward is an understatement.  The junior high fed the high school, so most of the students were those we'd gone to school with for two or more years already.  However, the next county over offered the students of a small town on their border the choice of attending my high school or the one in their actual county.  So there was a handful of new students among us.

My best friend Megan wasn't nearly as shy and uncomfortable around boys as I was.  When she saw Dustin and Shawn standing outside the social studies building under the awning, she immediately wanted to go over and investigate.  Paralyzed mortification was my response!  Absolutely, positively not!!!   I never received any guidance in the romance department from my family.  None.  I didn't know what to do, what not to do, how to act, how not to act, but most importantly I had incredibly low self esteem.  I didn't even know what flirting was, let alone how to do it, right or wrong.  I had no idea what boys did or didn't like.  I didn't know what I should be looking for in a boy, a prospective mate.  To go up and speak to boys I didn't even know.... it wasn't a matter of not wanting to.  It was a matter of being rendered unable.  Paralyzed.  Paralyzed by ignorance. Paralyzed by lack of confidence.  Paralyzed by fear of impending certain rejection.

Failure.  Public failure.  Humiliation.

I don't remember the conversation specifically, but I remember being frustrated that Megan simply wouldn't let it go.  So much bolder she was than me.  She just wouldn't drop it, and wanted me to come along.  I just couldn't.  I felt trapped and panicked.  My mouth opened as my brain searched frantically for an excuse that would cause her to stop.

"I don't want to.  He looks like a bug."

What in the world?  Where did that come from?  Why would I say something like that?  I wasn't a mean girl.  I wasn't cruel.  My sensitivity for the feelings of others was heightened, not less.  I always felt like I was born 30 years old.  Out of place in the world of immature children that were concerned with immature childish things that all children should have the luxury of being merely concerned with.  I got along better with my teachers than most of my peers.  I could relate to them.  I felt this nagging sense of not belonging to the group of high schoolers, because my heart and my head and my concerns were just so more vast than theirs seemed to be.  I didn't goof around.  I didn't "play".  I didn't even begin to know how.  And I was most certainly never ever mean.... to anyone.

I don't remember if Megan went over to talk to them.  I'm fairly certain I did not.  What is strange is that I remember this interchange. It is emblazoned in my memory.... because I instantly felt such guilt.  How could I say something so ugly, so mean, so rude.... and so unfounded?  It was wrong and I knew it.  And I harbored awful guilt over it.   What I didn't know was that....

He had heard me.

Our sophomore year, at 15 years old, I developed an infatuation with Shawn.  We had our world History class together, and I remember trying with all I knew how to try to get his attention and let him know I was interested.  He had algebra immediately before I did and he would often stay after class as I came in, talking to the track coach/professor.  I remember trying to get his attention then, too.  To no avail.  He never paid me the slightest heed.  I remember feeling so embarrassed that I had bared it all out for the world to see.... and was ignored.  I truly tried as hard I knew to try.

Junior year introduced our smart crowd to the Advanced Placement course.  That group of us took AP US History together and thus spent a significant amount of time together, both at school and the public library.  Shawn, a few others in that group, and I also took German together.  It was a wonderful time in my memory when we were all in something challenging together.  Even though we were all responsible for own grades and scores, we were still in this thing together.  A team.  We were 16 years old.

Over time my infatuation grew.   I liked Shawn.  A whole, whole lot.  He wasn't like the other boys.  He seemed so much more perceptive.  So much more to him emotionally and intellectually.  He was fun and attractive.  He was smart.  He was a good guy.  A nice guy.  Everything a girl would want.

I continued to attempt to communicate my attraction to him, during all this time we were afforded together.  It often felt like he liked me back. There was of course ridiculous high school drama involved.  He would be dating someone else here and there.... and then so was I.  Timing and insecurity just didn't allow it to work...

But we spent every day in German class, during all of that drama, sitting across from each other.  Secretly holding hands or touching legs under the long tables that classroom contained, hidden from everyone else in the world.  Eventually mutual feelings were confessed.   As the school year ended, my boyfriend at the time discovered that Shawn and I had rode home from a 3 hour school trip holding hands and he was furious.  I was ashamed for doing something so obviously wrong.  He forbid me to have more contact with Shawn and I foolishly obliged.

Shawn even sent me a birthday card that summer.  I turned 17.  I kept it, in the third drawer of the hutch in my room.  But I didn't respond.

Our senior year began.  After two days of school that boyfriend abruptly just stopped responding to me.  It was something that still baffles me. I have no idea what happened.  It was like a light switch.  But new classes had begun... AP English, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, more German.... our group of friends reunited after summer.  Shawn and I reunited after the summer.

I don't really remember how we came back together.  It just all fell into place.  I think he was still dating the girl he'd been with during the holding hands fiasco... and he broke up with her.  My weird boyfriend just evaporated.   We were both suddenly free of any obligation... and suddenly free to be together.

It was over the Labor Day holiday weekend.  He invited me over to watch a football game.  Carolina Panthers verses the Green Bay Packers.   It was official.  We were together.


It would look awfully bad if we had both just ended our previous relationships and started this one, that everyone had suspected was going on for forever anyway.... so we decided to hide it for a while.  Finally, on September 27, 1996 Shawn brought me a rose after the football game, while I was still in my marching band uniform, and asked me to officially be his girlfriend.  Nearly a year after I'd realized I'd fallen for him, he was officially mine.

A long time passed before Shawn told me about remembering that I'd called him a bug.  I was mortified. I remembered it.  I still remember it.  He was so hurt and angry by my cold remark that he refused to have anything to do with me from that day forward.  His seeming obliviousness to me our sophomore year was intentional, as a result of my slight.  It took spending time with me over our junior year, during all those scholastic endeavors, to break down the walls.  He saw that wasn't who I really was, at all.

Today is June 9, 2011.  Today we have been married for ten years.  TEN whole years.

14 year old me, who first saw Shawn and his best friend Dustin standing outside the social studies building that August afternoon, would never have imagined that almost 18 years later, I would be sitting here, Shawn's wife.  (Can I say I freaked out a little bit and counted several times when I got 18 to make sure it was that many.  How did we get so old already!!??)

15 year old me, who had just started to like Shawn, would never have imagined.

16 year old me, who desired a relationship with Shawn, simply had no idea how very much God would bless her in her choice.

16 year old me would never have imagined that we'd graduate high school together.
That we would go to NC State University together.
That we'd both major in chemical engineering together.
That we'd buy a car together before we were even engaged.
That we would graduate from college together.
That we'd get married and move to Tennessee to be real grown up chemical engineers at a chemical company together.
That we'd spontaneously get a Shih Tzu puppy, my first dog, to live inside with us.
That we'd experience the death of my father 5 months into our marriage.
That we'd buy our first house and live in it for 5 years.
That we would have visited Hawaii twice, together. 
That we would see Germany, Austria, and Switzerland together.
That we would have taken a Caribbean cruise and explored Disney together.
That we'd struggle through trials of the corporate world in my life and ultimately decided I'd be a stay at home wife.
That we'd struggle with infertility after desiring to have children.
That we'd be blessed with two beautiful children despite, merely 20 months apart.
That we'd buy our second house, now in it four years, with room for everything and an amazing yard for lots of fun.

16 year old me certainly wasn't looking for marriage material.  All I knew was that I enjoyed his company.

16 year old me didn't really consider whether he was going to be the type of man who would provide for and take care of me.  16 year old me  had no idea whether he was going to be a good dad.  16 year old me had never seen him angry, let alone work out a conflict, to know how disagreements would be handled.  16 year old me didn't know how he felt about alcohol use.  16 year old me didn't know whether he was a man of integrity.  16 year old me didn't know how he felt about God.  16 year old me didn't know how he felt about finances.  16 year old me didn't know if he'd be one to help me around the house.  16 year old me didn't know if he'd be the kind of man to take care of our home and have a work ethic rivaled by no one.  16 year old me didn't know if he'd be one who wanted to talk with me, converse with me, and hear my thoughts and my heart.

It could have turned out so very differently.   Instead it has turned out far superior to my wildest childhood fantasy.

I know of no man better than my husband.

I often default to approaching life's challenges independently.  It's not a conscious thing - I just default there.  I cannot tell you how many times Shawn has reminded me - "we're on the same team!"  I am so happy that he views us that way and that he's on my team.

In high school we thought we were drawn to each other because we were so similar.  As the years have slipped through my fingers, the more we realize how very different we are.  And yet, how very perfect we are for each other.  We balance each others parts.  I temper him.  He draws me out.   I simply couldn't ask for more.

I didn't know he'd be such a hard worker.  That he would work his tail off in his profession for us.  And yet, temper that with being present in our family.  That he'd sacrifice the glory of quickly rising the corporate ladder for building the memories with our family that only time can build.

I didn't know he'd be such a workhorse around the house.  Both in helping me out and doing the outside maintenance that keeps our home simply beautiful.  No chore is beyond his abilities.  He can cook anything I can.  He knows what to do to keep our landscaping gorgeous.  He flawlessly takes care of our home whenever the next inevitable thing needs tending.

I didn't know he'd be the leader of our family, and a really good one at that.

I didn't know he'd be such an excited and good expectant father.  I didn't know he'd go to almost every one of my prenatal visits, read all the books, ask a thousand questions, anxiously begging each child to be born because he simply couldn't stand the wait any longer.  I didn't know he'd get up with me, a million times each night, during those beginning weeks, learning how to feed my baby just to be there with me since I alone could nurse.

I didn't know he'd be a good dad.  I didn't know he'd be such a playful daddy.  I didn't know he'd love those kids so much.  I didn't know he'd be the guy at any gathering that all the kids flock to and spend their evening climbing all over while their parents socialize and enjoy their time off.  I didn't know he'd be so hands on, changing any diaper, dispensing any medicine, fixing any meal, cleaning up any (and every) bodily fluid, doling out encouragement and discipline, cleaning up the toys, washing the clothes, dressing, combing, brushing... you name it.  I didn't know he'd be part of bedtime each and every night, not leaving that up to the mom.  That he'd just take such a darn active role in his job as dad.  I don't have to leave detailed lists.  I don't have to worry.  I can leave them and know that their daddy is 100% taking care of them and knows just how to handle it (plus they are probably having way more fun besides!).

I didn't know he'd be one to support and encourage my needs to leave the corporate world.  To support and encourage me as a stay at home mom.  To support and encourage my artistic needs.  To love that I do photography and appreciate the images I capture of our children.  He will never know just how much that means to me.  That he would be one to sacrifice his own personal time and needs so that I am able to get away and have frequent breaks from the tireless demands of raising babies, toddlers and now preschoolers.

I didn't  know he'd be unfailingly patient with me and my quirks and flaws and emotional baggage.  And that he patiently dealt with who I turned into before we discovered I had hypothyroidism.  And that we now joke about my indecisiveness and my new personal superhero, Anxiety Girl.

I didn't know that he'd be anything but apathetic about everything involved in ours lives.  While sometimes I've been frustrated that he had an opinion about things such as which color to paint the walls, what rug, which plates, which appliance, which gear for the kids..... I'm immensely grateful that he cares.  I'd much rather him care than be a passive whatever doormat any day.

I didn't know that God would move in his heart and draw him after learning what authentic masculinity was all about, and then leading others in that quest for years until we embarked upon parenthood.

I didn't know he would be one who gave of himself to serve others.  Always.

I didn't know he'd accept my need to never be around alcohol, as a result of my childhood, without blinking an eye and never making me feel any grief over forcing that life on him.

I didn't know he'd be the guy that people called upon to help move furniture, cut down trees, dig up roots, paint, trim, whatever.  That he'd be the kind of man to stop and help someone who got a flat tire or got stuck in the mud.

I didn't know I could trust him implicitly, completely, wholly.  That his character is etched upon stone.  I know who he was, who he is.

I didn't know that years and years later, he'd make me feel more beautiful than the day before, even as we enter the phase of life where we notice that we are aging.

I didn't know that I'd still just plain enjoy his company, 18 years after I first laid eyes on him, and be so intensely grateful that God brought him into my life.

I am so incredibly proud to be Mrs. Shawn Pace.  

And I love that we began when we were still children, when we thought we knew so much.  I love that we grew up together.  We forged down the adventurous road of becoming adults together.  We've blazed our path and are living a dream neither of us could ever have conceived.  And I hope that one day we can add that we grew old together to that list.

Here we are at senior prom, at the beach after high school graduation (I'd be willing to bet Megan took that picture), and then last fall during our annual family session with Picsee Studios (love those ladies!).