Tag: Marriage

21Feb

MRS

I couldn’t help joining up with Seth and Amber Haines another week for Marriage Letters: My Job–Your Job. It’s a beautiful way to prioritize my marriage, even if I did growl at Dan when I thought he was trying to read the letter over my shoulder. At least I growled with renewed admiration and lovingkindness, right dear?

~~~

Dear husband,

Eight years after tossing my graduation cap in the air, and I still want to protest that I did not attend university to earn an MRS degree. I was already weaving my plans for world travel when we met my junior year, but I’m not sure anyone was buying that. Possibly because I couldn’t wait a full eight months before marrying you, and possibly because… well, nobody studies English for the lucrative career opportunities.

All the same, I loved the interplay of words enough to hang my résumé on it, and this year, I’ve traded in a paycheck for one-time contracts with page counts. It’s slow work, but it stirs up sparks, warms me from the inside out.

Your work warms you too. I roam our bedroom-office throughout the day, tracking inspiration from my desk to the rocking chair to our bed, while you remain solid and engaged at your own workspace. It’s hard to drag you to meals sometimes, but I know you remember plenty of nights when I’ve foregone dinner for dialogues. We understand each other in this. You research the latest in biomechanical technology and set up training sessions with clients, and I stare out the window looking for sentences among the olive leaves, and our smiles meet halfway across the room.

Pay scales haven’t changed too much though, and unless I dream up the next Harry Potter, it’s unlikely that my writing will ever pull the same financial weight as your engineering. I confess, I often let the thought that your job is more important than my job (which it is, in a putting food on the table sense) morph into dissatisfaction with myself. How many times now have I wailed to you that I am going to stop writing forevermore and devote the rest of my life to scrubbing the ground you walk on with a toothbrush because at least then I’d be accomplishing something useful? (Yes, our girls come by their dramatic streaks honestly.)

Every one of those times in which I despair at the inferiority of my work, I expect you to sigh in relief that finally I’m going to stop wasting all of our time and then request that I just go ahead and tie your shoes while I’m down there. Every time, though, you exceed my expectations by pulling me up, prying the toothbrush out of my fingers, and offering some way you can help me more than you already do. It kills, in a gorgeous, humbling way.

I guess what I have to say about it all is thank you—for giving equal importance to our jobs despite the income disparity, for making my fulfillment in life your own priority, and especially for letting me display my MRS diploma proudly above my B.A.

It was the best career choice I could have made.

Bethany

~~~

You can read last week’s letter here.

14Feb

Braving Together

Seth and Amber Haines have been sharing letters to each other for the last few weeks, hanging the hard work of marriage up as art, and their love story never fails to inspire the writing of my own. This week, patience:

~~~

Dear husband,

You don’t know this, but I spent half an hour on my hair this morning. If any day of the year is worth the extra effort to look sexy and glamorous, it’s Valentine’s Day, right? I knew I was ridiculous for pulling out the ruby-tinted lip gloss before breakfast, but date night was already smoldering on my mind, and you know well after nine years that my whimsy is nothing if not ridiculous. It also has good taste in lip gloss.

By 8:30 a.m., all signs were pointing a hot lovin’ kind of day. Only, when I walked out of the bathroom, you said, “I’ll wait to make the coffee until you’re done getting ready.”

“Come again?”

“I mean, since your hair is still pinned on top of your head from doing your make up.”

I suddenly felt very slow. “So… you don’t like how I fixed it?”

Oh, my dear one. I could hear your face buckling from the impact of the realization, and you scrambled to salvage an unsalvageable situation. “It, uh… it looks very pretty… in the back… I mean…”

I’d seen that expression once before, on the face of a friend’s fiancé who had just asked me when my third child was due. It’s the look of a man without a time machine.

I don’t make these things easy on you, I know. I retreat from hurt feelings as instinctively as I do from conflict and controversy and furniture placement decisions. For a man who connects best through brave words and open eyes, it must be especially difficult navigating marriage with an emotional turtle.

Yet you do it so well, husband of mine. You have never tiptoed around the dark parts of our relationship, but you don’t take them by force either; you wait until I’m ready to talk, and then we march into the dark together.  It is this willingness to hold out for together, this inexhaustible patience, that has turned me into a woman who comes out of hiding. You make me brave.

Brave enough to grin as I shake out the hair pins (loose hair is its own kind of sexy and glamorous, yes?) and let your intentions speak louder than words. Brave enough to reapply ruby lip gloss after my coffee. Brave enough to go out this evening with open eyes and unhidden words for the man whose patience won me over a long time ago.

It’s going to be a good date night.

Bethany

3Aug

Prioritizing for Mummies

Our kitchen sink is piled like the discount bin in a store at which only desperate masochists or alley rats would shop. We have mismatched coffee mugs, pasta bowls stuck together with parmesan, cutting boards clinging to last night’s watermelon seeds, empty olive oil bottles, take your pick! Although I could swear I had it spotless at this time yesterday, the only proof that civilized folks occupy our kitchen is the vase of freshly-picked African daisies… sitting cheerfully in a pile of crumbs.

Shall we move on to the living room? Here, you can find the ruins of several Lego empires, dismantled by four children in the space of an hour and arranged strategically so as to be tread on by bare feet when least expected. While removing plastic palm branches from your soles, you can observe my mending pile which is second only to my ironing pile, the abstract art that is our formerly beige rug*, and what’s that? You need a tissue? We have one in every nook and cranny of the room for your convenience, and most of them are only slightly used!

* For the record, beige rugs were never meant for use by children, dinner party guests, or people with feet.

Bolts and nails and who knows what else is scattered on the floor around our bulimic tool box in the utility room—the same room that mysteriously accumulates bird poop and produces spiders the exact size of my fleeing dignity. Every single toy with the ability to hold water or to stir water or to be dunked in water without electrocuting anyone is drip-drying above the tub in our bathroom. Papers waiting to be sorted into overcrowded filing cabinets are covering every sit-able surface in our bedroom. Dust bunnies are shacking up with cobwebs anywhere they think they can get away with it (which is pretty much everywhere these days).  I’m trying not to think about it.

Of course, trying to block out the din of Messes, Messes Everywhere only makes them squall louder.  The ever-annoying shoulds like to join in too: You should be scrubbing the dishes! In fact, you should have done it already! We shouldn’t even be having this conversation! I’ve always found the shoulds both logical and persuasive (in their ever-annoying way), but I can’t give in to them this afternoon, and here’s why:

My children are napping.

Did that sentence read with the weight of a divine decree? If not, try reading it again. Slower this time, maybe in Morgan Freeman’s voice.

My children are napping. In about half an hour, they will wake up and ask me to snuggle the sleep away and then clamor for shows or snacks while I say no, no, and bluster around getting supper together and changing for work and getting the girls presentable and fed and all three of us out the door on time to pick up their dad so I can hand over parenting duties and win a little bread myself and return home to kiss sweet faces goodnight and then plop down on the nearest available surface. And as the day’s energy slowly ebbs out of my toes, it won’t matter to me whether or not the kitchen is pristine; the dishes will likely survive until morning. I won’t care that our living room has been taken over by Legos; it’s instant playtime for the girls tomorrow. The feral utility room won’t even register; who needs to do laundry anyway?

I’m discovering that at the end of each day, my delusional drive to be June Cleaver evaporates, and the only thing left is a pulsing, present need to be me
a mama who treasures her daughters’ imaginations and sleep-drenched hugs
a wife who loves undistracted time with her husband more than just about anything
a friend who can’t wait to write back, call back, come over
a soul-searcher who meets the sacred in unexpected ways
and
a writer who feels ridiculous even considering the title but who begins shriveling as a mama, a wife, a friend, and a soul-searcher when she doesn’t allow herself the gift of words—
which is why our kitchen will have to live in a squalor for a little while longer.

My children are napping.

 

 

1Aug

eHarmony Would So Not Approve This

He has his version of Irish music; I have mine.

He piles spicy peppers on his breakfast eggs; I once licked a jalapeño, The End.

He likes his beer as red as his beard was when we met; I’ll always reach for the pale ale (unless there’s a mojito on the table, in which case all bets are off).

He once spent a semester tutoring me in math so I could in turn teach it to my SAT students without crying; I once spent a semester tutoring him in English so he could pass an exam marry me.

He runs marathons for fun; I have a vastly different understanding of the word “fun.” (Of course, I would consider getting buried alive in a library fun, so maybe we can just agree to politely mock each other’s definitions ‘til death do us part.)

His 6’2” ≠ my 5’6”.

He relaxes after work by getting together with friends; I relax by getting as antisocial as possible.

He keeps his t-shirt collection in circulation year-round; I burrow under duvets in August.

He grew up speaking Venetian; I grew up speaking Christianese.

He appreciates a lively discussion; I would rather run a marathon while doing tongue trigonometry with habaneros than debate politics.

He prefers to work out our disagreements face to face in the honesty of the moment; I prefer to work them out with the solitude of my journal and the perspective of elapsed time.

As the saying goes, opposites attract.

During those warm Texas nights when we’d sneak away from campus to talk for hours, uninterrupted, until night turned to morning around us and our reputations began to register as lost causes, we saw only the shared wavelength of our thoughts. I still count our minds’ chemistry among the most precious gifts of my life. But eight years (and twenty-seven days, if you want to get all precise up in here) of marriage have given our differences their fair share of stage time, and I’m a little amazed that I ever thought of us as birds of a feather.

Of course, we have a few things in common now that we didn’t have back then. When we tiptoe into our little girls’ bedroom every night to rescue covers from a tangle of sleep-flung limbs, the smile we share on the way out is uniquely ours. The way our bodies interlock as we hug, molded to each other over eight years and twenty-seven days of babies and marathons and travels and sharing a bed, transcends any others’ touch.  Our joint account holds the memories of our first five homes together (plus the two that weren’t really ours), the course changes we’ve seen each other through, and the dreams that have grown up alongside of us.

We still hear each other through the noise of life, and I pray never to take our soul-compatibility for granted. But truth be told, I don’t think I would be writing this today if not for a partner who consistently introduces me to new experiences, keeps me social despite myself, pulls me out of hiding time and time again, and manages to surprise me every time I’m sure I’ve got him all figured out. I’d even venture to say, poor math skills notwithstanding, that he + I = just right.

(Plus, it turns out we do agree on one or two definitions of fun…)

 

 

13Jun

Coinstinct

This morning, I pressed the snooze button ten times, at which point my alarm rolled its eyes and turned itself off.  I was tired with a capital T-I-R-E-D and deflated by the realization that even after all the midnight oil, I had still gotten only halfway through a project I planned on finishing weeks ago. I thrive on both completion and sleep, so this really wasn’t my ideal wake-up scenario. Plus, thanks to my snooze button calisthenics, we hit the ground running late.

I don’t remember how many snippy things I said to Dan and the girls as we drove to their school—my cappuccino hadn’t gotten a chance to make it from the thermos to my bloodstream where I count on it to turn on the lights and unlock my brainwaves every morning—but I’m sure I wasn’t overly endearing. As we piled out of the car and jogged onto the school grounds, I mostly thought in cartoonish scribbles and thunderclouds. We’re late, we’re late, we’re latelatelatelate! WHY  won’t the girls’ legs move any faster? And why did Dan have to park across the street when there was a perfectly good crosswalk unoccupied space here? Are they just trying to inconvenience me because they know I’m late for work? Grumble, grumble, thunder, lateness, doom, etc.

Just ahead of us, an equally rushed mama was leading two little girls, her arms spilling over with backpacks and an adorable toddler boy. “Still with me?” she panted toward her girls, and as she glanced back to check, her foot snagged on the uneven pavement. She and the backpacks went sprawling, but her little boy didn’t so much sprawl as he did thud. I made it to his side just as his cries began. His mama’s instincts kicked in immediately as well, and she scooped him up without seeming to notice me. We all saw the smear of blood. Dan ran to get some help, and she followed with blank desperation, the little boy’s wails transmitting across the schoolyard to his sisters.

I knew he would be okay. He hadn’t fallen out of his mom’s arms until she was already halfway down, and the bump hadn’t affected his vocal cords in the slightest. However, I couldn’t help aching for his sisters. The younger one in particular was frozen in place with tiny hiccupping sobs, so I picked her up hoping it wouldn’t land me on the five o’clock news as a child abductor. I comforted as best I could while bringing the girls into the school where their brother was loudly protesting treatment, and then I left them. There wasn’t really anything else Dan or I could do, and the minutes were racing full speed ahead toward work. I hated to leave them though—the little boy wailing in pain, his sisters hugging each other in bewildered tears, or their mama whose lifesaving instinct would undoubtedly turn on her in blame. They had my heart’s full attention; all the scribbles and thunderclouds had been replaced by compassion.

And then, not three minutes later, I was snapping at Dan over his driving.

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment when my mental state shifted back to doom and snark, but snapping at my husband was every bit as sudden and involuntary as rushing to help a child in pain. I mean, I was clearly going to be latelatelate!, so my brain followed its problem-solving protocol to its natural conclusion: Make sure your husband understands his crime of failing to drive just like you do. Hugging him goodbye was a halfhearted mix of irritation and regret, and I booked it to work feeling like I probably should have snoozed that first alarm with a sledgehammer.

There are two things I just can’t understand about the morning. One is that somehow my instinct for compassion can coexist in such tight quarters with an instinct for criticism. Despite the visceral strength of my heart-ties to loved ones and hurting ones alike, those bonds can be sidestepped by something as paltry as being late for work. Do I even need to mention how scummy this makes me feel? The last thing I want is for tragedy to have to strike my little family before I stop taking them for granted; I just need to learn the delicate art of instinct override.

The second thing I can’t understand is that somehow, even after everything, I made it to work on time.

 

10May

7.8 Years In

[2 months  after the wedding]

I keep trying to write about this and surfacing steeped to the bone in inexplicable feelings, the words evaporating off my skin into the night, so I’ll stop trying and simply say this:

I love him.

Still. More.

23Mar

Harebrained

Admittedly, our weekend in Rome wasn’t the most harebrained idea I’ve ever jumped on, but it clearly was not the work of a sound mind. One daughter was vomiting, you see. The other was dealing with a bout of “poop juice” (what her term lacks in delicacy it more than makes up for in originality), and I was feverish from a mild case of food poisoning. However, one’s husband only runs his first marathon once, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cheer him on. Besides, it was Rome. Cobblestone streets, gold-plated basilicas, Colosseums, Rome. We were all going.

As close as we got to the starting line  2

The decision was at least 30% mistake. The family and friends of 14,000 racers seeped along the streets carrying curious tourists along, and a sickly mama with a preschooler attached to each arm was no match for the full-bodied tide. We never made it within 300 meters of the starting line, and we were somehow less successful at finding the finish.  As for my vision of popping up around the city like moles with Metro passes, arriving at famous monuments with impeccable timing to whistle and snap artsy photos as Dan ran past… well, we were actually more like earthworms, inching from the underground stops in pale discombobulation and completely missing our first pre-planned photo opportunity because we were lying belly-up in the sun.

Basking in the sun

However, for all its faults, the experience was one I’m glad I took life up on. Had the girls and I stayed curled under familiar blankets, we wouldn’t have gotten to watch spring wake fresh-faced from her beauty sleep and beam into the niches of the Eternal City. It was a rare kind of pleasure to sit on a marble bench in the Piazza del Popolo with the sun freckling my nose and the girls napping on my lap while we waited for Dan to sweep by on the stream of marathon runners. For that hour, we had no obligation to tour or snap photos or do anything; it was a golden opportunity to just be, and the unplanned respite could not have been more perfect. While tourists milled around surreptitiously snapping photos of us (“I’ve never seen such a sight in all of Rome,” grinned the man who offered to take a shot on my camera), I soaked up spring and the precious nearness of my still-little girls.

We were a tourist attraction 2

And then my husband ran past—kilometer 37 of 42.2—and it was incredible to see his hard work and dedication in every footstep planted on centuries’-old pavement.   We smiled at each other like married people do, one in sickness, one in health, both calculating the experiences of our life together and coming up rich. Then he turned the corner, the girls and I collected our jackets and sickness bags, and all four of us headed on jellied legs toward the finish.

Daniel at kilometer 37 - Cropped

That was about the time the girls and I got lost and Dan ended up dehydrated and we realized it was three in the afternoon and some of us hadn’t eaten in 24 hours and our parking meter ran out and the glamor of our adventure was trampled under tired feet and I decided that next year I’m limiting my spring-welcoming activities to opening windows and potting flowers. Still, even our least sane ideas lead to experiences that we cherish as our family’s most valuable keepsakes, and there’s no doubt in my feverish, harebrained mind that we left Rome richer than we came.

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