It’s Sunday night, and I’ve just finished facilitating dinner, clean up, story time, tooth brushing, pajamas, and goodnights for my four children. No, that’s not quite accurate. The youngest threw a tantrum so spectacular that I gave up on the tooth brushing battle. And one of the middle two may or may not have decided to sleep in his clothes. I’m not sure, because when the younger two were finally down, I told the older kids I was tapped out for the evening, gave them hugs, and escaped to my bedroom.
The first half of the day was a late to church, everything is ridiculous, why doesn’t anyone have shoes on, “MomMomMommyMamaMomMomMom” sort of morning. The youngest got very upset that I thought it was silly to put his mittens on in the parking lot, just outside the church doors, when it was literally -6° and windy and he had refused to wear the mittens before then.
I did it all on my own this weekend, and I am exhausted.
I did it all on my own this weekend, because their father has spent the last two days running a cold weather emergency shelter for individuals and families, people with nowhere to go when the temperatures dip to these record, deadly lows.
During the week, he has been home with them often, trying to get other work done while dealing with the spectacular tantrums, the “DadDaddyDad” on repeat, the incessant requests for snacks, while I am out working with a similar population of marginalized and struggling human beings.
In church this morning we talked about worship, not the song and prayer kind but the giving to others, laying down our lives sort. At the shelter, Jake and his staff are doing this in an obvious, visible way. They miss sleep, they unclog toilets, they negotiate calmly with scared and angry people, they deal with any number of circumstances one might encounter in a shelter for the homeless and addicted at the coldest, loneliest hours. The managers and volunteers who make this shelter possible each winter are heroes, I honestly believe that.
This morning, picking up spilled crayons and cracked communion cups and abandoned mittens (imagine that) after the service, I remembered - I’m a hero in this too. Because if it weren’t for my willingness to do these parenting tasks solo, Jake wouldn’t be at the shelter this weekend.
In reality, if it weren’t for his dedication, this year there might not be a shelter in town at all.
If I am impressed by his passion for the work, for his tireless efforts and the difference he makes, then I get to be proud of my support for the same. I can recognize buckling all the car seats, brushing all the teeth, tying all the shoes alone, as its own form of worship and service. In freeing up my husband for the work, I, too, am helping to provide shelter and safety for those who need it.
I’m not writing this to pat myself on the back or seek accolades, but rather to point out that there is a group of people whose sacrifice goes overlooked - and to point out that they may, like me, often overlook it themselves.
I remember the Christmases when Jake was a cop, the way we structured our celebrations around when he was off shift. I remember New Year’s Eves when I would get a phone call instead of a kiss at midnight. I remember the year he watched the Superbowl without me, because was I was at a birth.
Those moments were difficult for us both. When I was the one at home, I don’t remember feeling heroic, or like I was contributing to a greater goal. I remember feeling lonely, disappointed, and sometimes resentful.
It did not occur to me, then, to think of any of that as a sacrifice. I didn’t recognize it as something done in service to to others.
But it was. And now, I know I can be proud of that.
So this is for the spouses, those of you co-parenting with police officers, firefighters, nurses and doctors and midwives, soldiers, and yes, social workers. They do the hard work, every day, absolutely, but you are part of the reason that work can happen. Lives are changed and saved by your support and by your sacrifice.
Thank you for all you give.
The list of things I’d like to make you know could fill volumes. But no matter how long the list, it will be years – a lifetime – before you understand the words. For every single thing you say I just don’t get, there are ten more from me to you.
And that’s okay, I remind myself.
As I write this, however premature it may be, you are screaming at your siblings, crying at your father, slamming doors and hating your life - all ten years of it.
You won’t know that a small piece of me is proud of you for screaming in rage. When I was your age, when I wanted to scream, I stayed silent.
You won’t know that a part of me understands you. My mother never understood either. At least, I thought she didn’t.
You won’t know the struggle I felt as we walked to the store and back, the deep breaths I took in a failed attempt to temper my defensiveness. You won’t know how hard I tried to hear you, even as my frustration built a wall between us. I want so badly for you to feel heard.
You won’t know that I’m annoyed with myself for already feeling drained and worn by the time we get a chance to talk. That my compassion has run dry for today, and in this moment I’m angry at a client for using up the patience I needed for my daughter. I want so badly for my patience to be limitless.
You won’t know that I worry constantly about messing up with you, that I feel like I’m forever floundering in this murky world of raising a tween, no, this murky world of raising you, at every stage. Seriously, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to you, and I never know what to say.
You won’t know that I want to yell, “Can’t you just be happy? Can’t you see how good you have it?!” even though I know you can’t, because you are a girl on the edge of puberty and no girl on the edge of puberty is happy with her life. Can I promise you this despair won’t last, without sounding like I’m discounting your feelings?
You won’t know that I cried when we came home, cried for your sadness, cried for my own. Cried because I am trying, and you don’t see it, because you can't.
Right now, you cannot know.
You won’t know that I am torn in the desire to give you everything that will make you happy, because I don’t want you to feel like the center of the universe. I don’t want you to have everything, because I love you too much for that. You are not at the center of the universe. But you are at the center of my heart.
You won’t know how hard we try to make this work, two parents in a field where the pay is low and the hours are strange. You won’t understand why we chose this life not only for the world, but for our children. But someday I hope you will see the value in it.
You won’t know that I remember. That the anger, the frustration, the desire to feel heard, is not yours alone. I ache, because I remember.
You won’t know the way I struggled to make my mother understand, the way I cried in secret when my father defended her. I hadn’t meant to come off so harshly. I hadn’t wanted to hurt them with what I said, but the words came out wrong. Words have a way of doing that, out of the mouths of tweens and teens. I know, because I remember.
You won’t know the memory of holding you tight, propped up and sore in a hospital bed. You were two hours old, and your dad had left to move the car. Finally alone, I cried tears of relief into the fuzz on your sweet, tiny head. We had survived birth, together, and I was amazed. I whispered through sobs, “Delaney, we did it. We did it. We did it.” I honestly believed the hardest part was over.
You won’t know that I didn’t say that to the others, that I never again felt that sense of “us” when I delivered a baby. With your younger siblings, no, it was “I did it,” and there was relief and euphoria, but never again did I think in terms of “we.” Only once. Only with you.
You won’t know that the distinction is yours alone, my mysterious, daunting, terrifying eldest daughter.
But one day, maybe in 20 years, maybe in 30, maybe you will find yourself tasked with raising a young woman, and you will remember how it feels to be on your side of the jagged, tenuous mother-daughter equation. Maybe then, when the side you are on looks like mine.
Maybe then you will know.
He's late coming home again.
Stupid late. Of course it's for a good reason. Of course it's beyond his control. Truthfully, he has probably done it for me more than anyone else. But it was still a stupid late night that ruined my plans, at the end of a stupid busy week, when everything has felt stupidly haphazard for a month.
I've already changed out of the jeans and sheer sweater he likes, into fleece pajama pants and a stained sweatshirt that has somehow remained intact since college. I've fallen asleep putting the (possibly hyperactive) toddler to bed.
I wake up when the door opens. Nobly, I stumble out of bed and gave him a hug. Like a martyr I ask about his night, yawn, recap more stupid busy plans for the following morning.
He responds, “You know I have to leave here first thing in the morning tomorrow, right?”
No, no, I did not know. I make it abundantly, loudly, stupidly clear I definitely did not know. I make it even clearer how much this screws up the inner workings of my morning. Our morning.
If our family schedule is a well-oiled machine, his frequently changing calendar is endless grit between the gears.
He makes it abundantly clear, even more loudly, how much he thinks my attitude and response suck.
Earlier in the week, a couple of friends and I compared notes on spousal arguments. Their husbands are both the quiet-angry type. Very little yelling. One of them said, “But you and Jake, you guys fight.” It wasn’t an accusation. Rather, a simple observation. There is no quiet-angry person in this relationship.
I conceded, with a qualifier. “When we started dating, our families liked that we stood up to each other. We couldn’t push the other one around.” Because when you’re dating, it’s cute, all that stubbornness.
When you’re married fourteen years, it’s just damn loud.
When you’re married fourteen years, suddenly it’s almost midnight, and you’re two tired people yelling at each other in the kitchen.
I break my own rule and go to bed angry.
We are civil the next morning. No, more than civil, we’re working as a team again. At 3 am, in fact, when I notice the baby is wet, he hands me a diaper and lights up the flashlight on his phone. I hold the squirming baby’s legs as he tapes the left side. We are seamless, wordless, expert.
At 8 am we snuggle briefly, without talking, before getting out of bed. I’m about to speak when our three-year-old walks in, asks for oatmeal. We grunt in acquiescence, and so the day begins. I make coffee. He changes the toddler. We revisit the logistics of the morning, no yelling. I put the water on the stove, get the oatmeal canister. He measures it out, stirs, turns down the heat, reminds me it’s almost cooked as he heads out the door.
Such a good team, Jake and I. A well-oiled, complicated machine.
He sticks his head back into the room. "Are you mad at me?"
I shrug. "No. We just haven't had a chance to talk is all."
Or rather, I slept through the one chance we had.
I text him ten minutes after he leaves. “We should go to a movie.”
He texts back immediately. “We should.”
Subtext, in both directions: We need an effing date night.
People say it all the time. Hell, we say it: We know we’re a good team. We’re partners, best friends, each one the other’s closest ally. We can tag team bedtime and divide up the household chores and know which days each person is responsible for arranging the babysitter. We can manage four kids and two jobs and grad school and a business and homeschooling like it’s no big thing.
We’re such a good team.
Only, here’s the problem, and here’s why we need a date night: I didn’t fall in love with Jake because he’d make a good teammate. We didn’t get married because we collaborate so well together, or because our strengths and weaknesses balance out so nicely, or because together we feel equipped to take on the world.
All of that is true. It’s true, and it’s wonderful. I love it about us.
It’s not why I love him.
I love him because he’s funny, and caring, and unique, and generous, and smart. I love him because he challenges me and supports me, because his heart will always be bigger and better than mine. I love him for the reason I loved him on our wedding day, from the far end of a long aisle - because seeing his face feels like coming home.
It’s too easy to forget that, in the midst of carefully oiling the machine of another busy, hectic week. It’s too easy to remember what I like and what’s practical, functional, and forget what makes me love him.
Yelling in the kitchen, hashing out this stupid week, his strong opinions frustrate me and piss me off.
Out to dinner, commiserating on this stupid election, his strong opinions amuse me and turn me on.
I love him because he’s stubborn as hell.
Because when you’re dating, all that stubbornness, it’s cute.