I did, and would do it again

Originally posted 3/21/2014

I’ve been thinking about weddings and marriage a lot lately, in part because tomorrow is my eleventh anniversary! It’s hard to believe that eleven years have passed since that day in that lovely dress when I enacted what is easily the best decision I ever made.

Is marriage everything I thought it would be? No. It’s almost nothing I thought it would be.

I remember planning the event, consumed with all of the wedding details. They felt so very important. Whenever I approached Tim stressed over choices of things like tablecloths, he said, “The wedding is just one day. The marriage is forever.” Naturally, this pissed me off. “You aren’t helping! I know that the marriage is important and blah blah blah, but do you like the medium-red, the dark-red, or the medium-dark-red roses better?!”

Like many grooms, Tim did not take part in so many of the planning details, and he’s probably quite unaware of how many details our wedding entailed. Does he know that I had to decide on little things like the various sundries for the baskets I placed in the bathrooms? (Does he know there were baskets of sundries in the bathrooms?) Does he know that I picked the chairs? Does he know that I labored over fonts, paper and the type of printing we used? Now when I think of how much money we spent on items like our invitations it makes me a little sick. At the time, setting the tone felt important.

If I could go back, I’d do so many things differently.

But not everything.

I’d still marry Tim. I’d marry him over and over again regardless of what freaking paper we used to invite our guests. I’d marry him with different flowers, the cheaper chairs, and the other tablecloths. I’d even marry him with without the band and the passed hors d’oeuvres. And if I had to, I’d marry him without the fancy dress or open bar. (Thankfully, I don’t have to.)

Our wedding lasted a few (fabulous) hours. Our marriage has been every day since. It’s been great days and stressful days. It’s been sickness (man colds) and health. It’s been joyful moments and moments when everything felt wrong. It’s been a million and one different moments but one thing has never changed: Tim has been by my side and I his.

Our future stretching before us is unknown and uncertain. As much as we like to think we’re in control, we really have little power over what is going to happen to us in the days and years to come. Tragedy or dumb luck can strike at any time. One thing I can control is my half of my marriage. Each day I choose my words and actions, how to be a wife and partner. I don’t always choose wisely. Luckily, Tim chose to marry an imperfect creature so he knew what he was getting into. Imperfections notwithstanding, each day I choose Tim. Again and again.

Eleven years later I can’t remember which tablecloth I ended up with and I couldn’t name my flowers if my life depended on it. I’m certain that my wedding guests can’t remember what they ate or what my invitations looked like. And none of that matters. My husband was right.* The wedding is just one day. The marriage is forever.

*I will neither confirm nor deny if he’s been right about anything else since.

love

 

A little crazy is good for them

My mother has more patience for annoying things than your average person. She somehow tunes out what would drive anyone else crazy. Her general equanimity remained unaltered despite her three children’s cacophonous voices, vexing messiness, and constant fighting.

Every once in a while, though, she’d snap.

“NOW YOU’VE DONE IT!” she’d scream at us when she reached that breaking point, implying that we had finally gone so far, been so terrible, that we crossed a line. Just in case we didn’t pick up on the implication, she might shout, “IF YOU MADE ME YELL, YOU MUST BE REALLY ROTTEN!”

With that, she’d storm out the door and to her garden on the far side of our property.

It seemed unpredictable, what might send her over the edge. We didn’t necessarily do anything more obnoxious than any other day. Maybe exasperation was cumulative? Turns out it was PMS, but none of us knew that at the time. This was the late ’70s and early ’80s and PMS was not a widely recognized thing, despite women everywhere suddenly hating everyone.

What I remember was the feeling of, “Oh, shit we’ve really done it this time. We ruined everything.” Without her (nearly) endless patience, we’d be in serious trouble, all the time. My job, I felt, was to sit vigil in the window and watch her in the garden, to make sure she didn’t leave the property. If she left, surely she’d never return, and we’d be doomed. I imagined her ripping weeds from the ground while angrily thinking about how terrible we were and how awful we made her life. It wouldn’t be long before she planned her escape.

From her perspective, I learned years later, she felt better immediately upon slamming the back door leaving us inside and her alone. She’d weed her garden and pick vegetables happily, not stewing over her horrible children or plotting her flight for freedom. By the time she returned to the house, she was so far past the anger that it was a non issue.

Meanwhile, when she returned to the house with a bowl of fresh beans, smelling of Earth, I’d make sure I was on my very best behavior, hoping to endear myself to her again so she wouldn’t abandon us. Ultimately, this made her garden retreat a double win for her. She felt better and her kids stopped being assholes, at least temporarily.

I did not inherit my mother’s temperament or tolerance. I’m easily irritated and can’t keep calm in the face of my children’s obnoxious exploits. Shouting the phrase “Now you’ve done it!” would be pointedly meaningless in my household. My kids hear me yelling so often that it’s a useless measure. That is, until all things align just right. Then, something in me snaps (more than usual) and the yelling takes on a note of hysteria. Then the kids sit up and notice. I recognize the fear in their eyes and I don’t care. I have to leave.

I don’t have a far away garden that soothes me. Instead, when I lose it, if my husband is home, I get in the car and drive off in a fury. I generally have nowhere to go, and am not fit to be in public anyway. I look exactly how I feel – like a lunatic. I don’t want to sit in a coffee shop reading a book or in a restaurant sipping a glass of wine. I want to yell and scream and rampage like a two-year-old. Instead, I usually pull over into some random parking lot and cry for a while, then just kill time until either the kids are in bed for the night or I can be trusted to actually like them again.

While I don’t come home smelling of Earth and feeling renewed, I do come home. And my children are appropriately afraid and sorry and hoping to endear themselves to me again. I might feel guilty for storming out. I probably feel like a bad mother. But then I remember my mom and her garden. And even though those occasions were full of yelling, anger, and upset, my memories of them always make me smile. It’s those crazy moments in a family that no one else knows about – the secret hidden stuff that makes it only ours. Somehow, it’s the crazy that makes family family.

My children’s lives are safe and happy, as mine was. If having a crazy mother is the worst thing that happens in their childhood, so be it. Their crazy mother might sometimes be a tempest, but I love my kids and they know that. Occasionally seeing that their mother is only human and needs a break is just fine.

One day I’ll tell them that while they were often horrible, it was PMS that drove me to the brink. One day they’ll think back on these occasions fondly. Memories of our crazy household will be the stuff we laugh together about; it will be what they think back on when they’re at the breaking point with their own families.

I can’t be a perfect mother. I’m flawed and my kids are annoying. And we’re all good enough.

Mom is crazy

 

 

Letter to my son on his 8th birthday

I write a letter to Luke every year for his birthday. One day I will hand over a book of these letters to an ornery teenager to prove that my role goes beyond just ruining his life. 

Dear Luke,

Happy 8th birthday! I feel like I say this every year, but, I can’t believe you’re eight! I see so much of me in you lately, combined with a lot of your dad, and a bunch of unique Luke-ness. This mixture results in a truly remarkable boy. I can already see the man you have the potential to become. Part of my job is to help you shape your little-kid traits into the grown-up versions, helping you grow into your full potential.My baby is 8!

These traits are the makings of a wonderful man, even if the childhood versions prove challenging sometimes. Where some might see “stubborn” or “obstinate,” I see tenacity. How wonderful that you have the steadfast determination to see your ideas through! This will serve you so well in life, even if it causes conflict now and again. Think about how much experience you’re gaining in dealing with conflict! So.Much.Experience. One day, your dogged refusal to accept “no” as an answer will make you exceptional. You will astound people with your tireless commitment to your purpose. Indeed, you astound me already. Even when it’s maddening.

For now, this relentless stamina with which you press your case does cause some conflict between us. You are so much like me; one might think this would make parenting you simpler, but it doesn’t. It complicates things. You are forever helping me see my biggest flaws and weaknesses. Mostly this has to do with my own “tenacity,” and my patience and temper. This is something we both need to work on. Somehow, we need to figure out how to communicate without becoming combative. I promise to try better. I want to be able to demonstrate how to control these common traits of ours, rather than always be a victim of our big emotions and sometimes sharp tongues.

When we’re not butting heads over life’s minutiae, I’m generally overwhelmed with how extraordinary you are. It’s so hard to find the words to describe a person just right. When you read this, I want you to understand how much I love all the things that you are.

  • You are social, engaging, and funny – always wanting to chat, tell stories, hear stories, and just be with your people.
  • You are thoughtful, intuitive, and empathetic beyond your years. You always have been, and this makes you so very special. Your great big heart is open to everyone, which leaves it vulnerable. I wish I could protect you from the inevitable knocks and bruises it will take. I wish I could impart the perspective of my years to let you know that it’s worth it. Your emotional life might be harder than some, but it will also be richer.
  • You are playful and enthusiastic, and wake up happier than anyone I’ve ever known. You burst into your days. You derive so much joy from the simplest things. I hope this stays with you despite the temptation to find life terribly mundane as a teenager, even as your peers perfect bored aloofness. Bored and aloof don’t suit you at all.

I admire your enthusiasm for ALL THE THINGS; I envy your energy (even though it often drives me crazy); and I bask in your humor and affection. I can say with certainty that my life would be a pale proximity if you weren’t there each day to thrash through it.

Kid loves to snowshoe

While my job is to teach you as you grow, your job, it seems, is also to teach me. I try to show you the shades of gray in the world that you see as black and white. You show me that I have much to learn about patience. I teach you the right way to handle frustration; you give me many opportunities to demonstrate it and help me see when I’m not doing it right. Every day you show me how to love and care for our family with your thoughtful, tender kindness and your boundless affection.

I can’t wait to see what you accomplish this year as an eight year old. You are going to be great at eight!

I love you, little man!

Love,

Mom

You can see more birthday letters to my kids here.