Your husband wants to be seen, too.

The kids were playing, their happy voices echoing off walls bathed in sun on a spring afternoon.

I used their distraction as an opportunity to wander around our downstairs, picking up abandoned shoes and socks that dotted the floor before heading back to our bedroom,

I grumbled as I made a mental checklist of everything that needed doing, and that whatever efforts I put in would probably seem undone by the week’s end.

I made my way to our walk-in closet with an armload of clothes. The cream colored walls looked like amber in the afternoon sun, but I didn’t notice as I rammed an armload of sweaters into the bowels of my closet. 

I remembered how excited we were when we bought our house. My husband and I  went from sharing one normal sized closet to us each having our own, complete with a small dressing area and full length mirror. It certainly isn’t Sunset Boulevard grand, but it is several steps up from what we had grown accustomed to.

I pride myself on how my closet is barely full because darn the incessant belief that every woman only dreams of a giant closet for just their shoes.

My husband’s closet? His is brimming with stuff.

Everything from his military dress blues tucked in the very back recesses to guitar cases leaning against each other on the floor. Combat boots and rugged Doc Martins mingle on the top shelf. Business suits, ties and belts, hats and keepsakes. You name it, it’s probably in there. Pieces of his entire life.

I noted all the cellophane wrappers and green tags on the floor and growled out a sigh. I’d given him a small waste basket for all the paper shirt tags and wrapping his shirts come home with from the dry cleaners. Why doesn’t he ever seem to use it?

Lately, my husband has moved through each day almost like a specter. He’s there, but he isn’t really.

He’s been bogged down with life. We have a new home that needs cracks repaired, rooms refinished or painted, and a bathtub that likes to backup like clockwork once a month – always at 10 o’clock at night after we have sank down on the sofa after the kids are in bed, because of course it does.

He has kids who are still small and need endless attention. He just finished another semester for his master’s program. He works full-time each week.

And he sometimes wakes up early each day feeling defeated before his feet hit the floor.

Up until that day, I had been so frustrated with him. Why couldn’t he try to make the best out of his days the same way I have tried to?? It wasn’t like homeschooling small children and cleaning soggy food out of a kitchen sink strainer was the answer I eagerly filled in on all those high school career surveys.

This life isn’t always the best version I could have conjured up when I was looking at college brochures.

I didn’t think adulthood would be having the cup holders in my car full of sticky rocks and coins, and how my house would constantly feel more like a dumpster behind a Toys R Us with four walls than home.

I did not think it would be chocked full of grief and anxiety while trying to be a responsible parent. I didn’t think being a grownup would be so astoundingly hard.

I also never considered the isolation and anonymity of parenting and marriage. How you spend your days wanting to build the perfect home, but then those four walls can surreptitiously swallow your identity from having to work so hard to safeguard everything.

They can even hide you from your spouse.

“This is so far from what we pictured most days” we both silently think as we convince ourselves the other one just wouldn’t understand how we feel.

Your husband wants to be seen, too

I snatched up each clear wrapper on the floor, wrapping them around my forearm as I began to hunt furiously for the black plastic waste basket I’d given him to contain his mess. I noticed one side of his closet was shut, and yanked on the handle. The bi-fold door sounded like an old book spine as it creaked open and I ran my eyes down the long line of hanging dress shirts, and the smell of leather and cotton filtered out.

I found it. 

The waste basket. Full to the absolute brim with paper tags. Then I noticed the rest of the tags. They looked almost like snow on top of his leather bag that lay on the floor. There were tags everywhere.

I slowly sank to my knees.

I reached in and picked up a handful of those tags, passed them through my fingertips like I was skimming them delicately across the surface of water. I let them fall, heard them rustle to the floor. And I started to weep.

Here was his waste basket. Full. So full there was simply no more room. I looked up at his closet and saw the stark division between him and “him.” On one side are dress shirts and suit jackets. A tie rack divides the closet, and on the other side? Polo shirts, the suit he got married in and his military dress blues. Button down shirts he has owned since before we were even dating, and the uniforms he wore every day when he was in the service.

I saw the guitar cases that haven’t been touched in months. His Doc Martin boots he doesn’t get to wear often on casual days out because he’s hardly out of the house. A tote full of keepsakes and letters, probably from me when he was deployed to the middle east.

I saw clearly his life, divided into two quadrants. The parts of him that are hardly ever touched because he lives the rest of his life for us. And the weight of just how much he forgoes for himself out of duty to his family. I saw him again fully for just a moment. The square-cut jawed man I married, tan and impossibly youthful, as he told me of all he wanted to do with his life, and I decided to myself what is life if not an adventure. And what is an adventure without your best friend? I saw him contrasted to the person he is now, beholden to responsibility, willing to set so much aside for the people he loves.

I know that we mothers struggle with finding ourselves again after children arrive and wreck shop. The ocean we are in is so staggeringly beautiful that we don’t even realize it sometimes when we are drowning.

We think nobody could ever feel as lonely as we do.

I think we are wrong, ladies.

The closet was bathed in golden sunlight. I saw it then, as I cried and dust motes hung in the air and our ceiling fan spun silently and cars raced past. Time stopped for just a moment as God let the scales fall from my eyes.

How often have I prayed for and craved deeper intimacy with my husband. I thought that meant heartfelt conversations at 1 a.m. and love notes and sonnets. Instead, it looked like a river of paper tags on a closet floor and my eyes bursting open when I finally saw where my husband is.

I didn’t realize as I hunted down that trash can I was actually hunting for him and for some truth, no matter how imperceptible, about where he is. Where he’s gone. About what is laying hard on his heart.

It was right there, behind two bi-fold doors, buried on his closet floor. The neglect that defines his life right now. Both my own and his. I had neglected to see the divine partnership my husband and I share. And how much he has neglected himself for the sake of his family.

He was doing his best, each morning. Each morning after sitting at the table with a plate of breakfast after a quick shower. Tossing tags into his closet as he tightened his tie, threw on his suit jacket and left his family for one more day at the haste of the daily grind.

I emptied his trash can. I slipped it back into his closet and closed those doors. Not before I poured out a prayer to God from our closet floor.

Women. That moment changed me. It affirmed to me what I should have known a long time ago. Me and my husband? We are so very much in this together. I am not alone. 

And he shouldn’t be either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stop.Parent.Shaming.

Do you ever have days where you just hate the internet with the fire of a thousand suns??

I get it. We all have perspective. We all have the right to sound off about what we want whenever it suits us. ‘Cause ‘Merica.

Even though I consider myself a blogger and bloggers are synonymous with sharing their opinions and offering commentary about whatever, I personally try to stay out of the fray. I don’t mind discussing one thing or another with the people in my day to day life, but it’s a whole other thing to comment about something on social media.

Even if you are like me and you’re pretty much a nobody, addressing something “publicly” adds our voices to the collective conversation in an entirely different capacity. And we humans don’t always think things through when we do.

We all know what happened at the Cincinnati zoo. We know that a beautiful and magnificent member of an endangered species died. And it’s horribly tragic. I love animals. LOVE them. And the thought of such a wonderful creature dying violently is heart-breaking. I cannot imagine what his caretakers who had to make that decision must be thinking. So yes, let’s take a moment to pause and mourn this beautiful creature. 

But I’m not here to talk about Harambe.

I’m here to talk to you about a mother. A parent. A person. On a trip to the zoo with her children. Who woke up on a Saturday and assumed that the day ahead with her children would be the same as almost any other day she spends with them.

Little did she know that her dire and awful mistake would garner her world wide attention. Scratch that. Not just world wide attention. But world wide scrutiny. And shame. And bitterness.

And hate. Because believe me, a great deal of the reaction to this news story is rooted firmly in hate.

All because she screwed up for a few minutes. I mean, yeah, she royally screwed up. And she will now spend a good chunk of the rest of her days living under the scrutiny of the public at large who doesn’t even know her, but sees itself fit to call for her to be prosecuted, punished and shamed without remorse for her child’s mistake. 

Unfortunately though, this is what we have signed up for as parents.

We have signed up not just for a 24/7 job, but also for the lifestyle and responsibilities of being a parent. We have signed up to be culpable for the actions of our children for pretty much the rest of our lives. Because we all know that whenever someone screws up, whether they are four or thirty-four, the rest of us are looking at the parents and wondering how they could ever raise such an imperfect person.

I’m choosing to speak up now because I have been this mother. Just maybe you have never heard of me because my children never ended up in the gorilla pen at a large zoo. At times my actions as a mom may have proven inadequate, but hey, at least my shortcomings have never made headlines or trended on Twitter.

Let me tell you a story that a thousand other mothers could tell you.

When my oldest child was not quite four, we were leaving our local Target store. My sons behavior had taken a downhill turn, and he was being difficult – as three year olds are wont to do on occasion I’m told. Shocking.

I even had another adult with me to aid in my ventures. We were approaching our van in the parking lot when his mood was deteriorated further. I let go of his hand for just a moment as I fished out the carkeys from my purse, and guided the shopping cart containing my toddler to a stop. 

I let go for a moment and let my thoughts travel to the next thing on my to do list.

Meanwhile, my son decided that he had finally had enough.

He started screaming as he about-faced and started running full speed away from me. In a busy and crowded parking lot. Red-faced and not paying attention to his surroundings at all. 

Let me tell you something about my son. Even now, his bad moods are few and far between. He has always been a very reasonable person ever since he was born. This was incredibly unlike him. This was totally out of character and unexpected. 

But in that moment, it didn’t matter. 

I screamed and ran after him, catching up to him maybe ten seconds later, so this whole thing was over in barely the blink of an eye. But a car backing out of a parking space or rounding the corner in our lane and crushing my son would have taken far less than that. 

I wanted to vomit when I caught him. People looked at me, trying to distinguish what was going on, wondering why a child was screaming bloody murder in a parking lot.

Some I’m sure clucked their tongue at me, dismissing me as yet one more parent who couldn’t keep their child under control. How dare I?

I knew I had dropped the ball. Why would I EVER let go of his hand in a parking lot?? Why didn’t I think, and have my adult companion hold his hand? Why didn’t I help him calm down before we loaded up into the car? Why why WHY!!? 

That’s all that I could think about for the rest of the day, an even on occasion now. I think about how differently that situation could have turned out. 

My husband and I are very hands on parents. We have rules. We have boundaries. We monitor or children in potentially unsafe situations. We might even check a lot of the boxes for what people say make a parent “good.” But if you had seen what unfolded in that parking lot for fifteen seconds on a Thursday afternoon, you would probably never know that.

And if you had watched, would you have given me the benefit of the doubt that I’m a good mother?

I feel stares when I’m at the store on a normal day. Any parent probably does. 

The way we speak to our children. The way they behave. The way we as parents handle their bad behavior. We know people are watching.

It’s people who have no issue with staring us down while our child is throwing groceries from the cart or fussing at a restaurant, or people who are careful to watch the madness unfold peripherally while they purse their lips and roll their eyes in displeasure. 

Dear Peanut Gallery of the World, we parents know that you are watching us.

We know you’re judging. And maybe it’s time that you understood that no parent is perfect. Maybe it’s time you understood that children are at times highly unpredictable, but capable people.

And maybe it’s time you minded your own business.

Every parent has majorly dropped the ball at one point or another in their parenting journey. It’s just that minor screw ups don’t make it into the news.

Once, I let my youngest child fuss and cry from her bed while she was supposed to be napping because I just wanted her to give up and go to sleep. Because I was over it. Turns out she had a bee in her room that she was both hypnotized by and afraid of. 

I once let another child fuss in their bed until they drifted back off to sleep, only to find in the morning that they had puked in their bed and slept with it for the night. 

Another time, the back storm door in our kitchen wasn’t latched and my not quite two year old let himself out and went on a stroll…toward the street in front of our house.

I have snapped at my children needlessly. Been grouchy and impatient with them in public. I have punished them when I was angry. I have told them that I didn’t want to play with them and sent them away in a bid for two minutes of sane child-free time spent on my iPhone 

But I’m a mother who is literally trying her very best every single day. 

At times, my life could make for a series of convenient headlines if only something worse had happened. But headlines don’t tell you about the people who are trying to do their best by their children.  Blurbs on Twitter or Facebook don’t tell you the entire story. And they sure as hell don’t trumpet the accomplishments of the parents who get it right every.single.day. 

We make excuses for so much in this world. We tell people that they don’t have the right to judge another’s religion, sexuality, gender identity or life choices. We tell people to frequently mind their own business when it comes to matters that don’t involve them directly.

Maybe it’s time that we realized that the decisions that parents make are nobody’s business but theirs. Maybe it’s time that we realized that a fifteen minute or fifteen second snap shot in the day of a life of a parent doesn’t tell the whole story.

Maybe it’s time that we reaffirm the people who are trying really, really hard to raise up responsible, loving, aware and helpful people that we really, really appreciate them. 

His Way is Better

We held hands as we listened to the radio. 

I’m sure neither one of us actually heard the music, though. It felt like the longest car ride we had ever taken. 

We had just lost our second dog, Lucy. She was our first pet, adopted in the spring after we moved in together. 

While we crouched down in the floor at the vets office an hour before, tears streaming down our faces, looking at our now asleep shepherd, my husband uttered the words that have haunted me for the past three days.

“Our youth is gone.”

Lucy and Gatsby were one of our first major decisions as a married couple. They were the first things we loved together. One of the first things we shared a camaraderie over. They were probably one of the first things we argued about, too.

We loved them together in the California sunshine for almost a year, before we packed up and drove across country back to the cornfields of Maryland. We loved them together while we fixed up our old farm house. We loved them together when our family grew to welcome our children.

I close my eyes from time to time, and think back on California when life gets too hectic. It was a place that is so unlike the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and yet a place that my heart beats for with all the familiarity of a place I’ve always known.

Who doesn’t grow accustomed to seeing the ocean on their way to work every day. Who doesn’t like to see flowers blooming all year long? How could you drive up the coastline of California and not fall in love?

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We were just married, learning how to live with one another and how to love each other past the point of “I do.” Sometimes, that was really difficult. 

We welcomed those doggies into our home together with open arms. First Lucy in the spring. It wasn’t long before we decided that she needed a companion, and within a few months time we brought home Gatsby. They took to one another instantly. 

From there, we frolicked our way through the rest of the year before reality sank in and it was time to go home. We were all stuffed into my old Chevy Blazer, and we bemoaned our luck that we would be following an Eastbound storm front during our entire journey. 

It didn’t stop raining for three days. 

The dogs sat in the back next to each other, and they patiently trusted us to navigate the roads and the weather. We drank a lot of gatorade, ate a lot of chips and the car perpetually smelled like wet dog for three days. 

If it wasn’t already true before, we were affirmatively family from there on out. 

Today, I stood in the yard looking over at the two fresh mounds of Earth piled side-by-side while the wind hit my face, and I realized that life is different now.

In less than a month, they are both gone. Together. 

I want to say that they’re somewhere, frolicking together. I want to say that Gatsby met Lucy at the Rainbow Bridge, and his boisterous, bouncing welcome was offset by her easing her way into the great beyond. 

The truth is…that is probably not the case. And it’s where my faith begins to crumble. 

I don’t know where animals go when they pass from our world into the next. I know that it’s not as painful to lose a pet as it is to lose a person that is close to you, though after what has happened this week I am sure I am hardly prepared to know the pain of losing someone. I know that man and beast are different. 

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And that’s something I’m stuck learning to be okay with. The not knowing part. It hurts more than I ever anticipated.

As I walked about in the yard today and my mind turned to them, as I was heavily contemplating the reality that I don’t really know where they are, or even if I really know where I am anymore, a calming thought settled itself into the back of my mind: 

“His way is better.”

The other night, we covered our son’s face in kisses as he cried salty, real tears of sorrow over the loss of his pet. Wallowing though our own grief shifted instead to helping our son understand his feelings as we told him the truth – that sometimes, life is really, really hard.

There will be things that you love, but you might lose them one day. Because everything has a time, and time eventually fades for each one of us. 

It was the first time that we had to introduce him to the reality that we need saving. Real saving. Because we all meet our end. And, good or bad, what we do with our time matters. We always foolishly assume we have more time than we truly do. 

This is the curse of man. 

It was the first time my children realized what we have all been saved from by the savior who hung near death on a cross. Whose blood soaked into the rugged wood and whose breath slipped from His body as he cried out in real despair and let go. 

I watched my Lucy let go just hours before, and finally be at peace. 

It became real to him for the first time. Everything lets go, eventually. 

We let go to be held.

And he let go, too, and grieved with us in a very real way. 

So, today, I tried to let go.

I know that I’m not entirely the same person I was ten years ago. My husband isn’t the same, either. I know that sometimes we want to find our way back to those kids who naively brought home two dogs on an impulse, and spent all of their money on sushi and wasted away their Saturdays on nothing. 

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Over there, yonder…

I hate that we have to claw our way back to that at times. We have to fight to find a face in the mirror that we recognize. One that we can actually come to terms with as time marches on.

Right now, we are not the responsible parents who work 24/7 for the welfare and happiness of their children, and who know how to deal with life by bearing a stiff upper lip.

We are the very real people who brought those dogs home believing that all we needed to do was love them and that good things last forever, and we are suffering and reconciling what the last ten years have meant to us as we look at one of the last remnants of being young and carefree let go. 

We have spent the better part of the last month sifting through our memories together. Not just of our doggies, but of us. Of what life used to be like. We each hold different pieces to the past, and we try to mold them together to find the most circumspect picture of what it used to be like; of them, as we try embed the memory of how their fur felt into our memories. 

Sometimes, I hate that that is all we have left. Sometimes, I don’t know what I would do without it. I don’t know what else to do but hold those memories close as we make new ones and start over again. 

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I know that for all that hurts, pain lines the very heart of hope that beats fast, even underneath of agony and despair. It beats true. We just have to find it sometimes. 

And I have measured the years by the gray on their faces, and the gray in my hair.

I measure my time by the growing notches on my wall, the worn treads on my shoes and the clothing my children grow out of.

I measure my time by the scars and the things that wear out and the things I have lost. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth as I must accept that with times passage, things are left empty. 

Why must I measure my life from the things that I have lost instead of what I have gained? Three tiny faces, three sets of hands to love with and smudge my windows. Three heads of hair to brush my fingers through. I measure my time by the way I have loved, and with each passing day, as I move closer to letting go, I remember that in their hearts, I am held.

In His hands I am held.

With each passing year, more unfurls inside of me that I didn’t know was there. I don’t always see it this way. I grieve the chapters that end before I think they ought. I grieve the pages that have already turned and am terrified of the ones to come. The series of goodbyes and endings that come hand in hand with a long life lived.

He says that He is the author of my story, and as He wrote the stars in the heavens and named them, and His face hovered over the waters of the deep in secret, He says He knows my story.

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He says He knows me. I find my way back when I find myself in Him. When I lean into Him and I let myself truly taste joy, and really grieve my sorrows. He reminds me of who I am as the gray fills the top of my hair, and the wrinkles etch themselves on to my face.

As the reality hurts, and the final goodbyes pierce my heart. He reminds me that I am still His, no matter what.

I am still held. Sometimes, that’s all we have.