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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Go forth. And mother.

You are she. 

 

The keeper of fruit snacks. The laborer of nine pound babies. The rocker of colicky babies, babies who won’t sleep just cause and babies who think night is day.

Her with sore breasts, and round, tired eyes. Aching hips and sore joints. You are she who is perpetually hunched over. With shoulders sloped over a crib-side, a kitchen sink, or a sheet of math homework. You could make a bottle of formula or change a Pampers Swaddler at 4 a.m. with your eyes closed, and you damn well pretty much do.

You are her of the frazzled hair, muffin tops and post-childbirth body. Her who lost her senior-prom hard body and driver’s license weight, her sanity, her car keys and her three year old in the grocery store.

She of the cottage cheese thighs, stretch mark bands on her once smooth places, and straw-like hair. She who both avoids the mirror because she can’t bear to look, and the woman who stares into the mirror and wonders where the person she knew went. You remind yourself that she is just in the other room, only a little out of reach. But you’ll find her again. Soon. Or maybe, you’ll hang out with this woman for a while more because you like how she is turning out. 

You are the woman who does not care. She who wanders Target in mom-jeans at 2 p.m., and the woman in Walgreens at 2 a.m. in food stained leggings buying motrin. And you aren’t even worried if you look like you have been partying at Coachella in the clothes you bought at Wal Mart. 

You are the late night sentinel- both consciousness and unconscious, the mid-afternoon chauffeur and maid, and the twilight storyteller

You are the woman in line at school drop off, at the dining room table sweating through homeschool assignments and waving young adults off to college. You are she who drops off casseroles when new babies come, soup for the person who needs a pick me up and the check for the electric bill. 

You are she of late nights, early mornings, long afternoons where hours move slow as molasses, and children ripen right under your watchful eye and also draw on the walls when you aren’t paying attention. You are the woman who draws with sidewalk chalk in the driveway and puts Neosporin on bee stings on lazy summer days. 

Go forth. And mother.

You are the woman losing her mind when the husband is home late from work. You live fifteen lifetimes in that hour as you watch the clock, stir rice-a-roni and peel crying children off your legs. 

You are the woman who doesn’t even care anymore. Let people talk. Let them stare while your child has a meltdown in the produce department. 

You are a work in progress, a tapestry unending, a Mona-Lisa-smile even when it’s hard old soul who has lived a thousand lifetimes through her children.

You are the woman who has only just begun.

You are the mom who doesn’t need to watch the clock. Who doesn’t care that the dishes are piling high and who knows she needs to run a load through the washing machine, but fifteen more minutes, please. Fifteen minutes more to snuggle, rest your head on your pillow, to sit and just be because one day it will be too late.

You are the person who thinks she is always getting it wrong, so much more wrong than anyone else has ever gotten anything wrong. She who never feels like enough, never believes that her good is good enough.

You are the mom who can’t remember what eight hours of uninterrupted sleep or her bed are like. What it’s like to be out at ten o’clock on a Saturday and not feel tired on a molecular level. You don’t remember what it’s like to feel like you aren’t always forgetting to do something but you do remember the name of every dinosaur from the cretaceous period and My Little Pony there ever was.

You are the person who rests her head against the steering wheel. Who turns on cartoons for her children and leaves the room to sit on the edge of her bed. Who lays awake at night. And cries. Oh, boy. Do you cry. Did you even cry this much when you were a baby? Did you know that you would cry this much ever again, and that it would be because you were raising babies?

You are the woman in the bleachers on a Saturday morning, in a seat in the bright orange high school auditorium with nine hundred other parents, but you’re sure that you are the proudest one there. The mom who shows up even when she is bone-tired because she knows that every moment from this one to that is worth it when she sees her child succeed. 

You are the mom doing it all alone. Homework. Parent teacher conferences. Moody teenagers. Cold and flu season. Missed school buses and difficult conversations and making ends meet. You’re carrying more than twice the load while you bear the stigma of single parenthood. 

You are the mom of a child with disabilities and constant health scares. You love them wildly. You worry about what they will do when you are gone, if anyone will care for them like you do. You manage appointments, critical and condescending doctors and medicine dosages. You would rather pull your eyelashes out than sit in one more waiting room or schedule one more appointment. You wonder where self-care has gone, and when your next date night will be. But you are sure that every step forward, every milestone, every life event that they are here with you is beyond a gift.

You are she who dances with her husband in the living room when the kids go to bed. You who squeezes in romance when you can because you have figured out that romance is not about roses and brunch, it’s connection in its most intimate form.

You are the girl who stands on the back porch when she kisses him goodbye and bids him head off to work. And you watch him climb into his car and you’re sure, while those kids are still sleeping, while you’re standing there in your pajamas with a mop of hair on the top of your head, and you are both exhausted, that life will never be this simple again. 

You are the mom who works. You pack lunches, and make it to soccer practice while your lungs want to burst out of your chest from hurrying so much to be in two places at once. You are the woman who bears the scrutiny of other moms who either wish they could go to work or who think you’re compromising everything to pursue your career. And you bear the brunt of coworkers criticism when you duck out for the pre-k class party and the school play. 

You are the woman who simultaneously wishes above all that she could just give up because it’s all too much to ask. And the woman who would never. Never ever. Ever. Let go. Because hope builds the bridge between not good enough and faith.

You are the woman on the street. The woman sitting on the other end of the line at her desk working customer service. The woman in the department store. The woman in Starbucks. The woman in the church pew. The woman down the street. 

You are all of us, and we are all you. 

Now. Go forth. And mother. 

 

 

Beauty is motherhood – and the peace you make with yourself

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