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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Dear moms: one day, your kids will miss this.

One of my least favorite lines of parenting advice is the the phrase, “you’re going to miss all of this one day.” I dislike this advice for two reasons.

For one, it’s advice that is in the same vein as telling a grieving person that “everything happens for a reason”, or the person struggling to stay afloat to “shoot for the moon so they can land among the stars.” It can seem more like a brush off than an actual attempt to encourage or commiserate.

I don’t want advice that sounds like a middle school motivational poster telling me how I’m going to make it through each day when there is chaos up to my elbows or the world is on fire. I want practical wisdom that tells me how to get it all done, and advice that tells me that someone else has been right where I am.

The other reason is because it’s too much pressure on us parents.

I get the idea. To savor every moment with your children before they’re gone. Only…it’s hard to see why I should hate the idea that my house will eventually be empty when the other day I had to wash and fold three loads of laundry just to keep the baskets from spilling over.

It’s hard to see a downside to a full eight or nine hours of sleep every night, using the bathroom in complete privacy or not having to break up petty sibling disputes over the t.v. remote – by the way, with the advent of so much new technology, will we ever reach a point where siblings don’t have to argue over a remote of some kind??

We mothers already know.

We know this is a long game. This game where our kids spend eighteen years rearranging our lives, invading our space, losing all of our tubes of chapstick and growing into fully fledged people who leave just as we get used to having them around.

We know. Because we are the ones that put away the baby clothes, drop off the used toys to Goodwill and take kids back to school shopping in the fall because they’ve grown too tall for their jeans. We are the ones that carve the notches into the dining room trim at the tops of their fuzzy heads.

We can look back and tell you where we were in our own lives when they were born, when they were learning to walk or said their first words.

We measure our own selves by how much they have grown.

By how much they have grown us.

We know where the time goes.

I know what meets me at the end of this road. And it pains my heart sometimes that I can’t enjoy everything. That I’m the mom who sucks at being meaningful at bedtime because for the love, children, you have had me all day. Close your eyes.

I’m the mom who can’t fold paper well enough to make origami, can’t sew on a button back on a favorite toy, and who has no desire to visit group story time at the library.

I’m the mom who is still in her pajamas at noon half of the time. I’m the mother who notes every second it takes her six year old to enunciate the word “stem,” who smells like dry shampoo in the checkout line at Target, and who looks at her phone while her kids play at Chick Fil A. I’m the mom who shrivels inside when her toddler asks her to play Paw Patrol.

I already torture myself enough knowing that I don’t savor every.single.moment. with my children like I live inside a Chicken Soup for the Soul book.

Just last night, though, as I listened to three children voice their displeasure with dinner and then move on to fighting over three dollar plastic toys like they were the treasures of ancient Egypt, I whispered to myself that one day, THEY would be the ones to miss this.

They will miss this place where not much is required of them but to do their best. To be happy. To thrive.

Where beach trips just happen, and they aren’t the ones who have to worry about all of the sand in all of the places and slathering sunscreen onto their squirming bodies.

Where someone made sure they had perfect sprinkle covered cookies on Christmas Eve, ice cream on hot summer evenings, and boiled eggs to dye on Easter.

They will miss hot meals served on clean plates (plates they didn’t have to clean), around a table where all of us have locked fingers and bowed our heads in prayer. A place where their sock drawer is always full. Where there is always someone who cares deeply about their hopes and fears and feelings standing at the kitchen sink.

They will go out into the world and realize how much others require of them without caring much about every turning cog in their minds, or how they feel about the movie Jurassic Park.

They’ll find a world that is mostly indifferent to them, save for a handful of good friends and people back home who really know and love them.

They will miss the times when this every day life was their constant.

I try not to let the pressure sink me every day. I try to fight against the urgency to make sure that I get it all right the first time because there aren’t second chances. Even though every new day is ripe with the opportunities to nail this parenting thing.

I succeed when I remind myself why I’m doing all of this in the first place. That I’m building a home because one day, they will understand and it will all matter to them. The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and folded clothes and late night snuggles – they’ll see it as the lifetime of labor that made them who they are.

I hope to build the place they will one day miss.

I hope they know that they had a place where they were held and valued and watched over.

Even if their mother never did papier-mache with them.

 

 

 

 

 

To the first time moms

As I write, there is a child heavily breathing, lost in sleep next to me. Her brother is sprawled across the couch in the living room.

It is nearly midnight.

Tomorrow, we will host a joint birthday party for these two children who emerged on almost the same day, two years apart, in late June, six and eight years ago.

It seems like a lifetime ago. It seems like last week, this hurricane that upended my life.

Your story shifts the second you find out that you are going to be a parent. Then it shifts again the moment they emerge, yowling and slightly gross from your womb, separate from but now an even bigger part of you still.

Clara newborn

You were once joined nearly completely, only now you discover that it isn’t just flesh and blood that can join you with a person for a lifetime.

It’s a million yet unspoken words.

A promise, now realized. A thousand more, waiting to be fulfilled.

Your daily life together becomes a series of shifting plots. You think you have learned one thing about parenting, found solid footing, and then the next day, the game changes.

Sleep regression. Colic. Diaper rash. Reflux. Teething. Your internet not working. Misery!

I remember how unreasonable parenting seemed at first.

The thought that I had to carry a person, who practiced Cirque Du Soleil inside of me every time I tried to close my eyes, who burned my innards with the fire of indigestion (equal to the flames of a thousand suns), who I was then expected to spend hours birthing, urging them into the world with cracking pelvic bones and willpower, and then feed them from the battered front of my body, was without a doubt the most presumptuous thing I had ever heard.

Not only was I responsible for birthing this tiny person, for bathing them and noting the number of diapers they soiled each day, I was also charged with making sure they turned into a good person eventually.

And sometimes, I also needed to take them into the grocery store even as they squirmed and cried from their car seat while I lactated through my shirt with enough milk to supply ten dairy farms.

And for all of my work, where did it actually get me? The laundry was never clean. The house was always dirty and neglected. The smallest of tasks increased in difficulty ten fold. I felt like I spent my days flailing. I didn’t see where any of my efforts were gaining any ground.

It turns out, that when you become a parent, you give birth nearly every day. Right there, in the mundane.

The broken body, shriveled breasts, stretch marks, and post-partum raging hormones that whisper that you aren’t enough are some of the “easiest” parts.

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You’re then met with the crushing reality of mommy culture. You start to doubt every decision you make for them. You wonder if each one is actually best. You wonder if you need to be making your own laundry soap and baby food. You wonder how anybody ever thought you could do this in this GMO laced world. Heck, you wonder why you’re so selfish to just want four hours of sleep in a row so badly you can cut your teeth on it.

Once you were insecure about the clothes you wore, the acne on your skin, that you didn’t share the same lunch table with popular kids.

Now, you’re worried about when the new loose pouch of skin across the front of you will recede, giving you back an appearance of maidenhood.  You feel guilty because deep down, you already miss your old life and its simplicity. When your mind was quieter than it has been since the moment they arrived. You realize startlingly that the noise may never leave you.

Now, you’re worried about how to feed your baby. How to dress your baby. And bathe your baby. You wonder why your baby doesn’t sleep. You wonder why you never seem to be enjoying any of this like all of the other parents around you. Or why your heart hurts so much when they cry as you frantically pace back and forth to help them find their way to sleep.

Your heart hurts because it’s growing three times in size. Outward, forward. Like an expanding wave of an unfolding and mysterious universe.

You’re so distraught because now life comes with a new set of insecurities, the least of which is that your body will never look like it used to. Some of worst thoughts haunt your mind as you’re trying to sleep, like the fear that this new life will never seem to fit you just right.

life

The greatest of which is that you’ll somehow mess this all up, mess them up. That you will ruin everything good in them.

I thought I became a mother the day they draped that first baby across my chest. And I did. It was the big bang, a new solar system of life bursting forth. A galaxy now set to spinning outward. Unstoppable. A thousand stars dotting an endless ocean. Here there are no skies. There is only forward.

The life I thought I knew so well was gone. The way things were supposed to be irrevocably changed.

I have spent every day becoming since then. Becoming a mother, and finding with each new phase that I must go further still. 

It’s been eight years. Eight years of leaked diapers. Cancelled plans. Sick children on family vacations. Crying behind closed bathroom doors, or over a dirty kitchen sink. I waited, for someone to tell me that I can do this.

But it isn’t enough to believe that I am good at this. That I can do this.

Now I see. I see what I will be. And what I will be, I already am.

Now it is enough, the belief that I am becoming. 

And yet the sun still shines. The galaxy still spins and unfolds. We move in an ellipsis, dancing around one another, as we move forward. Together. We already are.

And yet we are still becoming.