Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A House United

It wasn’t something we’d discussed prior to our engagement. Troy and I got married the summer I graduated from college and I was pregnant within the year. I hadn’t had time to establish a career or create for myself some adult standard of living complete with long- term goals or a hard earned graduate degree before motherhood descended upon me. We both assumed that I’d be the one to stay home and raise our baby.

We couldn’t be more traditional in our roles, my husband and I. I cook and clean, wash the clothes and teach our children. Troy mows the lawn, pays the bills and wears a tie and sports coat to his job in the city. I’ve never resented this arrangement because, truth be told, the idea of full-time employment in an office building where the hours are set in stone is very, very unappealing to me. Sure I’ve broken down, more times than I can count, over the rigors and stressors of stay-at-home motherhood but never have I been tempted to seek out an alternative involving me earning our income, carrying the weight of providing for us financially on my shoulders. And I’m pretty darn sure that Troy has no ill-conceived misconceptions regarding the challenges I come up against daily while managing schedules, meals, emotions and toys that seem to multiply and cram themselves under beds and between couch cushions. Over the years, I’ve settled in, taking ownership of my position as the matriarch. To my children, I am comfort, normalcy, security wrapped in skin. Nothing unnerves my three-year-old like the sight of me wearing a jacket and carrying car keys, on my way to somewhere, anywhere, without her.

This past October, I had the extraordinary opportunity to reunite with my four best friends from college on a weekend wine tasting excursion to Michigan. I hardly need explain to you why I had looked forward to it for months. But if you happen to be a mother, you might also understand the twinge of secret apprehension that dampened slightly my excitement at leaving my family for a “girls only” adventure. "Are you sure you'll be ok?" I had asked him more than once and each time Troy replied, "yes," using the same expression and tone my son, Benji, might employ if I asked him was he certain the Force was stronger than the dark side or if the Chicago Bears was still his favorite football team. Troy is solid as a rock and not easily intimidated, but this I thought was different - four kids, our four kids, were a whole lot to handle and maybe he was being just a tad bit naive, forgetting how Mary melts down when she's tired and Benjamin wanders off if you turn your back for even a second.

As I waved goodbye, I begged God to protect them. I expected little, really - that they'd "get through it," probably, but would be awfully glad to see me upon my return."Have a good time!" Troy told me, which I was so grateful for because all it would have taken to negate my joy was a look of resentment. Mothers, or maybe it’s just me, tend to think of themselves as the glue holding everything and everyone together. My husband could do a fine job, but of course I'd always, in general, do better when it came to nurturing the children and managing our home. Had I taught him all he needed to know to ensure those couple of days without my hovering presence would be a success for them, for me, for everyone?

When we pulled up to my house all rested and restored, I found Priscilla, Ben, and Elijah jumping, laughing, and rolling in a leaf pile. Troy sauntered up quite calm-like and hugged me. There were lots of squeals and kisses, partly (or mostly) because of the brightly wrapped packages in a bag I was carrying with the words, Oh My Darling Toy Store printed boldly on the side of it. "Whadjyou bring us? Whaydjyou bring us?" they were dying to know. After a whirlwind half hour of thanking my friends profusely for such a wonderful, wonderful time, handing out souvenirs, and emptying my duffel bag, I finally cornered Troy and started questioning him about how everything had gone in my absence. "Fine," he answered, keeping consistent with his usual minimalist approach to my wifely interrogations. "What did you do?" I pressed on out of curiosity. "Oh, let's see," he tried to remember, "...this morning we got the emissions test done on the car, then we went to the DMV, then Ace Hardware, then out for pizza. After lunch, I put Mary down for a nap, we cleaned up the yard and then did our inside chores."

"All of those things?! In one day?!"

The very idea of it made me exhausted. That kind of errand running required multiple snacks, water bottles, and some extra strength Tylenol, items I was certain Troy had not even thought about packing. "How did they do?" I winced, figuring Mary had most likely screamed, Elijah had pouted out of boredom, Priscilla had complained of hunger and Benjamin...well, who knows what? With Ben anything, literally anything can happen. Priscilla, overhearing our conversation, interrupted me."Mommy!" she beamed, "the lady at the car place told daddy we were good kids!"
"Is that true?" I asked. "Yep," My husband answered. "She said she was impressed by how cooperative and quiet my children were, just sitting there reading their books. They did great." I looked around, then, and it dawned on me for the first time that nothing had exploded. No one was bandaged up or clamoring for my attention. When Mary walked by, five seconds later, Troy said, "It's time to get your jammies on, baby." And so - get this- she totally went right upstairs and got dressed in her pajamas...all by HERSELF.

Troy, I suddenly realized, assumed they could; I assume they can’t and because of that, I end up, much of time, over-assisting and ultimately feeding their habit of whining, and surrendering when something is difficult. My very competent spouse opened my eyes to a mindset I was stubbornly clinging on to and which was hindering me as a mom. I (gasp!) discovered something helpful and important that I could learn from him in the parenting department: If I insist on aiming low, I shouldn’t be shocked when my kids choose not to surpass my menial expectations.

I had gotten myself into a rut, maternally speaking, but busyness and misplaced confidence in my ability to tackle solely all discipline and character issues were preventing me from switching up my tactics, thinking outside of the box. I could have avoided some frustration by noticing sooner that Troy was more than just a wingman; we are co-pilots, both necessary, providing unique but equally valuable influences on Elijah, Priscilla, Benjamin and Mary. It is hard, as a mom, but ultimately beneficial for a marriage and a family to surrender control in exchange for open-mindedness and respect for a partner’s well-intentioned differing point of view or priorities.

Even after eleven years, my relationship with Troy is still unfolding. Marriage is such a mystery, so alive with possibilities, so effective at stretching, humbling, improving me as a person when we work hard at staying connected and keeping Christ and His Church as the foundation of our commitment to one another. It requires a lot of tongue biting, apologizing and forgiving but the rewards are both fulfilling and eternal. Take it for granted, and a marriage will slowly but surely begin to unravel, to weaken from starvation and neglect. I am grateful for the like-minded women in my life who have encouraged me to continue trying and loving and learning by their sacrificial efforts to keep their own marriages healthy and their souls attentive to opportunities for continuous growth. Just recently, I read the following on my sister-in-law’s blog site and Paige has generously given me permission to share her honest (and very relatable) reflections with you here:

This is one of my favorite pictures of Bobby - for several reasons. First, I love that smile. It's really what first attracted me to him - I told him it was his eyes - and they are beautiful - but really it was that smile: a little crooked, full of confidence, just about to emit something unexpectedly hilarious.

In college he was usually the center of things - so full of energy, life and witty remarks that people just wanted to be near him.In this picture, my daughters and my husband look like triplets (which makes me chuckle in and of itself) but to see the three of them together like that - so happy, natural, and united - it makes me see the past differently.

It's just that I was so hard on Bobby during the "baby stage." I wanted and expected him to have the exact same skill set I did - I, a woman who bore the children, who was the oldest of six kids, who baby-sat nearly every day from age 12 to age 21 and then went on to become an elementary school counselor - I expected him to be right there with me - interpreting our babies' cries and anticipating their every need (in addition to understanding mine). No wonder his transition to parenthood was a little rocky! I never allowed him to transition (or myself, for that matter).

I know my husband is a great father, now. I am reminded of this by my two-year-old daughter who says incessantly, "I need my DADA." And by my four year old who reminds us all how big and strong Daddy's calf muscles are (that's a huge compliment in her world, by the way).

If only I could have seen ahead a little - maybe I would have been a little kinder; a little more patient. Looking at this picture I see though, how even then - in the midst of baby time - Bobby was an amazing father. My girls look so happy and safe - as though they are in the best place of all, their Daddy's arms.

More than a dishwasher loaded perfectly with all the utensils facing the exact same direction, more than my kid’s leaving the house with smooth hair, brushed teeth and in a tastefully coordinated outfit, more than a “do what I want, how I want, when I want it” carbon copy of myself kind of spouse, I want an involved and devoted father whose not afraid to step in and get his hands dirty in the invigorating messiness of family life - even if his methods might diverge from my own.

Nothing discourages participation like scrutinization and nit-picky criticisms. Few skills are as valuable or worth the diligence and discipline required to pass them down to our children and grandchildren as the ability to compromise and communicate courteously. A house divided against itself, said Abraham Lincoln in 1858 in reference to the intensifying discord between Southerners and Northerners, cannot stand. This is no less true today or less applicable to the familial unit. And so I pray, like I always do when selflessness is required, for the determination to treat my husband as I would like to be treated for the sake of our intimacy with one another, unification with our children, and above all else for the obtainment of my salvation. Yes, oh yes, Christ is here, here, in our midst, in our marriages, in the ordinary moments and exchanges fusing together to comprise a lifetime, and ever shall be.

The above article can be found in the current edition (Winter 2009) of The Handmaiden. Click HERE to order a subscription!


Fr. James Early said...

Great thoughts. You need to give Troy a red cape with a pentagonal "S" on it. Few husbands would be willing to give their wives a whole weekend off like that, and fewer still would be ineligible for a visit to the funny farm afterward!

May God bless you all!

Pres. Kathy said...

What a beautiful post - I really enjoyed reading it! God bless your family!

Marfa said...

Molly...I always enjoy your candid reflections on life! I hope you have a wonderful Lent! Forgive me, a sinner!

Amy said...

Thank you so much for this. I've been having these issues myself lately- overcontrolling as mother and wife, nitpicking, and the list goes on. Out of compassion my husband sent me an e-mail listing several Orthodox mom blogs and I have to say it was a wonderful and necessary gift in this Lenten season. Even through technology God shows us we are not alone in our struggles.