Every time Chris leaves town, I’m reminded of how much I depend on him, on how good my life is with him, how what I have is rare.
Our marriage is not perfect, but it is one of kindness, freedom, friendship. We share. A lot.
We’ve shared a car since his broke down in 2003 and we were almost engaged. He lived seven minutes away and I got out of bed at 6 am to pick him up for his early morning Barnes and Noble commute. It wasn’t so bad back then. We liked driving together, our hands touching on the gearshift.
We still share a car. We chose a home two miles from his office because it just felt like the right thing to do. The thought of adding another car payment gave us ick in our guts. So, he rides his bike in the 96-degree morning. Takes a shower at the office. Rides it home at 6 pm. It’s not easy on him.
Sometimes I think about what it was that drew me to him when I met him as a 23 year old. He was different than any boy I’d ever known. He loved Jesus but not the way I thought boys were supposed to. He didn’t read manly books about bows and arrows and God, he didn’t put on any kind of pretense about his faith: no bible in his back pocket (yes, that was a thing where I came from), no baggage of who he thought I should be as a woman, his role as a man in our relationship. He was free. He was free to love football and the 19th century Russian novel. He was free to make some delicious pasta and teach me how to slice an onion.
It was a time in my life when I longed for a seat at the figurative man table, the place where the guys at the party were talking politics and theology. I wasn’t sure what that meant or how to get there. Chris left the seat beside him open for me.
* * *
I’m at my mother in law’s house this week. She is a brave woman, a woman whose marriage ended when her boys were one and three. She pushed forward. She moved into this house where I’m sitting now. She fed those boys and found them costumes for Halloween. She signed them up for football and cheered for them at every game, orange slices ready for all the teammates after.
She tucked them in night after night. She did the hard work, the daily work, alone.
I think about that when I think of my husband. This man who comes home sweaty from his bike commute and sometimes can’t seem to move off the couch, the boys crawling on him, me calling him to help with the crying baby or set the table or get those boys out of this house so I can have a moment to take a breath.
Sometimes we stare at each other across the room, eyes narrowing, daring one another to start the comparison game. Who had it harder today? Who gets to complain first? Who is going to whine most, blame the other? Sometimes we let it happen. I snap, complain, lay out my reasons and excuses and demand he prove his worth. It’s never pretty.
And sometimes I see him as he really is: Tired, just like I am. In love with our kids, just like I am. Hungry, just like I am. Grumpy, excited, used up, giddy. Sometimes our good days run into each other and we turn on the music and we all dance because it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes, I yap for minutes before I remember to look in his face and see the lines of worry still pressed on him. I forgot to ask about his day, his burdens, his heavy spirit.
But all of it is shared. We both play with our kids. We both cook. We both clean (though, admittedly, I notice the need first). We both procrastinate at the same level. And when it’s 7:45 and the boys are getting into pjs, he’s helping August and I’m helping Brooksie. He’s reading aloud on the couch and I’m reading aloud in the rocking chair beside the crib.
Sometimes when I’m brushing my teeth and he’s by my side, floss rolled around his fingers, mouth open in the mirror, he’s telling me something important that happened that day, his tongue blurring the sounds as he flosses. He’s saying what he’s been thinking about, and I’m overwhelmed with the goodness of sharing this life with someone else.
How often do I remember? How often do I thank Chris for being here, for choosing us, for biking home from the office and sautéing the vegetables and taking the boys to Home Depot with him? How often do I say thank you for listening to my head, for finding value in my voice, long before I ever believed my thoughts were worth being heard? How do I thank him for sharing the child raising with me, for being the one I joke about annoying preschool books with? How can thank him for the mornings I sleep late and he gets up with the boys, the days he says, Of course, to my Saturday morning coffee date.
How often do I say thank you for sharing his life with me?
* * *
My mother in law is a hero to me. Not simply because she got those boys fed and put to bed and to their football games. Not simply because she worked and came home and did the laundry. Not simply because of the spelling tests she helped them study for and the math homework she oversaw. Not simply for the barbeque chicken and the baked ziti and the bacon, egg and cheeses she wrapped up for my future husband on high school mornings so that he could grow into a lanky, sweet thing who hugs his mother and asks for his favorite meals.
She would want me to say that she was blessed: Her parents lived nearby and helped with the boys, my husband’s father is wonderful man who took care of them financially and who has always been extremely present in their lives. She did not struggle to make ends meet. But that doesn’t take anything away from the emotional ache of raising kids alone. She is a hero to me because she lived in this moment, my moment of mothering, without anyone to share the parent-joy with. She brushed her teeth at night without anyone to whom to tell the day’s burdens, the inside jokes, to share the sigh at the beauty of those growing boys.
She is my hero because on those weeks when my husband is gone for work, when I get the boys to bed by 8:45 and then face the mound of dishes and laundry and responsibilities alone, I moan. I get on the phone with Chris and say, “When are you coming hooooome? I’m sooooo tired!”
And in those moments when my loneliness is great and my frustration with my kids is greater, I sometimes (not always) remember the women who are alone. Who always cook the food and do the dishes. Who always rock the baby and read to the preschooler. I remember the women whose husbands do not share the load, whose partners are not partners at all. I remember those women who clean their kitchens in the quiet night of sleeping kids, who speak to themselves in the silence, who beg God to make them enough: both a mother and a father, both the silly one and the disciplinarian, both motivated and energized. And then they sink into their beds alone and wake to the crying boy in the night.
So for all of you, for my mother in law who did this mother thing and did it well, for you, sister, who are doing it now, alone. I praise you.
And to my husband, and to all the men who choose to do this with us, we honor you—the valiant, the strong. Thank you for choosing to love well and share much.