Saturday, October 22, 2016

My husband gave me a great blog idea, but I bet he won't do THAT again.


I was sitting on the couch with my husband the other morning, having coffee as usual, when he came up with a really great topic for my next blog. It was such a great idea, I promised him I would take him up on it.

But then he got nervous and told me he wasn't seriously suggesting that I write about him.

But I can no longer be held responsible for my actions. The seed has been planted.

[Insert evil laugh.]

I know he might be getting worried about now, but there is no need. After all, this whole blog thing is really more about my journey away from the "house-gotta-be-spotless and kids-gotta-be-perfect" kind of thinking.

And marriage seems to fit right in with that theme.

We have been married now for 26 ... no, wait ... 27 years. If you think raising kids is a roller coaster, you should try marriage. (I know, I know ... I have that flipped around ... but you get my point.)

Marriage introduces you to all those secret flaws your significant other managed to keep hidden away while you were dating. My husband didn't walk up to me one day and say, "Hi, I'm Dan, and I like to throw my dirty socks on the floor. Want to go out sometime?" Of course not! He saved that one for later, when there was no backing out of the deal.

Nor did I go up to him and say, "Hi, I'm Beth, and I am a compulsive cleaner. If you leave important documents lying around, I will throw them away with the junk mail without taking time to sort through them. What time will you pick me up?" No, I didn't! I chose to wait and surprise him with that one when he was least expecting it. To keep life interesting.

And those are just the little things. For every little thing, there's a bigger thing waiting for the chance to make itself known.

We don't do it on purpose. We both have a lot of really great personality traits that drew us to each other in the first place. I like his laid-back attitude; he likes my sense of humor. But neither of us has ever been perfect, and once we signed the marriage license and the lease on our first apartment, we could no longer pretend we were.

But this is not a bad thing.

In fact, it's one of the most powerful tools God has used to shape us into better people.

Every marriage experiences it, to some degree. The best marriages embrace it and let themselves be chiseled and refined. They become a little bit like the other person over the years, and they are all the wiser for it.

For instance, I have learned that a couple of rogue socks every now and then is a small price to pay for a man that will hold my hand while I wait for biopsy results.

And I have learned things about myself I didn't know I needed to learn. Dan compares me to our cat because sometimes Nico wants our attention . . . and sometimes he bites our hand because we got too close. (There may be some truth to that. Personally, I'm convinced Dan is more like our dog, who is totally happy as long as there's food in his bowl and plenty of squirrels in the backyard.)

The point is, we wouldn't have even realized we needed work if there hadn't been a little friction, sanding away some of our rougher edges.

Dan likes to say he married up. But I know that's not true. One of us is not better than the other. We are just two different people who decided to build a life together and who will spend the rest of their lives trying to figure each other out, for better or for worse.

And we are both becoming better in the process.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Paying off my kids (and other levels to which I have sunk)


What I'm about to tell you is not exactly earth-shattering.

But money talks.

Even to preschoolers.

See, the thing is, co-sleeping seemed like such a good idea at the time. The babies were happy. I was happy. My husband was (a little less) happy after being repeatedly chased onto the couch; but there were no midnight tears, no struggles to get those little ones to stay in their cribs. And we didn't really mind being extra crowded because they were so darn sweet and soft and snugly and they even smelled precious. Life was nearly perfect.

For a time.

But then our littles started getting bigger and bigger and taking up more room in the bed.  Things needed to change, but what to do? We would try to take them back to their own beds - stumbling to the next room with a sleeping child draped over our shoulder - careful not to wake them, so we wouldn't make a peep, even if we stubbed our toe - but they would just appear back in our room anyway, like adorable apparitions. We would stare at them in disbelief, wondering what we had done to summon them.

Finally, we got desperate. "Look," we told them. "We'll give you a quarter for every night you stay in your own beds."

Their eyes lit up. A quarter? A twenty? A gold brick? It didn't matter what it was actually worth. It was money, and they were already old enough to know money could get them places.

"If you save up enough quarters," we continued, sensing real progress, "we'll take you to the toy store."

Little blue eyes rounded in delight. Little blond heads bobbed up and down excitedly.

I swear to you, within a week those kids were cured.

Now, I would like to say this is the only time we resorted to such low-ball tactics to shape our children's character, but I don't want to add dishonesty to our list of parenting fails.

Oh, we have taken several parenting classes and read volumes of parenting books and applied all of the principles the best we possibly could - and I would like to think we have been largely successful in seeing half of our children safely into responsible adulthood. But as the years go by, we have learned one of the most important parenting principles of all.

PARENTING IS NOT ALWAYS PRETTY

This is the single biggest breakthrough we have had as parents. When we brought our first baby home from the hospital in her fuzzy yellow snowsuit to ward off the December chill - in CALIFORNIA!!! - and drove about 15 miles per hour down the street to our apartment, we were clueless. While we were fully aware of the gravity of the situation we had gotten ourselves into and the weight of the responsibility resting in that Graco car seat in the backseat of our car, we had no idea what was in store for us as that little baby girl grew up and was joined by several younger siblings.

We thought if we kept them clean and safe and on a schedule, if we kept the cat out of the baby's room and the baby monitor plugged in, if we took them to their well-baby checkups and bought them new clothes when they outgrew their old ones, then all would be well and they would always be happy and love us and worship us for all the rest of our livelong days.

Okay, all of you seasoned parents out there, you can quit laughing now.

We have since learned our lesson.

We have learned that parenting does mean bedtime kisses and early morning snuggles. It does mean piano recitals and soccer games and homecoming dances. It does mean letting them add the chocolate chips to the cookie batter and sitting beside them in the family car - in the passenger seat, with your foot on the dashboard, just in case there's a secret brake up there.

All of these wonderful things make parenting one of life's greatest joys, and we treasure those moments and don't let any of them go to waste.

But now we know there's more to the story.

Parenting is also worrying they aren’t eating healthy enough, dressing for the weather, getting good grades, or going where they said they would be going. It is temper tantrums (sometimes theirs, sometimes yours), arguments, teachable moments, lectures, messing up, getting it right, and lots and lots of “I’m sorrys” along the way.

Being a parent means knowing your life would fall apart if anything ever happened to those precious little people and that you would give anything – you would pay any price – to make sure they are safe, happy, and loved.

It means learning you’re kids aren't perfect.

And that makes them a lot like you.

And, once in a while, it even means that a quarter is worth every penny.