Parenting Together

Cuddled together in our partnered embrace, all I see is the echo of a semblance of a face. Too close to see and the whole of my vision, we twine ourselves together in comfort and comforting presence. 

Reminding me that we are together, we are one, we are on even ground even though we see things differently. We learn as we go. We make our own way. We grow together. 

We’re tired today. The baby will cry again soon, the toddler will ask for another wet kiss. Another day is coming of constant requests and continuous conversation. The “why”s have begun. Patience is a never ending attended skill. Parental responses must be immediate, while the preschooler can take ten questions to find a single answer. 

Even so. Even still. I’m glad I’m doing this with you. We partner and parent together, learning from our two girls and from each other as we go along. 

The challenge is to not lose our temper. The challenge is to offer grace to our daughters, each other, ourselves. 

It is not impossible, but it is very, very hard. 

And so we steal fifteen minutes between bedtime and the first time Roar roars to rest in each other’s arms. It’s doesn’t seem like much. But the touch is different than the constant contact with out children. We offer each other a resting space, a time to be off as much as possible, providing touch that doesn’t ask for anything but what we exchange. 

The presence is healing. Your presence is healing. Comforting. Restful. Good. 

Eventually fifteen minutes will be only the beginning. For now, it is enough. What we have to give each other is enough. More than survival, we have enough. Thank you for enough. 

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Learning from Each Other

When John and I were getting married, Jason Byassee, our friend whom we asked to officiate, gave us these instructions in the midst of his wedding homily. 

“Repeat after me: I’m sorry, you were right, I was wrong.” At least I think that’s what he said. I don’t remember the words that way, but this is what John has borrowed for each wedding homily he has preached over the last seven years. I, having never had the opportunity to preach a wedding homily, didn’t have to call them to memory as soon, so I re-wrote them in my head to echo Derek Webb: I’m sorry, I was wrong, I love you. 

I like my version better… because I really don’t want to say someone was right if I don’t think they were, and I am far more capable and comfortable in claiming my wrongness than in granting someone else their rightness. (Yes, yes. This is a growing edge. But regardless.) 

I also really like ending with the statement of the foundation of the relationship: I love you. It says that the most important part isn’t that we argued, it is that we are deciding to continue to live more fully into our relationship. But we need to say we are sorry, too. It’s probably one of the hardest parts of a relationship, saying “I am sorry” and meaning it, knowing that I really did do something that was harmful or hurtful. 

“I’m sorry” and “I love you” are both critical for relationship, but what has surprised me about what I need to hear from my husband on a more regular basis in the last couple of years is “I hear you.”

One of the things that is most aggravating about the personality differences between my husband and I is that I feel and experience just about everything at eleven, and he takes things in, turns them over in his head, and processes them at a gentler level. (I don’t know, sometimes it feels like he’s hitting a three, at most.) For example, I’ll be terribly angry about something in the news, livid, even, and he will say: “but, what about this side of the argument?” 

He’s not being unreasonable. Not really. But in that moment, I don’t want to hear it. I’ll come up with the seventeen reasons that whatever issue it is has me basically on the balls of my feet in excited rage, and he will be looking for the rationality of all sides. 

I’ve learned to express when I need him to respond to my emotions before going towards rational disconnect. (What a radical idea, asking for what you need in the moment.) I’m also working on learning from his ability to rationally disconnect. I need that side of his perspective. I don’t always use it, but it has helped tremendously when I need to take apart an issue and look at how all the different pieces connect. 

He’s really smart, and anytime I bulldoze his processing for the sake of mine, I lose out. 

Don’t get me wrong. I still am processing on my level. And he is learning from my ability to feel so deeply that I vibrate with emotion. 

We’re learning from each other. 

I imagine that it will be a longterm process, not something that we can claim we’ve completed when we reach the ten, twenty, or forty year mark. It just keeps going. 

Navigating the Crowd

I have always been fascinated by how things move. Even as a young child I was one of those who played on the beach by building dams and waterways in the sand, watching the different gullies being etched away, detecting the ebb and flow of the tides, following the eddies in the lee of the jetties, trying to predict how it would all flow together. And sure, this is part of my greater love of water, but it has also deeply informed how I watch other things move. Especially crowds. 

I don’t know exactly when I started, but by the time I was hitting puberty, I knew how crowds worked. I can predict their movement. I am easily aggravated when I know the best way to do something and the designers clearly do not. (Don’t get me started on bathroom design…) Probably the first time I remember really being aware of crowd disfunction was at a women’s conference and all of us were trying to get to the exit, and none of us were moving. Everyone was putting themselves first and so keeping anyone around them from going where they needed to go. (Is it irony that this was a Christian conference? I’m thinking so. We have so much to learn.) 

Since then, I’ve watched crowds at theme parks and ball fields, traffic patterns on hi-ways and parking snafus, people who are oblivious in conferences and airports, and the thousand other places I’ve been since. I get annoyed at people who don’t understand that they shouldn’t block an entrance, but simultaneously recognize that I have been thinking about the crowd around me while the individuals in the crowd are concerned with other things. On some level I know that I am over-thinking how the crowd moves, but I also want each individual in the crowd to know the best way for the crowd itself to move. I don’t believe that is ever going to happen. I’m not even sure it should. 

When I was in Tokyo my sister informed me that the cultural pedestrian right of way is passing people on the right (always take the left side of the sidewalk when facing oncoming walkers). I religiously adhered to this in the same way that I always take the right here in the United States. Sometimes I would forget, and it would cause a pause between the two of us. But, because I was a visitor in a new culture, I always corrected to fit the culture norm. I consider it one of the most important things about travel, observing and respecting the culture of those with whom you walk, both metaphorically and literally. Don’t walk into people seems like something that shouldn’t have to be said, but I am constantly surprised of the number of times this feels like a relevant reminder. 

When I watch crowds, it is always a dynamic observation. I know how to interpret these people in each individual place, and each group can move slightly differently depending on whether they are hungry, scared, joyful, tired, friendly, cautious, or anxious. Interpreting on the move can have advantages, but it also means that sometimes I leave people behind. I’m learning how not to leave people behind, but instead lead those with me so that we all get to the same place at the same time, together. It’s taken me over thirty years, but I have learned that getting somewhere together, with your people with you, is more important than getting there first. It is all about learning how to navigate the crowd. 

Perfect Happiness

I don’t think there is such a thing as perfect happiness. There are times when I am incredibly happy and times when I am nearly completely happy and times when I am perfectly content. But I don’t think I strive for perfection in happiness. If only so that I am not evaluating the level of my happiness. When I am happy, I am happy.

This morning, my daughter came and snuggled with us in our bed in the early morning, cuddling cozy between the covers, one of the last few times that it will be just the three of us. It was a happy moment. Part of what made it all the more sweet is that it was fleeting. Soon it will not be possible to have a moment like that, with just the three of us, because there will be four of us. (Also, we had to change the sheets afterwards, because she left us a “gift…” which takes away from the perfection, but does not detract from the sweetness of the moment in the slightest.) It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.

I suppose that in my happiness I do have levels of closer and further to complete, but happiness doesn’t really seem to be something that should fit into a category of perfection. I quibble with the idea of evaluating levels of happiness.

Things, times, and situations that make me happy: my daughter’s giggles, hiccups in utero, early morning solitary cups of coffee, fresh sheets on my bed, sunrises at the ocean, weather perfect for wearing my silk skirts, new music that I can instantly sing along to, Rhapsody in Blue, snuggles and kisses, a good search in finding the answers to the three questions we ask after watching a movie, the smell of new books, the smell of old books, good walks, snow days, new recipes, happy lights, haircuts, naps, figuring out new spaces, learning a new town, finding new and old friends, ice cream, and Santa’s Favorites.

I am still learning how to be happy and simply rest in it. Perhaps in ten or twenty years, I will be able to tell you what perfect happiness looks like for me, but probably not. What makes happiness good for me is that it doesn’t have to be complete to be enjoyed. Maybe that’s what makes it perfect.

Growing in Change

We change. We grow. We collect scars. We mature. We make mistakes. We learn. We carry wounds. We heal. We build relationships. We burn bridges. We hurt. We ignore. We decay. We develop.

We change.

I believe everyone changes. I don’t believe that the change is necessarily healthy or good, but all of us change. We can change into people who become more and more caustic and hateful, or we can choose to be people that grow towards health and wisdom.

I believe people can change because I can see the change in myself and the people around me.

I have grown wiser, more cautious, more outgoing, and occasionally more judgmental. I have become a better parent, wife, and pastor. I’ve developed my patience. I’ve learned to center myself in something besides myself.

I’ve seen my relationship with my husband, John, change over the past eight years we’ve been together. We’re still learning how to communicate with each other. I’d have thought I would have gotten more of it down by now. Apparently we keep changing and learning about ourselves, and keep bringing more to the relationship than we are aware of. This has been helpful to learn and challenging to navigate.

I’ve especially seen my daughter change. It’s easier to see: she adds a new word to her vocabulary each day. Her change is in greater increments. But when she reaches kindergarten, puberty, high school, college, or adulthood, she won’t stop changing. I’ll keep having to get to know her as we each keep changing.

I’ve even been able to tell that the daughter I am carrying is changing. Her kicks are getting stronger. She moves within me and listens to me sing. She grows.

I had a terrible migraine this past week thanks to Hurricane Irma that lasted four days. I cannot remember the last time I had a four day migraine. It was before I started trying to conceive our first child. The bonus is that I cannot take the usual medication I take to handle my migraines. I had tylenol and the ability to relax my body. After three days I got a rescue dose that knocked me to sleep and kept me out of the emergency room. When I am in the midst of a migraine that long, I have a hard time believing that I will never not have a migraine. I know, logically, that this is not the truth, but I feel like I will hurt and be exhausted forever.

What amazes me is that I lived through a season of migraines like this for a year and a half. I survived them hitting me in waves every single week.

What astonishes me is that it has been over three years since that season. I’ve gotten twice as far past that time than the time I spent in the midst of it. I’m far healthier now. I know my body better. I am more resilient. I enter centering prayer more easily. I am more able to relax my body through the pain, so that it doesn’t hurt as much.

As I spent hours upon hours mindfully relaxing my shoulders, jaw, hips, and neck, I realized I was receiving a small gift in the midst of the pain. Relaxing through an unmedicated migraine is not unlike relaxing through natural childbirth. The technique I use for coping with the pain of migraines is the same that I used for my first birth.

However, the pain itself is different. The experience and purpose of it are radically diametric. Migraines hurt because they hurt. Birth works the body in order to deliver a child.

Birth ushers in a radical change. The labor of childbearing, though intense, is productive.

Change in our lives will hurt. It either hurts because it is producing something new, or because we are caught in a cycle of trying to stay the same while change happens around us. I often get a migraine when a major weather system blows past. My body struggles to catch up to the change in the pressure around it. The weather eventually changes, and I eventually stabilize. But I am changed.

Every day, I change.