Thursday, April 24, 2014

why your marriage needs to survive the early years of parenthood

If I close my eyes and think about whispy baby heads and smooth baby cheeks, somewhere in the deep memory of my heart, my mind catches light mists of the apricot baby oil I lovingly slathered on four different babies once upon a time.

Off in the Neverland of my soul, their little feet scurry across the hardwood floors of a house we don't live in anymore, where their belly laughs rang loudly as Mr. Fantastic caught boys who leaped to him from the stairs again and again.

When my big kids look at me and grin I see a shadow of their happy baby faces when we played "This Little Piggy".

There are books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Make Way for Ducklings that aren't meant to be the least bit sad to read. Yet if I open their covers and look at their pictures, the seat beside me suddenly seems empty. Melancholy love runs strong and thick from those pages. 

Oh, yes, of course the days are easier now. Children who can pour cereal and play a rousing game of dominoes are pure joy and brimming with fun. They (reluctantly) do chores, and they (sometimes) have good manners. We take long walks through the neighborhood on late summer nights, and no one cries in a stroller because they need a diaper change. We're clearly winning in life at long last.

As difficult as it is to explain in words, I carry a deep longing for babies that I can't really hold again. This journey through parenthood involves a grand sacrifice of love, and there are some days its weight is heavier than others. 

I share that burden with only one other human being: my husband.

I don't know what I would do if there wasn't someone else who remembered how Boy 1 crawled like a worm, or the way Boy 3 walked exactly like Curious George. Who else can understand the magical sound that was Boy 2 saying "tis-miss tee" instead of "Christmas Tree"? And what other human can hold my hand and know that the baby Lady needs to always be the baby to me?

It was hard for Mr. Fantastic and I to get along when sleep was a luxury that four children under five didn't allow us.

In my worst moments I resented being left at home to change dozens of diapers and try to tame fussy tempers when he traveled for work.

In his worst moments he resented that he had to come home to a chaotic toddler war zone and an angry mama when all he wanted was an hour to decompress from the stress of work.

Yes, we fought about those things. But eventually, mercy for one another won the battles. Who else knew how hard it all had been? We needed each other too much to stay angry. So we laid down our selfish feelings and fought on the same team. We fought for our own love while we poured out our lives for our kids.

Now that the little tinies are becoming the great-big kids, we are finding that we still have great need of each other. Because we sacrificed together, and no one outside of this marriage can understand what we endured in those early years of parenthood.

Now we face the mountain of parenting adolescents ahead of us. We ready ourselves for the next grand adventure with the weapons we have honed these past ten years: undying hope, unifying love, and hard-won patience. I have no doubt we will come out more in love on the other side, with tender hearts full of memories of prayerful nights, awkward tin grins, and unsteady, emotional teenagers.

In the end, the love remains and mingles itself with the memories. This arduous road we walk weaves our souls together, and we are each other's best reward. 

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