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18 to Life

Little children

At a party some time ago, I got to talking with a polished, fashionable woman who had two kids. Like me, she had a boy and a girl, but her kids were middle-school-aged.

When I told her my kids were 3 ½ and 1 ½, she said pointedly, “Oh. You’re in prison.”

Her eyes were sympathetic but her tone was matter-of-fact. A woman standing nearby who overheard our conversation agreed emphatically, “Yep. Prison.”

Oh, does it ever feel like it some days.

As my husband likes to say: we’re in the thick of it. We’re thick with noise and mess and toys and who-had-it-first disputes, with sticky surfaces and piles of laundry. There’s a shortage of clean underwear, a surplus of toy cars underfoot. Mealtimes feel like an episode of Wild Kingdom with the dogs lurking hungrily below the kids’ chairs.

It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s a bounty.

Yes, at times, it feels confining. But there are so many things I love about having little children.

Lazy mornings. Days free of obligations and filled with possibilities. Boo-boos that need kissing; mornings with my son’s curly head sharing my pillow. Their fascination with everything, whether it’s a seed growing into a flower or a pin-dot of a plane in the sky. Their glee at chasing a spider through the house with the vacuum cleaner. Their eyes growing wide anytime I whisper, “guess what?!” Their little bodies that fit perfectly on my hip; their arms wrapped tight around me.

I hold them anytime they’ll let me.

There’s a scene in a favorite movie of mine, “Elizabethtown,” where Kirsten Dunst’s character snaps an imaginary camera shutter to capture a perfect moment in time.

Elizabethtown

I do this often, in my head.

In fact, I’m sitting here this very evening snapping away at the scene before me: clouds of balloons hanging above a neat little tower of presents, prescient in their anticipation of the morning.

My little boy, my first baby, turns 4 tomorrow.

Tears roll down my cheeks as I type these words, not because I don’t want him to grow up — although I do struggle with that concept. What I’m struggling with tonight is the hardest part, the very hardest part, of parenting:

The time is going by like water through my fingers.

I don’t know how to slow it down, how to grab hold of the moments that make it all worthwhile. Sometimes I can hardly remember them at the end of the day.

Recently, I came across one of those moments I had captured in an unfinished essay. I had forgotten about it completely until I discovered it on my computer a short while ago.

It was a lovely fall day, too beautiful to miss out on by going home after school, so we met Dad for lunch.

Dining out with small children is always an adventure and this day was no exception. Yet there it was, at the end of our meal: a perfect snapshot moment.

“Against the Wind” played from the restaurant speakers as we got up from our chairs to gather our things and leave. I don’t think I heard the song at all until I looked up to see our nearly 3-year-old son dancing in the middle of the dining room with an empty carryout box on his head.

Against the wind … against the wind. Still running against the wind …

My heart grew tight; my eyes filled. My husband and I met eyes as we watched our goofball son dancing to the music in a nearly empty room. Everything around us stopped as we watched his perfect moment of joy and basked in how young and carefree and blissfully un-self-conscious he is.

It lasted only a moment. The song ended and my son skipped across the room to take my husband’s hand. I snapped back into mom mode and tried to tidy up the mess we left. But the song played on long after we loaded the kids in the car and drove away.

I hear it now, playing in the back of my mind.

That was over a year ago now. It was just a moment in time, but it was one of thousands I wish could last forever.

It’s been four years now since my son came into our lives and changed everything. It feels like the blink of an eye. It feels like an eternity. I can’t decide.

What I know is this: I’m a better person for having known him for four brief years.

It may feel like prison some days; it may feel like we’re running against the wind. But I’m grateful for this sentence. It won’t last forever.

Happy Birthday, Hudson Wells.

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Goodbye

Charlotte, NC

Beautiful Charlotte, NC (Source: Flickr.com)

Dear Readers:

I’ve been strangely lax on publishing this post, which I wrote more than two weeks ago. I can’t really put my finger on why, but something has kept me from clicking that “Publish” button. I guess it can only be my hesitation to bid a final farewell to this most recent chapter of my life. Bear with me as I’m muddling through the transition, and thanks for your support.

*                 *               *               *               *

For five years, my family and I called the beautiful city of Charlotte, NC, home. Now, after a hectic fews days of moving, the time has come to say goodbye. How do I begin to express how much I’ll miss this place and the people I’ve met here?

Given the challenges we encountered while trying to buy a home in Ohio, what I expected would be a week or so spent away from Charlotte to house hunt turned into three. That left just one whirlwind week to wrap up my life in this city and say my goodbyes.

I didn’t get to see everyone I hoped to, and I definitely wasn’t able to bid farewell in the way I wanted.

I’m a pretty sentimental person. I don’t like change and I don’t like goodbyes. I didn’t want to leave grade school for high school, I didn’t want to leave high school for college and I certainly didn’t want to leave college for the real world.

Throughout this move I’ve reminded myself of this many times. I know it’s largely the change that’s making my heart so heavy.

The change. The goodbye.

In my last week, I met friends at playgrounds, went to sendoff dinners and attended our last neighborhood party. In these moments, I was light and carefree. I didn’t think too much about last times or last looks. I gave out hugs and promised I’d see my friends again.

But the reality is, I don’t know when.

My goodbyes to this city and its people have to be good ones. I have no work trips to bring me back, no unfinished business lingering to be completed. It may be a long time before I see this place again.

One of the hardest goodbyes was the one I had to say to our beloved first house. After we toured it together and declared our mutual love for it, my husband covertly secured it for us while I was out of town. When I returned, he surprised me with a picture and note, thanking me for my patience and welcoming me home.

First Home

We spent the first years of our marriage here. We brought our son home to this house from the hospital. We had first baths and first words and first steps here. We gave our oldest dog his first yard after a lifetime spent in apartments and brought home a puppy to join him shortly after.

IMG_0210

We ripped down wallpaper, renovated bathrooms, painted walls and installed an antique mantle in the living room. I hung light fixtures and ceiling fans with my own two hands (yes, I’m the handyman around these parts) and never knew how proud I’d feel once the jobs were done.

Living Room

This was our house and, to be honest, I had a hard time letting it go. During the week I had to say goodbye to it, I came to terms with just how strongly this house had gotten to feel like home.

I didn’t handle it well when the first pieces of mail addressed to the new owners started arriving. But, in truth, I’m happy for them. I hope they love the spectacular fig tree in the back yard as much as we did. I hope they strap young children into the tree swing and watch their little legs stretch toward the long, leafy branches. I hope their children color on the walls and that someone learns to ride a bike in the driveway.

And, selfishly, I hope they don’t cover up the Giving Tree I painted on our son’s nursery wall.

022_Bedroom

It doesn’t help that we don’t have a new home to go to. Despite making an offer or being close to doing so on five different houses, we’ve come up empty-handed. We have to start from square one and hope our new house finds us soon.

Until then, we’ll live with friends and family members, biding our time until we once again have a place to call home.

After the hectic week we spent packing, organizing and erasing our lives from this home, my husband and I took one last look and headed for the door with a little toddler hand clasped in each of our own. As we reached the front door, my husband stopped, put his arm around my shoulders and said, “This will always be our first home.” I promptly burst into tears.

Tears continued to roll down my cheeks as we stepped out onto the stoop and closed the locked door behind us. Our house was no longer ours.

As I held my son’s hand and took the first steps toward the car, the perpetually blue Carolina skies clouded over and a couple of fat raindrops fell from the sky. I looked up in disbelief: after two perfect days of moving, rain was moving in at the very moment we were moving out.

What did it all mean? Was the rain trying to compel us back through the locked door behind us? Should we race to the realtor’s office and call the whole thing off in a dramatic, last-minute change of heart?

No, I decided. That wasn’t it at all.

Here was Charlotte’s parting gift to me: a little touch of rain to make me forget just how lovely it usually is outside. The two perfect days preceding, the ease with which we sold our house, the rain moving in at just the last moment: everything was telling me that this was meant to be.

Still, I will really miss this place.

To all of you I met here, thank you. It’s been a great five years in Charlotte.

It’s time to say goodbye.

What Ben Affleck Knows About Companionate Love

Loving family

The day we became a family

Last night, as I was wiping the kitchen counters clean, my husband hugged me from behind and whispered in my ear, “you smell like … cleaning products.”

Things change once you have kids, that’s for sure.

My husband and I know this well, and after the comments he made in his Oscar acceptance speech, I’m willing to assume Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner know it too.

I, for one, loved Ben’s speech, in which he acknowledged that marriage requires effort and thanked his wife for doing “the best kind of work” with him for “10 Christmases.” Yet, I was disappointed to learn that the Twitter sphere has been widely panning him for his honesty.

We gluttonously devour pictures of our celebrity idols caught being “real”: schlepping groceries or going without a mask of professionally applied makeup. But when things get too real — when they admit that some parts of their lives are as complicated and unglamorous as ours — we’re disillusioned by the idea of them having something other than the fairy tale romance we imagined.

The truth is that no one does. Studies show even the most drunken, heady kind of love fades after an average period of about two years. And, the idea that love is a drug is more than just sappy songwriting: as researchers Arthur Aron, PhD and Sean Mackey, MD, PhD reported to WebMD, “feelings of romantic love affect the brain in the same way drugs like cocaine or powerful pain relievers do.”

When you look at it that way, it’s no surprise that passionate, new love doesn’t last. In order for a marriage to succeed, couples have to feel more than just love for each other.

Several years back, Time Magazine ran a fascinating article on the science behind love. In “The Science of Romance: Why We Love,” Jeffrey Kluger points out that couples in committed relationships must “pass beyond … the thrill of early love and into what’s known as companionate love.”

Companionate love. Doesn’t sound too thrilling, does it? And yet, there’s something really lovely about that term.

Companionate love is the stuff of 50-year anniversaries, of those elderly men who still see a beautiful young bride when they look at their aging wives. It’s the bond that keeps us together through the ups and downs of marriage, through the trials of raising children and as our physical attractiveness inevitably fades.

Admittedly, my husband and I weren’t the most exciting people before our son came along, so you can imagine how glamorous our lives are now. As a stay-at-home mom, my brand of stress is a quiet, droning kind that stems from the pressure of constant vigilance. My husband is in his first years of a commission-only career; his days are long and rushed, and he comes home wired and exhausted at the same time.

He wears a suit. I wear sweatpants. It can be hard for us to relate to each other sometimes, and it’s been a long, long time since the hazy days of giddy, new love.

I couldn’t do what he does. He tells me he couldn’t do what I do. Therein we find the most important component of our marriage: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

We each have to work hard to make our household run. It’s not sexy, it’s not exciting, and it is indeed work. It’s the basis of companionate love.

For my part, I try to resist the urge to thrust our son into my husband’s arms or regale him with a story about poop just after he’s walked through the door. I give him a few minutes to change his clothes and take a few deep breaths. I try to have put something together for dinner and to have changed out of my depression robe by the time he gets home.

For his part, he greets each member of the household with a kiss and asks about my day, even though my response usually isn’t very interesting. He sits down in front of our son’s highchair and the dogs run to put their heads in his lap. He lets out a deep sigh, exhaling all the pressure and frustration from his day.

“I love you, wee man,” he says to our son. And I see him start to relax.

As for our connection as man and wife? Strangely, our son has been the best thing that ever happened to our marriage. He gives us a shared purpose, a higher calling, a source of humor and awe in every day.

We lie in bed and find ourselves at a loss for the words to describe how we feel about our son.

He’s … awesome. He’s just so … awesome, isn’t he?, says one of us.  

I know just what you mean, says the other.

This may not be the version of romance we want from our movie stars. It isn’t sexy or exciting; it isn’t the stuff of fairy tales. But if you look closely, there’s something profoundly beautiful in the simple, ordinary pursuit of raising a family with your life’s companion.

Companionate love may not make it into the movies, but it made it onstage this year at the Oscars. And that’s not too shabby at all.

Hail to the “Working Dad”

Dad and Baby

My husband, doing his other full-time job

Last Friday night, after a long week of work, my husband walked through the door carrying these:

Flowers for Mom

“Hon! Wow!” I said. “Flowers for me on your birthday?”

“Oh yeah,” he said with a tired smile. “I guess I forgot.”

Granted, his birthday was not technically for a couple more days, but, still. I couldn’t help but be struck by the selflessness of his gesture — and how hectic his week must have been to make him forget his impending birthday.

I don’t write much about dads on this blog. But then I read Ken Gordon’s article, “Am I a Working Dad?” and started to wonder, why not?

Working Dad. That’s a new one. It sounds funny coming off the tongue, but Ken has a point: Why is the term “working mom” reserved so exclusively for women?

There’s a part of me that wants to safeguard this term for women. Despite a study that finds doing household chores actually makes men happier, women still do more of the (unpaid) work at home. Not to mention, women are still being compensated at a paltry 77 cents per dollar for the same work done by their male counterparts in the workplace.

However, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men devote more time doing paid work outside the home, and most still contribute to the household chores. As a result, the total amount of work done by each partner in the average household is actually not too unbalanced. I’ll admit: this was a surprise to me.

Additionally, according to “The New Male Mystique,” published by the Families and Work Institute, “men now experience more work-family conflict than women.” The report claims “although men live in a society where gender roles have become more egalitarian and where women contribute increasingly to family economic well-being, men have retained the ‘traditional male mystique’ — the pressure to be the primary financial providers for their families.”

I guess our men really do deserve a little more credit.

In my household, our roles are pretty traditional for the time being. My husband often jokes that it’s 1940 at our house (and bless him for not pointing out that the 1940 husband rarely had to bring home Chipotle for dinner). His career is extremely demanding and requires long hours, so I’m managing things at home pretty single-handedly. Or so I thought.

The “working dad” article changed my perspective a bit. It’s not 1940 in my house, and that’s not just because I’m absolutely hopeless at cooking a pot roast. Unlike the stereotypical 1940s dad, my husband doesn’t come home and read the newspaper over dinner while administering stern looks to the kids.

When my husband walks in the door, he flings his arms wide and cries, “Wee man!” The dogs wiggle around him, wagging their tails and vying for his attention. He pets the dogs, he kisses me on the cheek. And then, he turns his attention to his son. He makes goofy faces, he rolls on the floor, he plays peek-a-boo behind the flowers he brought home. At some point each evening, he kisses Hudson on the cheek and says, “I missed you today, buddy.”

He is a hands-on dad, and his efforts shouldn’t be diminished just because that’s not his full-time job.

Yes, I do most of the booger chasing around here, and I change the vast majority of diapers. I take Hudson to the pediatrician and clean the dogs’ ears and make sure everyone’s nails are clipped. It’s hard work, for sure. But my job wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for what my husband does each day.

Day in and day out, my husband rises before the sun, earlier than anyone else in the household. He feeds the dogs, makes his own breakfast and often plucks the baby from his crib to deposit him in bed with me, all before starting his professional day.

Ken Gordon writes that “every good contemporary parent is employed on many levels,” and he’s right. Working moms are on 24 hours a day. Stay-at-home moms are on 24 hours a day. And, nowadays, most dads are on 24 hours a day, too. Parenting is a full-time gig, whether you have another job to go to or not.

So, today, let’s hear it for the boys. Thank you: for listening to our fears, for rubbing our sore shoulders at the end of a long day, for drying while we wash. Thank you for sharing with us your fears, and for showing your sons it’s okay to be soft and vulnerable and in touch with your emotions.

Thank you for being our partners.

All hail the working dad! (And happy birthday to the one who lives in my house.)

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