Last evening my luvvvah and I took flight from the house and walked down to Pale Fire Brewing. I was reminded of why I love living downtown as we wandered by the stream to look at the ducks tucking in for the night before making our way to the Pale Fire patio.
After making my choices, I walked out to a freshly-dried table to enjoy the twilight.
My handsome date carried out the goods.
We prepared to enjoy some good beer and good conversation. I was not disappointed.
After all of the rain, it was such a beautiful night.
I’m not usually a beer kind of girl, but I’m learning. I enjoy savoring new tastes and flavors. Mostly, though, I enjoy the company of my man and the moments we get to take flight together and remembering the goodness that is being married to each other.
From the first day
I saw your face
I hoped that we would be
More than friends
I wanted you to see
That I found you special
And in your eyes
And in your smile
I saw that you were kind
You brought such joy
Into my life
Such laughter and such fun
And deep inside
I wanted you
To be the only one
That I would walk next to
To have and to hold
And I believed
With all my heart
Our love was strong and bold
But fragile was
The seed of love
We wanted it to grow
Impatient and impetuous
We simply did not know
That you cannot force love
Demand it be strong
And after many lonely years
We found where we went wrong
We’re standing now
We’re facing each new day
With boldness and integrity
We’re learning how to play
It’s knowing what we’ve lost
That helps us be found
Our hearts are drawing close again
We’re coming back around.
Happy Valentine’s Day ’18 to the Love of My Life who has made me laugh and feel safe from day one. You are a gift, Steve McClay. Thank you for becoming more real with me through all the seasons, especially those winter ones. Something beautiful is growing from all of this compost. I just know it! Something beautiful already has. Our love.
This image created with Wikki Sticks was stuck to my car window by Steve in 1987. I saved it in my scrapbook for posterity.
***The header image is from a helium balloon that I deflated and saved to remember the playful love of my then boyfriend, now husband. Thank you for your steadfastness, Babe. You’ve always been the best Valentine.***
Today the love of my life celebrates another birthday. I have shared 30 of his special days with him. This feels momentous. He might say I feel that way about everything.
Thirty years ago my boyfriend turned 18. It was a year to the month that I first met him and six months after we began dating. My baby sister had been born two days before, and I was packing my things in preparation for a major move that would take place three weeks later.
Here we are together with the first newborn we shared. There is a lot going on behind the eyes of that sixteen-year-old girl.
There was excitement in celebrating that first birthday together, the last we would celebrate in person before marrying four years later. His birthday became a conundrum for me as I tried to choose the right gifts. I remember mailing packages those years before we married, feeling close to my boyfriend while shopping and selecting things I thought he would enjoy.
It was difficult not being together in person, because much is missed in the day to day sharing of life. Much was built up in my mind and the future was idealized. I thought it would be easier after we married. Please do not laugh. I am having a hard enough time being kind to that young woman inside. It was not easier.
Last night, Steve lovingly reminded me of the delicious coconut cream pie I tried to make for his 22nd birthday when we were newlyweds. It was more like coconut soup, but he ate it like a champ. I have not always had the stellar cooking and baking skills of today.
His contentment made it difficult for me to find “just the right” gift, because I could not tell what he would really enjoy, I don’t know if he knew, either, indicated by vague or practical responses when asked. I groped along, hoping to hit the mark.
I think I hit it this year. Number 30 just might be a charm. I don’t want to say more in the rare event that he has an opportunity to read this before tonight when he opens his gifts, but I am excited, and that is a good feeling.
This week began with a dream, one of those vivid ones that you remember upon waking and that stays with you all day. In it I was leading a story group. My husband was a participant. I thought it odd that the leaders would put us together but figured, Oh well, they know what they are doing.
One theme of the dream was distraction. As Steve began to share his story a rushing river roared noisily past, other group members were taking facetime calls, and a tiny elephant went walking by. I was trying hard to hear what he was saying, but even leaning in with great focus, I couldn’t.
I finally stopped everything and addressed the situation, naming the great distractions and the need to focus on Steve and his story.
Awww. Thank you for speaking up for me was his response when I shared my dream yesterday morning.
As I celebrate the amazing man I saw in those eighteen year old eyes, that is my desire for him this year, to focus on his story and on that tiny elephant walking by, inviting him to more laughter, creativity, and growth.
Twenty-five anniversaries, holding on and holding hope.
I want to have big silver anniversary words, but I don’t. And that is okay. It has to be.
I have the words that a friend offered at the end of his congratulatory Facebook comment on Steve’s wall.
. . . a great example of a rugged marriage.
Thank you, Alvin. Those are exactly the words that affirm the beautiful hard that is found in celebrating 25 years of becoming one while growing up together and having three of our eight children before our brains were fully formed!
This day has felt rugged. It certainly hasn’t been the stuff of which silver anniversary dreams are made. As a final blow, we had to cancel the sitter for our evening out due to uncertain stomachs. We had to engage disappointment and pain.
This season feels rugged as I find more words for my own story and style of relating and engaging and how that has affected those closest to me. As Steve and I struggle to find more words for our story together, we recognize the help that we need. It is okay to need help.
A dear sister heard my heart and affirmed my words as I processed with her via text.
A silver star with a 25 on it doesn’t negate the hurt and disappointment. Or the joy. There is joy underneath, but right now it is being eclipsed by the ache. And marriage is about more than just how I feel today.
Climbing out of the valley and learning to walk on level ground isn’t as easy as it sounds!
One of the significant assaults of evil in this period is to try to triumph through regret. It is easy to survey all that might have been and grieve that it has taken so long to savor and delight in life. Add to this the desire to remove all the debris we have brought into the lives of our children, friends, and family, and it is easy to feel terrible and to work frantically to restore all that is broken. We must resist this seduction. Grief is freeing, but regret is the cul-de-sac of despair. (Dan Allender, Healing the Wounded Heart, 233).
So tonight we will have our regularly scheduled date night and not the fancy dinner out gifted us by our kids. Rather than circling the cul-de-sac again and again, I will try to feel the disappointment and grieve what is not, and then move on to the goodness that is an evening together with the hope of a future ahead of us.
We will persist. We will toast our twenty-five years of beautiful, rugged marriage with chicken soup and ginger-ale!
I am away with my love this weekend. We are relaxing at Lake Anna in the midst of a season of difficult challenges. Maybe it should be seasons. The seasons have rolled into years.
The years have been hard.
It is difficult for me to be in the early morning quiet. I recognize this, as anxiety begins to mount at the prospect of an unstructured day ahead. I do not have words to give the man sitting at the opposite end of the sofa as I stare out the window at the sun rising over the water.
Pulling a creamy-soft throw from the back of the sofa and tucking it around me, I curl into a fetal position, resting my head on a square pillow. A tear falls. I feel it slip out of the corner of my eye, roll down my cheek and drip off of my face. More threaten to fall, betraying that all is not well.
I am not fine, and I have thirty-six hours to figure it out, before I have to go back. That is how it has always felt.
This is your chance. You had better not waste it or squander it or use it unwisely, because another one won’t be coming around any time soon! Redeem that time, Sister. You have been given much, and of you much is required.
Mustering every ounce of courage to make any sound come out of my mouth, I use my voice to share what is inside. It feels terrifying. There is a battle raging in my head. I want to stay behind the wall.
I don’t know how to be me by myself, and I sure don’t know how to be me and you by ourselves, and I am going to just ruin all of this!
Tears explode and fall in full-force sobs. I am sobbing on our first of two mornings together without parental and adult responsibilities before we have to go back. I feel self-contempt mounting and fight it fiercely.
Why can’t I just be carefree and fun?
Love pulls my feet into his lap and offers me comfort. He lets me ugly-cry and sob and leans over to rub my scalp and hug me. I feel so much resistance and try to stay present. I try to receive care without gauging what it will cost me.
Care comes at a cost, you know. Will this be worth it?
I fight against resistance to share with and be real with this life-partner who sits with me on the other side of the wall. Coming out from behind it is so scary and so hard and so risky for me.
I am met with safety and kindness. There is no judgment or expectation.
Love shares his feelings about sitting on the same side of the wall with me. I try not to twist them into something they are not.
They are only love and gratitude. I can choose to receive, which I do.
Grateful for the kindness offered to me to just be and process, I pull out a journal and begin to write. Thoughts come. Curiosities. More tears. I reach for tissues that begin to pile up. I consider taking a picture of them. That just seems wrong. I resist the urge.
Love gives me the space that I need. Little do I know I am being watched from above.
Yesterday was a special day. It had been written on a calendar block, cleared of all else. We spent all day with the Boston little boy cousins and their amazing parents.
My anxiety about having little people around for the day was alleviated quickly when this little one walked in, grabbed a recorder, and began playing while his brother accompanied him on the piano.
Uncle B patiently listened to Little Mae tell all about King’s Dominion adventures using her map of the park.
My baby and my sister’s baby smiled at each other a lot, which was a huge milestone for anyone who knows my baby and her thoughts about babies.
Baby B won her over.
Meanwhile, lots of creating happened. The cry of Guys, Guys! Look over here! caught my attention. I looked to see this little one with his airplane.
My much younger sister was caught wearing my perpetual mothering face in this picture. I so know the feeling.
With everything happening at once, there were problems to solve, like the one of figuring out how to find all of the pieces and get this track to stick to the green board. Daddy to the rescue on that one! Problem solved.
It was sweet for my littles to get an opportunity to experience the life of their big siblings. Here Coco gets to feel like her big sisters when the littles were being born, holding a babe in arms.
And these eyes and little chewing mouth. I could not get enough of them.
And this snuggly sleeper. I might have cried a little.
Of course, a day with littles (or bigs for that matter) is not complete without some down time with a screen and a cuddly blanket.
This day was so full, pictures don’t do it justice. I finally had to put down the phone and just be in it, because everything was so much to take in.
I want to remember the moments of sweetness like a two-and-a-half-year-old cousin wandering into the TV room with his bowl of shredded cheese and climbing up next to Kirk and asking questions about Minecraft. My thirteen-year-old’s patient response and offer of letting him play reminded me of how Caleb treated his little brother, and my heart swelled.
I want to remember the conversations with my brother and sister that felt natural and relaxed and made us forget that we live hundreds of miles apart and that this doesn’t happen every day. Moments of falling asleep on the couch or walking out into the yard or playing UNO Attack (thanks, B!!!!) felt like they happen every day.
And dinner time. Oh, the dinner table.
I want to remember shopping with my sister and planning our meal like it’s the most normal thing in the world, all while talking about everything. I want to remember cooking and being together and living life.
I want to remember what it was like to have a full dinner table and the littles getting to be the bigs and experiencing the noise and cries and trauma of food touching other food or too much ketchup coming out of the bottle or corn on the cob rolling onto the wrong place on the plate. Our table was full and loud and fun.
Our day was full and loud and fun.
My body, mind, and soul felt full and tired and happy and sad and grateful, so very grateful.
At the end of the day when, Sister Selfie! was called, here is what we got. Sister selfie, plus one. I am old enough to be this girl’s mom, so I could technically be a grandma. Technically. Not yet.
For now I relish being auntie to this precious little one and his brothers and will hold so many special memories close to my heart.
He fastens his helmet, hops on his bike, and takes off with our nine-year-old girl who has just discovered her love of bike riding. This, after spending an afternoon at the pool with the eleven and nine-year-old girls at a school’s out pool party hosted by a local radio station.
Of course, it’s not all bike rides and pool parties. Earlier in the day, accusations of being a tyrant and exercising a reign of terror were hurled by a different child as the apps on an iPod were deactivated for a few hours to give space for other activities.
He is a good dad.
He takes time to connect with and guide adult children while being in the moment with the younger ones. He works hard every day to care for those in this house, risking imperfect fathering with just doing.
His turn-around time is slow. He admits that.
Household projects, while in progress, often lie dormant so that a heart can be cared for, a cuddle read, a bike ride taken, a phone-call made. He puts his people before projects, which means that there are always works in progress. Always projects calling.
The upstairs room, the porch, the bathroom, the basement, the boxes, all of these and more clamor for his attention.
He hears the children first.
Yes, imperfectly. No, not always well.
With a heart that is humble and open, he seeks to better his fathering skills and grieves where they have been lacking. I have sat with him in that grief. We have grieved together.
I am thankful for my children’s father and for how he has taken on the task of fathering eight plus one. I am grateful that he chooses to show up fully, even when fully means messily and wrong. Because then he apologizes and models humility and helps us to learn forgiveness.
Once upon a time, there was a young man who wanted a big family. I think he thought he would be getting a fan club. It didn’t quite work out that way.
The way it did work is that eight children have taught him a thing or two about himself and have helped him to grow into the amazing man that he is. The one that I am blessed to call the father of my children.
Sometimes being a good friend to your spouse means holding down the fort so they get some time and space away. Holding Down the Fort is really hard for me. In my world of longings, one of the deep ones is longing for time to just be off.
I would love for space to not be in charge all most of the time. I have been in charge for all most of my life, and responsibility is wearing and wearisome.
I long for the day when my husband’s time away means my own time alone here in the quiet, not shouldering the weight of solo parenting. I long for the day when we can go away together without requiring what feels like an act of congressto make it happen.
I realize that many readers long for a spouse or for a child or to not be solo parenting all of the time due to death or divorce. We ALL have our longings, our hard stuff, the things we wish would pass, the do-over desires.
Since this is my blog, I am writing about my struggle to be a good friend to my husband. He needs time away with friends to be refreshed. And, really, this time away isn’t totally his, because it sweetly lined up with the weekend that our son is playing in the Virginia All-state band concert at George Mason University. He will be able to catch the concert tomorrow and spend quality time with his son on the ride home.
So while he hangs out, I hang on. That’s how we roll. He has done it for me more.
But it doesn’t make it easy. It’s always more fun being the one heading off in the car up or down the interstate, leaving on a jet plane. It’s always the most fun taking off together.
Left behind looks like agonizing over how much screen time is too much while trying to maintain sanity. It is having to stand hard ground alone. It’s breathing in the vapors and fumes in the air that seem to only be released when spending quality time around Mom. It’s negotiating the strife solo and dealing with the dog.
It also looks like making memories and learning to relax and being thankful for middle school lock-ins, reducing responsibility by one. It looks like being content with the space that I do have and resting in the fact that while tweens have needs, at least they sleep at night!