The pastel pink, powder puff blog I was hoping to write today has “poofed” beyond me. I’m embattled. Be where you are, wise Buddhists advise, and I can try – but this exact moment is turbulent and hurtful.
Eric and I are aggravated. He’s days behind a deadline, and I’ve stacks of papers to grade. Blue moons hang under our eyes. The baby has a cold. Lists of to-do’s loom, ranging from scheduling annual wellness checks for all three kids to cleaning both chimneys to cutting up the annual ten cords of wood.
So far, we’re keeping on. But a darkness is growing between us and around us. My heart beats in panicky rhythms, like I suspect an intruder in the house. Every shadow threatens a knife.
FACT: Couples need to have fun together. If we are working, parenting, and homesteading all our waking hours, a certain zing disappears. In its void, fear and other dark emotions grow like mold.
I know that work can be fun. I love my jobs of teaching and editing. I enjoy most chores. Just a week ago, I played hip hop while dancing with a mop, letting my youngest blow bubbles as we cleaned the kitchen floor. My favorite kind of work is when the whole family joins in, and we chat about books and Ravenmoore craft ideas while rolling up rugs, hanging laundry, and stacking wood.
Sometimes, though, couples need to have a more wild kind of fun, a fun that cannot be yoked to utility. A fun all their own.
FACT: Sometimes, couples cannot have what they need.
For Eric and me right now, our jobs, our kids, and our home leave time for nothing else. And we are cranky. The tiniest of irritations flare up over and over again. Yesterday, when I suggested he share a complement with the dozen or so criticisms he likes to throw my way, his wry response tempted me to hurl an open container of milk at his head – and he drinks raw milk in half gallon glass jars.
We both know we need to create some time for us, just us. Occasionally, we look each other in the eyes, lean forward…and then we’re off again, running in different directions. We are each chasing different dragons in different time zones.
I miss the feeling of my hand in his as we walk along the same path.
Eric and I have suffered together unforgettably. We have shared crises, helped each other through anguished heart-to-hearts, and worked side by side in the sleet and snow. But this current stretch of time might be our toughest challenge yet. We have been together for thirteen years. The home we share is the longest lasting of our whole lives, together or apart. The strenuous nature of our daily schedules shouldn’t threaten what we’ve built together. Unfortunately, neither of us has had any training or experience with sustaining a relationship. We are artists, mavericks, and adventurers, while maintaining a lifetime partnership draws on skills outside of these roles.
I took an extra long run this last Sunday morning. (Thank you, Eric, for handling all four kids on your own for those precious ninety minutes!) I came home with three personal pieces of advice. I’m going to try really hard to follow them.
I. No Grinding. (That’s no mental grinding.) I have a tendency to review conversations and events in my head a lot. I can replay a scenario twenty times within a single minute without even trying. For whatever sad psychological reason, I dwell on the least pleasant episodes. If Eric and I have an irritating exchange at breakfast, for example, I will vex and worry over it with such vigor, I will be thoroughly exhausted by noon. The more time we are apart, and the more altercations we have, the more opportunity I have to grind away at all our problems until they are deep as graves between us.
To cure this problem? I just need to stop. As soon as I catch myself reviewing anything negative, I need to release it like a milk weed seed from my hand and replace it with a more helpful thought. My brain is pretty needy, and it continues to reach for the negative, but I am determined to retrain it. I can enjoy an image of Mikah holding onto Eric’s and my hand as we chant “1-2-3-Wee!” up the driveway or replay the evening the whole family cuddled on the blue couch to watch a movie as rain drummed on the roof. The positive will outweigh the negative if I give it more time and space in my head.
II. Appointments. All of us need help. Sometimes we have to focus on getting it rather than surviving without it. Eric and I are extremely different in certain ways and can disagree vehemently. Additionally, we live in a blended family design involving six people, and everyone cannot always be content. The answer to inevitable disappointment, though, is not avoidance. Certain issues need attention. I’ve seen couples stagger along with unresolved issues dragging behind them like cement blocks at an oxen pull, and it just doesn’t work. Sooner or later, one partner stops pulling, writhes out of the yoke, and stomps off.
For serious conflicts, Eric and I need to set aside a couple hours to figure out solutions together without our kids as an audience. We might even need to make appointments with professionals for one issue or another. People hire carpenters, hairdressers, computer technicians and landscapers: why do they resist hiring help for love? Having professional assistance when navigating the raising of a family and the evolution of a romantic partnership is much more of a priority than one’s hair or lawn!
III. Higher Dialogue. As Eric and I get older, and our lives grow increasingly complicated, we both need to practice poise. Some days or weeks are just plain over-the-top with chaos, disappointment, and fatigue. Anyone can get worn down – but we need to be more than just anyone. We need to be leaders, kind ones, engaged in a higher dialogue.
In old movies of ships at sea, always the Captain stands solid behind the ship’s steering wheel. When the storm hits, he spreads his legs wide and squints through the rain. The ship tosses to the left and right and sailors slide across the deck howling, yet he stands unwavering. He issues commands: ready the lifeboats, pull in the sails, strap everyone to a mast. Certain weak-minded sailors might want to jump overboard or steal away on a lifeboat, but the Captain maintains faith and makes sure his sailors do, too. He knows that the whole crew is stronger together and will lose no man.
I know this truth, too: Eric and I need our whole crew. Even if our ship capsizes, we will make it to the lifeboats together, and we will find new land together. The family will work together to discover a source of potable water and wild vegetables and share a meal, as we always have. Eric and I are young green sailors no longer: we are captains now, standing side by side. I like to believe we can handle this stormy weather, no matter how long it lasts.
And once the water calms and we enjoy a reprieve, I have no doubt we will set out for open water all over again, hearts brave, impassioned and united.