Saturday, May 3, 2014

How to Embrace being Wife and Mama

“It’s huge to finally embrace the life you never planned on.”

This saavy little tidbit came from the movie Greenberg, starring I do believe, Ben Stiller. I don't remember much else from the film, but I do remember hearing that sentence and wanting to think more about it later. So I tucked it away in that great wasteland of profound thoughts- my Facebook Quotes section. Along with a quote from Barack when he was still Senator Obama, my all time favorite line from a song ("she was into S&M and Bible studies, not everyone's cup of tea"- Belle and Sebastian) and something long and drawn out by Anonymous about sticking yourself in the eye with your creative vision.

Here is why I think this particular quote (the actor who spoke it was Rhys Ifans, the skinny British guy best known as the oft naked roommate of Hugh Grant in that movie where Julia Roberts is the actress who falls in love with the bookshop owner) stuck with me.

Because I have spent the past 13 years of my life trying to embrace the life I never planned on. The life I planned on involved an exciting psychopath named Aaron, a stint in the Peace Corp, and vegan eating from the dumpster of Whole Foods. The last plan I really remember making was as a second wave hippie packing up my Toyota Corolla and driving West with the wind in my leg hair. And the last thing on my mind was getting married and having children. I was newly dumped, three universities and five majors into my higher education career, and had no idea what I wanted from life except I didn't want what I had.

"The story you choose when you had no story..." is a quote from the theologian Stanley Hauerwas that gets tossed around our house quite a bit presently. Grant uses this idea to remind me that it isn't really the elements of my life that I should be railing against, because life isn't just a sequence of right and left turns where you end up where you are because of all the decision you made. It's because life happens TO YOU sometimes, and when we allow others into our lives, sometimes we wake up in a bed with three other people because there was once this day when we got married and two other days where we had children.

January 4th, 2004. Grant and me.
April 19th, 2010. Purslane and Grant and me.
October 19th, 2011. Knox and Purslane and Grant and me.

This is my story. I don't remember planning it out, and I certainly don't remember thinking it through. One day I wasn't thinking about getting married and then I met Grant, and suddenly that's all I wanted. One day I wasn't thinking about having children and then one day I woke up and didn't take my birth control pill. It seems like decisions. Like choosing a story. Like walking a path. Nothing particularly random or surprising. So what am I railing against, requiring Grant to Stanley Hauerwas me?? (this is actually a term in our house)

Because being a wife is hard. The million moments a day when something I want to do would either inconvenience or confuse or hurt or embarrass my husband, I have to choose not to do it or accept the fallout. Going out on a date with another man, for example. If I meet an interesting surgeon at work and he makes a reference to Kurt Vonnnegut, I can't ask him to have a drink. (incidentally, that is pretty close to what got me married in the first place- Grant mentioned an affinity for Tom Waits during one of our first phone conversations and my eyes glazed over) But I can't form attachments to interesting men any more.That would be a painful decision for me to make and Grant trusts me to keep my eyes and hands to myself. Because the story I wrote when I had no story revolves around a promise I made that for the rest of my life, Grant would be the only interesting man I threw into bed.

But we are human and fallible and impulsive and I don't spill the contents of my heart and head in an empty room with vanilla walls. Grant hears them. Cares about them, which is still surprising to me after 10 years of marriage. In our home there is no tossing things into the void. Everything has meaning, because I married a man who cares about everything, most of all his wife and children. And for me to disrespect that incredible trait of his would be terrible. And so I (try to)make decisions that would make him happy instead of sad. Support him instead of kick his feet out from under him. Listen instead of ignore. But I am selfish and do this imperfectly. Scandalously badly sometimes.

And my children. The babes I never knew I wanted. Until one day I had them. And would run into a burning building for them, lift a car off of them, snatch them from the grasp of a fire breathing dragon- all that. I would be a human shield for Purslane and Knox without a thought.

And yet I heard myself yesterday telling Pursy to "hold it for just a second" after she interrupted a conversation I was having to tell me she had to go potty. What?? What in my head has not transitioned to the reality that I am a Mama? What in my bones still rails against the reality that nights of 8 sleeping hours are out of reach during these years? My heart broke as the words were leaving my lips (yelled quite loudly) at my daughter who was looking for one of her dolls before bedtime, yelled that I would help her, just get out for one minute while I put your brother to sleep. I saw her face, confused at my reaction because she had come into Knox's room with complete certainty that I would care about her lost doll and help her find it. I betrayed that confidence with my annoyance and desperation that Knox fall asleep quickly to close a long day.

How do I embrace this? How do I keep in the front lobe of my brain the reality that this story, the one that I chose when I had no story, the one in which I am both the heroine and beastly monster to the three other characters who share the storyline, that this story is the one I must live out? The way we pass our hours and days, the movement towards the final chapter, the STORY of my life, is being lived out against all odds, all decisions, all left and right turns.

"How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives" said Annie Dillard. There is no moment I live that isn't included in the narrative of my life. And the central theme, much to my shame and pain sometimes, is the fact that I am a Christian. That the decisions I make aren't decisions at all, but the natural turning of my ship to get to a certain destination. I believe in Jesus Christ and trust completely in his life, death and resurrection for my hope. I value humankind in the light of His respect for His creation. I do my work as a nurse following the example of His ministry of healing the sick. I have a story that I chose before I had a story. I have three people who share my life (and my double bed) who depend on me to live out my days making decisions that reflect my true affections.

So tonight as I sat on the floor beside Pursy's bed watching her sleep and letting my regretful tears fall, I promised her that I would try again tomorrow. To be her Mama with strength and gentleness and love. To not just get through another day, longing for bedtime when my "shift" was over, but to embrace it fully. Most definitely imperfectly, but I will try again. And then I got down on my knees and reminded God that I believe in Him and His ability to help me embrace this life I never knew I wanted.


  1. Stanley Hauerwas isn't a name I've thought of in a long, long time - my husband studied with him at Duke. There is this huge, huge part of me that wants to say you are being too hard on yourself here. Bedtime with a 3 year old and a three month old is seriously the hardest thing I do each day. But I feel it is perhaps undermining or, at the very least, not supportive to tell you you are being too hard on yourself...this is something that has lingered and bothered you. I know I've been a lot happier ever since I gave up the notion that linear sleep = my happiness. Having a toddler has taught me that even if my infant sleeps through the night now (which he does, oddly) that will cease as he grows older and becomes aware of his surroundings. I've definitely been able to embrace non-linear sleep patterns. In giving up that expectation, I've found so much more peace. Every older woman I know seems to almost desperately miss having babies and toddlers - my boss told me she would trade one full year of her life for one more hour with her daughter as an infant. So I try and release expectations - of myself, of my kids - and just really live moment to moment right now and not get too ahead of myself.

    1. You are a wise woman. Thank you for your thoughts!