I’m reading Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle, some post-therapy work since I graduated from therapy last week.
My therapist recommended I read this young adult novel to get acquainted with a very full, very honest, very healthy family. They are delightful, perfectly zippy, and heart-warming. So far the parents disagree in front of the children, the family’s dynamics get understandably rocked by the addition of an orphan and the protagonist (who tells the story) feels all kinds of unmanageable emotions. Oh, yes, now this is a book to cozy down with, to learn about love that accepts each other and lets the other change. My favorite line so far “It was so beautiful that for the moment the beauty was all that mattered; it wasn’t important that there were things we would never understand” (41).
This week I wrote this about shoveling snow in my evening blog on Finn, SecondYearMom:
“This year Dad and I have stepped off the stage to do small things well.
Today was Sabbath, it would have been a good day to excel at small things. We did a lot of small things, but not all with love and even fewer well.
I felt so frustrated with Dad I went outside and shoveled snow with more energy than I’ve had since before you were conceived.
You joined me after Dad kindly put your shoes on (even though we were in the middle of an argument). I gave you the sand toy plastic rake and you experimented moving these huge piles of snow on our deck.
We’re already behind.
I remember this one bumper sticker “Romeo, Romeo, where the hell are you?” One thing is certain, Romeo, should he ever show up, is already behind.
I feel behind most the time.
The snow keeps falling and I can’t shovel it fast enough.
When I get outside to really chip it off I chunk off the deck in my anger. And I tell myself I don’t care.
But I do.
I care that you’re watching Dad and I argue not because I want to hide it, but because I want to model healthy conflict resolution to you. I want you to be unafraid and open-eyed to the shoveling work of intimacy.
Your rake left you unequipped, so Dad fetched the gardening shovel. ”The strong scoop-y one” I yelled after him. He found it.
Dad and I began re-hashing while you moved small mountains of ice.
Why was he hurt?
How had I trampled him?
But what about how he made me feel?
I want to build strong tools around you so you can forge into the pain of love and not find you’re snapping in two when you need to dig deeper.
I want you to see me tell Dad I was wrong. I want you to hear him say he wants to change.
I want you to be clear that marriage is no snow blow.
It’s more like shoveling than snow angels. It’s more the satisfaction of seeing a deck dripping with melt than organizing a library. For the work is never done, you barely enjoy it when it snows again.
But you keep at it, because the deck needs to be walked on if you want to get into the warmth inside.”
When Dale and I were nearly married our pre-marital counselor talked about the way the Wheaton lawns fell under the layers of autumn leaves. ”Sometimes,” Dr. Jerry Root explained, “you’ll pass a lawn that has been raked clean, not a single leaf on the whole green square. And you know,” he paused, “that didn’t happen by accident.”
Marriages and green lawns, marriages and shoveled decks, marriages and sex and kids and dusty baseboards and little sleep and hobbies packed away and unexpected crises waiting around every turn.
When Dale and I first married we made our bed together. We washed the sheets and tucked and folded them around our queen. Now, with our king-size it’s a mammoth task, wrestling the velvet comforter, trying not to hit our heads on the A-frame eaves.
The first times we snapped the sheets down and around our bed, I felt there was much room for improvement. We talked a lot, we worked so much annoyance out with careful time spent arguing, explaining, re-stating, failing and then trying to use our feeling words.
“Your side is lower,” I’d protest, “See the line, it dips down on your side, make it even with mine.” Dale would fix it, but not enough, not enough for me.
“Does it have to be perfect?” he’d finally say exasperated.
The last few weeks I’ve felt more disconnection between us, another season, one that is familiar, but always hard. Feels, sometimes like we’ve made such little progress, even though in two months we’ll celebrate our 10th anniversary. Feels like I’m shoveling a deck with snow falling all the time.
This week, we forgot the sheets in the wash and it was way late, of course. After Finn slept in his PeaPod next to our bed we had to smuggle the warm sheets upstairs and try to make the bed.
In the dark. We couldn’t even see each other’s faces.
He stood on his side and pulled and slid the fitted sheet. I waited until his more difficult side was done and then I leveraged my weight to yank the final corner down and fit, snap into place.
We smoothed the sheet and pulled it even. The fisherman’s knitted blanket pulled up and lined up, equally hanging on both sides. In the twilight we slid the down coverlet up and over, the velveteen monster of a comforter, all spread out, the icing on the layers. The pillows stacked, the square pillow rest in the middle.
Task complete we descended the ladder, Finn still breathing evenly.
Making our bed in the dark, fast, smooth as silk and not a word spoken.
Complete, luminous silence.
It was so beautiful that for a moment it spoke louder than any sound.
It was like we could see it, our marriage, a lawn without a leaf in the height of autumn.
And it didn’t happen by accident.