It’s 5:15 and my foot is tapping with impatience. The noise level has racketed up to a million and one, the baby is shrieking since she’s recently discovered she has a voice, the toddler didn’t nap and so is whining about everything and the older two are arguing about something (anything) because apparently that’s their favorite sport. I’m doing all I can to get a meal together while my leg is being squeezed by chubby, sticky hands. He’s later than I anticipated. I hear the door close. Relief! Reinforcements! The gang of children rush towards him with “running hugs” and the noise meter progresses to deafening. I quickly turn, mutter a “Hey,” and get back to supper-making, grateful that the throng is following him for a bit.
A few minutes later after he’s put down his things and deposited his sanity and peace along with it, after he’s heard me just-about-to-lose-it with the kids countless times because I just want to get the #$&* thing on the table, he comes behind me and wraps his arms around my waist. My tenseness, my anger, my anxiety, my accusations, melt as his arms circle me. And I relax into his peace and calm amidst the swirling chaos and noise. “I love you.” “We’re on the same team.”
A little hug, a few small words reorient my myopic preoccupation about how everyone else is making “the witching hours” worse. It’s the kids’ fault they’re loud. Why couldn’t the toddler have just napped? Why must the baby shriek her delight (wouldn’t a quiet clapping suffice?)? Why can’t he be home on time? But the embrace turns it all around. We’re on the same team.
I think back to the giddy covenant we made to each other more than a decade ago, that we’d love and cherish each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, till death parts us. There were happy tears, and flowers, and wine and a conga line. Now there’s just demands and noise and just so much seething life. But it’s not so much the moving or the job changes or the new babies that threaten to stress and separate us, it’s the countless little things that build walls of isolation through the years. The forgetting to greet one another; the forgotten pile of laundry; the frustration with each other when we’re both dying of lack of sleep with having babies one after another; the unexciting meals as you try to stretch the end-of-the-month grocery budget; the just-being-too-tired to have sex. And so we retreat to our screens and our quiet and we lick our wounds, never really letting each other in, because it’s too scary, or too tiring, or just too much.
It takes courage to break through walls, to take one brick down at a time. To show up. To put down the phone and really look at each other. To ask good questions when you want to zone out. To wrap your arms around another human being when they’re radiating condemnation and self-preoccupation. It’s these little moments of connection that keep a marriage from crumbling. It’s so easy to think that the other adult in your house doesn’t have needs (he can go to the bathroom all by himself! He can clean up his mess without falling on the floor in response!). But relying on your spouse simply as reinforcement reduces him to a functional roommate, not a confidante or lover or someone who makes you smile.
As we bustle around from one task to another, from one child to another, we sometimes just stop each other in the kitchen, with a long glance, with a hand on the other’s shoulders, or a smile and a word of encouragement: I love you, you’re great, thank you. Little words and little touches and real eye contact that say “you matter, you’re important, you’re my favorite.”
Lest you think we’re some atypical lovebirds, it wasn’t always this way, and it isn’t always this way. It’s a fight to love another person. It’s a choice to turn our eyes to one another when we want to slink away and take time for me. I remember knock-down drag-out fights where we thought the only way to get the attention that we each craved was by shouting hurtful things at the other person — hurting more so we could feel like our own hurt was covered. But hurt just begets more hurt and more hiding and ultimately, more shame. And shaming is never a great motivation to love. Even though my husband and I have been a couple now for half our lifetimes, it isn’t easy or natural. It’s work and commitment and choosing to believe that we’re for each other. It’s him cupping his hands around my face and really seeing me. It’s me finally mopping the floor because I know that makes him happy. It’s countless little moments that build a bridge to another person that communicate you’re valued, you’re seen and we’re in this together.
So give someone a hug today. We all need it so we can be taken out of ourselves and into something bigger.
This is the fourth post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.