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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Eight Things That Spouses of Only Children Need to Know

Photo by Wicker Paradise
Hubby and I are coming up on our sixteenth anniversary, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we’ve changed and grown since slipping the rings on each others' fingers and thinking “now God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world”.
You know, before we had our first knock-down-drag-out.
I mean disagreement.
One of the big differences between us that caused issues very early on—perhaps even on our wedding day, looking back at some particularly egregious events… um… never mind—stems from the fact that while my husband is the oldest of five children, I grew up without near-age siblings.
That disparity has enormous implications for a relationship. Like, if a wildebeest married a parrot. Or a silverback gorilla mated up with an angelfish. Or a Venus flytrap tried to set up housekeeping with a ladybug.
There are eight things my husband has learned over the years about being married to an only child.
1. Only children don’t know how to divvy up stuff or allocate space and resources. And we don’t care that we don’t know. Closet space. Blankets. The Bathroom. What is this “sharing” of which you speak?
When we returned from our honeymoon my dearest darling asked, “Which dresser drawers do you want?” I blinked hard, then replied, “What do you mean, ‘which’?”
This continues to be an ongoing source of contention. I don’t want to wait for someone else to spit in the sink before I can finish brushing my own teeth. Just, ew.
2. On the flip side, because we only children experienced no peer-threats to our survival while growing up, we are typically not greedy or grabby. We will take a serving of food which meets our present meal-time need and then pass it along. Until we discover that you, Spouse with Siblings, make a practice of grabbing the best food first and shoveling onto your plate not an amount which leaves an equal portion to each remaining person at the table, but the amount which you think you might like to eat in total over the next week. Then we hate you.
3. Only children like quiet. Really a lot. So stop talking to us while we’re reading. Or thinking. Or thinking about reading.
4. Only children like complete control over our environments. If I wanted music to be playing, I would put it on. Should I need more light, I would switch on a lamp. Were I cold, or hot, I would adjust the thermostat accordingly. Why would you alter these things without consulting me first? And people say only children are self-centered. Geez.
5. Only children don’t enjoy conflict and we don’t start out a marriage knowing how to argue well/effectively. We are excellent researchers, however, given our preference for lots of time in solitude and quiet, and we can and will learn to fight. We will then decimate you and your logic and your inner psychological landscape with the studied force of our malevolence if you insist upon forcing conflict upon us. But we will never consider verbal battle a hobby, pastime, or recreational activity the way you do.
6. Only children lack manipulation skills. We were told what to do by our parents and we did it. If something didn’t get done, they knew who blew the job off. If we broke something, our mothers and fathers needed no investigative skills to determine the culprit. We never learned duplicity or subterfuge or obfuscation. We are truly hobbled in terms of getting our way and getting things done and making our way through the world.
7. Only children are, however, adept hiders, both physically and psychologically. This may seem counterintuitive, since we never had to hide from brothers and sisters bent on murdering us. But we knew that every spanking, every scolding, every lecture was prepared especially and exclusively just for us. So we know how to make ourselves scarce.
And finally:
8. Only children tend to be behind the curve in math skills, because without siblings we didn’t learn subtraction and division and fractions by the age of two and a half, like you did. We can’t tell at a glance which hand holds 35 M&Ms and which one has 36. We never had to meticulously slice a cookie into equal portions, nor did we ever cry, “That’s not half! She got 9/16ths and I only got 7/16ths! No fair!
In conclusion, as we approach the completion of sixteen years of marital blitz—I mean bliss—there is just one thing I’d like to say to my sibling-ed other half: stop grabbing handfuls of popcorn out of the bowl. That’s not sharing. I’m serious. You’re supposed to eat it one puffed kernel at a time. That’s, like, common knowledge.
And stop calling me, “Only Child.”

Saturday, November 14, 2015

I Thought We'd Have More Time

Photo by Jessica Lucia
Earlier this year Hubby and I celebrated a milestone in our parenting journey: the half-way point.
When Hubby was on a submarine in the Navy the whole boat celebrated whenever they completed the first half of a deployment. Wives and families and girlfriends sent half-way boxes full of gifts for their men (back when only men served in the submarine force), that the sailors unwrapped on half-way night.
It occurred to me to mark time with the same degree of intentionality when our son turned six and I realized we’d now had him one-third of the time we’d get him. So we took a page out of the sub force book. We calculated the time span between our first child’s birth and our last child’s expected departure (23 years), divided by two (11.5 years), and marked the calendar.
We’re over half-way done now. That’s shocking.
I talked with another dad at church recently, bewailing the fact that we’re now dealing with the onset of puberty in two of our three children, as well. “I had no curves, no shape, nothing that represented femininity until I was thirteen or fourteen,” I told him. But at ten and twelve, my older two kids are already exhibiting signs of the adults they’re becoming. “I thought we’d have more time before having to deal with this kind of stuff,” I told him.
“That could be the theme song of our entire parenting experience,” he replied. “‘I thought we’d have more time’.” They’ve already had two children launch in directions and on timelines they didn’t expect.
A friend told me about a sermon her pastor gave, where he came to the podium with a jar full of marbles. “There are 1,000 marbles in this jar,” he explained, then took one out and dropped it on the floor. “From the time your child is born till the time he or she moves out, you have about 1,000 weekends together.” He took out another marble and dropped it on the floor. “How did you use your marble this weekend? Last weekend? The one before?” He took one marble after another out of the jar and dropped them each on the floor. “Your chances are going away, one weekend at a time. And when they’re gone, you don’t get them back.”
When my kids were babies and toddlers someone told me, “These are the longest days and the shortest years of your life.” And they were. Once the littles hit school it’s like someone greases them up and pitches them downhill on a slip-n-slide. I did the math on elementary school, too: I’ll be there with my kids for a total of thirteen years. I now have three left.
I thought I’d have more time, you know? More time to go on pumpkin patch field trips and collect my children’s hand-picked flowers to press in my Bible and organize playground picnics before I had to contend with pimples and crushes and long-range academic planning.
I thought I’d have more chances to go to the zoo and run through the sprinkler and finger-paint before I’d have to explain about hormones and menstruation and body hair.
I thought I’d get more days where I struggled to come up with stuff to keep the kids engaged and entertained and active before I had so many days where I struggled to squeeze in all the soccer practices and music lessons and youth events, as if our weeks have turned into a big, life-sized Tetris puzzle.
My high school English teacher explained to me why time seems to go faster as you age. It’s because you perceive time in a relative way. When you’re two years old, a year is half of your life. When you’re ten years old, it’s only a tenth of your life. At fifty, it’s one-fiftieth of your life.
Time is blazing by now, and there’s not a thing I can do to stop it or slow it down.
And you want to hear some irony? While writing about the ache of watching my children slipping into adulthood right before my eyes, I left the living room with my laptop and retreated to the solitude of my bedroom because my daughter’s constant chatter with and about the cat was making me crazy.
This parenting stuff is an endless cocktail of physical, psychological, and spiritual conundrums tangled up with hope and fear and guilt and selfishness and sacrifice, garnished with a twist of holy angst. (Shaken, not stirred.)
This isn’t what I thought it would be. I’m not who I thought I’d be.
I thought I’d have more wisdom, insight, sense. I thought I’d have more patience, beneficence, grace. I thought I’d have more opportunities for serendipity, object lessons, relational connections.
I really thought I’d have more time.

Friday, November 6, 2015

This Little Light of Mine

Photo by Judith Doyle
The day had been a long one. I’d missed at least one meal, which is way bad for me, and for everyone around me. (If you look up “hangry” in the dictionary, you may find my mug shot there.) Hubby was on travel, so I’d been alone with the kids all week. They wanted to ride bikes, but couldn’t find their helmets, and it was forty degrees outside and one child still had wet hair from her bath after she attempted in vain to dry it with my hairdryer before combing it, and I was trying to do some preemptive garden cleanup and broke a trellis with my foot and…
I had an episode. In the driveway. As Brent, our new neighbor, pulled up with his three kids.
They hadn’t lived there that long and I didn’t know Brent very well yet.
Fabulous, I thought. He thinks (knows) he’s moved in next to a certified crazy person. He’s wondering if he should call Child Protective Services before the lunatic in her driveway comes completely unhinged and the screaming turns into something worse. He will never let his children play with mine again. And I don’t blame him. I don’t think my children should be allowed to play with me, either.
So I just owned it. Sometimes there’s not enough backpedaling, nothing you can say to explain it away or make it better.
“I’m having a Mommy Dearest moment,” I admitted.
Brent nodded. He smiled. Then he said the Best Thing Ever.
“Have you got any wire hangers? ‘Cause if not, I could loan you one.”
Brent is now one of my most favorite neighbors. And two years later our kids still hang out.
There is an enormous wellspring of power in our words. Toby Mac hits that nail right on its traumatized little head when he encourages us to Speak Life to each other. There’s just too much darkness, pain, and anger in the world already. And we have an unbelievable amount of power to either create more darkness or shine some light into it.
If you’ve ever clicked on a penlight in the middle of the night, you know how even the tiniest beam can obliterate a whole lot of dark.
Hubby and I have been watching a series called The Physics of Light. ‘Cause, you know, we like to relax with a little brain-bubblegum at the end of the day. I’ve learned some interesting things from this series, as well as some things that made my head go schnick!, kind of like when you step out of a warm house into the icy air and your boogers freeze.
For example, as you approach the speed of light, time slows down. Were it possible to travel at the speed of light, time would stop. If that doesn’t make your brain go schnick! you’re not thinking about it hard enough.
And colors exist because of the way waves of light are either absorbed into or reflected off objects. Nothing actually contains any color of its own. (Gosh, what might this suggest about, say, racial prejudice? That may be a whole nother blog post…) Schnick!
 And—strap on your seat belts—most matter, including people, is made up almost entirely of nothing. If the atoms that comprise a person were stripped of all their empty space, and only the atoms’ physical material remained, a human body would be the size of a grain of sand. The entire human population of the earth, if so compacted, would have the mass of a single apple.
Light, however, is not made up of atoms. Light is not actually matter at all.
Schnick! Schnick! Schnick!
Wow. Light is an amazingly funky and mind-blowing thing.
(Oh, and… “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” [1 John 1:5].)
So, how do we shine light into a world that is so dark and cold and needy?
We can recognize that we are temporal, finite beings who live inside of space and time. We have a beginning and an end, and often a lot of trouble between the two. But if we could experience life at the speed of light—or the speed of God, if you will—we would have a time-less perspective on our existence. And on others’ existences.
I can’t help thinking that’s what “Live with an eternal perspective” really means. We would view everything in the light of eternity. That’s got to trump momentary impatience, irritation, hangry-ness, every single time.
And we can recognize that without light there is no color. No warm reds of passion, or cool blues of serenity, or bright yellows of joy. And we, ourselves, actually possess no color within ourselves. But light does.
When we shine light into someone else’s darkness, we turn on their ability to once again see the color light creates. When Brent offered me a wire hanger in the midst of my apoplectic breakdown, I roared with laughter. The humor he shared with me completely changed the color of my entire evening. What colors might empathy, support, encouragement illuminate in someone’s life today?
We can also recognize that we—tangible clusters of atomic material—are actually very nearly nothing. But God—who characterizes himself as light itself—interacts with and acts upon everything in ways that humans are only beginning to understand, both physically and theologically.
We’re encouraged to empty ourselves so God can fill us—to let his light shine through us. But really, we’re practically empty already. We just need to accept the reality of that and embrace God’s willingness to fill and shine through us.
It’s only dark when light is blocked by something.
That’s another thing I took away from The Physics of Light: light is not the opposite of dark. Dark is the absence of light, just as cold is not the opposite of heat, but the absence of it.
So unless we choose to live in and live through and reflect light, then we will dwell in darkness and entertain darkness and propagate darkness. Those are the only two alternatives.