Monday, September 23, 2013

The Currency of Marriage

What is the currency of a marriage?

Exasperated sighs
Looks of disbelief
The same old stories
The same old excuses
Retreating to each other

Now add children

More of the above, plus
Stinging tears of utter frustration and exhaustion
Clockwork routine
Retreating to a book, a phone, a laptop, a TV

Summer 2013.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of tricycles, it was the age of strollers, it was the epoch of chaos, it was the epoch of order, it was the season of failure, it was the season of success, it was the spring of endless possibilities, it was the winter of dead ends, we had everything before us, we had everything behind us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going to time out.

There is a hum to our lives, a rhythm, an almost unbelievable predictability in how our day will begin and end.  It is of our own creation, our own painstakingly precise creation.  We teeter precariously on a tightrope of routine and the four of us, even the little wee one must do our part to keep moving forward.  Routine is the bread and butter of parenting.  It keeps you going, but makes you fat.

Life with two small children, both in diapers, one a bit more communicative than the other (and on some days this doesn't necessarily mean the older one) can be so unbelievably exhausting that it's amazing that we get up the next day to do it all over again.

Trevor started school right after Labor Day.  We had whiled away a blissful summer together, home with baby Will while Jack spent a few days a week at daycare.  There was still a routine, but while I was on leave, we could fudge it a bit and improvise.  But then we both were back to work and Labor Day ushered in the best and toughest of times for our little family.

Our day begins at 5:00 in the morning and ends sometime around 9:30 at night when we're collapsed in our bed, the hum of 2 baby monitors reminding us that we're never alone.  If you stumbled into our bedroom after 9:00 at night, you might think you had wandered into a call center.  Each of us has our phones on our nightstands, laptops open on each of our laps.  The only lights in the room are the soft pale blue light shining onto our faces as we play games, chat with friends, read articles and occasionally shine our laptop into the other's face to show them something funny.  Then, the laptops would close and we'd lay our weary heads on the pillow, not to close our eyes but to open up our phones.  The light, dimmer now, would illuminate our faces in a smaller beam until one by one the phones would be put to rest.  "Good night!  Good night!  Love you!  Love you!" and a few hours later we'd get to do it all over again.

Then, one night, I turned to Trevor and asked "How did we get here again?  I feel like we were just in this very bed last night and all of a sudden we're back here again.  How are the days whizzing by so fast?"  It was clear that something had to change.  The routine that kept us sane as parents was killing us as a couple.  Neither of us had an answer, so we went to bed.

A few days later Trevor said he had a thought.  Trevor's thoughts are usually good so I was all ears.  "I was thinking of something we could do at night to break up the routine.  What if we started that 2,000 piece puzzle I gave you a few years ago?  That could be fun."  I love puzzles.  I sort of see life and people as big puzzles that I enjoy piecing together, I've always been that way.

When we got Jack's crib, the first baseboard had a hole in it so we ordered a new one, but kept the damaged one not sure if it would ever come in handy.  Trevor brought it out for us to use as a base for our puzzle.  After some quick measuring, we realized that the board was nowhere long enough for this massive puzzle.  Trevor remembered that we had kept the cardboard box that our 52" flatscreen TV came in.  He dug it out from storage and we happily discovered that the puzzle would fit perfectly on this box.  With the hum of 2 baby monitors and Jon Stewart in the background, we set out to assemble the pieces together.  

We shuffle pieces between us, we talk puzzle strategy, we talk life strategy, we recall the events of the day, we laugh about the funny things our boys do.  We remark on how much we miss them when they're asleep.  Cell phones and laptops are upstairs, it's just the two of us...and Jon.

This is the puzzle.  A colorful collage of world currency.

It is as beautiful and complicated as we are right now.  The puzzle and act of putting it together represents our lives right now.  I don't have all the pieces of this great puzzle figured out and neither does he.  We each have a corner of it that we're trying to figure out and through an ever increasing awareness of each other's purpose, we keep an eye out for the missing piece that will help the other move forward.  By remaining in a constant state of disconnection, we had forgotten why we got married in first place.  We absolutely enjoy each other's company.  We had forgotten how fragile a strong marriage is and how much tending you need to do to keep it alive.  We love each other as parents, but even more so when our arms aren't full of babies or diapers or wet napkins used to sop up spilled milk.  We still love the boyfriend and girlfriend we used to be when togetherness was the rule, not the exception.  When he passes me the critical piece to my part of the puzzle that I couldn't find, he reinforces our partnership. 

We don't work on the puzzle every night and we certainly still check our phones, but if I replace the act of assembling cardboard pieces of a puzzle with the need for loving words of affirmation or a listening ear, it's the same.  I may say, "Can I talk about my day?"  And when he says "Yes." it's me saying "I'm stuck on this part of the puzzle, can you look for my piece?"

We exchange those physical and metaphorical puzzle pieces every night now.  They have become the currency of our marriage.  If you're feeling that one of your relationships is on the verge of bankruptcy, it might be worth considering what its currency is.

Last weekend, Jack dumped out the pieces to a puzzle all over the floor.  6 pieces not 2,000. It was a picture of a horse.  His tiny fingers rotated pieces until they found their mate.  I did my best to help, but to also let him figure it out.  We don't have it all figured out yet.  Each of us gets up each day to put the pieces together as best we can.  But I've learned that if we can all be a little more present for each other, we just might have

the missing word, 
the missing hug, 
the missing smile, 
the missing piece that someone else has been looking for.