Marriage is hard in this season.
The other day I woke up at six, and Makayla, our five-year-old, was lying on the bed about a foot away staring at me (I wonder how long she was there??). I told her to go back to bed, and forty minutes later, I woke up again from Kelsey’s eye lashes against my eyelids. She’s three and doesn’t have Makayla’s sense of personal space. I opened my eyes, and her eyeballs were the only thing I could see, which is a an unsettling way to wake up.
And so, it goes.
Gone are the days of Katy and I waking up slowly together, brushing our teeth together, brewing the morning coffee, and putzing our way through breakfast. Sometimes, we still pause for things like a hug, but now it’s a hug of five, and it can feel like the marriage we’ve built one brick at a time for the last nine years is being unbuilt at the same slow, steady pace.
On Saturday, I was paddling the Humble Bumble (my kayak) in the Rollinsford reservoir, towing Kelsey behind me in an innertube. Kayaks are designed to slice through the water in all the ways big innertubes with cupholders aren’t, so tying them together made it slow going, but I could hear her chipper, little voice exclaiming, “Wow! Good job, Daddy!” and it made it worth it.
Katy was back at shore with Emma, while Makayla, who’s learning to swim, kicked around the shallows. Katy was beautiful standing there holding our baby, and I’m grateful to be married to such a terrific mom.
And yet, moments like these are why marriage is hard right now. Even when things are good, we’re often a hundred yards apart laughing and playing and taking care of different people.
While we were there, an eagle swooped too close to the tall pines on the ridge overlooking the reservoir. There’s a falcon’s nest there, and peregrine falcons, which can dive at 240 mph, don’t hesitate to defend their nest, even against birds twice their size. The aerial combat that ensued was spectacular. After a few minutes of sorties ranging back and forth across the sky, the eagle withdrew.
The next day, we went to a wedding and listened to our friends vow, as we did, to cultivate a life together “until death do us part.” I want that life to be filled with joy—together. So, amidst everything, we’re reflecting on what makes it hard, and what makes it better. These are a couple of fresh habits that are breathing new life into our relationship that I thought I’d share.
- At breakfast, we read to our kids and ask them lots of questions. It’s focused on them. Then, we banish the children from the kitchen, and we sit and have our coffee together (obviously Emma stays). If there’s protesting, I exclaim in a high-pitched voice, “No, no! Out! It’s Momma’s and I’s time! Up to your room!” and they run out, usually giggling. We tell them to get dressed or play, but they’re not allowed back in the kitchen.
- While we’re making lunch, and immediately afterwards, we banish them from the kitchen again (most of our habits have to do with banishing). Like at breakfast, we focus on them for the meal, letting them talk with us about whatever they want, but before and after we process anything from the morning, deal with practical things from the business, and tell each other funny things the kids did.
It’s wonderful. I’m a much better father when I don’t feel like I’m losing Katy. I’m able to pour into Makayla and Kelsey, to affirm, treasure, and teach them, and I’m a much better husband. It keeps the buildup of life low. Instead of catching up on a day or a week or a month, we catch up a few times a day in short, intentional conversations that make me feel sane. Then, a few weeks go by, and I think to myself, “My goodness, I feel in love again.”
What you have with your kids and your spouse is precious beyond measure. Fight like a falcon.
<3 Joel and Katy