Thinking too Deeply about Marie Kondo

I’m bad at many things in life (math, geography, and basketball come immediately to mind), but one thing I know I’m good at is tidying, cleaning, organizing, and maintaining a clutter-free environment (household members’ spaces excluded, since those aren’t mine to touch).

So other than for pure OCD enjoyment, I’ve generally stopped reading about the best ways to purge, organize, and clean.

A recent exception to this is the work of Marie Kondo.

After seeing so many of my Facebook friends referencing her, I decided to check her out for myself. I see why she has such a wide following! Her ideas and methods are simple, clear, and steer us towards a place too few other things in life do, which is that of curating our lives for the sake of joy rather than materialism. If it doesn’t bring joy, out it goes!

With that said, I’ve also read several articles pointing out the KonMari method doesn’t really work for those with small children (which is true), and that prior to Kondo’s smashing success, NAPO took issue with perceived all-or-nothing draconian ways (there’s debate about this). But what I find myself struggling with is neither of those things, but rather the impact of Kondo’s work on historical preservation.

My mother lives in my home and has quite a few things in her possession that she has made clear she expects me to keep after her passing, then leave to my own children when the time is right.

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Mother’s, grandmother’s, and mine.

Most of these things don’t bring me joy, nor do I think they bring joy to her. But they do have a significance that if overlooked would be tragic.

For example:

My grandmother’s sorority pin (I was never in one). The torn and faded photo of my great-great grandfather with safari hat and rifle, holding up proudly the jungle animal he’d just killed (vegan here). The leaded oil and vinegar set no one can use anymore because, you know, lead.

What about handmade quilt fragments from several generations ago that take up valuable linen closet space and smell slightly (or not-so-slightly) of mildew?

To be fair, Kondo does make exceptions for certain things: super special baby clothes? Frame them. Art from the first day of kindergarten? Put it on display.

And yet … there is so much more than that to a family’s history.

Will anyone want the cremated ashes of my recently-passed German Shepard? Probably not, but when my great-great grandkids find the lovely (sealed) urn and corresponding plaque, and realize it goes along with the photos neatly arranged within a dedicated photo album, they may think it’s a little weird and creepy, but they will also be awed to hold those bits of history in their hands.

The Spode Christmas dishes I bought for 80% off? 100 years from now a future descendent will lovingly set them out for Christmas dinner, admonishing her children to be very careful with them given their family significance and age.

My mom has always said one of the meanest gifts you can give someone is a Bible they don’t want, like, or need. Why? Because who the heck is going to get rid of a Bible? (Don’t answer that). And they’re big! I have so many Bibles from so many family members that they take up an entire two shelves in my home library. Do I need all of them? No. Do they all spark joy? Not really. Some do, like my father’s. But what of the family tree neatly chronicled in Uncle-what-his-face’s Bible? I may not have ever met him, but man, that handwritten tree is historic.

As I read through the specifications of the KonMari method, I began to question my recent decision to save in a special box all the Christmas cards we receive each year. My original thought process was that someday a future generation will stumble upon and untie the box, and fully enjoy the found faces of babies, now grown or gone, or notes that at the time were quickly jotted – “pray for us during the shutdown!” – that have since become museum-worthy.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t note that sometimes items saved don’t just fail to bring joy, they actually bring great sadness.

And yet … in that sadness there is a memory we would never choose to purge.

The clothes of my first son, gone now for over two decades.

A red rose saved from my father’s casket.

A photo of a broken-out window, leftover from a marriage gone horribly wrong.

These are things that remind us who we are, where we’ve been, how we’ve loved and been loved. Of how we were once brought low but then rose up by virtue of a strength we otherwise might forget we have, and by a God we learned would always be there, no matter how bad things might get.

So while I say tidy up! Declutter! Fold your socks until they are perfect rectangles that stand on end! I also say keep. Remember. Hold tight.

Because what’s important doesn’t always spark joy.

What sparks joy doesn’t always do so for the best of reasons.

And the space we want to see decluttered might be better off overflowing with what will later bring joy to someone we’ll never meet, tell a story in need of telling, teach a lesson in need of teaching, or lift someone from the ashes of despair as they see historic proof of struggles overcome and the life-affirming work of a still-speaking God.

Our spaces are not necessarily ours to keep, and it isn’t just our personal joy we’re responsible for sparking. So as you hold each object in your hands, waiting for it to speak to you, listen not just for yourself, but for the generations yet to come.

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Cuddles’ So-called Life

I almost ignored it.

I was raking thatch out back, watching the kids pretend long, fallen branches left over from winter storms were light sabers, and our willow tree Darth Vader. Vader had won this battle and the kids were headed in, the youngest crying at his loss, when I saw something shimmery and black wiggle a little in the grass. I thought for a second it was a trick of the light, but then remembered the baby copperhead we found a couple of months ago and figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

Three steps later and I was staring at a mostly naked baby mouse, no mama mouse in sight.

I had no idea what to do. It was too young and cute for me to have the typical “mouse” reaction, and besides, it was barely breathing, let alone moving. What could it possibly do?

I dropped my rake and ran in, calling for the kids to come outside. Aaron resisted at first, still crying but now sitting at the kitchen island. “But Aaron,” I said. “It’s a baby mouse!”

If that mouse does nothing else in its entire life, it can always say it stopped a four-year-old’s tears.

The three of us went to look, the kids getting too close, while I went through the various scenarios in my head.

We couldn’t kill it. And we couldn’t keep it. And we couldn’t just dump it over the fence and make it someone else’s problem. Maybe drive it to a field and let it go? No. It was too little; it would die.

I decided to call Andy, who was still at work, but thankfully his office is in our basement so he didn’t have far to travel when I said, “Come to the backyard ASAP, please.”

He didn’t know what to do, either.

“If we leave it alone its mom might come back,” he said.

“No.” I’ve worked with neglected children long enough to see the signs, even in a 5-inch long rodent. “It’s been abandoned. It’s going to die.”

We took pictures. We hemmed and hawed. We told the kids not to get too close or to touch. We shushed all the pleadings to take on a new pet.

“I’m making an executive decision,” Andy said.

I immediately got nervous. I don’t do executive decision too well, unless I’m the executive.

“We’re leaving it alone to see if its mom comes back. I’ll check on it in a couple of hours.”

We agreed and went in the house, but went straight to the window overlooking the shiny, black, clearly dying lump of almost-hairlessness in our backyard.

I started dinner.

The kids and Andy played Uno.

The dog wanted out.

“Oh no. He might eat the mouse.”

“He wouldn’t eat a mouse.”

“He tried to eat the copperhead.”

“Yeah, but snakes are tasty.”

“Andy…”

“Well, Winston eating it might save the mouse from something worse.”

Rachel started screaming.

“I’m also worried about Winston bringing mouse-mouth into the house!”

“Oh, right.”

Rachel was still screaming.

“We aren’t going to let him eat the mouse, Rachel. Sit at the window to play cards. If Winston gets near the mouse tell me and I’ll get him.”

Winston didn’t eat the mouse. He didn’t even try to.

I kept cooking and they kept playing cards. Every 5 to 10 minutes, one of us would check on the mouse to see if it was still breathing. It always was.

As I cooked I thought, what are we doing? This is crazy. A month from now I’d try to kill that mouse if I saw it. We have mouse traps in our basement for crying out loud. And babies are always cute. Then they grow up and turn into adults and sometimes become completely unlikeable.

But still.

This was a baby. Its eyes were still closed. It wriggled and writhed in the grass, clearly rooting for its mama and her milk.

I called Petco.

“No, we don’t take wild animals. Sorry.”

I called our vet.

“No, we don’t take wild animals. Sorry.”

I started to say thank you and hang up.

“But let me give you a number,” I heard just in time. I wrote it down, but it was 4:55 on a Friday. What could be done?

I called the number anyway and got a woman’s voicemail telling me she was only accepting baby birds on a limited basis. She didn’t mention mice, I thought, so that must mean she’s taking them in droves. Score! I left a message.

We ate. We checked the mouse. We told the kids to eat. We checked the mouse. We finished dinner. We checked the mouse. We started to pick up. The phone rang.

It was the limited-number-of-birds lady.

“Sure. It won’t be the only mouse I’ve ever raised.”

She told me where to go – a town 30 minutes away. On a Friday. At rush hour. Right before the kids’ bedtime. And those kids also need baths.

But still.

She told me how to transport it safely. How to warm it if it were cold to the touch. How to cup it in my hands and rub life into it and give it sugar water in just the tiniest amounts because otherwise I could drown it.

I donned gloves. I filled a Tupperware with Kleenex. I grabbed a dipping bowl and medicine syringe and headed out back, the kids begging to do the work for me.

I noticed it had rained while we were eating. The mouse was now even slicker, shinier. Colder.

I scooped it into my hands.

“It’s a boy!” I said to the three people gaping at me through our open living room window.

I carried it inside. I laid it in its box. I let the kids touch it, ever so gently. I dribbled sugar water into its mouth.

“Was he cold when you touched it?” I asked the kids. They nodded.

Well crap.

I would now incubate a mouse.

And it worked. Slowly he started to wiggle more in my hands. His heartbeat became stronger. He twitched his little mouth and drank the sugar water. His ears – once flattened against his head – were somewhat softer. Perkier. After a few more minutes, he wriggled more. Became ever more alive. And I didn’t want to put him down. Feeling that life come into fuller being in the palm of my hand was … miraculous. Somewhat indescribable, although not entirely.

Eventually I put him in the Tupperware, leaving one corner open just like the limited-birds woman told me.

“Y’all better hurry. She said time was of the essence.”

But still I stood there, plastic box, tissue paper, and life grasped in my hand.

I told Rachel that she was the mouse keeper. She would have to be the one to keep him safe during the thirty-minute Hanauer Medi-Vac trip. Her smile was huge.

Aaron, however, sat at the table, sad.

“Should I take him?” Andy mouthed to me, gesturing slightly towards Aaron.

“Why not? It’s Friday. May as well.”

I said good-bye to Cuddles, placing him safely in the van, Rachel’s keen eye watching the whole time.

I turned to go in and saw a box against the garage. A delivery.

Well crap again. I knew already what was in it.

Inside, I grabbed the scissors, sliced open the box, and saw before me peppermint oil – mice don’t like it – and mouse traps. Ordered two days ago, BC: Before Cuddles. Before I became an incubator.

Earth Day is tomorrow. The next day is Sunday. I could hear the Sunday School lesson forming in my head as I stared at those traps, then realized I wasn’t teaching that week. What a shame. I’m sure there’s a lesson in this somewhere.

Just as I sat down to post this, the phone rang. I noticed the call was coming from the town 30 minutes away.

“Hello?”

“Do you have a cat?”

It’s the bird lady.

“No, just a dog.”

“Well, he’s a bunny.”

“My dog?”

“No, the mouse. He’s a bunny.”

Of course he is.

Liquid Paper and Solo Parenting: A PSA

I used to write about my kids and their fiascos all the time. There was the Habitot catastrophe, the Lutheran calamity, and the swim class crisis, to name just a few. But lately, there hasn’t been that much to write about. Well, there was the alter-altercation, in which the kids began slapping each other around in front of the whole congregation during the children’s sermon… That resulted in Andy walking to the front of the church, picking Rachel up (not that she was the most culpable, it was just who he chose) and moving her to the other side of the pastor and gaggle of well-behaved kids. She immediately stood up and moved right back to where she was before—sitting by and hitting Aaron—which all but about two people (guess who?) in the entire church found hilarious.Children's Sermon

Anyway, the fiascos are of a more ongoing type these days, and mainly consist of the kids hitting, pushing, and yelling at one another. And even that has almost stopped thanks to our new parenting method, which involves so much talking through things and compromising that I’m usually hoarse by 10am.

But today… today was a fiasco the likes of which I haven’t seen in I don’t know… two months, maybe?

I showered. That was my first mistake. We don’t have any real plans today, and I’m flying solo while Andy gets to do fun things like enjoy the all-you-can-eat dining hall at Wheaton. But Rachel was sewing and Aaron was watching Trotro and I promised myself I’d hurry. Giving in to my I-want-to-feel-human self, I took a shower.

About 1 minute before I would be all done and head downstairs to check on the kids, Rachel came running in.

“Mama! Mama! You know the stuff, the mistake stuff? Aaron has it! And he painted my hands with it and it’s everywhere!”

I, of course, had no idea what she was talking about and also couldn’t see her hands see because I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

“What are you talking about? Where is your sewing needle? Your scissors? We need to get downstairs immediately!”

She thrust her hands in front of my face.

“No! The white stuff you use if you make a mistake… the stuff we aren’t supposed to touch!”

I saw the white on her hands, now only an inch from my eyeballs. Crap. He had the Liquid Paper. “It’s everywhere,” she had said. My wool rugs, newish-couches, the dog’s fur… all sorts of visions went through my head.

So we ran. Ran pell-mell through the bedroom and hall, down the steps and into the kitchen, where I found an entire bottle of Liquid Paper dumped on the floor, and white kid-size-11 footprints trailing from the kitchen to the living room, while the culprit stood in the middle of the sticky, rapidly drying puddle, clearly happy with himself.

After wiping both kids’ feet, I assessed the damage and found, thankfully, that other than a few white streaks on the couch (it’s under warranty!), the bulk of damage was only on the wood floor. Bullet dodged, or so I thought.

Liquid Paper 1

After about 30 minutes of scrubbing the worst spot.

People, Liquid Paper is some serious business. If I ever want to keep a secret from the NSA, I now know exactly how to do it. Almost NOTHING can get through well-placed white out. Trust me, I know.

I tried hot water, a plastic knife, my fingernails, 409, Goo Gone (I thought I had a winner there, but nope. It just made white swirls on the floor), hardwood cleaner, a mop, a rag, a bigger rag, and Rachel’s fingernails (hey, she offered!). All this gave me was a bunch of dirty laundry, a back- and elbow ache, broken nails, and a floor covered in swishy stuff. So I did what all good moms do when faced with a housekeeping stumper: I Googled it.

Liquid Paper 2

She wanted to help!

It’s Google, so the answer came up within nanoseconds. I didn’t even click any of the links, but just read the little snippets to find my salvation: WD-40, baby. That’s the only thing that’ll cut right through the atrocity that is Liquid Paper.

Liquid Paper 3

After 409, Goo Gone, fingernails, a mop, and one round of WD-40.

So, WD-40 it was. It stank, it still took an additional hour or more to clean (took about 2.5 hours total), and, as you may have guessed by now, it made my floors about as safe as speed walking in flip flops on straight up ice.

“Don’t walk on it, guys. It’s slick.”

Despite having used my serious voice, with three minutes they had both forgotten, and Rachel shot right across the worse patch to get a pony off the steps (of course). That resulted in a bruised tailbone and lots of tears, as well as a little brother who thought that he’d just witnessed the coolest thing ever. I could see him planning his Tom-Cruise-sock-slide even as Rachel howled in pain.

So I got super hot water from the on-demand tap and began to scrub.

It didn’t help.

At this point my house shoes may as well have been slathered in Crisco, so I took them off. This, of course, turned my “special” socks into a greasy mess, so I took them off, too. Prior to this my back had ached and elbows throbbed, while my hands cracked and nails split in two. Now I had the added benefit of aching feet and swollen legs. I was not a pretty sight, and if things didn’t change, I’d be cleaning the floor right through ‘til bedtime.

“Kids,” I said. “I have no other choice. I’ll have to tea-kettle it.”

Tea-kettling is a trick I use for things like Popsicle drips all over the deck, pee on the front steps, or cleaning off the remnants of dead birds that show up at the back door. Rather than drag out the hose, I boil a kettle full of water then dump it right on the offending substance. Boiling water is the only thing that will cut through ant-attracting sugar, take the wafting odor from stinky things, and undo the slick from a floor ravaged by kids and saved only through the use of harsh and oily chemicals.

“Stand back, kids. This is going to be hot.”

Aaron moves closer.

“Aaron, it’ll splash. Move back!”

He takes maybe half a step back and does his shivery little thing he does when he’s trying to pretend he’s nervous.

Kids safely enough away, I pour the steaming water on the slickest, still white-speckled spot. I stand on a towel and began to move my feet around to wipe the mess.

“Hot! Hot!” The boiling water, of course, seeps right through the towel and onto my now-bare feet. The kids are both worried and amused by this.

I shuffle down the hall, pouring boiling water onto the hardwood floor then sashaying over it with a towel, until I get all the way to the last little kid-sized-11 footprint. Pour, slide. Pour, slide. Then I do it all over again in the opposite direction. Pour, slide. Pour, slide. I do this again and again until finally the floor is only moderately dangerous. There’s only so much one person can do.

During all this, one child was asking for cheese toast, the other for chocolate milk. Somehow the dog’s food ended up in his water bowl, and cracker crumbs found their way into just-vacuumed couch cushions. Ponies were stolen, fought over and reclaimed, clothes that were once on a child’s body somehow didn’t remain that way.

When it was all said and done, I decided I would eat chocolate at some point today, despite having had a slice of chocolate mouse cheesecake with double whipped cream from The Cheesecake Factory yesterday. Maybe I’d even make some decaf and make the kids go somewhere—anywhere—else so I could write this and recuperate.

While I haven’t had my chocolate or coffee quite yet, this PSA has been written. The morals of this story are many: sometimes, on those days when you feel in your gut it probably isn’t a good idea, skip the shower. If you shower anyway, make it a 3-minute-or-less one. And when Liquid Paper gets on your porous hardwood floors, go straight for the WD-40 and Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. You’re going to need them.

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Our New Life With Lupus

This is not a lupus* blog, and it will not become one. It is a blog, however, about my faith and my family (among other things). As such, it only makes sense that I might, on occasion, write about our new Life With Lupus (LWL).

I don’t know a lot yet about LWL. My dad had it, and passed away from it, so I guess I knew a little going into this. Don’t worry! I don’t imagine my fate will be the same, and I don’t want to pretend oh-so-dramatically that I think that. In the last ten years lupus treatment has grown by leaps and bounds, and 80-90% of those with lupus have a normal life expectancy.

Does that mean Lupus doesn’t suck? Um, no.

Because it does. It sucks a lot. Not every day, but many days. And even when it doesn’t suck, per se, it does impact each day in some way, whether big or small.

There are a lot of things that come along with a diagnosis (finally! A diagnosis!): relief, mourning, anger, denial, frustration, disbelief, etc. It’s really the seven stages of grief. I think I’m in the acceptance stage now because I’ve decided that I can be open about it, and even write about it here.

Honestly, there’s some very good stuff that comes from a diagnosis of a serious chronic illness. I signed up recently for a Lupus support website, and it asks all new members to answer questions for their profile. One question is, “Knowing what I know now, what I recommend to others is…”

My answer?

Love your kids, your partner, your parents, your friends. Love yourself. Love your neighbors, the homeless guy on the street, the business exec on the street, and everyone in between. Learn to say, “there’s no rush,” and truly mean it. Learn to say “no.” Learn to say “yes” when possible, but give the caveat that you might just have to flake. Flake if needed. REDUCE STRESS. Use your community; they truly want to help. Never take them for granted or misuse their help. Find a good rheumatologist, but always do your own research. You can diagnosis in 2 days of googling what might take even the best rheumy three months to diagnose. That said, beware of the internet and what you Google. Take pictures of rashes, swelling, hairballs, splinter hemorrhages and anything else you can. Because, of course, the day of your long-awaited appointment everything will clear up and you won’t be able to make your case. Download the “My Pain Diary” app, and use it not for pain, per se, but for all the other medical things you need to keep up with. Eat right, exercise, rest, and stay positive.

 Sure, there are things I could add (many things!), but these are the bones of it.

I’ve had a lot of loss in life, and so I always assume that I’m already living life pretty well aware of its importance and fleeting nature. I get on my little kids’ level and look them in the eye when they speak. I don’t giggle and brush away the silly things they take seriously; there are too few years they will be honest enough to say what they think, and perhaps even fewer years that they’ll care what I say in response. I try to ignore my cell phone and computer when they’re home (goodness, the two little ones are home a lot!), and I try to drop little tidbits from the past, my past, into the life of my oldest. Someday they will want to know it all; no use beating around too many bushes. I try to have dance parties, and not sweat the small stuff, and have lots of white space so “I don’t have time” are four words I seldom have to say. Do I always succeed? Of course not.

My point here is that I thought I already fully realized and appreciated the time I have here on Earth. But let me just say that there is nothing like hearing certain words from a doctor to make you really realize and appreciate the fleeting nature of things.

That sounds awfully serious given medical advances and that the numbers are significantly on my side. But that’s neither here nor there in the late night and early morning hours when one’s mind turns from all the rational things we focus on during the more civilized hours, to all the irrational things we pretend we’re too grounded to think about.

Because really, we aren’t that grounded. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Perspective shifts. Hermeneutics readjust. And yes, love and appreciation and faith grow.

Most mornings my little kids and I sing Rise and Shine together to get our days going. Often we follow it up by singing Psalm 118:24:

This is the day that the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

These are the words I will bind to their wrists and put upon their foreheads. These are the words I will live.


* SLE in my case (and my dad’s)

There are tons of resources online, but here are a few:

http://www.lupus.org

http://www.mollysfund.org

http://www.lupusny.org/about-lupus/lupus-links

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Heavenly Treasures

Today I have the pleasure of writing for my friend, Lindsey Smallwood. I wrote this over a year ago, as we prepared for our move to Maryland. I’m happy to say I’ve learned my lesson, but it did take a while. We’re all a work in progress…

You can read the post here, at Lindsey’s excellent blog.

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

Give it a Rest, Already.

What started as sniffles turned into a full-blown, wear-your-bathrobe-all-day cold. Nonetheless, I knew I would have no break from childcare, housework, or client demands. My husband pitched in more than usual, and I allowed the kids extra TV time. Otherwise, I plowed on, my “sick days” looking barely different than any other day—save for doses and doses of meds and piles of tissues.

According to Jessica Turner, author of the new book The Fringe Hours, and Brigid Schulte, author of New York Times bestseller Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, my response is the norm for women today. Both write how women have become so caught up in today’s quest to have and do it all that their bodies, minds, and souls have forgotten how to engage in of “me time,” self-care, and leisure, even when they need it most.

We desperately need to be refreshed. Or even just a nap.

Overwhelmed begins with a disbelieving scene: sociologist and time expert John Robinson exams a time journal Schulte has meticulously kept for a year and half. Schulte sees an over-busy and burdened schedule without even a minute to spare on herself; Robinson sees hours upon hours of what he deems leisure time. “Women have… at least 30 hours of leisure time each week,” he states, the implication being that they simply don’t know how to find or use it. He points to two hours Schulte spent waiting on a tow truck when her car broke down and calls it leisure time. The same for the 20 minutes she spent listening to the radio one morning while struggling to get out of bed. As infuriating as this may seem, when your life is inevitably bound to be busy and overscheduled, those periods matter.

It’s exactly those spots of not-quite-downtime that Turner, a working, blogging mother of three, embraces in her book The Fringe Hours. There are “little pockets of time throughout the day that often go underused or are wasted altogether,” she said. “If not intentionally redeemed, [these] fringe hours slip thorough one’s fingers like sand.”

You can read the rest of today’s post at Her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women.

I’m Sorry–I Just Don’t Like Your Shoes (or Tupac)

When I was in my late twenties and, after a several years’ long, self-imposed dating hiatus, decided to start dating again, I created a firm set of criteria for men:

Good shoes
Good taste in music
Liberal politics
A little older than or the same age as me

There were deeper things as well, of course, such as matters of the soul, heart, brain, and spirit. But shoes, music, politics, age… those were the immediate first impression items that would make or break the possibility of a first date.

I recall getting an email from my son’s baseball coach, Steve, sometime soon after I reached this dating decision. Steve wrote in his email that the team would be getting a new assistant coach (AC) in a few weeks, that right now the new guy was traveling in Africa but would have a lot to offer the kids upon his return. Steve said something (I don’t remember what) in the email that made me realize this new coach was probably my age and the question flitted, unbidden—unwanted even—across my mind: was Africa Guy a dating possibility?

I promise it really was a fleeting thought. I still wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to date, and I don’t recall thinking of it again. Not until I first saw Andy, anyway.

I could tell as soon as I pulled into the parking lot that the new AC had finally arrived. I saw him standing by third base, separated by only a chain link fence and a few feet of dirt from where I would be sitting. He was tall(ish) and thin, but that’s all I could tell from my car. Minutes later, as I climbed onto the bleachers to watch practice, I took advantage of my dark sunglasses and close proximity to take a closer look.

Ugh.

Bad shoes. Terrible, even. Beat up sneakers, laces dragging in the dirt. Just really, really bad.

Oh well. I wasn’t really looking anyway.

If your child has ever been on a travel team, you know that travel teams require a lot of practices, games, and, well, traveling. Parents become very close during these months of game playing and road tripping and hotel staying, and at the end of the traveling season as everyone says goodbye with empty promises to stay in touch over the break, you can’t help but feel a void where those parents had been for so many months, day in and day out, whether you wanted them there or not.

During these forced but somehow magical months together, I was surprised to find myself strategically maneuvering into whatever car this ugly-shoed guy was riding in to whatever hot-as-heck town it was we were headed to at 5am on a Sunday morning. I was even more surprised when I later realized he was doing the same thing.

During these weekend drives, I came to find out that this guy has (present tense) HORRIBLE taste in music, clothes, and shoes, and that he’s five years younger than me. In fact, I found that the only first-impression criterion he met is that he’s liberal. Very, very liberal. (also present tense)

But I also found out that he loves kids and practicing random acts of kindness, is crazy intelligent, and that my son adored him. That I was kind of starting to adore him, too.

If you’re anything like me in this kind of situation, you may agree to go on a first date that turns out to be really lame, but for some crazy reason feel in your heart that a second date is in order. And then a third. And so on and so forth until one day, crazy upon crazy, you find yourself walking down the aisle towards this man who wears very bad shoes and doesn’t even know who the Misfits are.

I promise you, this is what you might find. Of course, you might not. But you might.

And a few years down the line, you may realize that sometimes it really does make things kind of tough that you can’t share musical references, that you sometimes feel a little too irksome over something as shallow as shoes, and that, on occasion, you will make a joke that he is too young to get.

It isn’t a one-way street, of course. Being forced during kitchen clean up time to listen to honkey tonk, British folk, or screaming once-twenty-year-old punk rockers who are now in their 40s and 50s with saggy tattoos probably isn’t too fun either.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to lie and say that these things end up not mattering. They do matter and, yes, it adds a few complications to the already-complicated institution of marriage when husband and wife don’t share some things in common. But it would also be unfair of me to act like these things matter-matter. Because they don’t. 

I’m not incredibly old, and I haven’t been married an incredibly long time. But I’m willing to bet that marriage, like the rest of life, happens in stages. In the early stages you simply don’t care about anything other than the overwhelming newlywed love you feel towards one another. In the tired middle years—which is where my husband and I now reside—you care about who takes out the garbage and gets up with the baby. During the initial empty-nest stage, I imagine you might want to be with someone you don’t mind sitting with in a too-quiet and kid-lonely house. Bonus points if you can hit the RV with that person and travel to places unknown without killing each other. And I’ll bet that during all of the stages of marriage, the infamous notion of a helpmeet comes into play far more than my 25-year-old self would ever have wanted to admit. If you aren’t familiar with the notion of a helpmeet, don’t google it. All I mean is: spouses who help one another. A wife who moves across the country for her husband’s job. A husband who endures four-hours of sleep each night for month’s on end so his wife can get some recuperative rest. Partners who, together, agree to tackle finances and kids (not literally) and heartbreaking 2am phone calls and bouts of occasional melancholy.

Shoes and music and even age matter so little when you get a call from the principal’s office. Or the hospital. Or the police.

You know this to be true when you stop to think about it, but thinking in the face of a first impression or first date is typically not done. In fact, I’m willing to bet we’re at our stupidest during the heady early months of dating.

If you’re in those stupid months right now, or hope soon to be, my “old and married” advice for you on this once-religious-now-Hallmark-secular holiday we call Valentine’s Day would be to not get too hung up on the particulars of things you’re not even going to have time for later in life anyway (trust me, you won’t. Unless by “music” you mean the Frozen soundtrack and by “shoes” you mean slippers.) I could see age being an important factor in some instances, but even age may not be as important as you think. I can’t really speak to the politics part of it since that particular assistant coach and I ended up being on (mostly) the same page. I can, however, point you to James Carville and Mary Matalin, who are apparently still very much in love. I don’t really know any other examples of polar political opposites, so take what you will from their odd little union.

My “old and married” love note for my husband this Valentine’s Day will not overflow with flowery and poetic language, but rather will convey the simplest but most important of sentiments: Thank you.

I will write:

Dear Africa/Assistant Coach/Bad Shoe Guy,

Thank you for helping me so much and meeting my needs. For letting me roll my eyes at your clothes and ask you to turn your music down, especially if I’m trying to cook. For sighing when you don’t get a 1970’s punk reference, and for teasing you when you try to pretend that you do. Thank you for using your exaggerated Mark Twain accent to tell our little girl stories of a “Mr. Goldwater who in 1964 went home to fish due to one Mr. Johnson, who probably should’ve been fishing, too.” For getting our oldest concerned with sovereign debt issues, and for getting our youngest to occasionally wear pants. Thank you for loving me, neuroses and bad hair days and all.

If there’s anyone in this world I want to have so little in common with but so much love for, it’s you.

(You can read last year’s Valentine’s Day post here.)