How Do You Know When You’re Ready to Get Married?

Marriage tends to be a popular topic this time of year—June is the busiest month for tying the knot—but earlier this month marriage made the news among evangelical circles for surprising reasons. The first was an article from Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church and wife of Rick Warren, in which she confessed she and her husband had spent many years living out a marital hell. The second came from Lysa Terkeurst, President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, when she announced that she was divorcing her husband of 25 years due to infidelity and substance abuse.

Reading honest depictions of the struggles of marriage from two women who, from the outside, seem to have both the marriage and spiritual living thing all figured out, is not just refreshing, it’s essential: Those who are dating and considering marriage need to know that marriage is a long road, filled with both joy and sorrow, pain and healing and that, sometimes, there is no happily ever after.

In other words, marriage is not an institution for the faint of heart or weak of spirit. So what if you’ve met the partner of your dreams, and the two of you are beginning to talk about the “M” word? It’s important to know if you’re truly prepared to tie the knot and give your best toward a healthy, happy marriage for decades to come.

But how do you know when you’re ready, let alone when your partner is? Read my five signs for marriage readiness at Relevant Magazine.

Things That Are and Could Have Been

She—my baby girl Rachel—so badly wants babies. And we tell her: go to college, get married, have babies, in that order. She’s cool with this (she’s five), but the problem is: she really doesn’t like boys. Except her big brother, and sometimes her dad, and even less often her little brother. Boys, she says, are the losing team. They stink, and have too much body hair, and if they nursed babies it would be dirt-milk. So how to achieve her goal of motherhood? This, I want to tell her, is a problem women have faced for centuries.

She informed us tonight at dinner that men aren’t necessary for the birth of babies. My husband took umbrage at this and sought my support in convincing our daughter otherwise. I cocked my eye at him and said, “That’s a fine line, dear. She’s talking about carrying the baby inside and giving birth and nursing it. Do you really want to cross that line and tell her just exactly how it is that men contribute?” That put an end to that, and our daughter remains convinced that mamas are all that are needed. A lot of mamas think this too, and it’s kind of dragging us womenfolk down, all this hard work of going at life and parenting alone.

I should know: I did the single parent thing for right at twelve years. Technically I was married for about 18 months of those 12 years, but not in such a way that anyone would’ve noticed. Overall, those single years were some of the happiest of my life. My son makes for a wonderful life companion and I am the most introverted of introverts so being alone kind of suited me. But while happy, those years were also extremely, extremely hard. Like Chris Rock says, “Sure, you can be a single mom, but should you be?” It depends, of course, so I’ll just leave that one alone. Too many caveats.

I remember this girl from law school who was pretty much the most anti-marriage woman I’d ever met outside of a punk club. “It’s the worst contract for women ever! It’s killing us and bringing us down! We’re losing our selves, our careers, our potential!” And so on and so forth. That (wonderful) woman is now happily married with two kids and often posts Pinterest-worthy photos of homemade crafts on her Facebook page. She also is now “self-employed,” which we female lawyer-types know is really shorthand for “I want more flexibility than the jerks who run law firms (and some non-profits) will let me have.”

There is also the infamous case of Gloria Steinem who said women need men like fish need a bicycle (as in, not at freakin’ all). She is now married as well. I’m not sure if she’s happy or not because I haven’t checked. But regardless.

My personal ambivalence towards marriage could be because my first marriage was such an abomination. It was full of abuse, affairs, bar fights, and lots of drugs, none of which were perpetrated, had, started, or used by me. The innocent party stands highly wronged here, and though I’ve reached a level of forgiveness, the PTSD is a little harder to shake. What did come from that first marriage are two of the most beautiful people God ever created, and lots of what some might call “wisdom,” but only because it’s stuff I learned before the age of fifty; to anyone over fifty it’s mere common knowledge.

For some Godforsaken reason I decided to get marriage at fifteen. I think being pregnant had something to do with it. My parents yelled and screamed and forbade the marriage (as they should have), but his parents were gleeful and facilitated the whole shebang. I realize now the reasons for this were many. One, they were happy that their oldest son, whom they worried about greatly, had found a gentle and God-fearing partner who could influence him for good. Two, seeing as how I was pregnant, and that they were fundamentalists Christian types in a kindly and charismatic spirit-led sort of way, they figured we better make things legal to please Jesus.

So off we went in the middle of the night in an old Mustang that ended up stranding us halfway to the airport. Me, scared, pregnant, and hungry. Him, just happy to be doing something frowned upon by the establishment.

That baby, the one making me hungry, is the one who later died at not quite one year old. But even after that the ex and I stayed together and soon had another baby. That baby is now eighteen, in college, and the love of my life. Without him—as I often say while loving and hugging him hard—I’d probably have wound up in a cardboard box somewhere, spanging and dumpster diving with a tear tattooed on my face.

But instead, I’m here.

In case I haven’t mentioned it thus far, let me now say with emphasis: things happen for a reason. So I try not to even question it, this voluptuously curvaceous life, choosing instead to marvel at the mundane, squint so as not to bat my eyes at the ironic and absurd, and keep focused on the faithful, such as finding myself squarely in these middle years, strangely, dizzily, ironically, married.

Again.

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.)

Shrimp-tutionalized

Knowing that I just moved to the area and am searching for kid friendly ways to Get Out Of The House, a friend told me about a local swim class she attends with her two little ones. If I remember correctly, the conversation went something like this:

“You know, there’s this great swim class we take the kids to—“

“Did you say swim class?”

“Yeah, it isn’t far, and it’s relatively inexp—“

“I HATE swim classes for kids. They are TORTURE. Let me tell you….”

I went on from there, probably for a good thirty minutes, disparaging every swim class between here and Berkeley.

I’m sure I appeared both selfish (or at least a bad listener) and crazy (or at least slightly obsessed), but being selfish and/or crazy doesn’t make it any less true that my experience with kids’ swim classes is one of misery.

In the funny way life has of being weird and coincidental, shortly after that heated one-way exchange, I was searching for an old email and accidentally stumbled instead upon an email I sent Andy in 2010, detailing every painful moment of one of Rachel’s first forays into Shrimp-dom:

Today’s Shrimp class was soooo not worth it. You know how it starts at 10am, ends at 10:30am, and then it takes until approximately 11:45am to get both of Rachel and me dried off, showered, dried off again, and re-dressed? Well today I had a definite plan for how I was going to reduce that time to about 20 minutes. Seriously. Of course, I failed miserably, and I ended up driving home in my wet swimsuit.

The five other moms and babies in class seem to have it all figured out. The moms put the younger babies (6-8 months) on towels on the changing benches, and the moms with older babies stand them up in the little closed off area the benches make. One mom even gets her seven-month-old to sit on a towel the whole time. Amazing. When I try any of these things, Rachel: 

  1.  falls down
  2.  crawls on the icky floor
  3.  cries
  4.  all of the above

The mom with the seven-month-old who sits on a towel without moving saw me struggling to keep Rachel from crawling away and said, “does she know the word ‘stop?’”

“No.”

 “Oh. Well what about ‘Red Light?”

Uh, no. She’s seven months old. She thinks ‘no’ is the funniest word she’s ever heard and has not a freaking clue what a red light is. I told the women this and she smiled like she felt really sorry for me and my obvious incompetence.

This was when I decided to wear wet clothes home.

I put Rachel in the stroller and she immediately started crying and reaching up for me. Okay. Rachel out and gym bag, diaper bag, and purse in. I pushed the stroller to the elevator with one hand. This did not go well. You know how the stroller alignment is all screwed up? Well, there’s an old-person class right after the Shrimp class, and I was forced to dodge canes and walkers lest I take some old lady down. I got a lot of glares. That was especially true when I couldn’t figure out how to push the stroller with one hand while carrying Rachel and her Froggie blanket through the swinging gate to leave. The gate swings IN, which is just plain stupid, but everyone looked at me like I was the stupid one.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so disorganized: no makeup, hair half wet/half in a ponytail/half in a bun, wet swim suit soaking my clothes, one hand busy knocking down old people with my run-away-stroller, the other hand struggling to carry a grumpy baby and her Froggie blanket, all while wearing disgusting, soggy sweats as I walked the two blocks to the parking garage where I was parked on the sixth floor. Rachel freaked out as soon as I put her in the car seat, so I had to drive all the way home with my left hand while my right hand was twisted behind me holding a bottle for Rachel. I could see a mom in a minivan behind me laughing as I drove down the garage ramp.

I’ll admit that one reason I felt so incompetent is because I’m used to being the one who has it all together. I certainly did with Collin. Collin thinks things are different with Rachel because I’m “old” now. I think it’s because I don’t co-sleep with her like I did with Collin so I get up every two hours between midnight and 6am and am too damn tired to do something like change a wet, squirming baby with one hand while sitting on a cramped, stinky pool locker room floor with five other moms and their kiddos watching me, waiting to see if I’ll screw up.

Anyway, finally Rachel fell asleep in the car. Yay! We were almost home and since it wasn’t yet 1pm, Collin would be asleep, too. I figured I’d get something hot to eat, maybe write you an email about today’s Shrimp fiasco, and then take a long hot shower.

Uh, no.

Rachel did stay asleep, but as soon as I got home Collin let Bella-dog out of his room, so she started barking and whining and Winston-dog started trying to rough house with her, then Collin turned his techno music &!*$ up really loud and the bass started thumping the half of the house I wanted to relax in. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my hot food and drink, so I went straight to the shower, desperate to get in there before Collin came upstairs and started running his day’s plans by me, such as, “can I experiment with smoking tree bark today? Can I drive the minivan to Taco Bell? Can I go to a girl’s house while her parents aren’t home and she’s having a pillow-fight-pajama party?” Honestly though, at this point I would have said yes to all those things just to get some peace and quiet in the house while Rachel was still sleeping.

Anyway, I finally managed to shower. Ready to recover from my horrible morning, I sat down at the computer with coffee and homemade blueberries muffins slathered with butter. Of course, that’s when Collin walked in and said, “Andy wants me to check my email right now.” Crap, crap, crap. So I turned on Martha Stewart, which I almost never watch, and guess what? It was one I had already seen.

Maybe someday I’ll re-write this to make it touching or funny or something more than what it is, but for right now, I just needed to get this off my chest.

Shrimp class sucks.

Author’s notes: if the person who advised me on a great local swim class is reading this (and I assume she is because I’m going to tag her on FB), now you know I am neither selfish nor crazy. I am, quite simply, still in Shrimp-covery.

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Why He Should Get Up With the Baby While I Sleep

One of the things I’m most grateful for in the parenting arrangement my husband and I have worked out is that he’s the one who gets up with the baby. There are several reasons for this (such as the fact that I usually can’t fall back asleep for hours), but the primary reason is because I stay home with the kids.

I know this arrangement may seem counterintuitive and maybe even a little unfair: He has to put on dress clothes and uncomfortable shoes and interact with actual human beings all day, whereas I can wear PJs from start to finish while eating lots of chocolate and fatty foods to get myself through until bedtime (yes, yes. I KNOW that’s a bad idea). I can usually put my paid work off until a better day, and things like laundry and dishes are done on a self-imposed deadline. But really, it makes a lot of sense and is more “fair” overall for everyone involved (because let’s be honest: so much of marriage comes down to discussions over what’s “fair” or not. It’s like a never-ending kindergarten battle over who had what toy first.)

Why is it more fair?

Because if the parent who stays home with the kids doesn’t sleep (be it the mom or the dad), multiple family members pay the cost:

  • The kids may get put in front of the TV too much, which will lead to brain rot and keep them from someday joining the ranks of contributing members of society (otherwise known as “Really Useful Engines”);
  • The kids may get disciplined instead of redirected, which will lead to absurdly high therapy bills, both for us and for their future families. Reducing tax-deductible medical costs is good both for our checkbook as well as for the national debt;
  • The kids may get snapped—or even yelled at—for minor, un-snap, un-yell worthy things (see above);
  • Etc.

All that said, there are many reasons to let the work-outside-the-home parent sleep:

  • If s/he is an attorney or judge with a trial the next day;
  • If s/he operates motor vehicles or carnival rides for a living;
  • If s/he works at a daycare;
  • If s/he works at a nuclear power plant or the Pentagon;
  • Etc.

Before you go thinking how lucky I am, I should point out that I often get up at 4am, which is when the little guy wakes up. So oddly, although my husband’s sleep is broken into chunks (a MISERABLE way to sleep), he frequently gets more sleep than me, especially on weekends.

(Ha! Equal points, people, equal points!)

There’s also the option of switching off, which can be a great way to go since it’s “fair” for both parents and reduces (or evens out) score keeping. It tends not to work for us, but, you know, once Andy starts hallucinating, I figure it’s time I step up a bit.

I recently decided to take New Year’s resolutions a bit more seriously than in the past (I mean really? Wait until 1/1/xx to start bettering ones self? Makes no sense to me, but this year I’m giving it a go), and I’m going to try the same with Valentine’s Day. With nine days to go until the big to-do, I’m racking my brain for things I love about my husband (okay, it really isn’t THAT hard). With three kids and lots of marriage under our belts, this list has turned away from things like:

What gorgeous eyes!

He’s best writer I know!

Check out those calves!

To:

He doesn’t mind unloading the dishwasher!

He gets up with the baby!

He likes to run errands!

It’s funny how things change with a bit more of life in the (I’ll-get-to-it-someday) scrapbook. The jury’s still out, but I’m pretty sure I’ll take night wakings and unloaded silverware baskets over gorgeous eyes and a well-turned phrase any day.

On our honeymoon eons ago.

On our honeymoon eons ago.

Sometimes Love Looks Like a Poop-Filled Bag and Half-Eaten Burger

Marriage necessitates so much giving up of one’s self. I’m not very comfortable with that because I kind of like all my parts and want to keep them. I like the part of me that often wants to  be alone. I like the part of me that wants calm, cleanliness, and order at all costs. I like the part of me that wants to do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it.

But I’m finding that these parts don’t fit too well in the machine of marriage.

Instead I have to think about him and his needs, which, unfortunately, don’t always match up with mine. It’s easier to think about the kids’ needs; I’ve been putting kids first since I was fifteen. (Fifteen I tell you! Can you even imagine?) I can also do this for people to whom I am not related or married. But putting the needs of my spouse first? That is where I draw the line.

I promise you, and him, and our offspring, that I am indeed trying. I don’t take this marriage thing lightly. I mean, if I’m going to give up that expensive law degree and my girlish figure and all my wonderful, fantastic, perfect alone time with cocoa and a book, this marriage thing better work out. Because I’ll be damned if after all this sacrifice I end up changing my own diapers some day.

Today I even offered to split my bacon cheeseburger and fries right down the middle with my husband, and I hate sharing food. This bit of selfless giving on my part came about because I thought my husband didn’t want fast food, but that was only because I only gave him about six seconds to respond to my text asking if he wanted fast food, and by the time second seven came around I’d already ordered and gotten my burger from under the heat lamp.

I felt bad.

I kind of also felt unhealthy and fat even though I’m trying to gain weight right now. So I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. My husband, home sick watching The Hobbit at top volume while I worked my fingers to the bone and he pretended not to notice, declined my offer.

No matter. Now I had a point to put up on the little chalkboard in my mind. Jamie 1, Andy 827. He’d better watch out—I’m on his heels! Somewhere after my kindly act and his utter disregard, I got really snappy. I think it’s because he wanted to borrow my computer, but he has his own darn computer. He’s been saying for months now he’s going to ask his boss about getting a new one, but has he done it? Nooooo. (Note that this brings Andy down to a lowly 826 points) So this means he has to borrow my computer. The one he gave me as a gift and cost about as much as a used car. The one I pour my heart and soul into and leave my email up on, and have goofy Facebook talks with my bloggy friends on. Reminds me of my dad going through my poetry and cassette tapes, asking just what exactly it means, this album called Songs of Faith and Devotion? Faith in what? Devotion to whom? And why is that song by the Violent somethingorothers entitled Gone Daddy Gone? What does this mean, Jamie?

Bless him and his helping heart.

So anyway, Andy used it, and I gave myself half a point since I did, after all, loan it to him. I did angry, slammy things the whole time he used it maybe, or maybe I picked up poop in the backyard since it’s going to snow tomorrow and who wants to pick up half frozen/half smushy poop? And I think I seethed the whole time about how poop pick up is his job, not mine. A battle raged within me:

Yes, but he has a cold, Jamie.”

“He’s had that cold for two weeks now. One should not malinger! I gave birth with a cold! I bleach the bathtub and pre-treat whites with a cold!” And the clincher: “I cleaned the baby’s vomit as I was vomiting.” Boo yah!

But then:

You just lost a client; you have plenty of time on your hands to pick up poop.”

“You wanna’ ask me why I lost a client? Because I have to cram 26 hours of work into two-hour naps! Andy’s side of the bed is messier than mine and takes ten seconds longer to make! I do everything around here!”

Only one poop pile left now, Jamie, so you’re going to have to get over it.”

Eventually I lost to myself, and gave myself another half point, which brought the score up to a strong 826 to 2, I think.

It’s a bit after 5pm now and my tea’s gone cold. I know that Andy and the kids are almost home—picking the kids up from preschool scores Andy a whopping 200 points per child—and I’m thinking of dinner, and backpacks, and lunch box cleaning, and papers, so many papers, scattered all over my just-cleaned kitchen. And then the dishes and counters and trash, maybe the floors if I’m feeling domestic, and then the scramble to get the kiddos to bed before our backs give out.

And I’m thinking that I’m thankful, oh so thankful, that I don’t have to do all of that alone.

Why I Don’t Care About Valentine’s Day

I’ve never been a big fan of marriage.

OK, that’s not really true. I think marriage is awesome. But for me, personally, marriage is, well, hard.

I’m the introvert to end all introverts. “Alone” is my middle name. So as much as I adore my husband and can’t say enough about the wonderful things I think both the legal contract as well as the covenant before God do for individuals, society, and children*, sharing daily space with someone is a whole other story.

I struggle with this a lot, and bless my husband’s heart, he puts up with me anyway.

Over the last couple of weeks, life’s been a little tough for us. We’ve had whooping cough, possible mono, colds, and, of course, work + kids. Throughout all this, my husband has remained perfectly (inexplicably frustratingly) healthy. He’s made me bad food (sorry, sweetie), changed even more diapers than normal, and pretty much rearranged his entire schedule to be home to put the baby down for his nap so I don’t have to.

Sweet, huh? But that’s nothing new. He’s always been that kind of guy.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, after a 12-hour work day for him and a long kid day for me, I saw my husband standing in the living room, vulnerable and crumpled in his shirtsleeves, tired and leaning on a doorframe… smiling. Laughing at some absurdly bad joke of mine, loving me despite my use of the word “shirtsleeves” and having worn the same pajama pants for 14 days in a row.

After sharing a tired hug, I said good night and headed down the stairs to go to bed while he stayed up with the baby.

On about step three it hit me: I love marriage.

I love that my husband and I joke in the middle of overwhelming fatigue, the way we start singing Journey in unison when the baby cries, our code words and wiggled eyebrows in social gatherings, and the fact that no matter how bad the days get, we know that we have to keep sharing space, keep singing Journey, keep smiling for the kids. And eventually, the bad days are forgotten and we dance in the kitchen to songs my husband doesn’t like but knows I do, while the kids try to cut in because they just can’t stand not to share in the love.

Valentine’s Day isn’t really a day to celebrate marriage. At least not marriage with kids. It’s about too-expensive roses, fattening chocolate, and waiting three hours on a table at an overcrowded restaurant with a mediocre fixed menu while the teenaged babysitter racks up the big bucks and goes through the medicine cabinet.

Instead, it’s the remaining 364 days out of the year that are about celebrating marriage. The bad days, the even worse days, and the grooves worn in the floor from dancing the same steps, day in, day out, laughing at it all, and knowing the person who you sometimes can’t stand is someone you will always love.

* I’m going to ignore the fact here that, historically, the structure of the legal contract was not necessarily a good thing for women.

Happy Valentine’s Day to the love of my life. You rock.