SALT LAKE CITY — Mothering four children challenges and enriches my life. I “get” kids — their humor, their thought process and especially, their crying and whining. Maybe it’s because I remember my own wailing and worrying as a child (or was that yesterday?), but it’s not a long mental jump from me today to me 30 years ago. Call it a “gift” or natural talent, but in handling kids, I’m firm yet fun — what some might call a natural.
But with marriage? Not so much.
Twelve years ago my husband married two women — both on the same day, and both look remarkably like me (except back then I was about 10 pounds and a tummy size smaller). Sadly, he married two versions of me: Elizabeth, who is fun, goofy, witty and easy-going; and Crazy Lizzie, who is mad-eyed, hormonal, critical and petty.
I wish I could be Elizabeth all day, every day. Really I do. But, too often, Crazy Lizzie throws back the “nice mom of four who’s active in the PTA” disguise to reveal the egocentric, judgmental, know-it-all that I am trying so desperately to nail down under a hidden board in my mental basement.
Over the years I’ve learned and improved, but often there are days and moments that come along when I don’t have the firmest grip on the emotional control stick. I still slip up and forget that nowhere in my marriage ceremony did I utter the words, “I will reform, remake and retool this man to make him into the one I pictured when I was 14.”
I don’t know how many times the poor man has to hold up the "Remedial Marriage Handbook" to me and point out that on page 5 it clearly states, “Your spouse is not you. He will not talk, eat, fold, wash, think, parent or do anything the way you do.”
Because he is (ahem) not you.
Twelve years of mistakes and many nights kneeling and pleading for help has taught me skills to share with all the other un-natural wives out there:
- Boys are different from girls. I just can’t emphasize this enough. It took me a few years to figure this out, so take my word for it. This is Ta-rue! When you see your significant other behaving oddly in an undomesticated fashion, please know that he is not the first human being to behave so. There are many more like him — and they're all men. Accept. Accept and move on, my friend. Move on.
- Never let the following thought percolate in your little noggin: “Doesn’t he know_____?” The answer is no. No, a million times over. Followed by an “uh-uh” and a big nada the size of Alaska. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what you are thinking and he never will. To be perfectly honest, no one can. If you want something, you have to step up, act like an adult and talk about it. No hissy fits allowed. But, if you do, try to make it look cute instead of bratty.
- Remember all those Jane Austen movies — the ones where the actors are so intuitive, so in touch with their emotions and so willing to walk through a hail storm in a diaper, barefoot, just to tell the woman he loves that she is his one and only? (Wait, wrong movie). Well, remember all those guys with British accents that you swoon over? Remember what they look like? And remember that you never saw your husband as an actor in any of them? Well, that’s for a good reason — he is not that guy. Does it mean he loves you any less? Naw. It just means he doesn’t recite poetry by firelight (in a cute British accent) while combing your silky tresses. And that’s OK, because your tresses aren’t silky anyway. There will come a day when you will be far more impressed with his ability to change diapers, clean up puke and love you even when you hold and extra 40 pounds of baby weight. Trust me.
- You watch older couples who finish one another’s sentences and seem so comfortable with each other and wonder how that happens and how long it will take. But that precious intimacy — that closeness and comfort level when you know without looking what the other will do — takes time. And not just time, but it takes all the disagreements, the grumbling, the compromising, the laughter, the chores, the monotony, the adventures and even the tears, to mingle and marry over and over and over again to get that special closeness that you can feel in a look, in a touch, in one single word what the other might be saying. In that instant the pettiness melts away and you remember why — why you loved him in the first place and why you stay with him 12 or 40 years later. Because life with him is better than your life without him ... and because he makes killer omelets.
- It takes practice to be married. And not practice with a starter marriage and then a real marriage. It takes practice and a ginormous dose of patience, forgiveness and letting-go-of-the-pile-of-socks-two-feet-from-the-hamper-ness and all those other things that don’t really matter. It takes the courage to start over when the ugly wife from the mental basement pops in and you ask for forgiveness and try harder the next day to be kind.
I think that’s the part that I’ve learned recently that would have been most helpful 12 years ago. It’s just basic Christianity or morality or whatever –ity you follow — essential, daily kindness whether they deserve it or whether you feel like it or not. You can be kind even when you’re stressed, tired, pregnant, exhausted, busy, worried or in a rush. You can be kind regardless of anything. Anything.
I’ve learned that I’m responsible for my choices, how I treat my husband, and for what I bring to the relationship. Each day, I choose how I will love, encourage, influence and serve him. Each day I get to start fresh and do my very best to be kind, regardless of the circumstances.
Then, when the slit-eyed Crazy Lizzie escapes (again) to make me look bad, I’ll remember that I’ve come a long way — that she doesn’t come around or stay as long as she used to. Someday, when we’re holding hands at our 50th anniversary dinner, reflecting on the great life we’ve had and remark how worth it it was — all those years of figuring each other out, making it work, the countless apologies and restarts — I’ll be grateful that it was not easy, because the things that are most worthwhile are those that take a great deal of faith, effort, sweat and tears.
Even Crazy Lizzie can’t argue with that.
Elizabeth Hill loves spending time with her family and making others laugh. She currently resides in Montana among beautiful scenery, long winters and an incredible array of hairy animals.