A few nights before the baby was born, as I placed a stack of clean, folded laundry outside my boys’ room, I decided to peek in on them while they slept. I crept in and saw each sprawled out on his new big-boy bed, looking so small surrounded by all that space and all those covers. I listened to their quiet breathing and watched them rustle and twitch, snuggling ever deeper into sleep.
I stood there in the quiet and I felt it wash over me: a profound sense of gratitude. The feeling was nearly physical: gratitude washed over my head like a wave, down my body, dropping my arms to their sides and stilling every movement save my head, looking from one boy to the other.
I have children. I have a husband. I have a family of my own.
Seven years ago this month, I could hardly have thought that possible. Seven years ago, I was well entrenched in my life as a single (single) young professional. I lived alone, I worked a lot, I hung out with friends sometimes, and I dated not at all. So it had been for years.
It was a good life, overall. I loved my work. It was interesting and fulfilling and on precious rare occasions, got me into a swanky black-tie dinner or two. I lived in a beautiful town full of brick-paved sidewalks and comfortably brooding cafes, where I could set out in any direction from my cute basement apartment and end up at the water. Many evenings, I’d close a stroll through town with a few quiet minutes sitting on a pier, listening to the dull knock, knock, knocking of sailboats bumping against their docks.
My life could be busy, invigorating, peaceful… but it was always lonely.
I had long wanted to be married with children, so as much as I loved that interesting job and those beautiful environs, it all felt glaringly insufficient. Night after night, sitting home by myself (enjoying a great book and a nice glass of wine, so don’t pity me too much) I’d hear the sounds of couples and families walk past my apartment. And it was clear to me: what matters more than anything else in this life is relationship.
Relationship with God, relationship with people… growing one’s relationship with God by building up loving, life-giving relationships with people. Relationship.
And I was lacking in that department.
Yes, I was blessed with a wonderful family of origin, whom I loved and whom I tried to see as much as I could. Yes, I had lovely friends, some of whom I saw regularly, others I kept up with from afar. But deep down, I felt called to marriage and motherhood. And feeling called to that vocation, all other human relationships paled in comparison.
I longed to move through life alongside people. You don’t do that with friends or with your extended family. You cross paths with them, you touch base, you might walk along with them for a while at arm’s length. But your future is not intimately tied to theirs. Your paths don’t depend on each other.
I’d had enough of independence. I wanted to be in dependence with someone.
So at the beginning of that summer seven years ago, I decided to make a big, conspicuous effort at changing my circumstances. I ditched a bit of my pride, signed up for eHarmony, and waited. It didn’t take long. Glory Be and Halleluiah – before the summer was half over, I’d met my husband.
Hiking at Antietam, September 2007
Everything changed so quickly. In June, I was beginning to come to terms with the idea that I might always be single. (Indeed, I was working hard to embrace the idea.) By August, Brennan knew that I was “the one” for him. And I knew that Brennan made me feel happier, more hopeful, and more at ease than anyone I’d ever met.
A year later, we were engaged. The next year, we were married. We welcomed sons in each of the two following years. Two months ago, we greeted another.
It all happened so quickly that sometimes I’m tempted to ask myself whether it really happened at all. At my core, I suppose I still feel like that single lady, moving through life alone. Not to be overly dramatic, but I’ve come to realize that the experience scarred me.
Which is strange to think about while sitting at the center of a writhing heap of boy. These days I’m so smothered by touch and noise and activity that I crave the very solitude I once found depressing. I find myself daydreaming about that cute little basement apartment, those boats knock, knock, knocking against their docks.
For a moment.
Then I recall the realization, one long-ago weekend, that left me feeling hollow: I had not made physical contact with another person in over a week. The last time had been an impersonal handshake at a work meeting. I had no one in my daily life to hug, to nudge, to lay a hand on my shoulder. (See “Our Starved For Touch Culture” for an interesting read that jives with my experience.)
These days, my skin crawls with the over-stimulation of nursing, of small hands grabbing, of boys climbing, of baby holding. Yesterday my two-month-old was having a rough day. I don’t know what was bothering him, but I know he was unhappy or uncomfortable and he just wanted to be held. All day. In certain moments, I found it maddening. I was responsible for so much more than just that cranky baby: I had meals to make and a house to clean and two older boys to care for. My back ached and my arm went numb from nursing him so long. I was hot and sweaty and very ready to move around independent of that heavy, wailing bundle.
But I didn’t resent the situation – not really. I’ll take it. I’ll do it again a hundred times over, because independence is overrated. Because no amount of peaceful solitude can compare to the beautiful weight of walking through life alongside other souls.
A week after standing in my boys’ room while they slept, I sat on the sofa during a rare quiet moment in our home. I stretched my newborn son out before me and examined him closely. I looked at his round cheeks and his long fingers and the way his chest caught while he breathed his little newborn breaths. And I thought of it again: Children, husband, family – at once the most simple and the most amazing of things.
I have been so blessed.
Seven years into the most important relationship of my life, five years into marriage, and four years into motherhood, I suppose I should move past feeling like that single lady. She is no longer who I am. I’m grateful for the experience of my single years – so much more grateful than I could have imagined at the time. But the tugging and calling and clamoring I experience these days has gradually helped me to realize: It’s time to own my vocation. It’s time to feel like the wife and mother I now am.