On Saturday morning my six year old daughter Katherine threw one of her infamous knock down, drag out tantrums. It started with some casual whining about how she tragically didn't get her own way and rapidly crescendoed into kicking and thrashing on her bedroom floor for a half hour. I have an early memory of throwing a similar tantrum when I was about the same age, lying on the floor kicking my bedroom door until I fell asleep, and so rather than Katherine's tantrum inviting my maternal compassion I simply shrugged my shoulders and let her scream it out for a while. It happens.
When I heard her begin to wind down I went upstairs and said, Why don't you pick out some books you'd like me to read to you. We'll talk about your tantrum in a little while. She appeared at my bedroom door a few minutes later heavy laden with a stack of books that spanned from her belly button to her chin. And so we snuggled up to read. At first I warned her that we probably wouldn't read all the books, since she chose so many. But it's been a while since I've read to Katherine, who is a first grader and learning to read to me. It felt nice, this spontaneous role reversal, and made me nostalgic for all the times past when we've curled up together with Skippy Jon Jones, Little Critter and Fancy Nancy. Yet I had plenty of other responsibilities tugging at the back of my mind and several times I thought to myself, I'll just read one last book and then I'll get to work. But suddenly I understood that there was nothing else I'd rather be doing and I quieted that voice in the back of my head. Be still. This is more important.
My second shining moment came as a result of an unpaid water bill. Don't you love it when one of those harmless little details that determines whether or not you have fresh water in your pipes falls to the wayside? My sister once said to me that she makes a terrible grown up, and I think we all have days when a bill that must be paid gets pinned beneath the paper pile on your desk, or stuck to the back of one of the fifty-eight half-licked envelopes your toddler left for you. We received a stern warning in the mail on Friday that threatened to shut down our water if our bill wasn't paid. That's when I looked up from frosting Christmas cookies and thought, Hmmm. Maybe we're doing things in the wrong order this week.
Personally, I believe it's part of a happy marriage to initiate a clearly defined Division of Labor policy that is discussed and updated on a regular basis, depending on circumstantial changes. There are some who may feel that's a very 1950's attitude to take, but I suspect the nay sayers are the ones whose house smells of garbage (that no one is taking out) and their water is about to be shut off (because no one remembered to review the bills). Last Friday night was our semi-annual Gillespie Family Division of Labor policy meeting. It went something like this:
Lauren: The water bill didn't get paid. How can I put this nicely? This one's all you.
Jeremy: I know. I suck.
Lauren: It will be hard to bathe our family without water.
Jeremy: I think we can make do. Katherine doesn't like to bathe anyway.
And then Jeremy launched into a twenty minute tirade that boiled down to a simple, I am tired. I am overwhelmed. From the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep I am running. When he finished he said, Is there anything you want to say? I was quiet for a moment and then I shook my head no. I wear my emotions on my sleeve all the time. If the girls are acting like wild animals Jeremy hears about it the moment he steps through the back door. Being full of words certainly has its draw backs, but it doesn't leave much room for pent up, secret exhaustion or holiday burn out.
The conversation that followed is probably best left to the privacy of my marriage, but I will say that an effective Division of Labor policy meeting requires unprecedented levels of compassion and tenderness between both parties. Being a grown up is hard. Being a parent is hard. Being the sole financial provider for a family of five and enduring a two-hour-a-day commute is hard. Jeremy picked up the slack for me earlier this fall and this weekend it was my responsibility and privilege to take his hands and say, It's okay. Let me help you. I'll pay the bills and sort through the paper piles on your desk. Let's find a different way to make our team work.
I started the weekend with a firm plan to finish some Christmas shopping, baking, and a few other odd chores that I wanted to do while Jeremy spent time with our girls. Instead I spent my morning reading to Katherine, and my afternoon sorting and organizing our paper piles. I thought I might resent the lost opportunity to address my own weekend To Do list, but instead I felt just the opposite. I felt like I'd been exactly where I needed to be and done exactly what I needed to do. There is a terrible amount of work and patience that must happen before the peace and joy part of Christmas time happens. I don't think people just get out of bed December first feeling slap happy and cheerful. It is an earned privilege. And I'll say that for someone like me who adheres to a rigid schedule of Christmas baking and holiday activities I couldn't have been more surprised by the way a sense of lightness came into our home over the weekend. It's the best and the brightest my family has felt all month.