images from our 2009 camping trip in the northeast kingdom of vermont
This last year has been filled with reflections on my struggles and successes as a parent. The first 12 months after Little Smith was born was pure survival, the best and most beautiful form of survival. In his second year, I have actually had time to make make considered choices, change behaviors that aren't working well, and learn from my many mistakes. It's far easier for me to be honest to myself and others about the ups and downs of motherhood, but more challenging to apply that perspective to my role as a partner and wife.
In this space, I sometimes think my marriage comes through as plastic. It's actually better than it might seem from a passing glance, because it's real; more humorous, filled with debates, love, silliness, and also arguments. We are both strong willed and we disagree... a lot. It can be tough when partners both hate to give up, hate to lose, and truly believe they are are right nine times out of ten. It's even harder when we collaborate on design projects, but it keeps things exciting. This works for us, fiery but fun.
Before we were parents, I didn't worry when we'd battle over how to light a fire or pack a trunk... this was just 'us' and we usually kissed and made up in record time. As Little Smith gets older though, it's really critical that he doesn't see a silly dispute as a worrisome argument. I keep thinking about how to argue respectfully in front of kids, and it isn't easy because neither James nor I had parents with successful marriages. We have a lot of experience with toxic arguments which has given us a guide as to what to steer clear of, but knowing how to do it right isn't as intuitive as I'd hoped.
My first instinct was to suppress any conflict entirely, to keep disagreements private and not burden our kid with them. There are a few problems with that strategy though; it feels insincere (talk about plastic), and it also just doesn't work. I can strive to be a better version of myself, but I can't completely stuff away my sarcasm and passion for the few hours a day when my child is sleeping. It's maddening, and it also deprives my husband and my son from really understanding who I am. It's true that not every petty thing is worth arguing over, but equally true that both James and I thrive on being challenged by one another, love a spicy debate, and ultimately grow from these conflicts (well... most of them!).
A few moths ago, I read this wonderful piece from Lauren about her late father. It was incredibly moving in so many ways, but what really stuck with me was her brief description of how her parents let her see them argue, so that she understood that yelling wasn't the end of a relationship but part of its normal shifting. It's a beautiful idea, and I am desperately trying to live it without really understanding how. I'm working harder to maintain respect in every debate, no matter how heated. I'm trying to forgo picking fights when we've had less than five hours of sleep, or before sunrise.
I know how lucky I am. It isn't easy to find that person to share your life with, to grow together and not apart, to make each other laugh and after a decade, to still be engaged enough that you want to invest in an argument. I love that we are blindly cobbling together our version of a healthy marriage without any real precedents. It's scary and we make so many mistakes, but it is working. I'm proud of how far we've come and excited to imagine where we're going, together.