Marriage is like a wooden boat…

“That was true, Iris would sometimes think, about marriage: it was only a boat, too.  A wooden boat, difficult to build, even more difficult to maintain, whose beauty derived at least in part from its unlikelihood. Long ago the pragmatic justifications for both marriage and wooden-boat building had been lost or superseded.  Why invest countless hours, years, and dollars in planing and carving, gluing and fastening, caulking and fairing, when a fiberglass boat can be had at a fraction of the cost?  Why struggle to maintain love and commitment over decades when there were far easier ways to live, ones that required no effort or attention to prevent corrosion and rot?  Why continue to pour your heart into these obsolete arts?  Because their beauty, the way they connect you to your history and to the living world justifies your efforts.  A long marriage, like a classic wooden boat, could be a thing of grace, but only if great effort was devoted to its maintenance.  At first your notions of your life with another were not more substantial than a pattern laid down in plywood.  Then year by year you constructed the frame around the form and began layering memories, griefs, and small triumphs like strips of veneer planking bent around the hull of everyday routine.  You sanded down the rough edges, patched the misunderstandings, fared the petty betrayals.  Sometimes you sprung a leak.  You fell apart in rough weather or were smashed on devouring rocks.  But then, as now, in the teeth of a storm, when ti seemed like all was lost, the timber swelled, the leak sealed up, and you found that your craft was, after all, sea-kindly.” – Ayelet Waldman, Red Hook Road

The quote above is from Red Hook Road, which I recently finished reading.  As I read this paragraph, it spoke to me.  I would never think to compare marriage to a wooden boat but the analogy Waldman uses rings true. 
I’ve been trying harder to make my marriage a priority, because having three children under the age of three is difficult.  And focusing on our marriage — well, it can sometimes take a backseat to all of the craziness and chaos that is our every day life.   There is no doubt that it’s been a mind blowing year and the oodles of time we had together when we were dating, and even when we were first married and both working full-time, isn’t a realistic possibility at this stage of our lives.  
As most of you who have kids know, keeping a marriage strong in the midst of a gaggle of small children is no small feat.  Marriage and ones relationship with their spouse has to be a priority.  Even when the kids are gone — I want to still have some idea who the person is sitting across the dinner table.  Before I had children, I never gave this a second thought.  
I love Mike.  Shouldn’t that be enough?  Shouldn’t our love make our entire life magical?  Shouldn’t we still gaze into each others eyes and feel swept away by romance?  The truth is, with any marriage, just loving the other person isn’t enough.  It’s so much more than that.  Sure, there are moments when Mike enters the room and I still have butterflies in my stomach, but more often than not when he walks into the kitchen after a long day at work the last thing on my mind is butterflies.  My thoughts are to delegate what needs to be done next to expedite our evening routine and instead of greeting him with a hug, kiss, and a warm hello, he’s typically met with a request to help. “Can you feed the girls while I fill Bo’s milk?” or another demand phrased as a question.  It should also be mentioned that this request is made with my hair in a ponytail, sweat pant clad, and with three small children wanting Daddy to pick them up immediately.  Magical?  Not my definition.  Romantic?  Far from it.
Often, many Mom’s fall into the mindset that we can only focus on our children. However, I’m developing the opinion that nurturing marriage and having a strong relationship with ones spouse is one of the best things a couple can do for their children.  One night a month with a babysitter on a Saturday night isn’t going to harm the children.  A couples-only vacation once a year where the kiddos are staying with grandparents or others who love them isn’t bad for them.  If anything, it’s good for everyone.  
On many Saturday nights, after the kids go to bed, Mike and I order take-out and have our own “date” at home.  We’ve also recently been more able and willing to go out in the evenings after the kids are in bed as well.  Sometimes, on weekdays when I am working my 9 to 1 “shift” I’ll drive to town and meet the Mike for lunch while the kids are at Mary’s.  I am trying hard to find bits of time when we can be together and enjoy just being a couple.  Sure, it isn’t for very long, and we almost always talk about the kids, but I’m trying to make couple-time more of a priority.
I am very excited that we’ve booked a trip for our 7th anniversary.  We’ll be heading to Las Vegas for four nights, the longest I’ve been away from the girls and only one night shy of the 5 nights I was away from Bo when I was on hospitalized bedrest.  I know we’ll miss the kids, but I also know that in order to keep our marriage strong, we need to continue to do things together.  I am really looking forward to our trip – even though it’s still months away!
Yes, marriage changes when you have children.  Mike and I can’t quit our jobs and travel the world.  Heck, we can’t even sleep in on Saturday.  We have responsibilities.  We have small people who depend on us.  And even when we make time for ourselves, those responsibilities don’t go away.  But while the structure of our life has changed, it doesn’t have to mean that we shouldn’t see each other or spend time together without our children.  
Is your marriage a priority in your life?  What do you do to keep it strong while in the midst of parenting?  
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7 Responses to Marriage is like a wooden boat…

  1. Heather says:

    We only have one but it is still tough…for us it is the little things. Making a point of stopping and saying "I love you." to each other – even if one of us is half asleep. I try to buy stuff for him to take to work that he likes, just for him. He takes out the trash without me having to ask cause I hate doing it. Things like that.

  2. Rachel says:

    It is hard to keep marriage 1st when kids whine so much more that their needs aren't being met to their satisfaction.

    We have been working on 10 minutes together, just the 2 of us when M gets home from work. We also trade off sitting with a friend so we get at least one date night out per month. Like you we do date nights after the kids are in bed too.

    Next week we are headed to Alaska, w/o the kids. I'm nervous but I'm also looking forward to only being a wife for a week.

  3. Sunny says:

    Sounds like a fun trip, I'm jealous!! I think it's very important to keep your marriage #1 and your children #2. I know some people probably disagree with that, but I think having a strong marriage makes a strong family. It does benefit your children to see mom and dad have a healthy relationship.

    Right now we are struggling because the twins are so little, and my husband works reeeeally long hours. But those moments we do have together, we cherish. We make sure to let each other know how much we appreciate the other person — for the little things and the big things.

  4. Carrie27 says:

    A vacation? We never even had a honeymoon. We are in the beginning stages of planning a vacation when we hit 10 years in a couple years. The older the kids get, the easier it is to find that time together, too.

  5. Ellen K. says:

    Vegas, no babies, Vegas!

    It's a huge priority, but it's far more challenging than I had anticipated. I'm trying to be more thoughtful and not just all about the girls.

    We have daytime help but never go out in the evening unless my parents happen to be in town to put the girls to bed. But the time away is absolutely vital. My parents often kick us out of their house during a weekend visit and send us to a hotel overnight, and it's so nice to sleep just a little longer and have a QUIET breakfast. We've had a couple of weekends away and are planning another in early October, for D.'s birthday. Actually we're just staying in town but sending the girls to D.'s parents' house. And our 10-yr anniversary trip to Paris and London might be bumped up to next year. I smile every time I think about it.

    I have no guilt about this — if our marriage is taking a hit, that's going to screw up the kids far, FAR more than any weekend away.

  6. kdactyl says:

    Wesley and I talked about this sooo much before we had children…we agreed early on to make our marriage a priority…even over our children, because we truly felt that a strong marriage was the best thing we could give to our kids. We only have one 2 year old right now but a new baby is due in November. We have managed to maintain our promise to each other and talk about it often when life gets busy and we feel like we are getting caught up in the "caretaking" versus the relationship building. We both work so we both do 100% of the caretaking around the house….and we think this is a great thing for our kids to see. Don't get me wrong…we dote on our son and find him to be the center of our world…but we do not let his 2 year old egocentric life rule. We make time for "us" and rely on family to help us when we need to get away and remember what brought us together in the first place. We both come from divorced parents and sadly, my husbands' parents were completely inept and detached from their kids….they were too selfish. My mom was awesome, but my father wasn't really in the picture much. We both feel we have suffered due to that and don't want that for our children. They will know they are loved and that we love each other and we will do our best to operate as a "family"…putting that first.
    I have seen many of my girlfriends use the children as an excuse for not being totally present in the marriage…and then I watched those marriages fall apart or the couple live unhappily together for the 'sake' of the children and it is sad to me because children pick up on that so easily and then no one benefits.
    I know the 2nd child in November will make for big changes and we will have to work even harder…but I love my husband and my children and cannot imagine life without them…but mostly…I would be devastated without that partnership that has become such a huge part of me….so I will do my best to put it first as I know the children's needs will be met and they will be loved unconditionally and ususally without thinking about it….a marriaget though…requires some thought and planning…just like that wooden boat.

    Great post…thanks for writing it. It makes me want to do something special for Wesley just to let him know how much I love and appreciate him.

  7. doughmesstic says:

    Hi Jamie,
    Thanks for this outstanding post. Sorry it has taken me so long to catch up.
    Walden is right. Our marriages ARE like a wooden boat. I wish I had taken the time to notice how badly I had neglected mine before being forced to literally sink or swim. I chose to swim.

    Now, Jon and I try to do as much as we can, when we can, together. I still dress like you say you dress, but that's not the point. It's HOW you greet each other. Sometimes the right smile can be all it takes.
    And a hug that takes a second can prevent months worth of reparations.

    I'm glad you are taking time for yourselves. You are exactly right – all of you will be the better for it.

    Miss you girl. Been a long time since TwD, hasn't it?


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