Monday, October 27, 2008

Wife Rule #80: Sometimes Things Work Out Better Than Expected

There are many times when life feels like one disaster after another: another waste-of-time-and-money first date; another broken appliance; another failed attempt at solving a tough problem; another foot-in-my-mouth guffaw in some public setting; another runny nose and cough to cherish; another expensive car repair; or another chance to worry about someone you love whose problems make your own seem small, just to cite a few examples.

But every once in a while life gives you a nice surprise. Kind of like walking into a public men's restroom, dreading the sticky mess that's sure to be on the floor, the filthy toilets, and the empty soap container; and instead finding a freshly-mopped, Mr. Clean-worthy, sparkling experience where you get to be the one to break the tissue paper seal on the toilet, and there's not only soap, but also hot water! Yes, every once in a while life exceeds your expectations.

My wife and I enjoyed one of those nice surprises the other day when we took our kids to the pumpkin patch.



The Pumpkin Patch has been a fun Halloween tradition for many years now. We have tried quite a few patches, and the surviving ones have all Darwinially evolved into more or less the same thing: animals to pet (and poop to avoid), junior spook alleys, corn or pumpkin cannons, haystack slides, a hay ride, and a corn maze (oh, and there's also pumpkins there, but they're kind of not the point anymore). We finally based our decision about which pumpkin patch to visit on three factors:

1) The winning pumpkin patch's hay ride featured teenagers dressed up as licensed fictional characters such as Cinderella, Shrek, and Darth Vader, spaced at regular intervals along the ride, who are supposed to shower the hay-riders with candy as we drive by and gawk at them and shout "CANDYCANDYCANDYCANDY!!!" at the top of our lungs. Apparently most of the costumed teenagers are rather dissatisfied with their job of standing there for hours, out in a plowed field, in near-freezing weather, dressed as someone they used to idolize like ten whole years ago, but who hasn't been cool for at least five years now. I can tell this because most of them either throw not nearly enough candy, or they throw it way too hard. But no matter, the candy hay ride is what the kids really come for, so we went to the pumpkin patch where we knew what to expect, sulking costumed teenagers and all.

2) The winning pumpkin patch allowed us to enjoy the hayride and all the other kiddie fun for only $5, which did not include the compulsory ticket for the corn maze, like some of the other patches did.

3) The winning pumpkin patch was the most sincere (I'm sorry, I just had to throw in a shout-out to Linus and the Great Pumpkin).

As it turned out, my wife had a coupon that, for our family of six paying individuals (plus a six-month-old freebie-Beebie), would get us corn maze passes for the same price as we would pay to only do the kiddie stuff.

So we got corn maze tickets too, and that's where the pleasant surprise came in.

Don't ask me why, but I have been rather obsessed with going into a corn maze for many years now. Maybe it's that I used to spend hours drawing mazes on paper when I was young. Or that I used to spend hours writing computer programs to generate mazes when I was a little older. Or that I love hiking through the maze-like fins and canyons in the desert. Or maybe it was the movie Labyrinth. Naw, that movie wasn't actually very good, except for the farting rocks scene (which my friend Alan and I used to rewind and watch over and over and over again, until tears were streaming down our juvenile little faces). But still, I'm obsessed with mazes.

But my wife's not, and for several years, she always went to a corn maze as a leader in our church's youth group, and afterwards she didn't really want to go again. No Halloween maze for me. Boo-hoo.

But this year, because of the coupon, it was free. I turned my wife's shopping logic back on her: "Just think of how much money we'll save by including the corn maze tickets!" I also promised her that if the kids didn't like it, we could always just turn around and exit early, although deep down I doubted my ability to make good on this promise once we were satisfyingly lost in the labyrinth.

We got pumpkins and did kiddie stuff until it was dark. Only then did we notice that the corn maze wasn't lit, like others we had seen. Still, we girded up our loins, and herded up the fruit of our loins, and grabbed our emergency flashlight, and ventured into the corn.

We wandered in Phase 1 of the maze for quite a while. We got lost. We hid in the corn and scared each other. We whimpered a little bit. We fought over holding the flashlight. We argued over being the leader. We finished Phase 1 and had so much fun we attempted Phase 2. We did it all over again, only we got more lost and eventually came back to the central hub in a wheel, about the only recongnizeable spot in the maze. Thankfully, we had carefully memorized the way we came into the hub from the entrance, so when we ended up there again, we just went out through the entrance. But we cheered anyway.

The people on the hayride clapped for us, and Scott did a jump-kick for joy.

And we all--that includes my wife, and every one of my kids--had fun. No one got hurt. No one wandered off and got separated. No one whined about being tired (much). No one had to take an emergency poop in the corn and use dried up corn leaves for...never mind.

So sometimes things work out better than expected. And when it happens, we have all the more to be grateful for.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wife Rule #79: There's a Lot to Learn From a Hike

There's a lot to learn from a hike.

My earliest childhood memories of experiencing the Wonder of Nature often involved Dad dragging me off to some corner of the desert and forcing me on a death march up a lonely trail of barren sandstone slick rock, under the intense heat of a baking afternoon sun.

Like a member of a chain gang, I dragged my poor, whining, parched little-boy body up the rock. I always enjoyed whatever landmark was at the destination, but the journey was arduous, the desert landscape lifeless.

Then one day all that changed. I remember the epiphany vividly. We were hiking along the Devil's Garden trail in Arches National Park in eastern Utah. The trail was long for short legs, and the few hundred feet of elevation gain had defeated my will. Another death march, slogging through dry quicksand and up steep, gravelly hills and rocks.

I hardly noticed the beauty of the towering sandstone fins on either side of me. The majesty of seeing Landscape Arch, the world's biggest, along with Dad's stunning revelation that a whole football field would fit inside the hole, faded quickly as the hike turned into a mental battle that I was losing.

Suddenly, the trail left the sand and sage and followed several cairns up onto the top of one of the sandstone fins we had been following. For the first time on the hike, I could see down over the expanse of fractured earth, dotted with pinyon pines and junipers. Each crevasse, full of shadow, held a mystery. The earth was suddenly full of beauty and wonder that I was oblivious to just minutes ago.

The trail continued along the narrow fin, when suddenly the ground fell away from both sides, exposing us to significant drops just a few feet sideways in either direction. I felt like I was on a boardwalk in the sky. It quickly became apparent to me that treating this hike casually could result in a misstep which might send me plunging a hundred feet or more to my death.

This "death factor" kicked into gear certain emotions and physical sensations which I do not remember experiencing before that time in my life. All at once, Dad had an addict on his hands. Energy rushed to my legs, and with my heart pumping and my mind racing, distance and elevation became non-factors. Desert fever had set in. The journey was more captivating than the destination. Another hiking nut was born.

Nearly thirty years, and more than thirty similar hiking trips later, I found myself walking this trail again. This time I had with me my wife, and for the first time, my five kids. My parents and my brother and his wife and children were also there. In all, six adults were shepherding eight children ages eight and under along a somewhat treacherous stretch of trail. As a father responsible for my children's safety, I felt the "death factor" like I hadn't in years, as I watched my kids navigate carefully the narrow fin, knowing that at this moment, any stumble or trip could be disastrous.

Why would my wife and I willingly subject ourselves to this risk and anxiety, which would not exist if we had just stayed in the car?

Well, my wife mainly does it for me. And I do it because my father did it first.

You see, there is value in such an experience. If the world were always experienced via looking out the window of the back seat of a car (not a totally safe environment either, by the way), so much would be missed. Life is about getting out on your own two feet, and expending a little effort slogging through the sand, and climbing the hills on the trail. Life is also about those moments that burn powerful memories in your mind--those epiphanies--that only occur on the high roads, where the ascent involves some risk and you have to watch your step, but the vistas are incredible and the sensation of walking in the sky is unforgettable.

As a father, I want nothing more than to share the exhilaration I felt in such growth with my own children. I want them to have every good experience and good thing that I have enjoyed.

Isn't that how it is with our Heavenly Father? Isn't that why He sent us to earth, to get out and walk on our own two feet and exert a little effort and struggle and eventually to rise to heights never before experienced?

And doesn't He watch over us carefully, letting us walk, but staying close by, ever close by, to lend a hand over the tricky spots and to remind us not to stray to the right or left on His path to the sky? Doesn't He send His angels to help with anxious hearts and able hands?

So, we follow His lead. We learn from Him, and then encourage our own children to follow our leads. We share with them the best hikes we know, and walk alongside them to help the journey be safe. All the stories, and descriptions, and pictures in the world can never match the experience of walking the trail ourselves.

I wasn't disappointed that day with my kids; they were tough on the trail and they loved the views.

Yes, there's a lot to learn from a hike.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wife Rule #78: Me Too

A few days ago, after an enjoyable date night out, we were finally winding down for the evening. In the rare case that we reach this point before our day's energy is utterly spent, it is one of my wife's favorite times to discuss family business--the type of business that requires either too much attention or secrecy to be discussed with children present.

Often our conversation focuses on the kids: recent happenings, current challenges, family interactions, and trying to understand their developmental needs. Sometimes during these precious moments of conscious child-rearing, we set goals and pledge to improve as parents.

That night the topic was of the happiest kind: a family road map between now and Christmas. We discussed our schedule for the upcoming holiday months a bit, our plans for our kids' Christmas presents and how we can make their sugarplum visions fit into our budget, and then rounded out the discussion with some really great potential plans for our parents' presents.

After an hour or so of lying next to each other on our bed, discussing such happy thoughts, my wife smiled at me with that soft, tender look in her eyes that has always melted my heart, and spoke with happy sincerity:

"I loved our date tonight. It was nice to get a babysitter and go out to dinner, and playing games afterwards was really fun too. But I had as much fun during the last hour, just lying here talking with you, as I had the rest of the night."

Me too, I thought, as she continued:

"When I was younger, I would imagine what it would be like to be in love and to be married someday. I imagined having my best friend always with me, sitting in bed at night together, and just talking."

Her words penetrated my heart as she spoke, her adoring gaze never leaving mine, so warm and filled with light shining out of the deep blue of her eyes. She then finished her verbal love note:

"I just want you to know that times like this, when we talk and plan our lives together, are just as happy as I ever imagined them to be. And being married to you is even better than I imagined marriage would be."

Sometimes the delivery of an expression of love is so near perfection that mind and senses are flooded, leaving the recipient a little incapacitated. All that still functions is the raw, honest, reflexive response that simply is what it is, without embellishment. This is the state I found myself in, after having the love of my life inform me that I had fulfilled some of her G-rated, adolescent fantasies of what being in love would be like--of having her describe to me the very feelings that I found in my heart at that moment.

All I could manage was a smile and a hug and a clumsy "Thank-you. Me too." I hope she sensed how much I appreciated her compliment and how reciprocal my feelings are.

Since then, I have not thought of any better way to respond other than the words that keep repeating themselves in my mind:

Me too, Sweetheart. Me too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wife Rule #77: What it Means to Be a Woman

Now how on earth would I know what it means to be a woman?

There was that one episode in high school where my friend Liz pestered me relentlessly until I tried on a prom dress (over my Man clothes), but that's a walk down memory lane I'd rather not take. So instead, I'll tell you what my wife's womanhood means to me.

I subscribe to the scriptural interpretation that there is deliberate symbolism implied when the Bible says that God made Eve from one of Adam's ribs (see Genesis 2:22). God did not make Eve from Adam's toe, as a subordinate, nor did He make Eve from Adam's head, as a superior. He took her directly from Adam's side, near his heart, where she was meant to remain: a co-equal, a help meet for Adam, just as he is a help meet for Eve.

Both Adam and Eve were to fulfill essential, complementary roles in each other's lives; roles that neither had the capability of fulfilling themselves. And more importantly, they were to combine together synergistically to fulfill roles that neither could accomplish alone. By becoming "one flesh" and acting together in a truly unified way, they accomplished what they could never do otherwise. That "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" is no where better illustrated than by observing the perpetuation of life that Adam and Eve--and billions of husbands and wives since--have accomplished together, with God's help.

This isn't to say that Adam and Eve were not both amazing individuals too. I have no doubt that our first parents were incredible: in intelligence, in talent, in capacity, in knowledge, in righteousness, and in beauty of person and spirit.

Uniting together--really uniting, in the sense of subordinating one's own will to the cause of the union--in no way diminishes either a husband or a wife. On the contrary, as each partner gives everything to the other, each is mutually magnified both by giving, and by the gifts from the other. The result is that both husband and wife are elevated in ways and directions beyond either's capacity to rise alone. Truly, "neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:11).

I know I have been theoretical so far, but it is only because all this theory has been proven out as fact in our marriage. My wife is an amazing individual. She excels me in so many, many ways: patience, perseverance, selflessness, intelligence, her many varied talents, virtue, humility, generosity, kindness, and charity, just to name a few. Alone, she is a luminous person, a person of great dignity and capacity and capability.

But if she were to keep all that goodness to herself, rather than bestowing it upon me, our children, and the world at large, her capacity would be capped. Instead, she magnifies her womanhood by choosing to be a wife; by choosing to be a mother; by choosing to be a daughter, a sister, and a friend; by choosing to serve selflessly; by choosing to bestow her influence on the world in the ways that matter most, usually one person at a time.

She inspires me; she really does. There is no doubt in my mind that the most important work I will ever do is in my capacity as a husband and father, mirroring her womanhood as her counterpart.

This wasn't always obvious to me. I used to dream, as many young people do, of doing great things, of changing the world. I thought I would do it through my profession or through civic work, both of which are noble pursuits for a man or woman.

But my wife has helped me to see that changing the world really does happen at the micro-level, starting with changing myself. My wife has helped me begin that process, as only a woman can. She can not only see into many of my blind spots, but our union gives me motivation and purpose.

And she sets such an example! Through watching her, I have learned that the world can be changed for good or ill in the short span of one generation. My wife is determined to see that our children contribute to the good part of the next generation, and she gives her life to that cause--and thus is helping to save the world, beginning with our little family.

She chooses every day how she will spend her allotment of time on this earth, and I am so grateful that she has chosen to do that work which is of everlasting value.

To me, my wife is the quintessential example of what it means to be the best type of woman: a woman who has divine confidence, inspired by a knowledge that she is a daughter of God; a woman whose sights are set on celestial heights and who strives to become better every day; a woman who makes full use of the talents and opportunities given to her, and recognizes them as gifts from God; a woman who refuses to allow herself to be objectified, used, and abused in the ways the world relentlessly pressures her to be; a woman who stands for truth and right in her own quiet way, and when necessary, in her own not-so-quiet way; a woman of patience and forbearance who serves as a perfect counterbalance to an impetuous and often rash husband; a woman whose selfless existence inspires and uplifts others, who strengthens and solidifies the eternal bonds of love that hold our marriage and family together.

In other words, as she goes about her life, tapping into and actively developing the innate goodness of the divine nature God implanted within her at birth, she fulfils what every woman was meant to be, by simply being herself.

My wife is what it means to be a woman.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wife Rule #76: This is Reality

It seems that I periodically need an appointment with Reality.

But since Reality is already busy checking-up with so many other people, my kids are all too happy to fill in.

On Saturday, after a brief, late-afternoon nap, I awoke at about 4:30 P.M., feeling refreshed and energized and ready.

Ready to clean. Ready to cook. Ready to watch the kids while my wife went out to a dinner and meeting for the evening. And if I'm ready for that, I'm ready for anything.

My wife had expressed earlier in the week that she felt a little overwhelmed and could really use more help around the house than what I was giving her. So tonight, things would fall into place. Tonight, I would deliver. Tonight, I would be The Crazy, Cleaning, Ever-Charming, Honey-Do Husband!

In my supreme state of readiness, this is what I was going to accomplish between the time she left at 5:00 and when she arrived back home around eight:

* Cook dinner for the kids
* Eat dinner with the kids
* Clean up dinner
* Do the dishes and clean the kitchen
* Clean the showers, tubs, sinks, toilets, and floors of all three bathrooms
* Watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with the kids and then serve up piping hot, delectable, home-grown peach and berry cobbler (raspberries picked fresh tonight, of course), and watch as yellow and purple juice stains dribble down their satisfied, smiling chins.
* Bathe the kids
* Put the kids to bed, which involves reading scriptures, saying prayers, brushing teeth, telling stories, and navigating the maze of stalling tactics they employ.
* Oh, and in case the sun decides to set an hour or two later than usual tonight (and I could feel that it just might), I'll also mow the lawn.

So you, Mr. or Mrs. Grounded-In-Reality-Cynical-Person, can clearly see that had I been a super-cleaning-motivated bachelor (an oxymoron) without any parental distractions, in three hours I might have been able to accomplish everything on my list, sans the tasks involving the kids (which is most of them).

But tonight, I could feel it; I was ready. In my inexplicably-naive mind, I truly believed I would accomplish most, if not all, of the items on my list. The kids would sort of...take care of themselves for a few hours, while Captain Productivity conquered the world of domestic duties, saving the household one sparkling-clean toilet at a time.

I forgot about Charity.

Five-month-old Charity started crying about ten minutes after my wife left, and refused to stop crying for anyone except me (yes, I even tried pawning her off on my five-year-old son). So I stopped in the middle of my very first task--sponging down the first bathroom counter--and picked her up. Cleaning and babies weren't going to mix, so I decided to proceed with dinner and get back to sponging later. As long as I could keep her hands away from the knife and the stove, at least cleaning chemicals wouldn't poison her. So I held her, but soon discovered that that one-handed dinner preparations often don't go so well.

So I put her in the Snugli, wearing her proudly on my chest the same way I do when we are out on the town for date night. It turns out that the Snugli kind of gets in the way in our crowded kitchen. It also turns out that wearing a Snugli for several hours of intense bending over, lifting, and other kitchen maneuvering really takes a toll on an old man's back.

It also turns out that I'm an old man. I should've seen that one coming.

But I persevered and managed to get dinner made, eaten, and mostly cleaned up before my wife got back home. Nothing else on my list even got thought of again. The poor, lonely sponge, like my motivation and ego, dried out and shriveled on the counter where I had left it hours earlier.

When my wife walked through the door, the first thing I did was take Charity out of the Snugli and ceremoniously dump her into my wife's able arms. Then I went to the bathroom (more than an hour overdue, and I'm not talking about the sponge) and finally collapsed on the couch beside her.

She looked refreshed. I was exhausted. No wonder she wants a little contribution from me when I get home from work every evening.

I won't soon forget who really deserves a break at the end of the day: I spend all day with computers where everything is virtual; she spends all day with Reality.