This is our second summer here, our second chance to get acquainted with the yard and garden we inherited when we bought the place. We haven’t made too many changes. I planted a few low-commitment geraniums and petunias to fill in the empty spots we noticed last summer, and we added a raised bed for edibles on the second terrace behind the stone wall. I transplanted one of the stray peony bushes to make one of the beds more symmetrical.
But mostly I am just learning more and more to admire whoever laid out this garden however many years and moves ago. It has good bones. The weeping cherry blooms fade just as the first round of irises spring up. Those are replaced by the big purple irises. In the back the lilac ushers in the peonies. Nothing clashes. The transitions are seamless and invisible—one hard night of rain and the lilacs are over, the peonies just about to burst.
The edges of the yard are overgrown, it’s true. The Boston ivy is taking over and the ferns are getting elbowed out. The junipers in the front yard are insanely shaggy and the rose of Sharon, while gorgeous, has tipped drunkenly forward to reach the sunlight. And I could pull a bucket of weeds every day and still not keep up.
But it has beautiful bones.
This is pretty much where we are in a lot of areas of life right now. Appreciating the good bones underneath, doing the hard work to keep the smaller things, the daily stuff working together in better ways. It’s an interesting time of life, these early thirties, and even if our issues are sort of traditional in the extreme (kids and careers and the white picket fence, oh my), I imagine there are a lot of similarities across the board. The things may be different, but that transition between finding out who are and deciding to get serious and be awesome at it is probably pretty much the same whoever you decide to be and whatever it means to be awesome.
We’re pretty much good life junkies with a side of ambition. We chose marriage because, at the risk of sounding cliche, we wanted to be soul mates. We chose kids because we wanted to experience that huge chunk of life, what it means to create life and help new, tiny people find their feet in every sense possible. We chose a lifestyle that is consciously low on outside commitments and activities so we can do things like linger over breakfast and decide what we feel like doing on the-morning-of, both be there to watch Iris in the tub most evenings and congratulate ourselves on being the only people in the world who could have made this exact little human being. We chose work too, ways of communicating and providing and interacting with the world.
So I find it bizarre that good life/work balance is considered a woman’s issue so much of the time. Honestly, it’s not always something we’re naturally good at either. We’ve had to have a lot of conversations about it lately, had to work at it to find a balance that might work for us both. Out of all these conversations, though, we’ve come to realize something that surprised us: we already have all the time and all the money we need.
It’s all there somewhere.
The temptation is always to think that if you only had more time or more money things would be better, but the truth is that the most relaxed people on the planet have exactly the same number of hours in a day that you have and the happiest people on the planet probably have less money than you already have.
We don’t need more money to be happy, we need to be more intentional about how we spend our money (and where and how we save it). We don’t need more hours in the week, we need to be smarter about how we use them. This is the perfect time in Carl’s career for him to focus more on his freelance work—the opportunities are there and it’s important to both of us that he has that chance to grow. But there’s also a learning curve to it, and we’re starting to realize that working hard and working smart are both important. Some jobs don’t pay enough. Some jobs aren’t creatively interesting. It has to be worth the time tradeoff—not just for the sake of Carl’s work/life balance but because his and mine are so connected. When he works overtime, so do I. And even though I love being a mom and am happy with my decision to be a 40ish hour-a-week solo parent while Iris is so little, I’m not very interested in parental over-time.
I’m just not.
Part of marriage is being there to support each other. I’m excited about the freelance opportunities that have been on Carl’s horizon lately—music videos are cool, national brands are big stuff—but the support has to be mutual if it’s actually going to work. It’s hard to judge things you don’t have experience with, and I’m willing to believe there are women out there who find that parenthood fulfills the creative/career part of their lives too, but personally I found myself nodding my head a lot when I read an article yesterday that discussed the multi-study findings that stay-at-home moms are consistently more depressed and report lower life satisfaction than their employed counterparts. Marriages are more likely to end in divorce when moms stay at home full-time too.
I don’t think studies like that should necessarily scare women away from being stay-at-home moms, but I think it should make couples be very, very intentional about what they’re doing and how they plan to deal with the realities of the situation. Being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t have to make you depressed… but it will if you don’t deal head-on with our basic cultural assumption that paid work deserves more consideration than unpaid work. You have to have a plan for the isolation; you have to be realistic about the need for creative and social outlets. And I don’t have a study to back this one up, but I’m going to add that your soul may very well be destroyed if you try to divide work by the old I make the money and you raise the kids thing. Or even the women are biologically designed to be mothers and can handle the strains of parenthood better than men so they should probably do most of the work.
This is no bueno. And even though most people are smart and considerate enough to never say these kinds of things out loud, it’s eerie how easily relationships can start to meander in that direction.
And if I’m repeating myself here and going in circles it’s because I’m still mulling over the enormous difference between the way the last two weeks felt and the way this week is going. The last two weeks Carl went to a 3 day conference (yay career building!), shot a music video on his day off (yay opportunities!), and shot a wedding (yay extra cash!). I was happy about all of those opportunities individually, but the collective experience was not so yay. Also Iris became super clingy, caught a cold, and started waking up multiple times every night. I’m not saying those are 100% related. I’m sure she would have caught a cold anyway, and being sick always makes her clingy.
This weekend, however, we had zero commitments. We went to the farmers market and ate dinners on the back porch. We took Iris to the park. We caught up on our favorite shows after Iris went to bed and had real conversations. After my prenatal appointment on Monday I went to a coffee shop and worked on my book for a couple of hours while Carl hung out with Iris. When Iris woke up at 6:30 this morning (her preferred time) we didn’t fight it. We got up and enjoyed breakfast before Carl went to work an hour early to do freelance stuff before the day officially started.
This week it’s working for us. This week we’re actually enjoying the life we already have. Carl is still doing freelance work, I’m still writing my novel, and Iris is still spending quality time with her parents. And I might be wrong, but I think this is probably what being in your thirties is supposed to feel like. On a good day anyway.
Oh. And also: when I brought lunch home on Monday after writing, Iris had started this new thing where she grabs Carl’s finger and leads him around the house by it, showing him stuff. She won’t even hold my hand, but leave them home alone for 4 hours and they’ve got this whole special thing going on. You’ll pardon the mom moment, but it’s pretty much the cutest thing.
Also also: she’s back to sleeping through the night.
You don’t have to believe any of this is connected to anything, and I would actually agree with you that nothing is ever this simple or this easy or this fix-it-once-and-it’s-fixed forever. Life doesn’t work like that, and I get that. I really do. I suck at being blunt about asking for the things I need, and we are not naturally gifted at being awesome all the time. But it’s worth fighting for. It’s worth talking about.
I know when my family is happy and everybody’s world is spinning in the right direction at the same time. Any time that happens, it’s worth taking the time to figure out why it happened and how to increase the likelihood of it happening again.
Daily growth above and good bones underneath.
Let’s be awesome, friends. We only get to do our thirties once.