Monday, December 31, 2007

When the Monsters Win: Wifely Insurrections

Calling all readers! Sarah at "Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering" has orchestrated the latest Catholic Carnival with characteristic creativity and insight. Be sure to ring in the New Year with a cup of your favorite tea (see below) and a good read! Happy New Year!

Before I get to the insurrection bit, I'd like to alert you to a soothing, guilt-free bit of pampering that was given to me yesterday by my favorite sister-in-law (her husband, Craig's older brother, is also a prince). At Craig's birthday party yesterday, she handed me a box of Higgins & Burke "Black Currant Herbal Tea." After tasting it at a friend's house she had called around to every food distributer in the greater Michigan area, looking for it ... finally sent away to Canada for a six-pack (in boxes) of the heavenly brew (the aroma is the best part), which I've been chain-sipping ever since. (Did I mention there's no caffeine in it?) Lovely ...

Given everything else that happened yesterday, I confess such a soothing treat was monumentally undeserved yet doubly appreciated. My "Mommy Monsters" were in rare form. I was mad, mad, mad ... and I was not going to let it go without a fight. Right before Mass. On my husband's birthday, yet. (Oh, Heidi, when will you learn?)

To add to the irony, this weekend Catholic Exchange ran my article on the second reading. "The Beauty of Feminine Genius" reflected on the wisdom behind Colossians (3:17), which touched upon the complementarity of married intimacy that I had all but destroyed in one ill-timed tongue-lashing. One verse in particular stung as it fell upon my ears:

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them....

There is something humiliating, yet undeniably effective, about reading such a well-timed admonishment in an article I had penned myself. I had to admit, first to myself and then to my dear husband, that the insurrection in our children had been largely attributable to my own failure to surrender to the "unity of two."

First, a little background. For the past two days, Craig had crawled home from work in the wee hours, giving him just a couple of hours of sleep before leaving to go to work again. If I had taken my own advice and tried to be a beautiful "feminine genius," I could have gently reminded him that working such long hours several days in a row was not good for his health, not good for our family, and not good for his productivity levels.

Instead I lectured him about how he had not kept his promise and come home before midnight. Twice. And how his daughter's nocturnal antics (up every two hours, like clockwork) were not going to improve until we resumed our regular family routine. Shrieking like a fishwife, hands on hips ... in the words of Ray Barone, "unhuggable." (Kinda makes a guy look forward to coming home after working so hard to provide for his family, don't you think?)

The children picked up on the tension between us, and it backfired in a bad way. When I stood up to do the first reading at Mass that morning, the entire congregation was treated to a full-blown temper tantrum. Our five-year-old daughter proclaimed in the shrillest possible manner that she wanted to come WITH me to the lecturn, and she DID NOT want Dad. Finally he picked her up football style and carried her, kicking and screaming, out of the sanctuary. My face was hot as I found my place in the lectionary and began to read from the book of Sirach:

Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

As I read the words out loud, a thought struck me: How can I expect my children to revere their father, if I treat him like a child? Why should they want to be with him, or seek out his company, if the peace of our home is being disturbed by my score-keeping?

Craig and I have been married nine years this coming year, and clearly I still have much to learn about wedded bliss. Fortunately, I had the good sense to marry the most patient and mild-mannered man on the planet. We managed to make it to the end of the liturgy without another incident. Then we went home, and Craig took both kids out for a little Daddy Time in the local park, leaving me home to get the house ready for the birthday/Christmas celebration that afternoon. Ninety blissful minutes to straighten up, chop vegetables for my Southwest Nibblers, hunt for birthday candles, and put on my party face. And I needed every single, solitary minute.
Now, a day later, I sip my tea and think about marital promises. On our wedding day, we promised to be faithful to each other "for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health..." Overt infidelity is unthinkable for either of us -- when he comes in at three in the morning, I know he's been battling the computer gremlins again. Yet, "fidelity" takes many forms, doesn't it?

Respect. Kindness. Consideration. Putting others' needs first.

It is the stubborn intention to love, honor, and cherish ... till death parts us.

  • Not, "unless he loses track of time again."
  • Not, "until he leaves me cooped up with the kids for seventy-two hours straight with a headcold."
  • Not, "provided he is sufficiently penitent when he isn't as kind and considerate as I expect."

No, love that lasts goes deeper than this, knowing that each offense against the "unity of two" is a kind of death, too. And so, we work together to rebuild that "shining barrier" against such atrocities. Like Van and Davy in my favorite love story, A Severe Mercy, we use these momentary lapses to inch our way closer to each other -- and, holding on to one another, to stumble toward holiness.


Unknown said...

Something I've wondered can one honor one's father and mother if they hate each others guts ? I've known situations where a parent takes any rapproachment with the other parent attempted by a grown child as a personal insult. ("Now you want a relationship with your mom ? After she ran out on us when you were a kid ?" "If you invite that cheating, sleazeball father of yours to your wedding, don't expect me to come !" )
In these cases, obedience (or even courtesy) to a father makes a mother makes a mother furious, not comforted.

Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle said...


What an amazing post!

God bless you for sharing!