Peter and I were fighting. Sort of.
He says it wasn't a "fight," but it's as much as we fight, so I go ahead and call it that. It was one of those interludes that happens now and then, where we are off track and off base and off course, when everything is wrong. It happens maybe once a quarter, we've figured out. Because the thing about us is that after "an interlude" like this, we analyze it from every angle - what got us here, how did it start, how long has it been, how'd we get out, and how can we keep this misstep from happening again. It's good to be married to a collective overthinker.
We were off center because of parenting. Because I have two children who are good at many things, but helping around the house is not one of them, and closing that gap is bumpy and difficult. Peter and I do this cha-cha of two steps forward, one step back, of saying too much or not enough, of disengaging and re-engaging, of staying in it because we're committed to this marriage and those children and our friendship.
Marriage is so easy. So is parenting. And blended parenting. Pieces of cake, all of them.
So we decided to let the boys in on the tension. We decided this for two reasons: first of all, it's not healthy for kids to grow up thinking marriage is all wine and roses and fairy dust. They shouldn't enter marriage thinking arguing is the end. They should get to see an argument and a resolution so they can see they're both normal, healthy, and valid.
The other reason is because the tension was actually about them. They needed to know that their carelessness and irresponsibility have ramifications. We don't usually let them into these conversations, but it seemed right this time.
We brought them to the dining room, and we hashed it out together. All four of us. What are the expectations, what are the rules, and what will be the consequences.
And then I said, "I'm angry and upset right now, but I'm staying in this because I love Peter more than I've ever loved a person."
And then I watched their eyes look at me, questioningly, like, "Did you just say that?"
And so I backtracked, kind of. "I mean, not more than any person. I loved your dad with everything I had too. And I love you, of course. But I just love him. A lot. And I'm in this with him. And you."
It was so awkward. And their faces showed how much my words didn't land.
And then one boy started to cry. He said, "I feel like you are taking love away from us and giving it to Peter."
And everything stopped while we all took a deep breath and tried to figure out what to do next. I hugged the brave boy with the courageous words.
"Honey, I'm not taking anything away from you. I don't love you less. I'll never love you less."
Peter said, "Guys, let me step in here and see if I can help you understand. When your dad was here, your mom gave him all of her love. All of it. But when he died, it's like the cup that held all of that love just spilled. And there was nowhere for her to put it. She still had all of that love, but there was nobody to give it to. When I fell in love with her, when we got married, she had a place to pour that love again. I think that's what she means."
That's true. It's what I meant. But they looked at us like we had given them a chemistry equation to answer a question in Spanish.
So I gave it a go.
"You guys, it's like there are boxes in my heart. There's a mom box, and there's a wife box. The wife box is filled with love just for Peter. I'll only ever give that to him. I gave it to your dad when he was here, and now I give it all to Peter. It only ever goes to the man I'm married to, since I am his wife. And there's the mom box. Actually, scratch that - there are two other boxes. One for each of you. You don't have to share my love. I have a whole box for each of you. Nobody gets to take that love away from you, because it's all yours. Every single thing in that love box belongs to you. There will never be less in it, no matter what. No matter how many other boxes I add to my heart, no matter how many people come into my life for any reason at all, those boxes are yours. I promise. So when I say that I love Peter most, it's with all the love in the wife box."
They nodded. Sort of. Lots of analogies of boxes and cups and love upon love. It's hard to name things that you can't see, hold, explain, or really ever portion. It's hard.
Not parenting, though. Parenting and marriage and blending it all? Pieces of cake.
One year later… we are still figuring it out.
With both feet in, with all the chips on the table, with all the cards we've been dealt, we're figuring it out.