Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Rejoice in the Wife of Your Youth"

"Foreshadowing."  Walking downtown on our wedding day as an older couple approaches.
My little trip down memory lane to our first date made me think of the thrill of our new relationship and the butterflies from our first kiss.  Seven years later, we are no doubt more in love with each other than ever.  The depth of our love for one another and the intimacy that we feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually far surpasses the love we felt the day we professed our wedding vows.  

However, both Philip and I will readily admit that the passion that came so easily in the beginning of our romance needs more coaxing (and even plotting!) these days.  Philip has a hectic schedule as a pediatric resident.  His hectic schedule translates into long hours on my end as a stay-at-home mom.  Our limited time together coupled with the physical and emotional demands of raising young children, our limited finances, and our culture's demand that our children be our top priority could be a recipe for disaster.  

I'd be lying if I said that residency has been a breeze and that I love every moment of it.  However, this testing time has been the source of many blessings in our marriage.  I wrote in a previous post that our limited time together actually taught us to move through problems faster, get to "I'm sorry," and spend more time together.  

In learning how to be more effective communicators, we are also learning more about each other's love languages (how each of us wants to receive love).  Not surprisingly, most people show love toward others the way they want to receive love.  Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, has a website dedicated to teaching about the Love Languages.  The 5 Love Language are:
  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch
Philip and I took the online assessment to find out what our love languages are.  Here are our results:

Philip is on the left, I am on the right
According to the 5 Love Languages site, most people usually fall in love with people who have completely different love languages.  Not so with me and Philip!  Despite independently taking the assessment, we scored almost identically.  After discussing our results, it was obvious that we value words of affirmation most, then quality time, and physical touch third.  Acts of service scored fairly high for me, a little lower for Philip, and receiving gifts was the lowest score for both of us.  Basically, it looks like we prefer to be loved in all of the ways except for receiving gifts!  

We talked about how each of us shows and receives these different love languages.  We are both happy with how one another is using words of affirmation and quality time to express love.  Together, we decided that we both need to do a better job of using the love language of physical touch.  The 5 Love Languages site sums up Physical Touch like this:
This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.
To sum up our discussion on physical touch, I asked Philip to use physical touch more often, especially in non-romantic ways.  Philip asked me to use physical touch more often, especially in romantic ways.   

I am reading Kimberly Hahn's Chosen and Cherished: Biblical Wisdom for Your Marriage.  She has tremendous insight into building intimacy and trust between the spouses.  A few of the chapters in her book are giving me insight into why Philip and I are feeling so differently about physical touch.  She has this to say about the challenges for young families:
One of the difficulties moms with small children face is that, by the end of the day, they have been touched and touched.  A woman may feel that she really does not want any more physical affection that day.  Yet her spouse has not been touched all day.  She needs to be responsive to him, especially if touch is his primary love language.  
YES!  Although we both value physical touch, by day's end, Philip and I need very different things physically.  He comes home, anxious for a big kiss and conversation.  He hasn't had a hug or a kiss since he left that morning.  I, on the other hand, have been touched all day.  Feeding, changing, and loving little ones is a very physical job.  By day's end, I am thrilled to see Philip, but a big make-out session is usually the last thing on my mind.  I wish I could say that my first impulse is to land a big wet one on him when he walks in the door.  Unfortunately, I got into the habit of brushing off his affection and asking him to help corral the kids while I get dinner on the table.  If I've spent the last thirty minutes prepping dinner with one toddler at my feet and another asking a question every ten seconds, it's not enticing to have a touchy husband lingering while I'm stirring something on the stove.  All I want physically is a peck on the cheek and to hear the words, "C'mon, kids.  Let's get out of Mom's way and play in the family room."  

Philip, sweet husband that he is, usually conceded to this being his homecoming and made the most of it.  After our conversation about love languages, I realized that I'm not doing a good enough job of initiating romantic physical touch, especially for his homecoming each day.  Kimberly Hahn beautifully calls us to imitate Christ serving His bride, the Church, by serving our husbands.
This is the call to follow Christ to serve rather than to be served.  It means affirming your spouse, even when you feel unappreciated.  It means asking him what you can do for him, expressing the love languages of gift giving or acts of service, even though you are tired from serving your children all day.
After talking with some other mothers with young children, I learned I am not the only one who struggles to make my husband's daily homecoming a beautiful experience.  One of my friends said that her grandmother gave her some advice that has stuck with her.  She said to give your husband a 90-second kiss everyday when he comes home.  This sounds simple enough, but, really, when was the last time you greeted your husband with a 90-second kiss?  Go ahead.  Set a timer.  Even if you don't feel "into it" when you start the kiss, surely by the 10 or 15 second mark you'll remember that you two "still have it."  Philip tells me to keep taking that friend's advice!

Kimberly Hahn's mother went to a lot of effort to make her husband's daily homecoming special.
My mom prepared for my dad to come home from work.  About fifteen minutes before he arrived, she put on fresh makeup and perfume, changed her outfit if it was dirty, and brushed her teeth.  She was ready to greet him.
I know that this is tough when you are making dinner and caring for little ones.  However, welcoming your husband home sets the tone for dinner and the evening.
Little by little, I am trying to adopt this practice.  When Philip calls from the hospital to say that he's on his way home, I announce to the kids, "Daddy's coming home!  Let's get ready!"  I brush my teeth, freshen up my makeup, and change my clothes if they're dirty from the day.  We tidy up the family room if it needs it.  If I have the time and remember, I light a candle or pour each of us a glass of wine.

To ensure I have this time to get ready before Philip gets home, I'm doing a few things:
  • Give the kids only 1 small snack a day after their afternoon nap around 4:00 p.m.
    • With 1 small snack at 4:00 p.m., my kids are still hungry for dinner, but they're not soooooo starving that they're cranky for dinner and can't wait for Philip to get home 
  • Save the kids' tv time for dinner making time
    • This way, they'll want to watch their show at this time and won't be tempted to wander into the kitchen or need me
  • Work smart, not hard.  Don't make this already stressful time more stressful by making dinner preparation take longer!  
    • Do the meal prep work the night before or during naptime
    • Crockpot recipes make dinnertime nearly stress-free
    • Oven recipes are great because you can wash dishes as dinner bakes
    • Freezer friendly meals are your friend!  Double your recipes so that you can freeze the extra one and any leftovers.
Philip didn't know I was doing all of these behind the scenes things, but he loves his new homecomings.  They're not always a Norman Rockwell picture, but I am happy to say that the extra effort is helping to set the tone for our evenings.  When I have the house, the kids, myself, and dinner taken care of enough to give Philip a warm welcome home, it makes for a much happier evening.  The 90-second kiss doesn't hurt, either!

The kids love it, too.  2-year-old Janie absolutely adores "getting ready" for Daddy to walk in the door.  She watches me reapply my makeup and always has to get her own fresh chapstick.  15-month-old Walt follows us from room to room and shrieks when Monty barks to tell us that Philip's car is pulling in.  When we hear the garage door open, the kids run to the gate at the top of the stairs to greet Philip.  After Philip and the kids have their moment, Philip and I can have our big welcome home hug and kiss.  

It sounds so simple, and it is, but dropping everything to prepare for this moment and give Philip a real welcome home kiss shows him that I still value physical touch and that he is my vocation.  The kids relish witnessing the love between us, too.  As we're smooching, Janie always says, "Awwwwww, Mommy and Daddy love each other!"  She usually ends up between us, squeezing me and Philip together to get in on the love fest.

Not surprisingly, Philip loves the change.  He'd much rather have a wife excited to greet him than the old me who would brush off his attempts at affection at the stove and point him toward the kids.  When I try to serve Philip's real need for physical touch when he walks in the door, he in turn is more willing to serve my genuine need for space and a little silence as I finish making the meal.  Kimberly Hahn wrote about a mother's need for silence at the end of the day:
Even though many women tend to talk more than men, if your children have talked to you from morning till night, you may crave some silence.
My children were great conversationalists from early on, saying wonderful and cute things.  By day's end I had listened a lot.  Scott (her husband) would ask, "Do you want to listen to a tape?  Or do you want me to put on some music?  Do you want to talk?"
My response was, "No, I just want to sit on the sofa for about fifteen minutes and be quiet, with no one touching me and no one talking to me."  After I drank in the silence, I would find Scott in his study and enjoy our conversation.  If the need for  listening was urgent, however, I relinquished my "right" to do things the way I wanted and instead focused on serving my beloved. 
After Philip changes, he takes the kids with him downstairs or they play in the family room so that I can have a little breathing room.  I crave silence by day's end, and Philip knows this.  Giving me a little space to cook and work in silence while he plays with the kids helps me to recharge and to be a better conversationalist over dinner.

We think everyone else wants to be loved exactly how we do.  Learning that Philip and I don't have the same needs at the end of the day and finding out how we can best love each other is changing the tone of our evenings together.  Little by little, these small changes are helping to bring back the spark that came so easily in the beginning of our romance.  Philip and I are still twenty-somethings, but these little things are helping me to be the wife of Philip's youth from Proverbs 5. 

"Let your fountain be blessed, / and rejoice in the wife of your youth, / a lovely deer, a graceful doe.  /  Let her affection fill you at all times with delight, / be infatuated always with her love" (Proverbs 5: 18-19).  

Philip, seeing me for the first time on our wedding day as I walked down the aisle

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How It All Started

I'm sure our kids will want to hear about it down the road, so I figured I ought to write as many details as I can remember while I still remember them!

In March of 2005, my sophomore year of college, I headed downstairs for Monday night dinner at my sorority house.  I happened to sit at a table with my pledge "baby" and a few of the other women in the freshmen pledge class.  As freshmen, they lived in the dorms on campus, while the older members of the sorority lived in the house or off campus. 

We talked about our upcoming summer plans, and I mentioned that I was going to be a cabin counselor at a YMCA summer camp.  Immediately, the girls who lived in the honors dorms made a connection. 

"Isn't Phil working at that camp this summer?" 
"Yes!  You have to meet Phil!" 
"Oh!  Wouldn't they be so cute together?!" 
"Oh my gosh, yes!  You two have to meet!" 

They told me about this Phil, a sophomore in the honors dorms, who was also going to be a cabin counselor at the same summer camp.  They told me what he looked like, where he was from, where he went to high school, what they knew about his family, that he was Catholic, etc. etc.  By the end of dinner, there was a lot of giggling, and they were planning our wedding.  They left the sorority that night, promising to mention me to him and to insist that we meet.

As I was studying that night, I took a break to check Facebook, a relatively new social networking site.  I had a friend request and message from mystery man Phil from the honors dorms.  (To make this move seem less lame, I must say in his defense that I didn't have a cell phone at the time, and I only had a phone in my sorority room with an answering machine.  No one except my family called that phone because it was so hard to get a hold of me, and I don't think the girls even knew that number to give him.)

Phil said that the girls at dinner told him we were working at the same camp that summer and that we should meet.  We exchanged a few messages throughout the week, mostly making fun of ourselves for "meeting" online when we could walk a few blocks over and introduce ourselves.  After finding out that we both love Scrabble, Phil suggested we meet that Saturday morning.  He'd walk over from the dorms to my sorority house to pick me up, and we'd get to know each other over a game of Scrabble, bagels, and coffee.

It was Holy Week, and neither of us admitted it until after the fact, but we caught glimpses of each other across the Newman Center at the Holy Thursday Mass.  My pledge "twin" pointed Phil out to me several pews ahead, by himself, singing the processional hymn.  Several months later, when I admitted I saw him before we met, he told me that he saw me with my pledge "twin" on my way back from Communion.  I love that we saw each other for the first time at Mass and that neither of us was aware that the other one was watching us.  Our first glimpses of each other were of the other one in prayer.  Having seen him doing something as intimate as praying took a lot of the pressure off of our first date.   

Saturday rolled around, and my roommate and pledge mom helped me get ready.  (Oh, how nice it was to live with women who would dress me and do my hair and make-up!)  I refused to call it a date, but the entire sorority house seemed to know about it!  The doorbell rang, and by the time I made it downstairs to meet Phil in the entry, several of my sorority sisters were gathered along the banister and in the tv room off the balcony, talking about the guy who was there to pick up Catherine.  Luckily for me (and Philip), we were meeting on Holy Saturday morning, so most of the girls were gone for Easter weekend, and we were spared the large audience that an evening date would have had!  A few of the girls whispered to me as I made my way downstairs. 

"Good luck!" 
"Have fun!" 
"Aw, he's so cute!" 
"I can't wait to hear all about it!"

Philip was pretending to be busy looking at whatever was sitting on the foyer table when I came down the banister.  I know he was nervous because the first thing he said to me after he saw me and said "hi" was, "Do you have the dictionary?"  (He had told me in one of his Facebook messages that he had a travel Scrabble game, and he asked me to bring a small dictionary.)  I was so caught off guard!  "Um, no, I forgot it.  I'll be right back!"  You can imagine the faces when I ran back upstairs to my room and ran back downstairs with a dictionary in my hand.

Extremely out of breath, I made it back downstairs.  At this point, I was convinced that Phil was a clone of the Colin Firth character in Bridget Jones' Diary, Mark Darcy. 

He was all business, and he didn't show any facial expression except for a perfunctory smile.  Now, I know that he was just nervous being in the foyer of a sorority house with all eyes upon him.  Poor guy! 

Once we made our way out the front door, we never stopped talking.  Our conversation paused only to order our bagels and coffee before sitting down to our game of Scrabble.  Phil insisted on paying and opened every door.  He wasn't trying to be smooth, but he did it deliberately enough to show me that that was how he thought things should be done. 

In between playing our Scrabble tiles, we had the most wonderful conversation.  We talked about our interests, hobbies, families, faith, quirks, future plans, mutual friends, made fun of the other person's Scrabble playing abilities, and whatever else popped up.  Every now and then, one of us would have to sit silently as we plotted our next move on the Scrabble board, but the silence wasn't at all awkward.  I asked him if he went by Phil or if anyone called him Philip.  He said that most people call him Phil, but that his mom, a few relatives, and our mutual friend, Kristin, call him Philip.  I asked if I could call him Philip, and he's been Philip ever since. 

It's a good thing that things were going well, because Philip's dad popped in to get some coffee on his way to his office and happened to walk right by us.  So, I guess you could say that Philip introduced me to his Dad twenty minutes into our first date!  I've never asked him, but now that I know him as my father-in-law, I wonder if he was in a hurry that morning or if Philip gave him a look that said not to be chatty. 

The date started at 10:00 a.m. when Philip picked me up at the sorority house, and we didn't get back until mid-afternoon.  It was the longest Scrabble game in recorded history!  (For the record, I won.)  Philip walked me back, and a few of our mutual friends in the sorority visited with us in the foyer. After awhile, they left us to have the clincher first date goodbye moment.  Philip said that he had a lot of fun and I said that I did, too.  He asked if he could have my phone number.  I gave him my room number (remember, I didn't have a cell phone at the time), and he said he would call me to get together again soon.  I said I would like that a lot, and he gave me a big hug before leaving.   

Once the door shut behind him, I noticed that my cheeks hurt from smiling so much that whole day.  I immediately ran up the stairs to my pledge sister Kristin's room.  (Remember, she's the mutual friend who calls him Philip.)  She was in a God Teens group with Philip in high school and wanted the report on our date.  I remember laying on her bed, gushing about every detail.  I told her, "I'm going to marry that guy!"

I left town the next day to spend Easter with family, and I couldn't stop thinking about Philip.  When I got back to the sorority house on Sunday night, someone told me that there was something in my mailbox.  When I looked, there was a plastic grocery bag and a card.  Philip had made an Easter card for me with the help of his younger sister, Maddy (who, if I'm doing my math right, would have been 4).  I still have it.  The plastic grocery bag was full of Easter candy.  It was probably just some extra candy that Philip swiped from his house, but I really appreciated the sentiment.  My parents were living across the country at the time, and Philip knew I wouldn't be seeing them that year.  Silly as it may be, the chocolate eggs and pastel M&M's made me feel less homesick.  That small surprise was the first of many to show me that "Phil" from the honors dorms was the right guy for me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bedtime Sweet Talk

Janie, asleep on the couch 10 minutes after waking up because she woke up too early
Janie is officially 2 and 1/2 this month.  Like most "middle toddlers" (24-36 months), she struggles with unexpected changes and thrives on routine.  She likes things just so and will question or even correct us (especially little Walt!) when we don't "do it right."  Although she's still very flexible with meeting new people, trying new foods, and going new places, she wants the rituals of her day-to-day life to remain the same.  For example, Janie has to hold one tooth brush while I brush her teeth with another.  Then, she brushes her teeth on her own when I'm done brushing for her.  If I dare change that sequence, things get emotional. 

In those moments when she gets frustrated with unexpected change or thinks that things aren't done right, she gets reduced to tears.  Remembering the lessons I learned from Dr. Karp's The Happiest Toddler on the Block, I start speaking "Toddler-ese."  

Most parents already speak "Toddler-ese" when their toddler does something that makes them happy or proud.  We use short phrases, use repetition, and mirror their emotions to show them that we are connecting with them.  For example, when Janie went down the slide all by herself for the first time, like most parents, I said, "Weeeeeeeee!  Wow!  Janie is sooooooo big!  Janie went down the slide all by herself!  Mommy is so proud of you!  Good job!"  It seems so natural to do that when she does something that makes me happy and proud, but it took practice for me to use the same short phrases, repetition, and mirrored emotions when she gets scared, mad, or sad.  With a lot of practice (and a willingness to sound like a dingaling on the neighborhood playground), I'm learning to use "Toddler-ese" in those emotional moments.  Several times an hour, I say, "Janie is saaaaaad!  Janie is sooooooo sad!  Janie, use your words.  Tell Mommy why you are sad.  Use your words.  Mommy can help."     

It's tough being a toddler!  You're smaller and weaker than everyone else, you're not easily understood by others, and the world is a big, confusing place.  Janie's two-and-a-half-year-old brain shuts down when she gets upset, and she doesn't respond to reason.  When I use short phrases, lots of repetition, and mirror Janie's emotions to hit her emotional sweet spot, she moves through her tantrums much faster.  When she calms, she is able to try verbalizing what is upsetting her.  "I want purple dress, not green dress!  Pleeeeeeeeease?"  

By day's end, especially if it's been a hard day for Janie, nothing soothes her sweet little soul more than our evening routine.  Usually, we do baths, put on jammies, read a few stories, tell Janie to "pick a friend" (stuffed animal) to bring to bed with her, tuck her in, and say our prayers.  Tonight, I added "bedtime sweet talk" in before prayers.  I have a feeling it will become a regular part of our bedtime routine.  

"Bedtime sweet talk" is yet another gem that Dr. Karp introduces in The Happiest Toddler on the Block to encourage good behavior in your toddler.  It's a chance to show your toddler that you appreciate all of the good things that she did during the day and preview the exciting things that could happen the next day.  At the end of a long day, it's an opportunity for the tired tot to "drift into sleep feeling smart, loved, and like a winner."  

Dr. Karp says to keep your voice "gentle and understated--more like a candle than a sparkler."  Basically, bedtime sweet talk is an opportunity to go through the day, retelling your toddler all of the good deeds she did and describing how happy the events made you.  Then, to help your toddler look forward to tomorrow, mention a few of the things that may happen--something as simple as getting to help Mommy water the flowers or seeing a buddy on a playdate. 

The last several weeks have been especially difficult for Janie, so it was nice to have a sweet ending to our day.  Once Janie was all tucked in with Puppy (her stuffed dog) and her favorite blankie, I got down on the ground next to her toddler bed.  I stroked her hair while I used a soft voice to start my "bedtime sweet talk."  I went through our day, telling Janie how happy she made Mommy and Daddy.   I got as specific as possible to show her that I noticed her good behavior.  I talked about how well she ate the different foods at the different meals, the toys that she shared with Walt, the places we went, how nicely she played with her friends on a playdate, what a great job she did getting in and out of her carseat, the stories we read, etc., etc.  After recapping the day, I told her why tomorrow is going to be a fun day, too.  I talked about going grocery shopping and, if she is a good listener, getting a cookie from the bakery at the end.  Then, we talked about taking Monty on a walk and going to the park with Daddy when he is home from work.  

Janie could not conceal how much she loved our bedtime sweet talk!  She relished hearing me retell the good things she did today and how happy they made us.  As an added bonus, it was an opportunity for me to reflect on the day and remember all of the really good things that happened that I might have otherwise forgotten.  Civilizing a toddler is a lot of work, and taking the time to remember all of the good things she did throughout the day is a motivator to do it all again tomorrow.  Also, it showed Janie that I saw and heard the different good things she did that made "Mommy and Daddy so happy."

Once I finished the "bedtime sweet talk," we said our bedtime prayers like usual.  Janie showed me how much our time meant by holding on extra long to my goodnight hug.  "I love you, Mama.  Night, night!"  I could still see the grin on her face as she rolled onto her side while I shut the door behind me.