Commentary: Baby byproducts show us the heights of marriage
I got in the door late, later than normal. It had been a heck of a day, and even at that I was bringing work home. And there was this silence. With my two redheads -- a one-year-old angel of a daughter who likes to make herself heard and a grown-...
I got in the door late, later than normal. It had been a heck of a day, and even at that I was bringing work home.
And there was this silence. With my two redheads -- a one-year-old angel of a daughter who likes to make herself heard and a grown-up fallen angel of a Pomeranian who is even more assertive -- that's not normal.
I heard water running in the distance, or as distant as it gets in our modest house. Bath time? It didn't feel right.
I walked into the dining room and picked up new clues which immediately solved the mystery -- a high chair covered in puke, a pair of adult slip-on house shoes covered in puke, a dog ... well, you get the idea. Tia, the dog, had apparently been standing under the chair when Betsy, the baby, let fly, as babies sometimes do. Tia's front half was soaked and streaked with it, from the top.
And she was doing what dogs do when strange substances get left around, so there was some on her face, too.
I walked around the corner and could just make out Mommy's clothes piled in a heap in the bathroom, where the water was running and bath time was well under way. The clothes, apparently, were also casualties.
I went a little deeper into the house, past the bathroom, into the changing room, and saw the changing table streaked with another kind of baby byproduct that starts with "p."
Many single people would call a setup like that "birth control." Most parents of young children call it "Thursday."
I'm exaggerating, of course. Most days, nothing quite that dramatic happens. But then, out of the blue, it does. It's what parents live with and, in some weird way, live for.
That's what's really interesting about the story -- not the gory details but the aftermath, what happens to you, the parent. I have a stressful job. I'm a tightly wound person, a bit intense sometimes, and not a little self-absorbed sometimes, if I'm being perfectly honest. I tend to live inside a very active (if not always productive) mind, and not so much in the physical details of life.
And you might expect a night like that to be the moment someone like me melts down.
Not so. This serenity came over me. I greeted the family with a warm smile. I wiped up the changing table. I ran a few damp paper towels over the big messes on the dining room floor, damage control. Sandy, my better half, told me not to worry, to get my "homework" done, but from somewhere deep inside of me I smiled and said, "Hey, this is what parents do."
And so we tag-teamed the rest, getting the baby clothed and to sleep (Sandy), getting the dog bathed (me) and getting the chair cleaned up (her again). We both watched over the baby to make sure she was doing all right. I think we even managed to get in a game of cribbage before I got to writing my last story of the day.
The point is not what a great dad I am. Sometimes I'm crabbier and more selfish.
In fact, in a way it's just the opposite. It's a lot like being married.
Younger guys I know sometimes ask me what marriage is like, and I always say the same thing: Your life starts over. You start marking your history from a different point, and your life before seems like just a dream. I've never had anyone come back and say that was wrong.
Even after a couple of months, I think, for most of us it's like we hardly remember what life was like before we got married and became someone new.
Christian and Jewish belief have an apt description of that, from the opening chapters of the first book of the Bible. Two people become "one flesh." It's not just the sexual union, either, although that's part of it. It's an ontological truth -- spiritually you become part of something new and bigger when you get married. It's where the "half" idea in the phrase "my better half" must come from.
As a Catholic, I take it a step more and believe God gives actual spiritual graces in a marriage sacrament, that spouses are there to help each other become better people, to become saints. In fact, that seems like the most obvious thing in the world to me.
And children complete and complement that change. It's true that some wonderful married couples -- including some dear friends of mine -- can't have children, and some people marry after childbearing age. But producing children through the marriage union is not incidental to the meaning of that institution. To argue from the exceptions is like saying touchdowns are incidental to football because your team didn't score, or because you saw somebody playing a pleasant game of catch in the backyard.
Children matter. They connect you to your spouse in a deeper way. They connect you to your extended family, especially your parents, in a new way. They force you to care what happens in your neighborhood, your city, your world.
And just as you find a better you when you deal with your spouse's weaknesses (and she with yours), you find a better you, maybe one you never would have guessed at, as you wipe up baby puke with your clothes piled in a heap in the bathroom.
It's the nitty gritty of life that has meaning.
Some people think marriage is just a contract, or maybe a really serious, long-term extension of dating. Some think that because marriage has evolved over its history that it has no internal meanings, no transcendent truths, nothing that is not arbitrary, infinitely malleable, subject to our whims.
That tells me many people, however well-intentioned, are confused.
Kyle Eller is features editor of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by calling 723-1207 or by e-mail at email@example.com