Sunday, May 10, 2009

More Precious than Jewels

Today is Mother's Day. It's a special day on which moms are deservedly praised for the incredible gifts of God that they are. After all, if it weren't for mom's wisdom and warnings, who knows how many of us would have run with scissors to our death, lived our lives disfigured with pupils that froze cross-eyed, or endured the emotional trauma of being pulled from the burning wreckage of a near-death accident, only to have it discovered that we weren't wearing clean underwear. It was mom who'd lie down in our beds at night to make us feel safe after a nightmare. It was mom who'd pick us up and comfort us after we fell and skinned our knee or scraped our elbow. And, of course, it was mom who intervened to make sure that dad didn't kill us when he arrived home from work to discover the car covered in graffiti or find the garage on fire. Who can count the number of times mom did her best to make a hamburger "just like" the one at McDonalds, only to be met with the thankless weeping of a small child yelling in anguish, "That doesn't look like a Big Mac!!!" Even today, as a forty-year-old man, I'm often accused of being a "mamma's boy." All I can say is, yes, I am! I do have a deep sense of loyalty and attachment to my mother. But what can I tell you, she earned it.

Now that I'm married and have kids, I get to appreciate mothers from a whole new perspective. As a kid, you have no idea how hard your mother worked or how much she really loved you. You simply enjoyed the end result of mom's love and affection. It's like going to a movie and watching the released cut. You sit there and enjoy your bucket of buttered popcorn, never giving a second thought to all of the behind-the-scenes work. You just have fun watching explosions, car chases, high-powered gun fights, and the occasional Jedi vs. Sith showdown. Of course, if you're married or have a girlfriend, you also have to watch more than your fair share of romantic chick-flicks, a number of which now qualify as torture under the Obama administration. But that's another topic for another time. The point is, you don't think about all the hours of editing, filming, writing, takes and retakes that the people making the movie endured. No, you just watch and critique the film.

When you're married to a mom, it's like being on the set. I see how hard Meredith works to make our house a great home. I've witnessed the late nights when every bone in her tired body is aching to go to bed, but instead she sits up hours after the kids have fallen asleep to make sure that the invitations to their party look just the way they hoped they would. I know how hard she works to pull off play dates, sleepovers, birthday parties, or just the daily efforts she makes to ensure that the kids feel special and loved. It may be many years before my children understand just how lucky they are to have Meredith for a mom, but rest assured, I'm well aware of it.

To tell you the truth, I just don't know how moms do it. I deeply love my children too. But there are times when I just can't take it anymore: the noise, the mess, the smells, the bodily fluids, and, worst of all, the sleep deprivation. Somehow, Meredith can go a whole week of being up all night and still keep on going. Deny me a good night's rest more than one or two nights in a row, and there's a real chance the police will find me running down the street naked at 5 a.m. yelling, "I'm Batman!!"

Let's face it, when it comes to parenting, women are just tougher. In fact, I have long held to the theory that if men had the babies, everyone would be an only child. Most guys would be arrogant enough to think that we could handle pregnancy once. But about the time we faced that first bout of morning sickness or noticed our ankles swelling up like softballs, we’d be begging God to kill us and swearing never again! While women suck it up and go, barely even complaining—only asking for the occasional back-rub or troubling us for the once-a-week late night run to the grocery store—we men would be reminding every soul within moaning distance of the walk through hell we were enduring. Let’s not even talk about contractions. Heck, if I eat a steak I’m in the bathroom groaning for twenty minutes. Second child? I think not. We men would have one kid, rush to get vasectomies faster than you can say "Supercuts," then gather at our favorite bar to outdo one another with labor stories rivaling our granddad’s account of the Korean War.

Every so often, it's good to have an experience that reminds you just how grateful you should be for your wife. This past week afforded me just such an opportunity. Meredith asked me if I would mind her taking off to Daytona Beach for a few days to hang out with a couple of friends. Knowing how hard Meredith works, I just couldn't say no. She departed last Monday morning, leaving me to play single dad for a few days. The experience was kind of like going off to boot camp at Paris Island. You know it won't be easy, but until you're actually being screamed at and denied rest as you try to master tasks you have absolutely no idea how to accomplish, you really can't understand what you're about to get into. I had to do it all: breakfasts, prepare lunches for school, tend to the baby's every need, make sure William got to his doctor's appointment, see to it Emerson didn't forget the gift for her friend's birthday party, handle dinner, bath times, housework, make sure the soccer uniforms were clean... and accomplish all of it while constantly being reminded, "That's not how Mommy does it."

Fortunately, my kids are pretty well behaved. But at ages six, three, and nineteen months, even well-behaved children are a handful. Throw in the occasional kiddie meltdown, and the week was, to say the least, challenging. It felt like a domestic version of Survivor, only with no hope of being voted off the island. Meredith finally came walking through the door four days later to find her unshowered, unshaven husband crouched defensively in a corner, the words "all work and no play make Jack a dull boy" running over and over again in my mind. Simultaneously, my children rushed across the toy-cluttered room to embrace her with a joy not seen since General MacArthur returned to liberate the Philippines.

That's not to say I didn't appreciate the week. In addition to making me very grateful for my wife, it also allowed me extra time with my kids. Emerson, God bless her, did what she could to help. She tutored me on how to handle many of Mommy's daily tasks. William and I got to play a few more games of basketball and wrestle more than usual. And Carson, well, I think he just enjoyed having Daddy around to play and climb on while we watched Barney on PBS. The fact is, I wouldn't trade the week for anything. I don't intend to ever let Meredith leave town again without taking either me or the kids with her, mind you; but still, I wouldn't trade the week.

The Bible says that a wife of noble character is more precious than jewels. I'd have to say that's true. Meredith is a great wife and an amazing mother. One day a year to honor her is certainly less than she deserves. Instead, I want to get better at reminding her daily just how much I appreciate and need her. As dads, we need to remember that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is making sure they know how much we love and are grateful for their mommy. It takes more than words; it requires action. They need to see it in the way we help mommy, look at mommy, and how often we hug and kiss mommy. They need to hear it in the way we talk to mommy and in the things that we say. When we blow it, lose our temper, or treat mommy in a way that is hurtful, our kids need to hear us apologize and have a front row seat to witness our humility. Our sons are watching us to see how a man treats a woman. Our daughters are watching us to learn how they should expect to be treated one day as wives. The best way to make sure your little girl never marries a jerk? Show her daily that her mom certainly didn't settle for one. The best way to raise secure kids? Show them a loving marriage.

Yep, an awesome wife is more precious than jewels. So this Mother's Day, I hope we didn't just give our wives a nice gift and a day off. I hope that, in addition, we reminded them (and will remind them again, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next...) that they, themselves, are the gift that God has given us.

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