I once heard a story about a conversation God had with Adam right before He created Eve. "Adam," God said, "I can see you are lonely. Therefore, I'm going to make you a companion. She will be totally devoted to you. She will wait on your every need. Her whole existence will be centered on making you happy and fulfilled."
"Wow!" exclaimed Adam, "that's awesome!"
"Yes," said God, "but that's not all. She will also never criticize you. She will never try to tell you what to do. And she will never correct you or tell you what you should have done after you make a mistake. She'll always take your suggestions, and she'll never insist that you talk to her when you are tired or just want to be left alone."
"That's incredible!" responded Adam. "But, God, it sounds too good to be true. What is all this going to cost me?"
God paused for a moment, then said, "Adam, I'm not going to lie to you. It's expensive. It's going to cost you an arm and a leg."
"Ooooo," Adam replied. "That is expensive." Adam thought for a minute, then asked, "God, what can I get for a rib?"
I share that story because today Meredith and I celebrate our twelfth wedding anniversary. The years have sure flown by fast. In twelve years of marriage, Meredith and I have lived in two states, four cities, and seven homes. We've seen our best laid plans blow up in our faces, taken unexpected twists and turns, zigged when we should have zagged, and, at times, slipped temporarily into madness. We've lived through the pain and sorrow of three miscarriages, experienced the joy and blessing of three beautiful children, built friendships with people that mean the world to us, and owned one dog. Through highs, lows, career changes, family struggles, the death of old dreams, and the birth of new ones, Meredith and I have held on tight. We've laughed together, cried together, prayed together, and, on many occasions, fought rounds that made the "Thrilla in Manila" look like a game of patty-cake. Still, here we are: a dozen years down, a lifetime to go. Meredith is still my best friend. Even when she does things that leave me ranting unintelligibly or typing the words All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy over and over on my computer, there's still no one else I want to be with. She's still my "Little Rib." She's five-foot-four of sheer passion. (She'll try to tell you that she's 5'4'' and a half, but don't believe her.) There's not a smile on earth that compares to hers, and when she walks in the room, every other woman still pales in comparison in my eyes. Yep, I'm a lucky man. I'm an aluminum ring set with a diamond. I'm a discount beer that somehow wound up on display next to fine champagne. What did I get for a rib? Someone beyond my wildest dreams.
The fact that it is my anniversary got me thinking about how marriage changes once you have kids. Before children arrived, Meredith and I used to talk about movies, politics, current events, our future, religion, our jobs, and so on. Once we became parents, topics of conversation changed drastically. Where to find the best deal on diapers, the consistency of baby bowel movements, Sesame Street’s number of the day, and the state of Meredith’s nipples quickly became the dominant topics of conversation. Make no mistake, once you have children, conversations change drastically.
The concept of a social life also undergoes a major overhaul when you become parents. Before Meredith and I had children, we ate out often and usually hit a couple of movies every month. We actually hung out with friends. With kids, things are different. Going out suddenly becomes a major logistical operation. There are diaper bags, bibs, strollers, and hand wipes involved. There are windows of opportunity that must be considered. Take a baby or small child to a restaurant or store at the wrong time, and you invite a meltdown reminiscent of Chernobyl. Your "relaxing meal out" days are over. No more heading out to eat around 7pm. Now you find yourselves battling senior citizens for the best seats at places that offer early bird specials. In addition, the word buffet takes on a whole new meaning. Buffets mean no waiting. No waiting means less screaming, fewer meltdowns, shorter periods of scrutiny from bothered co-patrons, and less money spent on sedatives to calm your parental nerves. Golden Corral, CiCi’s Pizza, and Ryan’s become a parent’s Ruth’s Chris. They’re fast and as close to convenient as visiting a restaurant gets. If you’re lucky, you can be in and out before the kids ever realize that they’ve missed the opportunity to become a public spectacle.
As a dad, I’ve become a better tipper. Not that I have more money—in fact, just the opposite. But God bless anyone who has to clean up our table once the Howards leave a restaurant. Rarely do we depart an establishment without leaving the floor around our table riddled with Cheerios, food scraps, spilt milk, and broken, restaurant-issue crayons. I can just picture the soon-to-be-pitied bus boy crossing himself and kissing the crucifix around his neck the moment he sees our family escorted to a table. I feel his pain. I live with it at home. Therefore, I try to throw a few extra bucks on the table when we're done. To not do so would be more than inconsiderate, I’m convinced it would be a damnable sin. You just can’t do that to another human being and expect to still find a place in heaven.
One of the biggest areas affected by parenthood is sex. Before children, sex is an event. Women insist on foreplay. There’s romance. Often, there’s a date. You take your time. You connect. The house is all yours. If the headboard’s hitting the wall, who cares? It just means you’re having a good night. If one of you feels inclined to make loud animal noises, you go for it. If you want to don a cowboy hat and play a round of Marshall Dillon meets Miss Kitty, so what—it’s fun. You enjoy the experience. There are no boundaries.
With kids, sex is on a timer. Now your wife says things like, “If we’re gonna do it, we gotta do it now; the baby will wake up in twenty minutes.” It’s like playing a game of double-dutch jump rope; you have to jump in at the right time or you’ll miss your turn. Sexy lingerie gives way to flannel pajama pants and t-shirts that smell of spit-up. Banging and animal calls are muffled by sounds of “shhhhh, you’ll wake the kids!” Even the art of emotionally connecting is cast aside as your wife insists that you hurry up and finish so that she can get some sleep before someone has a nightmare or the next round of breastfeeding begins.
It is essential to remember, dads, that there is no room for male egos in the post-baby sexual scenario. You just have to accept the fact that, nine times out of ten, your wife’s mind is going to be somewhere else. You can’t let it bother you that the idea of a nap is far more likely to send her into a state of bliss than any sexual maneuver you might perform. Not to burst your bubble, but if she’s moaning, it’s probably because she just realized that she forgot to buy wipes at the store rather than because of anything you’re up to. Just suck it up, stud. Don’t let it get to you. You’ve still got it. It's just that she's too tired to want it right now.
But regardless of the changes, parenthood is an amazing blessing when shared by two people who love each other. Sure it totally turns your life upside down, but once you have kids, you realize that upside down is a lot more fun than what you had before. Our talks, social interactions, and romantic lives might be drastically different, but who really cares when you're sitting side-by-side clapping for your daughter at her first dance recital, yelling encouragement to your two-year-old tee baller as he beats the crap out of a tee with his bat (rarely, if ever, touching the ball), or chanting together "Whoop, there it is," after your toddler finally poops in the potty for the first time? Sure parenthood is exhausting sometimes, but when you finally get the kids down and have a moment to sit together amidst the scattered toys, topless markers, and half-eaten graham crackers, you realize that there is absolutely nothing more beautiful or important that you could do with your lives than to have and raise those amazing gifts from God you call your kids.
So let me use this week's post to say, "Thank you, Meredith." Thank you for choosing me, when you definitely could have chosen better. Thank you for trusting me with your heart and your future. Thank you for forgiving me for the times when I've forgotten just what you mean to me and have taken you for granted. Thank you for supporting me, loving me, and believing in me when I haven't believed in myself. And thank you for not killing me when you read this post and realize what I've shared about our personal lives. I would not have the incredible life that I have without you. You are my soul mate and closest friend. I will always love you and need you. Most of all, thank you for Emerson, William, and Carson. I don't know what most men feel like they got for a rib, but as for me, I got the only life I would ever want. Happy anniversary, Babe.