Mad love

With my wife and kids staying in Pennsylvania for an extra two days, Riley got to ride home in shotgun.

This is a rare treat for our forgotten child. Six years ago she had our undivided attention. I remember Miranda leaving our clothes in her crate so she could smell us while we were out.

Riley has driven across America twice, and Canada once. She’s slept by our side in the Badlands, been sprayed by Niagara Falls, barked at unsuspecting visitors to the Calgary Stampede. Not a bad life for a canine.

Riley the traveler. Circa sometime before we had kids.

Then we had kids.

I can’t say Riley took a back seat because Riley is lucky if we still have room in the trunk to bring her with us. Packing our car resembles a sophisticated game of Tetris: strollers, sleeping bags, luggage, a balance bike and pack ‘n play.

Riley relished the drive home with me, I’m sure. She also relished the forty-eight hours of my undivided attention. Although, I doubt she enjoyed the quiet like I did.

I could lie to you and write that two days without wife and children made me realize they don’t take up as much time and energy as I imagined. But, get this: I woke up early both days like I usually do to write before work. When I have two kids to feed, dress, and drive to preschool, I get an hour’s writing in. Without those responsibilities, I write for three blissful hours in the morning. I had to make extra coffee—always a good thing.

Time grows exponentially without children. It’s not just the blocks of time, but it’s the series of smaller tasks you avoid that grows your aggregate of time. Not only do you not have to cook for those growing bodies, for example, but you don’t have to clean their sloppy attempts at eating. Not only do you not have to give them a bath, but you also don’t have to negotiate terms and present a series of concessions or threats to get them in the tub in the first place.

After work, I got a haircut, caught a meeting, played pickup basketball, read three chapters in a book and still had enough time to write this blog post. Now that’s something. I also walked Riley—twice—just because I could. Spring is D.C.’s best season; and I’m free as a bird.

Look, I won’t pull any punches with this (if you’ve been reading the Miracle of the Mundane for long, you know it’s not in my nature) I’ve experienced in these forty-eight hours the freedom of time and lack of responsibility of a debt-free college student. It’s been great.

Was the house quieter? Yes. And if it got too quiet, I turned my music up as loud as I wanted.

Did the house feel empty? Yes. Absolutely. I even invited Riley up to sleep on our bed; that never happens. Riley smells like two-week old dirty laundry.

Did I realize how much I miss my family because they were gone? Definitely. In fact, because they were gone, I found I missed them in a new light.

When I met Miranda, I knew quickly she was the woman I wanted to marry; the woman I wanted to raise my children; the woman I wanted to grow old with, God willing. And I thought that love was untouchable. Like our house was this huge mansion that we would spend our lives filling with memories.

I was high on that program stuff, too. I had cleared the wreckage of my past and was eager to build a future. I named my demons in a sexual inventory; I was now looking for someone who would treat me well, someone that I could treat well, in kind. I found that person and never looked back.

And it was just when I thought filling that mansion with love could be my life’s greatest work that our first child was born. He taught me that love is not a finite resource. I do not need to ration it, to fill one room or the other, with it. Love just grows. Our mansion—still needing to be filled—annexed a warehouse. There was more love in us than we could ever dream. That unconditional love that finally allowed me to understand why my parents told me that they will always love me, no matter what.

And it was just when I was getting accustomed to see all this love grow and flourish in my wife and my son that my daughter was born. If the mansion and the warehouse weren’t enough, my daughter gave us a compound, a National-Park acreage to fill with love.

That’s a lot of love to be missing from our two-story house. Of course I missed them. I mean, I missed them so much that I slept next to our dog who smells like a walking health-code violation. Absence will do that—it will make the heart grow desperate for what it lacks.

Now, I’m fond of that wedding-bliss love. That First Corinthians “love is patient; love is kind” stuff. But, that’s not where love lives most of the time.

With no kids to run around and scrape their knees, I missed applying band-aids and boo-boo kisses. With no kids to pull out every toy we own and leave them strewn all over the house, I missed showing them you put back the things you take out. With no kids needing read to or rocked to bed, I missed paper-thin plots and corny rhymes.

What I’m getting at is yes love is patient, kind, and selfless, but have you seen toddlers behave? Love is also impatient, cruel, and selfish. Love is spilled milk and tantruming limbs. Love is a stern voice and a lost temper. Love must be present in the most trying of times in order to survive.

Without the bitter, there is no sweet; love is both.

And if I can summon the power to carry this realization with me when my family is back home, I’d be a wizard—some Merlin of male domesticity, if there could be such a thing. But, I’ll forget it. I’ll forget it fast. I’ll forget it when my son complains about what’s for dinner, and when my daughter struggles against the straps of her car seat.

Life’s not about magic wands and perfect comfort; it’s about getting so close to all sides of the things we love that we’re dizzy in the gravity of it all.

It’s about letting what we love spin us around and never wanting to get off the ride.

Everett in his first year. Note the chapped lips because he was screaming all night. In fact, that’s the only reason he’s asleep at all. It’s all part of the love package.

15 Responses to “Mad love

  • Love this, Mark. I hope I don’t draw on my own experience “too” much when I comment. ? When our kids were young my wife and kids spent the summers in Annapolis and I commuted on weekends. For 8 weeks. The first 2 weeks were bliss for the reasons you describe. But then the house got terribly quiet and dark. With tears I would welcome them back home. It’s ok and very natural to enjoy the breaks! You need them!

  • Absolutely beautiful! You have summed up the definition of love incredibly well! Great post!

  • What a magical description of the gravitational spin of love in family life. Having raised six children and unexpectedly having three of them back at home, one with a 15 month old, I am drawn into the vortex of loving them up close again! All while returning to college at age 54 myself. Thank you for reminding me of the beautiful gift of loving.

    • Wow, 6! Penny that is incredible. My stepdad always says “keep the learning curve upward” and that’s exactly what you’re doing, getting your degree. Enjoy that grandchild at home!

  • John horton
    9 months ago

    That is the truth of it right there, “for better or worse” stuff. I was not emotionally available for my children when they were young it’s shames me to say it but they were in the way. I make amends every day but will never recapture the beauty of love as you describe so well. Thanks for sharing that snippet of life on life’s terms Grateful and true.
    All the best.

    • You can’t be blamed for your neglect during active using, I don’t think. Under the spell of this disease, we can’t see anything else but the next fix. It’s all about what we’re doing today. Thanks John! I appreciate your comment and really glad we’ve connected.

  • Hi Mark!
    Love is both!
    I am dizzy in love with my hubs!

  • It was lovely to read this beautiful post about love and family life. 🙂
    Gives me hope for the future.

  • This was really profound, Mark. And funny and touching. But something about this line really hit me: “Without the bitter, there is no sweet; love is both.” Stellar writing.

  • Fab fab fab post. I feel the same, especially in the last few years as they get older. Also feel the same about my husband and hound who are BOTH allowed into the bed even after a run?

  • So sweet to read, brought tears to my eyes! So great to see so much reflection! Very true about not understanding unconditional love until you become a parent.

  • “Mad love” is awesome. Thank you for your <3

  • Beautiful post, family life is messy! We had a Norman Rockwell start to our morning with coffee, laughing kids and everyone just in bliss. It took a grand total of 10 minutes for fights to break out between the kids and then my husband and I. Bittersweet is the word but I wouldn’t swap it for anything. x

  • Yes, love is both. I miss those messy, tiring, joy-filled days. Life gets quieter as they get older, but the love doesn’t dim. Love ❤️ your post!

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