dancing in the fray
a note for those starting out
This is the time of year that tests us. It’s not so much our work ethic, that seems to be doing just fine. It’s more a test of our values. We say we value each other, our family, time to be in the moments of our day, but the explosion of spring, so short a season, demands. It demands our attention. It demands our time. It demands our mental problem solving and our physical project completing.
It was the same in other times of our lives. When we were young, our kids wee, our lives full of commitments to so many things outside of ourselves, there was always that push and pull of doing more to get to where we needed to be. But even then, my husband, Troy, and I, had clear conversations about the things that we valued and wanted to grow in our lives. The world made its obligations known should we, oh, you know, want to live in a house and pay our bills and stuff. The kids let their needs be known and we were there for them always, dedicated and true. But, who was there to advocate for us? Only us.
The more we integrate into the life we have built, are building, the more the need for us to hold onto those things we purport to hold dear. That’s a tough one when it comes to farming. It’s a tough one when it comes to having small children. It’s a tough one when everything feels so darn urgent and there are our beloveds, willing to take a backseat for the hustle. But that only lasts so long. Only for a time.
I have written about the gift of keeping death near. Death as friend. Death as reminder of being here now. Death along for the ride, hand in hand with the beauty of life. I don’t just write about this, I live it. And it’s because of this that a day like today, so simple and plain, can be full of such joy and love even living as I do with a hole in my world.
We live in a frozen, white world for much of the year. When spring comes, it is only a few short weeks from snow melt to a dense jungle of life. Now the green enveloping us is so lush and thick, I can’t even see my driveway anymore. The apple tree outside my bedroom window blocks the view of anything but it and the bumblebees bumbling all over its branches. The cattle barely finish one section of grass, ready to be moved onto another, before the grass looks as if they were never there. Everything is exploding with life.
As we expand our fruit orchard and garden this year, the normal call of growing our own food turns into a roar. “Much to do! Much to do!” We are two, trying to do. Trying to do with grace and care. That’s the difference. There was a time when we would put our heads down, throw ourselves at whatever came our way, and heave and ho and “git ‘er dun”! No more. We decided that - no more.
What does that look like? It looks like a different world. It looks softer and more considered. It looks like mornings working out together, outside under the sun. It means stopping for a kiss in the middle of shovelling. It means sitting on a log to share a story while we sip a cold drink. It’s a butt pat on breaks, a dance in the fields, a joint marvelling at a dragonfly or unknown birdsong. It means doing more projects together instead of our tried and true, “divide and conquer”. It means stopping mid-afternoon to sit in the cold plunge tub together, sharing gasped breaths and goosebumps. It means sunning our buns because it’s important and other things can wait. That’s what the divergence has been for us - other things can wait, but we can’t.
Children bring with them a certain amount of structure. There’s routines that get set, times for meals and stories and play. Jobs, too, bring structure. Those things are gone for us now. It’s just us and we get to decide what our routines are and what we’re feeding. There are always things that have to be done, but it’s in the doing that all is up for consideration.
I’m sitting on my bed writing this right now. There’s a funny little Brown Thrasher in that aforementioned apple tree outside my window. I get such a kick out of their song, so improvisational! I’m in here writing after a morning routine of feeding and moving animals, walking dogs, pumping some iron, and making Troy a latté to tide him over while I write for awhile before making breakfast. We’ll eat outside in the screened-in porch, listening to life buzzing and singing all around us. No rush. Nowhere to go. Just slow. Quiet. Quiet and slow. We will enjoy our food. Every bite. Otherwise, why go through all the effort? How can we ask our body to absorb and utilise those precious nutrients if we shovel them down with disregard?
After breakfast it will be hours in the garden. It will be a day of shovelling and tending and pulling and sweating and cursing the little black flies that love to make me look like I have some tropical skin disease. And then we stop. We talk. We laugh. We help each other. We have a break in the shade of a tree. We problem solve and create. We dream and we execute. We will eat our supper at 4:30 because that’s when we eat, even when it means stopping what we are doing. There is no delaying our nourishment because then we interrupt our metabolism which then interrupts our sleep which then interrupts our good manner. None of that is worth it.
When our kids were young, I had the good fortune of knowing someone that became a sort of parenting mentor for me. She told me that marriage had to trump children. I don’t think parents think that way much anymore. It seems like most couples pour their entire lives into their children and put their relationships on the back burner. It happens naturally enough, but all the more reason to squirrel away some of yourselves. Even then, when there was military schedules and three little kids, we built lives that fed our relationship. Our kids went to bed on a schedule. They had naps on a schedule. They were perky and chipper most of the time because they weren’t chronically exhausted. And we, too, were perky and chipper most of the time, because we weren’t chronically exhausted either.
Sometimes, those two hours in the evening, after the kids went to sleep, were the only time we had together alone. We didn’t have babysitters or family around. It was just us and a lot of time, just me alone. Those couple of hours often found us sitting on the front stoop of our military house, sharing a beer and quiet space. Or maybe we would read together in bed or do a workout in our backyard. A little walk around the back woods or a massage for one or the other. It didn’t matter, but what did was just being a man and woman together, not mom and dad, just us remembering each other.
I’m sharing about those early years to illustrate that there doesn’t come a time when your marriage will suddenly birth the moment when you will be connected in a deeply meaningful way. There is no circumstance that will finally appear when you will finally be able to dedicate the time to each other. You will do it now or you will not do it later. You can’t buy time. You can put things off, but don’t be fooled into thinking that all is well. Like all and everything, it’s a decision and then it’s action. Daily.
Had Troy and I not made the decision, all those years ago, to put our marriage first, I don’t believe that we would be here together now, not after the seemingly impossible challenges and the worst of tragedies we have gone through. No, there’s no way. And to be here now, continuing to evolve and grow, both individually and together, is only possible because we started down that road with a declaration of commitment to our marriage. There’s no way we could have known then that putting our kids to bed and having schedules in our lives would open up to where we are today, but that makes it all the more precious to me. That young Tara and young Troy laid a foundation to their future selves is one of the great gifts of our lives. And now, here we are, more connected and in love than ever, continuing to build. Maybe one day, senior Tara and senior Troy will read this little missive and nod their heads in appreciation. I hope so. Love today for our future selves. Staying the course, even when we have no idea where it goes.
P.S. This Saturday’s post will be a food/kitchen themed Q&A. Paid members can head over to the audio version of this essay and leave their questions in the comment section. The answers will be sent out to all subscribers this week.