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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

What 15 years can teach you

In the years when I taught writing at the community college, I'll admit to having given notoriously bad advice. I'd hailed the merits of the semi-colon. Called it punctuation's sleight of hand. But  what was deft about cramming details into the bulging suitcases I called sentences? I'd been ponderous and self-inflated back then, forcing my readers through indented bogs of sludge.

I wish I had my students back in neat little rows in front of me. I'd revise all my advice, tell them that I'd known nothing back then. It would take 15 years just to get the elemental stuff figured out.

That goes for marriage, too. Call the first 15 years a round of preliminaries. In the looking back, you're embarrassed to discover how little you've known and the fool you've been all those years.

Ryan and I did so many things wrong in the first years of our marriage. In the years before we had children, we let form between us the creeping separateness against which we'd been warned. We'd married young; we were only 22. Too young to have brought any real baggage of habit into our marriage, too naive to understand that we were forming with our own hands the weights we'd later carry.

In the early years, our marriage suffered a quiet kind of neglect.

Having children for many couples is a strain they may not have anticipated. The vacations they'd grown used to taking, the lazy pajama mornings that Saturdays have always been, all the spontaneous invitations to dinner and evenings out; these are the leisures that evaporate when parenthood first dawns. That baby, packaged so small, wreaks unimaginable havoc, at least initially.

For us, it worked differently. We'd spent our twenties adding letters behind our names. Pre-parenthood had its blazing intensity - and its separateness. So when we brought Audrey home in the spring of 2001, there began a forced (but welcome) rethreading of our time and our priorities. Home and family exerted a beautiful centripetal force, hugging us close together. Those first years of parenthood saw us dusting off our marriage.

From the beginning, ours has been the conventional arrangement: husband working, wife managing the home and the children. I haven't ever wanted it otherwise. When the nannies stroll past my house pushing the prams of the strangers they care for, I remember what an unimaginable privilege these years have been. I do not regret the choice we made together. I have now been home almost eleven years.

Which isn't to say that I've put to rest all my struggling to make sense of what a godly mother is and does. Which doesn't mean that I now find it easy to make peace with these limits that are mine.

I wonder what the writing means in it all, how to even dare dream of taking the next year to begin a book. There are days I feel utterly ridiculous, wishing I'd just get the laundry done rather than wrangle here with these words.

I leave for a writing retreat in less than a week. Five days disentangled from meals and laundry and chauffering. It is a gracious gift from this husband of mine, the man to whom I've entrusted the secrets of my dreaming.

I'll admit there are things we've definitely gotten wrong in the past. There are seasons and separateness I'd now revise. But 15 years teaches you something, even to the most obtuse. There are some things we're starting to get right: the leaning, the trusting, and the vocabulary of intimacy that is daring and tremulous.