Oct 062009

Every few weeks our family’s “state of the sister” sanity system fails and I end up having a full blown mommy meltdown. I usually tell myself that this phenomenon is inevitable and justifiable due to all the laundry and whining and refereeing and bathing and signing permission slips and mopping and bending over to pick up so many things and the general, overwhelming reality of being a caretaker to several helpless human beings. But I suspect my meltdowns could be more closely traced to my low tolerance for the typical turbulence of life.

Regardless of how it happens, occasionally I decide that life is impossible and that someone must fix it.

And we all know who that someone is.

So I call Craig at work to deliver the dramatic speech I’ve been mentally rehearsing all morning and he answers with a whispered “hello?” which is supposed to indicate to me that he’s doing something important. And so I say “I know it’s probably a bad time to call but the thing is it’s a much, much worse time at home. So I’m sorry but I think I have to leave the family .” And he always responds with some version of: “Wow, honey. Sounds really bad. What can I do?” Because he read somewhere that this is a good thing to say to a deteriorating wife. And it is. So I take a deep breath and say, “Funny you should ask because I’ve actually identified some possibilities. Do you have a pencil?”

“I need a bigger house for pete’s sake and also a nanny and either one more or one less child – I haven’t decided which – and just a teeny glass of wine because it’s been years and how can anyone be expected to be a mother without a single performance enhancing drug? And I also need to quit teaching and quit writing and become a yoga instructor. Also, I need to withdraw Chase from school because the paper work is just brain shattering and I’d like to plan a two week vacation immediately and also hire a housekeeper and cook and live-in-therapist. Furthermore, the suburbs are killing my soul and I think our family really belongs on a ranch. Without any animals. And in walking distance of a mall. Then I think I’ll be fine.”

And Craig always says that yes, these are all completely normal and manageable requests. And that he totally understands and even agrees that life would be less impossible if we just made these few simple adjustments. But since he can’t take care of them immediately because he’s actually giving a presentation at the moment, maybe, just for now, I could pour myself a big glass of water and go take a bath. Just for now. And then after work we will certainly get wasted together and go ranch shopping.

And so I hang up, find a video and place the big kids in front of it with enough pretzels to last awhile. Then I decide that the baby looks tired even though she doesn’t at all, so I deposit her in the crib. Then I step over the carnage on the family room floor and gently escort myself and my glass of water to the bathtub. And I lie in the warm water and drink the cold water for a long while. And there is something about the water that helps, friends. What is it about water? It’s like morning, I guess. It’s like starting over.

And when I get out and dry off, I feel better. Even without the ranch. And when Craig gets home we don’t speak of the breakdown, because it would be ridiculous to discuss it every time, but he does raise his eyebrows which means “Are we cool?” and I don’t even nod, just sort of smile instead, and he breathes deeply. And he thanks God, probably, for getting our little family through another day.

Oct 082009

The Truth of the Thing

You and I stand side by side in the kitchen,

Spreading mustard on this bread,

Peanut butter on that bread,

Pouring a million little cups of water.

The kids wait loudly at the table.

You start to serve too soon,

So I grab a sandwich and bite it.

Then put it back on the plate for delivery.

We all sit down, say grace.

Thank you God, for this family, for this beautiful day,

help us be patient with each other.

Ten hands unfold and dig in.

You say to me,

Why do you always take a bite

before we sit down?

I cock my head in mock confusion.

I don’t know, I say.

But I do know.

I take a bite first because

All sandwiches are not created equal,

Even when one tries, a little, to make them so.

One has softer bead,

More meat, crisper lettuce,

A tomato slice of a more perfect thickness and diameter

Than the other.

And husband, I love you and I love these kids.

But I also love a good sandwich.

And that’s why I bite before delivery.

I bite the best one.

So nobody else at this table

Accidentally gets it.

Oh, you say.

Then why do you sometimes bite them all?

Let’s just eat, I say.

Nov 172009

In response to your many requests… today I offer you another letter from Bubba.

For those new to Momastery, please read this introduction to my father first.

This letter is a reflection on the conversation between Craig and my dad after Craig and I, unwed, told my parents that we were pregnant. It’s a passing down of the keys of fatherhood from father to son in law, from man to man.

Christmas 2005

Dear Craig,

You are receiving my annual Christmas letter to Glennon. This year, I decided to write it to you because I think it is important that important things get said, particularly between men. For guys, thoughts about friendship, admiration, thankfulness, and even love just don’t get on the radar screen much less on the table until regret finds it is too late to say what should have been and could have been said. Things don’t get said because of a time honored ban among men about sharing anything that is not couched in sarcasm. In some venues I adhere to and even support this ban. In others, the important ones, I don’t. So I have a few things to say and this seems a good time to say them. These Christmas letters to my daughters tend to be a little sappy. I’ll try to avoid that pitfall but might not. Since you are now reading this that has become your problem. (That was man to man sarcasm.)

About three years ago you and I sat in the Burke house and discussed your future. During that discussion I shared my thoughts, as best I could, about the decisions before you. They were life altering ones that you had not bargained for, much less prepared for. When you left, because I knew little about you, I had no idea what direction you might take. And to be truthful, because I didn’t know you well, I didn’t know what direction you should take. But the decision you have taken is clearly one I have observed and evaluated. So here is your three year evaluation.

First, the direction you took, by its very nature indicates that you have character and courage and faith in yourself. When confronted with adversity every man has a dual reaction choice. Fight or flight. For most, flight is both an instinct and an inclination. Flight contains the hope of escape or at least a retreat and reprieve from the threat. You did not choose flight. You chose to stand and face your future. It was a good choice for you since it appears you fit your future well. You may not see yourself as a fighter, but you are not a runner.

Second, the future for which you have taken a stand appears to be a bright one. Your son, who is loving, positive, bright, and endearing reflects everything you give him, every day. Your fathering intuitions are strong and your skills in dealing with, nurturing, and directing your son grow week by week. Your wife exudes confidence in you and is content, secure, and very much in love. It is obvious that she depends on you, leans on you, and admires you. My wife adores you. (The word “adores” is not one that is in the lexicon of most males, certainly not in mine. It is my wife’s word.) And I trust you. I see your children, however many there might be, as among the lucky bunch who have a father who has decided to make them the center of his life and who does so selflessly and with a sense of joy. This is less common than you may think.

Thirdly, every man I ever admired was a good father. Because of your nature you will likely find yourself doing the same. Even in your professional life the men you trust most will turn out to be strong fathers. Commitment to honest work, to integrity, to charity, and even to friendship is all centered in the family. Everything moves out from that center. The farther it is from that center the less important it becomes. Where I live I am surrounded by eminently successful men who commanded enormous salaries and enjoyed great power. But many are now confused at their adult children’s lack of direction or lack of work ethic or even lack of values and integrity. Those children were the audience that watched their fathers move farther and farther from the family center as they were seduced by money and power and prestige and pressure or by any of the other things that cause men to lose their way. As they became lost so did their children and as a result those children turned to somebody else to raise them. Make no mistake, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a father who is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure his children know him, know what he stands for and know that they can count on him without equivocation and at anytime. From what I have seen I think you are ready to join that elite group.

Any evaluation that is meaningful contains suggestions and constructive criticisms. The following are intended to be useful, not instructive.

Areas for growth and improvement:

1. 1 1. Do not assume that your natural child rearing talents will carry the day. You would never consider pursuing your career without a passion to succeed, or without exposure to successful role models and techniques. The same is true for parenting, which is the most important job you will ever have. You may have a natural talent for it, but to be a successful parent you can’t rely on your intuitions and energy alone. You must expose yourself to the important body of knowledge that has been developed over centuries of study. You cannot and should not, under any circumstances, defer to your wife as the sole arbitrator on child rearing. That is not fair to her, yourself, or the children. She and the children need you to be a knowledgeable and confident father. Making bonds with your children through good times is the fun stuff, the easy stuff. If you want to be a great father, seek and find books, seminars, and other resources. Use them to increase your knowledge and confidence particularly in the areas of setting limits, consistency, and fairness. This takes time and energy. Your profession will not provide you with time or energy. The opposite will be true. You will have to do it on your own. That is part of the sacrifice of being a good father. Ironically, you will find that it is amazing how the skills you acquire as a parent spill over and enhance your professional efforts. Your job is to establish their roots while developing their wings.

2. 2 2.Try to overcome the tendency to paint around hardware on doors and windows.

Merry Christmas,


And for those of you who were raised without a father like Bubba, or who are raising your babies without one…please stop back by Momastery tomorrow morning for the juiciest slice of hope I’ve ever tasted.