Dave used to want to be a war photographer.
Sept. 11, 2001, was early in our college careers, and he thought he’d be embedded over in Afghanistan, taking photographs. Can you see how I fell for him in college? I’d been dating a perfectly safe engineering student when this artist, this journalist came along. This guy who knows how to tell a good visual story; this guy who spent hours photographing. Exotic, no? This vegetarian photographer held my hand through the Toledo Museum of Art, at concerts and over greasy breakfasts after deadline at the college paper. It was very 2004. Very college romantic.
And we fell in love … and we got married. We bought a house, got a dog. Went corporate.
And the only battlefield this poor man saw was our kitchen on Ontario Street: a new mom preparing to go back to work wearing the same maternity pants she left in two months earlier. Laundry spilling out the top of the chute; no milk in the fridge. Ugly.
It was intense, but not the war he’d thought he’d cover.
“This was a fine life, certainly, but it was n’t the kind of life he had wanted to live. I wondered whether the life that was right for one was ever right for two!”
Jim Burden, narrating in “My Antonia” by Willa Cather
“Do you ever wish you were a war photographer now?” I asked him tonight.
“Yeah. Kind of. But having a family changes that.”
We had kids, three of them, quickly, and it makes one wonder, on a slow Wednesday night, when friends are vacationing; when continents have yet to be traveled; when student loans have yet to be paid off … It makes me wonder.
There’s so much joy in what I do at home, with these people. We’ve got no money, but we’re happy. I wanted Dave and these kids; I’ve been gratefully wondering how that dream to stay with them all at home came true. A friend who walked tear-filled miles with me can attest to the heart-wrenchingly slow process of leaving the job to be at home with them. God moved us to Michigan before I had the courage to look Dave in the eye and say “I’m not getting a new job when we get there.” And he said something about no more Target, and the deal’s worked out well for me so far.
“It is a great thing to be a parent: there is no promotion, no dignity, to compare with it.” Charlotte Mason, of course. I agree, sometimes through gritted teeth, and standing beside me is someone who agrees, too. That’s a wonderful thing. Thank you, God.
I wonder about him, though, and his war-photographer dream, and the way these dreams of mine put a fence around his other ones. As I am quick to pursue what interests me, and as he’s not a complainer, I have to be intentional about asking “What do you think?” I need to ask more often; he needs to say without prompting.
“I think we have to start to dream again.” I said that in response, choosing to see his “Kind of” as an invitation to rekindle some of those things that can’t happen when our minds are preoccupied with tantrums and diapers. I get greedy when I think about how close we are to having three girls out of diapers; I shriek with joy when I see my oldest’s four loose teeth. Kids don’t squash dreams, but they do change them, and I feel that after seven years of pregnancies and babies, we’re ready to emerge and ask “What’s next?”
Don’t misunderstand: it’s not regret for me, or him. We love this adventure, these kids; this now. Those four loose teeth? They’re a drop before the avalanche of the signs of growing up, and I’m not ready for talking about boys or paying for braces. Heaven knows we can’t afford that. (Ha.)
It’s only this: I probably don’t think about his dreams as much, or his passions. And that’s not right.
We moms are learning (or should be learning) to think about “Mother Culture” — the idea that moms are people, too, and we require “mind food” to grow just like we know our children do. If this is a foreign idea, I’d heartily recommend requiring time apart in a daily or weekly schedule. Sometimes it’s me during naptime with tea and a book. Sometimes it’s a walk while Dave does bedtimes. It’s a standing monthly date with a friend to talk good books. It’s time to grow.
This isn’t a homeschooling thing; this is a life thing. Tonight in a meadow, I wondered how Dave’s dreaming lately.
Dave, my Dave. We’re wrong on calling it Mother Culture. It’s not about mothers, though maybe those less selfish than I require more prompting than I do to see the benefit of stepping away.
It’s not Mother Culture we should be striving toward; it’s parent culture. It’s people culture. It’s about the pursuit of dreams. It’s about space. Sabbaths, if you will. It’s human; it’s not about moms.
You know that line in “Annie Hall,” about the sharks that stopped moving and died? Dreaming’s like that. Without dreams, we stagnate. As I married a dreamer-turned-single-income-family-guy, I wonder what sorts of things he should be dreaming about, and the space I need to give those.
He has a few dreams. OK, don’t ask him about the deli one. I won’t support food service. He also dreams of goats. That’s not a joke, either. I’m not sure what it says when his two best dreams involve meat and goat cheese.
I dream of an old orange-brick farmhouse or a converted schoolhouse or church, with a porch and a few big old trees. Maybe there can be some goats behind it. We’re years from this dream; or maybe it’s not one that’ll happen. I can go without the goats, to be honest.
He also has a passion for refugees and children; for art and social justice. I’ve got passions for hospitality and words. I wonder how God’ll use those all together? I wonder …
I pray I remember, as I grow into understanding that my children are people, and I am people, that Dave is, too. Simple idea; large consequences.