sacrifices: book shelves over brussel sprouts

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“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think interior decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” – Anna Quindlen

F built this bookshelf. By hand. By himself. Over a matter of mere weeks. In case you can’t tell, I am completely in awe.

The first time the nesting whirlwind hit this house, when S was due to arrive, F built a guest bedroom in our basement. My hormonal self needed to know that there would be space for my mom to stay when she came to help us with baby (and space for future guests to always feel welcome in our home).

So he dreamed it, designed it, and made it a reality. As I joked to friends, you could have put me downstairs with all the necessary lumber and tools, and after seven years I still wouldn’t have anything to show you that vaguely resembled what he constructed. Completely in awe.

This second time around, we needed space for stuff (in order to have more space for people). So F dreamed, designed, and built an entire wall of bookshelves to store the ever-growing stacks of theological tomes and children’s books that creep into our home. There is nothing that warms a book-lover’s heart more than a wall of well-loved books. So every time I walk downstairs and see my grad school favorites mixed with F’s engineering textbooks and S’s board books, I smile to myself: this is the lovely blend that makes this family.

But F’s hours of manual labor inside have come at a cost.

Because not only did he want to finish the bookshelves before baby arrived, but I also wanted him to help me purge and rearrange every.other.room in this house. Project after project filled our weekends as we prepared our home to hold one more.

And outside in the garden, the weeds grew wild.

F is one of those passionate gardeners who dreams of planting in January. While I glower at the howling winter winds, he’s buried in seed catalogs. He plans the garden’s rows before the snow has melted, and for months we have tiny seedlings growing in our basement, stretching towards fluorescent lights in the hopes of someday-sun.

I love our vegetable garden, too; don’t get me wrong. But if it weren’t for F’s passion, dedication, and hard work, we would never have one.

Yet this year, he sacrificed plenty of prime planting days for my projects. And as I slowly noticed that sections of the garden went unseeded or unweeded, a nagging sense of guilt began to grow.

How could I steal this time away from his passion? He waits all year to get out in the garden, and instead I have him crawling around the basement, digging out plastic tubs of baby clothes so I can nest?

I began to voice the guilt. I offered to do S’s bath and bed routine so he could get an extra hour of sunlight outside in the evenings. I came up with creative detours around needing his help for the nesting projects I wanted to get done. I even claimed I could help weed – an offer he quickly shot down.

Instead, he smiled and told me it was fine. While the weeds grew taller and taller.

Now that the corner has turned on garden time and we’re beginning to harvest, I can finally help out more. Blanching beans, freezing zucchini, cooking and baking with the fruits of the garden are easy for me to do as I sit in the kitchen. And even though we still have an ample stream of veggies coming in from the garden, we both know it’s not the wild abundance of harvests past. So the guilt lingered in my growing belly.

Until this morning. I was lying in bed before dawn, thinking of how I should start the day with a pick of beans and cucumbers. And as I clumsily heaved my giant belly out of bed, I suddenly realized that while F didn’t get the broccoli or the cauliflower planted this year, there was plenty I had sacrificed this summer as well.

My favorite parts of my favorite season? Working alongside him in the garden. Bike rides around town. Fishing trips and camping excursions. Sipping white wine on an outdoor veranda. Laying on my back in the sun.

Not one of those delights could happen this summer. And while I was busy lamenting the time he didn’t get out in the garden, he was noticing everything that I was giving up, too.

If there is one small truth I know about parenting, it is that the sacrifices never stop. Next year will bring something new: a passion we don’t get to pursue, a trip we don’t get to take, a comfort we don’t get to continue. But my prayer is that each time I open the freezer this winter and pull out another bag of home-grown peppers, I will remember how much F sacrificed for me this summer. Next year will bring my turn to let him dig in the dirt while I chase around two toddlers in the hot sun.

And I hope I can do that with half the grace with which he let the weeds grow this year. Completely in awe.

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7 thoughts on “sacrifices: book shelves over brussel sprouts

    Ginny Kubitz Moyer said:
    July 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    I love this … parenting and marriage are both about sacrifices, in so many ways. And sometimes there are periods when one spouse sacrifices more than the other. Somehow, it all evens out in the end. My challenge is always learning to be graceful when the sacrifice falls on me. I don’t always succeed, but I try. :)

    Great bookshelves, by the way!

    genevieve said:
    July 31, 2011 at 11:10 am

    the garden was still just as lovely as years past! the bookshelves are gorgeous- but next summer we should really try for wine!

    mothering spirit said:
    August 1, 2011 at 9:40 am

    So true, Ginny. Both marriage and parenting rarely seem to be 50/50, don’t they? Often more like 90/10. But the hope is that we alternate between those times and it evens out in the end, as you say. Though I, too, struggle with my own graceful acceptance of that truth. “Begrudingly” may be my M.O. more than I’d like to admit, but I’m a work in progress. And thank God for that!

    And G, we are ON for next summer’s wine. It’s a date. :)

    HomemadeMother said:
    August 1, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    This is a really lovely post. I think all too often we assume that women are making the big sacrifices in bringing new life into the world. But, you very thoughtfully point out that dads sacrifice, too. Everyone has to make room for the new baby!!

    Can’t wait to hear how the delivery goes!

      mothering spirit said:
      August 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      Such a good point, HomemadeMother! F and I have both been re-reading “The Birth Partner” (Penny Simkin) in preparation for the big day, and I really appreciate its perspective on how it is challenging – in a very different way! – for fathers to go through the birth process with mothers. I think pregnancy can be the ultimate self-absorbing experience (as nature intends it to be, for good reason) so I appreciate when I get drawn out of my own head and belly to remember that this is a huge change/sacrifice for my husband as well.

      Of course, remembering that when I get to the delivery room is a WHOLE other story. ;)

    [...] live in a house of books. They line the walls and cover our floors. Not only the favorite stories that have become part of [...]

    where we dreamed our babies « mothering spirit said:
    April 23, 2012 at 9:45 am

    [...] We’ve planted gardens and fruit trees, rose bushes and lilacs. We picked out new appliances when old broke. We hauled furniture upstairs and down when inspiration struck. I’ve watched crews of construction workers tromp in and out of our yard, putting on new roofs or tearing up old floors. My handy husband even built a bedroom and a basement of bookshelves. [...]

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