We were far from shore. Waves roared past us in blinding crests as he stood against the brilliant blue sky balancing and stumbling and falling once again. Sputtering and grinning he emerged from the surf and swam towards the decades-old surfboard. The reflected water and sky turned his hazel eyes to a bright azure and his face was fresh and open, tanned and young and beautiful.
And that’s the moment, with his elbows resting on the board’s edge, saying “I’m just not very good at this.” that he looked at me, and I knew I’d give anything to spend my life with him.
Erik never did get up on the surfboard that day more than twenty-five years ago, but we finally remedied that last weekend with a much-needed vacation to Costa Rica where the waves are long and gentle, the temperature 80° even in January and any local will give a two-hour surf lesson for $25.
Maybe we were less afraid of looking silly, less afraid of falling.
And it might seem crazy to delay that surfing lesson by a quarter of a century, but I can give you six good reasons.
Everyone knows I struggle to leave my children. For the handful of trips we’ve taken sans kiddos, I have to drag myself to the airport and steel myself for the inevitable tears when the plane lifts above the Great Salt Lake. I’m not a worrier in general, but when I leave my children I think, “What if I never see them again?” It didn’t help that Mary was terrified I’d get eaten by a shark on this trip.
Still, 25 years and both our birthdays are worth celebrating and I knew Erik and I needed the time alone. The best, most capable and loving babysitters on the planet– Ben and Sammie– offered, at great personal sacrifice, to care for our little flock. They’ve been worried about me, about all of us. For the past six months I’ve had daily migraines and almost constant nausea. And despite all the tests and medications my doctor prescribed, I knew I simply needed less stress, more sleep. I’ve been happy, but your body makes you pay one way or the other.
It’s been a wonderful year; but filled with stresses and huge expenses. One missionary coming home, another leaving, a high school graduation, two weddings, along with two engagements, helping kids find jobs and apartments, all kinds of new relationships, kids entering new stages, and all the work and play of daily life.
And it’s been a hard year on our marriage. Much of our time together consisted of scheduling and going over the credit card bill (ACK!). Thankfully, we’ve kept up our habits of holding our tongue when we’re mad and showing kindness and respect to each other, otherwise we might be in real trouble, but we were both weary.
I know some readers might be uncomfortable with my honesty here, but I believe we need more transparency about the real work necessary for a happy marriage.
And somehow everyone survived. We sent iPhone photos back and forth: a Sunday tea party,
a surf shop,
back window views.
Mary awoke early to take the train to BYU with Ben (she found it extremely boring), while we slept 16 hours a day,
and hiked to waterfalls,
while our children ate amazing meals. They also sent photos of homemade gelato, hand-thrown pizzas, chocolate babka bread, homemade mac & cheese… Xander actually got full, which is saying a lot.
Our evening was spent strolling on the beach,
while Mary attended her first Young Women’s class.
The biggest conflict of the week at home, came when Xander and Mary were dancing through the kitchen and someone thought it wasn’t exactly Sunday-appropriate music (MIKA Stardust, for the record). But if my almost 17 year old wants to dance with his little sister in the kitchen, almost any music is appropriate.
Also, Ben and Sam found out why Mary features in so many photos– because she’s always around and she’s always cooperative.
Just two days of sleep cleared up all my illnesses, and I was able to simply bask in Erik’s company. Because you know what? I’m crazy about him. He’s so smart and funny, kind and creative; and still the best-looking man I’ve ever met. We made all kinds of plans for the future– a future which has frightened me because my children are growing up. Everyone I know in this stage feels a little lost. But those fears are receding. We’re not losing children; we’re gaining more. Including lovely Sammie who teaches Mary the art of macarons; Heather who always knows the right thing to say.
While the week was restorative for Erik and me, it was hard for everyone else. Ben and Sammie both go to school, teach and have additional jobs. Taking on the care of three half-grown kiddos (be they ever so lovely) was probably too much to ask. As Ben and Sammie said, “Mothering isn’t a part-time job.” And though I feel sorry and guilty, that truth was gratifying. It might be depressing if I really wasn’t needed at all around here.
Running this household is a ridiculous amount of work. Coming home to the endless lists of tasks and to-dos was frankly a bit depressing; I wanted to chat and go on walks and sit by the pool with Erik, not put in another load of laundry and drive dance carpool. I’ve often thought a full-time maid (preferably a robotic one) would solve most conflicts in marriage. But I know that probably isn’t true. It’s the work of marriage, getting out of bed when you haven’t had enough sleep, using up every last fragment of love and patience and kindness and finding you have more to offer, that creates something strong and beautiful.
In the more than twenty-five years since we first tried surfing together, I’ve thought of that day many, many times. My absolute adoration for this man has been a comforting image on days when the sun isn’t shining.
Although our marriage feels blissful right now, I know we have challenges ahead of us. But I have thousands of joyful memories to call upon and the firm knowledge we can climb any mountain, conquer any storm together. I also think the next twenty-five years will contain a lot more surfing.
I appreciate your honesty and value your words. You are always inspiring. Here’s to more surfing in your future.
I agree wholeheartedly that there needs to be more dialogue about the work of marriage. I’ve known my husband since he was 7. I thought that would make marriage easy. He was my best friend and all……… I let my girls see how much I adore their dad, but they also get to hear me say “I’m sorry” and “Let me hear your side of things”. I admire your work and commitment to your family. So glad you were able to get some me/we time and can continue to create and dream.
I love your transparency in everything that you do. Although I am a little mad that I didn’t know you were heading to CR. You KNOW how I feel about that beautiful place. Pura Vida, my friend. xoxoxoxo
Love this, Michelle! I’m so glad you got to get away. My parents celebrated their 25th anniversary with a big, very needed trip during one of the most stressful family struggles they have ever had, and newlywed Chad and I were also called in to ‘babysit’ the teenagers at home. So,I can say with authority, that even though it was probably challenging for Ben and Sammie, it will be an experience that will help their marriage, too, as they discuss the many things they hope to do (and not do) when they are parents themselves. Win, win, if you ask me. 🙂 And, Costa Rica sounds amazing!
This made me so happy to read, Michelle. I love reading about happily imperfect and yet still lovely and wonderful marriages. So glad you took a trip away! (And I can’t stop listening to Hamilton…the bio is next.)
Thank you for your honesty, you are a breath of fresh air in the blog world ! So glad you took care of yourself and it looks like a lovely place to relax !
This post, or the fact that I’m laying on the couch feeling awful while my toddlers play nearby, has me teary-eyed this morning. I’m sorry you’ve had migraines. I’ve wondered lately if it is possible to have a large family and stay healthy. I wish parenting could have weekend breaks. I know I would be a better mother if I could sneak to the beach more often- not physically, just mentally. (You look beautiful in the picture of you and Eric.)
I love your transparency. We are right behind you guys at 23 years this coming May. I have so many of the same feelings as you, I felt like you may have been in my head. Successful marriage takes work and so much commitment, but it is so very worth it! I always enjoy your posts so much. Sending love and wishes for your health issues to stay at bay. In loving and taking care of ourselves, we can serve others so much more successfully.
This looks like the most perfect trip for the two of you!! I am SO glad you made this happen. What a beautiful, beautiful place. There is something magically restorative about the ocean.
You are such a gifted writer. I love the line, “using up every last fragment of love and patience and kindness and finding you have more to offer”. Yes. Yes. Absolutely.
Thank you for sharing again and again your wisdom and insights. So so valuable.
i love everything about this post!
An honest blog is the best blog. #aloha