Uppermost House: My wife, a mom on a mission

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

On my desk at work, I have a photograph of my wife, Karen, when she was 20 years old; and on my computer background just a foot to the right is another photograph of her that was snapped after 30 years of marriage — I can’t tell the two images apart. When my eyes first fell into hers across a crowded college cafeteria in 1979, I took a deep breath, and it seems I haven’t let it out yet.

Karen has been a mom for the last 10,368 days, pulling double duty for the last 7,496 days. It started the day our son was born in an upstairs bedroom in our apartment after a day and a half of labor. Just a couple of hours later, after the midwife had assured us all was well and had quietly slipped out the front door, I found Karen downstairs making supper, shuffling about in her bathrobe and slippers as if nothing had happened.

Eight years later came our daughter, in a different upstairs bedroom this time, with a different midwife, but after a laborious bout of about the same ferocity. And again, Karen was up and scurrying about the house in short order. I was exhausted and fell asleep on the couch.

Karen always wanted children, but wasn’t sure about the whole mom thing. Even today, she’ll tell you she’s not cut out for motherhood, not quite certain how to actually pull it off. “But look,” I’ll say, pointing to the clear evidence: our son (the engineer), a loving, responsible husband, a happy man on the verge of his own impending fatherhood, and our daughter, a bright-eyed, buoyant, college senior with a future as bright as the sun. “Look at them. They’re amazing. You did that!” And she’ll just shrug and thank God for all His help and hug me and wander into the kitchen to steam broccoli.

Cloth diapers sloshing up and down in the toilet of a cheap apartment, sippy cups, highchairs, the ins and outs of car seats, feedings every-two-hours, fevers, tears, screaming fits, tangled hair, stuffed animals, searching for favorite pillows, monsters under the bed, mind-numbing hours at the playground and the beach, bedtime stories, dying pets, huge grocery bills, no savings account or vacations, part-time jobs on the side, laughing uncontrollably, soccer games, thrift-store clothes, swimming lessons, listening, praying, laughing, crying, scolding, holding, shooing, lifting, cuddling, lots of hugs, zits, braces, laundry, new sneakers (again?), scrapes, bruises, mud everywhere, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, snakes brought into the house, rooms that look like explosions at the transfer station, lost socks, sleepovers, problems with matches and knives and flatware shoved into electrical sockets, “Get your butt in gear or we’ll be late for church!”, girlfriends, boyfriends, no friends, frozen pizza, doctor’s appointments, youth group, driving lessons, late-night talks… and the mom-stuff list just goes barreling along breathlessly and ends with, of course, a bladder that “just isn’t what it used to be.”

One of the most amazing things to me is that on top of all the usual stuff, Karen gave up her life and home-schooled our children right through the end of high school. From phonics to physics, history to theology, civics to calculus. Every day for years. Taking summers off to work.

Our daughter, Amanda, called recently from college. “Hi Dad, I’m stuck on something, is Mom there?” she said. “Oh, maybe I can help, sweetie!” I replied, all revved up and ready to problem solve. “Um, no Dad, it’s math,” she said. “Oh…hold on, I’ll get your mother.”

We became empty-nesters in the fall of 2010 when Amanda went off to school, but instead of flopping on the couch for a well-deserved three-month nap, Karen went back to college herself to get a second degree. The house soon filled with biology and anatomy and statistics textbooks and I found weird sticky notes lying around that said unintelligible things like, “must revisit the Krebs cycle — I just don’t get the oxidation of acetate…”

Just the other day, I stepped in front of Karen as she shot through the house on some higher-education mission. I put my hands on her shoulders and said, “Honey, you don’t need to do this, you know.” And then her eyes fell into mine again. “Oh, but I don’t want you to always have to work so hard,” she said. Then, she kissed me on the cheek and took off.

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