Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Kids...You're Cramping our Style"

The first time I heard the expression, "you're cramping my style!" was when my husband said it to me in college.

I was cool.  He was cool.  Well, at least we were both cooler than we are now.  He was helping the hosts of a college party we were attending, and what that meant was that his job was to "man the keg."  The Football House, as we so affectionately called it, was having a spring dance party, and the senior football players had adopted my then-boyfriend to be their bartender.  We often went to the college parties separately.  He with his friends, me with mine, and then at some point in the night we would find each other and leave the party together.

He got there first that night...and to be honest he had probably been testing the keg for a while.  When I walked in I saw him across the room and he was stationed on his usual stool.  The stool that flanked the keg and was immediately surrounded by the true occupants of the house.  They were his football friends, but to be fair...they were my friends too.

Anyway, I walked across the room carrying the I'm-a-college-girl-and-I-know-it-swagger. (for those of you who follow my other blog you know that I was a tomboy college girl, so you can imagine the awkwardness of what I thought was a feminine walk)  It was smooth...I'm sure.  So, we made eye contact as I got closer to the temporary bar, and a group of keg guards glanced my way.  Before my lips had even parted with hello, my then-boyfriend said, "Hey, beat it, you're cramping my style."

My lips then parted with a surprised expression and I froze where I was.  It was a joke, and I laughed just as hard as his friends did, but as we all know, there is truth in joking.  I was not an over-bearing girlfriend, and I had plenty of other things I wanted to do at the party (like dance), but he wanted a night with the boys...a night without a girlfriend.  We have since used that expression a number of times when we feel like our true selves are being strained.

Right now, it is the kids who are cramping our marriage style.  Just like when we were in college, in order for that expression to carry any weight, the person who says it has to actually have style to begin with.  The reason it was so funny when my boyfriend said it to me in college was because he and I had already been dating for nearly two years, and everyone knew we were going to be married some day. He didn't have any more style for me to cramp.

The same can be said for how cramped our married life is because of our kids.  They are such an integral part of our lives, that we have probably lost the style that we would have had without them.  It's hard to imagine life without our kids, but there are so many days when I wonder how much more connected my husband and I would be, if the kids weren't around.

Kids bring us together for lots of things, especially when we are in the middle of school, sports and  music schedules.  We have to coordinate and cooperate regularly so that the house runs smoothly and everyone eats.  The problem is that the kind of connectedness we get is not usually at the level we desire.  Our conversations are snippets, the topics are often inane and then when all is quiet, and the kids are in bed, we are too tired to be the way we would normally be.

"Hey, meet us out for drinks," I hear our imaginary kidless friends saying.

See, our friends have the same kid-style-cramping problem that we do.  We can't just decide on a whim to go out for drinks or to stop by a local eatery for some appetizers.  Popping out for a movie takes planning, babysitter scheduling and double the cash just for an evening out.

I know that the grass is not greener on the other side, and I feel blessed to have three healthy kids to drive me nuts, I just understand why kids are the number one stress on marriage.  Marriage becomes defined by the small people who live in the house.  The relationship between a husband and wife becomes more complicated and more exhausting when daily decisions are based on how to manage the other people in the home.  How do we schedule our work?  How do we want to spend our money:  do they need clothes or is that camp more of a priority?  Can we take everyone to a movie? Which one of us is going to take care of the bills?  The health care decisions? The financial planning for college?

Marriage is work...marriage with children is more work.

So, would I encourage a newly-married couple to have kids?  Unquestionably, positively and absolutely yes!  It might be the new configuration of a marriage to have kids, but I truly wouldn't have it any other way.

Nothing is quite like watching my husband teach our girls how to build stairs or watching him share the best parts of himself with our son.  I knew when I married him that he was a good friend, a good son, and a good match for me.  Having children has helped me to know him at a level that I would never have an opportunity to know otherwise.  He is a great father.  It is a style that suits him well.

Although our relationship as a couple is often thwarted and cramped by the kids who run around here, it is the phase of life that we chose. We just have to take advantage of the times when we are alone...try to capture the style that is uniquely ours and remember that the kids will eventually grow, and we will indeed get our groove back.