I decided to do what every self-respecting English teacher does during the holidays: Bring home several files of essays to grade and then let them sit in the corner collecting dust, peanut butter, and a few Avengers stickers.
Instead of grading, I played 50 games of Settlers of Catan, did lots of cooking and lots of dishes, went hiking and hurt my back, cleaned rooms while wishing I had a servant in the house, and then traveled 100 miles away only to do the same thing but with a different view--the windows there revealed lots of trees instead of lots of neighbors. Which would have been boring (because I actually like most of my neighbors) except we had invited the two of our friends that are stupid enough to vacation with us. They have a 9-month old. Watching them tackle all the naps and feedings and 5 a.m. wake-up calls and diaper changes was kind of like doing a victory lap. And refraining from "naa naa na naa naaaaa" while listening to them recall the near disasters that have attacked their young family was a huge test of my patience and maturity, the things I pretend to have when we have friends around who are stupid enough to vacation with us.
The ugly tales: the ones every parent knows by heart. Those of misunderstandings that happen on 0-3 hours of sleep, the lists of obligations and responsibilities that get doled out (or not) and resented, the realizations that the guilt- and obligation-free personal time you once had is gone for at least 18 years, the digestion that your body is not your own, and the admission that parenting really sucks sometimes. And. How these beautiful tiny humans make marriage extra hard. Like trying to run a marathon, only without your legs. The only encouragement we could offer was that we somehow still have two living children. And we are still married. And we offered our friends lots of alcohol.
Parenting cannot be refined. Or shortened. Or rushed through. It must be endured. And at its best it is delightful, like when those cherub faces smile and snuggle in that special crook of the shoulder and tell us they love us, or every night when they fall asleep. And. Parenting at its worst tests of our very character, like when we discover that ounce of kindness to our spouse even after getting vomited on all night long, or when we cheer on our child's assist even though two hours ago he screamed that he hates us.
Parenting refines us. A marriage that can withstand it (and grow through it) will certainly be refined as well. Either that or it will kill us.