Losing Us and Finding Us as Lovers

couple-690994_1280There is a loss that presses hard on my chest some days, the days when I look out over hills, or a certain slant of light catches me just so, or the way a musty book opened now smells just like the PR and PS books in that old Scottish library and I’m right back there.

Don’t get me wrong: this life that I live now, with the accumulated noise, and knee-hugs, the balancing babies on hips while stirring pots and kicking the dishwasher closed with one foot—I love this life. It is a crescendo of chaos, with punctuated moments of quiet, and it feels like the Kingdom of God in its rolling joy and fullness. It feels wild and free and a bit dangerous and it presses me into my need, where I’m forced into postures of mercy and grace.

But I miss us then.

We gathered our belongings and wore our winter coats in the dead of summer to wave goodbye to our families and board a plane to Scotland. We were two newlyweds exploring Georgian streets, medieval castles, and the charm of postgraduate studies in another land. We hid our American accents along with our white sneakers, and dined out on shared pizzas and half bottles of wine. We developed a taste for haggis, fish and chips, and fine whiskeys.

We ran off to London and Greece and the Mediterranean. We ate salami sandwiches and gummy candies in Santorini because that’s what we could afford. We gulped down the retsina in Thessaloniki because they just kept bringing it and we surreptitiously poured it out when no one was looking. We had high tea in London and drove all the way home to Scotland through the night when we missed our flight. We threw parties where we didn’t have to worry about wine and breastfeeding, or how much the babysitter cost.

Sometimes it’s hard to find that carefree, cosmopolitan us in the midst of now. Where did that young couple go to, when four little birds came into our nest, chirping and always wanting food? And, where am I? Where is that woman who would stretch her fingertips across book spines, look at them slantly, and pile them heavily into a tote, only to meander through old streets and have the space to pop into shops along the route home? Where is she? And, where are we?

I see glimpses of us still. When I see your eyes light up as you chase the boys across the monkey bars, and you steal a look at me amidst the hilarity and gleeful screams of not-wanting but really-wanting-to-be caught. When I hear an old Ella Fitzgerald song and my hips begin to sway. Or, when we glide seamlessly together and apart at a dinner party, offering drinks, ushering food out of the oven, asking questions. But it’s so often a divide-and-conquer “us,” not just plain “us.”

To find our “us” feels like we’d need space and leisure and a slow Saturday morning. It seems like a morning in bed with a novel and a cup of coffee and the heaving out and in of shared breath and warm bodies might do the trick. But that might just be one more glimpse of the past, another mental photograph to file away under “happiness” instead of  the piles of “all-that-needs-doing.”

So how do we create a rhythm of us in this season? When we no longer have the financial or timely resources to jet around the world to recover ourselves, to find us again, carefree and full.

How do we recover the plain and simple us?

Sometimes I find us in the curve of your arm as we fall, exhausted, to sleep. Sometimes it’s as we reach for each other’s hand as we walk (though with the littles to attend to, a free hand is a luxury). Sometimes I find us in my clothes that you folded for me, or the drink you bring me, or my cooking of dinner. Sometimes us is in the way you still look at me, the way you’ve always seen me as beautiful, even as my body has shifted, stretched, grown and receded, as it has lost that first spark of youthful attractiveness.

Sometimes I find us in the curve of adventure, as we keep dreaming impossible dreams, stepping out into the next unknown: ministry, writing, and living life side-by-side,  as we lean into the ordinary.  I gather to myself the glances, the moments of knowing, the smiles, the hand-holding—all those things that bring the young lovers into the present of now. Accumulated they’ll remind me that the “us” is not lost. No, we’ve always been waiting to be found.

Ashley Hales

9 thoughts on “Losing Us and Finding Us as Lovers

  1. I’ve only the one, and she’s so little, and my husband and I are just starting to sort of have to fight this battle to be something other than Parenthood at the end of the day. I’ve taken up going to bed a little later just so I can read and talk to Jason and NOT be mothering someone for long enough to feel like I’ve turned from Mother back into ME for just a little bit. I know it’ll get worse with more kids, this sense of kind of having lost the person I was even just a year and a half ago. I’ve decided it’s going to be worth it, because it’s so very worth it now.

    When I read, while pregnant, these books and articles on “keeping your identity after parenthood” I kind of rolled my eyes. Even into her newborn stage, when she was all needs all the time, I felt like it wasn’t that bad. But as she gets older and her needs involve so much more constant interaction, I’m really starting to feel what those writers were talking about. It’s so hard not to just focus on getting through and maybe you’ll find time for five words to each other on Saturday night.

    • Katie, I hear you. It’s vital for us to have solo time too! I make all my kids have a quiet rest time when the baby is napping and I fill it up (most times) with something that feeds my soul — writing, reading, being still, a hot cup of coffee. I get to business later. Here’s to grace in the journey, here’s to loving one another even when we’re tired, and here’s to pouring ourselves out day by day.

  2. Beautiful words Ashley. I lived in Scotland the summer of 2004 helping train the people running the campus ministry at the University of Edinburgh. It really does seem so long ago when I walked down High St, cut through closes, and traveled back and forth between new and old town. Sitting in the pubs talking to people from all over the world, working in Grassmarket Mission hearing tales of hurt and hope, and viewing the city from Arthur’s Seat are fond memories. Thanks for pulling up those happy times, and ending with contentment in the adventure hidden in life with our little people.

    • Maybe I bumped into you! We were there 2003-06. Edinburgh will always hold a special spot in my heart; I love reading how you recount the spaces and places. It’s an amazing city!

  3. Just lovely, you share your thoughts with so much beauty. We have been married for 34 years and the finding never ends. Sometimes elusive, but it is there. Love your words “as we lean into the ordinary.” Wishing you many moments of discovery.

    • Thank you so much Terri. I love it that you say the finding doesn’t end. (Although one must think, surely we’d have this down by now!) Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I think it’s always a challenge to keep reaching across to one another no matter our life stage.

  4. Bittersweet reflection!
    If it hadn’t been so wonderful, it is likely that things would not be as great as they are today in the “after kids” phase.
    Thanks for stopping by to read at Living Our Days. I’m moving on to your book review now . . .

  5. We waited five years before having children. I often think this was our greatest gift to one another and our daughter. A chance to be together as a we before the number became three. Your time together in Europe sounded amazing. Great words here, Ashley!

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