My wife and I saved our best (read "gnarliest") showdown of the year for its last day. The topic: money. (What else?)
And the children had a front-row seat.
For over an hour we had wrestled our way through the cash flow spreadsheet, yanking it like undersized covers, back and forth, category by category. In the same room, Brielle (4), Melía and Ashlyn (both 3) kept up their play, some syncretism of biblical role-playing involving Disney princesses. My male dullness told me we were making progress, that Rachelle and I had patched together a ceasefire of sorts.
That's when she left the dining room table, sat on the couch, and started to cry. All three daughters gathered around her before I could make it across the room. Brielle began, "Mommy, what's wrong?" Ashlyn, the verbal frontrunner of the twins, followed, "Mommy, why are you crying?" Melía parroted, "Mommy, wha' wong? Why you pying?"
Rachelle's weeping broke into sobs that shook with laughter at the empathetic looks on their faces, as she opened her arms to the worried firstborn. I laughed for a beat before launching my ever-so-rational explanation. "Mommy and Daddy want to have enough money to buy the things we need to take good care of our sweet girls. So we want to work enough to make that much money. But we don't want to work too much because it makes us be away from you. And sometimes we want to buy more things but we don't want to work more and be away from you. And it makes us sad."
I waited, eyes on my daughters, but ears tuned to the wife tucked stiffly under my right arm, wondering if she would agree or refute me with her mommy version of the speech. ("Daddy hates Christmas because he is cheap and wants me to dress you in rags and feed you dog food," I feared it might begin.) Rachelle did neither, just crying and hugging Brielle, who had come up onto her lap.
Brielle took it in, eyes wide and mouth drawn. she looked at the floor, and back into my wife's flooded eyes. "We keep finding money all around the house, and I'm saving it in my purse. Maybe we could share."
In a good story, that line would have put an end to the discussion, as the family melted in tears and laughter. But this is my life, which all in all is a good story but not that kind of good story. Which means we did laugh, and Mommy did shed more tears, squeezing Brielle more tightly as we both showered thanks upon her for her generosity. But, no, the discussion and subsequent make-up would go on for enough hours that our kids would miss their New Year's Eve choir performance (by five minutes).
Brielle's simple offer was gloriously insufficient to close the gap in our budget. But the pure grace of it was the happy beginning of the end of the gap between Mommy and Daddy today, an innocent seed sprouting roots down into our rock-hardness, audacious enough to think it might make us crack.
So, on the eve of 2008, here's to the happy beginnings-of-the-end that our children are audacious enough to be to us. May they take root where we most need to be cracked.
Questons I'm asking myself:
- What other things am I making more complex than necessary, where at least the spirit of simplicity might begin to work its way toward a solution?
- What other unhelpful things in me can my children's simplicity begin to put an end to?
- How wrong was it for the girls to hear this whole conversation? How much insulation do they need from this sort of discussion?