30 July, 2012

My Mixer Metaphor for My Marriage

About 8 months ago, I was just going about my business making a cake for John Ross' birthday. I was using my KitchenAid mixer to whip up a batch of marshmallow fondant to lay over the cake. Anyone who has worked with fondant before knows that it is a pretty heavy load. I finished my frosting, finished my cake and went on celebrating a sweet little 3-year-old boy.

The celebration ended 2 days later when I went to make a batch of merigues (the lightest possible work load for a stand mixer) and the motor would run, but the paddle would hit the meringue and stop.


It stopped.

I got the mixer 7 years ago. KitchenAid as a brand has built its reputation on longevity. Their mixers are meant to last a lifetime. A common wedding gift, one would imagine that it should at least last the length of an average marriage, which in one 2011 study was 8.7 years.

Needless to say, I was annoyed. When I get annoyed, world watch out. I tend to be a bit OCD when irritated. The soupy meringues got pitched and daughter of a mechanical engineer that I am, I delved straight into my mixer.

Yes, I did. I Googled and found out that perhaps my mixer needed cleaning. So with a screwdriver, toothbrush, and popsicle stick, I opened up and cleaned out my entire mixer. It was gross since I didn't know that I was supposed to clean it every few years. With a fresh coat of grease, I put everything back together, plugged it in and turned it on. Same problem. Argh.

I took the whole mixer to my dad at Christmas. If the daughter of a mechanical engineer couldn't figure out a simple motor, her dad probably could, right? Well, after a toothpick and some epoxy fixes, the thing still didn't work. We couldn't get the RPMs right. We decided to replace the phase controller, but that required ordering the piece. So, I took my mixer home, ordered the $7 piece and replaced it. Beautiful, right? Wrong.

At this point, you are all saying, just buy a new mixer. Nope, not this OCD spendthrift. I'm not buying another $200 appliance.

More research. Perhaps it was the electrical wires. Another $30 piece ordered and replaced and finally the RPMs were correct. I seperate some eggs and go to work on my long awaited Resurrection cookies (also a meringue-type cookie). I add the 1/4 cup of sugar from the recipe and not 30 seconds later, the paddle stops and the motor keeps running.

Mental picture time: 8:30 at night, I'm sitting at the kitchen table which is covered with a Valentine's Day table cloth, head in my hands, sobbing and cursing at my mixer. Kevin walks in for the night and suggests we just buy a new one. I snap and him and told him that it is just a stupid machine. Just a motor and some gears. I'm not buying a new one. Period.

Instead, I fiddle and futz with the machine for another 3 hours. I open, close, clean, examine and though I am ashamed to admit it, cried and cursed some more.

Then it happened. I realized that there was a piece missing from a very hidden hole that kept the main shaft from slipping when tension was applied. I remembered that the afternoon that I first disassembled the mixer, a small pin had fallen out the moment I had opened it and I couldn't find it's home. I assumed it was a stabilizer for the casing and had placed it in a random hole in the casing. I pulled it out and fitted it to the hidden hole. I tidied up the gear box, re-attached the casing, and wiped down the counter. With a deep breath and not much hope, I plugged in the mixer, held my hand to the paddle and turn the well-worn handle to "stir".

It worked and actually pinched my finger to the side of the bowl. Forget the finger! It worked!

6 months...6 months of trial and challenge. But I fixed it.

I like to believe that this very long process was an allegory for our marriage. Marriages, like mixers, are supposed to last a lifetime. At the core is a sacrament, a motor. It is the divine energy that sustains the marriage. There are gears, spouses, that convert the energy into work that creates beautiful products, children and good works for the world. Sometimes gears are going to slip, sometimes the spark is going to go out, sometimes the pace is going to be too fast or too slow, and sometimes you're just going to get stuck. God's energy keeps going, but the human parts just don't work. It's not a reason to give up or to buy a new mixer. It's a reason to seek expert help and put some elbow grease into it.

If this experience has taught me one thing, I believe that whenever Kevin and I hit the metaphorical "7-year-stick" we're going to be just fine. I'd like to believe it is because we are loving children of God who understand that marriage is sanctifying and always requires effort, in good times and in bad. However, I know better. The truth is, we are both too stubborn and too cheap to start over again.

25 July, 2012

A Contented Return

Well readers, it's been awhile. Pictures are below for those of you used to being greeted by a photo...:)

I am not dead, depressed, or otherwise wasted away in depths of despair. Actually, I've been wallowing in a time of re-prioritization and discernment. I've been enjoying some major changes made to our life this past spring.

Last summer I made a career move from the pastoral area of stewardship to the pastoral area of faith formation. While I love planning and teaching, I did not much enjoy the drama and grind of that type of position. Students are tired, parents are unkind and demanding, and quite frankly nights and weekends were doing permanent damage to my children. "Bye mama, daddy's staying home so you go to a meeting," on nights when I didn't have one scheduled was way too tough. We spent late nights and weekends recovering from our weeks and my husband, supportive and loving as he was, was being worn down by all the time we spent apart and caring for children alone.

After lots of tears and struggles, bouts with depression, and parish politics, we decided that I needed to watch for a new position. Lo and behold, the perfect position popped up quite out of the blue. 3 days a week I work as a communications secretary for another local parish. Plenty of time for family, diocesan work and writing without the drama of nights, weekends, or parents.

The transformation has been incredible and affirming. My children are better behaved, my patience a bit thicker, and my marriage has never been better. My house stays cleaner, I feel no guilt about stopping mid-task to read books to my snuggly little Sappa, and even my waistline seems to have halted its outward march. Last night, for the first time in a long time I joined a friend for a drink downtown after 7pm! Whoo-hoo!

I've found myself not only more attentive to the needs and persons of my friends and family, but more responsive and more generous. I've been able to put a more positive spin on life in general and helped my family to do the same.

I work a few less hours, took a paycut, and now pay my nanny more, but I wouldn't change any of it to protect what I've rediscovered. I truly feel the balance is back in my vocations. I know not everyone is able to make this kind of change, but I am blessed that my husband and I were able to trust my gut (although reluctantly at times) and see this new phase of our life through.

It's not easy to make the right choice. There are moments when I wonder about my potential, my career, my achievement. There are moments when I think, "Really? 16 years of schooling for this?" and then I remember that no corporate or pastoral achievement can be compared to the responsibility of caring for the souls entrusted to our parental care. No planning meeting compares to a meaningful discussion about heaven with a 3-year-old. Both important, but in this season of my life, God has called me to join him on the lakeshore next to a curious little boy and a dead fish.

The day will come when they won't need me as much. The day will come when God will call me to serve his church in a deeper capacity again. By that time, I will have gained the wisdom of parenthood and the understanding and compassion of married life. I will be that much more equipped to serve God's people on their journeys. I'm not losing anything by stepping back for a few years. I am gaining those foundational years with my little ones and my husband. I have been gifted by God with time to shore up our foundation and build a house on rock with Him.

Build a house of God's love around your children and they will become shelters of God's love for the world.

Here are just a few photos from our very blessed summer so far.

The Men in My Life: Dad, Grandpa, Hubby

Me and the Hubby Relaxing at the Lake

My Little Fish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Man of Our Dreams out for Pizza
Fourth of July Fun

Riding on the Wagon behind the Tractor

Sassy Sissy and Sappa-Lou

It was the dream of his life to play with his trucks in the sand.

Pizza Man right after he checked out the dead fish.

Love this photo with Auntie Sissy!

Auntie Ana hates little kids eating habits, but who can resist that face???

Here she's got a co-captain, but my daughter doned her own life jacket and struck out in her own little boat with mama swimming behind! Highlight anyone???