Mel and I were walking through campus, both of us 33, turning 34 this year. We don’t really fit in. Not that we look particularly old, but by contrast with all the 18- to 22-year-olds strutting around in their spring wear—tight shorts and sleeveless shirts—with their youthful faces and tight tan skin, Mel and I looked ancient. Or at least I felt like we did. Or perhaps it’s the pace that we walked. We moved much slower than they did, like we were savoring the moment while they were in a hurry to get to the next big thing, whatever that was.
This is Mel’s last term of college. She’s been an off and on undergraduate for nearly five years now. She attends the college where I work. Mostly she’s taken online classes, but this being the end, she only has on-campus classes left to finish her degree.
We found a wonderful woman from church to watch our children so Mel could attend class. Twice a week, we meet at the quad for lunch, or Mel stops by my office for a kiss, or on this particular day we both happened to be walking across campus, in the same direction, at the same time, and so, we walked together.
With Mel in classes and me working full-time and writing, we don’t see each other as much as we’d like. And when we do see each other, there are always kids around, asking for this or that, or fighting, or pooping, or…you get the idea. We just don’t get all that much time together, alone.
We try to go out at least once a month, and most months that happens, but not every month. But with Mel coming to classes, we’ve started getting these short little moments of alone time, sometimes an hour, sometimes 15 minutes, between classes and work projects, to just walk together, holding hands and chatting.
And the funny thing is, when I thought about marriage, I never assumed it would look like this. I’m not sure exactly what I thought it would look like. My parents didn’t have all that great of a marriage. They divorced when I was 9, so I didn’t really know what marriage ought to look like. But I didn’t think it would look like two 30-something’s, 11-plus years into it, holding hands on a college campus and loving just those few moments together, alone.
But that really is the reality of marriage with young children. It’s two people in love, trying hard to make ends meet, and support each other as they pursue education, or careers, or parenting, or whatever they are interested in that is wholesome and productive. It’s a lot of chaos at times and a lot of Googling answers to things you don’t know. It’s a lot of fighting over sleep and sex and budgets until you figure out how you both work. It’s a lot of thinking about sleep, but not getting a lot of it. And sometimes, it’s a simple, sweet walk, across a college campus, the two of you chatting like a couple of undergrads who know each other a little too well, and loving it because it’s the most peace and quiet you will get as a married couple all week.
Sometimes we talk about the kids. Sometimes we talk about my work or her classes. I give her advice on how to navigate the university, and she tells me to fix the collar on my work shirt.
College students walk past us, and although they are probably focused on some other silly little thing—classes, parties, acceptance—Mel and I often wonder if they are looking at us. We wonder if they see us as old and outdated. Some of the students I work with like to tell me to “update myself.” This is usually when I confess to not understanding Snapchat or not having the latest iPhone. And in those moments, I want to tell them about the reality of things. I want to tell them about the wonderful walk I had the day before with my wife. How no one screamed. No one lost a shoe. No one fought going to bed. It was just the two of us, simply being together for 15 minutes, and it was as refreshing as a glass of cool water. But I knew they wouldn’t get it, just like I never would have gotten it at that age, and how now, I don’t understand why I need Snapchat in my life.
And perhaps that’s the real reason Mel and I, holding hands, walking and chatting, and smiling, look so out of place on a college campus. Because this simple moment of silence and togetherness is something we understand the value of. Our priorities have shifted from looking sexy and having the latest cool thing to just being together, and I have to assume this is why marriage can feel tight and constricting at first. Because it takes a long time to understand what really is important.
This is not to say that marriage and parenting lowers your standards. It doesn’t. I think what it does is it puts your priorities in line. You spend a little more time valuing the person you are with and taking advantage of the moments of alone time when you get to holds hands, and smile, and chat. The short moments where you get to just be married and alone.
I dropped Mel off at our minivan. It was parked next to a lifted pickup and a two-seated sporty thing with custom wheels. We kissed.
“Thanks for the walk,” I said. “It was easily the best part of my day.”
I said it with a hint of sarcasm, as though it was more of a commentary on having to go back to work. But in reality it was the best part of my day for very different reasons.
Mel smiled and said, “Anytime. I love you.”
I said it back, and we kissed once again, probably a little longer than we should’ve, but the kids weren’t around to say “Ewwww,” so we went for it. Once we pulled apart I noticed two young women staring at us as from the sidewalk as though we were some old people making out in the parking lot, which we were. I gave them half a guilty smile that seemed to say, “Someday, you will understand.”
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