Nothing seasons a marriage quite like those first holidays spent together. As each person brings expectations and traditions from separate families seeking to merge into their own traditions, misunderstanding is inevitable. The Ballous also learned some important lessons in those first years, and I decided to share a couple of them with you.
We moved into our first house one year after we were married, on the second day of school, in my first year of teaching my own class. We like to maximize our stress when the opportunity presents itself. We built this house, our very own track home in a neighborhood of such homes, which meant that right down the street and around the corner and in at least a dozen other places in the neighborhood, another house just like ours perched on its own patch of grass with two requisite Bradford Pear Trees and 6 shrubs planted outside. I loved making that house our own and looked forward to our first Christmas there so much that I encouraged Walter to invite all of the youth workers over for a Christmas party.
The day of the party arrived and a few jobs remained to be done. The first of which involved my selection of a Christmas tree skirt as the floor under our tree was unacceptably bare. This job fell to me for obvious reasons. Walter had no desire to fight the crowds at WalMart while reading my mind and determining the perfect skirt for our (okay my) taste and decor. Since cell phones did not exist, I called him before leaving school to ask him to work on cleaning the house. I had no idea when I would be home, company was coming, dishes were in the sink, and laundry was on the couch. I assumed he would start on the areas where the party would be and went on about my shopping. This might be a good place to mention that the whole reading of minds thing has never worked out well for us. Marital tip #1 for this post would be to say what you want to be done rather than attempt to not be bossy and assume your partner will walk into the house, see the laundry and dishes, and tackle the mess.
I searched and searched and finally found the perfect ecru colored crocheted tree skirt. The only one in the store of its kind, this one lacked any sort of price tag or label or match that could be used for pricing. I braced myself for a long wait realizing that the tree skirts ranged in price from $35.97 to $6.97 for the cheap sparkly plastic-y ones. Because no tree skirt in the store was as beautiful as this one or more perfect for our home, I nervously waited for the price checker to come back, knowing I couldn’t spend $35.97 on a tree skirt. I really hoped my search would end here because I needed to get home and help with those dishes and laundry and a myriad of other tasks that only I could do to the level of perfection required by my newly married self. Imagine my delight when the sales person came up and told the cashier, “Just give it to her for $6.97. I can’t find another one.” What a gift! That Christmas tree skirt is one in a long line of blessings the Lord has piled on us for no apparent reason other than the fact that He loves us. We still use it 20 Christmases later and tell the story. Marital tip #2 for this post is to walk through life as a team watching for how God wants to bless you. It is so easy to push for our own agendas and desires and miss out on great things He wants to do!
I rushed home with only an hour to spare before the party. As I let myself in, I couldn’t help but notice the laundry on the couch and the mess in the kitchen. Had someone died? Had there been an accident at the church? A pregnant teenager? A crisis only Walter could handle? In Shelly world, something major had to have happened to have such a mess remaining when the party was imminent. I methodically searched our 1500 square foot home in 7.2 seconds and finally found Walter. In the guest bathroom. Cleaning the bathtub. That had never been used. That would not be used at the party. My brain scrambled to find a more appreciative reaction than the one that jumped to my mind and wanted to jump out of my mouth. I’m pretty sure we threw the clean laundry into the clean bathtub, closed the shower curtain, and had a party! Later (and for the next couple of decades) we would discuss the reasoning required to choose that chore to focus on at that time. Marital tip #3 for this post goes back to the whole reading minds concept. That doesn’t work out for us.
Fast forward a couple of years. I decided, like only an amateur wife can decide, that I would help Walter out with the Christmas lights this year since he was so busy and surely it was only a matter of using a staple gun to attach a few strands of lights across the roof and around the eaves. I say “eaves” like I know that is a part of the house that can be stapled into, but I’m actually not sure that is what the wooden part under the roof before the brick is called. You get my drift. To confirm my plan, I consulted with one of Walter’s friends who was known for his legendary light displays. After imagining the wife of one of his good friends crawling up a ladder and over a roof to staple lights into shingles, he wisely offered to come over and help. Let me review the facts of this situation in case you missed them. My intention was to help my seminary student husband who was in the midst of finals with a job I was sure he would love to do if time allowed. The friend’s intention was to help the wife of a good friend avoid broken bones or paralysis. Neither of those intentions was the first thing Walter noticed when he drove up to the house and saw that his wife had recruited another man to do something to his house that he could have done himself. Charles felt terrible. I felt terrible (and misunderstood). Walter felt unappreciated. I learned that Christmas that Walter has no desire to put Christmas lights up and it isn’t worth it for me to do it myself, or recruit a friend, or hire a company, or especially to nag my husband into doing it. We have a couple of light up metal things that we sometimes put in the yard, but otherwise we just put a wreath on the door and keep the peace. Marital tip #4 is that no comparison to the neighbors is worth tension in your marriage. Some things just need to be left alone.
Thanks for reading this long post. I have a great story to share about the worst Christmas Eve ever, so I’m sure you’ll be waiting on the edge of your seats for that burst of Christmas cheer! It really is a funny story, if it didn’t happen to you.