The Moment the Family Annoyances Became Keepsakes

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Oh, how I cherish the nagging annoyances of my family today.

Exactly as I was writing my column last week -- with a theme centered on forcing myself to relax and get comfortable with the inherent risks in parenting -- my neighbors were discovering that their beautiful, hilarious, healthy, not quite 3-year-old daughter had died inexplicably in her sleep.

What they wouldn't give to go back to the life they had just the day before, their life in the moments before everything changed.

And then, even as I was going back over the words I'd written for that column, words I don't regret, another good friend was bidding farewell to the love of her life as he departed the world of the living. Like me, she'd long been a Must-Have Parent. Now she will be a single parent.

What she wouldn't give to have the life she had just one year ago, when she took for granted the same things -- things like health and the complaints that go with aging -- that my husband and I take for granted today.

As I wrote and revised that column, waxing over the increased weight of responsibilities that Must-Have Parents bear, the sometimes crushing, often exhausting workload when we must do everything solo, one good friend was accepting that her Must-Do Parent wouldn't be coming home again and another good friend was stunned to discover that she wouldn't get to parent her baby anymore.

How each of them would relish to opportunity to do all that work again, to complain about a husband's flaws or to vent over a toddler's stubborn ways with potty training. How petty my own fears and complaints seem now.

Life is short.

Life is precious.

Life is fragile.

We say these things all the time. We know these things -- intellectually, anyway -- but then we're blessed by long links of days, weeks and months when the raw reality of life eludes us.

We settle into our routines. Driving to lessons and appointments. Making breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Never ending laundry. Monitoring grades, accelerated reading goals, and children's school projects. Balancing home demands with our own work. Aiming for deadlines. Writing grocery lists. Vacuuming dog hair. Checking in on friends. Volunteering. Counting calories. Buying presents and writing thank you notes. Updating social media. Planning for vacations. Stressing over bills. Worrying over college funds and retirement savings -- future plans because we take for granted that a future is guaranteed.

I know that in time I will take my family for granted again. The beck and call of routine will grow louder and more alluring, and I'll drift back into my old ways.

My 3-year-old's messes and tantrums will pluck at my nerves like harp strings. My 7-year-old's tattling and whining will drive me to ignore even her worthy complaints. My 11-year-old's diatribes on Minecraft will exhaust me until I say something unnecessarily harsh. My husband's piles of -- whatever that stuff is -- and inability to change a toilet paper roll will seem like insurmountable irritations.

But for today, I cherish them.

And I really do mean that. To be a parent to my children, to be a companion to my husband, to be the matriarch in a family comprised of healthy, thriving, happy people -- these are the most precious gifts I ever have and could ever hope to receive.

There is no bright side to losing someone we love, especially when that loss is unexpected and comes decades too soon. I will not offer "at least" or "silver lining" statements, but I am grateful that these deaths have reminded me that parenting, Must Have or otherwise, is always a privilege.

Even when it's hard.

Even when it's exhausting.

Even when it's lonely and fraught with worry.

And having a partner to share this life with, especially one who is willing and able to do all that Must-Do work, is a blessing.

So, today I say bring on the tantrums and the messes. I will revel in the tattling and whining. Please, please, please let my son excitedly gush over every last detail about Minecraft. Today I am grateful for the opportunity to step over those piles; to change that toilet paper roll; to love and to parent.

To do the dishes.

To help with homework.

To drive the carpool, make the dinners and gather the birth certificates for soccer registration.

To be the mother of living children and the wife of a living husband.

To have another day, another hour, another second to love big, love loud and love intensely.

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Family and Spouse