Saturday, February 26, 2011

Playing Defense: Why Broomball Has Everything to Do With Marriage

I'm certain that when most of you think of me, Elizabeth, certain words come to your mind. Wife. Scholar. Actress. Lover of bad 90's music. Writer. Athlete. Wait, what? Big shocker here, I am not athletic. I am the opposite of athletic. I am Non-Sporty Spice. If there was a contest for most UN-athletic/team sport person in the mid-atlantic states, I would win. (Wait, who am I kidding? I'd lose that, too. THAT'S how bad I am at competitive sports.)

No, no, that would be Kyle, the skinny, scrappy, both-fists-swinging Irishman I married. He's the athlete. The coordinated, muscular one who leaps into any competitive fray like a gangly leprechaun on fire? That guy.

So when our young married's group at church announced that they would be forming a team for broomball night at the local ice rink, my immediate thought was, Great. Another activity I'll look stupid doing.

But in the spirit of our marriage (and our blog), I decided to be brave and give broomball a shot. After all, what's more adventurous than me, armed only with half a broom and a sweaty, broken helmet trying to maneuver a ball on solid ice? Um, nothing, that's what!
For those of you unfamiliar with the rules, broomball = ice hockey in sneakers +  broomsticks (- bristles).

So imagine my surprise (and Kyle's) when I actually turned out to be GOOD at broomball. Now granted, I have zero aim, depth perception, or balance. But I have HEART. That's right. Me and the Mighty Ducks. We believe in ourselves.

It turns out I kind of love playing defense. Maybe it stems from my secret love of getting in people's way. I found myself becoming more aware of the weaknesses in my team. I could see a clear shot to the goal and move to block it. I could see Kyle fall and rush to back him up when he lost the ball.

And Kyle...well, Kyle was awesome. Dashing across the rink, throwing himself in front of the goal, colliding with half of the other team, body-checking/smacking himself into the ice/wall/goal posts like it was some kind of medical need. There was no hesitation in him, no moment of wondering if what he was about to do might really, really hurt. Just a sense of complete abandon in the game.

And leave it to me, naturally, to start to see broomball as yet another metaphor for marriage. As I watched our team (made up of 3 couples from our small group) play five rounds, I was so struck by the sense of watchfulness I felt from them. Every time someone slipped or fell or made a good shot or blocked something, there was a response. One husband cheering on his wife when she intercepted the ball, a wife making a sympathetic noise when her husband ran face-first into the glass.

Of course, all good teams know these things. They cheer on their teammates. They worry about them. They defend them.

But there was something special about watching newly-weds and other young couples fighting for each other in a very physical, real way.

I hope that Kyle and I can model in our relationship what we were able to do playing broomball. That Kyle will literally throw himself in front of the ball, as selfless as I already know him to be. That I will be as mindful, careful, observant of the ways in which Kyle needs me to defend him when he is down.

Now it's probably important to note that we, uh, totally LOST broomball tonight. We didn't win a single game. Even the high school freshmen girls won ONCE. Not us.

But I guess that's not really the point. If you think about it, we probably "lose" more often than we win, when it comes to all the stuff thrown at us in life. What really matters is, was I a good teammate? Someone Kyle could count on when that big, scary dude who clearly plays college hockey is barrelling toward him and the ball or when he started bleeding after a bad fall or that second where he lost his balance and skidded across the ice? Was I there? Was I paying attention?

Kyle's thoughts: I loved that even though we were losing...making mistakes...falling was still fun because we were with the people we love. There was also a sense of pride in defending our spouses on the ice. Kind of romantic. I mean, I knew if no one else on the ice had my back, then Elizabeth did.

So here we are...home safe, tired, and sore. The wounds have been doused in hydrogen peroxide. The ibuprofen has been administered. The stiffness has set in.

Tonight I feel renewed in my desire to fight for Kyle, with Kyle. Broomball was a fun, sweaty reminder of that thing I forget so often...that we can lose a battle and still win the war.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Be My Valentine Part 2: Where Were You in 6th Grade?

Valentine's Day is a sore subject for a lot of people. It smacks of commercialism, unfulfilled expectations, and it's a reminder to every less-than-perfect love life that a date on a calendar doesn't guarantee anything but a mean candy clearance sale the following morning.

Thought I'd share the unexpectedly sweet evening Kyle and I spent together.

I call it the Middle School Dream Date:
We started with dessert at Champps because our dinner reservations weren't until 9.
We went to the roller rink. I am not ashamed to admit I pouted until Kyle got me rollerblades because I can't do as many tricks in roller skates. (And I really wanted to impress Kyle with my mad blade skills.)

Kyle held my hand all the way around...

I now know to never listen to Kyle when he says he's bad at anything athletic. After ten minutes, he was skating circles around me, backwards. He even did the fancy skate over skate maneuver on the rink turns. Show-off.

At one point, I shouted over the Justin Bieber blasting from the speakers, "Where were you in 6th grade when no one would skate with me?"

He shrugged, "In 8th grade where no one would dance with me."

I told him how skating had been the highlight of 5th and 6th grade, how I had spent every Saturday morning at the rink under the lights of the disco ball, rocking out to the Space Jam soundtrack. Being in that roller rink was like being in a weird stinky-feet-smelling time capsule. And if Lil' Wayne and Pink had been replaced by the Backstreet Boys and Smashmouth, it could have been 1998 all over again.

Then we had 9 PM reservations at one of the most exclusive Valentine's venues in the city...

That's right. We had reservations at White Castle.

Every Valentine's Day, they close the drive through early and offer a romantic dining experience complete with flowers and candlelight and tiny greasy burgers...

Truly magical. And even though I'm pretty sure my intestines are now at least partially radioactive...we had the best time.

And not to pick on poor White Castle (aka "The Love Castle") too much because after all...our entire dinner cost $11.95...but on our way out, we overheard two couples talking about life experiences.

Woman: I can say I've been to White Castle! Still never ridden in an ambulance, though...

Me: Well, if you eat at White Castle more often, you might HAVE to ride in an ambulance.


It was the most perfect date in the history of 6th grade.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Playing the Stupid Card

A couple of years ago after a particularly terrible fight, Kyle and I instituted what we affectionately call, "The Stupid Card." The card is basically a non-tangible, contractual understanding that the person playing it did or said something stupid and that they realize it.

These are the rules:

1. Each person can play it once a week.

2. If you play the stupid card, the other person agrees to let whatever stupid thing you said/did/didn't do go immediately. It can't be brought up again. They can't be punished for it. The fight ends right then.

3. The relationship is considered healed at that moment.

The spirit of Stupid Card is instant-forgiveness. On the surface, it seems like an impossible idea. I mean, when I'm mad at Kyle for something mean he has said or something he forgot to do, the last thing I want to do is just let it go without any kind of a fight. After all, that's my RIGHT, isn't it, to give him my two cents?

So many times, a little bickering or an overreaction driven by outside stress or worry will escalate into a full-blown, knock-down, drag-out brawl. I asked Kyle once, "Wouldn't it be great if now and then we could just have a get-out-of-jail-free card? If we could just agree, once and awhile, to just let each other's stupidity slide without an argument?

Here's why I think Stupid Card has worked for us:

- Not only does the Card give us that one free pass a week, it forces us to put active forgiveness into practice. When the Bible talks about how God forgives us, it says he has separated our mistakes and wrong-doing "as far as the east is from the west." It's gone. I'm amazed at how much easier it is to let things, in general, go than it used to be. Stupid Card teaches you to let things go and not bring them up again.

- It makes forgiveness a habit. At first, we stuck hard and fast to our "one stupid card a week" rule. But occasionally now, Kyle will offer me a second chance. Once, in the middle of an argument that had no point, his mouth started to twitch. "Can I play my stupid card again?" he asked, trying not to laugh. "Only if I can play mine!" I told him. The Stupid Card becomes a rehearsal for every-day forgiveness.

- Sometimes, it's a relief. It's a relief for me when I play the card and Kyle says, "Sure. Of course." It's a relief for me when Kyle asks to play his. Staying angry is draining. Sometimes it's just wonderful to NOT have to talk through every little thing that went wrong, every little "you said this and that's why I did that and then you said..." When the rest of the world is loathe to let the stupid things go, it's such a comfort to come home to someone who says, "Let's just let this one go."

Has the card always worked? Does it stop every fight? Absolutely not. Occasionally, one of us will break the rules and refuse to accept the card. And the fighting usually continues.

But in the last two years, I think The Stupid Card has probably ended hundreds of fights (or potential fights). And that's more than I can say for my VISA!

So what about you? Anyone have a tip for resolving conflict in their own relationships?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

She's Cold As Ice: A Story of Surrender

Just when you thought my life couldn't handle another metaphor, THIS arrived in the mail, addressed to one third of U.S., c/o of Columbus, Ohio:

In case there's any doubt in anyone's mind, I am, indeed, referring to the ice storm that turned our parking lot into a skating rink (and not a nice skating rink, either - one of those really awful ones where you occasionally get run over by the zamboni or fall through the hole in the ice and are eaten by a killer whale).

Before anyone skims the rest of this post skimming what could very well just be me, ranting about the worst weather in 40 years (which I, being 41 in spirit, can vouch for), I'll reassure you. This is not that post.

I lived through the Great Salmonella-Water Crisis of '08 (if you don't know what I'm talking about, you OBVIOUSLY weren't ALIVE then or know...didn't live in Alamosa, Colorado). That involved waterless showers and the Red Cross and National Guard and brushing our teeth with bottled water for weeks. This ain't nothin' nohow. (My apologies to the 10,000 Ohioans without power right now...obviously, my flippant little blog post can't be bothered with YOUR crisis right now - I'm getting philosophical here). Side-note: the lights in the house are flickering and I'm expecting to get shut off at any moment.

And I'll be honest with you, I spent the better part of today feeling sorry for myself. A workshop I was supposed to attend was cancelled. Kyle called at the end of his shift to inform me that the gear shift on the car was stuck and he couldn't get the car out of park (and I immediately began anticipating the hundreds and hundreds it was going to cost to fix whatever was wrong with our eleven-year-old car). On top of that, Kyle has a bad cold and has lost his voice (and is now experiencing other more serious health problems). I tried to take Madigan outside and only made it a few steps before I fell hard (forgot my skates) and had to crawl back inside because it was too slippery to stand up. Progress on my thesis seems to have grinded to a halt thanks to my complete inability to concentrate on anything for more than fifteen minutes. And as I type this, more freezing rain is hitting the ground outside. Freezing rain that Kyle has to drive through to get to work, where he will stand outside for the majority of the night, driving 60-foot trailers around. It's not fair. It's too much.

Whine, whine, whine. Here's the thing, though...

I prayed. I had nothing particularly nice to say to God, either. "I'm angry," I told Him. "I'm really, really angry. I feel out of control. I don't know where to put these helpless, terrible feelings. I hate that I'm so angry. something with these feelings. I don't know what else to do with them. I'm asking for an easy way out," I said (I was feeling brutally honest). "I'm asking for you to take care of all of this for me even though I don't deserve it. Please help me." I was so upset. And I looked out the window.

And I was just so totally struck by the ice all over the trees. I had been watching news reports with footage of cars crashing and people slipping and falling on sidewalks and pictures of terrible blizzard/freezing conditions around the country. Schools shut down. Businesses closed early. It's like everything froze. Still, halted, arrested, even. I can't even make it out the front door. I have been halted in my tracks.

Why does it take an ice storm to remind me that I am not in control of the universe?? Shouldn't that already be apparent?

I spent the day, freaking out, googling car dealerships and WebMD, like I could somehow fix our car and heal my husband and make everything okay because it has to be okay because I have to make it okay because I am in control all.the.time.

One of the worst feelings is that sick, lunging fear you feel in the pit of your stomach when you slip and fall on the ice. And then the painful thud. And then the weird embarassment. Like, if you'd been paying attention, maybe you wouldn't have fallen. Because you don't want to fall. So you try to control the situation. You wear shoes with traction. You tread carefully, arms extended to help keep your balance. You look for patches of snow or dry pavement. Today, despite my best efforts to account for every possible contingency, I fell anyway. I went back inside, muttering rude, angry things under my breath.

Nothing like falling hard to make you surrender. So tonight, God, I surrender. I have been halted, arrested, frozen in my tracks. As metaphors go, this is one of your best.

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