The first time I saw him, he was strutting down a makeshift catwalk in the dorm we both lived in with a giant heart shaved into his chest hair. The guys on his floor dared him to do it as part of a floor-sponsored “fashion show” to initiate the freshmen to campus life, and one-by-one each of the new guys made their entrance. These initiation activities were conducted in a spirit of fun, but as someone who has always taken myself way too seriously, the whole extravaganza seemed a little over the line. I rolled my eyes to hide my discomfort amidst the roars and cheers of the crowd that had gathered, but I was intrigued enough to hang around as the event unfolded. I laughed nervously along with the girls around me from my floor, trying to refrain from appearing too obviously entertained by the weirdness on display.
The next several encounters I had with the man I would one day marry and have seven children with were similarly silly. One involved gallons of chocolate poured head-to-toe over all the guys on his dorm floor (outside) while they jogged around campus chanting various things about their newly forged brotherhood, boot-camp style. One involved him planting a lipstick kiss to mark the the acrylic room number sign outside my door as he came through with several other guys dressed up in thrift-store drag costumes. I hadn’t spoken to him by that point—and can’t say I was impressed at the time—but the kiss mark he left behind remained on that sign for the duration of the year as our love story blossomed.
At the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t know he would become my very best friend, and that his sense of humor would buoy us through the ever-changing, turbulent tides of parenting.
We woke to the California sun peeking around the edges of the not-so-blackout window shade in our room. Even though the temperatures outside were often warm-to-sweltering, we slept with a puffy comforter on our bed due to the frigid AC in our apartment building. Still curled up under the comforter, but somewhat propped up by pillows, we could both see the top rim of the bassinet at the foot of our bed and knew the baby had woken up by her gurgles and coos. We somehow started our day with a serious conversation, the details of which are fuzzy for me now, 14 years later. I just remember we each had a bit to say, and we each took turns sharing our perspectives until the moment we both saw a little hand shoot up over the edge of the bassinet. It held steady there for a few seconds. My husband paused mid-thought and said straight to the baby, “Do you have a question?”
We both laughed.
We’d only been married a little over a year, but my husband was already learning the art of diffusing my seriousness with well-timed humor. He’s only gotten better at it with time. He is the perfect opposite to my all-too-seriousness.
These days, he’ll do pretty much anything to get me to crack a smile. Once he folded his long beard up over his face and used a stretchy headband from one of our daughters to hold it up around his forehead, making him look like a faceless beard-head. He got himself all situated before drawing my attention, and I looked over, unsuspectingly, to such absurdity I couldn’t help but cackle out loud.
It’s like he can sense when the pressure inside me is rising, and he knows he needs to release the valve a bit. Sometimes its absurdity, sometimes corny dad jokes, memes, sarcasm, or an expertly dropped “That’s what she said” comment in response to something our 3 year old said.
He calls me from work to check in as he drives home, and he gets my tired-mama voice with lots of kid noise in the background. I’ve been on duty all day, responsible to steward the energy of seven kids for many hours. One child is at the dining room table, not doing their math lesson and offering excuses as to why it is my fault it isn’t done yet. Three kids are on different corners of our sectional listening to their headphones while reading their kindles. The baby is hopping up and down in the doorway jumper that keeps him busy, but out of trouble while I’ve got the phone to my ear, and two of the little kids are tearing around the house playing some kind of toss-football game with a package of baby wipes. They’re blurting out gibberish quips at each other, tossing the wipes while running through the rooms, laughing and chasing. I can’t make sense of what they’re even doing. At one moment, there is a shrill, deafening shriek that rings my ears and nerves together, announcing through the phone what my husband can expect upon arrival.
“Well that sounds nice,” he says with a measured amount of sarcasm.
My flat reply, “Yep. It’s my favorite sound in the whole world.”
We both know I’m suppressing my instinct to yell at the kids to settle down and be quiet. It’s the time of day when my words will not be heard anyway.
If it were not for the daily injection of humor and sarcasm, I’m fairly certain I would have already aged myself an extra twenty years by this point with worry and over-reaction.
Humor is a lifeline, a rescue boat for two, when we’re drowning in a sea of children: fourteen arms that need hugs, fourteen shoes that must be found in order to leave the house, seventy fingers that are rifling through the pantry for a snack between mealtimes, forty-two combinations of immature sibling relationships to manage.
He highlights the joy for me so I don’t lose it in the overwhelm.
I am grateful for the life we have, for the kids we have. The days are full of good things, but my patience is still tested, my mental fortitude and emotional stamina still challenged, and my decision-making bank is routinely overdrawn. I don’t need anyone to give me an award or a gold star for my work as a mom, but the humor my husband brings to this wild adventure reminds me to laugh (even while I’m crying), and reminds me that we’re in this together.
By late-evening, I collapse in bed. He cracks a playful joke, and seeing my eyes well up with tears, switches gears to bring the tenderness and encouragement I need as I wind down from the day. Sarcasm and memes will have to wait for the morning when I’m refreshed. Under the blanket, he holds my hand, my pinky tucked between his pointer and middle fingers, the way we always do, and always have since the beginning. I fall asleep, grateful we get to continue this adventure tomorrow.
Emily Sue Allen is the founder and visionary behind KindredMom.com, an online community and podcast dedicated to helping women find joy and purpose in motherhood. Emily is passionate about living a deeply nourished life and celebrating the beauty of ordinary moments. She is forever marked by the rescue and redemption Jesus Christ has accomplished in her life. Emily is a featured contributor in Strong, Brave & Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, a collaborative volume of essays written to encourage moms in the weeds of parenting kids at home, a member of Hope*writers, and an ongoing devotional writer for Joyful Life Magazine. She lives with her husband and seven kids—three girls and four boys—in the Pacific Northwest. Emily’s website is emilysueallen.com. Subscribe to her newsletter “Flowers, Children & Other Lovely Things” at emilysueallen.substack.com and find her on Instagram.