Swimming in the Deep End, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Swimming in the Deep End


August 9, 2010

by Josh Noem

On our recent road trip home to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, we stopped at a hotel in Missoula, Montana. We picked a hotel (I won’t say which one) that a franchise guidebook indicated had a pool. After driving for 10 hours with three small children, we arrived at 9 p.m. to find it did not.

The kids were disappointed, but we filled the tub and let Simon and Lucy splash and play a bit. Oscar got to watch some TV. After voicing our complaint, the staff discounted our room, which we appreciated. The next morning, Stacey and I noticed that the hotel next door had a small outdoor pool. We could see it from the window in our room.

Before packing everyone in the car for another 10-hour drive, I decided to take the kids next door to the pool and let them burn some energy and have some fun. On the way over, Oscar noted the sign that said that the pool was for that hotel’s guests only. I told him that we’ll be okay and will only be there for a little while.

We were the only ones in the pool, but after about 30 minutes, an employee came out and asked us if we were staying with them. I said we were staying at the hotel next door and she told us we had to leave. We got out, gathered our things and went back to our room and began our long drive.

Stacey and I and Oscar had a long conversation in the car about what happened. Our conversation made me realize that Oscar closely observes my decisions, and the rationale I use and give for my decisions. He is at a stage in his development where he is discerning his moral compass. It is a gift for a parent to have influence on this stage of development. Knowing that Oscar is watching closer than ever, this gift is calling me to greater integrity and intentionality in how I live.

I realized that my own decision for using the pool was based on muddled thinking. I gave myself several half-hearted excuses to do something that I wanted for our family: we weren’t hurting anyone; we were going to use it for less than an hour; we weren’t costing the hotel anything; the kids needed some playtime before a long day in the car; we had stopped there expecting to be able to swim; etc. I found there to be a lot of grey in this situation, and in the grey areas I saw an opportunity for our kids and I took it.

When Oscar asked why we were asked to leave, and why we had decided to go in the first place (given that it was the pool of a different hotel), I stepped back and found all of my reasons disingenuous. I imagined Oscar in any number of “grey” situations as a teen and applied all of the rationales above and panicked. For example, there are things I don’t want him to do, even if he’s not hurting anyone else. Any one of these rationales used by itself would lead to a problematic moral compass.

At the bottom of it all, I decided to use the pool because after evaluating the risk, the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to leave. I could bear the risk of a small amount of embarrassment in return for kid time in the pool with 10 hours in the car ahead of us. This rationale is still not one I would like Oscar to use exclusively, and I also realize that strictly speaking, there is no good rationale for breaking a perfectly fair rule.

We shared all this with Oscar and asked him what he thought we should have done. He wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure myself what was the right thing to do. There were good reasons to use the pool and there would be good reasons to not use the pool. There are poor reasons to use the pool and poor reasons to not use the pool.

One thing I did learn, though: I’ll be much more careful in how I make similar decisions in the future, and I will strive for greater personal integrity and honesty, knowing that God isn’t the only one watching me.

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A Moving Proposition

A Moving Proposition

We bought a house by accident this summer.

We had been saving up for a down payment with plans to purchase a home next summer, but thought it wise to dip our toes in the market this year, just to see where things stand. We figured that we’d have a better idea of what we would be looking at when it matters next year.

We walked through a home and found parts that we liked and parts we didn’t like. Another home was for sale across the street, so we thought we’d better check that one out, too. When we walked through this second home, we found very little that we didn’t like. We especially fell in love with the spacious backyard, half of which was thickly wooded.

We had an overcrowded summer that included nearly six weeks of continuous travel, so why not throw the purchase of a new home on top of all that? The one thing we learned from our last house transaction, however, was to take things one step at a time—that it is a long process that unfolds over months.

Every new step we came to made the way clear for us, so we kept proceeding, and here we are—we closed on the house last week and have moved everything in (thanks to some hard-working and generous friends). Most of our rooms are still packed in boxes, but we have transitioned to a new living space.

In 16 years of married life together, Stacey and I have moved ten times. By the second or third move, it was clear that we are at our worst when we are moving. Some situations call the best out of us, but moving is not one of them. Our personalities and communication needs are at their most oppositional during a move, and the stress of the transition makes things worse.

Knowing this helps some, but does not alleviate the problem that our communication patterns conflict. Despite what we know about it, that factor remains. As is the case in anything that comes up after vowing to love and honor each other all the days of our lives, we simply keep at it and do our best. What else is there to do?

We find that whenever we keep trying to communicate, though—no matter how unproductive and maddening it might seem—we always learn something new about each other.

For example, we had a week to move into our new home after closing. We had six rooms we wanted to paint, and a split-rail fence to build to keep our dog in the yard. All of this on top of packing up one house and unpacking in another.

During the painting, we found that I had much more patience to handle the detail work of cutting in the edges with a small brush. But if it hadn’t been for Stacey’s initiative and motivation to push on through the work, we would never have finished it all. When it comes to painting, Stacey is all about the quantity of the work, and I’m all about the quality. Both aspects are important—in fact, once we discovered this fact, we did our best to play to our strengths.

Another example: when it comes to packing, we are just the opposite. My idea of packing is to open the biggest box I can find and literally dump shelves into it until it is full. I simply want to get everything out, so we can organize it in the new space. Stacey had every room organized and packed up in neat and tidy boxes, each with its own label. Again, both approaches were needed—I had the drive to move the work forward, and Stacey was all about doing it well.

The biggest challenge we faced in all of this was simply having time to stay on the same page and figure out all of these communication needs. Both of us have spent every evening for the past two weeks working, painting, packing. We are doing the same work in the same house, but not in the same room. We collapse into bed, exhausted. Trying to find time to communicate well has been difficult.

I wish I could say that we put our backs together and faced this transition like heroes. The reality is that the only time we had to share with each other in a day was in the bathroom at 11:30 p.m., brushing our teeth, working through conflict while trying not to raise our voices as the children slept.

Heroism in lifelong marriage comes down to sticking with the time-worn, difficult conversations, wading through them together, and seeking and giving forgiveness. While that would not make a good plotline for the next Avengers movie, we came through the experience richer for it because we learned more about each other. Our lives have grown together in yet another new way.


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