Thursday, September 22, 2016

PSA: don't do this

The file is now closed.
Whew.
We have, with our youngest's college graduation and move to Boston, now launched four successful adults. All have careers and benefit plans, all still like to come for dinner and go shopping, and I'm feeling good about the mom in the mirror. 

I'm tempted to offer pages from the "worked for us" file, but the "don't do this" file is more interesting. First, however, some scraps of backstory: 
Remember when Rex, the insecure dinosaur in Toy Story made this comment after trying to scare Woody:
"I'm going for fearsome, but I think I'm just coming off as annoying?"  Okay, put that aside.
Remember the "Cincinnati Zoo Mother" story this summer about the woman who turned away long enough for her toddler to fall into a gorilla enclosure? And, that the gorilla was shot before he could harm the boy? 
It was a sorry and sad thing, and even before the internet blew up over this woman's "neglect" you had to feel for her once you knew the reason for why it happened, which was because that's what accidents do, they happen. 
"It's not about the decision to put down the gorilla," said commenters, which don't get me started. "It's about the fact that the kid got away from the parents."  
Once, I let go of my small child's hand in a busy store and he bolted. I dropped the things I was holding and gave chase while he scrambled up a spiral staircase like a crab, and headed straight for the propped open door. A busy two way street was feet beyond the threshold. I quite literally tackled him before an oncoming car, then dissolved into tears to think of what almost happened.  
Before that happened, I was a good mother. After it happened, I was a good mother. But in today's viral video world, had things turned out differently and had I been filmed with my full arms as my little one wandered off, I would have been shredded by people who simply hadn't made the same mistake yet.   
When I was a young parent, I said things often to suggest that accidents happen to careless people. And I was not short on opinions where less conscientious, poor example-setting parents were concerned. I was vocal about parents who smoked in the car with their kids, or left their kids alone at young ages, or left them in cars to run in to the store, or partied too loud or too late while their young kids were home and listening. 
After that near disaster, I said things like that rarely. 
I bring this up, for two  reasons. First, because I think parents who judge other parents to put their own behaviors in a good light not only don't impress their kids, but wind up modeling  intolerance for their own cohort, a big no-no among kids as soon as they don't need play dates to make friends. 
Second, because very judgmental, intolerant parents run the risk of being the last people on earth their kids will turn to when (not if)  they mess up.  At this moment, many of our young adults are three weeks or so  into the later high school or early college years. With all that yummy freedom, 'tis the season to mess up, magnificently.
I wince to remember those sanctimonious remarks I made as a young parent, when I was going for this:


but probably coming off as this:
If I made a mistake, I would
not want to tell this
 woman about it.

An inexperienced parent wants to appear competent, of course. But I think, when the chance presents itself to judge others, it's a gift we can give our children to remind them that making mistakes is as much a part of life as bad storms and potholes. You get caught in one, but you tend to see the next one coming. 

And "earned" smarts last longer and are more useful than the "lucky" kind. 

Nobody knows what mistakes they haven't made yet, we only know that when they happen, we'll want to reminded by people we love that we're still the people we were before we messed up. 

That is a very good thing for our kids to see in the Mom and Dad mirror. 











Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Life School: Tire Store campus


No tires were harmed in the stalking or
posting of this sign on Facebook.
I'm pretty sure that at some point, a science teacher stood in front of a classroom, miles from the back row where I sat, and informed all of us that  a molecule is the smallest particle in a chemical element or compound that has the chemical properties of that element or compound.
In response to this news, I'm pretty sure I constructed a cootie catcher and asked "my neighbor" to pick a color and receive a fortune in return. 
I think of this when I have to talk to Harry, a specialist at our local tire store, because no place makes me feel, and therefore act, as stupid as this place with its garage smell of tread and wall hangings of actual tires. 
If it's a simple deal – changing out of snows for example – we do okay. But if there's an "issue" – a  shimmy, a pull in some direction – Harry and I know we'll have to put on our patient hats because my comfort level with his language ends with "I'm fine, how are you?" 
A month ago, my husband noticed a serious scrape in my tire and asked me if I'd been driving anywhere lately where sharp metal might have been come in contact with the tire, like a construction site. 
Here is a helpful sign 
that explains itself.
I told him that no, I'd not driven through any construction sites and that my driving route is the same as it's been for months: I drive to Granite to see friends for wine every now and then, I drive to the supermarket, I drive to Concord to run errands, and sometimes I stalk signs to post on Facebook. 
"You should call Harry. It's kind of deep, it might be dangerous to be driving on it."
"Can it blow up?"
"Let Harry tell you that." 
Had that blowing up question brought an "Oh, I doubt it!" there would be no call with Harry until much later in the future. But I had to go to Boston soon, so I dialed him up. 
"Hi Harry, it's Susan Bonifant."
"Oh, hey Susan!"
"I have a problem."
"Oh no," he said, "what's happening?" 
Here is where my brain wants to lie down.

"I've done something to my tire."
"Okay."
"It has a gash."
"How did that happen?"
"I don't know."
"Can you describe it for me?"
"It looks like a check-mark."

"Is it in the sidewall?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well," begins Harry, "the sidewall  sjdyfhfhy uuiir. Alskjdhfughhh and vbvhg can mean rsddwq. And cqpmkk, and also jg dfreeaa."
"Uh-huh."
"So," asks Harry, "is it like that?" 
Silence.
Here is where Harry adjusts the pace of his speech and length of his words. 

"Do you want to come in and let me take a look?" he asks.
"That would be great," I say. "When is it quiet over there?"
"Usually 3 or so. We're pretty busy at lunchtime."

"Okay. It's noon. If I come over in twenty minutes, will that work?"
 
Pause.
"Sure," says Harry. 
It is, as Harry predicted, packed because it's lunchtime, and so I signal, I'll come back, and Harry nods in agreement from the counter. 


~~~~~
At three o'clock, Harry follows me to the car and squats to get a close look at the tire. 
"Yeah, that's what I thought," he says in a sad voice. "And how did this happen?"

"I have no idea. Can it be fixed?" I ask. "Patched, maybe?" 
"Nope." He looks at me. "It's in the sidewall." He points to what is the sidewall before I can ask, and says, "See, the thing is, ynfhy uuiir. Alskjdhfughhh and vbvhg can mean rsddwq. And cqpmkk, and alos dfreeaad. Vb." 
I want out of the deep end of this tire talk pool, now. I want to take my napping brain and go where I will not be this way, but I need to know. 
"Am I in any danger if I drive to Boston this week?" 
Harry is uncomfortable with this question. He sighs, makes a  tsk tsk tsk tsk sound, tilts his head left and right and says, "It's really not a good idea." 
"Will it blow up?" I ask. 
"Oh, Heavens! No. I'm sure your car has a pressure warning." 
"What will it do if it does?" 
"A light will come on and tell you if there's a leak."
Back inside, Harry processes an order for the new tire and asks, "What is the best way to reach you?" 
"Home or cell?" I ask.
He looks at me. 

"Either one. You tell me. Whichever is easier."
Every single question he asks brings a response like that from me as my brain slumbers.


~~~~~
Two days later the tire is in, and I arrive for my appointment. Harry writes up a ticket,  takes my keys and says "Okay, you're all set." 
"Oh, did I already pay?" 
Silence. 
"No. I mean you can have a seat while they care of the tire." 
"Oh, okay." 
Later, I will google "stupid behavior of smart people." 


~~~~~
Three weeks later, it's as if it never happened at all.  My tire is replaced, and I am happy as I drive past the tire store en route to meeting my father for lunch at our usual spot.  
I'm a little late. The parking lot is crowded and I don't want him to think I forgot about him and so, I pull into a space between the curb and a dumpster next to an area that is under construction. I feel a little bump, and then hear what sounds like someone dragging the edge of a metal shovel along the pavement.
 Please. I hear myself say. No.
I can't stand to get out of the car but I do, and rest my eyes on this new checkmark. It's a deep one. A piece of rubber is lying on the ground  and I pick it up. 

That's how.
It's three o'clock, the best time to drop by. I pull into the parking lot and carry the small rubber strip from the sidewall in with me. Harry is on the computer and looks over. 
 I hold out the piece.
"Oh, no."
"I was hoping you could just put this back on."
"Nope. Anytime you damage the sidewall..," he doesn't finish. 
We go out to the car together.
"Wow," says Harry. "You got the rim, this time.  That's interesting, because these tires protrude beyond the surface of the rim to protect it."
Interesting.
~~~~~
It is a week later and I arrive for my appointment. 
"Just the one tire this week?" asks Harry. He snickers.
"Harry, that's really funny," I say. But. I like him more for having a sense of humor, because I do speak that language.
The job is finished. I pay and am signing off on my service when Harry says, "Now remember," and makes a wide sweeping motion with his arm, "wiiiiiiiiiiiiide turns." He cracks up. 
"Ha ha ha. You know what, Harry? If you'd suggested that the first time, I wouldn't be here, now. Would I?"

But now we have a joke in common, and he laughs, "Just trying to save you a few bucks, that's all. Just trying to save you a few bucks." 
I leave the tire store and I'm happy.  My brain is up from its nap now, and lighter for already having dumped the tire details.  It asks me, what should we do now, that we are really, really good at? 
I tell my brain we should go stalk strange signs that are not located anywhere near a construction site and post them on Facebook. Off we go.

Here is a resourceful sign that uses backwards 2's for S's,
inverted P's for d's, and doesn't fuss with decimals
because who would ever think kids eat for $199.00?





Friday, September 16, 2016

In the mitten

Goodbye summer, and thanks for coming.

My mother compares fall and winter in New England to living in a mitten. Set that aside for a second.

Over the weekend, I saw a woman and her two sons, around six and seven in the supermarket. The woman kept losing track of the boys as they ran up and down the aisles, darting between displays, and yelling over their shoulders to each other as if they were on a soccer field and not the coffee and cereal aisle. 


The woman looked at a label and said, "Boys, don't get in people's way." 


The trio was very tan and dressed like it was mid-July. Next to the pumpkin muffin display, corn stalks and bins of pumpkins, they were white pants after labor day.


That's it. It's time for summer to leave the fair. Somewhere around the Wednesday before Labor Day, even if it's still warm, the feel of summer is gone, like the mood of a party host who needs to go to bed, or a foil covered dish too far back in the refrigerator to probably still be "okay."


Considering the heady feel to summer at the outset, I'm always surprised at how the spirit of this "outside" season doesn't disappear gently, but vanishes, as if the fall will kick its ass if it's still here when fall arrives. 


I say, bring it.  Bring the pumpkins, bring the Halloween displays, bring the sweaters out and put the flip-flops away. 

Because, finally, it's September, and oh September, I couldn't love you more. 
I love that the sun rises a tiny bit later and that early morning traffic picks up on back roads.

I love that kids of all ages have started back to school, backpacks already full of crumpled papers that parents won't see until next year. 

I love that parents can linger over coffee and think full morning thoughts again. 
I love that we'll need jackets soon and will consider turning the heat up. 

I love that we'll have fires and take out stew recipes while the sun sets.


It's early enough to shrug at the thought of snow, presents and budgets, but the spirit of holiday love is already in the air, like distant rain.  
It's colder at night, but it's fall, and warm as summer inside the mitten. 

I say welcome back, and have a seat. I've missed you.




Thursday, August 18, 2016

After August

This is a violin, not a viola.
And this is not the sixth symphony.
But you get the idea.
A while back, our two oldest children left for college one week apart. 

Jarring, yes. And yet, I remember thinking, I'm not upset enough.  It reminded me of when I was child and wanted to cry at a funeral because everyone else was.

July rolled into August. Suitcases filled, rooms emptied of posters and books and CDs, and while I found myself looking longer and harder at my children, I was still not weepy. Nor was I second-hand weepy around the mothers who couldn't get through a discussion about the coming goodbye.

I was even a tiny bit more cheerful as September came into view.  No more details, no more shopping. No more saying, "Did you," at the start of every sentence.

One brilliant green and yellow morning, I listened to the last movement of Beethoven's sixth, a piece my violist-daughter and I adore, and one I'd watched her perform the previous summer. I thought about that lilt in the beginning, the part she really loved, and wondered, where did it actually begin? I went to her room to ask her, and got halfway. In a week, I would not be able to do this.

I still remember my face getting cold, and a feeling of being hollow. And did I cry hard enough to make my best friend come over in her pajamas? Yes, I did.

As new parents write of lost identity when babies come, veteran parents write often of disorientation when babies go. What of the next relationship we ask ourselves, when we aren't yet those people we will be for each other?

This canyon of "now," between "were" and "will be," is a thing that makes the prospect of separating a tiny bit like a death. And it's talked about that way, in terms of what is over for good. There is grief over truncated moments, regret over unrealized joys and sadness over endless "lasts." There is halting in the hallway, there are cold faces. There are thoughts of who will we be instead of us?

I have come to understand the answer to this, and it isn't something I would have understood at all had someone tried to explain it before August.

But it is this: my relationships with our four adult children, are more rewarding today than at any other time  because today, they demand more of me as a person than a parent.  

They are different people, but share a tolerant, kind view of the world. They require this of those they trust. More than once they have made me examine my heart and change it, close my mouth and open my mind, discuss hard truths, question wrong assumptions, update my views.

I've started more than one conversation with, "Help me change my attitude about something."

I've never found it this easy to laugh at myself.

Today, our daughter  lives 650 miles away from us in Cleveland. There, she directs a program which offers violin lessons to inner city children. Small children. Children who arrive tired and cranky and are more interested in my daughter's earrings than the piece upon which she must focus their little attention spans. 

She took me to tour the facility. When she left to take a call her boss resumed the tour, explaining the programs they offered and the value my daughter has brought to them. 

"We love her," said this man who has only known her as an adult, a kind, talented, professional woman. "She's a natural."

Later , we shopped for groceries and prepared dinner and talked in her kitchen about things we thought about, worried over, looked forward to, dreamed about. We had as much fun as two grown women can have when one is no longer – nor yet – dependent on the other. She is healthy and committed to intellectual, physical and spiritual balance.  Today, we are more alike than we aren't, despite the twenty-plus years between us.  We share a mother-daughter relationship, but have adult lives in common.

My August hallway question is long behind me but I have learned this: children leave, and they travel as far as they must to become their individuated selves. But then, whether they move down the street or text us from their living rooms across the country, they will come back not in need of answers or approval, but as people with experiences to share, in need of comparison, in need of commonality.

The fall is coming. Parents will miss their college freshmen perhaps more than they imagined. I say, let the memories come. And as you remember the times you'll always cherish, also remember the times you wouldn't revisit for anything.

Above all, be joyous about the certain possibility of times to come, when love will grow right along with you and connect you, long after August has come and gone.

This piece was originally published by Grownandflown.com in August of 2015.



Monday, August 15, 2016

Pet peeves are worse after you've spilled coffee on your face

Here is my pet, Gus, and here is his
peeved face.  It was a perfect storm for a graphic. 
I knew I would write a pet peeves post after I misjudged the fullness of my coffee cup last week and spilled it on my face. Oh, haha, I thought at first, look what I just did.
But then I dropped my toothbrush paste side down. And then I found a very old life insurance bill under many pounds of clutter in my giant purse. And then I forgot to bring my artfully organized and lengthy list to the supermarket. And then I parked too close to a curb and gave my tire a boo-boo, for the second time this year. 
It was one long-ass week of hold music and missed calls and things I forgot to write down, I'll tell you what. 
Usually, I look outward to feel better. But a perfect storm of poor attitude on my part and inconsiderate or clueless behavior on the part of others made me look inward instead, where I found this list of pet peeves already writing itself. 

Herewith, things that are easy to overlook unless you started the week googling "spatial awareness issues."
1. People who say "perfect storm," a serious and rare meterological event, to describe things that are just coincidental.

2. People who approach a door to enter a place while someone on the other side wishes to leave, and go first anyway.  I think some of us may not know that is has been the rule since God was a toddler to let people come out with their bags, before you go in with your nothing. Ditto elevators. Let them come out, and then go in. Them out, you in. 
3. It's not "could of," it's "could have." It's not "your being a jackass," It's "you're being a jackass." "Expecially" is still not a word, and neither is "irregardless" even though the dictionary finally gave up and said, "Okay, fine but we're putting informal next to it." If people lose it on Facebook, they should avoid undermining the credibility of their rant with errors like these. Maybe not, though. It's kind of funny when that happens. 
4. People who see that a lane will end a half a mile away,  race to the point where they merge and then huddle in wait for the driver they can cut off  to jump the line, which is five years long. In truth, they save little time as the already annoyed drivers in that line form a collective, massive attitude of "the hell you will." 
5. People who walk very slowly, two or three abreast, in the middle of anything, including aisles in supermarkets, parking lots, sidewalks and everywhere else. I wish I didn't feel as irrationally trapped as I do when I'm behind them and can't find a way to slip past on either side, but at least I'm nice enough to consider them clueless and not inconsiderate. 
6. People who are not clueless but inconsiderate. This includes smokers near doorways, right lane drivers who accelerate as you're attempting to merge, and people on airplanes who occupy their space and yours with too loud talk, too odorous food, too much perfume that smells like grapes. In general, people who know it might bother others but not as much as it will please them to have their way. 
7. People who half-shuck an ear of corn at a farm stand to inspect it, then reject it, then do the same thing to one ear after another until the bin is left full of half-stripped corn, which is off-putting for other customers, and probably mortifying for the corn.  
8. People who enter a parking space via the one in back of it to enter the space nose-first. People, (well,  I) tend to pull into spaces quickly, and I know if I'd collided with someone after giving my tire a boo-boo, I would have been worse than unpleased. 

That's it, it's only eight. After a week that nipped at my heels like an annoying dog after the coffee cup incident, I thought it would be longer. 
I must be on the mend, mood and fate-wise. 


Friday, August 5, 2016

While the spirit is a puppy

Here is the man I never married
and these are the kids I never had and 

I look nothing like that woman either.
When I was eight or nine, I went on regular trips to a local amusement park with some best friends. Inside the park's giant arcade, across from the rows of pinball machines were coin operated machines that produced things like fortunes and predictions, like the machine that sends Tom Hanks into adulthood overnight in the movie "Big." 
One of them, for a quarter, would show you your future spouse and children. The weird, grainy photos were all 1920s era and featured unsmiling, long suffering souls who looked like they'd been forced to pose for the picture or else. 
Usually, the men sported handlebar moustaches and suspenders and the women wore long skirts. Standing between them were always a gaggle of morose kids who stared flatly into the camera as if it had ruined their lives.   
Forget the roller coaster or round-up,  this was the attraction we hit first in our summer shorts and striped shirts, our overbites not yet corrected, our quarters gripped by fingers sticky with cotton candy. 
Photos in hand we'd huddle to view, and then argue with the results: 
"Mine looks like Curly from the Three Stooges."
"Mine's all dressed up but he's next to a tractor and a bale of hay"
"What'd you get?"
"Lemmee see yours."
"Ewwwww." 
And so on. 
Because young children worry about things like being kidnapped by spies, or attacked by bears, I wondered briefly what would happen if my future family were anything like this.  I remember thinking about that while walking barefoot to a store to buy candy because walking around town in bare feet wasn't horrifying yet. 
What would I do if he had a moustache? 
Eventually, my head was turned by a boy on the bus and I was able to advance to more serious things, like what if bear jumped out of the woods near the bus stop? 
There was horror in the world, both of the natural and manmade variety. There was a fire in France that killed 142 people. There were hurricanes and tornadoes and trains that ran over people.  For a while, everyone talked about Charles Manson. There were the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.
My biggest problem however, was what would happen if my cat Mittens went out and never came home? 
What would I do without Mittens? 
Fifteen years ago, in the ghostly aftermath of 9/11, I watched our young kids watch us, watch their teachers, react. I worried that they would now begin to see the world as we adults did at that time – unpredictable, terrifying, a place that seemed impossible to control and where it would never again be possible, not really, to completely relax. 
But it struck me then and now, that to watch young children at play, particularly when they  don't feel watched, is to witness spirit as a puppy, in its most hapless and sprawling state, not yet curbed, still so infused with curiosity, imagination, and spontaneity, it can have the power to dwarf the hardest reality.    
For a while. 
I wish for us to make it last. To not over-inform. To not caution too much. 
I wish for us to know that despite incomprehensible changes in our adult worlds that fray the edges of our own spirit, we are still former children. For the sake of our current children, I wish for us to remember the days when we were more fascinated by what we didn't know, than fearful of it.   
Children did then, and children do now fill their minds with fantastic predicaments of their own making – of cats not coming home and  bears popping out of the woods and what kind of a husband that boy on the bus would make – all completely believable in the dark before sleep. But a child's spirit is a puppy, warm and irrepressible, a steadfast ally with the answer to everything and the power to show them a future worth dreaming about. 

To honor and shield that spirit as a puppy is one of the best things we parents can do to honor our child's time in life, and, the memory of the children we ourselves needed to be at such a time. 

Back when we worried about noises in the woods and marrying people who hadn't been around for several decades.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Marriage is not for babies

Here are some swans whose cygnets are
with a sitter right now so they
discuss feelings without examples.
A while back, I met my daughter for dinner in Boston. On the street outside, a late-twenties couple met and after a nice embrace and a kiss, entered the restaurant. They'd been apart. They never stopped talking. They never took their eyes off each other. They never stopped touching.

Anyone would know from the look of them that they were probably never not like this.

A couple of weeks later, in line at a cafe, I spotted a couple that we used to see socially back when we all had teenagers and socialized with anyone who didn't answer questions with "What are you talking about."

That's not really true.

Yes it is. 

They sat in a corner these two, oblivious to the surroundings. She talked seriously about something, and he listened actively. Anyone would know from the look of them that they have never not been like this.

Recently, an article written by Matthew Johnson, professor of psychology at Binghamton University appeared in the Washington Post called, "Why having children is bad for your marriage." 

I can only imagine how many people clicked on that link.

The assertions were as gloomy as you'd expect.

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes relationship malaise and a "fixer" baby to help pull things together, in the baby carriage. Couples become less happy with each other and less happy in general.

Things further devolve, wrote Johnson, as communication gets patchy and fatigue makes us less interested in everything, including each other.  Our parent selves strangle the free and youthful spirit that drew us to each other and intimacy waits for later which doesn't come. The one who stays home feels isolated. The one who comes home feels insignificant, and so on.

The good news? When the kids leave, you're free to go. Reported Johnson, "...the successful launch of the children leads spouses to discover they have few shared interests and there’s nothing keeping them together."

And there you have it. Go ahead, have a baby. When you're done, just bite the head off your mate because you're finished.

For sure, I  have known couples whose over-parenting has changed them into people with only parenting in common. I've known others who viewed the empty nest with dread. And, of course, there are couples who never really had anything going in that was worth getting back. 

But there are swans, too. 

Our babies began arriving less than ten months after we married and didn't stop arriving until eight years later. I could have been the woman I spotted recently with a license plate that didn't read "3GIRLZ," or, "4BOYZ" but "4YNOTS."

We relocated six times in those first six years, with each of my consultant-husband's new assignments. We missed everyone, but we also liked that no one knew us as well as we knew each other while we were figuring stuff out. We didn't argue about who worked harder, we both did. 

At the core of things, we'd become, together, the most important people we'd ever been and shared the most important experience ever to grace our lives. It changed us forever. 

But challenges come and ours came later with a permanent move back home. Now my husband traveled while I managed the little ones and made new go-to mother-friends. Now, it was in late calls at night that we connected, too tired to comb through the details of a day, but not wanting to hang up. Now, it was only hours each week that we had to shore up that core of things where intuition lives and tells you what to blow off, what to say instead, how to gauge the climate, and how to tell tired from tired of .  

I needed to articulate this disorientation, this stone-in-my-shoe over the million, tiny things we now experienced apart, and the worry that we might next become people who knew each other less than others did. 

And here, in my opinion, is a point in any relationship that should be circled like an important date on the calendar. 

Here is where it's easy to mistake critical symptoms of transition for a bad mood, or phase, or "something hormonal" and blow it off, because you don't want to be needy even though you are for good reason.

Here is when many swans stop making those hearts with their necks  and start spending more time with their cygnets because the cygnets are easier to figure out.

Articulate I did, but because I am about feelings, and he is about observations, it probably went something like this:


Me:   I don't know, it's just a feeling. Something's different.
Him: Well, can you give me an example?
Me:   No, and why don't you have the same feeling?
Him: What feeling?

Me:   See?  

We gave our marriage its own room in the family house.

One didn't attempt a serious conversation while the other was helping a child find his shoes.  We hired sitters and made time for those feelings-without-examples conversations. In those early years, we ate dinner together after the kids were fed, a thing that wouldn't work for many in today's parenting culture, but which saved us later, when the babies became teenagers and we faced a whole other blog post of challenges to our core.

I don't think a troubled marriage is the certain result of having a baby, many marriages are troubled with or without children. 

But with a relationship at the core worth defending, and an understanding that marriage is not the most resilient of the relationships that form when babies come, but the most vulnerable one, I think the swan potential is higher. 

Maybe Dr. Johnson will visit a bigger pond next time, and ask to see them, the swans.