Labours of Love

Originally written October 18, 2019

As I write this I am deeply fatigued. But I am very, very happy. Mostly.

Thanksgiving table setting for three

See, when NJ returns from her latest round of work travel, I will have been solo with the kids for about half the month. And in that time, I’ve made an effort to keep the wheels on the household. That’s just being a parent. But I’ve also tried to make NJ’s travel more enjoyable, make Thanksgiving really special for the kids, host my sister and her fiancĂ©, keep ahead of stuff at work, move the kids’ Halloween costumes forward, and – in a stroke of pure madness – refinish the master bathroom as a surprise birthday gift for my beautiful wife.

Panorama of bathroom in light grey with green accents.

Folks, I’m tired.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I do this. Why I go from family vacation into my busy late summer-early fall at work into back to school into Thanksgiving into birthday stuff into Halloween and then roll right into NaNoWriMo, which is right before Christmas. I skid to a stop on New Year’s Eve with no rubber left on the tires.

I think it comes down to this: I express myself to my family through effort.

Kids' Scarlet Witch costume from The Avengers
Effort like sewing a faux-leather coat from scratch for DD12’s Halloween costume.

There’s this concept I was introduced to a while back called love languages. Per Wikipedia, The Five Love Languages is a 1992 book by a guy named Gary Chapman. He makes the case that people express affection differently, and that it’s important to be aware of not only how you express affection but also how the people around you express affection, so that you understand how and when they are telling you they love you. Chapman defines an “exhaustive” list of five love languages (receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch), and claims that everyone has both a primary and a secondary love language.

Now, before I go on, I should note that I think that assertion put this squarely in the pop-psychology mumbo jumbo camp. It strikes me as way too confident in its conclusions given that there appears to be hardly any research to support it as a theory. I bristle a bit at firm conclusions drawn without doing the hard work of study. Nobody has better access to truth than good researchers, and people who claim they do are usually trying to sell something.

However, like a lot of these kinds of things – tarot, mantras, minimalism, creative visualization, whatever – when taken for what it is and no more, it can be a useful tool to frame your experience and to help you consider yourself through a different lens. And while I think it’s a little suspicious that this dude has effectively made a career out of repeatedly pitching this idea without a strong research foundation, I can’t deny that it has made me more mindful about this sort of thing.

With that disclaimer made, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “acts of service,” which – because I’m a big ol’ sappy romantic – I’m going to call labours of love. Nothing makes me happier than working hard at something to make my family smile, to make their day a little lighter. To make a meal a little extra delicious. To work on a project so that we’re laughing and learning and exerting effort together. To memorialize something in a drawing or piece of writing. To build something. To continue to build this family. That’s the whole thesis of this Love Make Share project – to explore how the things we create build bonds between us.

Labours of love are hard work. They’re challenging intellectually, often, because you want them to be novel and surprising and delightful. They’re often physically taxing, because they involve either phsyical exertion or just raw stamina to do the labour that it’s in your heart to do. Labours of love can be menial. They can be hard emotionally, because you can get deeply invested in something as simple as “A very clean sink will make my partner happy, so I must do a good job” or as complex as plumbing the depths of your feeling through some kind of expressive work.

And I’m sitting here right now at 11:30, having essentially done one labour of love or another for my girls and my wife since I got home from work. That’s an eight-hour workday followed by nearly six hours of additional work.

And I’m thinking, no wonder I’m tired.

I don’t know what the solution to this is. I’m not upset. I love doing this kind of work. I relish it. It makes me deeply, existentially satisfied to put effort into my family. But it does make me wonder a bit about the null activities – about what I’m implicitly choosing not to spend the time doing.

I didn’t work on my book. I didn’t reach out to friends. I didn’t work on the handful of videos I’ve got scripted or planned. Didn’t spend time in the shop. Didn’t exercise.

I can’t tell if this is a problem or if it’s just the way I’m living my life right now.

I’ve found purpose in these labours of love. Maybe now it’s time to find some balance, too.

As always, folks, paddle your own canoe.

– Trevor

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