First Night

On the first night of 2019 I went to bed crowing with happiness. I waltzed into the bedroom to find my husband, already recumbent in bed. I found myself crooning an impromptu love song to him…My simple hymn of jubilation had only two phrases, sung over and over again in a sing-song lilt:

“We got our car inspection done! We finished the FAFSA form!”

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We gave each other a high five and went to bed…me, still aflutter with the victory of long-dreaded and onerous administrative tasks checked off my list, he, dreaming of the weighted blanket he had just ordered for himself.

Bring on 2019! Bring on the second half century of my life! Clearly, I’m primed and ready to go!

 

My Old Man

I’m ending my countdown to Valentine’s Day here, where we are now…or at least where we were a few years ago.

Old People Dating

(first posted December 6, 2014)

Thanks to our church, which hosted a Parents’ Night Out yesterday, my husband and I were able to go out on an extremely rare date night. Our daughter fit the target age for the participants, and I conscripted the boys to be helpers. My husband brought the kids from home and I left work so that we could all meet up at the church at 5.

As we signed the kids in, the kind adults who were supervising the evening asked, “So what are you guys going to do on your date?”

“Uhhh…we’re not really sure yet,” I admitted, “but I guess we’ll go out to dinner.”

“Where do you guys usually like to eat?”

I’m pretty sure they weren’t asking about our dashes into Subway between soccer and piano practices, or to Panera on a Saturday in the middle of a day of running errands with a minivan chock full of kids…It’s the kind of question that would be easier to answer if a date night was something that happened more frequently than say, the appearance of Halley’s Comet in Earth’s atmosphere.

The last time we had a regular date night was fifteen years ago, when we were married with no children. We were both singing in the church choir and practice was on Thursday evenings. I was pregnant with our first child at the time, (the boy who is now 6 foot 3), and I was always ravenously hungry. We would go to Ruby Tuesday, which was both close to our rehearsal, and had a menu that met both of our needs. While my husband demurely nibbled at his salad bar dinner, I would devour every last bite of one of those Pantagruelian platters groaning with three different kinds of meat. You know…the kind that would only be appealing to obese middle-aged men and me in my pregnant, callow youth.

Yesterday, as we got back into the car, we giddily pondered our restaurant options as wondrously as if we were contemplating a rare and precious diamond. We made a spur of the moment decision to go to an Italian restaurant, because we can be crazy like that. We showed up at 5:30 with all the other geriatrics.

Me and my old man

As I sat there in the warm and elegant ambiance, I drummed my fingers impatiently, my eyes darting around, wondering if the bread would arrive in my lifetime. After gulping down the bread and an appetizer that we rashly ordered in our expansive mood, we were both full.

“I guess it’s too late to cancel the rest of our dinner, right?” I asked.

We had a couple bites of our main courses, but took most of them home in boxes. This would have never happened in our Ruby Tuesday days! After polishing off my meat slab platter, I’d still be picking croutons off my husband’s salad.

Dinner was done and we still had a couple of hours to go before we had to pick up the kids. The restaurant is right next to Trader Joe’s, so that’s where we headed next. We got into an intense debate about the merits of Trader Joe Honey Nut O’s versus Honey Nut Cheerios.

“Their version tastes much better than Honey Nut Cheerios,” my husband told me, “It’s less sweet.”

“Well, it may taste better, but the misplaced apostrophe is burning my eyes,” I replied.

As we rang up our purchases, we still had an hour and a half before we had to pick up the kids.

“Well…what should we do now?”

“Oh, I know! Let’s go to CVS and pick up my prescriptions and get Epsom salt,” my husband said.

“OK, Gramps! Let’s do it!”

As my husband was paying for our purchases, I remembered I had a $5 coupon attached to a CVS receipt that was floating around in my purse. I pulled it out and tentatively showed it to the cashier. “Would we possibly be able to use this?” I asked doubtfully.

“Sure!” she said as she tore it from my receipt.

As we walked back to the car, we were both jubilant. My husband said, “I can’t wait to try my Epsom salts!” I said, “I think this might just be the best day of my life. I feel like I just won the jackpot! This is the first time in my whole life that I’ve actually been able to use one of those CVS coupons. I’m so inordinately happy, I think I could dance a jig right here on the sidewalk! Could you smell the scent of victory, crackling like ozone in your nostrils when I got to use my coupon? Because I sure did!”

Flush with my unexpected success, I had another idea…

“HEY! Let’s go to the CoinStar at Harris-Teeter!”

We drove over to the grocery store and my husband obligingly lugged in the heavy container full of change that I had stashed in the car.

Have you ever used CoinStar? It’s mesmerizing to watch the sum grow from piles of pennies that have just been lying around the house. We didn’t want the magic to ever end. After emptying our container, we pulled out every last penny from our pockets and wallets until the clinking of the coins finally stopped.

“Wow. This is the best date ever,” I said with a sigh of contentment, “First, the coupon and now this!”

It was now 8 o’clock.

“We still have half an hour. We’re supposed to pick up the kids at 8:30.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure it will be fine to pick them up early. And then we can get home, so I can try my Epsom salts.”

And that’s what we did.

Boys

Picking up our helper elves…

And it was good. Really, really good. I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky…

Read the rest of Starfish, by Eleanor Lerman here.

 

Countdown to V-Day, Pt. 8

My Scholarly Couch Potato

(first posted May 9, 2014)

This one’s dedicated to my husband, my beloved scholarly couch potato.

When I brought my future husband home to meet my parents for the first time, my father immediately recognized a kindred spirit. He watched knowingly as my fiancé gazed in wonder and admiration at his groaning bookshelves overflowing with exactly the same kind of scholarly tomes that he himself loved to read.

The day before our wedding, my father took me aside to give me the only piece of marital advice I ever got from him.

“If you want to have a happy marriage, don’t expect him to be handy, or to do things around the house. Basically, he’s a scholarly couch potato. All he’s going to want to do is sit around all day long reading his books. Let him.”

I thought this was hilarious. My dad’s own attempts to be “handy” have often ended badly. One of my earliest memories is particularly horrific – I remember seeing my dad coming into the kitchen with a river of blood gushing from his knee. He had just chopped it with an axe while trying to split a log. On another occasion, he cemented over the dryer vent by mistake. How many times have I heard my mother muttering darkly to herself, “He can do nothing!“? (Nothing but write more than fifteen books and accumulate two doctorates, a masters, and two bachelors as a non-native speaker in this country that is).

My dad had peered into the depths of my future husband’s soul and had found it to be the perfect mirror of his own. He had dispensed his paternal wisdom in an attempt to create for his son-in-law, his fellow scholarly couch potato, the life he himself craved. I foolishly told my husband what my dad had said about him, thinking that he would take it for the compliment that it truly was.

He did not.

During the first year of our marriage, we lived in my parents’ house, which was vacant while they were living in Korea. We had just left New York City where supers took care of any maintenance issues in the apartments we had lived in. Now, in the heart of suburbia, we were faced with the care and upkeep of an aging house.

Still stinging from my dad’s assessment of his practical maintenance skills, my husband set out to prove him wrong. There was nothing he wouldn’t tackle. Leaky faucet? He’d diligently watch youtube videos to figure out how to fix it. Elecrical issue? He’d work at it relentlessly, cursing like a sailor, deaf to my pleas to call an electrician. He obsessively tended to the lawn, brushing off my suggestion that it would be better to let the grass grow a little longer before cutting it. The pièce de résistance was when he waterproofed the basement, which had been prone to flooding. He may very well have shortened his life span with the highly toxic chemicals he had to use in the process, but when he finished he crowed in triumph: “How’s THAT for a scholarly couch potato?!”

As the year dragged on, I could sense that his spirits were flagging. Each hard-fought battle with a blown fuse or a shower head that needed replacing took its toll, and in the end the cost benefit analysis proved too unambiguous to ignore. He came to me one day with shoulders slumped and said in a defeated voice, “Your dad’s right. I am a scholarly couch potato.”

Somehow, dear reader, that admission made me love him all the more.

 

 

Mr. Fix-it

I recently got a text from my scholarly couch potato husband, which read: “I tried to hang the mirror. Please don’t get mad at me.”

I arrived home to this:

…and I was mad.

It reminded me of another incident when my husband tackled a home improvement project that proved to be more complicated than he had anticipated. It was a sultry summer day in Virginia…the kind of day when you can see wavy lines rising up off the asphalt. We were living in our first house in Charlottesville.

Back then I spent most of my days holed up in that south facing bedroom over the front door, struggling to write my dissertation. My desk was right against the window and I felt like an ant being burned alive by a sadistic kid with a magnifying glass. I was hot and crabby, and – as is my wont – I whined about it.

Sidebar: my husband is from Keep Calm and Carry on England. This is the same stiff upper lip England where the simple act of washing one’s hands is a high adrenaline sport for which one alternately risks third degree burns and frostbite in the pursuit of cleanliness:

Do your people not believe in comfort?!” I once asked my husband reproachfully, raising my newly-washed, throbbing red hands so he could bear witness to my suffering, “Would a mixer tap be a frivolous luxury that only shameless hedonists would ever consider installing?!”

“Huh!” my husband replied with genuine surprise, “I never even noticed that!”

And why would he take note of such an insignificant inconvenience? He grew up at a time when the consumer public had to purchase plugs for appliances separately and do the wiring themselves. That’s right. You would buy a curling iron or a washing machine, say, but then to make it actually work, you’d have to buy a separate plug and wire it yourself.

Having dealt with this throughout his young adulthood in England, if there was one home improvement project my husband felt confident about, it was electrical wiring. One day after patiently listening to me complain about how hot I was, he said he would install a ceiling fan light for me.

“Really?” I asked anxiously as we drove back home from Lowe’s with our new ceiling fan, “Are you sure? Shouldn’t we call an electrician?”

“We don’t need an electrician!” he scoffed, “Just leave it to me.” He never likes me to be anywhere near him when he’s trying to fix things so he shooed me downstairs and got to work.

After a rather long time, he passed me on his way to the basement and informed me that he was going to have to turn off all the electricity to the house. He was worried that he might electrocute himself, and since he wasn’t exactly sure which breaker controlled the light switch to that particular room, he would shut everything down just to be safe. And I mean everything…including the air conditioning. Almost instantaneously it became unbearably hot in the house. I sat quietly in my corner in the dark, trying not to expend any energy and pretending not to hear the expletives that were coming with increasing frequency and volume from upstairs.

In the end, my husband was forced to ask me for help. I’m quite sure this was as supremely painful for him as it would have been to say…remove his own appendix with a butter knife.

“I need you to hold the fan for me while I try to attach it,” he said grimly.

We dragged a chair over to the spot so that I could stand on it and hold the fan up for him. If you’ve never held a ceiling fan, I can tell you that they are surprisingly heavy. I stood there silently with my spindly arms trembling under the weight of the fan, unable to wipe away the rivulets of sweat trickling down the sides of my face as my husband tried to figure out the wiring.

Finally, he uttered the most exquisite words I ever heard fall from his lips: “I’m going to have to call an electrician.”

“Oh, thank God!” I said, immediately lowering my arms and unburdening myself of the monstrously heavy ceiling fan. I ran outside into my garden, where it was actually cooler than it was inside the dark and unairconditioned house.

In no time at all, an electrician drove up to the house.

“It’s the room at the top of the stairs!” I practically sang to him, “You’ll see my husband in there.” He headed inside and I turned back to tend my garden with a beatific smile on my face.

In no more than five minutes the electrician was back outside.

“Wow! That was super fast!” I exclaimed when I saw him emerge.

“Uh, your husband didn’t let me install the fan, ma’am,” he said.

“What?!” I asked, certain that I must have misheard him.

“He asked me to show him which wires were which and he said he wanted to do the rest himself.”

I blinked my eyes and took several deep breaths as I watched the van drive away.

About a half hour later, my husband called me back inside and led me up the stairs to inspect his handiwork.

“I’m cross, because it was impossible to get the screws to fit exactly in the holes, but I think they’re pretty secure. It’s probably best to avoid sitting or walking directly under the fan though…just in case.”

I tried to hold it in, I really did, but later that evening, I just couldn’t hold it in any longer: “You do know the electrician could have installed the fan in ten minutes, right? And we wouldn’t have to be worried about getting our skulls crushed in by a fan falling on our heads. And we’re going to end up paying him the same amount for coming out and not installing the fan…I don’t understand why you couldn’t let him do his job and you do your job! He couldn’t write books on political theory or give seminars on philoso…”

“Isn’t it sooo nice to be able to work in that room and be comfortable?” he interrupted me with a satisfied smile playing on his lips. And, of course, I had to admit it was.

Not too long ago I was feeling heartbroken. I wandered around in a daze with tears steadily leaking out of my eyes. One day I couldn’t get myself out of bed at all. My husband had absolutely no idea how to fix it, but that didn’t stop him from trying. He made all kinds of suggestions that were preposterous and that I rejected out of hand. He cracked corny jokes that did not make me even lift my head. He tried to distract me by dragging me out of the house and taking me places. He sent me texts to say he was sad that I was sad. He even installed this new light for me:

I used to fantasize about how amazing it would be to have a professional handyman around for a week or even a day to tackle all my home improvement projects. I’ve come to realize that I have something far better. My Mr. Fix-It doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but by God, he never gives up trying. And somehow he always manages to figure out a way to bring light into the darkness. For that and for so much more – I love him.

Related Post: My Scholarly Couch Potato

Being a jerk to my husband

What happens when a dog-lover marries a dog-tolerator? This:

On the way home from Tennessee last week we stopped for lunch and spotted a little pen set up on the grass with a litter of Jack Russell Terrier pups for sale. Obviously, we had to go over to admire the puppies. We were just going to look at the puppies, and maybe just pet them a little. But then I picked up this sweet little girl with two perfectly round spots on her back, and I fell madly in love. How could I not? She rolled over onto her back and fell asleep in my arms as I petted her soft little belly. I really, really wanted to take her home, and I’m pretty sure she really, really wanted to come home with me. I knew my dog-tolerating husband would be less than thrilled if I came home with a third dog, (to the say the very least). I imagined the shock and horror on his face as I walked in the door with my new puppy. Could I do this to the man I love, my husband of eighteen years, the father of my three children? I sent him a text:

Nah. But I could just mess with him a little.

Chunky Fingers: A Love Story

Reposting from last Valentine’s Day…

There was an awkward period of time when, for the life of me, I couldn’t define the nature of the relationship between my future husband and me.

We met when we were both graduate students in New York City. We were in a singing group, and soon started spending a lot of time together outside of rehearsal. At first we hung out with a group of singers. Eventually, we started doing things on our own.

“So are you dating?” my sisters would ask me over the phone.

“Ummm…I’m really not sure,” I would reply.

I was getting some seriously mixed signals.

“You have the hands of a pianist,” he remarked one day.

I instantly understood that he was trying to flatter me. I imagined all of the things he was surely thinking…Your hands are so elegant! Your fingers are so long and tapered!

As he was obviously trying to find a pretext for paying me a compliment, I obligingly gave him the opening.

“Really? You think?…What do pianists’ hands look like?”

“Well, they have really chunky fingers,” he replied promptly and earnestly.

It never ends well when my husband and I discuss how the nature of our relationship was eventually clarified, but the resolution once again involved my hand. As I remember it, one day we were walking down Broadway, about to cross 113th St., when he held out his hand for me to hold. I took it, and that was that. From that moment, we both knew that we weren’t just really good friends who happened to take note of each other’s physical traits…We were dating.

My husband remembers it differently. One day he had the nerve to imply that I had made the first move.

What?!” I protested, “You’re the one who grabbed my hand! Remember?”

“It was icy. I was just holding out my hand to help you down off the sidewalk,” he replied, “And then I was really happy, because you kept holding my hand.”

I had to resist a very strong urge to throw something at him.

That was seventeen winters ago. We were married a year later. We still argue about things. We still walk hand in chunky hand.

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