Scenes from a Marriage - Vol. 4 by Mark Valentine
Story of the Month contest entry
One of the things I love about my wife is that she occasionally goes away; not often, and not for long, but every once in a while, she goes to a conference. I dropped her off at Midway this morning, and I’ll pick her up Sunday night. Until then, the kids and I will… what’s the phrase I’m looking for?… Oh yeah, have fun! Despite my best efforts, I have not yet managed to teach my wife the fine art of having fun. This is a shame, because it’s one of the few things I’m really good at. With whom shall I share my gift? Imagine Michelangelo’s wife not liking art, or Bill Cosby’s wife not wanting to lie motionless during sex.
A few weeks back, during the lunar eclipse, I set up some lawn chairs in the back yard next to a table with some snacks and a bottle of wine, got out the binoculars, put on some tunes, and invited Maggie out to share this once-in-a-decade moment. She tried – gave it a good five minutes or so – but then she had to go back inside. Enjoying things for more than five minutes is not in her nature. Now there are certain areas of our relationship where the five minute thing works out well for me, but in general I’d prefer that she had a little more capacity for joy.
When the kids were little, Maggie, not having a full-time job, did not go to conferences. She was a stay-at-home mom during the week and worked at her small private practice on Saturdays. Saturdays thus, became the only time of the week when the ties that bind were loosened a bit to allow the blood to flow and the air to fill my lungs. Maggie was gone every Saturday from 8 in the morning until 7 at night. I loved every minute of it. During college football season, the kids and I would start off our Saturdays by having a mini pep rally. I’d put on the Illinois and Notre Dame fight songs (my and Maggie’s respective alma maters) and we would march around the living room, the kids taking turns riding on my shoulders. I can’t help but think that it’s not a coincidence that our oldest is currently in the Notre Dame marching band.
Then came cleaning time. The kids each were given a list of chores and we would put together a working song CD (“Happy Little Working Song”, “Chain Gang” etc.) to set the mood. After each chore, they got to spin “The Wheel of Delight”, which was a paper plate attached to my power drill. Depending on where the plate stopped after they had released the trigger on the drill, they could win prizes ranging from a cookie, to Play Dough, to the grand prize, the “Cup O’ Change” – a Dixie cup filled with coins that occasionally would amount to two or three dollars. I was quite proud of myself for having devised what I thought was a rather ingenious motivational tool. Maggie’s response was “You let a five year-old use a power drill? What is wrong with you?” See what I mean? No fun. In my defense, the kids enjoyed it, they did their chores without complaining, and there were very few drill-related injuries (and only one of those required medical attention).
Maggie often wonders how our children would have turned out if not for her stabilizing influence. She’s got a point, but there’s something to be said for fun too. One of my favorite quotes comes from Bill Watterson, the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoonist: “In the short term, it would make me happy to go play outside. In the long term, it would make me happier to do well at school and become successful. But in the VERY long term, I know which will make better memories.” They’ll thank me when they’re sixty (though they should thank me in advance now, cuz I’ll be dead then).
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Amen – it sure beats non-stop presence. When I dropped Maggie off at the airport this morning, I told her that I’d miss her – and I will. Sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning I’ll start to miss her. But not tonight or tomorrow. I’m going to turn up the thermostat, watch sports on TV (did I mention the Cubs are in the NLCS?), take the kids out for pizza, and hog the covers to my heart’s desire. I’ll have one of the kids take some video of me at the piano, looking sad and playing “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” and send it to her. I’m sure Maggie will be doing whatever it is she does to entertain herself (quilting, I think, or knitting – one of those hobbies that involves a lot of fabric taking up way too much space in our basement).
I used to feel guilty about cherishing my alone time so much, and I use to wish that Maggie and I had more shared interests. I don’t think an internet dating site would ever have put us together. And yet, I can’t imagine being married to anyone else. I’ve come to appreciate that a little distance, physical and psychological, makes closeness possible. Being married to someone with a different personality is as important as being married to someone from a different gene pool – it keeps the kids from being idiots.
I love my wife and I look forward to her return on Sunday. As for tonight – the two kids at home are 16 and 17 now. I think they’re old enough to safely operate a power drill – let the games begin!
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