ctober 7th, 2008
Forty-two degrees. Time to make sure things are air-tight and insulated before the winds pick up, icy rains fall, and snow covers the ground. The big change is not far off. I wouldn't be surprised if we have snow for Halloween. So today, it'll be flannel shirt and jeans. Work boots and gloves. And I'll make one more run at it. Caulking crevices. Checking door jambs. Inspecting windows.
It's about protecting what we have. Doing what we can to make things better.
It's all sentimental domesticated talk, but that's where we are these days. A man, a woman, a child. Two dogs. Two cats. All of us smack dab in the middle of creating and maintaining a family.
There are other things, but they are part of it as well. And what I've discovered is that having my own family provides the base necessary for other endeavors. For becoming a better writer, a better son, brother, a better man. But I suppose I should clarify. It is not only a matter of a man having his own family, defined by a series of roles and relationships. It is about a man being an integral part of his family. Owning up to his responsibilities, digging in, and seeing how good he can get.
There are several factors involved. Patience, trust, expectation, and the biggie—Love. But they sorta come along with the whole package as you set yourself on course, put others before yourself, and get to work.
And the work includes many tasks, projects, daily to-dos that you would never have believed you would be doing. Some of them are more fun and engaging than others.
Sex, for instance. That's something that comes naturally, but also requires a little work. There are scheduling issues, mood issues, kids-popping-into-your-bedroom issues. But once you exercise patience, and a little understanding, you will discover that when the right moment does strike and bodies and minds are in tune, amazing things can happen. It is different when you are married, but it is better, and it takes on more meaning. Or it should anyway. If it doesn't it's because other needs are not being met. And without balance things can quickly go awry. Soon it is a case of back-to-back sleeping. No goodnight kisses, or sweet dreams, honey. And resentment begins to build.
Conversation. Though it is perfectly normal to sit together and really have nothing to say, I have discovered that it's important to ask questions. And it is as simple as how was your day? You feeling all right? But it is also more than that. There is the listening. Not only listening, but hearing. Words are not always the best indicators of emotion. There are facial expressions. Tone of voice. Mannerisms. A whole world of context that must be considered. It's easy to fall into the routine of short answers, direct questions, and a life of hello and goodbye. Conversation without real thought or real feeling. And of course, this type of routine communication is necessary. It is needed in order to be able to function in normal every day situations. You can't over analyze your wife's tone of voice or actions when she's trying to make her way through carts and bodies in a busy grocery store and she asks for the second time, Hello! Do you want Colby Jack or Pepper Jack!? And when you are slow to answer she grabs one, does a three-point toss into the cart, shoves over an old lady, then continues to the milk and eggs. Don't over analyze that. It is what it is. A busy grocery store. Ignorant people everywhere. And it's frustrating. Especially with a two-year old and a meat-and-beer crazed husband in tow. Just take deep breaths. Exercise patience. And be prepared. Skim milk and large eggs, I thought to myself as I helped the old lady back to her walker. Skim milk and large eggs.
One thing that I've particularly enjoyed about being married is that as cliché and politically incorrect as it may sound, I'm the man of the house. I get to do things that I didn't know I had the strength, patience, or endurance to do.
"Can you move these rocks, honey?" she says to me.
We are doing minor landscaping, but want to do it right. Putting down plastic sheeting underneath redwood chips and around mums. All around the flower bed are a dozen boulders the size of small cars.
"Sure thing," I say. And one by one, I'm tearing rocks from the ground like the Incredible Hulk. Holding them up enough so that she can slide the sheeting underneath.
"You're awfully strong, today," she says.
"I'm strong every day. I just don't get a chance to prove it."
My back cracks. Shoulders creak. But we move on to the next boulder.
"What's he doing in there?" she calls from the bathroom. She's just got home from work, is changing, washing up for supper, and Little Man is in the fenced backyard playing pull-the-tail-off-Teddy, our big cat. I'm not sure if it's the cat or the kid that she's heard, but I turn away from the potatoes I'm mashing and the burgers on the stove to see Little Man running after the cat with a big stick. I open the window, tell him to stop. He's running full speed, turns to look at me, trips over an invisible something in the yard and takes a header into the ground. The hamburger buns are toasting in the oven, burgers nearly done, and I'm trying to time the potatoes so that everything will be done simultaneously, but all of it has to wait. I run outside, try to pick him up and console him, but our Little Man does not like consoling. And so, he screams at me and begins to run around the yard as if I'm the monster in the closet. Finally, I catch him. When I try to hug him he gives me a smack. We head inside. I set him in a chair at the kitchen table. He screams and wails and swings his arms and legs like a madman. The burgers are well, well done. Buns are toasted black. The mashed potatoes are my saving grace. They turn out well. A couple of hesitant spoonfuls in Little Man's mouth and he's back to normal.
"These are really good potatoes!" my wife says as she smiles.
Boy, that feels good.
When we purchased our home, it had new carpet. The previous owners did a makeover that included a house full of nice, beige, stain-resistant carpet.
"Come here and look at this," my wife said.
We were doing our final walk-through of the home. I was looking under the sink. Checking for leaks. She was in the living room.
"Look!" she said.
She had pulled up a corner of the carpet, the backing, and was tapping the floor underneath.
"Old wood floors," I said.
"No. New hardwood floors!"
Ah, my sweetie. Such an optimist. But, she was right. And after the closing, I spent several twelve hour days doing something I'd never even thought of doing. Refinishing fifty-year old hardwood floors. I banged up knuckles. Ruined a pair of pants, two shirts, and a pair of shorts. Lost the feeling in my arms for two weeks. And inhaled so much dust, dirt, and fumes that I hallucinated and saw old woman standing in the closet of one of the bedrooms.
But I remember going back to our tiny apartment on the last night of floor work. My body aching. Head throbbing. The core of me begging for sleep. I looked in on Little Man. Looked in on my wife. Both were gone away in dream land, resting. I undressed, walked into the bathroom to shower, and found a note taped to the mirror.
I love you honey, it said. Your hard work is appreciated. It won't be long and we'll be in our new home. Together. Enjoying it for years. Thanks for all you do!
And ever since I've been married, I've realized that I'm more capable than ever before. It's not because I have to do anything. My wife is a grown woman who can (and does) handle anything that comes her way. It's just that I recognize the importance of this family. My roles. Responsibilities. And I owe it to my wife and Little Man to make sure that things are air-tight and insulated before the winds pick up, icy rains fall, and snow covers the ground.
The big change is not far off. Not for me. For you. For anyone. So we must protect what we have. Do what we can to communicate. Be strong and patient. So that we may endure. Love long. And work together to make this world better.
(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)