Saturday, April 25, 2009

All I Ever Wanted

Hubby and I have signed up for a marriage course at our church for the next eight weeks. Our pastor's husband is a great cook, and each session includes a full meal, including non-alcoholic girly drinks when we arrive, main course, and dessert served to each couple on a tray with tea and coffee. Plus, I get to force my husband to talk about his feelings for three hours every Friday night until June.

One of the assignments last night was to think of a, quote, special time in our marriage. This wasn't a go-in-the-corner-and-talk assignment - it was just a sit-in-your-seats-and-talk-for-five-minutes bit. That's how I know that hubby and I were not the only ones totally unable to recall a special time in our marriage within a five-minute period.

Part of the problem was a lack of clarity about the purpose of the exercise. Is it an attempt to revitalize the marriage by hearkening back to our dating days? I am a big proponent of that - one of my biggest incentives for going was the news that each couple would begin by explaining how they met. John Gottman claims that one measure of the health of a marriage is how much pleasure a couple takes in telling their story. I adore reliving the courtship days - but it seemed a bit pathetic, somehow, that when asked to recall a special time in our marriage our first instinct was to think of a time before we were married.

If we focus only on the time since the wedding, the natural candidate for a, quote, special time in our marriage would be a vacation. Hubby and I are somewhat impaired here since we have haven't really had a vacation since our honeymoon. But again I object to the premise. Vacations are fun, and much more easily remembered than ordinary day-to-day life, but I have always found them to be ever so slightly empty. There is the sightseeing, the forced and expensive fun, but nothing you do on vacation has much long-term meaning. This is most evident when you're a teenager vacationing with your family. Even the most mind-numbingly boring day of ordinary high-school life is alive with certain possibilities; each action has a ripple effect on a whole network of social relationships. Vacations are detached from all that, unless you happen to go to Italy with your high-school travel club, in which case you get the statue of David and all the glee and anguish of adolescent social interaction, just in a more impressive European setting.

Vacations are all very well in their place, but to me the fabric of a marriage has to be at home, in the dailiness of ordinary life. Of course, I can't really call to mind a special time in our marriage if by that I mean a completely ordinary time in our marriage. Maybe it was the day I poured hubby a really big bowl of Rice Krispies. It was a bedtime snack, and the box was almost empty, so I poured the whole thing in until the bowl was full to the brim and overflowing, and when hubby saw it I laughed so hard that to this day I occasionally ask him, "Do you remember the time I gave you a really big bowl of Rice Krispies?" and start cracking up all over again.

In the play Our Town, Emily Webb has the chance to relive a single day in her life. All her fellow graveyard inhabitants urge her not to do it, and when she will not be persuaded, the play's Narrator tells her to pick the most ordinary, insignificant day she can come up with. The experience will be far more painful than she realizes; he's trying to shelter her from the pain of regaining, for a moment, everything she has lost. But their advice is misguided. From the grave, it's not my trips to Italy I will miss, or even my days at the beach. It's oatmeal for breakfast and reading the newspaper, sitting at the table doing the crossword while my children pester me for crayons and Play-Doh. It's grading exams at the dining room table and meeting hubby for lunch at Coffee Culture. If my life were suddenly snatched away from me and I could have only one day of it back, I'd choose the most ordinary day of all, not to spare myself the pangs of longing but to cling on to the part of my life that was the most real.

23 comments:

mek said...

Bea, do you know the poem "Highlights and Interstices" by Jack Gilbert? It sounds like you would also appreciate it.

Omaha Mama said...

What a beautiful post.
When I think of my marriage, it's like what you describe here. Not a ton of "special times" and a lot of daily sameness. The coming home to each other every night. The commitment to stick it out, no matter what. That's what makes it special to me.

painted maypole said...

very sweet, although I have to say the road trip my family took last summer was a great vacation. We all really enjoyed it and got along great, with only one minor frustration over getting lost (2 weeks into the trip... and I was wise enough to keep my mouth shut about it, a miracle in and of itself) I might, if forced to do this exercise, pull out that as my example.

But that rice krispie moment? yes. My hubby and I have a few things like that (I'm thinking of a particular quote from the movie "Sideways") that never fail to crack us both up. And i do think it's those little things that unexpectedly turn into ongoing moments that are the most "special moments" that build a life together.

alejna said...

That's wonderful.

I'm really enjoying my ordinary days these days, too. (Though if I had to pick one to relive, I'd like to have it be one of the days without toddler tantrums.)

Anonymous said...

You know I feel the opposite about vacations!!! You need way more of them (with me!). To me they include anything from road trips to BR, to flights to NYC, to going to the beach.
Buzzer ringing. Back later.
L.

Anonymous said...

Also, I really want to take that course. It sounds SO fun.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

If I were asked that question, I'd interpret "special time" to mean "special phase," and that would be the 2-year period when my husband and I were married and owned our own house and commuted to work together 5 days/week, and on the commute home like as not stopped for dinner downtown. It was special time because we so loved being together and also we knew that it was temporary, that it was a unique set-up that couldn't last.

That's MY answer, though. I wonder what my husband would say.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

The not-special time? When my kids were tiny. UGH. I was mad at him almost the entire first year of each of my children's lives.

Beck said...

Hm... special time?
Because we got married and pregnant in almost the same 24 hour span, we had very little time to just be a happily married couple. I would say that right now is by far the best time of our marriage, and then I would start frantically knocking on wood, too.

trudymorgancole said...

Great post. Emily's ordinary day, and subsequent speech about it, in Our Town, is my metaphor for pretty much everything in life.

Margaret said...

I liked this line: "My pastor's husband is a good cook." Being raised Roman Catholic, the idea of a married pastor would not cross my mind, but a married one who is also female, and a husband who cooks...fantasy land! I want to go to your church!

As for the "special time" in our marriage, I agree, the vacations seem disconnected. I am SO not looking forward to the time when my son views family trips as punishment.

Gwen said...

Now, see, this is why I think we get ourselves in such trouble when it comes to love--because we expect the (finger quotes) special moments all the time. Books and movies and songs tell us that *that* is what real love is. That and simultaneous orgasm every.single.time. We're not primed to realize the great beauty in the quiet moments or to understand the virtue of commitment.

Mac and Cheese said...

Although this post is beautiful, all I can think about is how the heck you got your husband to agree to this class?

kgirl said...

First thing I thought of was nesting in our bed in the days after our kids' birth. Sublime.

Why don't you guys just take those 3 hours you already have off and booked (and child-cared!) and go enjoy 8 Friday nights of ordinary life together? To me, that sounds like the best Rx for marriage.

Mad said...

When you first posed the question in this post, I knew my answer instantly: "watching the National/CTV news together every night and quipping and punning back to the screen while we set the house in order." It doesn't get any better than that.

And by "quipping and punning" I mean me. He's all about appreciating my sense of humour until he lets a real zinger fly.

Vacations are great but they're always so clouded by the necessary organization and scheduling and inability to sleep in your own bed.In short, they are fun but they are never stress free.

Susanne said...

I, too, find the implication that there are "special times" which are like small isolated things in vast landscape of gray routine stupid.

My husband and I have a couple of cherished memories that we keep referring to. Mostly they were in troubled times, and then there was one memorable day when we ate fast food in the car while it was raining, next to the car wash, while listening to the radio. That was our most romantic meal. (You really had to be there.)

I distrust vacations too. I love to make little islands of specialness during ordinary life. Going for a walk on an ordinary tuesday before teaching for example.

Momish said...

I just love the way you write. And think. I would agree with you that the in the end, it is the ordinary that is special. I remember the first time my husband and I were in a room together and we were doing our own thing. He was doing work, I was reading a book. We went for a long time without talking to each other or interacting. And yet, that felt so special to me because after all that courtship and entertainment, we were suddenly boring and normal with each other. So special, because it was so real. It marked the beginning of real life as a couple for me.

I love this post. Love it! Love it! Love it!

Mimi said...

I was with you right up until grading exams at the kitchen table. Having graded them in the most pleasant circumstances on my porch with a beer today, grading exams is still nothing I am willing to lump in with the Giant Rick Krispies moments of my marriage. Shudder. :-)

Bea said...

Mimi - I kind of like grading exams. It's so liberating not to have to justify the marks or phrase my comments constructively - I can just slap on a great big 6 out of 10 and move on. I tend to stock up on good snacks during exam time as well - nothing goes better with exam-marking than a big bowl of M&Ms.

Lisa b said...

I was thinking I could never get my husband to go to such a class but if the food was good enough he might...
The big bowl story is adorable. Those little things are some of the best memories.
One of the most hilarious memories of my marriage was waiting for the geneticist in my last pregnancy and my husband just cracking me up. I guess that's love, being able to make someone laugh in a dire situation.

Marie said...

I love this. You're exactly right. The best of life is the every day. Just yesterday I filled out a survey for facebook about my husband and I, and when I looked for a picture of us to include, I was shocked to discover I didn't have even ONE of just the two of us since our first son was born 4 1/2 years ago. In all the hundreds of pictures I have stored on my computer...not one. Does that seem a little unhealthy?

Amelia said...

What a beautiful and astute post. And for me, spot on.

kittenpie said...

I tend to think of our marriage as having several distinct phases, and there are definitely phases that seem more fun or special than others, but not for one specific thing, jut for being a time when we had opportunities to have good times together more often than in other phases.