The Strength of a Man

Dan texted me Tuesday: “Do you have a minute.”

My reply: “Yes.”

Dan and I touch base at least once a day via text or phone call. Most of the time, it’s a quick check in: How are you? How’s your day going? Some of the time, it’s a question that needs an answer: Can you stop at the store/bank/beer distributor? And very occasionally, it’s urgent.

A few moments later, he called. His tone was very intent. “How is your day?”

I know my husband well enough by now to know that with that kind of opening, there was a purpose behind the call.

“It’s okay. Getting stuff done.”

“How’s the tension level?”

“Well,” I said, tensely, “it’s starting to ratchet up now!”

Dan sighed. “I just got some very bad news, and I’m trying to figure out where you are mentally before I dump it on you.”

Me: “I’m fine. Shoot.”

A friend of Dan’s called him. Her sister, who was past her due date with her first baby, had just discovered that the baby had no heartbeat.

And just like that, it was June of 2003 again.

My husband said, “What should I tell them? What do you think they need?”

I listed a few things:

1. A photographer if they can find one. This may sound morbid to some people. But having this experience recorded and having images of the baby — it’s important. It’s vital to grieving. Or it was for Dan and me, and I’ve heard from other baby loss parents that it helped them too.

2. A support community. My go-to for these situations is usually Glow in the Woods. Compassionate Friends is helpful as well, especially when parents are ready for real-life interactions.

3. “A Fr. Ray,” I said.

Father Ray is the priest who married us. He was a good friend to Dan while they were both at Duquesne, and he’s become a friend to both of us since the wedding. He was there when we were in the hospital with Gabriel, and he has baptized our subsequent children. Everyone should have a Fr. Ray — if not a religious person, a therapist, a counselor, a sounding board, a shoulder to hang onto to.

Dan became their Fr. Ray.

++

It was hard to know that my husband was carrying this for the couple. I honestly don’t know how he did it. That phone call from him brought back a lot of memories. Not bad memories, exactly. Hard memories. Painful.

Knowing that I was going to have to go through labor with nothing to show for it. (For awhile, denial and shock protected me from that. My brain knew it, but my heart didn’t accept it. Shock and denial are very useful tools for a body.)

I couldn’t help thinking about what this first-time mother was facing. A labor that could be long, possibly painful. My epidural wore off, and I was finally put on a morphine drip. It took four days to deliver Gabriel. I barely remember the last two because of the pain and drugs.

The parents were probably discussing a name. I wonder if the one they picked was one they had already decided on. They didn’t know if they were having a boy or girl. Dan and I hadn’t known if Gabriel was a girl or boy at the time either (although, my mother’s heart thought “boy”). We had had a girl’s name picked, but I didn’t want to use it on our still baby. We discussed a lot of names. We finally decided on Angela or Dolores for a girl. And Gabriel for a boy.

While we were at the hospital, we had a lot of support. My parents, his parents, siblings, and friends. I don’t know about Dan, but after a while, I felt like *I* was responsible for comforting *them*. Telling them that it was okay, that I was okay, that — all evidence to the contrary — it was going to be okay.

The pain. The frustration. The waiting. It really is not okay, any of it, but what are you supposed to do? What are you supposed to say?

I just waited it out. I remember asking Ray if Gabriel (well, “the baby” at the time) needed to be baptized. Ray said no, that he had gone from one world of love into another, of love and light.

That helped.

++

The baby came. Dan held him. The parents named him.

Dan came home, spent. Utterly drained. I made him a cup of chamomile tea.

We sat on our respective couches to pick a show to watch. We couldn’t face Breaking Bad, nor could we deal with most of the Netflix documentaries. “None of these are happy,” Dan pointed out.

We came across the listing for the updated Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch (whom I insist on calling Bernard for some reason) and the ever-affable Martin Freeman. “Look,” I said. “It’s Khan and Bilbo! Let’s watch this!”

Partway in, Dan griped, “I wish we had a TV in our room.” I expressed my dislike of that idea.

“Yeah,” he said. “But if we had a TV in our room, I could lay down next to you and be warm.”

I made room on the couch. He fell asleep before Sherlock was over.

No Reason II

The anxiety builds throughout a day sometimes.

Your car needs new brakes, which requires time and money.

I’m making commitments at Flora’s school, which require time and a reliable babysitter (or two).

I’m constantly monitoring bank accounts, bill due dates, deadlines (at work, for school), appointments, homework, housework, pick ups and drop offs.

Our house needs a lot of work, which requires (say it with me!) time and money.

I stand sometimes in the kitchen and wonder how it’s all going to happen. On a drive home, I feel overwhelmed by the fact that I need a babysitter five times over the next two weeks — so I can keep school obligations, so the girls can go to gymnastics, so we can have a date night. I wonder how our son, who is having some separation anxiety, who is so very tired in the evenings, will react to mommy always on the run.

You have days or nights at work that we’ve invented an acronym for: DITH, Deer In The Headlights. When you (or I or we) have so much to do, so much to deal with, we can’t do anything. We freeze, we can’t move.

And then, you walk through the door, and that knot of anxiety that has nested in my chest for the last hour or day or week, loosens up a little bit. I find it easier to breathe, even though we haven’t solved any of these problems quite yet.

Just because you are there, again, at the end of my day. With a hug and a kiss. Yeah, sometimes you want me to make you a sandwich after I’ve just finished cleaning the kitchen, and yeah, sometimes you get the dirty dish to the sink but not the dishwasher.

I do things that bother you, too. I don’t put the clean laundry away quickly enough, I leave my shoes in the middle of the floor.

But I can breathe, I can let go of the anxiety a little bit, I can keep the panic at bay because you are with me, my teammate, my “clumsy boy” who will make me laugh, my love. Because just having you on my side, at my side, makes it okay.

I don’t say it enough: Thank you. And, I say it all the time, and I really, really mean it: I love you.

Who’s got your back?

Speaking a Different Language

On vacation, Dan told me this:

“Flora asked me what romantic meant.”
“And you said…?”
“Romantic means being alone and reading a good book.”

The first time he told me that, I laughed because I thought he was joking. But the third time he repeated it (telling various family members), something occurred to me.

“Wait a minute,” I said, “Did you really tell her that?”
“Yep. She asked me what a date was, too.”
“Did you tell her it was reading books with someone else?”

I know that my husband thinks I give my children, especially the endlessly curious Flora, too many honest answers — and he may have a point. But, really, telling her a complete fabrication seems futile.

If Flora had asked me what romantic means, I would have told her that it means a special feeling between a boy and a girl (or a man and a woman — and no, not to discriminate against homosexuals, just to keep it simple for now). And that a date is special time that two people have together to enjoy each other’s company.

Maybe another father of girls can tell me where my husband is coming from here, because I strongly suspect his fear of his “little girls” becoming women motivated his definition of romantic. What do you think?

Are you honest (and age appropriate) with your kids? Do you put them off for when they are older? Or do you just make stuff up for now?

I Do

And I would, again.

Ten years, four babies, one giant heart break. Several jobs, one house, many, many nights of broken sleep, one business.

It hasn’t all been fairy tales and smooth sailing. It has been a lot of love, and immeasurable joy. I wouldn’t navigate these waters with anyone else, my dear.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Dan.

(PS: We need more pictures of just you and I.)

No Reason

My husband gave me a book of poems.

It is not my birthday, or his birthday.

It is not any anniversary of a date or a wedding or a baby.

It’s not a holiday.

It is not the month we met or the month we first kissed.

He just gave me a book of poems.

Sometimes, I’m going along in this river of life, being swept along, trying to keep my head above water. Ten years (nearly) and three kids (four, technically), and certain things take a hit (sleep, my libido).

And it takes a book of poems to remind me that my love, my first love, my true love, isn’t my boy(s) or my girls or my career.

It’s my husband, and our marriage.

I made him a promise, and I intend to keep it. Long after diapers and lunches that need to be packed. Long after math homework and spit up. Long (long!) after age 3 and potty training.

I don’t know if he bought me a book of poems to remind me. Or if he did it because he remembered. Or if he did it because he doesn’t need to be reminded.

I’m glad he did it, though.

Your Laughter

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lanceflower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in your joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh, because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die

— Pablo Neruda
Love Poems

He Completes Me

I’ve been all over the place (in my head) with today’s post, and under normal circumstances, I would have just let it go.

But it’s Dan’s birthday, so I have to say something. I’ve already told you 10 reasons why I love him, and I answered the questions on this quiz.

It is in reading over these two posts that I realize what I think a lot about our marriage, our pairing.

I was reading not long ago about “opposites attracting”, and I left a comment about how in my marriage I feel it’s less about being opposites than about how Dan is strong where I am weak and vice versa.

Dan is the warmest, most social person I know. He is all-embracing, all-empathetic. I love going places with him, and even though I roll my eyes at him sometimes, I love watching him be with people.

He tends to get down on himself, and I do everything I can do to be supportive and encouraging. I think I’m actually getting better at this.

He tempers my anxiety, and I try to lift him up when he’s depressed. (I usually sic the girls on him, because have you ever tried to be depressed around cute, giggly children? Especially ours?)

I am more artsy, but he is more cultured. While I tend to be creative, he’s actually a dreamer. I am by far more level-headed and practical; he is more emotional, and could teach a dramatist about passion.

He is sincere, and I am sarcastic.

He teaches the girls about desserts while I feed them healthy meals.

We are equally bad at a few things, but because we are together, we are working to improve together. We don’t want to let the other down.

And that means a lot.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work;
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

— Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11

What A Man

Before I leave my sick days behind us, I have a word of praise (or two) for my husband.

Dan was a good man — nay, a Good Man — throughout the bug’s dread hold on our household.

He stayed up with the puking Flora Monday into Tuesday. He helped me (as much as he was able) in my time of extreme stomach distress very early on Thursday morning.

He tended me — or at least checked to make sure I was breathing and brought me ice chips — on Thursday. At my request we “watched” some Lost together for a bit in the afternoon in a very darkened room. I say “watched” because both of us dozed off during the three or four episodes we tried to get through. He gave me the couch, and stretched out on the floor. That evening, he warmed up some vegetable soup for me, and gave me ginger ale (generously provided by my MIL).

He took care of the children Thursday night with absolutely no input from me. They could have had chocolate cake for dinner for all I know.

Over the weekend, he did a lot of cleaning. The Christmas tree finally got disposed of, and he vacuumed the needles up. He moved the furniture back to its non-holiday positions.

He broke down all the cardboard boxes for recycling, and fended off a raccoon in our back yard.

Sunday, he stayed home with Kate while I took Flora to a birthday party at a bowling alley. (As an aside: I love the birthday-party-at-a-bowling-alley in theory. Built-in entertainment, someone else doing the muss & fuss, beer if you want it. But bowling alleys are LOUD. Loud, loud, loud. And when you have a Flora and a Laura at the same party… well, some things are bound to get mixed up. Like whose turn it is to bowl, for example.)

He helped with baths and bedtimes without me even asking! And he let me veg with a book (almost) as much as I wanted to.

Of course, now that I’m feeling better, I’m probably going to have to make this all up to him. Somehow.

Someday, We’ll Be Dog People

Dan calls me and says, “I want a puppy.”

This is unprecedented. It’s usually Flora telling me she wants a puppy, at the dinner table, as a means of distracting me from the reality that she is not, in fact, sitting the correct way in her seat.

One part of my mind immediately jumps to the worst-case scenario: that he already has a puppy in his possession and is just trying to figure out how I am going to feel about it. (See, it’s not just cars on fire and worse: My husband mentions a puppy, and I’m already thinking, “We can’t get a puppy. We’re going out of town this weekend.” Yay, my brain.)

My response is, “I know. I want a puppy, too. But I don’t think we’re ready.”

“I want a puppy,” he says again.

“Well, who’s going to feed and train the puppy? Who’s going to get up with a puppy at 2 in the morning?”

“I’m not going to be the one doing that all the time.”

Wrong answer. Thank you for playing.

Look, I do want a dog — a puppy I’m a little less sure of. But I do want a pet. I grew up with dogs, and I always intended to have one. I’ve volunteered at Animal Friends (and I hope to be able to do it again someday). I’ve researched good family dogs (in the case that we don’t go with a rescue dog).

But we need a few things to happen before we get a dog, let alone a puppy:

1. The girls have to be older. They have to be able to take responsibility for a pet: feeding it, grooming it, and, most importantly, cleaning up after it. Walking it is going to be something of a family activity, especially if we get a labrador-type of dog. Which is what we are leaning toward. I am thinking Flora has to be 7 or 8 before we bring a dog onboard.

2. We have to be able to afford a dog. I know that pet food may fit in our budget right now, but vet bills definitely do not.

3. We have to have the time to give a dog, especially (again) a lab or a border collie. Given Dan’s current work schedule and the girls’ ages, a dog would be almost wholly my responsibility. And I’m just not ready for that right now.

4. I am willing to consider other pets, although not a) cats. I’m allergic. Plus, see “cleaning up after it”. I don’t do litter boxes.

b) Fish? Okay, although repeated viewings of Finding Nemo may make this inadvisable.

c) A hamster? Meh. I had hamsters as a girl, and first, they aren’t the sturdiest of pets; second, they don’t have a long life-span; and third, again with the cleaning. Ever clean out a hamster cage? Not as bad as a litter box. But Flora’s attention span isn’t enough to get her through helping me make mac’n’cheese. So “helping” me clean a hamster’s cage is a dicey proposition at best.

d) What are other pet options — low maintenance pet options, if any?

Given all of this, I probably should not be looking at sites like this. Because I want one too, right now. The cuteness trumps all.