It was about 12:30 in the morning on Monday when I pulled up to my colleague’s house and dropped him off after picking up my car from the airport parking lot. We had just flown back from a conference in sunny Monterey Bay, having missed one snowstorm and now gearing up for another to hit that evening.
I painted my toenails out in California. I chose a bright coral polish. I wore open-toed shoes whenever I got the chance. We went out a lot, because the food there is so good and it’s right by the water with lots to do in town.
So we skipped a keynote speaker and several bland receptions, and we talked. Actually, I made a new friend. And when that happens, you start taking notes and making mental comparisons, however subtly and unconsciously. It’s just human nature, and a way to connect. A lot of our conversation, aside from the subject of lawyering (blecchh) naturally took the form of discussing our respective spouses, kids and family life. That will happen when you put two parents together in a social situation for a length of time, especially when you both have kids around the same age.
Differences and similarities were discussed. This couple is about ten or so years older than me and my husband, although they’ve been married for only a few years longer. Given this, they also started having kids somewhat later in life. Eric and I are both 39 this year, with two elementary school aged kids. These two are around 50-ish and have two kids who are over six years apart, with the older one entering middle school soon.
On our last night there, we went into town looking for gifts for his wife and kids. When he suggested that I might find something for my family counterparts as well, I shrugged. My kids have so much stuff, and when Mommy goes away, it’s not often, and not for very long. There is no expectation that I’ll bring something back for them. When my husband was deployed with the Air Force over in the UAE for six months last year, he came home with trinkets for both girls, and jewelry for me. My friend was now doing something similar, although it had only been five days spent on the opposite coast. I suggested that perhaps this was a dad thing, and he laughed. I helped him pick something out by steering him toward a stand filled with hematite, a dark stone with purported healing properties that I have always loved. He brought it to the counter and told the saleswoman it was for his wife. He is the kind of guy who can just chat away with anyone. I stood there and smiled. When she glanced at me, I mentioned that we were in town for a business conference. Maybe I just felt awkward because she might have otherwise assumed I was his girlfriend. She told me my dress was pretty.
Pulling up to his house after our flight back to the East Coast, I asked my friend if he had his keys. That’s just the mom in me. He said he had no keys, since the door would be unlocked and his wife was waiting up for him. Really? I was surprised and laughed about how I had to be careful Eric wouldn’t yell at me for waking him up. It was hyperbole, but the point was that he would not wait up for me to get home from an 11:27 p.m. flight, nor would I expect him to, especially on a work night. I looked over at my travel companion: the guy was so happy and excited to greet his wife, and for his kids to wake him up later that morning, even after only a few hours of sleep. I had to smile. He gave me a big hug and we agreed that we were going to get our families together soon and do dinner one night.
I drove the additional twenty or so minutes home, entered the house unceremoniously, and proceeded to raid the fridge. I mulled over something my friend had mentioned on the car ride down from SFO to Monterey (there was no direct flight into Monterey, so we had rented a car). He and his wife had discussed collaborating on a book about travelling with kids, highlighting the humorous and challenging family vacation experiences they had been through. It was too fucking cute. I could totally see them doing that.
I found some deli meat and American cheese and made myself a sandwich. I was starving. I second guessed myself and decided to toss the cheese, recalling that I had bought it well before leaving for my trip. I ate a cheese-less turkey sandwich and thought about cute couples writing books together about their hiking trips with kids in tow. I thought about not buying my kids little tchotchkes while I was in California, even though they missed me and complained that they had never been on a plane. Then I remembered that I had managed to pick up a box of chocolates from See’s Candies at SFO. I was looking for the salt water taffy, but abandoned that idea when I realized we were about to board.
It was around 2:00 a.m. when I made my way into the bedroom. Eric mumbled something that sounded like “mowp.” It’s a little cat-like noise we make at each other as a form of acknowledgement, when something needs to be said but we have nothing in particular to say. He didn’t stir after that.
I went to sleep thinking about married couples and how you’re supposed to be doing fun, adventurous stuff together. I wondered if we were doing it right. The most adventurous thing my husband and I have done together lately was watching the Death Note anime and then having an intense discussion psychoanalyzing the characters. We ate pizza a lot. I thought back to the delicious raw fish poke bowls my travel companion and I had ordered back at the wharf in Monterey. I made fun of him for being such a foodie. He had just grinned at me. He probably ate poke bowls all the time on his fabulous excursions with his wife, beaming and well behaved children by their side, trying their darnedest to use chopsticks. I groaned, rolled over and tried to sleep even though I was still on West Coast time.
My kids’ bus comes at 7:43 a.m. We need to walk or drive to the bus stop. Eric typically leaves the house by 6:30, but he used some leave that morning to stay behind and help me out first, knowing I’d be running on around three or four hours of sleep at best. All I remember is him walking past my bedside on his way out to work. “Bye.”
“Are you talking to me?”
And that was it. He was gone.
I shrugged it off and got to work getting the kids dressed and ready to catch the bus. I was fully expecting to drive them all the way to school, but we managed to catch the bus somehow. The situation wasn’t without its difficulties, however. The kids were really excited about the See’s Candies (oops, chocolate for breakfast, bad mom), but their enthusiasm waned when I began hurrying them along to get dressed. I’m not sure they brushed their teeth that morning. There was whining and general unhappiness at being made to turn off the show they were watching and pile into the car.
I don’t remember what my seven-year-old said to set me off, but the tears of frustration finally came. The bus was pulling away and I was sitting in the driver’s seat when I pulled out my phone. There was my husband’s text: You ok?
No. No, I wasn’t ok. I didn’t get a kiss good morning, or a How was your flight? or any kind of greeting. I got a “bye.” I got a look of relief that the wife was back to resume her mom duty of carting around two cantankerous children. I didn’t even want us to write a book together. I just wanted an acknowledgment and a bit of appreciation. I wanted an I love you.
And then, as I was about to lose it, came the explanatory text that I did get the kiss and I love you, but I had been way too groggy to remember it. Apparently I had mumbled something incoherent in response to the kiss, and then promptly fell back asleep. Oops. Our marriage is like a sitcom. I could hear the laugh track start up in the background as I drove off from the bus stop to go home and unpack.
Some marriage and family lives are like an epic drama, full of plot twists, tender moments, and endless action sequences. Mine is more like a sitcom, and sometimes I worry that it’s not even current, but more like the ridiculous 80s and 90s primetime staples that seem quaint now, hailing from a more innocent time. But even if you’re not a power couple collaborating on a book, you’re still embarking on an amazing journey together. It may sound cliche, but every moment of your life as a parent is an adventure. And any parent who has the privilege of raising children together with a loving, devoted partner has an even sweeter excursion ahead.