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"First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"...Marriage - The Piece of Paper That Blinded Me
Julie Clark Robinson, author of Live in the Moment, never fails to offer a fresh point of view when it comes to overcoming daily obstacles to joy. She’s a frequent contributor to Family Circle and has a column, Moment by Moment in Orange County, California’s new bimonthly, OC Flair. Visit her at www.julieclarkrobinson.com
The Piece of Paper That Blinded Me
I was feeling particularly organized that Friday afternoon. The kids were safely tucked into daycare and I was plodding along with my daily companion -- my “To Do” list. With a wedding in Manhattan in a couple months, I attacked the project of finding the best airfare possible. When satisfied, I proudly emailed my husband David to let him know what I came up with. Surely he’d be happy with my efforts not to take him away from his clients for any longer than I had to. His response came swiftly and dealt a life-altering message.
“We won’t make it that long.”
Grasping for a reason for my husband’s uncharacteristic cruelty, my first thought was that somehow his computer was taken over by an office prankster. Then I had no choice but to take a long, hard look at my marriage and how we had come to this point in just under seven years.
To be honest, David’s e-proclamation shouldn’t have come as any big surprise to me. I knew that he and I had drifted, many days we didn’t even feel like friends, let alone lovers. But it was easier for me to chalk it up to the fact that we had two young children, a puppy, a stressful new job for him, in a new city, and a new identity (or lack thereof) for me after having worked for 16 years in an office and now trying to freelance from home and do laundry at the same time. No, we weren’t very close these days, but I still had high hopes that things would get better in the future. The problem is, he had no way of knowing that.
He also had no way of knowing that when I feel the first slap of crisp air in the Fall I look forward to watching him watch football. He couldn’t know that the mere sound of distant rumblings of a thunderstorm make me wish he was near so we could enjoy whatever comes together. He didn’t know that when I fold his faded yellow, paper-thin Batman t-shirt, a grin comes over my face simply because I know how much he loves wearing that thing. He never caught me looking out the window while he cuts the grass or read my mind thinking how handsome he still is.
That day, I was flooded with images I simply could not bear. The images of a divorced mother. I tried to imagine unpacking the boxes of Christmas decorations without him. Suddenly the warm, family ritual seemed like a mere chore to me. I tried to think about coloring Easter eggs without his yearly tradition of pouring all the colors together at the end and brewing up a black one. Still harder to imagine – the early morning process of hiding the eggs in the grass, soggy slippers and all, without him by my side. I imagined that the heartache would continue throughout the year. How could packing up the van and eating junk food at the drive-in on the hottest night of the summer be any fun without him to find the perfect parking spot? His passion for Halloween and all things scary made me want to cry at the thought of an October without him.
I tortured myself further and looked around the house at our treasures. Who would take what? We’ve been married long enough that nearly everything my eyes fell upon didn’t say “David” or “Julie”, but “us”. The wedding china with the journal that I use to record every special family meal. The picture of our beloved old Dalmatian and the matching snow dog that David built next to him in front of our first home together. The house we have now is nice enough, but we’ve yet to take a drive where we don’t pick out a favorite and refer to it as our dream house. It was something I always just assumed we’d end up in.
David travels a lot on business and I don’t think I’ve ever told him that when he’s gone, I don’t feel like we’re much of a family. We’re two kids, a puppy and a crazed mom who play, eat, take baths and go to bed. When he’s home, we play, eat, take baths and go to bed, but it’s somehow more meaningful when we’re doing it all together.
In the flurry of doctor appointments, vet appointments, swim lessons, tennis lessons, ballet lessons, I’d failed to notice something. In my insistence that we visit amusement parks, take extended family vacations, line up sitters for parties with our friends and host an array of dinners, I failed to notice something. Picking up his dry cleaning and making sure we always have stadium mustard and Entenmann’s raspberry crumb cake is not enough. Loving David’s devilish grin on my daughter’s face and unending curiosity in my son is not enough. I need to love David with the same amount of enthusiasm that I do everything else.
I’m not ignorant. I catch Oprah on occasion and read articles in women’s magazines. I’m aware that marriages often fall apart under the guise of family life. I’ve read how taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for your family. In fact, last year for my birthday, we all laughed as I declared it “The Year of Julie.” After five years of either being pregnant or nursing, I shed my motherhood hormones and tried to find a glimmer of my old self under the antibacterial haze. I gorged out time for walking again. I stacked books about anything but mothering high on my bedside table. I attacked my writing with energy I didn’t even know I still had. Only now do I see that along the way, I expected my marriage to survive on fumes.
The phrase “re-connecting with your partner” is everywhere and suddenly I know what it means. I dug out my favorite old picture of David and I when we first started dating and put it in a new frame on our dresser. I remember so clearly the day it was taken. I knew that he was the perfect mate for me. It’s written all over my wrinkle-free face. How could I have let that awareness become so hidden over the years? I’m wearing his shirts around the house again as a Lagerfeld scented reminder to myself that my man – not the kid’s daddy – sleeps next to me at night. We traded vehicles this past weekend because mine gave him more room for the guy’s annual camping trip. Just driving his SUV even made me feel closer to him. And I’m just getting started.
Although I’d have appreciated a little warning along the way, I know that David handled his frustration the best way he could. He silently, then not-so-silently brewed about his lack of presence in my life until he couldn’t take it. He simply couldn’t feel like the last thing on my “To Do” list any longer. It was shocking to me because in my mind, he never was. He’s right up there at the top. Sadly, I’m not sure if even I realized that though, until forced to look at it. When I did, I was happy to discover that every daydream I have involves David and I, in some far away land, exploring together. Not necessarily my friends or my family -- the people who share my daily thoughts, or my kids – who get every ounce of my love day in and day out, but my husband.
I heard somewhere that the best thing that a father can do for his children is to love their mother. The TV must’ve been on at the time and I probably said,
“Aw, that’s nice” and kept on with my list making. After my wake-up call and resulting mental inventory, I know now that not only is loving David the best thing I can do for my children, it’s the best thing I can do for myself.