Sam has a stomach virus. Joy.
I spent all day at home Wednesday trying to keep Cassie entertained and Sam comfortable. Fortunately, Sam slept a lot and Cassie decided not to throw too many temper tantrums. Even so, it was a long day.
As I do on any long day, I spent a lot of time thinking. While wading through dirty diapers and buckets of spit-up that evening, I started contemplating the idea of divorce, including my own. Before anyone panics here, let me say that Michael and I are not getting divorced. It’s just that I’m one of those morbid people who think about things like that. I mean really, what would happen if we got divorced? What would happen if one of the kids developed some near fatal disease? What if I died, or if Michael died? What if a hurricane tore through our area and demolished our home? What if aliens landed and replaced the president’s brain with a kumquat? Wait, I think that last one has already happened…
Anyway, I think about these things. It’s sort of like a mini-rehearsal for the real thing, should it ever happen. I run various scenarios through my head, imagining what it would be like, asking myself questions about the possibilities. Let’s say I did decide to divorce Michael. Where would I live? Would I get the house, or would he? What about the kids? Where would they live – with him or me? How would we handle custody? And what about money? I’d have to get a job, that’s for sure. Where would I work? At some mind-numbing minimum wage burger joint, or could I find better pay at some mind-numbing not-so-minimum wage corporate job? If I worked, what would I do for daycare? Would I be able to continue writing and drawing (not that I get much of that done now)? What would my friends think? What would my family think? If I left Michael, would I have to (pause for dramatic shudder) move to Arkansas and live with my parents?
Yes, all these questions were running through my head on Wednesday. You see, I was irritated. I’ve had very little sleep in the past seven days and almost no sleep the night before. Plus I’d been stuck in the house all day with a sick infant and a three-year-old who could run the legs off a bull moose. My writing and my artwork were languishing on the desk in our bedroom and I knew there was no way in hell I was going to get any work done. Then Michael walked in at six, sat down at the dining room table with his laptop and went to work on his resume. Apparently NASA is asking people to submit resumes for an open job pool in case any positions come up for aerospace engineers or project managers. So my husband the rocket scientist decided to polish up his extensive resume while I went around the house scrubbing baby vomit out of the carpet. Did I say I was irritated? Make that more like pissed off. Yes, Michael needs to submit his resume for this open job pool. His branch is considering taking on more space exploration work and it’s one of Michael’s dreams to be involved in that sort of thing. I wholly support him in that. But damn it, I’ve got dreams of my own and who the hell is supporting me?
Things hit a peak that night at ten, when Sam simultaneously vomited all over me and blew diarrhea out her diaper while nursing. I sat in the glider, covered in half-digested milk and green poop when in walked my eldest child, still dressed and still wide awake.
“Honey, where are your pajamas?”
“I’m not wearing them, Mommy.”
“I can see that, sweetie. But it’s past bed time. Why aren’t you ready for bed?”
“Daddy says come upstairs and play.”
“Oh did he really?”
At that point, Sam vomited again and I asked Cassie to fetch her father. She stood at the top of the steps and yelled, “Daddy, come upstairs!” then came back and reported that Daddy would be up shortly. He never came. Instead, I did my best to clean up Sam on my own and then, still reeking of poop and vomit, when downstairs to find out why Cassie wasn’t in bed yet.
“I’ll get to it!” he snapped as he typed away at his resume.
Needless to say, I was royally pissed at that point. I went back upstairs with Sam, who had decided she was not going to sleep. I turned out the lights, sat back in the glider and rocked her, fuming as I waited to hear the sounds of Michael coming up the stairs to coral Cassie into bed. What I heard instead was the sounds of Michael coming upstairs and locking himself in the bathroom while Cassie sat outside and screamed. Sam stared wide-eyed at me in the dark. Cassie’s screaming got louder. Gritting my teeth, I tucked my non-sleepy baby into her car seat and went outside to handle the problem.
Cassie, who was near hysterics, was still not dressed. I coaxed her into her room, got her out of her dress and convinced her it would be very smart if she got into her pajamas before I was overcome with the urge to run screaming myself through our neighborhood. A few minutes later, Michael came out of the bathroom and took over. Deciding I was not up to facing the fussy infant who waited for me in the bedroom, I went downstairs and started cleaning the house.
And I thought about divorce. Not just my own at that point, but all the divorces I’d seen take place within my circle of friends and family. I wondered why people left each other and ended their marriages. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? How bad did things have to get before two people decided they really couldn’t stand each other any more? How bad did things have to get before Michael and I decided we couldn’t stand each other anymore?
Of all my friends, there’s only one couple who’s been married longer than Michael and I. Everyone else who was married when we got married has long since divorced. In fact, I am not allowed to look through our wedding album anymore because I always sit there and point out the couples who’ve since split up (see, I really am morbid).
Why did all these people get divorced? I couldn’t remember. There was no reason that stood out. I think most of them just got fed up with their lives and decided to walk away from their problems. I could understand that impulse. I certainly wanted to walk away from mine at the moment – sick baby, screaming preschooler, husband who’s so preoccupied with work right now that he’s almost never home. I was covered in vomit and poop and on my hands and knees cleaning yet even more poop out of the litter box and man, did I ever just want to walk out the door.
But I didn’t. Because I’d already thought about the alternatives and none of them appealed. Yeah, my life sucked at the moment, but I knew it could get worse. Having seen the aftermath of divorce up close and personal, I knew if I walked away it would only be to a different set of problems, ones I really didn’t want to have.
That made me think of something Michael once told me. On the day we got married, he said my dad gave him a bit of advice. “Remember, no matter who you marry, it’s always the wrong woman.” On the surface it seemed pretty insulting. How the hell was I the wrong woman? But thirteen years later I knew what Dad meant and so did Michael. You always marry the wrong person. No one is perfect. Your spouse is inevitably going to piss you off and make you want to tear your hair out. But even if you left them and got married again, that new person would still be the wrong one for you and after a while you’d be just as pissed with them as you were with spouse number one. And the same thing would happen with the one after that and the one after that. You could spend your whole life looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right, but you’ll never find them because they just don’t exist. It’s always going to be the wrong person.
By the time I’d finished cleaning the cat box, I knew I didn’t want to get a divorce. Even if Michael was pushing all my buttons at the moment, he was still the guy I married, and even if he was the wrong guy I was sticking with him. After all, how many other men would sit upstairs and read “Pigeon Finds A Hotdog” for the fifty millionth time to a cranky three-year-old? Sure, there are lots of other things I’d like to see Michael do for me. I’d love for him to buy me art supplies and talk to me about my writing and drawing. I’d kill to have him take care of the kids all weekend so I could spend the time working on my novel synopsis. And if he ever took the initiative to call up the babysitter and plan a romantic evening for the two of us (instead of waiting for me to do it), well I certainly wouldn’t complain about that.
He doesn’t do those things though. Instead, he researches laptops for me and helps me buy the best machine for my money. He builds me a wireless network so I can sit in the glider and handle e-mail while Sam nurses. He cooks dinner almost every night so I don’t have to, and then he plays with the kids so I can at least have some quiet time as I clean up the dishes afterwards. It ain’t heaven, folks, but it’s not hell either.
As I tossed the dirty kitty litter into the garbage, I decided then that what I really needed wasn’t a divorce but a little romance, just something to pull me up out of the tedium of my day-to-day life and remind me of all the things my husband does do. Being an aerospace engineer, romance is not usually on Michael’s mind. But it could be on my mind. Yeah, I’d rather he initiated it, but maybe it was more important to just get the romance started than worry about whose job it was to get things going. I could set the mood myself if I just tried, and maybe Michael would get the idea and start to play along.
So I grabbed a post-it note and wrote down something mushy. “Don’t forget to add the phrases ‘World’s Best Dad’ and ‘World’s Best Husband’ to your resume. Love, Helen.” I stuck the note on the screen of his laptop and went back to cleaning. A little while later, he came down and went back to work on his resume. I waited a few minutes and went in after him. My little note didn’t inspire any big passionate fireworks, but it did get me a kiss. Afterwards, we spent a few minutes sitting and talking. Nothing big, just taking a few moments to be husband and wife. When we were done I gave Michael another kiss and went up to bed. Miraculously, the baby was asleep.
Being married is hard work. The only thing harder is being a parent. I know we’re at a difficult point in our marriage right now, and fighting the urge to divorce is a choice I’ll have to make again and again. Good thing for me I’m stubborn.