Middle Age Stresses Marriage - What to Do? - Leave, Stay, Think, Feel?
As I headed out to the balcony with fresh ice tea I could hear them frantically whispering, their slender butts at the edge of their wicker chairs, their heads practically knocking together.
"I thought this would be a great time for an afternoon glass of icy cold tea," I sang out merrily, halfway through the living room before I reached the balcony. I'm a sensitive mom; I wanted to give them fair warning I was on my way to sit with them. Or maybe I did it just because I really hoped they would change the subject before I sat down with them.
"Mo-om! What are these?"
"Well, these are freshly baked cookies; do they really look so unrecognizable you have to ask?"
"We're both on diets you know Mom. We told you not to bake or cook anything that we like or that tastes good on vacation."
They are calling our little hiatus from our family's house a "vacation." And their pretend diets are for my sake so I won't spend all day and night in the kitchen preparing food and cleaning up the mess afterwards.
For me the days here on the beach are days spent trying to decide whether or not to stay married to their father.
Although they are both mature, thoughtful teenagers, they do not want to admit, at least within my hearing, that they know why I'm here.
They were here to make sure I wouldn't do anything drastic like run off with the mailman or try to hurt myself or get kidnapped by white slavers.
They cook up lots of ‘reasons' for what we are doing at the beach taking a family vacation without the Dad they adore. They give reasons everyone accepts but no one believes.
Even our neighbors here at the beach have seen us for two weeks every year for the last, what, 15 maybe twenty years. They know us well enough to understand a rift has developed or both parents would be vacationing with the children.
They must know us very well or they guessed the problem or, maybe, it was published in the social section of the local newspaper.
"AFFAIR AT ONSET OF MIDDLE AGE.
Long-time Husband, Father of Two.
Now there is a headline that catches the gist of the story in a nutshell.
That's my profession. Writing headlines.
I was working for the city paper before the children were born. After my first daughter was born and I quit work, my editor begged me for help off and on during the year. I filled in from home whenever they needed me due to vacations or maternity leaves.
As a newlywed I settled happily into the house with which I became immediately enthralled with manipulating. Cleaning, rearranging, decorating, redecorating. For a control freak like me, rearranging furniture and changing the look of each room was the way I relaxed. In this realm I had power.
After the children were born I stayed home and barely left the house. Oh, just to play in the yard, walk through our neighborhood to do the shopping, and child related chores like trips back and forth to school functions.
My small world was just enough for me to handle as I tried to learn how to be a mother. How to be a good mother. The best mother.
Maybe highly competitive people shouldn't become mothers. There should be a test before parents leave the hospital. Pass. You can take your newborn home. Fail. You have to immediately make an appointment for counseling. And if you miss too many appointment s or refuse to change your ways, "So sorry, you must return the baby."
Maybe highly competitive people shouldn't become stay-at-home caregivers. Eventually the main target of competition becomes the spouse. Hmm, there should be a test after each wedding ceremony. Pass. You go home and carry each other over the threshold. Fail. Mandatory marriage counseling because if you don't you will experience a punishment of painful emotions. The punishment may remain a family secret or become a subject of common gossip. It just depends.
Leaving our neighborhood house has been very hard for me. But I knew I absolutely had to go to a different place. Different with less attachment for me or I would drown in the unresolved emotions that would finally reach water levels higher and higher like a river overflowing into a house built on a floodplain.
The girls want their parents together, forever. Over the years they have made their feelings very plain about parents divorcing and children having to live a few days at one house then a few days at the other house.
During school recesses I don't know when children have time to play. I imagine them all crowded together heatedly discussing sets of parents as one by one homes break in half.
The two halves add up to one whole in a way. Each of the classmates still had one mother and one father to love them, it's just that the home was now in two pieces and there was a lot of confusing space from mom's front door to dad's front door.
Probably young children feel free to discuss these new family situations with each other because the heroines in the books from which they learn to read most often live in ‘blended' families or with grandparents, or with only the mother or only the father.
Yes, I suspect that was how the discussions at recess might start. I remember the time my youngest started crying as she was reading a library book for school. She ran in to ask me (with great pathos), "Why do parents HAVE to get divorced? Why can't mothers and fathers and children ALWAYS live together?"
At the time the question shocked me until I realized the most popular book series for preteens had a lot of descriptions of divorce and changes in a kid's life after divorce.
Maybe she was prescient because at the same time she asked, "But why are you and Dad getting a divorce?"
"What?" Now that took me by surprise.
"Well, you were just yelling at each other about something and fighting!"
"We weren't yelling angrily, we were just talking passionately about how we are going to share the car tomorrow and still get everyone where they need to go, silly girl!"
Ah, but here we are only a few years later, maybe ten years later and her mom and dad may be entering the world of divorce. Her parents (me and her father) aren't actually talking about divorce. I would call it thinking about divorce, very loudly.
When one spouse travels a lot for their work I suppose that sometimes opportunities to meet new interesting, sexy people come up. I sort of doubt such a chance offers itself very often though. When I think about the people on airplanes in business class I'm never struck by how sexily attractive anyone seems.
And every once in awhile there are a number of reports of truck drivers or airplane pilots or traveling businessmen who are bigamists. Their two wives happen to become best of friends until they realize they are both married to the same man.
Very rarely do I want to know who he spent his time with intimately. Although I do want to know about the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases, well, I thought I would anyway.
But now that push has come to shove I really, really do not want to know "Were condoms used?" or "How long has this been going on?"
All I want is to be able to shove possessions and time away from myself so I can have some space in which to think.
"WOMAN STEPS INTO VACUUM.
Disappears for three months."
That could be my headline.
So for six weeks now I have walked around and around the beach house languidly cleaning and rearranging the found seashells and feathers and rocks that have accumulated in all the nooks and crannies over the years. Carefully and thoughtfully I methodically sort and recycle whatever catches my eye. I've dressed all the abandoned dolls in their proper clothing. So I wriggled Barbie into a slinky evening gown and tiny little high heels. I found Molly's eyeglasses (small miracle!). Samantha ended up in her winter coat because I like her smart winter hand muff.
Meanwhile the girls have challenged themselves and each other to come up with foolproof matchmaking strategies. I imagine their self congratulatory celebration if they succeed.
"TEENAGERS SAVE FAMILY.
Restore family values.
Win Nobel Peace Prize."
I suggest that the girls go for a walk along the beach so I can concentrate. "But don't go to near the water, the tide will be going out soon."
That causes their eyes to roll but they don't say anything because now they think of me as having an illness. They don't want to say anything that might discourage me or be the one comment that pushes me ‘over the edge'.
They race out the door in relief as I cuddle my body into my favorite arm chair after filling it with soft cozy pillows. I stare out the window facing the sea. I hear the waves as the moon pulls them rhythmically to the shore then back out to the horizon.
In my mind the face of my husband fuzzily starts to come into focus. I can't seem to get any air into my lungs so I slide onto the floor and think about the bottom space in my lungs. If I could just get even a little air down there I'm pretty sure I'll be alright.
After I feel that I have been breathing normally for a very long time, I let my mind bring my husband into focus. I think of how dejected he sounded. "I don't know what came over me. I woke up from some strange parallel world without you and realized I may have lost everything. I want to forget what happened. I want to live with you the rest of my life."
After he had made that heart-rending little speech I looked into his face and his eyes matter-of-factly until I realized my stomach was sea sick. I gathered my pajamas, some clean underwear and toothbrush. I threw them into a bag I tripped over because it was laying on the floor. I drove to the beach house.
I concentrate on puttering and fixing for a few days until I was able to rerun the situation in my mind in black and white, like an old movie. I did that again as I lay on the floor breathing.
"MAN SURVIVES MIDDLE AGE CRISIS.
Returns to family."
Next I add color, one color at a time, first the flesh tones, then some of the blues and greens until all the colors have been added to my personal moving picture. Then I rerun it through my mind again and again until I come to a decision.
I write the girls a note, "I'll call you later. My cell phone has no battery." These are the modern code words for "Do not telephone me."
I drive to our house. The sun has dropped below the western horizon for at least two hours. There is light from a full moon and the stars. The night sky is clear as a bell, not a cloud in sight.
But in the house the dusky dark slows me down. His briefcase is under the hall coat stand. Maybe he is taking a nap. I automatically step up the stairs towards the master bedroom.
My throat suddenly tightens almost painfully. I pause midway up the stairs as all the stories I've heard of wives finding their husbands in bed with someone else flash at lightning speed through my brain.
I toss my head from side to side and shake off the stupid imaginings. When I reach our bedroom I see him sitting hunched up at the end of the bed. One shoe off and laying on its side, the other is in his hand seemingly floating in the air above his lap like some kind of magic trick.
In the privacy of the darkness I regard him with clear eyes from the doorway. I see the stoop to his shoulders, his rounded belly from the extra comfort food he's been eating lately and his too long hair pushing against his shirt collar.
My lips twitch for a second. His hair is disheveled and sticking out everywhere as if tousled by a wind devil. And then I look at his whole self there with his right arm hung over the bed's footboard, his body leaning for support against the wooden slats, his left hand suspended in the air.
I look at him as a whole person. I look at him with nonjudgmental eyes. As I look at him I allow myself to see him and our past together.
Do you know what I see? I see a boy in a grown up's body, confused by life and wondering what to do next.
He suddenly glances at me in the doorway, his eyebrows lifting, his eyes clinging to mine as I walk into the room and sit very closely next to him at the end of the bed. I throw my arm quite naturally over his slumped shoulders as I have done so many times over the years.
We sit together like that a long time into the night noticing only the moon passing among the stars, lovingly bathing the stars in her light and greeting each of them with compassion.