While I’m writing this during the waning hours of the first holiday of the Summer (even though the calendar isn’t calling it Summer) recognizing, of course, that I didn’t really have a holiday. I worked. This isn’t a complaint, really, it’s just reality. I left after logging video and writing a skeleton of a script that was vastly uninspired and went to Andrea’s sister’s house to meet up with my kids. They love going over there to see Andrea’s folks and while they won’t admit it, most likely because they want to swim in their pool.
Now, given the headline up there, you wonder why I bring this up. It’s because I’m really not complaining about working, it’s something everyone really needs to do, whether they want to or not. The kids came up to me on Sunday and asked if I had to. I always marvel at how kids – even me, when I was that age – will ask the same question 1,000 different times, getting the same answer, and marvel at how it still isn’t the answer they were looking for. Sam, one of the twins, is particularly invested in having me spend time with them. They like it when I’m home. They like it even more when I’m home and we’re doing something together. So it should come as no shock that he was slightly crestfallen when he heard, for the 999th time that I wasn’t staying home, their sister was watching them.
But my point isn’t about my job. I like my job. They more or less created this position for me and they treat me very well. I should not complain. No, my point is about marriage, family, all of it. My father always had a line when my kids would complain about the chores over the last year. “Of course it’s hard work. If it wasn’t, they’d call it “fun” and everyone would want to do it!” Sure, work is just that – work. But there are a lot of things about both marriage and parenting that the uninitiated just don’t seem to grasp, though they love to come to me with their analyses of them.
Let’s start with marriage. There’s a misconception on both sides. Those who are opposed think it’s horrible, stifling, whole bit. Those who are desperately trying to find it think it’s flowers every weekend and fun trips to the Wine Country on every whim. The truth is that it’s both, and not either . . . not all the time. It would have been depressingly easy to pick up and leave Andrea on a hundred occasions. We weren’t making enough money fast enough. I wasn’t looking hard enough for a house. I didn’t jump up and down ecstatically exuberant about having twins when we were desperate to keep our house. I couldn’t grasp how this amazing woman could be jealous of anyone else . . . I loved her more than anyone. But all these things weighed on our marriage and the weight was back breaking. Yet for every depressing, sad, grueling struggle, there were the fanciful weekends at Napa. There was the evening Abbi was born. There was the panic when she passed out and started bleeding during the C-section for Hannah. There was every . . . single . . . kiss.
Then there’s kids. Again, the critics point to diapers and bottles and sleeplessness and worry weighing on you every minute of every day. The proponents think it’s all piggy back rides and giggling. The critics don’t realize that the diaper changes and projectile vomiting and sleepless nights are what you pay for the trips to the park and riding bikes together, and when you’re older, watching horrible television to rip it apart with your child. They also don’t stop to think that every Sunday morning hangover is 10x worse than the sleepless nights that end after about 3 months. The proponents don’t see the financial stress or the arguments over whether the baby should sleep in the bed with you or the worry when they get sick.
My point here is that it isn’t easy. It never is. I was talking with someone recently about marriage and how they’ve been looking and desperately want to find that person to spend their life with. But all they see is the trappings and the happiness. The best marriages are the ones that you fight for and drag yourself through the quagmire to keep. Family is the same way. Sure, I could spend every night out drinking and partying. I could hit the road and tour with a band. I could go to a war zone and cover fighting as a freelance writer. But I don’t do those things because I fight for what is worth it. My kids are there for me as much as I am for them.
I bring this all up because I had such a pleasant number of conversations about Andrea today with her sister and my kids. It’s taken me a long time to get here, too. I criticized as much as celebrated, but that’s what made us a couple. You don’t love what attracts you . . . that’s easy. Love is the maddening, obsessive and strange little things about that other person that make you want to understand them, to figure out why they do those things and share them, not stop them.
It bothers me a lot how grief is treated in books and movies. It’s a very throwaway thing. There’s a prevailing mentality that time heals all wounds and that’s it. Sure, it does. But what it doesn’t show is the struggle to just be. God, how I wish I was a musician. I don’t wish to have the horrific tragedy that befell the drummer Neil Peart from Rush. . . but I do wish that I’d had the freedom to just jump on a bike and drive until I can’t see straight and get it worked out. Even if it took 2 years. I wish I was like Tom Hanks in the movies, where you can move to another city, your kids are OK with it and you seem to be home more than you’re at work. Yes, I went back to work way too early, even though it was something like 2 months. I couldn’t write well. I took on projects that I have yet to finish. I was a mess and really in no shape to take on that responsibility and still carry the parenting responsibilities. But I am not Neil or Tom. The world keeps turning and I either stay in the same place riding the crust of the planet rather than traversing it or I move. Staying here fails myself and the kids. I have to work.
It isn’t easy. If it was, those cliche’d lines in the movies about how “I’m happy, I celebrate her life, I’m just so fortunate that I had the time I did . . . ” would be something I’d embrace. Sure, they’re all true statements.
But they suck.
Yeah, I’m happy I had the time I did, but why did she have to be so maddeningly inflexible sometimes? I’m thrilled she doesn’t hurt any more but she’s at peace and I’m hurting even worse. I wonder if, wherever she is . . . if she’s somewhere . . . does she miss the touch, the smell, that physical and chemical attachment, or is she so at peace she doesn’t need it any more? My fingers ache to touch her cheek again. My body shudders when I think about her next to me and I realize she’s not there. My kids wonder where she is. Does she see what her kids are going through without her? Does she realize what leaving did to them?! This is my point. I’m still trying, working, doing my best. She has it easy now. She had a difficult and horrible week in the hospital, but so did I. Now it’s easy for her.
Finally, after more than a year, I can speak her name without having the wave pull me under. The wound still bleeds, it always will, but I can tell the full picture. It’s not just the best times I remember now, I can talk about how she didn’t see the things around her, just what she wanted to get the achievement. I can hear her telling me the bathroom is clean, but it’s not cleaned the way she would clean it. I can also hear her shrieking in delight when our kids would do something great. I can feel the radiant smile when the kids do something that makes me just so proud.
But it’s work. The kids are work. The grief is a lot of work. But it’s work that’s worthwhile.
After all, if it was easy, they’d call it fun.