A couple of weeks ago, a website called The Mighty invited me to participate in their November writing challenge. Basically, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, they asked me to submit an essay expressing gratitude for someone special in my life.
I was planning to write about my husband, Joe. You know, because I love Joe! And I am grateful for him! Joe is awesome.
That is, I was grateful for him. Until last Thursday at about noon.
“Who are you talking to?” I asked as I hurled a second bag of garbage into the giant dumpster.
“Hang on a second, hon,” There was a weird muffling sound on the phone, and I could hear him mumble something.
“Oh, that was the waiter. I was telling him I wanted the lobster bisque.”
“Uh huh. That’s nice,” I said, feeling my face tighten.
I was at the dump. Or, as our town euphemistically calls it, the transfer station. We had a ton of pizza boxes piling up in the garage from Jack’s playdate/party, and somehow, in the middle of November, a bunch of flies in the house.
Joe, on the other hand, was in Boston for some dental class and dinner at a fancy restaurant, followed by a night in a beautiful hotel. Or, as he euphemistically calls it, study club.
Lately, he’s has been pretty busy with this kind of stuff; conferences and work dinners and dental meetings. He’s out once or twice a week in the evenings, and for some reason, this really annoys me. It’s as though he’s a carefree balloon, gliding and soaring along without a worry in the world, while I am the anchor; securely fastened to the house and the five kids and the homework and the garbage.
Some days, I would like to be the balloon. I would like to float and sparkle and bounce. I would like to eat lobster bisque for lunch and sleep in downy hotel beds without the steady buzz of wayward flies.
As I turned my blinker on to make a left out of the dump/transfer station, I ticked off all the things I know about the house and the kids but Joe doesn’t: shoe sizes and invitations to birthday parties and the way Jack insists on putting Chapstick on his lips before he heads out the door to the bus. Teacher gifts and play dates, bus notes and spelling quizzes.
Like the crescendo in an out of tune orchestra, my gripes surged and swelled. He never knows what time Charlie’s drum lesson is, he always forgets that the kids have religion on Wednesdays, he leaves his pajama bottoms on the floor.
Yes, I know Joe works hard and provides us with a very nice lifestyle and we have a beautiful house. I know I am very lucky to be able to stay home with the kids and I have a lot of free time now that they’re all in school.
And truly, I am grateful, in the abstract way I am grateful for things like health insurance and the environment and Ann Taylor Loft.
But sometimes, it’s the little things that overtake me. They disrupt my general feelings of goodwill and kindness.
The evening didn’t go much better. I made a crummy dinner—grilled cheese and noodle soup—because for some reason, I can’t be bothered to cook real meals when Joe is out. Selfishly, I used the last piece of ham on my sandwich. Kids don’t need ham. It’s bad for them. Everyone knows this.
“ALBU-QUERQUE is a tur-key!”
“Yes, Henry, I know. That song is really fun. But sit right on your chair and eat.”
(Honestly, the number of times I say sit right on your chair in this house is simply astonishing.)
“AND he’s FEATHERED and he’s FINE—“
Jack, his inner party planner unleashed ever since he had a few friends over last week, interrupted the singing.
“Mom. My birthday party. I want a DJ.”
“Uh, really? Well, your birthday isn’t until May—“
“And he WOBBLES and he GOBBLES—“
“Henry,” 11-year old Joey cut in. “Stop with that song already. Mom, I need to bring a gallon of syrup to Boy Scouts tonight. You know, for the camp out this weekend? Dad promised we’d bring it.”
Oh, did he now, I though churlishly.
“And he’s absolutely MINE!”
“Mom, how do you spell phone booth?”
“Do you think celebrities. They come to parties? I could invite Taylor Swift.”
“What?” I asked, swatting away a fly. “No. I don’t think they do. They’re busy. Joey, look for some syrup in the cabinet, and Charlie, sit right on your chair before you fall. Rose, it starts with ph, can you sound it out? Henry! That’s my sandwich!”
“But it have HAM in it! I love ham!”
I watched my 5-year old gobble my coveted grilled cheese like Albuquerque himself, and I felt a surge of rage. Then, while they each finished up their dinner and wandered away from the table, I checked Facebook on my phone and saw this picture.
I put the kids to bed and sat down to begin writing my submission for The Mighty, but I wasn’t in the mood. Gratuity was far out of reach at the moment. Fiction is not my genre, and I didn’t feel like making up a bunch of crap just to submit a post.
Instead, I started to go through old essays to see if I could rummage one up to use. And I came across one called This is Marriage, where I wrote about Joe’s back surgery exactly one year ago. I re-read it, and considered the single best piece of advice I have ever heard about relationships: never go straight to anger.
In an act of sheer and utter will, I opened up Word and made a quick list of little things I appreciate about Joe:
I am grateful that he always fills my car up with gas.
I love watching him laugh with his brothers.
I love how you would go out for dinner every night of the week.
I am grateful for the way you sat on the porch one stormy day in August, holding a nervous Charlie on your lap in the big wooden rocking chair, counting the loud thunder and the bright flash of lightning.
I am glad you are in charge of carving the pumpkins.
I love the way your face brightens, then softens, then opens, when your son with autism hesitates outside the door and calls out, “Dad. Have fun. In the Boston.”
Just as I typed the last line, Joey burst in from his Boy Scout meeting and Wolfie started to bark. I ushered them both up the stairs to bed, and sat back down at my desk. I read over the list, and I noticed how I unconsciously changed “him” to “you” about halfway down.
I noticed how throughout the day, I went straight to anger. I skipped over the uncomfortable feelings of insecurity and loneliness and envy.
Because for the first time in eleven years, I am alone all day. There are no noses to wipe or grapes to cut or chubby little hands to hold in the parking lot. I miss them.
I miss him.
Our family is changing and I am adjusting in a new role. I so badly want to fit Joe and I into placeholders—a balloon vs. an anchor—so I can know who I am and what I do. And then I can hate him for it.
Gratitude is hard.
But the fact is, some days he is the balloon and other days he is the anchor, weighted down by nine million pumpkins and an anxious son. Over time, we will swap and trade: one of us will soar, weightless and buoyant, while the other watches from the ground, fly swatter in hand.
When The Mighty first asked for a submission, I assumed it meant I needed to wax poetical about all of Joe’s magical qualities. I thought I should go on and on about how thankful l I am for the way he provides financial security and health insurance and Ann Taylor Loft. (I can’t say anything about the environment here. The guy drives a Toyota Sequoia.)
But really, it’s the quirky little things I appreciate most; the Jack-o-lanterns and the full tank of gas, and the way he walks in the door with a smile and suggests we go out for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant.
I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way. Who would you like to thank? In the comments below or on Facebook, will you consider expressing your gratitude about a special person on your life?
I only ask that you share something small, something quirky, something memorable. Believe me, the little things really do add up.
I’ll go first.
I appreciate the way my husband, Joe, stretches his arm across me in the car when we stop short for a red light.