COULD MY WIFE AND I HAVE AN ENTIRE CONVERSATION WITHOUT MENTIONING OUR KIDS?
Rarely does a day go by when I don’t have at least one meaningful conversation with my wife. Usually there are several. Many of these are about the deep and emotionally wrenching subject of what to feed the kids for dinner.
In the early hours of morning, I prod my wife for ideas, hoping that an angel has come to her in a dream with fresh ideas about food that our children will actually consume. By noon, in the throes of a busy workday, we begin to actively contemplate possibilities, of which there are maybe three. One of these – peanut butter and jelly – has already been offered for lunch. A quick exchange of e-mail brings to light that my smart wife has no better idea what to feed the kids than I have. By the time work has ended, we’re up against the deadline and actual brain-wracking occurs, which, in my case, can be ugly. We talk once more, this time about which form of pasta to trot out.
This may leave the impression that all we ever communicate about are the kids’ narrow palates. Hardly. Mature adults nine years into a relationship talk about a heck of a lot more than mere food logistics. We talk about scheduling logistics too. Transportation for the kids. Who we can hit up for a fridge, since ours has busted. Boston’s bizarre school assignment policy, which sends our son two neighborhoods away to kindergarten instead of a short walk down the road. How all those little brown bats are getting into our bedroom. The frightening state of our bank accounts. I could go on.
My wife, who tries to fix problems by reading stuff, saw on some website that spending 10 minutes a day talking with your partner about things other than logistics can relieve stress and improve your relationship. Our constant plotting and planning was robbing us of the magic that brought us together in the first place. If we stopped shaking each other down for information 24/7, we might even get lucky.
It is the first night of this new era in our relationship. We are on the couch in the living room. The kids are asleep. Here is my chance! I turn to her and with bona-fide earnestness ask, “How are things these days?”
A rookie blunder! Down goes her New York Times Styles section, a tension-relieving instrument. With the nation in the throes of an economic downturn and both our employers shedding jobs, “How are things these days?” doesn’t exactly give rise to lighthearted banter. This is not the way we talked when we started dating in 2001. But what did we talk about? Our hopes and dreams? The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center? Why the bed in my apartment didn’t have a proper dust ruffle?
I was reminded this past August at a Red Sox game, months after our several-week experiment in carving out daily, non-logistical talk-time had faded into the past. We were in my favorite seats – dead center field, on the aisle. It was a gorgeous, cloudless night in the mid-70s. My wife began recounting a story from way back in high school involving two suitors, a prom, and the ensuing farcical hi-jinx of dance partners and coat closets, like some G-rated version of a Joe Orton play. I’d heard the story before, but it was just as amusing the second time around. The Red Sox were losing 9-0 in the top of the 5th, and neither of us had eaten yet. “If it gets to be 12 to nothing we’re outta here,” she said. By the middle of the 6th, it was 14-0.
We left and got sushi. Over drinks and maki rolls we talked about baseball and other subjects that bear on our lives only tangentially. Occasionally, the conversation veered back into talk of our hopeless search for an after-school sitter, but we pulled out of those tailspins and got back on point, which was to have no point at all. For one really pleasant, short burst of time, we stopped trying to fix all of our problems.
I wish I could say that this sort of thing comes naturally, but in fact days go by and I find myself turning out the light without having had a single, meaningless chat with my wife about nothing much at all – the sort of pleasantly carefree talk we have with our kids several times each day.
Tomorrow, I bring up the subject of dust ruffles.