Wide Awake: Dusting off the Shelf
Bringing back a couple I once knew

My oldest daughter Klein called from college one recent Saturday, and I told her it wasn’t a great time to talk, because Joe and I were walking through the Italian Market in Philly. (The weekend before the same thing happened, only Joe and I were in Atlantic City.) There was a long, quiet pause on the phone and then she said, with a hint of confusion, “Why are you and dad doing all this stuff?”

I put my hand over the phone and told Joe what she said, and we both laughed out loud. Then I went back to talking to Klein.

“Oh no,” I said, “we always used to do stuff. Then we had kids, and we had to do their stuff. Now we’re just back to doing our stuff.”

She was still a little perplexed, but it was an eye-opener for me. I hadn’t really thought about it, but it was such a nice idea: as we slowly embark on this new stage in our lives – next year Maura enters college, leaving Marirose home for just a few years – Joe and I can begin getting back to who we were before we had kids. We liked that couple. They had a lot of fun together.

If that couple wasn’t at work, they were someplace fun or interesting. They were having brunch in Lambertville or visiting the Philly Art Museum or seeing Prince or Bruce Springsteen in concert (we actually liked both). That young couple had energy. They talked about all kinds of things, and they had friends who had energy and liked to go all kinds of places too. They had a good life.

When kids came into the picture, life was still good, but a different kind of good. We were tired a lot, and most of our conversations were about kids. We studied how to raise the most well-adjusted children in the world. We signed them up for age-appropriate activities, and then drove them there and waited ’til the end. We helped with homework, consulted with teachers, scheduled doctor/orthodontist visits and arranged play dates. We were content – even happy – to spend most of our time managing their lives. Our friends were in the same boat.

I remember saying to Joe a few months after Klein was born that I felt like we were taking our relationship and putting it on a shelf for a while. We would know it was there and we would know it was something really good, but it had to stay there until we got back to it later. Over the next 19 years, we got back to it from time to time, but most of our focus was on these three girls who filled our lives. It was easy to forget about the shelf, and that wasn’t good, but somehow we got around to remembering every now and then.

That probably isn’t great marriage advice, but it worked for us. There is, though, one thing we continued to do all those years (and still do today): we went out every Saturday night. Sometimes we would go with the entire family or we’d see something that involved one of the girls, but we never stayed home on what we consider “date night.” Often we went on a date, just the two of us. It gave us about four hours a week to remember what was on the shelf. Sometimes we wouldn’t remember until the third hour, but that was OK. At least we knew it was still there.

Whenever I feel my heart breaking at the loss I see heading our way in two years, I remind myself that the years ahead just might turn out really wonderful. Good thing I like Joe. Good thing he likes me. And good thing that couple is still sitting on the shelf waiting to come back to life. They’re exactly who I’d like to spend the rest of my life with.

December 2013
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