Premeditated Kindness

About 15 years ago, the Big Guy had an infection at the base of his very long windpipe that nearly cost him his life. For a week, the ICU doctors and nurses worked to find a drug that was strong enough to help him without killing him at the dosages he needed. Anyone who has come close to losing a loved knows that those moments of worry are when you take stock of how important a person is. What I didn’t understand at the time, is how those moments can implant the fear of loss like a scar on your psyche.

Before the Big Guy, I was very closed off. I had had miserable experiences with men, driven by bipolar-shaped misperceptions and memories of sexual assault with which I had not yet come to terms. But, as anyone who knows my husband, a six-foot-six premeditated act of kindness (my 6 PAK — go ahead, groan), it is impossible to stay closed off for very long after you get to know him.

The problem with opening up, of course, is that you make yourself vulnerable. With most people, being vulnerable means being open to the possibility that they will hurt you. With the Big Guy, however, the most likely danger is that a foot gets stepped on or that you are in firing range of a post-diner breakfast burp. I don’t mean that we never have serious differences or that he’s perfect, but in the 25 years that I have known him, I have never known him to say something intentionally hurtful to anyone. I wish I could say that about myself.

When he got that sick, however, I realized there was one way he could really hurt me, and that was to leave. And, unintentionally, I started doing what I had always done best. I started closing parts of myself off.

In the name of making sure I could support Thing1 (then the only little Thing in our lives) on my own, I ditched an attempt at a creative career (I was doing wedding photography for a while) and went back to more conventional, technical work that offered stable benefits. I began looking at all the things in our life at home that I needed to learn how to do for myself. I began making sure I didn’t need to lean on the Big Guy.

The problem with working so hard not to lean on someone logistically is that you also begin to stop leaning on them emotionally, and, in a marriage, you’re supposed to lean on each other. When you stop letting yourself be vulnerable, it becomes harder to accept and easier be annoyed by the other person’s vulnerabilities. I have been keenly aware of those moments over the years, and, even though I have felt guilty, fear of losing him has often kept me completely opening up again.

Yesterday on that most romantic of holidays, I had to lean on the Big Guy in a big way.

I had foot surgery yesterday morning. The Big Guy did what he always does. I woke up to bedside-table sized flowers and candy to come home to. He had prepped the car so I could drive one last time for the next week. He made sure crutches were in the car for the walk back into the house later. He was one gigantic Premeditated Act of Kindness.

I try to make sure that I am giving the Big Guy what he needs logistically and emotionally. I try to make sure he has a safety net with me. As I watched him yesterday, however, trying to keep my focus on the details of the pre-surgery to do list, I felt my heart really beginning to lean again. As the sedatives kicked in, I became very conscious that I need to fully open up again in a premeditated way because there’s nothing random about real love.

The first sparks may be serendipity, but the long, slow burn of true love is fueled by a lifetime of premeditated kindness and caretaking. And he deserves that.

Used Art

Fun fact, when you buy art off of my site, you’re getting used art. Most of the time when I do a painting, the piece ends up on my bookshelf until it’s time to go to a show or fair. When show season ends, however, the painting doesn’t, and, having a fairly small studio/office, I hang the surplus art in our halls and rooms, and it lives there until Etsy makes the little cash register sound on my phone.

Sometimes I feel a little sorry for my husband. Sure, plenty of wives come up with redecorating ideas here and there, but living with an artist, he often comes home or wakes up to a new house. On good days, it becomes a rotating art gallery, and every bit of wall space is fair game. On the more chaotic days, there may be plans brewing for a better way to use that guestroom at the end of the hall (a bigger studio? or maybe not).

Whether the chaos is a small rotation or a major room organization, my husband’s defining goodnatured smile will appear, reminding me of my mom’s observation, “You found yourself a good man.”

I’m guessing that next to a lot of productive artists is someone with a good natured smile.



   Seven-year-old Thing2 and his thirteen-year-old brother Jack take turns sitting next to me when we go to Sunday breakfast at Bob’s Diner in Manchester, VT.  Thing2 is still at the age where he’s easily entertained by shiny objects and it was my wedding ring caught that his attention the other morning.

Waiting for our drinks to arrive, Thing2 grabbed my hand from the table and began inspecting the rings, twist and turning my finger.  The Big Guy told him the story of the stone (they came from his grandfather’s ring) and then of his own gold band (also owned by his grandfather).  

Thing2 tried to pull off my ring for close inspection, but I stiffened my finger and the ring would not come off.  It would twist, but it would not move up my finger.

“It won’t come off,” exclaimed Thing2.   The server had now brought our drinks.

“It’s not supposed to come off,” I said.

“What is it.. cursed?” he asked turning to ancient pop culture and Ringo Star’s ruby ring in the move Help to explain the phenomenon on my finger.  Even Jack had to laugh at the question. Our server took our order and walked away giggling.  

Thing2 was now wedged between my arm and body.  Sun flooding through the plate glass window bathed Jack and the Big Guy on the opposite side of the table.  It was just an ordinary Sunday with nothing planned except wood stacking and hanging out around the homestead.  I had his answer.

“It’s not cursed,” I said.  It’s blessed.


Seasons and Celebrations

Fall 2013

Sept 23

It’s the Big Guy’s birthday.  Today our family is celebrating him, but I’ve also come to see this day as the demarcation of the seasons.

It’s not just because his birthday coincides with the second day of fall, but because his favorite birthday dessert is not cake.  It’s apple pie, preferably made with apples from our own tree.  It’s only after a few cold snaps that the apples start to take on a sweeter taste, and the first, tart bite, softened by the streusel topping, evokes all the soon-to-be wood-stove warmed evenings,  homemade breads and stews, and evenings snuggled on the couch.  So now, celebrating the Big Guy is really a celebration of a season of family enjoying family.  And who better to inspire it?

Of Plans, Plants, and Cigars

Blog  Plants and Cigars

I have come to believe that in many marriages there is one partner who has their head in the clouds and another who helps keep both people anchored to the ground.  Anyone who knows me knows that my head is not in clouds; it’s often in another dimension.  No one knows this better than the Big Guy, so, last night, when I casually moved the new dark green shrub to the edge of the counter as I unloaded the grocery bags, he raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask what had prompted the purchase.

The plant was just the end of a journey I had started two days ago on the first sunny afternoon since the official start of spring.  For the first time since I’d claimed my Mom-Cave at the back of the house, I minded that my cozy winter cocoon lacks a view of the impending greening of our yard.  Our house is earth-sheltered, and, while all the bedrooms and family areas look towards the forest and fields that border our yard, the bathrooms and the study are tucked into the back part of the house, which is buried under three feet of dirt.

All of this made my first thought – how could I install a window – just a tad irrational.  When I returned this dimension at five A.M. the next morning, I considered other options as I wrote.  Taking over the one unoccupied bedroom/winter laundry room isn’t feasible for the longterm (the boys are getting old enough for their own rooms).  Then I though about moving to our well-lit, but unheated, attic.  My mind churned as I mentally figured out heating and decor for the space.  The Big Guy has plans for most of that space, however, so I nixed the idea.  Then came a stroke though, sadly, not of genius.  It was the stroke I envisioned the Big Guy experiencing when I finished pitching my next plan – remodeling the upstairs and the downstairs with a workshop, study and guest-area down and family bedrooms up.

The Big Guy popped his head in as he was heading out to work, bringing me back to the ground.  I posted my posts, got the kids to school and returned to the Mom-Cave for the next 8 hours of my Work-At-Home-Job.  My 3 minute dance sessions – my latest attempt to get more movement (not exercise, just movement) – reminded me there was another advantage to working in a room without windows.  Maybe I could find a way to make it feel less claustrophobic for the summer.

I googled windowless offices.  Google gave me white offices (straight from the pages of the Neat & Childless Magazine), walls with trompe l’oeil murals, mirrors built into reclaimed windows, and plants.  I remembered the houseplant cemetery we call a forest and took closer look at the mirrors, stumbling on to a gorgeous and, most important, affordable distressed window with a mirror behind it.  I saved the page just as the Big Guy got home with the boys.

“Look at this mirror,” I said, not mentioning my other decorating ideas. “Don’t you think it would brighten up the office?”

“I guess do,” replied my husband with practiced composure. I don’t have hard scientific data on this, but it’s my suspicion that nothing strikes fear into the heart of a married man like the words, “I have an idea”.  To I decided not to reveal my endgame (however much it had shrunk), and the conversation ended.

The next afternoon, I announced I needed to get some groceries after work and headed into town.  The mirror was still in mind, but as I guided my cart through the aisles, I wandered into the nursery area.  The aroma of dozens of Easter lilies and hyacinths assaulted me. I explored, remembering the plant idea and started hunting for something that looked like it would do well in extreme shade.  A few minutes later, I emerged from a corner with a nameless plant whose directions to keep it out of sun and not overwater reassured me it might not join its predecessors in the woods as compost.

When I had the last of the groceries put away, I picked up the plant to take it to its new home in the Mom-Cave.

“What do you think?” I asked. “I just thought the room could use a little green.”  The Big Guy just nodded and got to work on the latest incarnation of his famous pasta sauce.   After +16 years of being the anchor in our marriage, he knows that a cigar may just be a cigar, but a plant is never just a plant.


About Family

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My younger son dances.  He sings.  He has a crate full of costumes – including a rainbow wig, several superhero outfits and a tutu – and a puppet theatre complete with curtains sewn by his grandmother.  He loves dressing up and taking on all sorts of personae.  He is the sum of his arts – joy in a skinny six-year-old package.

We make him leave the costumes at home (on school days anyway), but he brings his joy everywhere he goes.  He dances when he walks.  He falls in love with people at the drop of hat and is still at the age where he wants to marry everyone with whom he falls in love.

Most of the time his antics and his expressions of love – for his parents, his brother, the waitresses at Bob’s –  produce smiles from people around us.  It’s hard not to smile at someone who’s compulsively happy.  But every once in a while I’ll catch another adult watching his gaiety, and I can see a question forming behind the gaze.

I know the look and the question.  The look is judgement warring with joy.  The question is the wondering if the gaiety is evidence that our dancing, affectionate child is gay.  I don’t know.  I also don’t care.

I have seen and heard this story since I was in high school.  Several of my closest friends came out to our circle of friends before and after graduation.  Some came to the realization that they were gay very early in life.  Some had supportive parents.  Others lived in the shadow of projection (once with a violent result) because certain mannerisms or affinities were proof to others that they were gay long before they had considered the question themselves.

I would like to say that I was always mature and supportive.  With my male friends I remembered it made no difference.  With my best friend, I am sorry to say, I was less mature, mainly because she was suddenly dating and someone else was monopolizing her time.  At the time I wasn’t adult enough to remember I had done the exact same thing to her a year earlier.  The one thing I do remember, however, is that who my friends dated didn’t change how I saw them because they were still the same loving people who had accepted me for all my flaws as we went through the high school gauntlet together.

Today, as I’m watching the news, waiting to see how the Supreme Court is going to rule on marriage equality in California, I’m thinking about our journeys.  Some of my friends are still single.  Some have had commitment ceremonies – two couples the same year the Big Guy and I were married – and are still happily married themselves.  Our journeys have been different, but the parallels are still there.

We all wanted to fulfill our potentials.  We all wanted to love and be loved.  And we each wanted to be part of a family of our choosing.  It’s the same thing I want for both my kids.  But, most of all, I want them to have the same chance at happiness that I have had – regardless of the person they find to love.  So today, to me, this issue isn’t about politics.  It’s about my family.





Till Death Do Us Part

Most days I don’t stop. I may stop doing the things I want to do, but, like most people, I tend to forget about the work-life treadmill I’m on until something blows a fuse.

Saturday night the entire circuit breaker popped when I returned home from my writing group to hear of the death of an old family friend. This friend was at our wedding, standing up as a surrogate father to my husband whose own parents had died several years before. Our friend had lived a full life but had been plagued with chronic health problems at the end of his life, and, while the news saddened both of us, it was not unexpected.

I didn’t cry Saturday night, however. Nor did I cry last night as we rushed to pack and get on the road for a four hour drive in hopes of beating an inconveniently-timed winter storm. I didn’t even cry as we were driving to the cemetery. As we drove from the entrance of the cemetery to the site of the service, however, and I began to think of our friends saying their final goodbye to their father and husband and grandfather, I did cry.

It was raining and snowing, and the service was brief with words of ritual from the rabbi and words of remembrance from our friend’s family. It was only as the ceremony ended and the attendees formed lines of comfort for the departing family that I realized that all my tears had been for the family and their loss but not for this man whom we loved so much, and it was not until we regrouped for the more informal memorial in the afternoon that I understood why.

Our friend’s daughter had arranged a luncheon following the graveside service. The atmosphere was subdued but not somber as his friends and family stood at the podium and offered their memories of this man. As we nibbled at our lunch we heard from his fellow World War II vets, former classmates, and friends about his contributions and his kindness.

And with each story from an old comrade-in-arms or former co-worker, one thing that stood out was the fact that this man and his now-widow had been married for almost 60 years. Almost every old friend at the podium had been married equally long. In a country with a fifty percent divorce rate, my husband and I were surrounded by couples who had been married for more years than we had been alive. To be sure, there were some exceptions, but the prevalence of long-married couples in the room got me thinking about why I had cried so little and about my own expectations from life and marriage and love. Here were people warmed by the memories of their friend and buttressed by each other.

I began to realize that I could not cry for this man that we love. I can cry for the people who lost him (our family included), but to live and die surrounded by people you love and have loved for most of a long, productive life is a life and and end very few people ever achieve.

Years ago, on our wedding day our friend stood up to wish us and our guests ‘Nachus’, the hebrew word for joy. I think of his words often and never more so than today when we witnessed exactly what he was talking about. He had lived for his family and friends and in deriving joy from them, had given it back exponentially. So, as we left, I was not thinking about the things we lost but the lessons and blessings we will keep with us forever because we were friends.