Thursday, February 14, 2008

How Married-with-Children Thirtysomethings [Should] Celebrate Valentines's Day

After all the politics in my recent blogging, I thought I'd go for something light and personal and sappy for this Valentine's Day. But it turns out that Rod Dreher has already said, better than I could, everything that needs to be said:

I no longer want thrills. I used to be one for grand gestures; once, before we had children, I secretly bought two plane tickets and, having conspired with Julie's boss to surprise her, told her abruptly one day after work to "get packed," and whisked her off to England for an impromptu vacation. Whee! We had lots of whee moments back then, and I wouldn't trade them for anything. But three kids later, who has the energy for whee! anymore? Who wants whee! Not us. Julie and I were talking last night about how much our concept of what's romantic has changed over our years together....I used to get stoked on the idea of taking Julie to the perfect little French cafe, and speaking torridly of romantic matters over candlelight and good wine. I wouldn't mind having the time to do that now (we'll talk about that when Nora quits nursing), but you know, it's hard to describe the fulfillment of opening the front door at day's end, and hearing three little voices scream "Daddy!" in unison, and come running into the front room to give me a hug. God, I love that. That's how romance has been sublimated for me. That's what it's ripened into. And it's great. We agreed that the contentment of doing something as simple as making a good fire in the fireplace on a cold winter's night, or lying in bed together late, with all the kids asleep in the house, and both of us reading our books, was really, really wonderful. The best, actually. Neither one of us would have said so 10 years ago, because we were different people then....

Julie and I talked last night about how unsettling it can be in our culture, which prizes passion and makes a fetish of youth, to realize that most of the conventional elements of romance have receded in one's life, but that one is blissfully happy all the same. Life has its seasons, and living in an eternal springtime would be both unnatural and, frankly, boring....Being middle-aged and in love has its own appropriate pleasures. The world considers them shopworn and modest, perhaps, but I think they're better described as discreet, and as banked against the tumult of life's lengthy days. We don't dance by the light of the moon much anymore, my true love and I, but we do sit on the porch swing by its light, and watch the kids chase fireflies, and contemplate our blessedness together. It's enough. In fact, it's everything. There's nothing quite so reassuring as the conviction that one is standing exactly where one is supposed to be.

A few nights ago, Melissa and were busy with our usual post-kids'-bedtime deprogramming/relaxation routines (her, reading a book; me, catching up on e-mail and the blogs--though sometimes we'll prefer a movie, if we have something good to watch), when we decided to call it a night early. Our daughters (they range now from 11 to almost-2 in age) and their crazy evening antics--and, too often, hysterics--can wear us out, and getting a good night's sleep is a real and not-nearly-common enough blessing. But then, as we went to bed, we kind of stumbled into a conversation about some book challenges Melissa has been working on lately (hey everyone: check out her blog!), and before we knew it we'd spent more than an hour arguing, reflecting, sharing ideas, and generally laughing and learning together. Was it passionate? Um...no. But it was fun, it was peaceful, it drew us closer together, and it was delightfully right and ordinary. It made us, just as a thousand other not-particularly-passionate-but-still-intimate moments we share do, a little bit more like who we are, or who we can be, together. I love that feeling of simply being at home, of being fitted into a time and place and a companionship--of being, as Rod puts it, "exactly where one is supposed to be."

There's always little things that need fixing; sometimes even big things. And sometimes maybe everyone needs a little of that whee! in their lives. As I confessed in the comments to Rod's post, I have been feeling a need to shake things up a little lately. I don't think it's a midlife crisis (I'll be 40 this year, and we'll have been married 15 years this August) so much as...well, I don't know. Maybe I am reaching back into my youth, trying to recreate a little of the sort of surprises and changes and amor that's perhaps 10 years or more in the past, before a real job and a home of own and three-quarters of our family appeared on the scene. (In 1999 we spent a summer in Germany, just Melissa and 2-year-old Megan and I, and we were mostly broke, and we were worried about the future, and living in a dinky apartment, but still, those months were a whole lot of whee!) But I'd like to think that whatever we're doing, and wherever we're going, it's not driven by some sort of GQ (or Cosmopolitan)-inspired fantasy. Rather, it may be as organic and everyday as our mutual delight at a well-cooked meal or playing in the snow with the girls or having a nice, relaxing Sunday. A little whee! is a good thing, maybe often a necessary thing. But it's nothing to build a life, or a lasting love, around. As I said on the occasion of our tenth anniversary back in 1993, real life, and joy, and wisdom, begins by finding someone to love, and then getting "committed, stuck together, sealed, put on the path and pushed out the door." Looking back on it all during those late nights talking in bed, I find that's still true, for this Valentine's Day, and hopefully for every Valentine's Day we'll share together hereafter.

14 comments:

Melissa said...

Not to quibble, but if we'd been married 10 years in 1993, then we would have gotten married in 1983, and I was only 11...

Just keeping you honest. :)

Russell Arben Fox said...

Har, har, har, Melissa. You know what I meant: "As I said on the occasion of our tenth anniversary back in 1993..."

Of course, I guess I could actually write that, and it would make more sense...

Ok, ok, I'm making the change. Sorry.

Rob said...

Russell, it appears you have your own personal Anderson Cooper.

And it occurs to me, off the cuff, that it might be quite fun to sit and watch you watch that show... ;-)

John B. said...

Really lovely, Russell. It reminds me of the Wallace Stevens poem "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour"--not quite a love poem in the usual sense, but not hard to analogize into a more usual one.

I hope to send some readers to this.

Russell Arben Fox said...

I don't get the joke, Rob. Anderson Cooper, the CNN news guy with the awesome hair, right? Explain yourself. (Sorry for my ignorance...maybe if we got cable--hell, maybe if we watched television--I'd get it.)

Rob said...

No fear, get his "Anderson Cooper 360" podcast, and you'll never have to send the cable companies a dime, the vultures.

He has a segment called "Keeping them Honest" where he snarks at the claims of politicians, and offers factoids to refute them.

There is also a DC-gossip segment called "Real Politics" in which another reporter reads his news like a scion of Inside Edition might. You... probably don't watch that show either.

Dang... now the joke isn't funny!

Rob said...

I don't know how to trackback, blogging neophyte that I am. But I put some related thoughts on my own blog.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Rob, those are some wonderful reflections! Thanks very much for sharing. I really ought to reread those Madeline L’Engle books again; it's been so long, I can remember almost nothing about them.

I'm afraid I'm not sure I remember the encounter you mention; unfortunately, I don't think I ever really connected with you as I did with some other of our mutual friends, and so my post-mission memories of you are kind of disjointed and random; there was a party, or a dance, and you were there, or you weren't. I know I met your wife/betrothed (an old fashion word, I know, but I like it) at some point, and it doesn't surprise you that you met Melissa somewhere in there. I'm glad that memory you have of us is a positive one; I was a morose jerk for much of my undergraduate career, wasn't I?

Rob said...

Oh, quite to the contrary. You were simply busy in a different college in the university, and I was busy flunking out of school in the engineering college. Chances for us to commiserate were not frequent, since school was in the way.

Frankly, my post-mission memories of you from then are of an intelligent, witty, and engaged man who seemed to have transcended most everything I could think of to say. We ran into each other less than five times. "Morose jerk" is an incorrect appellation.

But my recollection in the post I gave was the last memory I have of you. You and Melissa greeting Kim and me from a car on your way someplace in the spring of 2003.

You two stopped to greet us and announced with joy that you were engaged. That was the same time that you met Kim. And you were both giddy with happiness.

Naturally the years are not as kind as I want them to be, so if you remember differently, I am not offended! :-)

Queen K said...

Ah, yes. Well-worn, non-passionate intimacy is a delicious thing.

And so is the passionate kind--which, I'm delighted to discover, packs even more "whee" in year 16 than in year 1.

There's nothing more heavenly than a happy marriage.

Rob said...

Russell, it may entertain you to know that my wife read my own blog posting... and corrected one bad word choice and a grammar error.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Kathryn, I completely agree--that is, with your "there's nothing more heavenly than a happy marriage" comment. As for the whee! that gets packed into year 16...well, I can't confirm that, as we're still in year 15. And, as I kind of implied, still working on some long-term whee! renegotiations. More later, maybe.

Rob, I've tried twice to comment on your blog, and it doesn't seem to be working. Have you been messing with it lately?

Queen K said...

To any married couple in search of whee!, I recommend _Sheet Music_ by Kevin Leman. A Christian sex book. Very well done. Not pornographic, not prudish either.

Rob said...

Russell, I just tried to comment on my own blog, which did not fail. Care to try again?

I'd be happy to name you as an author there, but if you want to blog wit' me, I'd much rather you joined me at onemormon.org, which is geared toward explaining Mormon culture to kindly-disposed-and-curious outsiders.

I don't yet even have commenting turned on at that one, though.