–Marriage is a long, clumsy dance, with frequent stepping on toes.–
I sat on the couch next to Angie while she held baby Hyrum over her shoulder. Feeling romantic, I put my arm around her neck and shoulders. My hand alighted upon a cold, wet spot of vomited breast-milk on the burp cloth draped over her shoulder. She laughed at how “romantic” it was. I joined in the chuckle after a momentary shiver of “ew.”
Angie and I both speak Portuguese, which has come in handy when we want to talk without the children knowing what we are talking about. For example, “fazer marmelada” (to make jam) is continental Portuguese slang for “making love.” The children have heard some words like “filme” or “video” so often, associated with the ensuing entertainment decision, to know that their parents are talking about whether to watch a movie tonight. They no sooner hear the word than they clamor, “Yea, let’s watch a movie!” Fortunately the children haven’t caught on to the meaning of “marmelada.”
One particular word has saved mom and dad significant embarrassment during church services. The Portuguese slang “chi-chi” (pronounced “she-she”) is the equivalent of the English “pee-pee.” So, during church, when a young child needs to go to the bathroom and calls out unabashedly in the middle of the sermon, “I need to go chi-chi!” no one but us knows what is going on. By logical extension, “chi-chi” has also become the code word for penis. I have no idea why a little boy would choose a church sermon as the time to loudly announce “my chi-chi itches!” This code word has kept my face from flushing numerous times.
Another code word—a favorite for its embarrassment-saving quality—is the English word “this.” Angie has breast-fed each of our children for up to two years, much longer than Western modernism finds fashionable, and past the time when the children can speak quite well. When one of our infants was hungry, Angie would ask, “Do you want this?” and hold the child’s face to her breast, where the child would suckle and satisfy both physical hunger and the desire for comfort and closeness with a loving mother. The word “this” came to mean the opportunity for an infant’s meal at mother’s breast. Eventually, the word “this” came to be equated simply with the word “breast” in the child’s mind, and “thises” meant “breasts.” One of our young boys once commented to me, “My thises are small, huh?”
“I want thises, Mom,” became a frequent toddler’s petition echoing throughout the house, and meant “I’m hungry, Mom.” Church can be a chore for young children, trying their patience and causing them to raise their impatient little voices with their various wants and discomforts. More than one of our tired and hungry toddlers has been known to yell during church sermons, “I want thises!” And no one knew.
* * *
Abraham Lincoln once described that attitude that furthers slavery and oppression with these words: “You grow the food, and I’ll eat it.” Too often I see his words replayed in American homes: “You cook the food and I’ll eat it. You wash the clothes and I’ll wear them. You tend the children and I’ll hang out with my buddies.” Partners in marriage are not partners unless they share their burdens as well as their pleasures. Each must uphold the other, not live off the other’s labors without contributing their own. Living in ease while our partner toils under his or her loads is no partnership, no marriage, but a mockery of that partner and of the relationship.
* * *
I often take the garbage out as I begin my walk on Rabbit Lane. I first open the door a crack so that I can easily pull it open with gloved hands each holding bulging bags. This way I can minimize my effort, grabbing the bags and leaving through the door with one fluid motion. As I reach for the door knob, however, a bulky bag pushes the door shut at the very instant that my hand seizes the door knob. My repeated attempts to use minimal effort in making a single trip to the garbage can end consistently with this result. Every time, in fact. I have tried reaching slowly for the door knob, as if to grab hold of the door knob before the door awoke to the pressuring bag and swung shut. I have tried the sudden approach, as if to surprise the door, thinking that perhaps the momentary backswing of the bag would give my hand a split-second advantage. Always the result is the same: the click of the latch as my hand touches metal. I laughed the first time, but soon succumbed to cursing. It would have been better to put one bag down, open the door, pick up the bag, walk through the door, put the same (or another) bag down, close the door, then take both bags to the can. Not fluid, perhaps, but still simple, efficient, and methodical. Nonetheless, I keep reaching for the door with the bag in my hand, only to have the bag push the door shut and stymie my plan. Why do I think the result will change merely by virtue of repeated vain attempts? Albert Einstein said something about that. Anymore, I follow the multi-step approach, with consistent success. But I find myself still fighting the urge to see if I can win the contest.
* * *
Another night of chasing after children to brush their teeth and get to bed.
“Brush your teeth,” I commanded Brian (10).
He looked up at me sincerely: “I did.”
I knew he hadn’t, and asked him, “Are you telling me the truth?”
“Yes,” he replied innocently.
I deliberated for a moment about my response. Should I confront and accuse? Should I teach? Should I just walk away in disgust?
“Good,” I said, “because I believe you, and I wouldn’t want to believe a lie, especially from my son.”
I told him that I knew when someone was lying, like when Carly had told him about the rabbit that had killed their cow, or the witch that lived under Witch’s Tree, or the piranhas that infested the irrigation ditch on Rabbit Lane.
Brian turned his eyes to the floor, then shuffled off to the bathroom where he brushed his teeth. I worried that I had hurt his feelings, and hoped I hadn’t been too harsh. His lie had been less about his honesty than about his independence. At least I hadn’t labeled him a liar. I had just tried to teach him that it was important to be honest, especially with his dad. After he brushed his teeth, I thanked him for being honest with me and tucked him into bed.
“Good night, son,” I said. “I love you.”
* * *
The older our house becomes, the more frequently the toilets back up. I have wondered if the sewer pipes might be slowly gathering a collection of hair clips, bandaids, dental floss, and toothpaste caps flushed by curious children who enjoy seeing the objects swirl around noisily and disappear. One afternoon as I talked with Angie in the kitchen, an indignant Laura (14) marched in and reported,
“The toilet is plugged! And I didn’t do it. By the awful smell it must have been plugged all day.”
I knew that the offending toilet was in the “family bathroom” shared by Laura with her three younger brothers. Laura clearly believed that because she hadn’t plugged the toilet, the unplugging of the toilet was not her job, but ours. Her duty was merely to inform us, and she had discharged it. I reinforced her belief by reporting to the malodorous bathroom and plunging out the toilet. (I didn’t know for years that Laura had tried to plunge the toilet, without success.)
Sometimes I feel like all I do is walk around with a plunger unplugging other people’s plugged toilets. Metaphorical toilets are plugging all day every day at my work, where people seem to line up at my office door to report toilets backing up and overflowing, and to suggest that I should do something about it. All too often I thank them and run for the plunger (in the shape of a phone call or a demand letter or a hastily called meeting). If we each plunged the clogs we make or find as soon as we make or find them, the world might smell a lot better. We would share often unpleasant duties, no one carrying disproportionate burdens or unpleasantness.
* * *
Angie took the children to the Deseret Industries (DI) thrift store to shop for children’s clothing. John (7) came home with a bag full of clothes that looked good and fit him well. But Angie had found nothing for Caleb (5). His husky build was difficult to shop for.
“We’ll have to get you some clothes somewhere else; maybe some overalls,” his mom reassured him.
“Can you get me some on your way home from your date tonight?” Caleb inquired hopefully.
“Maybe,” Mom said noncommittally.
On the way home from our date later that night, Angie suggested, “Why don’t we stop and see what Cal-Ranch has.”
We stewed and debated over prices and styles, but finally made a choice on a pair of denim overalls.
The moment we walked in the kitchen door at home, Caleb came running to the kitchen, calling, “Did you keep your promise, Mom?”
Angie certainly had not promised him anything, but he had taken her noncommittal “maybe” as a promise. Excitedly Caleb pulled on the overalls.
Standing very proud, he showed them to everybody and exclaimed happily, “Mom kept her promise!”
How relieved we felt that we had stopped at least to look, that we had managed to not disappoint our small child, and that we had kept our “promise.”