I'm not going to lie: this weird stomach virus/bacteria/whatever-the-hell-this-mild-plague-is continues to make me grumpy. For the past two weeks and one day, I've woken up and felt like hell. Like, right on the verge of coming down with the stomach flu, except it never actually comes down. Or, er, comes up, which is good. Except for I feel like hurling almost all day long. I feel like eating only white-bread toast and drinking only anything bubbly and extra-icy-cold. I feel like sleeping a lot.
I feel like I am pregnant.
I AM NOT PREGNANT!I promise. I have taken three different tests just to make sure. I'm not late. I don't even get nauseous when I'm pregnant, I just get really, really hungry and my hands get these strange red spots. And I'm the opposite of really, really hungry. And no red spots. Besides, hello. I am forty years old. I know what causes babies and I take every measure to prevent them. I'm too old and the there's the fact that I have recently made peace with the lack of babies in my life.
Plus, really. I'm not pregnant.
I'm trying to be friendly to the nausea, even though I do keep threatening to call the doctor tomorrow if it doesn't go away. Or I'm just ignoring it and doing all my normal life stuff, like going to work and going running and cooking dinner and doing laundry. Sometimes I baby the nausea by giving it exactly what it wants. Four-cheese Italian Cheezits? Sure. Strawberry Fig Newtons? OK. Watermelon? Lucky I have some of that in the fridge! On Thursday morning I made nice to it by making it some hot oatmeal like it was demanding. Oatmeal, delicately spiced with cinammon, ginger, a dash of nutmeg and a swirl of honey, with preferably a glug of cream on top (not possible, as the cream had soured).
While I waited for the water to boil, I looked out my kitchen window. My neighbors, who are an eldery couple, walked out of their garage and got into their mini van. They were dressed up and, I imagine, going to the temple, and obviously they were driving their van because they were going to pick up some of their friends and take them along. Afterwards, they and their friends would go to lunch somewhere fun but not too expensive and then they'd all go to their respective homes and take a nap.
The water wasn't boiling yet so I watched them. They sat in their van until the water boiled and I turned away to pour the oats in, and then I stirred and I watched them. I watched them for ten minutes (because I am decidedly not a quick-cook-oats kinda girl) while I stirred, and I wondered what they were talking about. What they were doing there, just sitting in their van.
I tried. I tried so hard to imagine them having a happy conversation. I wanted them to be saying kind things to each other, because they really are kind and sweet people. I wanted him to be complimenting her on her dress and her to be laughing and saying that he still looks handsome to her after all these years. But I couldn't imagine that. I could only imagine them having one of the arguments Kendell and I have, like why is the van so cluttered and can't I ever vacuum it, or please can you drive without yelling at all the other drivers this time, or yes, I know, I made us late again, or any of the other bajillion things that married people tiff over.
Watching my neighbors and imagining them having my marriage's arguments made me think about my grandparents. They've been gone for half my life but I still miss them. They both made me feel this amazing combination of unconditional love and unfettered admiration but in a manner that gave me confidence, not arrogance. I was simply happy and peaceful in their presence.
But I also was always aware of an underlying tension. I don't know any stories to tell that would give my hunch any weight. I don't want to ask my mom because I don't want to know the details, but I wonder: were they happy? Or did they, too, sit in their car (the big brown Oldsmobile my grandpa loved) and argue?
My other grandparents—my dad's parents—definitely were not happily married. They were actively involved in not being happily married. My dad didn't talk about this much, but there were enough small stories to piece together a larger narrative. In fact, there are suggestions, in the family stories, that my grandpa Curtis, who died when my dad was just 16, went not just from a heart attack but out of sheer, unfettered unhappiness.
I stirred my oatmeal. I thought backwards to my grandparents and forward to my own children's future. Have I bequeathed them a legacy of unhappy marriages? Have I taught them? Have they seen, despite the arguments, me loving their father? Have I taught them that love, which has to include arguments, also includes laughter and happiness and comfort? Do they know love exists?
I'm not sure anyone taught me. My parents loved each other, but I don't think anyone would say they had a happy marriage. I remember, during a rough patch that happened when I was about 14, lying in bed and listening to them argue and promising myself that my kids would never hear me argue with their father.
A promise I broke about a month into my sojourn as a mother.
And I realized, right there in the kitchen on that random Thursday April morning: I don't know. I don't know if I have taught them what love looks like. I know it was my responsibility to do so. I know whether the arguments were my fault or someone else's, whether I was right or wrong: none of that changes my responsibilities. I know I want them to know it exists so that they have faith enough to find it. I'm just not certain I've taught them that.
All of those thoughts while I stirred my delicately spiced, boiling oatmeal and watched my neighbors sit in their van and wept. Out of shame and disappointment in myself and missing my grandparents and wishing my parents had been happier and trying to grit my teeth against the nausea. I finally realized what they were doing: they were laughing, their heads flung back, their faces split by grins and I wanted that to make me hopeful. To give me an idea that with time, with enough eventual growing up, we can reach a place where the arguments stop and the recriminations cease and we are simply, finally, enough for each other. That it just takes growing up and trying and coming to an understanding of each other that is deeper than anything you might argue over.
But it didn't. It made me weep even harder because I don't know. My parents never got there. Did my grandparents? Will I? Worse: will my children? I want them to. I want them to get there more than I want it for myself. But I don't know if—no, I don't believe I have—been the kind of example that could teach that that is a possibility. The fact that for ten long minutes I couldn't imagine my neighbors were simply laughing with each other seems to me to be proof enough.
What is maddening about this failure is that, despite the arguments, I do love my husband. Their father. I do. I just, I just don't know if I have shown them that. I don't know if they know. And I don't know if it is too late for me to show them that. So I cried, there in my kitchen. And I promised myself I would try harder and be kinder. Let them see me laughing with him and let them know we were laughing. Not make them guess, or wonder, or fail to imagine.
Not leave them to pick up that unnamed current of tension and work it into their own marriages.