Ten years ago, Julie and I went to see this lovely little movie, The Secret Lives Of Dentists, with a couple we knew. It’s a film about a couple, both suburban Westchester dentists, whose marriage falls into crisis after the husband learns that the wife is cheating on him. The husband (Campbell Scott) thinks long and hard about throwing his wife (Hope Davis) out, but there’s the matter of their children to take care of, and … well, you should see the film. It involves an extended stomach virus scene that is so, so true to family life. In fact, there were moments in the film in which only certain people in the audience laughed. I finally figured out that the people who were married with children laughed in recognition of these small moments, but the people, married or not, who didn’t have kids couldn’t understand it, because they hadn’t had those experiences.
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another film that explores the meaning of married love through the lens of everyday boring sacrifice and endurance. But you find that that’s what married love turns out to be — and that it’s a beautiful thing. Sharon Astyk gets it exactly right — exactly — in this post about her husband. Excerpt:
But in 12 1/2 years of parenting, I’ve never changed a diaper when Eric was around to do it for me. The garbage magically goes away somewhere, and I don’t have to take it out. When spring comes around and the gigantic-mega barn cleaning comes, I trot out with my shovel and am often told “No, it is ok, I don’t mind doing it.” When I was knocked down for two days last week by the same stomach virus, moaning and wishing for death, Eric took over tending five children, cooking and cleaning, and the tending of the farm and it all went smoothly on without me (we also had the kind help of Phil-the-housemate here, which was invaluable), while cups of tea appeared like magic when I asked.
Despite the fact that Eric does not like change, and generally views anything different in the hobbitish “nasty, messy things that make you late for dinner” way, he has accompanied me through crazy journeys of change – from dating to marriage, marriage to parenthood, several moves, low energy life on a farm, and finally into foster parenting where your family structure changes when the phone rings. He did it for me, initially, and then he learned to like it.
Which is why I felt unaccountably soppy while we cleaned up the horrors in the boys’ room yesterday morning. He hasn’t had the stomach virus yet – we’re both hoping he misses it, but he probably won’t. He’d never, however, suggest I should do the cleaning alone just to avoid him getting sick (which in retrospect, I probably should have done, but it didn’t occur to me at the time).
He feels guilty about the presents sometimes, and thinks I must wish for a romantic husband. I do tease him about it, but I’m only teasing, because I wouldn’t trade the gifts he does give me for anything in the world. Not anything.
This resonated with me particularly as I start Week Two with this recurrence of mononucleosis, which has left me headachy, deeply fatigued, and basically useless around the house. We have three children. Life goes on, as it must — and it’s all on Julie now, and will be until this sickness passes, which could be weeks or months. She doesn’t complain, doesn’t make drama, doesn’t show despair, none of it. She just gets it done. It is an incredible gift, and I get it, and our kids get it, daily.
It is hard to convey to young people who are not married how beautiful and satisfying this sort of thing is from within marriage: knowing that your partner loves you so much that she, or he, is always thinking of you, and how he or she can help, can abide with you and the family you’ve been given to love. I can imagine that from the outside, this kind of thing looks like a miserable burden. And indeed it can be miserable; there is nothing romantic about cleaning up kid puke, or taking care of the bills. But within the burden, there is love, and it is a mystery and a blessing and a thing of wonder.