The week leading up to our anniversary was full of unusual events. Sara and I had some looming deadlines so I’d worked both days of the previous weekend and that left me feeling slightly disoriented about what day of the week it was all week. It always seemed like the week should be further along than it was.
And then there was the Polar Vortex on Tuesday. You probably heard about this even if you don’t live in the American Midwest or the Eastern seaboard. There were record-breaking lows everywhere, but it was considerably less dramatic where we live than in the Great Lakes area. We were supposed to get highs in the teens and single digit lows, but the high on Tuesday was around twenty. It was basically just an unusually cold day. Even so, surrounding counties panicked and cancelled school. Shockingly, Montgomery County did not. The most notable thing that happened as a result of the cold was that a bottle of detangling spray we’d ordered for June arrived frozen. It’s really a wonder we all survived.
Monday after school I took June for a walk down to Long Branch creek so we could compare the landscape pre and post-freeze. Beth thought the creek might freeze solid the next day and if it did June wanted to walk on it. We couldn’t go back on Tuesday because June had a violin lesson after school and by Wednesday she’d lost interest in the project and didn’t want to go. I’d peeked out the bus window on the way to violin the day before and noticed that Sligo creek was only about half-frozen anyway. Long Branch is a little smaller and slower but I doubted it had frozen solid so I didn’t push it.
Tuesday evening we got a surprise call from a friend of our Iowa days. From 1989 to 1991 Beth and I attended grad school at the University of Iowa and lived in a housing co-op. Our house had twelve people, a mix of undergrads, graduate students, and several twenty- and thirty-somethings unaffiliated with the university, one of whom was a city council member. If you’d like to see a picture of the house, go to the url above and choose Anomy from the house list on the left.
Sue and her husband Scott were among our best friends in the house. She was a doctoral student in history and he was a musician and a writer. They got married around half way through the time we lived there and I remember translating a poem from Portuguese for them as a wedding present. (I know all you engaged folks are now rushing to add me to your guest lists.)
Now Sue’s a history professor and she was in town for a conference and to visit her mother, who lives in D.C. She invited us to lunch, so we met her near Beth’s office. If my count is correct, this was only the fourth time I’d seen Sue since we finished our Masters degrees and left Iowa to go work for non-profits in D.C. But as Sue pointed out, you just don’t make friends in middle age the way you do as a young adult, especially when you’ve lived together, so it felt easy to pick up where we left off. (The only exception might be parents in your child’s class in a co-op preschool, which is why a large part of my social life still revolves around people we met when the children were very small.) Well, there’s always the nursing home, I pointed out.
A lot of our conversation centered around predictably middle-aged topics—growing children (between the two couples we have one in college, one in high school, one in middle school, and one in elementary school), aging or recently deceased parents, career successes and discontents. It wasn’t a long lunch, as Beth had to get back to work, but we covered a lot of ground. It was good to see her.
On the way there, I got leafleted by a D.C. mayoral candidate who was handing out literature at the Gallery Place Metro stop. I could have said no thanks, I live in Maryland, but I liked being taken for a city dweller, as I associate it with my younger, hipper days. (Not that I was ever hip, just marginally more so than now.) Beth and I lived in the city when we tied the knot, twenty-two years ago. We did it in the living room of our apartment seven months after we moved there, with around thirty guests crowded onto the couch and rented folding chairs. And we still lived in the city when Noah was born nine years later and for his baby year, so I will always associate it with those heady days of new adulthood and new motherhood.
The Children Go to School (or Don’t)
I didn’t work much on Wednesday as it takes a big chunk out of my day to get into and out of the city so the next day I was somewhat dismayed when June announced on Thursday morning she had a sore throat, a stomachache, and a headache and she wanted to stay home from school. Noah had been sick with a stomach bug the previous weekend so I was cautious and let her stay home. She was pretty lethargic all morning and spent a lot of time under a blanket staring into space without making a lot of demands so I actually managed to get a good bit of work done in between reading to her and making her snacks (her appetite was unaffected). She perked up after lunch, so we took a walk to the 7-11 to get milk. We passed Long Branch creek and noticed it was more frozen than Sligo had been the day before, but not frozen solid. There were some big frozen puddles in the woods by the creek, though, so we paused there a while so she could slide across them and pretend to be skating.
Friday morning there was freezing rain and a two-hour delay, because why wouldn’t there be? The sidewalks were kind of treacherous, though, so I can’t complain too much. I wasn’t too stressed about getting work done because I knew I’d have enough time for my only deadline that day and I’d logged plenty of hours the weekend before. I actually enjoyed getting to sleep a little later and have a more relaxed time getting the kids out of the house.
June had Megan over for a play date after school and before basketball practice. When Noah got home about twenty minutes after the girls did, they had the Twister mat out and soon he joined them in the game. Noah doesn’t usually play with June’s friends (being five years older) so it was heart-warming to peek at them as I fried tofu and sliced apples for an after school snack. The girls are a lot more limber than he is, but he is longer, so everyone had some kind of advantage. As is always the case when anyone plays Twister, there was a lot of laughing.
At four-thirty, Megan’s mom Kerry picked up Megan, June, and me and drove us all to the elementary school gym where basketball practice is held. I normally enjoy the walk but it was still cold and rainy so I was glad of the ride. It was the first Friday afternoon practice of the season. I always enjoy these, both for the chance to see the girls in action, but also to talk with other moms. (And it is almost entirely moms on Fridays; more dads make it to Saturday practices.) I ended up having extended chat with the mother of three girls in the gym, one of the Pandas and the two assistant coaches, both of whom attend Noah’s school, one in sixth grade and the other in eighth. We talked about middle school and the crazy workload and the ups and downs of each grade. When practice was over Kerry drove us home, where Beth, Noah, and hot pizza awaited us.
Saturday was our anniversary, both of our commitment ceremony, twenty-two years ago, and of our wedding, one year ago. So now it’s official, we’re not newlyweds any more. Beth took June to basketball practice in the morning and I made our anniversary cake (from the same recipe as the cake at our commitment ceremony) in the early afternoon, with some help from June. In the mid-afternoon, we ate it and exchanged gifts. Beth got me a wallet like hers because I’d admired it, and I got her a shoe rack. I realize this doesn’t sound very romantic, but the kids’ shoes tend congregate in an untidy pile in the hall outside their room. Two years ago, I got Beth a shoe rack for Christmas and it worked for a while, but it was too small for the number of shoes the kids had and it was kind of flimsy. It met its end after a year or so when one of the kids crashed into it. I thought I’d try again with a sturdier (and taller) version.
Around four-thirty, we left for a movie-and-dinner date. We saw Philomena and then went out for tapas, followed by coffee. I can’t tell you how nice this was, but I’ve been thinking of it a lot in the days that have followed, about how important it feels to do things like this. We’ve been married a long time, and sometimes it does feel like a game of Twister. Remember the slogan, “the game that ties you up in knots”? But then we end up laughing and having fun. And when something breaks, we try to build a stronger version of it, something that can last another twenty-two years at least.