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Sitting on the couch watching telly, M turned to and very casually asked, “So, what do you want for your birthday then?”  It was Wednesday of last week, and my birthday — a very Significant Birthday — was only a few days away.  The sound of the telly faded from my consciousness abruptly as I looked at him, dumbfounded.

M has not had a good track record these past few years when it comes to my birthday.  He started out just great a decade ago, when love was fresh and the stakes were high, but these days… Well, I haven’t had a birthday or Christmas present from him for about three years running now, except for one book that he grabbed at the grocery store on Christmas Eve.  And not wanting to continue this trend, I have been reminding him of the Significant Birthday almost every day for the last four months.  So it really did stop me cold when he asked his question.

“Youuuu… ummmm…”  Paused, dumbstruck again, and then found my words, “You haven’t bought me a gift yet?!?”  It was said with calm control, but with a rising irritation he could hear plainly.

He decided to play with fire.  “When have I had time to go shopping for a gift?!?”  It’s true that he works practically every hour God sends, but if he thought that kind of logic was going to help his cause in any way, then he clearly did not understand what he was walking into.

I will spare you the full transcript, but suffice to say I flew almost instantly into a full-blown rage, and proceeded to tear strips off him in a manner that he never saw coming.  Honestly!  When did he have time?!?  He’d had the past four months that I’d been reminding him every other day!  No, he’d had the past YEAR, because — conveniently enough — my birthday rolls round with stunning predictability.  I’d even made a wishlist for him and emailed it to him, as well as my sister and my mother.

He made more feeble attempts, pointing out that he barely knows how to use the computer, let alone how to buy off a wishlist…  and I blasted back that he could have asked my sister, my mother, or even ME to walk him through it.  He made noises about me maybe helping him now…  and I nearly spat that it was too late — most everything on my list was obscure enough to need to be back-ordered, almost nothing could be bought now, with my birthday only a few days away.  He’d blown it!  He’d blown it AGAIN!  And that realisation motivated me to really rip into him in earnest, at full volume and with hands waving wildly, and — I’m quite sure — steam blasting out of my ears.

There was no stopping me and he didn’t fight it.  He sat quietly and let me go on and on and on.  And then, at a moment when I paused to draw breath, he said quietly — so quietly I barely noticed he’d spoken — “Could we…  could we just forget this happened?”

I stopped at that.  This is what psychologists call the “rescue moment” — he was trying to rescue this, to claw it back before it really went too far.  He was presenting me with a fork in the road and I could choose which way to go: to follow his lead and rescue this, or to carry on tearing mercilessly into my husband’s psyche.  I thought about it for a moment, and the sensible part of me decided to stop now, to go with the rescue.

But then, just as I opened my mouth to say something mature and calm, I realised what was about to happen.  I would forgive and forget this ever happened, he would rush out the next day and try to buy something… something…  some little trinket or maybe the easiest thing on the wishlist or, heck, a book from the grocery store again…  And on my birthday I’d stick by the bargain and say, ooooh thank you, thank you, and give him a kiss…  And the whole time — the whole stinking time — I’d know that, actually,  he’d forgotten.  Actually, he’d forgotten my birthday again.  So there was no “forgetting this had happened”. It couldn’t be done — the cat was out of the bag, the truth was told:  he  had  forgotten  my  birthday  again, even though this was an Important Birthday, even though I’d been reminding him, even though I’ve been a GOOD WIFE, DAMMIT!  He hadn’t cared enough about me to make as much paltry effort as was needed to just remember my birthday long enough to order a present off a wishlist.  And now I knew it, and there was no “forgetting” that.

And so when I opened my mouth, instead of going with the rescue moment, I let all of that fury and frustration  fall out instead — very loudly and for a very long time.  And when I was done, I turned back to the telly and just sat staring in its general direction and so angry my stomach ached.

M let out a little groan and I looked at him.  His face was twisted, his jaw clenched at an odd angle, and he was looking at the floor.  Then a glance at me.  And then, “No… wait.”  A pause, a deep slow inhale, and then very quickly, all in one breath: “Look, something’s been done.  It’s… it’s been taken care of.”  And then his eyes back to the floor, and an uncomfortable silence.

Suddenly I understood.  He’d got me a gift.  He’d remembered my birthday — not forgotten me at all.  And he’d just been winding me up and it went too far and he’d not known how to pull it back.  But he hadn’t forgotten me at all.

And it was only then that I felt the full strength of how hurt I’d been by his question.  The feeling took me completely by surprise, and churned violently in my stomach, and mixed with the relief and the regret that were washing over me like waves.  I felt suddenly nauseated.  And all that emotion rose up from my gut so fast that I couldn’t contain it — up through my chest and spilled out across my face, mouth open and pulled tight, eyes closed.  And I managed a soft  “oh no!” before it all escaped from me with a sound a little like belch, and I burst into sobs that racked my whole body and revealed, there for him to see, just how much the being forgotten has hurt these past few years.

“Oh no,” he repeated back, so lost for words that he could only borrow my own, and then sat there, helpless beside his blubbering wife, no idea what to do with her.  This what never what he’d intended — he’d only been taking the mick — and now he wasn’t quite sure how it had gone so far.  He’d never meant to hurt me.  He put his arm around me and pulled me in.  I needed that desperately, but there was no outward sign that it help — I couldn’t stop crying.  He let me go, except for one hand that he held, and stared at the floor.  Eventually, I calmed myself down.  We sat for a while, both a bit shell-shocked, and neither of us knowing what to say.

—————————————————

My birthday was absolutely wonderful.  There were balloons and singing and three cakes and my family all around me.  My children presented me with hand-made gifts.    It was not a big celebration, but it was exactly what I’d hoped for.

Led by M into the next room, I spotted a bouquet of balloons first and then, underneath it, a huge box wrapped in flowered paper.  I knew immediately — there was only one thing that would be in a box so big — and the realisation made my lip quiver.  I tore the wrapping off and spotted that I was right.  “Oh sweetheart, look!” my mother exclaimed to my father, “She’s crying!”,  and her announcement embarrassed me sufficiently to stop the tears before they really started.  But the emotion was the same, and I was overwhelmed.  “Something’s been done,” he’d said and, indeed, something had.  It was the Lendrum spinning wheel I’ve been coveting for a year; the wheel with an 18-month waiting list, and my mother had had to ring a dozen places before she found one in stock; the wheel we couldn’t afford.  I pulled to from the box, put it together there and then, treadled and felt the silky movement of the mechanism, wished for fiber and spun air instead.  Over the moon!  Over the bloody chuffing moon and not knowing how to really tell them all properly and just hoping they could tell by the trance I was in.

Later, after my family had gone back into the kitchen to pick at the leftovers and I was still sat treadling, M came in and knelt next to me.  “Do you like it?”

“Yes!”, with shock and incredulity plain in my voice, feet still treadling, hands spinning air.

“The thing is…  we, um…”  He took my hands.  “I have to pay my portion of it.  Ummm…  I owe your mum.  I don’t really know where that’s going to come from.”  He had to tell me, because I handle the finances and, when money has to be found, I am the one who finds it.

But I didn’t mind, because he hadn’t forgotten me.  He’d got me my heart’s desire, taken that plunge even when he didn’t know how he’d pay for it.  He could have been sensible and bought a book from the list, but he hadn’t.   He’d bought me what he knew I really wanted because he loves me, and love is not sensible.  It was never about the gift — it was about being remembered.

And that was what I’d needed — what I’d been needing for a long time.  And now, to his surprise, I could offer back a little of what he needed.  “I have something we can put toward it, ” I said, as he looked up with surprise.  “About half of it.”  Because I’d gone to my knitting group earlier in the week and cards had suddenly appeared, and some of those cards contained money from new friends who had read my previous post and had taken the opportunity to act like old friends.  “It’s for your Lendrum fund,” one had said, and I nearly cried there too, stunned by their generosity.

There were loud voices from the kitchen and then laughter, and I felt a warmth rush over me.  There is much in our lives that we have to worry about but, at that moment, none of it was touching me.  I had my family gathered around me, a husband who (secretly) loves me, and — after a long time — I have some friends.

And those things alone were gift enough.  But then, there was also the brand new Lendrum, whirring away softly at my feet.

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The snow, which has held us captive for over a month now, is slowly beginning to loosen its grip at last, revealing random patches of bare ground where the grass appears so yellowed and flattened in submission that one wonders that it will ever come back to life.

“Weather’s turning,” M observed as we pulled into the driveway.  “We’d best get some of that trimmed back now before Spring hits in and it all goes crazy again.”  This garden had taken us by surprise last year: the shrubs grew alarmingly fast, the ornamental trees at the back had seemed to double in size in one summer, and the grape vine had threatened to push its way right through one window.  This year, we had decided, we’d be on top of it.

Almost immediately we got in the house, the girls wanted to go out again.  They also know the snow is disappearing and are desperate to spend every day it’s still here enjoying it.  But getting them out there is a chaotic process that I don’t enjoy: changing into jeans, jumpers, coats, scarves, finding hats and wayward gloves, digging out socks, fighting reluctant boots…  There is tripping, falling, stuck zippers, shoes on wrong feet…   I slunk down to the family room and left M with the madness, with the good excuse that my ankle was hurting — which it was — but also with the enormous relief that I did not have to be on duty today.  The noise and chaos was just more than my head could bear today.

Eventually the din died down , and then I heard the door shut and the house fell quiet.  I sat for a moment and soaked it in.  Quiet.  Nothing.  Silence.  Even better than the silence of a nap, because that might be rudely broken at any moment.  This was the sure silence of emptiness, something I hardly know any more, and I was going to enjoy it.

Tea first.  A silent house called for a cup of tea.  And then, perhaps I would write an email to an old friend.  I smiled to myself — this was going to be really nice.

I had been sitting at the computer for only a few minutes — my thoughts only just beginning to gather — when the house rumbled for a moment.   Startled and not quite knowing what to think, I just stopped still, fingers suspended over the keyboard.  It came again, the whole right side of the house rumbling and shaking and sounding like it was about to come down.  I grabbed my coat and hobbled out the back door.

The girls stood with the neighbour-kids in a semi-circle around M, who was crouched by the side wall at the base of the grape arbour and cutting through the main vine with the electric reciprocating saw from his truck.  The arbour was shaking violently, the vine was resisting as much as it could.  I cleared my throat.

M looked up and grinned, proud of himself.  “I’m nearly done!” he announced, and pointed to the vine on the other side of the arbour.  “I’ve got through that one already, and I’ve done all the smaller ones on this side.  Just this last one to go.”  And then he spotted the shock on my face, and his grin slid away.

“Ohhhh…” he began, and the shape of the word lingered on his lips for a moment.  “Oh, I thought we’d agreed on this.  We… we had discussed this, hadn’t we?”  He pressed his finger to the trigger of the saw, and it whirled a little, hesitantly.

We had, but my recollection was that we’d settled on perhaps digging up the vines and moving the arbour, and then we’d left the matter unsettled…  His recollection, my recollection…  Husband-wife miscommunications are the stuff that marriage is made of.

“I’ll… um…  I’ll leave this for now, shall I?” he said, a bit sheepishly.  And then pointed to the sagging limbs on the snow-battered lilac tree.  “Should I…  well, how about those?  Should they come down?”  I nodded, and he turned away from the vine — a stay of execution at the last moment — and headed for the lilac.

The children had wandered back to the snow, all but the neighbour boy who, at the age of nine, had spotted the undercurrents in our conversation and was now watching me intently to see where this would go.  I looked at him and smiled.  “Jay, when you get older and get married… and you think you know what your wife wants you to do…  just be sure to go back and double-check with her, ok?  And then… double-check again.”  I winked at him, and he laughed.

And I turned and went back into the house, where everything would be quiet.

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Memes… a cop-out, yes, but so bloody handy when your muse has popped out to the pub and left you at home on your own.  I’ve been up to my eyeballs in taxes and a couple of other things and, as was tagged for this one by The Noble Savage and it fits the bill tonight, here we go…

What are your middle names?
Mine was chosen by my first father and is Russian in origin — apparently, he had a thing for Russian names.  He wanted it to be my first name, but my mother won and so it is my middle name.  M’s is ordinary and English, and I like it, even though I always have to stop and think how it’s spelled.

How long have you been together?
We’ve been together for 10 years, and married for about half that time.

How long did you know each other before you started dating?
A couple of years.

Who asked whom out?
He did, while I stayed silent and willed the cosmos to make it happen.

How old are each of you?
I’m late 30s and he’s late 40s.

Whose siblings do you see the most?
At the moment, mine.  But not often, and we never saw his that often either, even when they were only 20 miles away.  We’re both people who are fairly happy to just know that the people we love are there (out there) and that they are ok.  The feelings are real, even if we don’t see them that often.

Which situation is the hardest on you as a couple?
We both misjudged each other when we met — both thought we were very different people from what we actually turned out to be — but didn’t realise it until we were already in love.  Now, we have to live with who we really are, and we both struggle with that.

Did you go to the same school?
No.

Are you from the same home town?
Nope, other sides of the world.

Who is smarter?
I am.

Who is the most sensitive?
Mmmmm…  That’s hard to say.  I have that sensitivity that Americans have to the harsher side of British humour and get upset because of that.  But he takes things in quietly and lets them eat him from the inside out.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?
Where do we…?  Where do we what…?  Here, at home — both because we can’t afford to go out ever, and because I can’t eat soy so there’s only two restaurants locally that I can really feel comfortable eating in anyway.

Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?

From the UK to Seattle.  Boy, that’s a long day of traveling!

Who has the craziest exes?
He does, hands down.

Who has the worst temper?
I do

Who does the cooking?
I did, almost always, until morning sickness came and then he took over.  He continued through the newborn-upheaval and then the second round of morning sickness and the subsequent recurrence of newborn-upheaval.  These days, we’re much closer to 50/50, but he still complains regularly that he has to make his own dinner every night after his hard day at work, which isn’t true.

Who is the neat-freak?

Neither, but he is a compulsive thrower-out, and I am a clean-freak who is adding neat to her repertoire.

Who is more stubborn?
I am.

Who hogs the bed?
Neither.  Or… perhaps me and I don’t realise it!  Yeah, he’d probably say I do, but that’s only because I’m trying to smoosh up to him all night to stay warm.

Who wakes up earlier?
Oh, he does!!!!  He’s insane.  I hear him wake up 30 minutes before the alarm and say, “Oh well…  might as well get up…”, which is insane!!!!  Why would you get up when there’s time left to sleep?!?!?!?  Left to my druthers, I’d sleep until noon every day.

Where was your first date?
My local, for dinner.

Who is more jealous?
We’re neither of us jealous at all.  It’s such a freedom.  We were both in jealousy-based marriages before and neither of us want to be there again.  It means he can point out to me girls that he fancies and tell me he would… but I know that he won’t.  And vice versa.  There’s something about having that level of maturity and freedom and honesty in our relationship that I just love.

How long did it take to get serious?
Not long at all.  Weeks.

Who eats more?
He does.  I realise mid-afternoon that I am shaking because I’ve fed the kids but forgotten to feed myself.  Then I eat a massive dinner to make up for it.  Not good.

Who does the laundry?
I do.  I got my bloody degree in it.

Who’s better with the computer?
HA!  He hates them!  Won’t touch one with a barge pole if he can help it.

Who drives when you are together?
He does.  Or, I do if we want to talk and still go more than 30 mph.  Ahem!

I tag Verisimilitude, Wee Lass with a Latte, Prarie Road, and Little Red Buttons.

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It started with a knitting group on Friday night — a chance to get away for a couple of hours, to sit amongst adults, with busy hands and lively chatter, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I came home fresh and energised.

And though I would be up later that night three times with one child and twice with the other, it mattered not one jot to me.  Because later that next day, I headed off across the city, with my wheel in the boot and the wind at my back, to sit in the company of other spinners — accomplished, inspiring fibre artists — and spin until I had…  well, not my fill — I could have spun all night — but as long as I dared stay away from the chaos that I was sure was in full swing at home.  But though I wrenched myself away early, I walked back to the car newly calm and feeling so empowered that I was almost high.  And when I got home, I found — to my utter shock — a happy husband playing happy children, who never got their nap because, as it turned out, he was enjoying being with them.  I glanced out the window to check that the Earth was still spinning on its axis.

And then he surprised me again: my mother would be arriving in an couple of hours and we — he and me — were going out to the pub, where we drank and chatted and laughed as if…  as if we remembered who we were again.  And I remembered that I really do enjoy his company — and realised how much I’d forgotten that.  And I remembered that we are each other’s best friend.

For the first time in months, I felt like myself again.  I felt like I knew who I was again.  And just like that, I have hope and enthusiasm and energy — even through the kids playing up, even when I sat down to balance the bills against the bank account…  Just like that, I feel like I can take on the world.

So if that is being myself again, then who have I been this past year?  Who has M been?  I don’t know, but I know I’d be glad to see the back of both of them.  Because being in my own skin again this weekend just felt so good.

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I panic.

I must sort the laundry.  I must pay the bills.  I must do the taxes.  I must look up how to renew my driver’s license.  I must figure out a way to get us home.  I must balance my chequebook.  I must empty the dishwasher.  I must get to the post office.  I must remember to use the loo before I wet myself.  I must remember to eat lunch.  I must sort out the old toys.  I must mop the mess off the floor.  I must clean the bathroom.  I must remember to swap over the laundry.  I must take a nap.  I must read those library books before they are due.   I must make ends meet.  I must lose some weight.  I must exercise.  I must get up earlier so I can exercise.  I must go to bed earlier so I can get up earlier so I can exercise.  I must email so many people.  I must find some time for myself.  I must start a business from home.  I must get better at sewing/felting/knitting/spinning/dyeing so I can turn it into a business.  I must look for a job.  I must update my CV.  I must develop a network.  I must make contacts.  I must make friends!  I must join groups.  I must be friendly and make a good impression.  I must rein in my sense of humour that no one seems to get.  I must save enough to go home this summer.  I must get dinner on.  I must blog.  I must send photos.  I must read this week’s Economist before next week’s issue arrives.  I must unpack boxes.  I must work out what we should do…

I must stop.  Because the whole time, I am losing this time with my daughters.  I need to take the time to be with them — now, in this moment — while I still have this moment.

And… I really must do my taxes.

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M popped out to the pub for a pint on Sunday night.  “Sarah…” is what he said when he got home, “Sarah…  I don’t know what she did tonight, but she looked really good, really amazing!”  This is one of the barmaids, and I know he secretly quite fancies her.  “She must have done her make-up differently tonight or something…”

“Did you tell her?” I asked.  I couldn’t help smiling, just a wee bit.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if he had.

“Nah,” he said, looking at the ground, and then glanced up and grinned.  “I’d rather tell you.”

Atta boy!

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Today I am grateful for:

  1. Clear communication.
  2. Forgiveness — my husband’s, my children’s, my mother’s, other people’s, and God’s.
  3. That my husband and I always seem to carry on loving each other, even when we don’t like each other.  Long may it continue.

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