It’s been a long three months.
At first, he couldn’t do much, and he needed unnatural quantities of rest. It took a great effort to keep the kids quiet for him. I had to cut what chores that I could afford to out of my schedule to make time for uncharacteristically tranquil activities around the house, so that I was nearby to care for him too. Matthew learned to play Chutes and Ladders. Scarlett learned to do chunky, block puzzles. Mary couldn’t bring friends over for a while and she had to help take Matthew to visit his friends down the street after school. I asked her not to do chores that would make a lot of clatter, like cleaning out her closet or emptying the dish strainer.
When Matthew was emotional and intolerant, (as is what could only be expected to happen when you put a three year old through the kind of trauma he’s endured this year, poor child) I didn’t have the luxury of being patient. Handling the stress it caused him to hear Matthew purposely act out, or me let Matthew blow off the steam he needed to in his room until he calmed down -- was physically painful for Spencer, and putting him in danger. My mother-in-law tenderly urged us to let Spencer stay there for a while, which we almost had to do. It was rough and sorely unfair on every person involved. I felt like I couldn’t take adequate care of anybody, and Spencer wasn’t in a place to be able to pamper my feelings.
By the second month, life started to take on a new kind of a normal. A better kind. Spencer was making his way out of the bedroom with more and more frequency, and even getting dressed once in a while. He’d come out with us to places if there wasn’t a lot of walking involved. And Matthew learned to be careful around the World’s Greatest Wrestling Buddy, in a way he never could have dreamt having to before. We watched a perverted number of crappy movies together after the kids went to sleep (which was later and later every night) and he came down with insomnia pretty badly from lying in bed at such length through the day. We stayed up all night talking like high school sweethearts, which was something I knew even then that I would miss. By the end of the month, we started taking real trips together and, keeping them short, but packing them with a lot of fun. Apple picking. Museum perusing. Park going. He joined us for a night at the roller rink once (although he didn’t skate) and by the time the holidays rolled around, he was just fine gathering with neighbors for some of the community events and staying out with us later than we ever have before on Halloween.
By the third month, he was up on his feet again and only home mainly to get his body’s threshold for strenuous work back to where it needed to be. We took grave advantage of the time we had left to be together. He organized his garage. He moved furniture, spackled, and fixed both a serious sewage issue with the house, and the hot water heater. And yes, he started putting both sweat, time and an intense devotion into fixing his bike. (Not to mention, converting that son of a bitch into a permanent one-seater, thankyouverymuch!) Our parents baby-sat often; we went drinking and dancing and we even took a trip with some friends and without the kids, to the Philadelphia Zoo. We took the kids to visit Santa Clause without standing in any lines! We cooked big, bacon and sausage breakfasts together in the middle of the week; had long, trivial conversations with our kids over treats we baked with them for no good reason; and made out like teenagers in the luster of perfectly irrelevant mid-afternoons. Parts of it were some of the most fun we’ve ever had together before.
But parts of it weren’t. We bickered more often and fought more intensely than we ever have. And about substantial things, too: things like money, appreciation, and how to discipline the kids. Especially considering that the most we’ve ever disagreed about was maybe, maybe how far to take a joke. Money got tight. Christmas closed in. There was nothing left of a respectable schedule regarding housework, or the children. Guilt from both sides, for a myriad of reasons were weighing with ever-growing intensity on our moods. And we were plucking away at each other’s nerves in a way that made us both understand how winning the lottery and retiring early the way everyone dreams, could easily ruin otherwise perfectly happy lives. Try to imagine, if you will, being conflicted by the simultaneous emotion of being so thrilled that someone was alive that you could kiss the ground they walked on, and also wanting very much to strangle them a little bit. That’ll give you a pretty good idea of where our joint emotional sanity was rounding by the end of month three. I may have even thrown celery at him once.
If there's one thing we agreed on through it all though, it was that this experience was still definitely going to be missed when it was gone. Especially if we ended up killing eachother.
Annnnd on Thursday, when he got the go-ahead from his neurosurgeon to head back to work, the two of us were heart-broken in the totally foreseeable, almost mockingly bittersweet way we knew we would be when the ride was finally over. Back to packing lunches, breaking eggs and crackling Tabasco over a dim-lit burner at 3:00 a.m., and back to towing three-to-four antsy, tired children to clarinet recitals alone at night, with no help. For him it's back to five hours of sleep, sweating while his knuckles blister from the cold, and being lucky to see the baby (who he was an emotional wreck about leaving after the way they've bonded over this time) for ten collective minutes outside of the weekend.
But it is also, for me, back to a trusted schedule, discipline my own way, and having a chance to miss the man of the house so much we all but throw a party the nanosecond his key shimmies in the back door. For him, it's back to feeling fulfilled and secure in the cushion he allocates us to have with his long hours and hard work. Back to being freed of effeminate duties, like being the designated diaper-fetcher, tampon-run-runner, or bubble-bath-giver. But most of all, just back to being the man and the woman of the house, respectively, in the sense we’ve both come to love, even for all of their inconveniences and difficulties.
Back to work we go.
But for what it's worth, I thouroughly enjoyed having him alive these past three, very long months. :-)