Warmed by the morning sun and awed by the heavenly fragranced lilies, peonies and lilacs, I’m luxuriating on our screened porch in my pajamas. The quiet is punctuated by birdsong — my favorite morning soundtrack. I’m not ready for human interaction, but there is an annoying tap tap on the screen door.
Neil, my husband of nearly 60 years, is trying to get my attention.
Doing my best to keep him from breaking my spell, I feel a bit guilty as I turn up my music. He desperately wants to spreadsheet our day, and I am not even close to ready for that.
The phone rings, and he is temporarily distracted. Whew!
Neil and I are polar opposites. Each day unfolds before my eyes, ripe with possibility. Neil, who has already been to the grocery store, dropped off laundry, worked out at the gym, and taken the dog to the vet, is ready to tackle whatever is on my list.
I am barely awake. What list? I groggily wonder.
Meanwhile, a UPS truck lumbers down the street as I contemplate my options. Neighborhood lawn services roar with weed eater sounds, and the mowed grass smells like fresh scallions.
As I drink my coffee, a feeling of calm surrounds me.
The screen door opens with a squeak.
Neil ― what a guy. In addition to his many duties, he is the manager of all things me. He appears at the threshold of the porch juggling my coffee and a Danish in one hand, my handwritten list in the other. It is the “to-do” inventory I had outlined the night before. Damn.
Will I ever learn? I ask myself.
At night, I am full of ambition, ready to tame dragons and wrestle our “honey-do” list to the ground. Neil is up every day by 6 a.m., and usually asleep by 10:00 p.m., when I am just getting my second wind. On a good night, I’m in bed by 1:00 a.m. and awake at the crack of… 10:00 a.m.
“Half the day is gone already,” he mutters to no one in particular. The last thing I want to do during my waking up phase (which can take between 30 minutes and an hour) is A: talk, B: plan the day, and C: act like I give a hoot about a stupid list I wrote in a moment of misplaced motivation. I love this guy, but I need him to gimme a minute.
Neil always takes me literally. In all of our decades together, he has never figured out that my nighttime planning and ambition often fade with the light of day. I forget what seemed so important the previous night. Not him — he remembers every excruciating detail.
Neil patiently waits for sleeping beauty — that’s me — to fully awaken, so that he can help me tackle that horrid list.
Why is he like this? I wonder. We’re from the “Free to Be You and Me” generation, and we equally shared all the duties involved in running our chaotic family of four rambunctious kids under the age of 10. He changed diapers, made lunches, bought groceries, did the laundry, and more. I was the designated talker when it came to home repairs, juggled hapless babysitter schedules and medical appointments, shopped for large appliances, and bought and repaired the cars.
“You’re making a sissy outta that guy,” my “un-liberated” father told me more than once. Our upside-down world mystified his traditional soul, and he just couldn’t see — no matter how many times I explained it — that without our shared duties, I would have been unable to succeed at an exciting, high-pressure job in D.C. It was hard, with a minimum two-hour daily commute, but I believed that the environmental policies I worked on at EPA truly made people’s lives better. I loved Neil for sharing everything that came our way (to me — and I am guessing many other women — there is nothing sexier than a partner who shares the work).
For us, life was full of laughter, messes, and mostly delight. The children challenged us and taught us lessons we are still figuring out. For 10 years, on top of working, I was either pregnant or nursing someone. It is a happy blur, and I would not change a thing.