Last Friday I was just about to call Mark to tell him to pick up some snapper at the store when the phone rang in my hand.
"Get the kids ready. We are going out for sushi."
I checked the caller ID, which assured me that the call was indeed originating from my husband's cell phone. And it did sound like his voice.
"Mark, it's five-forty-five on a Friday night. You want to go with three kids to an Uptown restaurant with no reservation?"
He insisted, I insisted he call ahead, and I ran upstairs to wash the yogurt out of my hair and find clean clothes for four people, wondering what was going on.
It turned out that he had a triumph to celebrate at work, one that came with some financial compensation, so we were celebrating! Wow! A nice surprise for me. We bundled everyone up, loudly invoked the rarely-used Behavior-Dessert Compensation Clause, and headed out to Stella's Fish Cafe, which is noisy enough to mask sudden outbursts of childlike exuberance and yet fancier than, say, Applebee's. Also they have an oyster bar.
We had a glass of wine and toasted each other and spent most of the meal (the parts where we weren't escorting a small one to the bathroom or distributing French fries equitably between siblings) grinning at each other. "Do they know you're just, you know, a regular guy?" I asked Mark.
"Shhh, keep your voice down," he said. "Have another oyster."
This is our joke, but it is short for something serious: I don't know how I got here sometimes, here with this truly good husband, in this happy family with three children and hope for more, in this circle of friends, in this cozy home, in this just-the-right-sized Midwestern city. It is not what I expected, not what I deserve, and I am surprised almost every day to wake up and find myself still in it.
The last time we had something to celebrate about Mark's job was back when I was still in graduate school. Can't even remember if we took the time to celebrate it. This time, I had an odd feeling of it being my celebration too. It's not entirely an illusion. My being home gives him a certain freedom at work to get things done -- we don't have to juggle competing travel schedules, and he never has to stay home with a sick child, that sort of thing. Still -- I felt good, and at the same time a little odd about the happiness. Now why would that be?
When we turn little corners like this, I often expect to find resentment or regret waiting there for me. Some regret that the triumphs are Mark's and not mine. Years ago I thought that at this point I'd be researching, publishing papers, traveling to conferences to explain my work to interested people; or at least teaching engineering or chemistry, if I chose a slower-paced path. Later I thought maybe I'd see my work in print another way, as a technical editor. I've stepped off even that slower train now. There are no accolades waiting for me. I brace myself just a bit when a reminder comes, even a welcome reminder like my own dear husband having received accolades of his own.
The weird thing is that ... there isn't any resentment or regret waiting there. That's the big surprise. I seem really, truly, to have shrugged it all off like an ill-fitting robe and left it behind. I keep thinking, But shouldn't I feel bad about this somehow? and it keeps, um, feeling not bad at all. Free. Remarkably free, also, to pick it up again someday in the future; but only if I feel like it. And so all there was that evening was simple pleasure. Glad to see my sweetie happy. Glad we can take the whole family out for a nice dinner. Glad for the woman from the next table (bless her) who stopped to tell me how well-behaved the children were. Glad to come home with drowsy children to our good house and feel that everything is right, nothing more is wanted, so thankful, so happy to be just where I am.