I will never forget one of the first embarrassing moments I experienced with my (then boyfriend) husband. He called from a kitchenette to ask if I wanted a cup of tea. I replied that I did and decided to take the opportunity to use the loo for a number two while he was brewing a pot. This is not a task I undertake lightly and usually require an empty house, or at least complete silence and isolation, for it to be completed successfully. But the need was pressing and I had to try.
Either I am under a complete misconception as to how long it takes to make a pot of tea, or I had a bigger task than expected, but before I knew what was happening, my pretty-new-on-the-scene boyfriend casually sauntered in to the bathroom and deposited a cup of tea next to me (on the basin, if I remember correctly?)
“GET OUT!!!!” I yelled. My cheeks burning an excruciating shade of crimson.
“I thought you wanted tea?” he asked. Clearly confused by my sudden mood swing.
“NOT IN HERE!!! GET OUT!!! GET OUT!!!!” He didn’t get it. He thought it was the perfect place for a nice quiet cup of tea.
And perhaps that should have been the inevitable writing on the wall, but I chose to ignore this red flag for personal-barrier-crossing that would become a norm between the two of us.
Years have proven to soften personal barriers as well. Whereas, a decade ago, I would never have dreamed of passing wind in his company, two kids and a wedding ring later, it happens occasionally. But I always say ‘Excuse me’ and try my best to look contrite.
But when last have you heard the marriage vows include the lines: “I vow to tolerate your gas emissions, smile through your snoring, marvel at your grunts and remain enamoured with you always, regardless of your state of sobriety, sickness, hung-overness, natural noisiness or gaseousness.” When you marry someone, a person you love and adore and can't wait to jump their bones, you don’t know that these times will come when you will gaze at them in sheer wonderment, confused and bewildered that once upon a time, the possibility that they would EVER do or be something that would make you feel gross seemed like something that only happened in movies starring Jonah Hill or Melissa McCarthy.
And please know this: it could just as easily be my husband writing this post as it is me. No one. And I mean NO ONE is immune to this condition of sudden realisation that you are married to a farting, snoring, snorting, burping, scratching, breathing human being.
And yes, I mention breathing because some times that can be a problem too. Take this instance: you are trying to catch up on sleep. Your husband cuddles up behind you and spoons. No ulterior motives, he just wants to cuddle. And he falls in to a deep sleep shortly after draping his heavy, comforting arm over your chest. You can't quite sleep since you're not quite tired enough yet. Plus you know that it is only a matter of time before one of the kids cries for a glass of water. Or cries for no reason whatsoever. But sleeping beauty at your back has not got your back. And speaking of backs, he is breathing on it, in that deep sleep kind of deep breathing that reminds you with every exhale that he is, in fact, fast asleep, while you are awake and waiting for a kid to cry or a dog to bark or an alarm to sound, or trying to solve the problem of world peace. That breathing can be seriously problematic. So you wake him with a gentle jab to the ribs with your elbow, and when he jumps up in a panic and asks what the problem is, you tell him, in all seriousness, “You were breathing!”
Then there is the other type of breathing: the one that sounds as though it is an empty blowhole with a missing ocean. A deep, cavernous breath in and then an explosive burst of air out. Which would be fine, on its own. But this is often done repetitively with such frequency that it can be mistaken for an entire gam of whales. Which is quite confusing when you wake up in your bedroom, miles from the closest tide and expecting to be sloshed with a spew of sea water any second. Except there’s not a drop to be found and the Moby Dick is in fact merely a sleeping giant. Once again, the gentle jab in the ribs, or a hand over the mouth works well to wake said sleeping giant, but he doesn’t understand what he did to deserve such ill treatment and man-handling. “You were BREATHING!!!!” is a confusing response.
Then there’s the awkward reflective moment where you are with new friends, sharing old memories (a precarious task at the best of times!) and new friend says that they would not have recognised you from your wedding photo, or dating photos, or ID book photo. Why? Well, “You’ve changed so much!” they say euphemistically. But you know, and I know, the only thing that has changed in the time you have been married is that your waist-line has expanded, your chins have bred and your laugh lines have become fully fledged wrinkles.
The sad reality hits that you may not have recognised you, based on those same pictures. Life, in all its complexity, has happened and taken that young, blushing, smiling, wrinkle-less bride and replaced her with a rounder, more creased, less blushing and more flushed, but-still-smiling wife. Handsome, with a full head of dark hair and a cheerful innocence to his smile has been replaced with dashing, less hair and more grey, with a knowing look in his eyes and a smile that stops just short of his crows feet husband.
We change; in many cases, that’s a great thing.
We grow comfortable with each other; in most cases that’s an essential thing.
But the difficult part, or at least it is in my mind, is practising grace through these transition periods. And not just with my husband, but with myself. Not just in my home, but when I share time with other friends, who have also walked this road with me. It’s really hard to not compare the old (i.e. young) versus the new (i.e. older). It’s a challenge that I have found quite, well, challenging.
And so I have been praying for GRACE. Grace in my own home, Grace to those I encounter. Grace in my marriage.
When I was thirty kilograms heavier (only two years ago!) and moody as all hell from a lack of sleep, baby blues and all things motherhood, my husband never allowed me to feel unattractive. I don’t ever remember a moment of looking in his eyes and feeling anything but love and admiration emanating from them. It was quite a contrast to the way I felt when I looked in a mirror.
This is not to exonerate him to papal status, merely to say that he has managed to practise Grace a lot more easily than I have.
I find it difficult to do see either of us as we once were, when I catch a glimpse of modern-day Mr and Mrs. We have aged, which is to be expected. We have changed body shape, fitness levels, stamina and even aspirations. Things that seemed impossible when we were newly weds, have already been accomplished. Things we thought we knew for sure, have now been classified in the same category as unicorns and Nessie.
When you’ve had a rough night – which we’ve had a few of lately – its difficult to be graceful about anything. Between coughing children, vomiting babies, morning sickness and the common cold, our home has been a quagmire of complaints. Add to this the fact that I'm an incredibly light sleeper, while Mr can sleep through an alarm sounding right next to his head. But he snores when he has a cold. Our night-time cacophony of cough, cough, splutter, splutter, puke, snooooooooooore would disturb the log moulding at the bottom of our garden, had it ears to hear. And then he rolls over and does the inevitable, (being awake in the middle of the night only has one of two consequences in our house, and if theres not late night sport on, it’s booty-call time!) and tired, grumpy, pillow-stuffed-over-my-head-to-silence-the-noises is called upon to cuddle or more. Mrs needs to find Mr extremely attractive and feel excited at the prospect of staying away for a few minutes longer while he gets his fix. Grace is the last thing on my mind in moments such as these. Unless she were a spirit willing to inhabit my body and allow my spirit a few minutes rest while she did the dirty work. Grace is not present the morning after when he announces that he has to get to work and my fifteen minutes of extra sleep is interrupted by the sound of falling water in the shower, (which inevitably results in needing a wee,) and pertinent questions like, “What are we doing for Christmas this year (six months away)?” and “What should we do about renovating our bedroom?”
How more murders don’t take place at six thirty am, I don’t know.
I guess the would-be murderers have managed to master the art of Grace a lot sooner than I have.
It’s so damned difficult to remember that he, the early sleeper, is forgiving when I come to bed at midnight and forget to close the bathroom door before brushing my teeth and flushing the toilet. It’s tricky remembering that he thought I was sexy even when I was eight and a half months pregnant and waddling like a mother elephant seal, especially when he has gained a few kilos or grown a beard when you’ve always loved him clean shaven. Mr used to joke that he would file divorce papers if I ever cut my hair short again, but two years later and we are still married. And in my linguist’s brain, I have decided on a few synonyms for Grace, in the specific context of a long-standing, mutually exclusive relationship:
Humility goes without saying that the minute you look at your partner and ascertain that you are better than they are, more attractive, more and better of anything really, you’re forgetting that there are times you are way, WAY less and they have loved you anyway.
Compromise, that’s on the small and the big stuff. Hair cuts, facial hair, late dinners, the odd difference of opinion on vacation destination. Any relationship that works is give and take.
Gosh, you need to develop a level of tolerance that is astounding. Eventually it becomes second nature to you, but at first, gritting your teeth and smiling when he decides to make use of the loo you share for his morning constitutional, or when you find yourself on your own weekend after weekend because he’s taken up cycling with his new best mate. Tolerate it. Your turn to need tolerance will come.
Amnesia. Loss of memory. Blank slates. Need I say more?
And mercy, which is the same as forgiveness, which is in essence, the same as Grace.
Don’t feel alone, that’s all I'm saying. Ten years in and I found myself really challenged by this in the last two weeks. So I spoke to some of my friends and a few had the same issue. Practising Grace, like love, is a verb. And it takes practise. And if you find a way to get it right all the time, please do let me know.