July 1st, 2022

Man of the House

In marriage, what doesn't kill you makes you older

Chris Erskine

By Chris Erskine Los Angeles Times/(MCT)

Published Nov. 3, 2014

In marriage, what doesn't kill you makes you older
Did something wicked the other day, not uproariously wicked, just slightly so, in one of those little subversive ways husbands handle mundane requests. After my wife asked me to turn up the water pressure in the house, I turned it down, even lower than it was before.

Not on purpose, mind you. The main pressure valve is one of those things designed to confound the average man — like 401(k) rollovers. When the pressure valve says "up," it means "down." Welcome to my life.

So when my wife asked for more faucet pressure, she actually got less. Took me a day or two to realize it. I stood at the kitchen sink watching the slower flow, smiling over what must've been going on in her head the last couple of days. "He can't fix things; he just makes them worse," she must've been thinking. "That's the last time I ask him .... "

Mission accomplished.

Couldn't have planned such a successful subterfuge — I'm no Gillian Flynn. But by flubbing this chore, I'd inadvertently improved my quality of weekend life.

Poor Posh. The other day, I came across a picture of her taken, I believe, at the newspaper where we met. There was a lilt in her smile and mischief in her eyes. If you were to make a timeline of our very beginnings, you could start with that photo — before kids and mortgages and 10,000 pizza-box Saturday nights.

That milepost photo represents the period when she met and married me, a dorky temperamentalist with an iffy future, right out of college. The world, of course, is awash in dorks, many of whom rightfully try to conceal their condition. But not her husband, who wore it like some sort of gleaming Congressional Medal of Dorkiness. I wondered if she expected me to trip and drown in a boiling vat of the giant soups I'd make during football season while yelling audibles at the TV.

See? All-American dork.

She did what any sane person trapped in such a situation would: doubled the life insurance, fingered the edge of the carving knife and dreamed of her next wedding. Just to spite her, I stuck around. As if that weren't bad enough, we soon had kids, a couple nearly as dorky as their dad.

It was almost celestial, the day the first of them was born. I wanted to rent out the hospital for a private party. Posh had never been bat mitzvahed, and I thought I might turn it into that — a birth mitzvah.

Easily pregnant, she quickly birthed more of them. In the decades since, she has given all of herself to her children, even the patience and smiley good humor she once reserved only for me.

I once asked our kids: "You know your mother's hobbies?"

"Wine!" one of them said.

"Laundry!" insisted another.

"Your mother's hobbies," I said, "are you, you, you and you."

"They are?"

"Nobody needs that many hobbies," I said.

It's biblical, her devotion, or the stuff of Greek legend. Serpents and epic storms, plagues and locusts. Somehow, she still puts up with our kids' sassy back talk and late-night calls from bars just to say hi. The way, in their 20s, they behave like they are 2. Or the way, at 11, one of them behaves like he is 20.

If young couples only knew, right? Every marriage is a novel, and the juicy parts are right at the beginning. Once you have kids, life is 1% romance and 99% maintenance. In marriage, what doesn't kill you makes you older.

"If all those little clouds connect, it could rain," the youngest assured me the other day.

Apparently, he was talking about the sky. But he could've been talking about his mother and me. Talk about storm clouds.

Thankfully, one of the kids curled up on the couch with her right about then, a random and too-rare show of empathy ... her little spark, one of those things that keeps her going, going, going.

It had been a long week, crazy with carpools, work, errands, a school permission slip she couldn't find on some impenetrable website.

Never mind for now. One of them was nuzzling her, in the little river bend of her neck, rewarding her for that saintly devotion, her ceaseless and chronic mothertude.

In life, sometimes up means down.

I went out and adjusted the valve.

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