This post is a first for me and I thought it needed a brief introduction. I usually keep marriage along the periphery of the stories I tell. The silos of parenting and life are not as concise as they can seem in storytelling, they aren’t silos at all; they’re brush strokes sharing space on one canvas. Marriage, two sides, a post in two parts—first, what you’ve come to expect here, my words and emotional take on something that happened; second, words from Sean, his perspective on the same thing. It’s personal and revealing.
Our kitchen is at the center of everything, not because of an open floor plan, or even because it’s “that place where everyone gathers,” our kitchen is at the center of everything because when I am trying to get something done the kitten, dog, and all three girls suddenly need to be near me.“Mom, can you get me a small glass of apple juice? Not a big one though, because I won’t drink it,” Finley asks and explains.
“I need help, I can’t figure out how to regroup the numbers on this problem.” Briar mutters in defeat.
“Mama, do you know where my Red Sox hat is? Or never mind, can I ride my bike?” Avery asks having not looked for her hat and then asking to ride her bike to pull me away from whatever chore I happen to be doing in the kitchen.
Typically I try to manage all the requests, I pour the juice, slog through the math, and maybe I find the hat, but definitely I redirect and offer a snack out at the tree house or a project on the table in lieu of a bike ride.
The dog and kitten, I have no solutions there. If they aren’t under foot, then they are scattering kibble, toys, and inexplicably large volumes of wetness in every direction. I try to avoid them and when I make the cat let out a startled scream I declare, “It was her fault. If she doesn’t want to get stepped on then she shouldn’t sneak under my feet.” The girls sometimes agree, other times they tell me to be more careful.
Some nights I wait to do dinner until I have so effectively scratched all the homework, school day recap, and one-on-one time with mom itches that the girls disappear to their rooms to doodle and play. These are the nights when I find myself alone in the kitchen, quietly drifting from the counter to the fridge and back to a cabinet for a spice I’ve told myself 3 times that I need to take out for the steak rub.
One night I was finishing up sautéing onions and mushrooms to go into a pasta sauce. Green beans rattled inside a pot, steam escaped from beneath the lid just as the oven chimed letting me know that it was done preheating. I reached for a pan holding a loaf of farm bread I intended to dress for garlic bread, when Sean snuck up behind me, pressed his body against my back and cupped his hand on my front.
I am blushing, both as I type these words and as I stood in the kitchen. I giggle nervously and he whispers in my ear, “I found you. You and your busy, busy hands in the kitchen.” We both laugh. He cocks his head around so that we are cheek-to-cheek and he grins at me with all the infatuation and delight he did when we were first dating. I kiss him.
“I love you,” I say and I scoot away to grab the pan. I bend over and put it in the oven and he gooses me. I jump up. “Stop, I have to cook.” He waggles his eyebrows and says, “I’m ready to cook something up too.” I laugh in spite of myself.
“Seriously, stop. I have to cook. Later.” I turn and he slips his arm around my waist and flips my arms over his shoulders. I hug him and whisper that I love him. Turning back to lower the heat of the burner the green beans are on, his hands are there again. I jump. We go back and forth, his hands on me, my hands putting them gently, yet firmly down on my hips. Back up they go.
“Will you stop? Just let me cook dinner, then after the girls are asleep…”
He cuts me off. “After the girls are asleep you’ll fold laundry and then we’ll go to bed. This magical later time you talk about never comes.” His hands are nowhere near me and he looks defeated.
“Sean, I just—I have to finish dinner. It isn’t that I don’t want to, I just don’t want the girls walking in and I don’t understand why you always do this when I am cooking.”
Resigned, “I am mad about you, Amanda. I feel like doing this all the time, but it’s only when you are in the kitchen that you slow down enough, but it doesn’t matter when I do it. You never want me. You act disgusted that I’m touching you.”
I can’t do this. Why does this always happen? I want to be adored, I know that he isn’t lying when he talks about worshiping me, but when his hands land on the part of me that makes me the most insecure I don’t know what to do. He’s watching me and waiting.
“Listen, this isn’t about you. This is my stuff. I’m sorry. I promise that after dinner we’ll get the girls to bed.”
“Amanda, this is about me. I am your husband and you can’t stand me touching you.”
“Sean, that’s not fair. It isn’t that I can’t stand you touching me, it’s the when and the how.”
“Who cares? It’s our kitchen on a Monday night. I love you and I want to touch you and have you be excited about that. Is that so wrong?” He is starting to back away, the grooves on this path worn in a rut we fall into so easily.
“No, it isn’t wrong. I am wrong. I want to live up to the idea you have of me. When you touch me. When you touch me there. Here (I indicate my chest), I feel inadequate. I worry that you are going to feel like I am not enough, because I am so much less than I was. Five and half years of non-stop nursing have left me feeling deflated and unattractive. And I, I just, I don’t want you to feel me if I am wearing a padded bra or if I am not wearing a bra. I just panic.” My voice is cracking and my cheeks are flaming.
“Man, we have been over this. I love you and I cannot get enough of you. I don’t know what you are measuring yourself against or what I ever did to make you feel like this, but I can’t keep doing this. It kills me that you don’t think that you’re enough.”
I know that he loves me and I love him back in more ways than I can even articulate, but at this impasse I can never get myself across to where he is. I cannot overcome the sensation that he is going to touch me or look at me and I am going to be less than he hoped for and that fear makes me shrink away.
This time we’re cut short by the girls thundering down the stairs and filling the painful silence with declarations of hunger and boredom. I promise myself that I will work on this. I need to get past this because short of time travel or plastic surgery my body isn’t going to change. I hurry to hide behind drinks and setting the table, all the while silently wishing that I could just swat my insecurity away like the kitten at my feet.
My wife Amanda, to whom I’ve been married for 10 years (and have had an intimate knowledge of for nearly 15), is a master at disentanglement. Which is a good skill to have when, as the mother of three daughters, she is almost always mixed up in something. She has the moves to escape, especially when the opponent is her husband:
The hip-check. The knuckleball. The kick-turn. The killer backhand.
The triple not-now salchow. Or in this particular case…
I snuck up on her in the kitchen earlier. Not a kid in sight. I went in for the bear-hug-from-behind, since her hands were busy stirring something on the stove. She flinched (not the reaction I wanted), turned, scolded, and continued about the kitchen. When she bent over to have a look in the oven, I goosed her, for good measure.
That got me a look. And a curt, but definitive “Not now.”
Which I understood, because she was in the middle of something important, like, feeding the family.
And yet, it still left me a little upset—because here is a woman who can turn on a dime and go from mothering a kindergartener with kindness and grace to dressing down a vendor who has made an error that might reflect poorly on our company.
She can correct homework assignments and write a killer ad headline all while presenting a strategy on a conference call. She can mend a tear in a pair of pants and balance our family books with an active Skype chat going. I’ve seen her close afternoon deals with West Coast clients as she’s folding laundry.
But she can’t cook dinner and fool around a little?
Granted, the kitchen flirt almost never goes well, and should probably be dropped completely as a late thirties come-on. That’s for twentysomethings, full of reckless passion that involves arms sweeping across countertops and wooden spoons clattering on the tile.
Still, I look at her in there, working away at the stove. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and then puffs at it when it immediately comes loose. She looks every bit as good now as she did then.
I’d tell her that if she wouldn’t just puff at me the same way. Sometimes she appreciates the reassurance. Other times it means an eye roll and a shake of her head.
Instead, I tried to put the shoe on the other foot. If I were out at the grill, cooking—which happens several nights a week—and she came out and put a move on me, would I turn her down?
The answer, ladies, is no.
I went back in.
After the grope-and-goose combo had failed, and considering her multiple escape moves, I decided on an all-out assault. The burble of boiling water covered my approach as I made my move again, only to be fended off with a bag of frozen peas.
The message was clear: there would be food, but no fun! I resigned to watch this beautiful creature stir and sauté, while she outlined one ridiculous insecurity after another.
Her reinforcements arrived in the form of three hungry daughters. They tromped down the stairs so loudly that I couldn’t help but think that if we had been fooling around, they would have given us plenty of notice about their arrival.
I suppose it’s time to retire the kitchen flirt after all, which is concerning, because I’m running out of moves. I’ll put it on the shelf up there. Right next to the sugar.