By Gregory Keer
Almost two years ago, my son got married. It was a private affair. Just Ari, his beloved Maddie, and a few friends. After the simple ceremony, the couple and their guests sat down to a meal of fish sticks and carrots. No limousine picked up the newlyweds. Instead of going on a honeymoon, the couple — their shirts stained with grape juice, their cheeks smudged with washable paints — went home with their respective carpools.
It wasn’t until that night, after Maddie’s mom Sharon called my wife to share the news, that I learned about the marriage. Preparing to read a bedtime story to Ari (three-and-a-half years old at the time), I inquired about the wedding.
“Did something special happen at school today?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, Maddie and I got married,” he said matter of factly.
I choked back a chuckle. Ari and Maddie had been “dating” for close to two years. The months before their betrothal was filled with napping side by side and impassioned jealousies regarding how often they played blocks with other suitors.
“Why did you choose her?” I wondered.
“Because I love her and she loves me,” he said. “Now please read the book.”
Ari leaned on me, stuck his thumb in his mouth and his blanket under his arm. This tow-headed preschooler thought of himself as a married man. Who was I to judge?
I often find myself wondering how I got here myself. When did I go from being five years old, playing house with Kathy Kincaid from across the street, to a man in his 40s with a wife, three sons, a home, a job, and the other accessories of a grown-up life?
On the rare occasion when I’m alone with nothing to do and everyone else asleep, I sit on the couch and ponder all of this. I survey the strewn sweatshirts, game pieces, and orphaned socks my boys frequently forget to put away. I stare at the photographs on the walls and shelves capturing the memories of amusement parks and vacations. Then I go to the rooms of my sons just to listen to them breathe.
I reach my own bedroom to see my wife barely visible under the covers. Her piles of graded papers and correspondence from the committees she’s involved in spread over the nightstand.
“We forgot to sign the field-trip form for Jacob,” she mumbles throatily before drifting off again.
I sign the form and climb beneath the blankets. I stare at this woman. Her hair is disheveled; a slight frown knits her eyebrows. This is the person I married with whom I have built a life full of all the people and experiences I once only dreamed about.
There are plenty of times when I have shortness of breath, weighed down by myriad responsibilities. Occasionally, I succumb to the fantasy flashes of writing great novels in a solitary mountain cabin or of a playboy lifestyle of being surrounded by exotic women and powerful men admiring of my status.
Then there are the real moments when I know I am damn lucky to have Wendy. She’s smart, sexy, strong, and incredibly tolerant of my downfalls. But what always strikes me about our marriage is our mutual interest in working our butts off to make the partnership grow. We have plenty of leaks and holes in our marital fortress, yet we continue to patch them up while adding new rooms to labor and play in.
Our sons learn a lot about the nuts and bolts of marriage because we hide little from them. This may have helped Ari when he found out Maddie had moved to another school. He cried, but took heart in Wendy’s promise to help him phone and e-mail the woman he calls “my wife.”
Two years into the relationship, Ari maintains his unique affection for Maddie. Before his fifth birthday party, I caught him ransacking his dresser drawers.
“I have to find the right clothes to wear for Maddie,” he explained, worried since he had not seen her in a couple of months.
When Sharon brought her daughter to the door, Ari smiled broadly and guided Maddie into the party to show her around.
“She spent an hour picking out the right dress because she wanted to look good for her husband,” Sharon said.
And so it was. Two little people acting like a committed, eternally excited married couple. May they be as blessed as their parents.