On Saturday morning I got up from the toilet and turned toward the sink to wash my hands and oh.my.god. I fell to the floor, my back seizing in vicious spasms. I lay there until my husband called out, “Hey, what are you doing in there?” And then I rolled over and bravely tried to pull myself back into an upright position. He saw me hobbling out of the bathroom. “What’s up?” he asked.
“Um, I think I threw my back out.”
“Oh, well, what do you want me to do?”
Saturday mornings are usually his time to take care of the girls. Ordinarily, I would have just gimped my way back to bed and he would have taken over with the girls no questions asked. However, once a month, Skip goes to the local homeless shelter to help prepare a meal with a bunch of people from our church who then also serve it. It’s a little thing, but it matters to him; it’s a way of putting more than just our money to work. It feels real.
Skip also has a chronic back condition and he gets migraines. This particular Saturday morning he was on day two of a migraine headache and his back was hurting. Per normal he was acting as if nothing were wrong. In fact, I’ve watched him grimace and strain through all kinds of activities that serve our family or me just because that is part of what it means to him to be a man. I accept that it is sometimes hard to know what it means to be a man in contemporary society, especially when coming from a more traditional family and yet having a wife who considers herself a feminist (stay-at-home-mom though she be) and two daughters who expect and require a lot of emotional availability, equal respect, etc. Since his definition of manhood poses no conflict to co-parenting, or to viewing and treating each other as equals (albeit with different strengths), I’ve come to appreciate and accept his chivalry.
Why exactly I thought what was called for was for me to be “the man,” however, is harder to explain. “He does it, so I’ll do it,” I thought. “It’s only two hours. I can get through two hours. I’ve given birth to two children, goddammit; I can do this.”
I told him he should go.
For a while after he left I was convinced I could just muscle my way through the morning and that would be that. Maybe I wouldn’t be the most fun ever, but I could keep the girls occupied enough, I thought. However, not ten minutes after he left, I realized he’d forgotten his cell phone and my resolve withered. By the time he got home, I was lying immobile on the playroom floor whimpering with each new spasm, while Dee wailed with boredom a few feet out of reach and Kay had made a game of jumping over me to run through the house unsupervised.
(Running through the house unsupervised is how she recently broke her collarbone. That is something about which I’ve been meaning to blog, but well, haven’t. Specifically she was jumping off the couch and took a bad fall; I felt terrible, but that’s a different blog. She got a bad ow-ie. When I told her I also had a bad ow-ie, by way of explaining my back, her eyes grew big and round and in a hushed voice she asked, “What were you jumping on? )
I spent the rest of the weekend in bed, at both his and my back’s insistence. Which meant Skip was left to do all the childcare (except breast-feed and occasionally entertain Dee, which I could do from bed), do all the weekend chores (laundry, shopping, yard work), and prepare for – and host -- a previously planned 12 person birthday/dinner party (which I lamely, literally, attended by reclining on the couch the whole time). I’d tried to talk him out of the party, or at least to encourage him to let another set of friends host it instead, but he wouldn’t budge. “That’s not what you do to a friend who’s had the worst year of his life,” he said in his clenched-jaw don’t-argue-logic-with-me;-I’m set-on-my-course way.
Last night as he crawled into bed, landing with an uncharacteristic groan after a long soak in the spa, I said, “You’re my hero.”
“Don’t exaggerate,” he said grumpily. “I’m not a hero.”
When I started to write this morning I thought I was going to write about how awful I felt letting him do everything. How lying in bed, mostly unable to move -- a fact sufficiently acutely proven to me every time I tried – I nevertheless had this nagging shameful feeling that I was shirking my duties. Skip’s back was hurting, and he had a migraine headache. It really wasn’t fair for Skip to have to do it all – and if he were me, he couldn’t have done it all. But Skip, hell, he even took the girls to the zoo on Saturday and to playgrounds both Sunday and Saturday!
I tried a couple of time to put words to the knot of gratitude and shame I was feeling, but Skip would just tell me to take it easy, pointing out that I can’t do my job with my back out, while he can do his desk job, so my recuperation had to take priority. “Nevermind,” I‘d rejoin, “that you are doing 'my' job with your back out.”
“Well, my back always hurts,” he’d reply.
I have the feeling that there is a lot of fodder here for an analysis of male-female dynamics and specifically how those play out in my marriage. There’s a story here too, about the insanity of feeling guilty for being injured and needing sometimes to lay low, especially when it is easy to do so thanks to willing and gracious help.
For right now, I will say this: whether or not he’s a hero, he is a good man.