Fifteen

Fifteen years. Just like that.

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These past fifteen years haven’t really seemed linear. I know there’s a clear beginning to our marriage but I’m not sure if this is the middle or what and I can’t even begin to guess what the end will be.

These past fifteen years instead are just jumbled memories of babies and doctor’s appointments and diapers and houses and vacations and deep joy and health crises and holidays and homework monitoring and weird rashes and belly laughs and grocery shopping and intense grief and settling arguments and drying tears and calling kids by the names of their siblings instead of their actual names.

Each year that passes adds to the jumble but is also feels like it’s just always been like this. This chaotic and busy and tragic and lovely. This wonderful life.

After fifteen years, I barely remember the before.

Stick With Me

Let me begin by stating that this entire thing is Bob’s fault.

For as long as we have been together, Bob has tried to get me to invest in really nice running shoes. Bob, a distance runner for decades, has always worn very nice running shoes and he has always encouraged me to do the same.

“You gotta take care of your feet, Joanna,” he would say while shaking his head and looking disparagingly at the soles of my sub-par athletic footwear.

I’m very brand loyal (only Asics) but I’ve always selected their most basic running shoe even though Bob has told me over and over again I should buy their high end running shoe.

“I’m not a runner-runner, Bob. I’m more of a jogger. Joggers don’t need fancy shoes,” I would explain before grabbing my coupons for the sporting goods store and hopping in the car to go buy my discount sneakers before the sale ended.

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This past Father’s Day, we set out to do some shopping for Bob and ended up shopping for me instead. This is probably a metaphor for our marriage or something but whatever.

One of our stops was a lovely little running store we have frequented in the past. The store carries my favorite brand of running shoe and, with both a need for a fresh pair and an unfortunate increase in heel pain, I reluctantly agreed to try on Bob’s favorite high-end version.

“You know this is all hype,” I declared loudly while lacing up a shoe that cost roughly the same as my parents’ first house.

Then, I stood up, started walking gingerly around the store and was utterly dismayed to discover that my heels felt like they were being cradled by unicorn hooves and cotton candy clouds, so amazingly comfortable and supportive were these fancy, fancy running shoes. This was not the outcome I had anticipated.

Now, the rules of marriage dictate that you admit when you’re wrong but I do not like doing that so I put the shoes back and went to look at a cut-rate version. The salesperson, wisely assessing that she was not standing in front of some full-price-paying sucker, was quick to inform me that the version I had tried on was actually last year’s model and were thus, deeply discounted. This was exactly the motivation my Midwestern sensibility needed to close the deal. I may not have had a coupon but a hefty discount was involved bringing the overall price point down into a range that wouldn’t make my pioneer forefathers cry.

I bought the fancy running shoes. Bob wore an air of, “I told you so.”

For about two months, there was nothing but joy in wearing my new shoes. They were so supportive and my arches were so happy. We picked up a new pair for Bob, too, in July and that’s how we came to be wearing matching running shoes and I can only assume matching tracksuits are not too far behind because marriage is magical like that.

At some point last month, I noticed that a part of the left sole of my new shoe was sticking to the floor as I walked. I assumed I had stepped in something – probably something gross on my own kitchen floor – and I just needed to rinse the bottom of my shoe off. I did that but discovered the next day that it hadn’t worked.

A few more walks on our gravel roads that I was sure would rub any soda or fruit snack residue off failed to do so and I found myself still listening to an increasingly annoying click-click of my left shoe sticking to the floor with every step I took. I couldn’t really see anything visible on the underside of the shoe that would be sticky so I was flummoxed.

That’s when I escalated things and turned the problem over to Bob. “It’s sticky somewhere on that shoe and I can’t clean it,” I lamented. Bob lives to be the hero in these types of situations and quickly reached for his pocket knife, eager to solve this problem which he absolutely was unable to solve.

“It’s still clicking?” Bob asked incredulously the next day when I complained that my fancy shoe was still clicking. “But, I cleaned it all out,” he explained. “It’s still clicking,” I confirmed. “Maybe I stepped in some sort of industrial glue or something at work.”

A couple of days later, after the kids started asking what that clicking noise was anytime I walked into the room, I grabbed the rubbing alcohol and a dishrag and got to scrubbing the sole of my new fancy running shoe. “This has GOT to work,” I said to myself in an increasingly frantic fashion.

It did not work.

Now, before I tell you what happened next, I need you to know how absolutely unnerving the clicking noise was. I go for long walks because I am seeking exercise, relaxation, rejuvenation, and a desperate escape from my (annoying but beloved) children. I am often so in need of peace and quiet that most days I don’t even listen to music or podcasts – just the sounds of the nature that surrounds me. You can see why the click-click of every step I took with my left shoe would absolutely enrage me.

Also, and this should be obvious by now, I can be… obsessive about certain things.

Which explains why, one unfortunate afternoon, when the click-click of my fancy running shoes had clicked-clicked one too many times, I asked Charlie to go find me the biggest grit sandpaper he could locate in the basement workroom. I was going to solve this problem once and for all.

Which is how Bob came to find me one evening upon his arrival home from work, sitting in a kitchen chair, sawing away at the sole of my fancy running shoe, little shards of plastic and rubber flying to the floor.

“IT’S STILL CLICKING CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE THAT BOB I MEAN WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THAT EVERYTHING WE’VE TRIED WOULDN’T WORK YOU KNOW?” I asked with a facial expression akin to Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

The sandpaper had to work. It just HAD to. But, it didn’t. I slipped the shoe on, took a couple of tentative steps, heard the click-click of my left sole on the kitchen floor and promptly passed out from rage.

When I awoke, I was so incensed that I started taking the entire shoe apart. At this point, I was convinced I was going to have to buy a new running shoe anyway because, “I can obviously never wear these again,” Bob heard me mutter as I walked back to the bedroom pulling laces vehemently from their holes.

And, that’s when I found it.

When I pulled out the shoe’s insole, the footbed that slips in and out of the inside of the shoe, the remnants of a security sticker could be seen. One of those security stickers with the silver thing running through it that would set off the store’s alarm if the shoe was taken out the store doors before being deactivated at the register. Located right underneath the ball of my left foot. Over months of sweaty use, the sticker had pretty much disintegrated and slid away so only the sticky residue was left behind. This residue clicked-clicked every time I took a step as the insole came momentarily unstuck from the inside sole of the shoe.

I must admit, it was a very “the call is coming from inside the house” kind of a moment.

After some more scrubbing, the residue was removed from the inside of the shoe, the footbed reseated and, like magic, the clicking ceased. My shoe has recovered. I am not entirely sure I have.

I blame Bob.

Things That Will Definitely Most Likely Happen While I’m Out of Town

Let me preface this by disclosing that my husband has always been the most capable father. No duty of parenthood is too much or too overwhelming for him. He’s never shied away from the tough stuff. When the kids were little, it was middle of the night bottles, unreasonable tantrums, snot of a color not found in nature, explosive poop situations – Bob handled them all. Well, most of them all. Sometimes, the explosive poop stuff was a two-parent job. We always had a safe word when in a situation like this. I’m pretty sure most parents probably have this, maybe? A word you holler when faced with a predicament that is entirely too much for one person to manage? Ours was “backup.” We’d yell, “BACKUP!” when the situation was too horrific for just one adult. “Backup! BACKUP! BACK! UP!” It’s a marriage mandate that the other parent starts running immediately.

Anyway, my point is, Bob is perfectly capable but also he is not me. More than thirteen years of co-parenting with him has taught me this.

I’m traveling for the next five days which means Bob is free to parent in his… style. This also means, certain things are virtually guaranteed to happen in my absence.

1. A kid will throw up. This is number one on the list because it’s just science. I can’t explain it but one thing that is absolutely, positively, guaranteed to happen while I’m out of town is vomit. The very second the door latch clicks on a parent headed out on a trip, someone’s stomach begins to hurt. It’s like death and taxes. The last time this happened, Bob texted me a picture of throw up on Charlie’s bedroom floor so don’t ever tell me that romance is dead.

2. It’s a given that Bob will let the two youngest kids sleep on my side of the king bed every night while I’m gone and I’ll return to weird kid crud and my pillow will smell funny. There will be granola bar wrappers in the sheets. I’ll find Barbie parts and, seemingly self-replicating, stuffed animals all over the comforter. (But, seriously. Where do the stuffed animals COME FROM?) Brushing aside almost a week’s worth of kid flotsam before climbing into bed will not spark joy.

3. The two already overripe avocados in the produce basket will still be in the produce basket. Just five days ripier.

4. Bob will let the kids rent a movie on Amazon to watch that is either

a. One we already own on DVD or

b. Available for free on Netflix.

5. Every piece of storage Tupperware we own will be in the refrigerator. Every. Single. One. One will hold a single strawberry. Another, a single lemon slice. One will be crammed full with half of a pizza from the first night I was gone. One will, inexplicably, be an actual stainless steel cooking pot with a lid holding leftover oatmeal WHICH, BY THE WAY BOB, A POT IS NOT AN APPROVED LEFTOVER CONTAINER TO BE PLACED IN THE FRIDGE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT.

6. I’m going to be honest and say that the groceries could go either way here. Bob will either

a. Not go grocery shopping, just winging it until my return so the morning he runs back to the safety and quiet of work and I’m standing in front of the fridge trying to pack three lunchboxes and the only thing I can find is a Tupperware container with two mushrooms inside, I’m cursing him, his offspring, and his entire family line or

b. Bob WILL go grocery shopping with the kids and we already know how that will turn out.

7. There will be a full load of clothes in the dryer. There will also probably be stacks of folded clothes on the dining room table, too.

8. Bob will buy random things for the kids at Target, Dicks, and/or Walmart. So, true story about Bob. A few months ago, while on my way to work, I asked Bob to hit up Home Depot for a new garbage can. It was a relatively painless task and I even gave him a store credit to put towards it that we needed to use up. When I got home later that day, there was – and I’m not even exaggerating a little here – a pile of lumber in our foyer. Naturally, I was all, “Hey, can anyone provide some insight on the 2x4s blocking the front door?” From the basement, I hear Millie reply excitedly, “Dad’s building me a balance beam!” I deep sighed and replied, “Come again now?” But, it was true. Bob had purchased $80 worth of lumber, screws, and bolts to build Millie a balance beam of her very own. So cool, right! Such a Fun Dad. Counterpoint though, balance beams aren’t made out of raw lumber because: splinters. “We’re going to sand it REAL good,” was the absolutely expected reply when I expressed concern. When I asked about the new garbage can, Bob said he got overwhelmed buying the balance beam stuff and didn’t get the garbage can. “I also forgot about the store credit, sorry,” he replied while shrugging his shoulders. I can’t wait to see what I return to on Sunday. I can only assume Charlie will finally own that chainsaw he’s been after.

9. Like vomit, I anticipate a trip to urgent care for someone while I’m gone. This happened the last time I went out of town and I just figure this copay is inevitable. When I left this morning, two of the four family members I left behind had bad colds and a third is recovering from pneumonia so the odds are pretty good on this one.

GODSPEED AND GOOD LUCK, BOB.