Recently, I heard an essay read on NPR by a woman who was extolling the virtues of settling in a marriage.
At first I thought, huh? You should never settle! But then, as I listened to what she had to say, I realized that maybe what she was calling settling, was really what you could call appreciating. She said that she and her husband were very different, and that in a lot of ways they were incompatible, but that over the years she has come to the conclusion that her marriage was good enough. Not perfect maybe, but good enough to make her happy most of the time.
It’s a particularly telling American quality to strive for perfection in all areas. We tend to want the whole banana. In marriage’s case, the whole banana is a well-paying, successful and fulfilling career, a good-looking, high earning spouse who also happens to be able to read our minds, get all of our jokes and never does anything that bothers us, and children who are happy, smart, and well-behaved all of the time. We’re not happy unless we have it all, and even if we have 99 percent of it all we’ll lose sleep at night trying to get that last 1 percent without taking time to savor the accomplishments already gained. Our culture inexplicably promotes this expectation, without encouraging us to be mindful that nothing, or anyone, is perfect and it is foolish to expect perfection.
A lot of times I get frustrated with my husband. He is maddeningly stubborn. He’s a know-it-all. He’s not very tactful and has a harsh tone that in the beginning of our relationship would have me crying in astonishment at the way he said things. But now, five years and two kids into a marriage, I realize that, although it’s annoying, his tone is not what really matters. It’s the things he does for our family that do. As I would always say to my old roommate when she asked me to decipher the latest relationship quandary—actions speak louder than words. Thank god that’s true!
Last year, on Father’s Day, our then three-year-old daughter’s dance class was having its recital. Leading up the recital, the funny, diminutive tap-dancing patriarch of the studio called a series of secret meetings of all the dads of kids in the classes to meet each Saturday and Monday night for an hour.
I thought uh oh, I’m not sure J. will go for this—you see, when J. and I first were dating it became crystal clear that J. did not dance, and when I say J. didn’t dance it was never. Not to bop around the apartment, not to nod his head to the car radio, not to sway a bit while watching a band, not in a box, not with fox, never.
We once got in a fight about this early on because I wanted to slow dance with him in the
living room and he stood their stiffly saying, “look, I just don’t dance, OK? I just don’t.”
It felt like a slap in the face to me, someone who loves to dance. In fact, if confronted by
music I like (or even music I don’t like) I find it hard not to move, tap my feet, or sway.
After our daughter was born, J. loosened up with this a bit. He could be spied swaying with her to get her to go to sleep or bouncing around the room with her to get her to stop crying.
When T. and I came home from dance class and gave J. the news that Mr. D wanted to see him, I got the reaction I expected, a smirk, and, “Oh God. What for?” Then, when five o’clock rolled around that evening, after a long day of housework and parenting two kids under age four, we almost forgot that J. needed to go to the studio. He said, “Do I have to? I mean I’d really rather just skip it.”
I said, “I really think you should go. Think of T.”
That got him.
J. is total sucker for his kids.
And T. loves to dance. At my Uncle Ed’s eightieth birthday party T. was the bell of the ball. She was working that dance floor from the time we got to the party until the time we left. There was a dj and he had a light show that spun around the dance floor. She was sooo into it. At Miss L.’s class, T’s favorite part is the “jazz” section of ballet, tap and jazz, when Miss L. encourages each kid to do their own move and all of the other kids copy it. Miss L. told me that she loved how T. would bust out the moves. Because T. is shy, I think people are surprised about her confidence when it comes to dancing.
So over the weeks, J. would diligently go to the dance studio on Saturday and Monday nights and he would work secretly in his office, he gave me a couple of hints, helping out Mr. D with the mix of music and going to craft stores to make costumes for all of the dad’s in the class.
The recital rolled around, and T., dressed as a sunflower, was struck with overwhelming
stage fright. There was no dancing on a stage for her. Then, we were told that the men, or da men (as their t-shirts announced—hey, we do live in New Jersey) were going to take the stage. To the strains of Michael Jackson’s Thriller a group of about twelve guys were doing all kinds of crazy moves. T., who had been nervous and shy the whole show, sprung to life. “There’s Daddy!” She squealed. She was laughing and beyond thrilled. And so was I!
You must understand that I had never seen J. dance at all before, except for the bopping
with the baby kind of thing at home. And to suddenly see him On Stage doing actual dance moves just made me fall in love with this guy all over again, I was completely floored.
Over the weeks, he had hinted to me what the dads were planning with Mr. D, but it was
even greater than I anticipated. So anyway, my husband says he hates to dance, and I suppose he does. But he loves his daughter more.