Have you heard the one about the retired couple? How he spends his days following her around, telling her how to clean house? Maybe this scenario doesn’t inflict any arrows of anxiety in me because I already know husbands vacuum better than wives. They move furniture; at least mine does. Admittedly, he has vacuumed the house once to every thousand times I’ve done it. It is my fantasy that once Al retires for good, he will take over the housework and free up more writing time for me.
As a couple, we are in the middle of a practice retirement session right now. Al’s auto plant shut down for several weeks and I’m on a teaching break. We are not sure if Dodge Truck will ever reopen, but my classes begin mid-January. During this time, I have perfected the details of my favorite fantasy: Al retires and takes over the vacuuming, shopping, laundry, and dusting chores. He also, of course, runs errands, makes meals, and keeps the kitchen gleaming. I imagine myself coming home from a hard day teaching young people, or maybe just a long session at my writing desk, and sitting down at the dining room table, knife and fork in hand, an expectant look on my face. Al appears from the kitchen, wearing a masculine apron, maybe something in denim or with a sports logo, and sets a nutritional, delicious, vegan casserole before me. Then he lights the candles and pours the wine.
It could happen. Probably not in this life, but you never know. We’ve spent two weeks at home together so far and he’s been doing his share. Of course, the onslaught of holiday entertaining always calls for troop reinforcements. Last month, Al did beverage runs and scrubbed the bathrooms. He put up and took down the tree. He even turned off the Rose Bowl and put Elf into the DVD player without complaint. This is all good, but a long way from dinner on the table. And he refuses to wear an apron, even when he barbecues.
Another gripe I hear from retired couples is that the husband sits around too much while she’s working around the house. Not Al. Except for when he’s in his recliner with a beer watching sports, he is constantly busy. He keeps all three of our vehicles in working order, full of gas, and sparkling clean. He pays the bills and handles the financial planning. He fixes things around the house. He’s always got a home improvement project going. Right now he’s installing new baseboards in the game room, which is a great opportunity for me to practice patience, something I didn’t realize I lacked before I met Al.
Al’s projects are always a major time investment, and they upset my usually smoothly running routines. Floors are muddied, sawdust flies, hammers pound. And it goes on and on. I think this may be why I took up meditation: to learn patience in the face of chaos. I am resigned to the long haul with the current project. You think it would be a matter of a weekend to throw some molding around the floor, but no. First, he had to buy the lumber, which required many trips to the various home improvement stores in the area for the perfect wood. Then he had to go back to the store, because he needed to buy a tool to cut the lumber. As you may know, tool buying requires at least a day. Maybe two.
After cutting the wood and matching it to the walls, he goes into wood staining mode. I know stores carry pre-stained baseboards, but this man is meticulous with his projects. The wood on the floor must match the custom-made (by Al, of course) bar shelf that runs the perimeter of the room. I know from previous experience that the staining of the wood will take several days–if not weeks. Apparently, there are many coats to apply, with drying and sanding in between applications. Then an overcoat of varnish goes on. Or two, or three, with the attendant drying and sanding between coats. Finally, the truly gorgeous boards will be nailed into the walls and we’ll admire them for a few weeks before they become an ordinary and therefore invisible part of the house.
While I’m working on my patience for his home improvement projects, I also have to deal with the fact that I’m a morning person and Al’s a night owl. He’s just gearing up when I’m settling into mellow. The way we negotiate this is to remind each other of why we have such different rhythms. Once Al pointed out how early he gets up for work every day, and that even as a kid he had to rise before dawn for his paper route, I understood why sleeping in is a luxury for him. It would be for me, too, if a little thing called menopause hadn’t stolen my ability to sleep after 5 a.m. Maybe I’m jealous.
Retirement with Al will work out just fine, what with me learning to curb sleep envy and pesky impatience. Still, all is not perfect in our world. I may have painted too bright a picture about the sheer number of hours Al can clock in the recliner watching sports. He views it all: baseball, hockey, football (college and pro), golf, and even billiards. (Apparently, shooting pool is a sport, which may be why it requires a room with beautiful woodwork.) In the winter, when he can’t golf, watching sports is the way Al relaxes. Well, unless he’s shooting pool with his buddies in the game room.
Not even Football for Dummies helped me understand Al’s passion for sports. I just don’t get it. Frankly, I’d rather read a novel. What saves us here is that the hours Al spends glued to the tube probably equal the hours I put into writing. And he has never once complained about my writing, a passion that pays little and has sucked innumerable hours I could have been teaching and building a better retirement. He’s never mentioned it, which is probably the key to why I love him. He lets me write, so of course I allow his love of the game. Also, when he’s watching sports, at least the hammers are silent.