A new era of marriage — the empty nest phase

It’s well after mid­night, and I was in the kit­chen en­joy­ing a private binge of frozen cake straight from the pack­age. I’m was feel­ing out of con­trol, fat and guilty. My hus­band stumbled in, look­ing a bit pan­icky.

“I was wor­ried,” he said. “I woke up, and you wer­en’t there.”

Sud­denly, I real­ize that des­pite all the petty ar­gu­ments about whose fault it was that we bought the wrong sofa and des­pite the on­go­ing con­flict about what con­sti­tutes a civ­il­ized tem­per­at­ure in­doors in winter, this man truly cares. And wor­ries. And wants me near him in the dark of night.

I cel­eb­rated with an­oth­er nibble of frozen cake, then curled up next to him, my icy feet on his.

And if that’s not love, then what is?

We were on a va­ca­tion, one that we’ve planned for months. The room was per­fect, and over­looked a crys­tal-blue sea. There was a ter­race that beckoned lov­ers to watch the set­ting sun or the sil­very moon.

But in that per­fect room was a wo­man who had fallen asleep and re­mained in a semi-coma for the next 48 hours — or three-quar­ters of our va­ca­tion. Too much pre-va­ca­tion frenzy was the cul­prit, and even as I kept fall­ing in and out of sleep, I re­cog­nized that my slum­ber is cost­ing a pretty penny in this Carib­bean para­dise.

When I wake up every once in a while, my hus­band as­sured me that it’s fine to catch up on my sleep — that I work too hard any­way. Once, he ar­ranged for a fresh fruit tray to be de­livered to our room be­cause he knows how much I love the pine­apples in this trop­ic­al haven.

On the plane ride home, he in­sisted that it was a great va­ca­tion, even if we got to the beach for only two hours. And he sug­ges­ted that we do it again next year.

I can’t re­mem­ber when I loved him more.

The kids and grandkids have spent an en­tire week­end with us. Every single room in the house was in chaos. The sink, the coun­ters and every oth­er sur­face in the kit­chen were all piled high with the re­mains of din­ner — or, more cor­rectly, din­ners, since three of the grandkids wouldn’t eat the chick­en on the menu and de­man­ded al­tern­at­ives.

My hus­band and I sur­veyed the dam­age. And just as I’m about to plunge in, he made the most bril­liant sug­ges­tion: Let’s take a break.

We did. We sit to­geth­er in the den and “veg out.” Thanks to my hus­band’s wise and lov­ing per­spect­ive, we re­membered how lucky we are to have these won­der­ful ban­dits in our lives.

An hour later, we were at­tack­ing the mess… to­geth­er. Our age-old sys­tem worked: I rinsed, he loaded the dish­wash­er; I did the coun­ters, he did the floor.

We are part­ners not in some high-powered cor­por­ate ven­ture, but in something far more im­port­ant — our daily lives. And right at that mo­ment, our joint ven­ture is flour­ish­ing.

It’s the end of a long siege. An eld­erly re­l­at­ive had needed us more than usu­al; so had one of our daugh­ters.

We both had a stom­ach vir­us.

The freez­er needed a re­pair at the ex­act same time as my car’s muffler went.

The elec­tri­cian raised his fees — again. And my hair has mys­ter­i­ously turned pale or­ange after a re­cent ex­pens­ive hair col­or­ing ses­sion.

Fi­nally, I burst in­to tears of frus­tra­tion and just plain ex­haus­tion. My hus­band un­der­stood. He didn’t lec­ture. He didn’t tell me how I can handle all this bet­ter.

He just held me close as my tears dripped down his best shirt.

And I knew, in that mo­ment, that I’m the luck­i­est Valentine in the world.

We were stand­ing on the deck of our con­domin­i­um, the one that re­minds us daily that we are now full-time empty-nesters. It’s an­oth­er stage of mar­ried life, this new to­geth­er­ness, and it can be daunt­ing.

We both miss our daugh­ters more than we ever thought we would, yet we are draw­ing closer even as the si­lence of Jill, Amy and Nancy’s ab­sence lives in the very walls of our new space.

After dec­ades of not be­ing able to fin­ish a sen­tence, years of con­cen­trat­ing on them, not us, we are back to that first stage of mar­riage: just you and me, kid.

It’s some­times lonely. But more of­ten, it’s won­der­ful. This new era comes com­plete with a deep­er, more nour­ish­ing con­nec­tion. The hard, hard work of a long mar­riage has yiel­ded a burn­ished glow, and for us, it beats the hearts-on-fire stuff.

We are each oth­er’s home­land.

And in any sea­son, this pro­found grace reaches bey­ond mere words. ••

You can reach at pinegander@aol.com.

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