Monday, February 14, 2011

You Really Didn't Have To

Before we were married I made you cancel the layaway on the diamond engagement ring you had so carefully chosen, the one with the pretty leaf pattern in two-tone gold.

It made practical sense, under the circumstances. The non-profit you were working for had gone bankrupt and suddenly closed -- your last paycheck had bounced. After that we were both juggling part time jobs with no health insurance. And then we found out I was pregnant. Surprise!

A diamond ring didn't seem so important to me, under those circumstances.

So we were married in the courthouse, with no pomp, and no rings at all. And we carried on with none until a couple of months later, when I snuck into a store without you and I bought a matched set of plain wedding bands in silver as a surprise.

Through the years of our marriage since then, we haven't found much time to mark our romance with ceremony . The holidays and anniversaries I remember best are the ones we spent turned all upside-down -- the Christmas we spent unpacking boxes in our new house, the Mother's Day we spent repairing a storm-torn gutter. The birthday I spent at your grandmother's memorial service.

A few days ago I asked you what you wanted to do for Valentine's Day and you shrugged and looked guilty and said "I hadn't really thought about it much yet." And I wasn't surprised because -- let's face it -- I know and you know you buy gifts at the last minute, and you couldn't remember to make a restaurant reservation a week in advance if your life depended on it.

But the truth was, I hadn't really thought about what to do on Valentine's Day much yet, either.

There was a time when I would feel a slight pang of jealousy when I watched a bride walk down an aisle full of flowers in a beautiful gown. There was a time when I felt a little envy when some couple we knew told us about their romantic anniversary getaway. There was a time when I cared about flowers and fancy dinners on Valentine's Day. But I don't anymore.

Because Saturday you folded all the laundry while I read email, even though I hadn't asked you to.

Because you fold my clothes more neatly than I do.

Because Sunday when you were at the grocery store without me you bought me marinara sauce with portobello mushrooms and wine even though you don't really like portobellos or wine, either. And then you served it with dinner.

Because you bought me a box of chocolates that had only dark chocolate in it.

Because you gave our son his bath last night and read his story even though he really wanted me to read his story and we both knew he would whine about you doing it instead, so I could lay down on the sofa, because I was tired.

Because even though we said in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live, and believed it, by all stereotypes and cold hard statistics, this crazy, met-too-young, married-too-soon, stressed-too-often relationship of ours should never have lasted this long. Not through three homes and two cars and seven job changes and six birthdays of a decidedly not-neurotypical child.

And yet, here you are, still, remembering that I don't like milk chocolate. Folding my jeans.

Dinner out and roses would be a nice gift, one of these February 14ths. But a present like that would be a very little thing compared to the thousands of simpler, mundane, yet much more important everyday gifts you have given me over the years.

That diamond ring we wanted once might be nice to have, someday, too. But if you ever get around to getting me one, it had better look nice next to my old scratched and dented silver wedding band. Because I'm not taking that off.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Cookie Like My Heart

It has been over a year now since my son had a sudden and violent allergic reaction to a peanut butter cookie, after years of eating Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and peanut-flavored granola bars and Peanut M&Ms and french fries fried in peanut oil without a problem.

I've already cried over it; I've already ranted; I've already reorganized my pantry and sent lists to the school and compiled the careful, well-researched, incredibly short list of Restaurants That Are Mostly, Probably Safe. I've already dutifully, repeatedly reminded myself of the much longer and much more upsetting list of Childhood Diseases That Could Be Worse.  I've already adjusted to the constant mental presence of  this terrible knowledge, that the wrong bite of food could hurt or kill my son at any moment. I've made the syringe that contains the emergency medication that could save his life as essential an extension of my body as my glasses or my purse.

Out of life-and-death necessity I keep his allergy in mind every waking minute which after a while from an emotional standpoint is pretty much the same as not thinking about it at all.  There seems to be a part of my brain that just does it, now. Like the part that remembers how to walk. I read ingredients and thoroughly question and instruct teachers and party hosts and babysitters and waitresses on autopilot. Solving a safe path through the world for him has for the most part become an intellectual not an emotional enterprise.

If I weren't like this, now, I'd be constantly crazy with worry and guilt and regret over aspects of childhood that I never recognized as being all that important until they were lost to him. Which just wouldn't do. Anxious, guilty, regretful people make mistakes, and this is an area where I cannot bear allow myself room for serious error.

But there are still moments, once in a while when the fact of his allergy hits me like a kick in the chest, the way it did on the day I first learned of it, and I struggle for a minute to breathe.

Like today when I was at a fancy little boutique grocery store and walked past their bakery display, blooming with beautiful extravagantly decorated heart shaped Valentine's cookies in every flavor and size.

I used to make a point, when he was younger, of buying my son, on the spur of the moment, little surprise presents of candy or food. Ridiculous things, sometimes, like rainbow lollipops the size of his head (that I knew he would never finish). I'm quite a stickler for health food in general -- in my house, whole, natural foods rule the table and fruits or vegetables are required with every sit-down meal .  But I'm also a foodie, and a hobby baker, and I'm not ashamed to confess that I've never met an oversized artisan brownie I didn't like. And my son started out as a pathologically picky eater -- so resistant to eating, in fact, that for a frightening period of time he made himself  ill.

So once his palate began to expand it became a joy to me to surprise him on impulse with pretty and decadent foods. Once in a while, when I saw a giant, artistically frosted cookie or a beautiful piece of chocolate artifice at a store -- the sort that makes your heart skip a beat when you see it, that reminds you of pressing your childish face to the glass in sad longing while your mother said, "No, not that, the smaller one" -- the sort you aren't supposed to spoil a child with -- I would buy it and give it to him, trying to tell him without words, See, this is what I wanted to tell you about the fun of food. This what you have been missing.

But today I knew without looking -- I've shopped hear before -- that not one of the beautiful heart shaped cookies would be labeled PEANUT FREE. I couldn't just pick one without thinking and buy it and meet him with it at the door when he comes home from school. The cookies at the bakery are just another one of so many things -- like the cake at most birthday parties and the candy from most candy shops and the ice cream from ice cream parlors -- that are off limits for him now, and may be off limits for life.

Which is why this weekend I am fairly certain I will wind up baking more homemade heart-shaped cookies, in every hue,  than one child could possibly eat, and wishing I could make them as pretty as the ones at the store.