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Family Matters

Real-life romance


On a recent weeknight, as we routinely do, my husband and I tag-teamed the post-suppertime, pre-bedtime chaos to which many parents are accustomed.

He loaded the dishwasher and scoured pots and pans while I cleared the table and doled out homework folders and bath-time commands.

As our 7-year-old daughter settled at the kitchen table with her math worksheet, she studied both her parents – busy tackling all of the this-and-that that has to happen before we turn in for the night – and out of nowhere, presented us with a question that I imagine she’d been pondering for a while: “Mom...Dad? How come y’all don’t really do a lot of romance?”

My high school sweetheart and husband of 13 years stopped mid-scrub, threw the sponge into the sink, grabbed me by the hand and in his best Fabio voice said, “What, do you mean like this?”

His dramatic spin move, dip and exaggerated smooch on the lips were met with, “EWWW! GROSS!” from our little boy and wide-eyed speechlessness from his big sister, who dropped her pencil, clasped a hand over her open mouth and burst into a fit of delighted giggles.

I guess, come to think of it, maybe we don’t “do” an awful lot of romance, at least not of the standard fairy tale sort to which a little girl might be referring. I can’t quite recall the last time we held hands and skipped through a flowery meadow with bluebirds twittering overhead.

These days, it’s something a little more like each of us holding the hand of a protesting child as we navigate the busy aisles of Home Depot on a Saturday morning excursion for lightbulbs and Gorilla Glue.

It’s not candlelit Italian dinners with accordion music in the background and meeting lips at the center of a single, shared spaghetti noodle. No, it’s usually supper for four of something from the slow cooker over a chorus of “eat your vegetables,” “stop sneaking pork chop to the dog” and “please use your fork.”

My husband isn’t exactly slaying dragons and rescuing me from years being locked away in a tall tower, but he is coming home from long days of work with his trademark cheerfulness and jumping right in to help me with dishes, call out spelling words and do his own laundry. (I’d like to offer my opinion that the only thing sexier than a man on horseback wielding a sword and shield to defend the honor of his beloved is one who can iron a button-down and fold a fitted sheet to perfection.)

While I wonder if our daughter is secretly hoping to overhear her dad reciting sonnets or singing that Celine Dion song from “Titanic” to her mom, I know that she hears him tell me that my crockpot cooking is delicious, that I look pretty even when I’m wearing faded pajama pants, an oversized hoodie and an unkempt bun for early morning school drop-off, and most importantly, that he loves me many times every day.

Maybe when she’s old and married like us she will understand that a husband arriving on the front porch with a surprise bouquet of long-stemmed roses and an expensive bottle of Champagne is no match for the UPS man dropping a cardboard box on that same porch containing a new model, self-emptying robo-vacuum, ordered by the same husband for his dog-hair-defeated wife, just because.

I think maybe sometime soon, in the spirit of the month of love and my little girl’s wistful imagination, I might dig through the attic and look for a special box containing stacks of old glossy photographs printed from old-school film cameras at what used to be Eckerd Drug. Photos of her daddy and me hiking the Grand Canyon in a hailstorm. Climbing the Eiffel Tower. Floating down a Venetian canal in a gondola. Camping under the stars in Bryce Canyon National Park. Dancing our tails off on the lawn at a Carlos Santana concert. Cliff diving in the Bahamas. Pictures of us all dressed up for high school prom. Black-and-white shots from our wedding day of us holding hands and running toward our getaway car under a shower of confetti.

I can unearth the quintessential photograph of our first kiss as a married couple, me in a poufy white dress with a long train, my hair held up in a neat French twist with a sparkly crystal comb, and her then-clean-shaven, totally brown-haired dad gussied up in a tuxedo and shiny shoes.

To her we’ll probably look like whichever Disney prince and princess we were supposed to on that day, and maybe that picture will make her happy. It’ll make me happy, too, because it will remind me of that wonderful, and, yes, romantic era of our lives.

But I’d also like to pull out my iPhone and show her my very favorite picture of all the eras. A picture that includes her and her little brother. It’s a selfie that my husband captured of the four of us crammed inside the tunnel of a bouncy house at an indoor play place. My husband, still in scrubs, having surprised us by showing up unannounced on his way home from work. My daughter, beaming, clearly overjoyed to see her dad. Me, unshowered and clad in the same athletic attire I’d worn to the gym that morning, holding our son who was not quite a year old. It may not be idyllically romantic like all the others tucked away in storage, but it’s my favorite. The picture of real-life, everlasting true love.

You can keep your horse-drawn carriage. I’m good with riding off into the sunset in my messy SUV with the love of my life, our two kids and our hairy old dog … as long as the robo-vac gets to come, too.

Claire Mullen, romance, robo-vac