This past weekend I celebrated my 50th birthday. As birthdays go, it was a pretty spectacular one. I started and concluded the weekend at my cottage – one of my favourite places on this earth! As luck would have it I had to run up to the cottage friday to have my youngest ready to report to a local film site on saturday morning where he was cast as the aide to Sir Bond Head in a historical film project. Doesn’t he look impressive!
After filming we sprinted back to Waterloo to celebrate my birthday with family and friends. On Sunday I played in a mini-soccer tournament with some pretty fantastic women. Following three hours of continuous soccer in staggering heat I jumped back into my car and ran back up to my cottage to join my husband for a hot date (literally!) re-staining the exterior of our cottage.
Truth be told, though, that hot date re-staining our cottage was awesome. One of the things that we don’t talk a lot about when it comes to caregiving is how it can fracture a family. By fracture I don’t mean divorce, or something drastic like that, though we know that happens. What I mean by fracture is that caregiving often causes a growing family to “divide and conquer”. At least it did ours.
What I mean by “divide-and-conquer” is the fact that one parent had to almost always remain with Matthew to provide care while the other parent engaged in family life. Since the world is a fairly inaccessible place, and Matthew was very medically fragile during our younger family years, this often meant that I remained at home to provide care while my husband took our two able-bodied children to music lessons, Little League games, hockey practices, and so on. I would often organize nursing care so that I could make important games and performances, but I missed more family activities than I would have liked.
What this also meant was that couple time was exceedingly scarce since we often ran off in different directions facilitating family life. Throw in the fact that my husband has an inordinately busy job and my husband and I have often gone days passing like ships in the night communicating with yellow sticky notes and brief emails. Time together has always been a rare commodity in our divide and conquer family life.
Which is why I love our cottage, particularly now that our children are more independent and we have stable nursing care for Matthew. Owning a cottage means work. At times it means work that demands two bodies to accomplish the task. This means that my husband and I now find ourselves tackling chores together out of necessity. You might laugh, but this is actually a pretty novel thing in our marriage, and one we are both enjoying.
Last summer after extensive accessibility renovations to our cottage my husband and I arrived early in the spring to find the all the furniture stacked in the living room covered in sheets. Most of the contents of the cottage was packed in boxes. In order to sleep that night we were going to have move furniture back to its original location and unpack important things like blankets and sheets. We cranked the tunes, cracked some cold beer, and got to work – working well past midnight organizing the cottage. We talked and laughed and had a really fantastic time. That memory of unpacking the cottage remains one of the my favourite of last season.
Over the last few weeks my husband had been heading up to the cottage to re-stain the exterior of our vintage cedar clad cottage. I have remained at home because we didn’t have full weekend nursing coverage for Matthew. But I put my foot down when it came to climbing tall ladders. I told him that he couldn’t do such a thing unless someone was there to make sure he didn’t fall and injure himself. Or at least was there to call 911 when he did. So on sunday, after three hours of soccer, I ran up to the cottage to help with the two-person parts of staining our cottage. We spent monday staining in the crazy heat that surprised much of Ontario late in the September. We concluded the day with a barbecue and a game of Scrabble. It was a rare moment of togetherness in our busy lives, and it was lovely.
Couple-time is often a casualty of extreme caregiving. We talk about the fact that couples rarely have time for fun things like dates, outings, or shared vacations. But what we often don’t talk about as much is the fact that the shared mundane stuff of life can also vanish. Things like washing the dishes together, cooking together, attending worship together, walking the dog – those brief snippets of daily togetherness just don’t happen, at least not together, because someone has to be doing the work of caring. And it is these little everyday moments of life that are an important glue that cement a marriage.
I am glad that my husband and I are reaching a stage in this caregiving journey where we seem to be getting some of those moments back.