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Friday, April 4, 2014

Princes and Progress

In March I let Monty leave for D.C. without ever apologizing for calling him a self-important prick, and he left without ever giving me an opening to say I was sorry. I guess I had been hoping for a détente, much like a slow melt of the ice and snow in our yard and on the streets. But here’s the problem: Gradual thaws leave behind brown, dead grass and slimy leaves that should have been raked up months ago. They also reveal all the icky stuff that was on the ground when the snow first fell, like dog poop and political fliers from the last election.

And I was thinking about this the other day as I got home with my kids.  Abby, who is in a princess phase and loves to think about which prince she will someday marry, started drilling me as we got out of the car.

“Mommy, Daddy is your husband?”

“Yup,” I said. “He is.”

“So you married him?”

“That’s right,” I told her, as I lifted a heavy, squirming Noah from his car seat and tried to pick up both our bags with my other hand.

“And Daddy won’t be home for a long time?”

I sighed. Forget about the princess stage, when was her question stage going to end? “He won’t be back for several more days, Honey.”

“So you miss him? You miss your husband!”

Leave it to Abby to use deductive reasoning to arrive at an emotional conclusion. Perhaps she has a future as a Supreme Court justice. Of course, our conversation took place several days before the court’s decision to strike down the overall limits on campaign contributions, citing free speech as a reason to make it easier for wealthy donors to buy elections and, consequently, policy decisions.

It seems that lately, progress has been working backwards.

Anyway, I told her yes, of course I missed Daddy, but he’d be back soon, and then I told her to stop being so pokey and to come inside. But later I realized that I really did miss Monty, so later that night, after the kids were asleep, I picked up the phone and dialed.

“What’s up,” he answered, already sounding beleaguered and put out.

“I was just calling to say hi.”

“Oh. Hi.” Then I heard some chewing, and he spoke with his mouth full. “I just got back so I’m eating a salad.”

“But it’s after nine where you are.”

He talked slowly, like it took effort to be patient. “Yeah, but if I work long days then I can home sooner.”

“Right.” I was in our bed, lying on my back, and I lifted my legs, stretching them towards the ceiling while I stared at my socks. And my mind raced. If I said I’d like him to come home, the sooner the better, would he take that as a criticism and get defensive? Should I just apologize and get it over with? I was about to, but Monty spoke up first.

“Did you read about the Hobby Lobby case today?”

“Only a little,” I said, referring to the Supreme Court case about whether or not businesses should have the right to exclude birth control coverage to employees because of their (the businesses) religious beliefs. “Why?”

“It’s all anyone can talk about here. And it just baffles me that we’re willing to reverse all the progress that we’ve made over the years.”

“Yeah,” I replied, more in tune with his tone than with his words. I knew him well enough to read his mood through the phone. Whenever his voice took on that frenetic edge and he started talking in platitudes I tried not to challenge him.

He sighed, chewed, and swallowed all at the same time. “It sounds like the only conservative judge that was even on the fence was Kennedy, but I guess he got taken in by Roberts, who seemed okay with these corporations just deciding that the birth control in question is actually a form of abortion, which it’s not.” His volume rose. “Like that could be a matter of opinion after it’s been proven otherwise. And since when did courts give corporations the right to hold a religious belief? It’s crazy.”

“Sure,” I said. “But you can’t be surprised. You must have known how it would go.”

He huffed. “I guess I thought they’d consider all the ramifications, like for civil and gay rights.” More chewing, another swallow. “Whatever,” he crooned, his tone sarcastic. “I mean, it’s way more important to ignore the rights of women who need birth control, right?” Monty’s voice was growing louder and more indignant. “Right?’

“Yeah, I mean, I get your point.”

“That’s all you have to say?”

My words caught in my throat. Usually it was me who went off on rants and Monty calmed me down. “Umm… what do you want me to say?”

“I don’t know!” I heard him get up. It sounded like he was pacing. “You could be more concerned about all the disadvantaged people whose dignity is getting stripped away. And I’m not just talking about the United States. What about Russia? Or Uganda? They’re throwing people in jail for homosexuality and they’re denying women birth control, which practically forces them to get dangerous abortions.”

My head was swimming. “Okay, I’m not sure I follow. You’re talking about the Supreme Court, gay rights, women’s reproductive rights, civil rights…”

“Of course you follow. You’re not dumb. It’s all tied together and it explains how the progress that we’ve made as humans has been reversed.”

By now my legs had plopped back on the bed, and I stretched one more time before I sat up. “Thanks for not calling me dumb.”

There was a silence, and I pictured him closing his eyes, trying to ease the tension headache he most likely had. Monty’s consulting job with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is in international policy development and advocacy for things like gay rights, voting rights and women’s reproductive rights in places like Uganda.

“Did you have a bad day?” I asked.

He sighed. “A major initiative that I thought was going to come through just got wiped out.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Which one was it? Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nah...” I could hear him breath and I could almost see the rise and fall of his chest. “I still have some emails to send. I’m going to get those out and try to get some sleep.”

I paused. I didn’t want to hang up yet but I also knew I shouldn’t push him. “Okay. I guess I’ll talk to you soon, then.”


He had hung up, but I could still feel his frustration from miles away, and the next chance for a real conversation didn’t happen until he got back. But I was determined not to reverse any of the progress we had made.

On the night he got home I found him in the kitchen, doing dishes. His shoulders were loose and he was humming something under his breath. “Hey,” I said as I walked up behind him. “Any news on that proposal?”

He looked at me and then back at the tray he was scrubbing. “They want me to submit it again, with some changes. It’s a pain but I’ll do it.” He scrubbed really hard at a stubborn bit of burnt cheese. “That’s my job.”

I leaned against the refrigerator. “You never told me what it was about.”

“A way to distribute birth control to women in Uganda.”

“Oh.” No wonder he was so worked up about the Hobby Lobby case. A rush of love swelled up in my chest, or maybe it was pride. Probably both. I really did marry a prince.

“Hey,” I ventured. “I’m sorry about before. I was just really disappointed about not getting to go to the conference, but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

Monty turned off the sink and found a dishtowel with which to wipe his hands. He kept his eyes off me. “You know I hate disappointing you, right?”

“Yeah,” I mumbled. “And you hardly ever do.”

“But,” he continued, “you’re not the only one with stress or problems.”

“I know.” I inched closer to him. “So we should talk to each other more and share the burden.”

“That’s not easy when we’re so busy and you’re mad at me all the time.”

I stood up straight and waved my arms around. “I’m not mad at you all the time! And I’m standing here, right now, apologizing.” I looked at him, waiting for a response, but he just smirked and raised an eyebrow, obviously waiting for more. I took a deep breath and continued.  “Okay. I’m sorry I called you a self-important prick.”

Monty’s body seemed to loosen at that, and he tilted his chin up and raised his eyes in contemplation. “Technically, you never called me a self-important prick. You said I was acting like one, which is not the same thing.” He held up one finger to make his point. “And that was the chain of causation from the beginning…”

I swiftly moved over so I was standing in the middle of his personal bubble. I grabbed his face in both my hands and, standing on my tiptoes, brought my mouth to his, a firm kiss just to get him to stop talking. But his response was intense and his mouth opened to mine as he took me in his arms. I let go of his face and I put my hands against the warm base of his neck, feeling like I could burst with heat and desire.

After several moments we came up for air. “You know you make me crazy when you talk semantics.”

He laughed and nibbled at my ear. “I missed you,” he whispered.

“Me too.” I kissed him one more time before I pulled away. “Come upstairs,” I said, tugging on his arm.

“I thought you wanted to talk more.”

“We will,” I smiled, took his hand, and pressed it to my cheek. “We’ll talk all you want.”

“Okay,” he said, a goofy grin spreading across his face. Then he willingly followed me, and we forgot about a détente and went for a more affectionate sort of reunion.

Since then, the news has been full of evidence that Monty is right; the world is moving backwards. The Supreme Court’s decision in the McCutcheon case is only one example. There’s the Fort Hood Shooting, the violent campaign in Afghanistan, and the continuing unrest in the Ukraine, just to name a few. But there’s also been the surprising number of people enrolled in Obamacare, the discovery by scientists on why zebras have stripes, and… okay, I had trouble finding a third bit of good news.

Yet I believe that progress doesn’t always get reversed. I suppose that’s easy for me to say, since I don’t live in Uganda or Kabul, and a good week can affect my world view. Still, for those of us with the luxury of perspective, sometimes we just need to take a step back before we can analyze and move forward again.
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