There’s a lot going around on the internet about how this cosmic global reset is an opportunity to demonstrate new forms of kindness toward one another. While this is certainly true, keeping that mindset isn’t always easy. Being patient takes concentration. When you have young children, kindness and stamina must work in partnership, with a large dose of mindfulness thrown in for good measure.
Oh but these are hard times for all of us. I feel guilty admitting this, but I want to go to the movies. I want to go to the movies alone. Or with my friends. Please, just for one evening, anyone but my family.
I know it’s not nice. But during a global pandemic, it’s not always easy to be nice. I find myself making extra meals or cleaning up messes that wouldn’t be cooked or made during a normal time because in normal times my kids would be at camp, where they belong, having fun with their friends.
And, oh, my spouse. I love her, but she is killing me. I’m mad at her because she said she would wash the dishes, and she didn’t, for the billionth time. It’s pride month, and sometimes I don’t feel here, and queer, and proud. Sometimes I feel irritated and exhausted, and annoyed.
Lynn and I met online in 2004. We had both been married to men but realized later in life, in our thirties, that we had been repressing something supremely powerful for a long time, and that a life worth living must be lived on one’s own terms, not by a code of expectations set forth by family and society.
Well, those are beautiful stories of coming into one’s own, but now Lynn and I are married, we have three children, and there’s a global pandemic. Like all families, we are navigating a new course where boundaries within our family structure must be redefined, but at the same time, we are getting pretty tired of one another, too. Lynn and I have long hours where we cannot work because we must listen to the stories of our children, stories that ought to be told to their friends, not to their parents because these stories are formulated by and for eight-year-olds.
I don’t care about Tik Tok.
I’m not interested in a new outfit one of my twins procured virtually, on Roblox.
Don’t even say the word Youtube to me.
Sometimes my heterosexual girlfriends say to me, “You’re lucky. You’re with a woman. It must be an endless circle of understanding because women are naturally more empathic, more nurturing."
This always cracks me up. Marriage is marriage. Gay, straight — relationships are hard, even without a worldwide health crisis. Whenever a friend brings up the unadulterated joy and beauty of a woman being with another woman in a communion of merger and understanding, I tell the following story:
I was laboring in the birthing tub with our first child. I was in transition. In case you forgot, this is about the most excruciating part of natural childbirth one can imagine. It’s so intense you have to squeeze your eyes shut and curl your toes and imagine all your Jewish ancestors huddled together in a clump, rooting for you from the shtetl in 1918.
“Oy, the baby is coming."
“She’s not going to make it."
“She’ll make it. Leave her alone. She’ll do it."
Lynn is Protestant. She doesn’t believe in making waves, particularly in a place where a discrete hierarchy is established, like a hospital. She does what the doctor says, and so when Dr. Tran came into the tub room and said, “We have to break the water," Lynn nodded obediently.
From the waters, I murmured, “No. I read Birthing from Within. The water will break on its own."
Dr. Tran persisted. “It’s time to break the water. You’ve been laboring a long time."
“Give me ten more minutes," I croaked. I opened my eyes and looked at Lynn, who was holding my hand, horrified that I would dare to argue with the doctor.
I did a bad thing then.
I looked squarely into Lynn’s face and declared, quite loudly, “I hate Dr. Tran."
Then, Lynn did a bad thing. She covered my mouth with her hand. This is something we discuss to this very day. The day I was in the most excruciating part of labor, and Lynn covered my mouth with her hand.
Here, I’ll say it again. Let it sink in.
I was in labor, in transition, and Lynn, my understanding, loving, lesbian spouse, covered my mouth with her hand.
I sat up in the tub. “What are you doing?" I said. Lynn’s eyes were huge. “Honey, she whispered, with notable ferocity. “You just said you hate Dr. Tran. Dr. Tran is standing right behind you."
“So?" I demanded. I had been laboring for about ten hours, hard labor.
“So, I’m just trying to protect you," Lynn whispered.
“I don’t need to be protected," I roared, tearing her hand from my face. Then, another contraction and my toes curled, and my ancestors returned to me once again.
“It’s coming. Shah, shah, be quiet. Let her concentrate."
A contraction in transition is like a tidal wave going through your whole body. Your instinct is to clench, but the books tell you to relax. It’s reverse psychology that requires a lot of stamina and concentration, and there is nothing in those books that say it’s okay to put your hand over your spouse’s mouth while she is in heavy labor. I have checked the literature. Nothing.
Lynn did a lot of really nice things that day, the day our son was born, but I’m not in the mood to share that with you right now. We have a global pandemic on our hands, and she hasn’t washed the dishes. She said she would. She didn’t. And she covered my mouth with her hand while I was in heavy labor.
I’ll tell you something else. I am hatching baby quails in my office. The New York Times told me that the way you get through a global pandemic is to take up a new hobby.
“You couldn’t just collect stamps?" Lynn asked me, this past March.
Quails are good birds for the restless hobbyist. They hatch fast. They sate an agitated, impatient soul. Sixteen days to hatch. Six weeks to the laying of the first egg. So it goes, around and around again.
On this day, the day I am remembering my lesbian spouse put her hands over my face to protect herself from embarrassment, I am about to watch a baby quail burst from its shell.
Lynn comes upstairs, puts down a cup of coffee on my desk. She does this every morning while I write at my desk. She comes upstairs and drops off my cup of coffee. She knows how I like it. She might not have washed the dishes last night, but she brings the coffee.
These are the unspoken kindnesses that go on in a marriage. Small moments, tiny revelations. Whatever, global pandemic.
“Look," I say.
Together, we peer into the incubator. We both watch in silence as a tiny brown and black thing, feathers wet, kicks its way out of the shell. If you haven’t watched this process, I highly recommend it. Quail babies are so small they look like beetles.
“Come on, peeper," Lynn says.
It’s so hard to live. It’s so hard to get born. Nobody gets a break. The quail bursts out of its shell. It’s my first one, and Lynn is with me to watch. We don’t say anything. I’m still mad about those dishes. She is mad about a lot of things, too. I admit I’m no prize, either.
Together, mad and amazed, we watch.
Is she thinking about that day our son was born, the day she clamped her hand over my mouth while I was in the hardest part of labor? Are we thinking the same thing at the very same time?
I doubt it. Those magical early days where we finished each others’ sentences, where we held each other so closely that we didn’t know where one ended and the other begins were long ago, an old dimension, before dirty dishes, laundry, pandemics, and kids. There’s nothing like being in love with someone, where you were the question and your beloved, the answer.
It’s diluted now. Less intense. Time dilutes intensity, but time deepens, too. Where once the water was wide, endless with possibility, it is now smaller, the shoreline in sight. But the water is deeper, too, and sometimes I feel we can look downwards into our whole lives together, into the clear abyss of struggle and belonging.
Downstairs, the twins are fighting. Then we hear the sound of a slap and someone crying.
“I’ll go," Lynn says. “Finish your story."
“I’m writing about you," I say. “And it’s not good."
“Don’t tell me," Lynn says. She is already closing my office door. “I don’t want to know."
So it goes. Sometimes we stumble. A lot of times we fall. But we get up. We stick it out together. We go on.
Give InKind is proud to feature Amy Bronwen Zemser, a writer living in the Hudson Valley Region of New York.
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