Tag Archives: wife

Two years ago today

Two years ago today Mike and I put on fancy clothes and stood up in front of many people that we love and made a whole bunch of very serious promises about, essentially, loving one another. It was a wonderful, glorious, happy-filled, day that still makes me smile when I think of it.

To be honest though, it wasn’t all bubbles and champagne that day. I threw my back out the morning of the wedding, forgot to put together a reception run-sheet for our long-suffering MC’s, Emma and Asha, until four hours before the ceremony, and felt more serious and stressed out than giddy and love-struck right before it was time to walk down the aisle.

But there was advil for the back, and thankfully the lace-up style of my wedding dress acted as a very efficient brace that allowed me to forget the pain and move relatively freely once it was on. One of my bridesmaids came and sat down beside me where I was lying at noon, flat on the floor, waiting for pain killers to kick in, and helped me plan out the reception program. And there, at the end of that walk down the aisle, was Mike.

As the ceremony progressed and we got through all the serious stuff I felt myself start to relax, to inhabit the moment, to float, and from the moment we finished out vows and walked back down the aisle together it was bubbles and champagne. There were smiling people we loved everywhere I looked. The day was a sultry sort of gorgeous. The wine plentiful and cold. The Thai food, amazing. The marquee in the lush garden setting of my parent’s backyard, very Arabian nights. The dance floor under the stars, magical.

I’ve been thinking about that day this morning, and about the promises we made to each other, so I thought that I’d share them here. But first, here’s an excerpt from the book I’m working on at the moment where I write about these vows…

… “We wanted to write our own wedding vows, Mike and I, and we also wanted to be in sync with what we would promise each other on the day. So we each put some thought into the vows separately, and then came together with our drafts to blend them into one unified declaration.

I think my favorite section of our vows is what we settled on for the ring exchange: As I give you this ring, I give you my heart as a sanctuary. I give you myself as a faithful companion to celebrate life with. I give you my promise that as I choose you today, so I will choose you tomorrow. This is our covenant.

To get to these four simple sentences we each had to make a compromise that, initially, felt quite painful.

“We can’t say it that way,” Mike said, when he saw my draft. “The second sentence ends with a preposition.”

“What’s a preposition?” I asked.

He looked at me, suspicious. “You,” he said, “are a novelist. How can you possibly not know what a preposition is?”

“Hey,” I said a trifle sharply. “Six countries. Six schools. English grammar got lost somewhere along the way – possibly while I was busy learning Shona in Zimbabwe.”

“You can’t end a sentence with the word with,” Mike said. “It’s just wrong. Another way to say it would be, ‘I give you myself as a faithful companion with whom to celebrate life.’”

“That sounds lame,” I said, displaying a vocabulary every bit as impressive as my grasp of grammar.

“Well at least it’s correct.”

“But it sounds dumb,” I said. “Clumsy. Formal. It doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of our vows. Who cares if it’s correct if it sounds dumb?”

Mike eventually shifted on that issue, and I shifted on this one: when I first drafted this section I put an extra sentence in there, right before: This is our covenant. That sentence was: You will be home to me.

“I don’t like that,” Mike said, when he saw it. “It doesn’t work. I don’t want it in there.”

Although I was initially disappointed there was something in me that sensed he may just be right, so I took it out without making too much of a fuss. But I’ve thought about that a good deal in the last little while, and I do think he was right, after all. For one thing, that phrase is arguably less a promise than it is a statement, or even a demand.

I hadn’t intended that. I had intended for that sentence to evoke all that is most positive in the ideal of home – comfort, continuity, understanding, haven, refuge, rest, encouragement, wholeness – the sum total of all that is most precious and valuable in life. I had intended it as a promise along the lines of, “I will seek these things in you, for you, and with you.”

The problem here lies in the first part of that promise that I was trying to craft – the idea that it’s possible to find all of that in someone else. It’s too much to expect (or even hope for) from any one person. Even your lover. …”

So here are those vows that we worked on together. Two years down the track I would make them to Mike again today without hesitating.

I, Lisa McKay, choose you, Michael Wolfe, as my life partner, the one I commit to love. I pledge to cherish and honor you regardless of circumstances, in the pressures of the present and the uncertainties of the future, loving what I do know of you, trusting what I do not yet know.

I promise to grow in mind and spirit with you, and support you in fulfilling your hopes and dreams. I promise to remain with you, whatever afflictions may befall. I commit to sharing with you life’s joys and sorrows, pleasures and pains from this day forward until death do us part.

As I give you this ring, I give you my heart as a sanctuary. I give you myself as a faithful companion to celebrate life with. I give you my promise that as I choose you today, so I will choose you tomorrow. This is our covenant.



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Second wife

On his first trip to Laos for his job interview in January, Mike was warned that should we move to Laos he would be encouraged by many locals (in fact, expected) to take a Laotian wife.

Mike sent Lisa one post-card during that trip. It was of an elderly Laos woman smoking a cigar. All that was written on the back was: “Check out your competition for wife number two.”

Since getting to Laos in April Mike has indeed been encouraged to take a Laotian wife.

Mike: “The district governor I met with today said you were beautiful when I showed him our wedding photos. Then, later in the meeting, he suggested that I might also want to take a Laos wife.”
Lisa: “Not during our first year of marriage…. Oh, wait. We’ve been married more than a year now. It’s fine then.”
Mike: “Yes, the second year of marriage could be the perfect time to introduce a second wife into the equation.”
Lisa: “I wonder if the push to see you presiding over a full stocked harem will abate come July when I’m in the country?”
Mike: “I actually do have a woman in mind for my second wife.”
Lisa: “Well, you have until July to get that all squared away.”
Mike: “She smokes a cigar, and she’s not at all demanding.”
Lisa: “That will be a nice change for you.”
Mike: “You’re not demanding, my love, you just have strong preferences.”

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Find a better wife

It’s 9:45pm. Mike and Lisa have just finished watching West Wing together on the couch. It’s dark. It’s late. It’s romantic. Lisa gives Mike a fond squeeze. Mike suddenly wiggles free and jumps up.

Mike: “Dishwasher’s finished it’s cycle. Need to unstack it.”
Lisa (confused) “Did you just say you need to unstack the dishwasher? Right now?!?”
Mike: “Yes, honey, yes. Otherwise the dishes stay all wet and yucky overnight.”

(Long pause while Mike unstacks the dishwasher and Lisa plays on facebook)

Lisa (towards the kitchen): “I think you’re fantastic.”
Mike: “No, I think unstacking the dishwasher right now is not the best idea I’ve had all day.”
Lisa: “I think it’s sexy.”
Mike: “No, not really.”
Lisa: “Yes, it really is.”
Mike: “No, it’s not. If overseeing the dishwasher really was sexy then I’d have an easier time of it on http://www.findabetterwife.com.”

Find a better husband

Weekday morning. McWolfe household.

Mike: “OK, time to go, you’re running late. No more dawdling.”

Lisa (not in the mood to go to work yet, Lisa wanders into the bedroom to pick up her scarf): “Anyone would think you have a secret lover arriving at this house at 8:45am sharp.”

Mike (handing Lisa her lunch) “Maybe I do. Her name is Madame “Todo List.””

Lisa (meandering towards the front door): “Where are my keys?”

Mike: “I have no idea.”

Lisa: “Well what good are you, then?”

Mike: “No good at all, clearly. Maybe you should look on http://www.findabetterhusband.com. You might find them there.”

Dark Shadows in Marital Mirrors

They say that getting married can place you in front of a mirror to your soul.

Naked.

And that you won’t always like what you see in there.

But until this week – a full year into marriage – I thought that danger was over-rated or that I had an inherently beautiful naked soul. Because while there have been some adjustments and minor frustrations to underpin all the fun of togetherness, I haven’t often looked into that mirror and really cringed at the selfishness I see reflected.

My mother would say that this is due to the fact that my life has been disrupted far less than Mike’s as we’ve fitted together the global pieces of our romantic puzzle rather than to any particular virtues I possess. She could have a point. After all, it was Mike who quit his job and moved to California before we got married. For the last year and a half it has been Mike who has done at least half the cooking, the vast majority of the dishes and cleaning, and almost every load of laundry. The man packs me my lunch and is almost obsessive about checking the oil in my car. My life has not only gotten more fun since I got married, but logistically easier.

Now all that looks set to change. Well, hopefully not the fun. But definitely the logistical operating system. In fact, pretty much our entire operating system.

For this week came Laos. And India.

Mike picked up India on the plane back from Laos when his seatmate for the 15 hour flight from Bangkok not only shared interesting stories about being a documentary filmmaker in Mumbai but also the nasty cold he’d picked up there. Mike came down with India five days after getting back from Laos, and three days after that, so did I. But, as miserable as it is currently making us, India will probably pass.

Laos is looking like a different story.

Mike was in Laos interviewing for a job with a humanitarian organization.

Mike has been looking for a job for much of the last year. Our original plan when he moved to California in September 2008 was for him to find some sort of engineering job here and take a temporary lateral step away from humanitarian work. Our original plan hadn’t factored in a collapse of the US economy or the fact that many US employers would simply scratch their heads and look dubious upon reviewing Mike’s CV and seeing the phrases refugee camp, water and sanitation, Uganda, tsunami, toilet, and rural communities in Papua New Guinea.

Jobs in LA have proven somewhat hard to come by recently. Interesting ones, even more so.

In light of this, the fact that Mike was offered a number of short-term consultancies for aid organizations last year was a blessing. Those consultancies took him back to PNG twice, to South Sudan, and to Indonesia. They kept him from going crazy at the kitchen table endlessly job searching, they put some money into our savings account, and they also kept us apart about half the time.

But as we spent Christmas in Australia at my parent’s house soaking up the sunshine and sipping wine on the porch, we also had to wonder why we were so tired, frazzled, and flat. Why we were arguing over whether to buy tomatoes or eggplants at the market. Why we were being jarred at odd moments by the novel feeling of being out of sync emotionally – half a meter and half a revolution off.

A lot of talking these things over while we walked the dirt roads looking for koalas in the trees led to several important realizations. First, koalas in the wild are really, really hard to spot. Second, if in doubt about tomatoes or eggplants, just buy both. And, third, living life in one-month chunks between different intense assignments and being apart half the time is not really our preferred operating system for our marriage.

For months now, since well before Christmas, we’ve been spiraling through a series of variables that spawn all sorts of interlocked questions – Where do we want to be living in the long run? In making our next-step decision should we prioritize investing in friends and a local community, or in career and jobs that may take us to yet another new country? Do we stick to humanitarian work with all its lofty ideals and noble aims, and all the dangers that flames present to moths? Can we mesh our two careers in a win/win equation? How might any future kids fit into this picture?

And as these months passed, Mike began to rediscover his passion for humanitarian work. Increasingly we found ourselves talking less about LA and Melbourne, and more about Uganda, Zimbabwe, and… Laos.

When he got on the plane to Laos for the in-country interview Mike was not at all sure he was even that interested in the job. When he landed back in LA six days later he brought with him much more excitement for the role, answers to most of the 65 questions we’d come up with before he left, and the confirmation that a job offer would be arriving via email sometime in the next little while. By the time we’d spent three days talking it over we thought we had about 90% of the information we needed to make a decision and we were leaning towards yes.

Then, last night, came the offer by email.

With a salary lower than what we’d expected.

And I – who’d thought that I was fully on board with this process – suddenly find myself dangling over the dark waters of doubt and fear, hanging on by my fingernails, and wondering exactly what has sent me spinning. Why now, rather than when we realized that this move would mean I would have to quit my job, or when we found out that the nearest decent doctor would be an hour and a half flight away in Bangkok? Why has money been the trigger?

I don’t have a personal history of being tremendously motivated by money. Instead of staying in Australia and finding a job after I qualified as a forensic psychologist, I went to Croatia on a stipend that barely covered my airfare and living expenses. A year and a half later after having accidentally landed a well-paid government job back in Australia I quit that job the day they offered to make it permanent so that I could accept a scholarship to pursue another masters at Notre Dame. Two years ago I took a 20% pay-cut at work to drop down to four days a week so that I could spend Fridays writing. When Mike quit his job and moved to LA four months before we got married I didn’t seriously consider going back to work five days a week to bring in extra money that may have come in handy – I figured we’d see how it went first and adjust as needed later.

People often mention the sacrifices that non-profit work must demand, and I know money is usually one of them. But it’s rarely felt like a huge sacrifice to me. Sure, I have the odd stab of house envy when I walk into some of my friends’ dwellings and I would give almost anything to fly business class. But I’ve pretty much always had enough money to do the things I needed to do, and most of those I wanted to do, as well. In making career decisions that led me down the humanitarian path I was doing what I wanted to do much more than giving something up. I was following my passions. Yet sometime during these last six and half years of living and working in LA I’ve also gotten used to mostly not having to worry about money – at least not in the short to medium term. I certainly can’t afford to buy a house in California, but I don’t have to wonder whether I can eat out at a restaurant. I don’t need to think twice about buying books on Amazon.

But since getting married last year I’ve found myself paying more attention to things like savings accounts and the importance of good medical insurance. Now I find myself thinking about houses. Now, doing the math on Mike’s job offer for Laos is raising all sorts of questions. Will we be able to travel home for Christmas? Will we be able to send hypothetical children to good schools? Will I finally have to acquiesce to Mike’s annoying suggestion that we keep a household budget? Does Amazon even ship books to Laos?!?

Those are valid questions, and the fact that I have been asking them is not what’s disturbing me.

What’s disturbing me is the realization that there’s a small and very ugly part of me that would quite like Mike to quit following his passions so assiduously and simply focus on making lots of money so that I can live in the style to which I would like to become accustomed while I continue to do pretty much whatever I want with my life, my passions, and my time.

Facing selfishness in the marital mirror is not fun at all. Staring down hypocrisy is even worse.

“I don’t like what comes out of me when I’m squeezed in these moments,” Mike said over the breakfast table this morning as we were trying to stumble through the thicket of mixed emotions and dark realizations that I hadn’t yet found words for.

“Inner junk,” he said. “And I suspect I’m not the only one in this relationship who has some of that.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “I don’t have any of that.”

“Of course you don’t, honey,” he said, laughing. “Of course you don’t. Because you’re perfect.

I’m not, as Mike well knows.

But I am taking my imperfect self, and my beautiful naked soul, to Laos with him.

© Lisa McKay 2010

Being mean

Lisa and Mike are in the car.

Lisa now cannot remember what it was that she said to spark this exchange, and she conveniently neglected to jot that down along with the rest of the dialogue. But, for the record, she maintains that it probably wasn’t really that mean.

Mike: “That was mean.”

Lisa: “Oh, you like your women with a dash of mean, or you wouldn’t have picked me.”

Mike: “What does that say about me?”

Lisa: “That you have an over-developed theology of the inherent value of suffering”

Mike: “Lucky me then, to have found you.”

Lisa: “Win win.”

The engagement ring

Mike and Lisa are driving down the freeway. After four months of engagement, three trips to Robbins Brothers, two thousand internet searches, and a partridge in a pear tree… Lisa has finally decided on an engagement ring.

Mike (shell-shocked): “We just bought a small car for your finger.”
Lisa: “Well, yes. A small, second-hand, car.” (Then, hastily) “But it will be much more beautiful than a car.”
[There is an extended pause]
Lisa (trying to be helpful): “At least this won’t lose value like an actual car would. That could come in handy.”
Mike: “How’s that?”
Lisa: “Well, you know, we might need to barter it for something someday – like safe passage on a boat during a military coup.”
[There is another extended pause]
Mike: “I cannot believe you said that less than ten minutes after I signed the credit card slip.”
Lisa: “I would take you with me on the boat.”
Mike: “Just look at all those shovelsful of dirt flying out of that hole you’re digging there.”
Lisa (sulking): “Hey, I was trying to save your life.”
Mike: “This is one of those times when you should just stop talking.”

Lisa decides to stop talking until she figures out whether Mike is actually upset, or not. She is still trying to figure it out when they get home fifteen minutes later.

Six weeks go by. The ring is ready. Mike and Lisa go to pick it up. When they open the box Lisa is silent with awe. She was right, it is much more beautiful than a car. Mike looks at it thoughtfully.

Mike: “Wow, it’s really pretty. I’m going to miss it when we have to barter it for boat tickets.”