"I'd rather it be the chicken soup," said Warren.
He was referring to the chicken soup he made me Thursday for supper at the height of my recent bad cold. It was delicious soup and Warren somehow found noodles so close to those my Grandmother Skatzes used to make that I was as awash in nostalgia as I was in the pleasure of a good meal. I am convinced that it was the chicken soup - richly flavored with Warren's love and concern - that caused my fever to break later that night.
But this post is not about the chicken soup, although it is about Warren and me. It is about parallel play.
"Parallel play" is a term from the child development world. It refers to a stage children go through when they will play alongside, often with the very same toys, but not interact with one another. It is more prevalent in preschoolers than older children; I saw it often in my son Ben and his playmates (parallel playmates?) when they were 4 and 5.
This morning we went out to Price Organics for my birthday present: a cubic yard of compost. We are borrowing a friend's rototiller tomorrow and wanted the compost on the gardens before we till. Once we got back home, we both went to work with shovel, pitchfork, and wheelbarrow. Together we unloaded the compost from truck and trailer, me preparing more for loading while Warren wheeled the barrow back to the gardens for dumping.
About two wheelbarrow loads into the task, I was smiling radiantly as Warren came back around the side of the house.
"Nothing. I'm just really happy."
Warren looked at the load of compost to be moved, then at the gray, chill sky. Not the lightest of tasks, not the warmest or most welcoming of days. He looked back at me. I was still beaming goofily.
Warren shrugged and we loaded the next load.
I was still smiling when he came back around the front again.
"I figured something out," I announced.
Warren raised his eyebrows in a question.
"This is the first thing we have done together in weeks. Everything else has been parallel play."
I don't know if Warren bought into my thinking at all, but I knew I was onto something. Ever since midwinter, we have both been engrossed in major projects of our own: United Way, grant writing, the whole Chasing Light… project, to name a few. Yes, we knew what the other was doing; yes, we talked over our days and our stumbling blocks and our progress every night; yes, I attended as many of Warren's events and programs as possible, but we lacked the textured interweaving of our lives that has is the hallmark of our relationship.
Instead, it was parallel play. Each with our own toys - our calendars, our engagements, our deadlines - playing alongside and not with one another. Informative, interesting, intense, educational, engaging, to be sure. But also alone and somewhat remote from what the other was doing.
During the last two plus months, each of us had mentioned, sometimes as we collapsed into bed after a particularly grueling day, that we were feeling a slight disconnect. We'd talk about making sure there was time for our relationship, and maybe carving out some "us" moments tomorrow. Then tomorrow would become today, then yesterday, and we were still talking about maybe.
I don't regret the involvement or the events of the last couple of months. I am proud of my United Way work; I am proud of my court work. I am prouder yet of Warren's work on behalf of the Symphony and the community in bringing the Chasing Light… project to fruition.
All the same, I think I got more pleasure from the compost than almost anything else we have done recently. We were working on a joint project, we were working together instead of in our own spheres, and I was in sync with my dear husband once again.
There will be more projects for both of us. I know that and I can't imagine either of our lives without them. Close as we are, Warren and I are not Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I am sure there will be other times of parallel play, although I hope not quite as prolonged as this one.
And besides, if we find ourselves getting a little too remote, we can always unload a truck full of compost.