It’s my husband’s birthday.
“What is your wish for the next year?” I ask him.
“Peace and quiet,” he answers without hesitation.
I have to laugh, however quietly in my sleeve. ‘Bless your soul, my dear husband,’ I think, ‘such a noble wish’. The chances of peace and quiet are highly unlikely; however not impossible. We always have hope that surpasses all circumstances, right? But with a soon-to-be seven year-old son going to big school and a soon-to-be five year-old daughter who are both utterly strong-willed, a wife full of drama, a stressful job and life in the city, to name a few things, the chances of peace and quiet seem slim to none. We are definitely accustomed to a never-a-dull-moment type of life by now.
And so we are off to celebrate this milestone at our favourite sushi restaurant not far from home. Dinners like these are seldom a wise idea at the end of long days with children and work, but we go anyway. We take our seats outside and order a glass of wine to unwind and start the festivities. The kids are running around. A few minutes after, our son arrives at the table and asks for two five rands to buy little rubber balls for him and his sister at the vending machine. My husband and I look at each other and decide to give him the money. We always say ‘no’, and for good reason, but sometimes we must say ‘yes’. He runs away excitedly, his sister in tow.
Only for them to return a few moments later, his shoulders slumped; she on the other hand brimming from ear to ear. In her hand is a blue rubber ball, in his… a pink one.
“Mom, look, I got a blue ball!” She shows it off proudly.
“Dad, I asked if we could swop around. I don’t want a pink one,” our son tells my husband. “But she doesn’t want to.”
My husband looks at her and asks, “Don’t you want to swop with your brother? Remember, you like pink more?”
“No! I like blue too!” She runs off; ball in hand, body strong with determination.
I look at our son and see tears on the brink of bursting. He falls in his chair, disappointment infested in his little body.
“But I like blue, I’m a boy, she is a girl! I want the blue one!” Tears are flowing freely now.
My husband, always looking to avoid conflict like the plague, hence the wish for peace and quiet, tries to reason with him. But his state of emotions is soon at the worst of worst stations and there he gets stuck. Our daughter comes back with ball in hand and offers another definite ‘no’ when asked to swop. Sharing is also completely off the table. Now our son is almost at the point of hyperventilating and I must admit, I do not play the role of validator of emotions very well. I epically fail at this once again. When you hear, via the grapevine, of a family that threw a terrible tantrum in a sushi restaurant in the east of Pretoria, look no further. The more my husband tries to calm him down, the angrier I become and I have trouble sympathising with my son. This has been going on for the better part of fifteen minutes now.
“You know what,” I tell him, “there are worse things in life than a little ball! It is definitely not the end of the world! You and your sister haven’t even thanked dad for the money! It’s all about what is going on in your hearts! I can’t believe you are going on like this!”
Now my husband tries to calm me down. So much for peace and quiet. “Just relax,” he tells me, “there are people around us.” I think of how I read the other day that never in the history of calming down has anybody calmed down by being told to calm down. “Remember,” he says, “boys like blue. I can understand that he doesn’t want the pink ball.”
After a while of this going on, our daughter comes in again with her blue ball.
“She got the blue one fair and square,” I say. “And recently, she likes blue more.”
“Don’t you think she is saying that just to terrorize him?” my husband asks.
“Even if she is; she got the blue one fair and square and it would be unfair to expect her to swop just because her brother likes blue.” Fresh tears are coming from our son’s green eyes.
My words have barely left my mouth or our daughter says with ruthless cockiness, “Look at my blue ball, look at my blue ball!” Our son now reverts to wailing.
“Okay, now that is enough!” my husband says. “I am going to take both balls now. Maybe tomorrow, when both of you can show a bit of decency towards one another, we can give it back. But for the rest of the night, no balls!”
Both turn away unhappy, but they manage to go outside and play together. A few minutes of relative peace and quiet preside. When all four of us sit to eat, our son again asks if he can have the blue ball. There is always hope.
“No! It’s mine!” our daughter says.
“Dad said enough for tonight! We can try again tomorrow. And you know what?” I say, looking at our son, “for all you know, the pink ball hops higher than the blue one.”
He looks at his sister. “Hey sis, Mom says the pink ball hops higher than the blue one!”
“Okay, then you can have the blue ball,’ she says, and shrugs her shoulders as if it is now the simplest thing in the world to do. Just like that, all is forgotten.
“That is not what I said,” I say. “I said, for all you know, it hops higher. And no, there will be no more balls tonight!”
About an hour into our dinner, we are able to focus on why we actually came in the first place.
And so my dear husband, I want to say to you, happy birthday. I love you and thank God for another year by your side. You are a truly remarkable man. I admire the wish that you harbour for the next year and I realize how sincere you are in wishing this. I wish this too, especially for you. Truth be told, when I look at the prospects for the coming year, I see that there is an extremely high probability of ‘never a dull moment’, and a very slim chance of peace and quiet. May we find the peace and quiet in the midst of it all regardless. I am thankful that we are in this together and I commit to finding the peace and quiet with you. I commit to trying my best to sometimes just be the peace and quiet that you wish for. I am thankful that we can look for it together. I am thankful that we have hope that surpasses all circumstances, together. The keyword being ‘together’.
Oh yes, and may we always remember why we always say ‘no’ when our son and daughter ask if they can have little rubber balls.
And this is all I need to know now.