I caught a glimpse of the man I married this week. My husband came home to a toddler tantrum – I had my son freaking out in my arms – and he said, in a positive tone, “What’s wrong, buddy?” My toddler told him. I told him. He took the toddler from my arms and proceeded to work out a solution, all without any evidence of a scowl. It’s a phenomenon I like to call “Happy Matt.”
“Happy Matt” used to be my husband’s only persona. When I met him, his job wasn’t too demanding; we were childless so we had the freedom to do what we wanted; and we were childless – did I mention that? When he met me for dates, he was happy. When we talked on the phone, he was happy. The only time he wasn’t happy when we were dating was when he called me at 3 a.m, frantic because his apartment was on fire. (I didn’t even hear the phone ring.) Soon after, he moved out of that apartment and into mine, and he was happy.
“Happy Matt” stuck around for two-and-a-half years. Two years of dating and a wedding. A month after the wedding, I got pregnant. He was happy about that. Then my morning sickness started. I didn’t feel that bad at first. About four weeks into my pregnancy, he got the opportunity for a job in Seattle, flew there for the interview and stayed over the weekend to check the place out. Before he left, he asked me if I’d be all right. I said, “Honey I’m pregnant, I’m not crippled!”
The next day, the real morning sickness hit. I felt so nauseated that I couldn’t even look at food. It felt so bad that all I could do was lie down on the couch and moan. I told him the sickness had ramped up during our nightly phone calls, but I didn’t tell him how severe it was. I looked up coping strategies on the web. I popped ginger candy when I could stomach it, and I’d get about a 5-minute reprieve. Matt called me from Pike Place Market that Saturday and said, “I’m at the fish market and they ship! Do you want some halibut?” I almost threw up into the phone. He brought me some seasick wrist bands when he got home, and they helped a little, but I still felt bad. Anyway, he had to put up with “Sick Maria” for the next three-and-a-half months. That was when I caught the first glimpse of “Not-So-Happy-Matt.”
During the pregnancy, he was starting to stress. The company waited six months to tell him he got the job. When they offered it to him, we had to move to Seattle quickly, before I was too far along to fly. We moved in my seventh month of pregnancy.
“Happy Matt” showed his face again in Seattle. His new job was challenging, and we had a whole new place to explore. And then they wanted him to take a trip to Taipei, Taiwan. During my thirty-seventh week. (You can give birth anytime at thirty-seven weeks. It’s considered full-term.) “Happy Matt” became “Matt-Under-Pressure.” He had just started this job, so he couldn’t say no, but he didn’t want to be across an ocean when I went into labor, either. He told work he didn’t want to miss the birth of his daughter. His boss’ boss said that I could call his wife if Matt wasn’t around for the birth. She was very nice and certainly qualified, as she’d had ten children, but she lived two hours away and I hardly knew her.
Eventually Matt’s immediate boss offered to take the trip. He was a young family man and he completely understood the situation. He didn’t want Matt to miss his daughter’s birth either. So that was settled and “Relieved Matt” made an appearance. When my thirty-seventh week came along, I tried every induction trick in the book, just to say, “See?” to Matt’s management. None worked. I gave birth the following week.
Matt was ecstatic when we had the baby. He was a wonderful father and looked at our daughter with the same love and wonder he’d normally reserve for a sweet catamaran. As our baby grew, Matt took on more and more responsibility at work, so he came home stressed a lot. We lived in a big apartment, but it was narrow and baby stuff has a big footprint. We were steadily growing out of the place. We found a house, and were going to sign the papers the same week his company announced big layoffs. “Crazy-under-pressure-Matt” showed up that week. We decided to buy the house anyway, and he kept his job. “Relieved Matt” made another appearance.
As he took on more responsibility at work, and our daughter became a toddler, Matt got more and more stressed. He’d come home every day wearing a scowl, hug me and our daughter, and jump on his computer to finish some work. When our daughter would throw tantrums, he’d yell or tense up. You could see the vein throbbing in his forehead. When we decided to have another baby, we tried unsuccessfully for a year to get pregnant. I was stressed. He was stressed. Our daughter was in her “terrible twos.” We were not happy. We found out we were very unlikely to get pregnant again and looked into adoption. Then I got pregnant. We were thrilled, but the morning sickness was worse this time, and it lasted five-and-a-half months. Between his huge workload, a ton of responsibility that kept accumulating, a two-year-old at home and a sick, miserable wife, all we saw then was “Mad Matt” or “Matt-Under-Pressure.”
It’s pretty much been that way since then, and more lately because I lost a big source of income and we’ve run up some debt. “Mad Matt” and “Matt-Under-Pressure” are all we ever see. Except for last Wednesday, when he came home from that massage, all relaxed, as “Happy Matt.” I like that Matt, and I’ve missed him for too long. How do I get “Happy Matt” back? We can’t afford a massage every day. If we could, I’d sign him up for it. What can I do to relieve his stress? Sex will do it, but even if I could motivate to do it every day, we have to get the kids to bed first, and then he’s all relaxed overnight, when I’m asleep, so I miss it. After working with Asia late at night, his stress comes back and I get “Matt-Under-Pressure” again in the morning, as he rushes to do the dishes and catch his bus to work. The only other thing that makes him happy is sailing. Again, can’t do that every day – too expensive, and we’re in Seattle, for Pete’s sake – we have a nice day here once a month, at best. We really can’t sail at all because our son is almost two, and it would be too stressful trying to keep him in the boat. Matt can’t sail by himself, either – it’s dangerous.
So what am I supposed to do? I take care of the kids. I cook him good food. I work to make money for our family. I do the kids’ laundry. I do all the errands. I arrange our social life. I suppose I could do housework, but that’s a last resort. Matt recently told me he’d be happy when we were out of debt. We have a three-year-plan that will pay it off, but I want “Happy Matt” right now. What can I do? I wish I knew. I asked Matt, and he didn’t have an answer. All I know is that I like “Happy Matt,” and it’s comforting to know he’s still in there, however buried. I guess I’m not gonna know what will make him happy until he knows what will make him happy. Maybe he can start being happy when he figures it out. If not, I’ll just have to wait out the three years.