The recipe for happiness

I've realized these really are the good old days.

By Paul R. Kelley
June 19, 2011

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On any given morning, my wife and I start the day in bed perusing the newspaper. I’m propped up on the pillows, reading glasses on, and inevitably she will smile at me. “I love how you look,” she’ll say. “It’s the intellectual you.” Usually I’m reading sports or celebrity gossip and not channeling my most intellectual self. I wasn’t quite sure why my wife enjoyed this scene so much. Not until the other day, when I glanced over at my wife reading the movie reviews. She had on her glasses with the pillows propped up behind her. An affectionate warmth flooded me.

A tune popped into my head: “These are the good old days,” sung by Carly Simon. Scrooge may have needed the ghosts of Christmas past and future to understand the lesson of grace and gratitude, but the lyrics of an old song worked fine for me.

The lovely scene of morning togetherness is challenged by our hot water system. Sometimes there’s hot water for the shower; other times it teases with a brief burst of heat that dies out. The first shower can be good, but not always. Sometimes whoever takes the second shower gets the better water. We’ve sought the advice of exorcists . . . I mean plumbers, but to no avail. This day, my wife emerges from the shower cold and agitated. She’s bundled in a robe she’d brought back from a winter camping trip to Alaska. Her look says: “Why don’t you fix the hot water?”

My look – conversations are not always verbal – says: “I’m a lawyer, not a plumber.”

I read the reply: “How pathetic.”

The day moves on. We are both self-employed and work from home. From my downstairs office I hear a scream, a curse, a cry of pain. This used to alarm me, but now I know that yet again her laptop is malfunctioning. I offer help. And if neither of us picks up the laptop and throws it into a pond, we consider the attempted repair a success. It’s a standard established by my wife’s old boyfriend. He threw his cellphone into a pond one day. I’m pleased to say my wife doesn’t miss the old boyfriend, but she does occasionally wonder if the phone is polluting the pond. I look good when I don’t throw anything into the water.

During the day the “Who is going to make dinner?” dance begins. The first step is when an item is removed from the freezer. In my view, he or she who defrosts is committed to cook. My wife disagrees. After removing a solid block of poultry, she’ll inquire, “What were you planning on making with that chicken you bought?” This is spoken with a tone that suggests chicken is a novelty that was purchased for a specialty meal that only I can prepare. I’ll reply, “I was thinking you’d make that curry dish you learned in Thailand.” Who makes dinner is not, however, a source of conflict. After my divorce, I cooked for myself and my kids when they stayed with me. My wife did the same with her kids after her divorce. These days, it’s good to have my wife cook me a meal and an equal pleasure to cook for my wife.

At some point in the day we exchange scheduling information. We have the comings and goings of four teenage and adult children to accommodate, accompanied by the awkwardness of incorporating the plans of our ex-spouses. Strategizing for Easter included a discussion of my wife’s ex-spouse’s current wife and her family’s plan for Easter, which affected ours. This is not to mention my stepdaughter’s not quite in-laws who came from Long Island and spent the weekend with us. Everyone, I believe, had a good time. Nothing was thrown into a pond.

Lives aren’t a scripted affair, nor are relationships. People enter and leave one’s life. I remember – but don’t dwell on – the past, and I try not to look too far forward. At the end of the day I smile at the memory of the good moments and I leave the rest behind. For tomorrow, although the day will be different, I expect I’ll wake up with my wife beside me, smiling at me as I read the newspaper.

Paul R. Kelley is a mediator/arbitrator who lives in Beverly. Send comments to

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  • June 19, 2011 cover
  • June 19, 2011 cover
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