Lightbulbs go off

January 29th, 2008

One morning last week, on a day Ned was in town, I came into the kitchen at god-awful thirty to start the coffee, breakfast and the slog of getting my daughter fed, dressed and bundled off to school. I found the kitchen nightlight pulled out of its socket and sitting on the counter.

First, you’re thinking: kitchen nightlight? It’s just one of the sweet little things that remains in our home from early parenthood, a beacon of comfort in case the baby crawls around in the dark at all hours.

I had an immediate and vivid certainty about why the light sat there on its side, and how it got there, but I plugged it back in and tested it, and it worked. So there.

The next morning I walked in to find the same thing sitting in the same way and I threw myself right into the investigation, turning on Ned.

Why do you keep taking out the nightlight? I charged.

He backed up a step and stammered. The bulb is burned out and I set it there to remind . . .

To remind me??? I cut in, quick, before he could even recover.

Because he frequently does things like this, you see, to help me out. If we run out of coffee, he leaves the empty canister conspicuously on the counter to call out to me. If his shaving creme is kaput, he leaves the empty aerosol perched on the rim of the bathroom vanity so I’ll notice while I parade through freshening up his towels and sorting his laundry. Some things, you see, just don’t have to be said, let alone done, by anybody but me.

I was going to replace it, he defended himself, but I don’t know where you keep the bulbs.

Where I keep the bulbs?

I pointed him straightaway to the closet two feet from where he stood, the closet devoted almost entirely to lightbulbs of every size, wattage and sustainability, a pharaoh’s tomb of lightbulbs nearly every one of which he bought and put on the shelf.

My first h-u-s-b-a-n-d (Beware: It can be very satisfying to say that), my first h-u-s-b-a-n-d- ran a hotel and he was never home. It’s understandable: we were a childless couple “married” to our careers. Now I never leave home and I feel like I run the hotel! How did it turn out like this? How did the whole thing spin a 180 on me?

Of course I know how, but I still don’t know why. I don’t know why to some people “clearing the table” means stacking the dirty plates on the counter then firing up a video game, and to others it means rinsing them off and loading the dishwasher. I don’t know why. I can never know why because there is no why to how things are done or even when they get done. All I have a handle on is the who. And the only who I have a handle on is me.

There is a mysterious symmetry, a cosmic boomerang, at work in our lives. It delivers us smack back into the scene of every crime from which we’ve ever fled, only with a comic twist, a change in perspective that widens our vision and illuminates, if we’re awake, a tiny nightlight of wisdom on the way to the refrigerator at 3 a.m.

Look who ended up in the hotel business! I run a fine hotel, and most days, I even like doing it. The days my lightbulb is on.


Join me for more fun with marriage all week. And just for grins, here’s your chance to win an autographed copy of my book, Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by leaving a comment on yesterday’s post. The winner will be drawn after 12 noon PST on Sunday, Feb. 3. Good luck!


  1. Amen sister! You are writing, as I suspect is the case for many women, a chapter from my own daily existence.
    There’s comfort in solidarity, I suppose.

    Comment by Robyn — January 29, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

  2. Oh, boy! Here’s a can of worms. : )

    I would say that I would welcome that annoying “reminder” mechanism to the simply forgetting to remind me that he needs his raisin bran until I’ve walked in from the grocery store!

    Yes, cosmic power over me. That is right.

    Comment by Shawn — January 29, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

  3. brilliant. I particularly like the line “It delivers us smack back into the scene of every crime from which we’ve ever fled…”

    Comment by Minerva Jane — January 29, 2008 @ 6:25 pm

  4. Wow. Well, it’s good to know others get reminders and are asked where everything is. I keep trying to change my thinking about this but still, I get tired of running the hotel when it isn’t the only thing I do. How many things can I run? My Ned seems to think he’s paying me a compliment by believing in all I can do…

    Comment by marta — January 29, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

  5. Oh, hallelujah!

    You know, the distance from the sink to the dishwasher is the span of my hand. And yet, the sink is as far as my husband is generally able (willing) to go.

    How far is it really, the span of a hand? A koan: what is the sound of one hand clapping upside my husband’s head?

    Comment by Mama Zen — January 29, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

  6. Since I no longer have a Ned, my children have kindly stepped up to fill in. Empty toilet paper rolls remain empty and rooms exist in darkness, and, even though replacement supplies have been kept in the same place since F-O-R-E-V-E-R, no one else seems capable of remembering just exactly where that might be. Sure has cured me of any notions of ever wanting to run my own B&B, now that I’ve been there and done that!

    Comment by Kapuananiokalaniakea — January 30, 2008 @ 5:00 am

  7. oh that me, the only one i have a handle on, is killing me in the marriage department. ouch!

    just for laughs, i offer you the alternative: the husband who never notifies that the shampoo bottle is empty, the one who lets empty bottles collect in the shower, so when you jump in on that random occasion when you have the willpower to wash your ten pounds of hair, you discover oh, too late, that no shampoo exists in even one tiny bottle. same husband also cannot hear you talking when you are in the same room, staring at him from across the same table, for lack of interest or willpower to apply listening skills, so chances of your voice registering all the way from the bathroom are nil.

    but i’m not bitter or anything. 🙂

    Comment by jen lemen — January 30, 2008 @ 5:57 am

  8. If I come across anyone getting married soon, I shall direct them here.

    (Oh, and I’m not commenting to get the book because I already have the book. Not that I can’t think of someone to give it to, but make sure my name is not in the hat!)

    Comment by marta — January 30, 2008 @ 6:14 am

  9. Karen, I so feel you. It is all a big agreement you don’t ever remember agreeing to. It happens so slowly, so insidiously…like one of your readers wrote, these h-u-s-b-a-n-d-s make us feel GOOD about ourselves, about ALL WE DO. As my dh used to say, you are the stronger sex. Strong enough to walk into Hallmark and buy your mom a Mother’s Day card? That’s not the kind of strong I’ve been striving for.

    Comment by spielbee — January 30, 2008 @ 7:22 am

  10. Loved the koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping upside my husband’s head?” My favorite comment on Neds is, “Neds! Can’t live with them and can’t figure out where to hide the bodies.” Incidentally, I count my best friends as the women who would HELP me hide the body! 😉 Seriously, I have a great Ned, but why is it that I seem to either love him dearly or hate his ever-loving guts? Especially when he acts like a Ned. My Ned reminds me as yours does even though running the hotel is what I do ON TOP OF working a full time job. And he wonders why he has time to go to the gym and watch TV, and I can only manage to shower every other day — if I’m lucky. NEDS!

    Comment by Connie — January 30, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

  11. Mama: I’m going to act like the good Zen teacher that I’m not and respond as one would: “Show me.” That’s how to answer that koan but it is not how to change a lightbulb!

    Connie, you hit on the very point precisely. Why is it that I either love or hate?

    Spielbee: I do not do the card thing. I found out in the first year that not even the MIL liked it. She knew it wasn’t from Ned, because she knows Ned, and Ned doesn’t remember her birthday.

    Jen: I’m so delighted you’ve joined us at the table. You can help us hide the bodies.

    Comment by Karen — January 30, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

  12. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I have been perusing yours and I have added you to my reader. Very few blogs make me laugh in the first post or two I read. Thats how I knew you were a keeper.

    We also have nightlights all over the house. My husband even changed out two of our lightswitches with lighted ones. The one in the hallway to our son’s room and the other in the kitchen. It is also very handy for those of us who can’t keep the light switch straight from the garbage disposal switch and are prone to scaring ourselves half to death in the middle of the night. Not that anyone I know would fall prey to that after living in the same house for nearly 2 years…

    Comment by Someone Being Me — January 30, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

  13. My Ned has drop-off phobia. Dropping the kids off at school (aka daycare) is this mysterious things – those bins, those cubbies, the lunches, where to put all that stuff? Only a mama knows… until the day he has to break the code. And he does.

    Thing is, if something is broken, it stays broken until he fixes it. Feels mostly like the tango we both signed up for.

    Comment by Jena Strong — January 30, 2008 @ 7:06 pm

  14. Oh boy. I enjoyed this, and it made me laugh because I’ve been there! I’m here! However, I will say that my husband knows where the light bulbs are, and he usually changes them when they go out. He does help sometimes. It’s just that he is also the one causing most of the messes too.

    One of my favorite things he does is when I ask him to watch my little boy for a few minutes while I do something. I will set my son in his lap while he’s watching T.V. (I know, I know), and then I’ll go do whatever. My husband will hold him and kiss on him excitedly, but then in just a moment, my little boy will slide off his lap and cheerfully find me, so now I’m doing my chore plus watching him. Dada is still watching T.V., thinking he is watching our son.

    Comment by Shelli — January 31, 2008 @ 3:06 am

  15. My husband thinks doing the dishes is cleaning the kitchen. And he doesn’t even clean out the sink after he’s loaded the dishwasher….

    But he got me a nice chair… for free even!

    Comment by donna — January 31, 2008 @ 3:31 am

  16. yes, I run a hotel too. and some days I wonder how in the world I am able to store so much information (where specific bills, papers, files, toys, shoes, tennis racket, and yes, lightbulbs are) in my little head.

    my husband doesn’t even bother looking for things now, he just asks me.

    Comment by Irene — February 3, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  17. I’ve always thought running a B&B would be a fine alternate career path … for which I am mostly prepared just by keeping the house going. I’d hire dh to do the cooking, though.

    Comment by RocketMom — February 4, 2008 @ 1:22 am

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