By Gregory Keer
When my wife Wendy and I were still new to each other, I picked her up from the airport. This was our fourth "date," so when she said she bought me something while visiting San Francisco, I felt validated. Clearly, any woman who would give a guy a present at this juncture of the courtship must be thinking long-term.
The gift was a Magic 8 Ball®. She thought it'd be fun to ask grown-up questions of this toy from our childhood, so we queried it on everything from the silly to the naughty before I asked it one silent question. I merely smiled at the answer, "Very likely," and proceeded to drive Wendy insane by refusing to reveal what I inquired of the mystical orb. Even when she finally guessed the question, I confirmed nothing.
At the two-year mark, long after we'd grown so accustomed to each other that we stopped having the Magic 8 Ball conversation, Wendy grew impatient with the writer-in-search-of-his-identity boyfriend and mounted the commitment barrage. She purchased the occasional wedding magazine and said things like, "Did you hear how Jeff proposed to Cindy?" and "You're never going to marry me, are you?"
Finally, after a late-night argument during which it seemed we could not be any meaner to each other, I realized that if we could survive this kind of fight we could handle the rest of our lives together.
Cleaning out a bedside table, I noticed the old Magic 8 Ball and got the inspiration to have a ball customized with a special cube that didn't offer answers, but asked variations on the question, "Will you marry me?" I then arranged to stay with our friends Eric and Nancy up in San Francisco, where I would pop the question.
On the long weekend in that romantic city, Wendy had no clue what was planned, especially as we entered the grand FAO Schwarz toy store. While Wendy browsed through novelty items on the second floor, Eric pulled the customized Magic 8 Ball from his jacket and had it bagged by a store clerk, who gave it to me with a wink.
I went over to Wendy, who was testing a pink Slinky®, and offered her the package.
Pulling it out, she frowned. "We already have one of these."
"Just ask it a question," I pleaded, holding back a serious case of the giggles.
She complied, and when she turned the ball over, she grinned disbelievingly.
"You're not doing this here, are you? In a toy store?" she said as Eric pulled out his camera to record the moment.
Managing a semblance of tradition, I kneeled, procured a ring, and proposed the question whose answer was foretold by the Magic 8 Ball Wendy bought two years before.
While our marriage hasn't always been like an afternoon in a toy store, playfulness is a major key to our staying power. In my wedding vow to Wendy, I stole a line from the late Anne Bancroft, who was married to Mel Brooks. She once explained that, when she looked out the window to see her husband coming to the door, she would say, "Now, the fun starts."
I've always felt that way with my wife. We've weathered career changes, multiple moves from one home to another, unstable finances, assorted family politics, and a few health crises among our extended clan. And while we get into at least one argument a day and manage to blame each other for everything from bad weather to lost keys, we always find a way back to laughter.
Our children see Mommy and Daddy laugh more than we fight. They watch us tell each other jokes at the dinner table, tickle each other in family wrestling matches, and go out to parties and movies.
The kids also have a sense that they, themselves, are a source of tremendous fun for us. There's hardly a weekend that goes by that we aren't marauding at bookstores, eating our way through farmers' markets, or taking road trips to theme parks or beaches.
Sure, there are many long weeks in which we barely talk or touch except to decide who's taking the kids to karate and what we can reheat for dinner. But, somehow, we reconnect, even if it's just to watch an episode of House together.
Valentine's Day helps remind us that before there were five, there were two of us. Two people who came together to love and be happy as often as possible. And we hope, when it comes time for our children's own romantic relationships, they too will realize that a lifelong vow should really say "to love, honor and play."
Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher and father of three boys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site, www.familymanonline.com.