“Are you done yet?” my wife groaned.
It was almost 11pm on a Saturday and I’d been working non-stop since breakfast. I could tell she was getting annoyed with me, but I was almost done with my final read-through.
This was Day 1 of The 3-Day Great Comprehensive Exam-A-Thon that would be my weekend. See, near the end of a Ph.D. program, they have you take an exam relevant to your field of study that’s reviewed by faculty in your department who basically decide if you’re competent enough to start the final stage of your program–the dreaded dissertation. Sometimes it involves a major project done over the course of a few weeks, and other times the student is essentially locked in a room for several consecutive days to cuss at bubble sheets and essay response booklets. In my case, I was handed about a 90-page packet (not an exaggeration) which provided directions and resources for writing four different papers–each of which was to be 6-8 pages long, due in four days.
Fortunately, these four days started on a Friday and I was allowed to complete the exam from the comfort of my own home. Unfortunately, I have twin two-year-olds in my own home, who, from the moment I enter to the moment they collapse in their beds, shout spirited requests of me. Here are some of their greatest hits:
“Daddy! Sit down dare. Read book-y.”
“More juicy! Pleaseokaythankyou! Apple juicy. Yesokay!”
(performed melodramatically by my son, hanging from one monkey-hand on the pantry doorknob, usually fifteen minutes after refusing to eat a single bite for dinner)
Since I barely had any work time on Friday, I was hitting it hard on Saturday, and decided that while I was still fresh, I’d hammer out two of the four papers, leaving the remaining two for Sunday and Monday. My wife was incredibly supportive, taking the kids out for the day while I pounded coffee to a soundtrack alternating between death metal and utter silence, my fingers furiously pecking at the keyboard.
It hadn’t been pretty, but I was now finally finally finally closing in on my goal for the day. Still planted in my seat at the kitchen table, I was looking over Paper 2 for any final edits when my wife, who was in our bedroom watching tv, suddenly became strangely persistent.
“Babe! Come here!” she called.
Completely focused on finishing the damn paper and still sufficiently amped up, I replied, “J-just hold on a minute. I’m almost done!”
“Hold on! I’m doing a final read-through. I only have, like, a page and a half left!”
What the frick was her problem? Could she even hear me? It’s not like there was anything life threatening happening (which, for my wife, is anything involving an insect–even dead ones), because her voice wasn’t at all panicked. In fact, it sounded like she was laughing.
What the hell? Was she winding me up on purpose?
Still scanning pixels as I approached the end of the paper, I called, “Just give me one more min–”
Oh. My. God. WHAT?
I gathered my 90-page stack of directions, my laptop, my charger, and my glass of water and stomped toward the bedroom. As I approached the door I started to say, “What’s so important that you can’t wait one minute to–”
But I was interrupted.
By a barrage of Silly String.
I froze, in complete shock.
And then spat green Silly String out of my mouth.
I wanted to laugh. I really did. I promise I was laughing on the inside, but having been pulled out of a moment of intense focus, I just couldn’t get there.
It also didn’t help that I now smelled like dollar-store chemicals that may claim to be non-toxic on the can, but walk that line veeeeeeery closely.
Meanwhile, my wife was just about dying laughing.
Beginning to pick the coat of green foam off myself, I let it fall to the floor with the rest of the debris that had not caught hold of me.
And as I saw the inevitable mess the event had created, I looked my wife dead in the eye and said:
“I am NOT cleaning ANY of this up.”
. . .
This month, my wife and I will celebrate five years of marriage, and it’s moments like these that remind me why I chose her, because after half a decade, I still have no idea what the hell she’s going to do next.
Yes, eventually I laughed about this little stunt, and yes, I did successfully complete the exam, thus clearing a major hurdle in this whole Ph.D. bidness.
But what I hadn’t done yet, until this very moment, is thank her for being her, for knocking me down a notch and reminding me to have a sense of humor when I was taking myself WAY too seriously.
Thanks, babe! Here’s to five years and five hundred more! Think of, like, a really high number.
Okay, now guess what? I love you more than that number.
Oh, and by the way, when you least expect it, I WILL get you back.
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