Nature abhors a vacuum (but I do not)

My husband hurt his knee during a workout last spring, and it’s been the best thing to happen to our house in years. I promise there isn’t a scrap of schadenfreude involved here, though; it just happens to be a situation that had a most favorable result from my standpoint (which, in this case, is admittedly selfish). His doctor told him that the only way his knee would heal is after a period of recovery during which only low-impact exercise would be tolerated; basically, he told him, “You can’t run. You can’t jump. You shouldn’t even stretch. You know what you can do? You can walk.”

Well, let me tell you something about this man: he doesn’t relish having restrictions placed on his voluntary exercise regimen. However, as a responsible patient and knowledgeable athlete, he knew that fortune favors the brave, so he buckled down to suffer the enforced spell of respite.

Well, sort of. For the first few weeks, he went on long walks while listening to audiobooks as part of professional development, since he’s a teacher and school was still in session, but then summer came and we found ourselves with a week when the kids were in camp and he (for the first time in two years) didn’t have to focus the majority of his time and energy on his job. The novelty of this was joltingly visceral, and under normal circumstances he would most likely have diverted his predisposition for cardiovascular engagement into enriching his exercise regimen, but the embargo on aerobic activity manifested in his deciding to tackle the leviathan mission of organizing the house instead. This was a job that was both desperately in need of doing but also completely overwhelming, and I hadn’t felt equipped to begin it in light of the rest of the housework that falls incessantly under my purview.

If you’ve ever witnessed a lifelong athlete gone cold turkey against his or her own wishes, well, you can imagine how the week went. The man flung himself–almost literally–into this project, expending all of his frustrated physical energy into reimagining our organization systems, or lack thereof, and moving things from one floor to another to maximize efficiency and accessibility. We use all four levels of the house as livable space, so he basically was doing a stairs workout every day under the guise of “cleaning up”. And the house, over the course of many hours of concerted labor, slowly began resembling the home we have been missing: a place where books live on shelves, where outgrown toys no longer reside, where boxes are labeled and homes are found for all of the uncategorized items collectively filed under the umbrella of clutter. I helped, of course, but he pulled most of the weight that week, and the result was general betterment of our personal space.

One day near the midpoint of the week, I ran downstairs for glue because Arlo was engaged in an artistic endeavor necessitating its use, and I heard the vacuum rev up on the second floor. At the same moment, I walked by Brian’s phone, which was standing up on its charger in the kitchen, and a notification from his Fitbit was bannered across the home screen. Here it is:

I’m not saying I’m glad that he injured his knee jumping hurdles during middle school track practice with a bunch of spry, limber teenagers. I wouldn’t wish him the discomfort, inconvenience, mental distress or physical chagrin that the strain entailed, but I know we wouldn’t have made as much progress with the daunting house chore if he hadn’t been excommunicated from his cross-trainers that week. And I will admit that while I listened to the Hoovering music coming from the carpet above my head, an arrangement composed by a vacuum virtuoso other than myself, the phrase that bannered across the home screen of the wickedest corner of my wifely mind read “Your pain, my gain.”

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