Grand Gestures and Learning to Listen


This weekend has been… hectic. I’m preparing my remarks to make before the Unicameral, speaking against a bill that would allow charter schools to become part of Nebraska’s system of education, thus diverting tax dollars away from the public schools. I feel I need to be far less abrasive, far more persuasive, though the topic admittedly makes me hot under the collar. Further, of course, we’re parenting a sick kid, and going through our daily routines of seeing the chiropractor, preparing meals, putting up a shelf in the kitchen, and so much more. So last night, date night, Sonja and I were both excited to get out of the house. We left Titus and Zooey with one of my runners who has watched them many times before, and struck out for dinner at our favorite restaurant.

When Sonja got in the car, there was a manila folder sitting in her place. She picked it up and began to hand it to me, as one does when there’s something on their seat in someone else’s car. “No, it’s for you,” I told her. “What is it?” she asked.  “Your anniversary present.” She opened it, decided she couldn’t read the letter while the car was moving for fear of getting motion sickness, and waited five minutes until I had parked our car on the cobblestone streets of Omaha’s Old Market, just around the corner from where we were having dinner. Then she read.

I had written her a letter, the top document in the dossier, thanking her for the past seven years and recounting some memories. In particular, I wrote about how when we were dating and newly married, I knew I made a lot of grand gestures. I revisited memories of throwing surprise parties with forty people at them, having a gluten-free cake made with Mollie’s (her dog’s) face on it, and our first anniversary when, with my parent’s help, I took her back to California wine country where we had honeymooned.  I told her I knew I hadn’t made many grand gestures lately, but that I knew she understood. Kids have made our lives richer and fuller and more meaningful, but not without a cost. The last line of my letter was that I hoped this gift began to make up for some of the grand gestures I hadn’t made over the past five years.

Over the past six weeks, I’d taken snippets of time here and there, wherever I could find them, and worked hard on putting this together. I had airline miles saved up, and free hotels from points as well.  I knew any gift to Sonja would have to pass the “can we really afford this?” test. I also knew Sonja wanted beaches. I’d nearly booked a trip to Cancun once when I found dirt-cheap airfare, but I hesitated and was lost.  So, armed with airline miles and hotel points, I looked for something Sonja would enjoy. With Frontier’s airline miles, so many flights had obnoxious overnight layovers, thus disqualifying the destination. I would never recommend a Frontier card to anyone. I knew Sonja would want beaches, but Florida and Mexico were out due to the layovers — 22 hours from Omaha to Orlando? You can literally drive it in less time, and I never misuse the word “literally” my friends. I scoured and scoured and, at last, I found the perfect destination.

Newport, Oregon, is a town of ten thousand on the Pacific Coast. It is separated from Portland by a two hour drive through the Willamette Valley, and has a busy little spin studio in it for cycling and yoga classes.  Not only that, but there’s a marathon taking place there, and Sonja and I may run the half.  There’s a Peloton studio in Portland, the flights were good, and I was able to use hotel points to rent a tiny cottage on the beach with a fireplace and kitchenette, somewhat reminiscent of a place we stayed in Lake Worth, Florida, many years ago. Sonja read over each page as I sat nervously, watching her eyes trace over them. Would this come across as controlling? Would she accuse me of using her as an excuse to visit Oregon wine country? Would she have a work trip scheduled for late May that I didn’t know about? At last, she turned her head and her eyes went from the pages in front of her to mine, a rare, deep smile spread across her face. “This is going to be so much fun,” she said as she kissed me.  I felt light, almost giddy.  We got out of the car and headed into the restaurant.


V. Mertz has featured in this blog a few times, though far fewer times than it has featured in our lives. It was the recommendation of a friend of mine, Christa, when I told her I had a date and really wanted to impress the girl.  Since marrying that girl, V. Mertz has been our go-to for special occasions and also just nights when we want to get out and have a drink. The food is excellent, though the service is truly what sets it apart. We were greeted by Matthew, Omaha’s best and most credentialed sommelier, and the three of us chatted about wine for a while. I had reached out to him in advance to ask about their Willamette Valley selection, and he assured me they were well stocked. We started the night off with bubbles, a very pleasant Sekt, and then transitioned to our food courses, bass for Sonja, trout for me, and Matthew paired them with a couple of beautiful Oregonian wines.

I enjoyed all of our wines, though I got wrapped up in our conversation, which seemed to flow more naturally than it has in recent times, and I didn’t spend as much time thinking about the wines as I often do.  I was, however, especially taken with the Domaine Drouhin Rose Rock Vineyard Pinot Noir for it’s depth and relative complexity, how incredibly smooth and restrained it was, and how well it paired with my trout and Parisian gnocchi.  Sonja and I decided to visit Domaine Drouhin on our trip to Oregon in a couple months — something I’ll be looking forward to immensely.

As we talked and ate, Sonja explained to me something that, after seven years of being married to her, I had somehow failed to realize. What she liked most about my gift to her wasn’t the destination or even that I had booked two round trip tickets and five nights of hotel for a sum total of $91 in fees. It was that it came as a package, and that I didn’t make her make any decisions. I just handed it to her, if not on a silver platter, then in a manila envelope, and all she has to do is take work off, pack a suitcase, and have a vacation.  As she explained this to me, something clicked in my little brain. I, on the other hand, love to plan trips. I plan trips for my cross country team with detailed itineraries, I do the same thing for students in my humanities classes, yet when I do it with Sonja, it always becomes stressful. Finally, I got it.  With everything else going on in her life, from parenting to work and a million obligations, Sonja doesn’t want to plan vacations, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to take them.  And since I do enjoy planning them, then doing that is yet another act of service — one of her most profound love languages, which I can speak to her.

By the end of the meal, as we paid our check and prepared to depart for A Bronx Tale at the Orpheum (which was excellent and I recommend it), I had secured permission to budget for and plan trips to Champagne and Bordeaux to celebrate our fortieth birthdays, as well as a trip to Disney World, Hogwarts, and the beach with our kids for the summer of 2021. I look forward to doing these acts of service for our family, this grand gesture for my wife, and to sharing this time together in the future.  After seven years, I had never realized that my wife’s seeming lack of enthusiasm for vacations leading up to them was not that she didn’t want to take vacations, but that planning them stressed her out. It’s amazing what you can learn when you listen to someone, isn’t it?

As ever, thanks for reading, and please watch for our posts from Oregon in late May.  We will make it a point to stop at a few choice wineries on our drive to Newport.  Between now and then, I’m sure I’ll find something else to write about. Enjoy the rest of your weekends, friends, and see if you can learn something you didn’t know about your significant other today!




2 responses to “Grand Gestures and Learning to Listen

  1. Such a romantic! Congratulations on your anniversary and many many more. Good thinking too with your planning.
    By the way, I also liked a Bronx Tale. I grew up there an a lot of that movie hit home.

    Liked by 1 person

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