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Cooking in the E.R.

My husband Mickey and I met and courted over cooking. He and his roommates invited a bunch of us to brunch. I didn’t like just milling around, so I headed for the kitchen and cooked Julia Child scrambled eggs for the assembled hoards. I knew how to do this because I had learned to cook in a Radcliffe Coop and had rarely cooked for fewer than 30. Apparently my scrambled eggs were extraordinary. I was asked to cook a meal for Mickey and his roommates. After that we lived together.

Those early years we shopped and cooked together. Mickey wanted things clean once in a while. I wanted occasional order. These requirements were pretty minimal. Our senior year in medical school for about five months, our dinner consisted of chicken or beef cooked in an eternal soup. When we did cook, we were extravagant, colluding on elaborate French meals.

Our internships were every other night, every other weekend. From about November to May, when we finally ran out of toilet paper, we never went to the grocery store. We would get bagels sometimes on our every other Saturday afternoon off. My hospital’s food was better than Mickey’s so we ate most of our meals there. When Mickey was on the emergency room, and I off, one night I brought an electric frying pan, wine in a spice jar, chicken, vegetables, and cooked for the ER staff.

We moved to Washington, D.C., Mickey to do research and I to do my residency and chief residency years. We had two children. I nursed both children, never took any extra time off. Mickey and I shopped together before my rounds on Saturday morning; Mickey cooked and brought me elaborate dinners every night I was on call. We had cloth diapers, which we washed. I have no memory of how anything else got done. We returned to Boston for Mickey to do his residency in neurology. By then, Esther, my mother’s older sister, was our childcare giver. I worked, took flute lessons on my afternoon off, practiced in the morning before work, and around the kids’ needs when I was home and waiting for Mickey to arrive. I did cook during that time. Somebody else cleaned.

We returned to Washington, D.C., Mickey to research and me to practice. Mickey did morning child transport and child to pediatrician. I worked longer and longer hours. The house always had guests—short- or long-term. Mickey did most of the shopping and cooking, when other people weren’t cooking. A series of “house children,” guests usually in their 20s, lived with us for months to years and helped with cooking and other household tasks. I was in-house psychotherapist as well as chief of fabric and dish management. That until last November when I, at least temporarily, stopped working.

We find that in addition to the above we have naturally divided who does what:

                                             Repairs    Mickey
Banking, taxes, investment choices      Mickey
Children’s camp arrangements             Debbie
Event planning                                      Debbie
Lawn                                                    alas, no one voluntarily 
Swimming pool and hot tub                  Mickey
Travel and entertainment                       Mickey
Cleaning up dog and people messes    Mickey
House/children management                Debbie 

In fact, we’ve had a remarkably egalitarian marriage. Indeed, Mickey has consistently done more that I have in recent years. His support has enabled my professional life. In the months since I haven’t been working, it has given me great pleasure to show him my appreciation and finally to do more of my share.

Deborah B. Goldberg is a primary-care internist starting a new home-based behavioral medicine practice in Washington, D.C.