Regardless of how well a marriage runs, there are usually some trigger points for conflict. Two of ours happen to be chocolate and exercise – and the combination of the two can be particularly dangerous.
“I had a little run-in with the lentilky (a Czech version of M&Ms or British Smarties).” Radek was perched in his usual spot on a bar stool watching me wipe down the kitchen counter after dinner one night. On the nights Radek does the dishes, I often fold the laundry, straighten toys and pack Anna’s school svačina (snack) so that when he’s finished we can both relax. When it’s my night for dishes, in contrast, Radek sits at the bar patiently waiting for me. With the children asleep and the house quiet, it’s one of the more intimate moments of our day together.
As I scrub and Radek sits, I recount to him the funny things the children said or did that day. Like when Samuel brought me a torn bit of a beautiful plant he’d uprooted from the garden all the while muttering “Sammy no spanking, Sammy a good boy, no trouble,” knowing full-well that his garden picking is supposed to be limited to berries and flowers. I tell Radek how Anna perfected her one-handed cartwheel in gymnastics or how Oliver spent the afternoon watching our neighbor dig a hole in his backyard. When I begin to raise concerns about whether Anna understood her Czech homework or ponder when Oliver might learn to listen the first time, Radek sometimes offers an opinion. Mostly, he just listens.
While we chat, we open a Milka chocolate bar to share or take a spoonful of pudding that Radek regularly prepares for the children’s breakfast. Sometimes we have an espresso or tea with honey to complement the after-dinner sweet, but usually the chocolate stands alone. Since we are both avid exercisers and fairly conscientious about eating healthily, it’s fair to say that chocolate is a mutual vice.
Our styles of eating sweets dramatically differ however. While I’m satisfied breaking off a row from a caramel-filled Milka bar, savoring those four sweet bites and then calling it quits, Radek finds it impossible to stop until he’s demolished any and all traces of chocolate in the pantry. Nothing, not even the miniature packs of lentilky that I buy for the children is safe when he’s in a chocolate-eating mood. During the holiday seasons, Radek has been known to single-handedly devour chocolate devils, Mikulašes, Easter bunnies and giant chocolate eggs. His taste in chocolate isn’t limited to Czech chocolates. When we lived in the US, his vices included Hersey’s kisses and his all-time favorite, peanut M&M’s. I remember once finding him asleep on the carpet, English grammar book buried under a pile of silvery chocolate kiss wrappers. There was not a single kiss left in the 12-ounce plastic bag!
What makes Radek’s chocolate-eating so confounding, is the fact that when I met him, ten years ago, his idea of a sweet dessert was a bowl of cereal, a rice milk meal or a prepackaged tvaroh (quark) dessert. When I purchased an Orion (Nestle’s Czech home brand) Milena or Kofila chocolate bar, Radek didn’t even want a taste. He joked that his American sweetheart had the only sweet tooth in the relationship and encouraged me to join him in the evenings at the gym.
Oh, how the tables have turned in recent years. Of course, he blames my American influence, but it’s a hard point to argue considering that my favorite chocolate indulges are still those I find in the Czech Republic or otherwise abroad in Europe, and not the American imports that Radek craves. When my mother travels to Prague, she always packs a large supply of peanut M&M’s, which she and Radek take turns dipping into during her stay. Invariably, once the candy is opened in Radek’s presence, it disappears in a single night, much to my mother’s horror.
For us, how we eat and when we exercise are topics we must discuss with kid-gloves, that is, if we aim to still be speaking afterward. While I enjoy regular amounts of moderate exercise and reward myself regularly with moderate amounts of chocolate, my dear husband’s philosophy on exercise and sweets differs to an extreme. Radek exercises the way he indulges: 110% effort until exhaustion. Who gets to go first, stay away longest or indulge the most repeatedly crop up in heated discussions.
On recent bike ride through the Jizerské Mountains I was the one to demand the chocolate stimulation. After an hour of pedaling uphill with no sign of downhill or a lunch break, my stomach began to rumble and with it my mood dramatically soured. Radek’s goal for the day was to bike 80 kilometers, which he thought reasonable since we had left the children with his mother. We’d both run 10K the evening before, which I belatedly realized put me (and my tired muscles) at a considerable disadvantage. By the time we’d made the initial climb from his grandparent’s apartment near the dam in Jablonec past the ski area at Severák and had begun traversing the Jizerské Mountains with long upward climbs followed by steep downhill sections, I had a cramp in my right calf and my mood was black. Radek called the mountainous ride “gently rolling,” but I disagreed.
We stopped to buy a tatranka (chocolate wafer bar) at a roadside stand so that I could make it to lunch. Amidst much grumbling on my part, we persisted and finally reached our lunch stop near the village of Jizerka. Watching Radek pedal with ease about 200 meters ahead of me for most of the ride, did not improve my mood. Neither did the overcast sky or the 13C weather. I tried to tell Radek that I’d counted on having a fun day in the mountains with moderate exercise, but his mind was set on reaching his goal. When I pointed out the numerous couples we passed who were biking side-by-side, Radek’s retort was to pedal faster so I could meet his pace. Sixty-two kilometers later, we made it back to Radek’s grandparents at 6:30 that evening. Radek’s grandfather took one look at my face and said, “He tried to destroy you, didn’t he?”
After Radek’s grandfather served us a good hearty Czech meal of beef soup, schnitzel and potatoes washed down with a glass of beer, I felt a little better about our day’s efforts. Although we hadn’t reached Radek’s goal of 80 kilometers, we had ridden a considerable distance and, more importantly, we’d managed to finish the ride still speaking.
At our pension later that evening with the children safely tucked into bed at his mother’s, we celebrated with a bottle of red wine, some finger food and a rich chocolate dessert. Radek recounted the moment when he thought he’d have to get off the bike and push me back home. I admitted that in retrospect I’d had a great day despite feeling physically over-extended. As the wine dwindled and the chocolate began to disappear, Radek pushed the plate toward me and said with a smile, “Saved the last bite for you.”