Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Do I Dare to Eat a Peach

It occurs to me that it is sometimes okay to talk about the things that are going well. Comedy does not always favor success. It's infinitely easier for a dame like me to comment, quip and banter my way out of recognizing that things are okay, sometimes better than okay. No doubt it is an effort to pre-jinx the universal jinx that is on its way, to drop the other shoe manually as opposed to waiting for fate, to anticipate Murphy's Law before it is enforced; because happiness is unsettling.

Happiness realized is the best feeling ever, it feels as if you've just learned to breathe all over again. Once realized, however, we begin to fear losing it. So in order to prepare ourselves for its inevitable departure, we lower its value by downplaying it, changing the subject and, in my case, sarcastically quipping it away. And once lowered, we do not fear its loss as deeply; and we also do not feel its resonance as fully.

So, with as little irony, sarcasm and adorable cleverness as I can muster I will take a moment to recognize what is going well.

I've lost five pounds.

I am employed in the field I've always wanted to work in, not in the job I originally envisioned, but lucky to not have to have something to fall back on.

Teenager #1 has expressed genuine appreciation for little and big things with more frequency.

I love my dog.

I have some kick-ass friends.

I enjoy writing.

(It's so hard not to make fun of myself right now)

Husband still makes me laugh after 19+ years.

Both cars are paid off.

I started running this summer, and I like it.

Teenager #2 did the dishes last week.

(Almost impossible not to comment on all of the other things he didn't do)

The weather's been really nice this summer.

My extended family, complex and, at times Shakespearean, are healthy and still talking to each other.

(Hello Fate, tempted yet)

I've had some really good peaches this summer.

There are more good things, I'm sure of it, but I am feeling far too extravagant now and the urge to mock myself knowingly in order to connect and ingratiate myself to you is overwhelmingly irresistible. Also, my fear of destroying all that is good by appreciating it is censoring me. And none of what I listed is earth-shattering or deserves to be on a poster superimposed over a sunset by the sea. All of them do, however, make me smile and breathe a little easier and center my world to allow me space for the perspective and point of view to tackle the complex, and at times Shakespearean, stuff; the stuff that we need to laugh at so we don't crumble.

Challenging bad shitty things are going to keep happening. So there is nothing wrong or selfish or arrogant in enjoying a good peach and existing in the pure joy of that moment. Enjoying the good stuff doesn't make the bad stuff happen, it makes the bad stuff endurable.

So, dare to eat a peach Alfred J. Prufrock, and don't just eat it, enjoy it.

(image courtesy of Mark Leopold)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Checks and Balances

Let's start with a disclaimer: I love my husband. As human beings go, he's tops. Decent, intelligent, kind, moral, funny, responsible, exemplary to a fault. I love him, I'm lucky to have him, he's a great guy.

That being said...

It is not easy being married. Period. And then, geniuses that we are, the majority of us married fools throw kids into the mix and they screw everything up.

Okay, another disclaimer. I love my kids. They are miracles and I can't imagine my life without them. I'm lucky to have them, I wouldn't trade them for anything, etc.

But they do screw up everything.

All of a sudden that dreamy soulmate whom you wanted to spend every minute with laughing and going out to dinner and taking weekend jaunts to Amish country to by jam and quilts, is an incompetent, insensitive a-hole who comes home late from work and passive aggressively passes judgement on the cleanliness of the house, the fact that the kids are watching TV and is that all we're having for dinner?  And now the already festering mess of toys, clothes, dirty dishes and snotty noses becomes a petrie dish for the growing virus of resentment, exhaustion, broken dreams and misunderstanding.

At the root of it all, we all want to be the most important person in our spouse's life and we all want to be appreciated and adored for our efforts and our potential. And, at the end of a long day, we want those things without asking for them. A little recognition that I kept the children alive for another day. A little appreciation that spouse negotiated tricky personnel problems successfully. The problem is, at the end of a long day, we want to receive it before we give it, because we deserve it because today was really hard damnit, and they should know that. Why don't they know that? They should know that just by looking at me. And since you both want it first, it's awfully hard to be the one to give it first in hopes of receiving it in kind.

And this is just scratching the surface. In addition to the end-of-the-day-appreciate-me-more game of chicken, there is a whole binder full of checks and balances and procedural tactics that can make or break a lasting marriage. Here is a sampling:

1. Getting up with the kids:

  • Duties include: waking up before the laws of nature intended if your children are 8 and below, or   waking children up repeatedly if your kids are tweens or above; negotiating breakfast; clean laundry retrieval (or dirty laundry upcycling depending on success of #3); preparing lunches during school year, managing TV consumption all other times of year; crisis management for hair, incomplete sports apparel, toothbrush in the toilet, forgotten homework, only one shoe and lost phone which is either on vibrate or out of battery power. 
  • Ideal Candidate: Parent who is less of a risk to society while experiencing sleep deprivation
  • Duration of Duties: infancy-12th grade
  • Risks: permanent alteration of sleep habits
  • Rewards: Minimum of one weekend day to sleep in for good marriage, two for healthy marriage
2. Dishwashing
  • Duties include: loading dishwasher for maximum fit and to specifications of Alpha Spouse; administering dishwasher detergent in correct compartments in correct amounts; turning on dishwasher when full in timely manner(not leaving it overnight so there are no bowls, spoons or cups available for breakfast!!!!!!); unloading dishwasher and replacing dishes in appropriate or approximate locations(that pan has never gone in that cupboard, ever, not once since we've been married); engaging garbage disposal, wiping down counters, stove and table with surface sponge not dishwashing sponge.
  • Ideal Candidate: Both spouses sharing job equally. Dishwasher loading and general kitchen cleanliness maintenance should go to spouse with more control issues, unloading of dishwasher should fall on more clueless spouse.
  • Risks: Molehill arguments snowballing into mountains based on incorrect loading and unloading, mounting resentment at clean dishes still loaded or neglected dirty dishes, increased chance of martyrdom when choosing the "I'll just do it myself" response.
  • Rewards: Unsolicited appreciation for successful execution of any of the above duties, increase in general attractiveness to spouse as a result of completing any of above duties without being asked.
3. Laundry
  • Duties include: collecting dirty laundry; transport to washer and dryer; selecting correct washer settings; emptying pockets of money, phones, change, vital tax receipts(though really this should be done before clothing hits the laundry basket or vicinity thereof); dispensing detergent in correct receptacle, transferring wet clothes to dryer and considerately pulling out items to be line-dried(if there is even an inkling of a doubt-line dry it gentlemen); transport of clean clothes to folding area; return of clean clothes to appropriate drawers and closets(please stop giving my socks to the boys).
  • Ideal Candidate: Any member of the household who knows what's good for him or her.
  • Risks: shrinking favorite Anthropologie shirt, forgetting to turn on dryer and work shirts not done in time, losing vital tax receipts.
  • Rewards: See #2.
4. Dinner
  • Duties include: making dinner for everyone in the house without asking what you should make because you've known everyone in the house as long as I have, and by the way, those things on the shelf over there are cookbooks with pretty detailed instructions.
  • Ideal Candidate: Anyone in the house at dinner time who might be hungry
  • Risks: "is this new?" " peppers...great." "Is this all we're having?"
  • Rewards: The occasional grunt of gratitude, or, if you're not the alpha cook, lavish praise from society for having broken the mold of convention to treat your family to dinner and give your spouse a "night off"
  • Addendum: for a truly happy marriage the spouse who does not prepare dinner should leap with joy to complete Duty #2.

5. Going out with Friends

  • Duties include: getting the hell out of the house to unwind with friends before you become an unpleasant headline in tomorrow's paper.
  • Ideal Candidate: Whichever spouse has that look about them
  • Risks: Overuse leads to other spouse developing that look about them on a permanent basis
  • Rewards: You reboot and forget why your spouse and kids are so annoying
  • Addendum: If you'd like to enjoy this outing guilt-free, execute steps 1-4 prior to said outing. And remember: of course we are evolved grown-ups and do not have to ask for permission from our spouses to go out with friends, so don't forget to always ask permission from your spouse to go out with friends or risk paying extra emotional rent. 

Other sections of the Marital Checks & Balances Binder include:

  • Paying the bills: not always wise to give to the more controlling spouse.
  • Getting children to bed-often includes bathing for younger children and bribing for older ones.
  • Maintaining family calendar: if it ain't on the calendar it doesn't exist. Accidental-on-purpose absentmindedness goes in the marriage deficit column.
  • Grocery shopping: if I forget your soup crackers, it doesn't mean I don't love you
  • Vacation packing: Common sense is not always a given

Of course this binder does not exist in any corporeal manifestation, it is amassed day after day, year after year, failing after failing and each spouse's version is slightly different. At the back of said binder is a scorecard. Not surprisingly, you are always ahead on your scorecard, by a landslide. And then they do something good, like remember your anniversary, and you feel shame for having judged them so harshly, and you give them more points than they probably deserve and happily do all of the above for a whole day without leaving the room to mutter your carefully cultivated resentment as you let the dog out in the middle of the movie you let spouse pick out.

I know yours is a happy marriage with open and honest communication and that you do not need a mental binder of checks and balances like I do. I know Husband and I should talk about these things. And we have, and sometimes, air is cleared, mistakes are owned and we turn the corner onto a sunny street with well-tended flower boxes and birds singing our wedding song. Other times...assurances are made and followed through on until they are inconvenient, or I'm exhausted, or he had a crappy day and habit and expectation get blurred again until we both have that look about us for far too long. Because marriage is hard; marriage with kids is even harder.

It's a little easier though if you try to even out that scorecard a bit. My advice, try two things: ask for what you need, and do what your spouse needs without being asked. You know them well enough, don't play dumb because it's easier, or because being a martyr makes you feel superior. These simple actions will not miraculously cure all that ails, after all, we have the lives we create(consciously or unconsciously), and any behavioral modification takes time, patience and consistency. Don't forget though, this all started because you loved hanging out together and going to Amish country for jams and quilts. Reality and day-to-day drudgery exacts a toll on the way to Amish country that feels higher than it should be at times, but it's worth paying because those jams are just as good as you remembered.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dear Supreme Court

Dear Supreme Court,

I know you are busy, I'm sorry to bother you, but I just have a quick parenting question. (Really this has nothing to do with recent events. Definitely not an oh so subtle attempt to voice my opinion) And since you mediate disputes...

You see, it's about my son, who, by the way, as a teenager, has the makings of a great lawyer since they are inexhaustible when fighting to get their own way. Anyway, my question is about my son and video games.

His argument is that he has the right to play as much as he wants and I should just trust that he'll take care of the other stuff he has to do.

My proposal is that he should have time limits on video games, and if he wants more time he can earn it by completing homework, doing extra chores, extra summer reading anything that contributes to the family and his future. The hope being that he sees the bigger picture of how he functions in the world both as an individual with specific beliefs and opinons and as part of a community that contributes to taking care of each other.

His counter argument is that he knows he needs to get his homework done and do his summer reading and that he'll do it when he wants to, and I should just leave him alone and trust his judgement. As to chores, they are not something that he believes he needs to do, but something that he believes I want him to do.

I know he has a good heart and knows basic right from wrong. I know he is passionate about what he believes is right and wrong, as most adolescents are. I also know that as an adolescent, he believes he knows everything, which may be the origin or result of this passion. I also know that as an adolescent he, ultimately, wants to get his way and will fight hard for that perceived right- to simply get what he wants.

I also know that he understands that there is pride in contributing to the family, that, in fact, contributing to take care of everyone ensures that he is also taking care of himself. That there is a victory in knowing that we as a whole are stronger because of his involvement in our comprehensive care. The victory may not be as instantly tangible as conquering the next round of Super Smash Brothers or League of Legends, it may require more work and compromising on points that are hard to concede. But I have seen him calmer, happier and prouder of himself when he discovers that he can do all of the stuff he has to do and still have plenty of freedom and time to do the things he wants to do.

So, here's my question: do I stick to what I know is ultimately best for him even though it is a rougher parenting road, or do I cave? I mean he's doing fine, and I guess as a mother, it historically is my job to put my needs secondary to his. And maybe if I cave on this, I will earn his favor. Maybe by letting him do whatever he wants, he will remember me fondly when I am old and need him to help take care of me. I scratch his back, he scratches mine. Right?

I mean, it's not like I'm opening the door for him to just demand whatever he wants whenever he wants it. It's not like he'll use this freedom to play as many video games as he wants to secure other privileges as well. People never do that. Right?

It's not like I'm telling him to just settle for what's good enough and that the potential for true humanity lies in the belief of every man for himself and that what he wants and believes is more important than finding a way to exist in his rights and beliefs while honoring the rights and beliefs of others. Right?

It's not like he's going to see this one decision as a validation to further his own agenda in the future or that it constitutes the right for him to make more self-serving demands as time goes by. Right?

Anyway, I know you've had to make a lot of decisions in your time. I know I've made far more missteps than you, some I'd certainly like to overturn. And I only have to negotiate with one other parent, there's nine of you who have to agree and agree to disagree time and again. And I know adolescent behavior is no comparison to the gravity of the cases and issues you arbitrate. But, I just thought if you had a moment to weigh in I'd love to hear what you think in the case of Carpenter v Carpenter: Can Freedom and Responsibility Co-habitate?

Thank you for your time.