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Despite the title of this blog, I rarely talk about the specifics of being a doctor’s wife anymore. But I thought this might be interesting not only for doctors’ spouses but for the spouses of others who have not-a-regular-9-to-5-career, too. 

One of the most common questions I get is whether being a doctor’s wife is lonely. Sure. Being the spouse of a physician can be lonely at times. It really can. No different from being the spouse of a fire fighter or an accountant during tax season or many other professions. It’s less lonely, I imagine, than being the spouse of someone who’s gone for many days at a time – like a pilot or a member of the armed forces or a long-haul trucker or a consultant or many other professions.

It has its ups and downs, like being married to anybody with any job. And it has times where you will be alone, and/or in charge of the bulk of the housework/child-rearing, just like being married to anybody with a not-strictly-9-to-5 job.

Now that my husband is a practicing physician, the loneliest times are call weeks. So I thought I would tell you, today, what it’s like when my husband is on call. I’d be fascinated to know what YOU do when your spouse is gone.

 

We’re going into a call week this Saturday, which means that I may not see much of my husband for the next seven days. He goes into the hospital early. Depending on the patient load, he may come home really late. Or he may come home and then have to go back to the hospital, or come home and then have to spend several hours in his office, on the phone with the hospital staff or returning patient calls. There’s no guarantee he’ll see our daughter on any given day. There’s no guarantee he’ll be free to help with washing the dishes or the child, that he’ll be home to eat meals, that he’ll be free to talk through our separate days, that he’ll be next to me as I fall asleep.

To deal with call weeks, I do several things:

  1. I prep Carla by talking enthusiastically about our special Girls’ Week. I use lots of exclamation points. Sometimes we’ll go out for a special lunch date together. We’ll paint our toenails. We’ll eat snacky dinners. We’ll watch movies. We’ll be a little loosey goosey with the “no screens on school days” rules. If Carla feels sad about not seeing her father, we’ll make him a special art project. We may not bathe as frequently as normal.
  1. I go easy on myself with meal planning. Instead of focusing on healthy food, which I try to do most days, I make easy and comforting food the priority (note: “healthy” and “easy and comforting” are not necessarily mutually exclusive). For me, that’s things like tacos and chicken paprikas and pizza and grilled shrimp from the prepared foods counter at the grocery store. Bonus points for things that are easy to prepare and leave abundant leftovers. I may buy a special treat for myself, and possibly for Carla. I don’t limit myself to one piece of leftover Easter candy. I make sure I have a bottle of wine chilling in the fridge.
  1. I try to schedule fun things for myself during the week. Usually, my writing time is sacred. I try to treat my day like a real work day – albeit shorter than the typical 9-to-5. So I reserve coffees and lunch dates for call weeks. This week, I have a coffee, a lunch date, and a play date for me and Carla. At night, after Carla’s in bed, I curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine and/or some ice cream/rapidly dwindling Easter candy and watch Candy TV: Real Housewives, sitcoms my husband isn’t interested in, reruns of Seinfeld or Gilmore Girls or Friends or Family Feud.
  1. I try to maintain a (barf) Positive Attitude. I say cheerleadery things to myself and to Carla: We are so proud of Daddy. He is making people feel better. He works so hard, to take care of other people and to take care of us. We’ll be back to normal in just X days! We can do it! And anyway, missing Daddy helps us to appreciate him more when he’s here! I try to think cheering thoughts: I get to watch only what I want to watch this week! I can go to bed whenever I want! I am so glad I’m not a doctor! Hey, I didn’t say they were cheering to anyone but ME.

One of the things that’s most difficult for me during call weeks is to not unload on my husband when he’s around. Call is extremely stressful for him. He’s seeing super sick patients. He may have 11 patients to see or he may have 25. He may have really difficult procedures. He may be extra tired from being paged or getting called into the hospital overnight.

It’s not unstressful for me: suddenly, I’m solely responsible for house and child and self. Which can be easy breezy or exhausting on any given day. But I try really really hard to remember that I shouldn’t just throw the toddler and the dishes at my husband when he manages to show up at a reasonable hour.  And I shouldn’t complain too loudly or vigorously about how stressful my day was.

The best part about call weeks is that they END. For us, call takes place roughly every seven weeks. This differs from practice to practice, and we’re very lucky. So even though they are lonely weeks, they aren’t very frequent. And they don’t last terribly long.

I’m sure life can be lonely for MANY spouses out there, for all kinds of professions. And, in fact, I would be really interested in what it’s like for you, when your spouse isn’t there. How often is s/he gone? What’s the schedule like then, and how does it deviate from normal? How do you deal with the loneliness, and with the stress of being In Charge By Yourself?

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This is one of those posts where I make you decide who is right and who is wrong. As per usual, it’s a cage match between me and my husband and it’s not really a fair fight at all, considering that a) he has no idea I’m writing about this and b) I am so clearly in the right.

(As always, please recall that whenever I write a post that forces you, Internet, to take sides between me and my husband, I feel morally obligated to reference Temerity Jane, who used to write similar-enough-that-I-feel-morally-torn-type posts [only better and with more hilarity]. [This is purely a moral obligation, not a Temerity-Jane-imposed obligation.] [And in any event, the Temerity Jane blog is no more, a fact that is deeply sad because it contained so much good, funny writing and so many eye-opening posts about normalcy and I miss it.])

Let us power through the sadness we feel at our collective loss by directing some side-eye toward the Wronger. Yes, I’m sticking with that pseudo-word choice.

Okay, so let’s say you get a nice gift from someone. Let’s say it’s a… fancy chip and dip set. It’s from someone you care about but maybe don’t see all that often. You thank them, then you do whatever it is you do with a chip and dip set (put it in a cabinet for months at a time, in my house).

Then! The very people who have given you the chip and dip set let you know the happy news! They are visiting! So you invite them over to your house. What do you do, vis a vis the chip and dip set? (Is it really a set? I’m doubting that usage, now.) (I am also doubting my use of vis a vis but we must ONWARD!)

In my household, one of us would plan dinner around something that the visitors might enjoy, and the dinner may or may not include chips and dip – in fact, probably it would NOT involve chips and dip, because we really reserve chips and dip for larger gatherings: Super Bowl parties, birthday parties, I’m realizing as I type this that we really don’t have large gatherings very often at all. Anyway, no chips, no dip. The dinner would be pleasant and enjoyable and we’d all have a good time. The end.

The other of us would also plan a dinner around something that the visitors might enjoy, but would definitely figure out a way to incorporate the chips and dip element. AND would definitely use the chips and dip set that the visitors had so kindly bestowed upon us. We would all have chips and dip, any of the four of us might remark on how great the chips and dip set is, we’d all have a good time. The end.

The non-chips-and-dip member of our family (and by that, I mean in this scenario only; we are an all-chips, all-dip, all-the-time kind of couple, keeping in mind my previously stated reluctance to serve either chips or dip unless the event includes the word “party” in it somewhere) might show some exasperation for the chips-and-dip serving member.

“It seems kind of condescending,” that person might say. “Like we are purposely getting out the present just for them.”

The chips-and-dip serving member might respond: “Exactly! That’s exactly why we’re doing it! We are showing appreciation to the gift giver by using the gift in their presence!”

This is where the non-chipper member of our family might bring up the pro-dipper member’s propensity for wearing clothing gifts in the presence of the gift giver.

“What’s wrong with that?” the gift-wearer might ask. “It shows that a) I remember that this person gave me a gift and b) I like it enough to wear it!”

“But it appears as though you ONLY wear the gift in front of the gift giver,” says the non-gift-wearer, sensibly. “They might think you don’t actually like it, so you never wear it unless you are around them.”

“Perhaps that is sometimes true!” responds the gift-wearer. “But doesn’t it also show gratitude? It’s not as though every single minute I am in the gift-giver’s presence I wear only things given to me by that person. If I throw in a bracelet or a t-shirt or a pair of socks every now and again, isn’t it only giving that person pleasure, to see their gift in action?”

“It’s weird,” says the non-gift-wearer.

 

Who is RIGHT, Internet? And what do YOU do?

Whether or not you LIKE the gift, whether or not you USE it frequently or once a year…

If your mother-in-law sends you a necklace, do you wear it on occasion when you go out to dinner with her? If your coworker gives you a funky wallet during your Secret Santa exchange, do you sometimes grab it when you go to coffee with her? If your brother sends you a set of towels, do you make sure they are clean and hanging from your towel hook the next time he comes over for dinner?

AND, let’s look at it from the other side! If you gave someone a present, and they used it in your presence, how would that make you feel? Condescended to? Or pleased?

And AND, does this really only matter in specific situations like mine, wherein our family all lives thousands of miles away and we are pretty unsocial in general?

While I await your sage advice, I will go eat some chips. I just need to find something in which to dip them…

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I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on.

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. MORE SCOWLING.

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Being able to write every day most days.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2017 goes a hell of a lot better than we fear!

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What with my daughter’s impending third birthday and accompanying Sad Thoughts About Her Birth (which apparently I will never ever ever get over BAH), and the delightful meal pairing of Sleep Issues, I am feeling rather cranky this morning. Here are the current top aggravators:

— Despite producing many many flowers, my tomato plant has only to this point produced one (1) actual tomato. What is the deal?

 

— Today I have to return to the car dealership for a second-in-three-weeks visit that will cost an amount with t0o many zeroes. At least I am prepared for what this session will cost. The last time I was there – for an OIL CHANGE – I ended up sitting in the waiting room for FIVE HOURS.

 

— Due to SOMEONE’S cruel and thoughtless munching on my plants, I have become all too familiar with the smell of Anti-Deer-&-Rabbit spray. I’m sure (I’m not sure; I didn’t look) that the spray is made of something horrendous like badger urine or whatever, so I’m not SURPRISED that it makes me wish my face were pressed up against a sweaty pubescent skunk. But it’s pretty awful, and there’s no way to spray the stuff without smelling it. I’ve tried various methods, like holding my breath (works for maybe 30 seconds which is a sight shorter than the time it takes to circle my yard; induces lightheadedness) or breathing only through my mouth (but then I can TASTE the horrendous smell, which is either worse or just as bad) but nothing works. It just STINKS.

 

And then the spray nozzle DRIPPED and it did so ON MY HAND.

 

And then it turns out that a CARDINAL, and NOT a deer nor a rabbit is picking at my zucchini, so perhaps I didn’t even need the stupid spray in the first place.

AND THEN I spotted THIS, out in the middle of my yard. Sending the finger right back at you, Mother Deer. Sheesh. We are not running a drop-in daycare service for unguents over here, LADY.

Deer.JPG

That white thing the fawns are cozying up to? It’s the remains of a T-ball, broken by an over-zealous at-bat by me or my husband.

 

— Summer, with all its glory, means two things I HATE: 1. flies, in my house, and 2. near-constant STUFF on my floors: grass and dirt and rocks and other detritus of Having Fun Outdoors.

 

 

— I found not one but TWO chips in my favorite blue serving plate. It’s the exact same blue as the ring in my everyday dishes, and it’s perfect for serving grilled zucchini or a pair of pork tenderloins or many other delicious things, and it stands out so nicely among my other serving dishes, which are mostly plain white. But now: two big chips that show the pottery beneath the blue glaze. And, to make matters worse, now I see that TWO of my everyday dinner plates have chips in them. WHO is being so ROUGH with my dishes?! Me, probably, which just makes me feel crankier.

 

 

— Speaking of serving dishes and being cranky: My husband is not as gifted as I am in the realm of Sizing Things Up. So I got out a serving dish the other night for the grilled mushrooms and onions, and – since he was the one grilling them, and watching them shrink – I asked him whether he thought they would fit in the dish. He looked at me like I was utterly CRAZY; I may as well have asked if an ELEPHANT riding a BLUE WHALE would fit into that dish. So I put it away and got a larger dish. Are you surprised to learn that the mushrooms and onions barely filled the bottom third of the larger dish? I was, even though I should know after nearly 15 years of Tupperware containers half-filled with leftovers not to trust him on this subject.

 

 

— Recently I learned that my husband does something COMPLETELY NONSENSICAL. We were seasoning fish fillets for the grill, and I was doing the seasoning and he was doing the turning-of-the-fish, and I oiled the One Side, and then sprinkled salt on each fillet. And then he had me TURN THE FISH OVER so I could salt the other side, BEFORE PEPPERING the first side. How ridiculous is that? You salt and pepper at the SAME TIME. Is our marriage in PERIL?

 

 

— Any time I try to write outside of normal working hours, hours in which my child is at daycare, my child is suddenly and irresistibly attracted to my lap, and her hands are suddenly and irresistibly attracted to my keyboard. She perhaps is less child than cat. Very very adorable and (in this particular instance) very very annoying.

 

 

— There is little more frustrating than asking someone for advice with a problem, and having them make a suggestion that does not work for you, and telling them it doesn’t work for Reasons, and then having them make that suggestion repeatedly. And yet I am having difficulty NOT asking this person, who is having difficulty NOT giving me the advice I reject, so around and around we go in a resentful circle.

 

What’s driving you around Grump Corner this morning?

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What I want to talk about today is having something in your life that is deeply meaningful to one spouse but not the other.

I think this could take various forms. Let’s say you are very religious, and your spouse is not. I imagine that not having the same level of interest in religion could present some difficulties.  You might be thinking, well, that seems like something you should have talked about before you got married. But maybe there wasn’t such a vast distance between you at first; maybe you were a moderately religious person, and accepted that your spouse was an atheist… and only over time did your religion grow in importance to you, while your spouse remained an atheist. While people DO make this work in their marriages, I see how it could be potentially very difficult.

Or maybe when you were first married, you were both politically moderate. But over time, one of you has begun to edge into more conservative territory while the other has become more and more liberal. I cannot continue with this as an example because it’s stressing me out.

So: what about something that sounds less like it might cause a marital crisis?

What if you are really passionate about CrossFit, but your spouse just can’t get too excited about it? Maybe you can get your spouse to do a Paleo cleanse every now and again, but your spouse has no interest in exercising and really doesn’t want to wake up early to go to your CrossFit events and would rather watch Game of Thrones than the CrossFit Games. Even if you have friends who are also in CrossFit, I could see how it could be frustrating if your spouse did not share your interest.

Or what if your dream is to visit all the major league ballparks in America? But your spouse has zero interest in baseball. Your spouse might indulge you by planning vacations in cities  that have major league teams. But maybe your spouse has no interest in touring yet another ballpark, or going to yet another endless baseball game in the full glare of the sun. I can see how it would be lonely to attend a game by yourself, or frustrating to be pushed to do other tourist activities when all you want to do is walk among the bleachers of some historic field, imagining the crack of the ball against the bat, and the roar of the crowd.

I think we can all agree that spouses can and may – and even should – have different interests. And maybe we can agree that it’s important for spouses to respect one another’s interests, even if they don’t understand them or like them. We might also be able to go one step further and say that it would be in the interests of the marriage to at least try to support the other spouse’s interest. And, on the other side of things, for the spouse-with-the-interest to be respectful and understanding of the disinterest on the spouse’s side, and not to press to hard or get too bent out of shape.

My example of this is kind of frivolous, and really only becomes an issue about once a year. But I spend a lot of energy fretting about it and wishing VERY HARD that I could force my husband into not just respecting my interest but into LOVING it as much as I do.

My parents live in the middle of a picturesque forest in a wide valley between two mountain ranges. It is indescribably beautiful, so I will post a photo of it to give you the mere glimmer of an idea.

cropped-holland-lake1.jpg

I didn’t grow up there, in the mountains. But my dad spent summers there as a boy, and so we visited the area every summer. At one point, my parents bought a swath of land and built a little one bed/one bath log cabin powered by a generator, and my whole family would go there for weekends or weeks throughout the summer. There’s a little lake nearby, and my parents have a boat, and we’d water ski or tool around the lake or lie on the dock in the sun. We did lots of hiking, even though hiking isn’t really my jam, we played Scrabble in the evenings, and we spent many, many hours reading in the clear mountain air, with only the sounds of sandhill cranes, the thrum of hummingbirds and industrious bees, and the distant whir of a motor boat to disrupt the pure calm.

But this idyllic beauty comes at a price: My parents’ home is difficult to get to – most of a day of travel from my home. And it’s isolated – there aren’t any bars or movie theaters or malls or really many restaurants you can get to without a long drive.

To me – and to my parents, who live there – these are pros rather than cons.

For my husband, who was born in a city and has lived in a city of one size or another his whole life – at least I think that’s the defining difference between us, here – they seem to be more con than pro.

He goes, without hesitation or complaint. We book our flights each year, and he talks about looking forward to taking a break, and about how nice it will be to see my parents. But I don’t think the idea of being completely off-grid is as appealing to him as it is to me. No cell towers anywhere nearby. No cable television. Nowhere to drive if you get bored (!) by the beautiful scenery, unless you want to spend an hour or more in the car. (We do, now, have electricity; my parents eventually built a two-bed/three-bath home with all the amenities.)

To me, having grown up with this space in my life, it has become synonymous with peace and relaxation. So I just don’t get why my husband doesn’t love it the way I do. I want desperately for him to love it. Not just tolerate it. But to LOVE it, to feel the pull of the tamaracks and Ponderosa pine, to long for the brush of ice-kissed mountain breezes on his face, to ache for the enormous wide-open skies and gleaming silence.

It has recently occurred to me that maybe I am being unreasonable.

If I were to be a passionate marathon runner, I can envision wanting my husband to be supportive of my efforts to get into shape and eat a healthy diet. I can envision wanting my husband to make every effort to attend the actual marathons, to cheer me on and to be there at the finish line. I can even envision myself wanting him to share with me the exhilaration of pushing my body to its limits, and the euphoria of accomplishing such a physically and mentally punishing goal. But I cannot envision asking him to get up at 4:00 each morning and run 10 miles if he doesn’t want to.

I am a writer. Some of what I write is poetry. My husband is supportive of my writing, even proud. He has been to readings with me. He tolerates it when I read him poems from the New Yorker. He has bought me books of poems he thinks I would like. But he does not love poetry, or even like it. I cannot envision asking him to read books of poems just because I love it.

These things seem like reasonable deviations in our interests. So why am I so fixed on trying to get him to love visiting the mountains?

I have gone through stages. The wheedling stage: just try it, please please for me, and maybe you’ll like it! The petulant indifference stage: well, I’m going to have a good time whether you do or not. The placating stage: let’s do exactly what YOU want to do, and maybe you’ll enjoy it more! The frustration stage: there must be something wrong with you; what’s not to like?!?! The despair stage: how can I spend the next fifty years trying to get you to love something you just don’t love? The melodramatic stage: does this incompatibility mean we are destined for divorce?

Maybe the next stage is acceptance. Maybe I have to finally realize that my parents’ magical forest hideaway is just not my husband’s kind of thing. Maybe I will have to get to a point where Carla and I go visit my parents by ourselves, and don’t pressure my husband into making the trek. (Although I don’t necessarily think he’d like THAT; he doesn’t like to be away from me and Carla, for one thing, and he also wants to see my parents.) Maybe I just have to let him support my interest by coming with me, even though it’s not his idea of The Best Time Ever, and allow him to feel slightly bored and slightly uncomfortable. Maybe, over time, he will come to enjoy it more, and maybe I just have to stop pressuring him. Or maybe not. Maybe it just shouldn’t matter. After all, he may not LOVE it, but he Shows Up, and that should count for more than I’ve been counting it. And I guess I have to respect and support that as much as he respects and supports my need to have this kind of retreat in my life.

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I don’t even remember what The Thing was, now. It was something ridiculous. Like, tomato sauce. We have these shared shopping lists on our phones: one for the grocery store, one for Target, one for Costco. And my husband was going to Target that very day, so I put “tomato sauce” on the Target list.

When he came home, I helped put the shopping away. No tomato sauce.

“Oh no!” I lamented. “You forgot the tomato sauce!”

“No, I didn’t,” he said.

I looked at him, blinking. “. . .”

Him: “We don’t get tomato sauce at Target.”

Me: “I know we don’t usually get tomato sauce at Target. But… I put it on the list.”

Him: “But we don’t get it at Target. It’s less expensive at the grocery store.”

Me: “But… you weren’t going to the grocery store today. And I need the tomato sauce tonight. And I PUT it on the LIST.”

Him: “But we Don’t. Get. Tomato sauce. At Target.”

Me: Primal scream.

How..? How can something so perfectly logical to one half of a couple – a couple who have been together FIFTEEN YEARS and who know each other QUITE WELL – be so completely illogical to the other? HOW WILL WE SURVIVE?!?!

(At least now I know I will have to include “Special dispensation” or “One-time exception to the precise location of the typical purchase of this item” should I need The Thing at Target in future. Marriage: A Perpetual Learning Experience.)

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This is one of those posts where I make you decide who is right and who is wrong. The people you are choosing between? Me – the really-not-so-great-at-blogging-lately-blogger you adore – or my husband – a guy you don’t even know.

I am going to try my best to explain each side in as unbiased a way possible, so as to keep your judgments strictly fact-based. But you must take a side. You MUST.

Listen, Internet, I need you to really FOCUS here. Because your vote is SUPER IMPORTANT. After all, we are about to bring a CHILD into the world, and teach that child the Right way to do things. And since one of these responses is so clearly WRONG, the WRONG Spouse needs to be educated before the baby arrives.

THIS IS FOR THE BABY.

(As always, please recall that whenever I write a post that forces you, Internet, to take sides between me and my husband – which I have done, to this point, just a few times, not counting this post which is really not interesting enough to require such a lengthy disclaimer – I feel morally obligated to reference Temerity Jane, who writes similar-enough-that-I-feel-morally-torn-type posts [only better and with more hilarity]. [This is purely a moral obligation, not a Temerity-Jane-imposed obligation.])

Let’s get right to the situation shall we?

First, you need to imagine that you are standing in your kitchen, minding your own business, possibly cursing the very dishes you are washing for the ten BAJILLIONTH time because dishes never END, EVER, while your spouse is upstairs doing – let’s be charitable here – some household chore that is equally necessary and irritating, when you hear a loud crashing noise from the second floor.  (You may have to imagine that you live in a house with a second floor.)

Now, the crashing noise is… distressing in that it’s not a normal Household Sound (me: momentarily glad I don’t live in a house where crashing is NORMAL) (the baby: not yet) and so you run to the bottom of the stairs and you yell up to your spouse.

What is it that you yell?

One of us, in such a situation, would yell, “What happened?”

The other would yell, “Are you okay?”

Now, before we delve into each of these responses, let’s imagine two other scenarios.

Scenario #1 (okay, really #2 if we are counting the Loud Crash as Scenario #1): You and your spouse are standing in the afore-mentioned kitchen and one of you is loading dishes into the dishwasher and the other of you is puttering about the kitchen, getting dinner ready or putting groceries away or some such.  Then one of you – you, your spouse, doesn’t matter I guess; this is YOUR imagination – trips over the dishwasher and cracks a toe or a shin on the corner and yelps in pain.

What do you say?

“Are you okay?”

“What happened?”

Scenario #2 (really, #3):  You and your spouse are settling in for an evening watching Mad Men or Justified or [insert your own wonderful TV show with adorable leading man here], and one of you carries the bowl of popcorn while the other carries the drinks.

Just as you reach the couch, one of you trips, flinging popcorn/[drink of your choice] all over the couch and the floor and everything.

Okay, if your FIRST response isn’t laughter, what is it?

“What happened?”

“Are you okay?”

In my house, one of us almost exclusively responds with “What happened?” and the other responds with “Are you okay?”

“Are you okay?” is the more appropriate response because it defines the other person’s well-being as the asker’s priority.  Things get dropped/broken/spilled; people trip. But what is important here is whether the dropper/breaker/spiller/tripper is all right. Understanding whether the person is okay will also help the asker determine what to do next:, i.e. calling 911 or offering a hug vs. grabbing a towel/vacuum cleaner.

“What happened?” is the more appropriate response because it pinpoints the cause of the crash/trip/pain.  It allows the asker to assess the situation clearly and formulate a clear plan of action for dealing with the situation.  If the cause of the crash was an accidental backing-into-a-stack of books, that’s a whole different beast than if it were caused by a person fainting or falling down the stairs or being pinned under a bookcase. If the trip into the dishwasher was the result of a slippery floor or a failure on the spouse’s part to make it clear that the dishwasher was open and in the way, well, that’s different than if the tripper just misjudged the distance between shin and sharp corner.

“Are you okay?” is NOT an appropriate response because it does nothing to solve the situation or prevent similar situations in the future. Plus, usually, your spouse can SEE, with his/her own two eyes, that you ARE okay, so what’s the point in asking?

“What happened?” is NOT an appropriate response because it implies blame in a situation where the dropper/breaker/spiller/tripper might already feel stupid and embarrassed. Plus, it doesn’t acknowledge any physical pain that may have resulted from the drop/break/spill/trip, which might be more important to the dropper/breaker/spiller/tripper than some knocked-over books or popcorn-covered couch cushions.

It is so very clear to me that one of these responses is WRONG that I am practically shaking with the wrongness.

I have no doubt that you will take my side in this. NO DOUBT. But let’s all try to be fair and reasonable when explaining which is right and which is wrong and why.

GO.

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