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Domains and Stasis

January 4, 2011

Remember how men used to be famous for never changing a diaper in their lives?

That is not the situation we are living in now. Saturday in the parking lot of Fairway, I saw at a manly looking guy climb out of a car and apply a baby-wearing device to his body, and as he got ready to stuff a baby-shaped object into it, I commented to Matthew, “In Brooklyn a baby-wearing device, not to mention a baby, is the top accessory for a certain kind of guy. It’s like having a purse with a tiny little dog peeking out of it is for a certain sort of girl.”

Matthew looked over at the man. “What, that’s just an Ergo he’s putting on,” he said, dismissively.

My husband, a man of few words but a man who knows an Ergo from a Snugli from a Babyhawk at a glance, had deftly reinforced my point.

Right now, I’ve taken a break from stuffing plates into the dishwasher while he and Henry have a tooth-brushing party in order to jot down my thoughts. The tooth-brushing party sounds fun but I go to so many myself —like 5/7ths of the tooth-brushing parties— that I’m happy to be sitting this one out. There many aspects of this co-parenting thing that I love.

That said, it would seem that there are certain aspects of our domestic, uh, bliss, that might be simplified if my partner and I had held more dear the repressed and divisive gender roles we so proudly shucked like we were so much corn.

Gay corn at a Halloween party, is the kind of shucking I mean we have done.

Though I parent, I also work. It’s an important part of my identity. It’s an important part of our budget. But just as the world has advanced to a place where I earn money, it has also advanced to the place where Matthew gives a shit about what the living room looks like.

Even if money were no object, we’re not going Danish modern just because I feel like it. Or because he feels like it. We are far too stubborn to cede control. So folks, we are embracing the new style: a style called gridlock. It might not look so great, but think of all of the money you’ll save! Lots of contemporary couples I know go for it, in fact. In lots of domains, not just the living room.

That’s because everyone in the house having a say in not just the living room but everything else, too, can get complicated.

If these are the domains: parenting; decorating; earning money; shopping; cooking; housework; managing the finances; managing the sitter, someone needs to be easygoing about at least some of them. In our house, this seems impossible.

Both adults over here seem to have the sort of analytical and editorial personalities that make it seem like a top priority to save the other person from themself and the terrible decisions they are about to make. Not to mention save ourself from the other person and their potentially ghastly decisions. And so everything requires much careful presentation, and discussion, and disagreement, and standoff, and then hugging, followed by a change of subject, and then a fallow period of no discussion on the topic, and then a resumed discussion fourteen to sixty-five days later. At this meeting, we both have done a lot of thinking, and are both prepared to be reasonable. Except it quickly becomes clear that our positions have switched in an absolutely polar way. So while each party came ready to do the other’s bidding — not because we are easygoing but because the other person has, upon reflection, made a really strong point — as it happens the other person has switched too, and so we remain at exact and perfect odds. Always. Gridlock. Us. We astound even ourselves.

There are no arguments in our house like the arguments spawned by paint chips. No desperation as deep as that of one person wanting to buy a new chair, and the second person saying that the chair that the first person wants to buy looks like it was sculpted out of a hunk of lard. When the second person realizes how this might sound, or that they have been speaking aloud, or something, there is a quick and quiet apology. The first person has shifted focus and feels done shopping, perhaps for the day, more likely for life, and has started to think about the positive qualities of lard, like flavoring the best of the best flour tortillas. The first person would like a margarita. It seems like a margarita would be better to get than a chair. The second person clearly needs a margarita more than a chair, too. And so we are off, chairless, to forge some sort of peace at a Mexican restaurant.

I do revel in the fact that I won’t be doing every pile of laundry myself until the end of time. And I know that our shower might teach itself Greek and Latin while it waits for me to clean it, that is in part because I am married to a guy with high standards. If I clean the shower, chances are good—nay, excellent—that I will do what other people might consider to be a miserable job, and because I’d rather die than, at the age of 39, ask for a lesson in cleaning a shower, or worse, be given one after the miserable fact without asking, I am less likely to undertake the project than ever; I would rather learn Greek or Latin. So first, I try to hire someone. Then, I try to comfort myself with how great I must be if someone with such high standards chose me.

He chose me, despite the fact that sometimes, I am a person who cannot even have someone else boil water for her. “How come this is on medium high rather than high? Did you salt the water? You’re supposed to SALT IT LIKE THE OCEAN.” But if he never tried to boil water, he would never do it wrong; we would not have this argument. We would have a different argument, is the thing. It would almost definitely be worse.

I am not allowed to complain about a man who is interested in domestic projects. Not everyone is married to who I am married to, who is a man who loves me and loves our child and cleans and makes money and feels passionately about how the diaper bag should be packed and doesn’t own video games and doesn’t even want to own video games. But they might be married to people who are happier existing in a higher level of squalor, just the sort of a cozy level of squalor that I would be really adept at bringing to life. Instead, stasis. And that is why we bought an apartment whose walls are colors I really like. We really like.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Hillery H permalink
    January 4, 2011 9:41 pm

    This is my domestic situation/dynamic as well. And now we’ve bought a house that needs to be totally re-done. As in, completely, absolutely, everything in it taken away and replaced by something else. So now we have gridlock about 50 times a day about paint color, cabinet finishes, countertop materials, light fixtures, every appliance, tile colors, tile shape, grout color, faucets, tubs, windows, doors, hinges, drawer pulls, flooring, you get the idea. Gah! I like this post 🙂

  2. Michelle permalink
    January 5, 2011 3:26 am

    I know someone who gets to make all the decisions. But she also gets to do [arrange to have done] all the work at home. So there you go. She’s unhappy.

  3. Karen permalink
    January 5, 2011 10:55 am

    I get to make a lot of the decisions. If it seems fairly large, I check in and it’s pretty easy to tell if he doesn’t care. Keeps me busy, but makes a lot of things easy. And he appreciates it- by taking instruction well!

    Then again, when all 8 of my hands are full and my back is about to snap b/c I am also carrying our 2.5 yo, and he has not noticed that a major kitchen accident is about to occur until I YELL FOR HELP at someone who is only 4 ft away from me but is engrossed, oh so thoroughly engrossed, in a *video game*, that is when I could use a little more gridlock in my life. Because it is indicative of engagement.

    Which is not always present in my life:) But the grass is always greener, ain’t it!

  4. January 5, 2011 8:09 pm

    this is the first post of yours i have read. (i am friends with manuel and sharon.) i have long thought about how co-parenting is better and also worse than the way our parents did it.

    just tonight (we are going through some sleep regression with our 18-month old) my husband said to me, “unless one parent is doing ALL of the work and the other parent is doing ANY, then both are going to be unhappy.” what he meant was, like compromise, “good co-parenting is when both people are equally sleep-deprived!”

    i’m lucky to parent with him, but it takes longer to do things, and makes us both really tired!

  5. Haik permalink
    January 6, 2011 1:28 pm

    The bars could be in the furniture stores- Scotch n’Sofa.
    or Scotch Within Reach?

  6. Liz Kirkpatrick permalink
    January 17, 2011 9:43 am

    You’ll be encouraged to know that Frank and I match your description to a tee and yet we’ve managed a happy marriage (except for the fights about how he folds ((or doesn’t))the laundry) for 44 years. That’s almost twice the time we lived apart before we got married. This does work, oddly enough.

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