My hubby and I were having a thought-provoking conversation the other day, about the (sometimes) delicate balance between care-taking and independence. He knows me well enough to understand that I have a sort of fierce pride in the knowledge that I can take care of myself. In the year that I was single, I bought my own house, worked on my own landscaping, mowed my own lawn, kept the tires rotated and oil changed on my own car, made my own meals, managed my own bills, took my own vacations…
There’s a story that has pretty much become a family punch-line, about the afternoon when my son Christian (seven at the time) and I arrived at my car in the supermarket parking lot and realized a tire had gone flat; Christian’s reflexive response was to wail, “Oh no–we don’t have a man with us!” To which I replied (with a fair amount of heat, it must be admitted), “OH no–MOMMY can change a tire!” I did change the tire (refusing several offers of help, in fact–on fire to prove a point) and we went on our way.
Four years later, any conversation on the topic of what-moms-are-capable-of-doing is likely to be punctuated by Christian roaring “Mommy can change a tire!” (and then collapsing into giggles). Evidently I made my point…
All that to say… I’m a person who can get unreasonably prickly at any implication that I’m incapable of doing things for myself. Keoni and our sons joke that I’m “one of the guys,” and it’s true that I have a strong tendency toward some stereotypical guy-traits… I’ll refuse to go to the doctor until my chest-cold has turned into walking pneumonia, I can’t bear to ask directions when I’m lost, I’d rather spend hours trying to figure something out by myself than simply ask someone who knows, when I argue with someone I’m all about logic and dismissive of emotion… I always wanted to be the girl who took care of her own shit.
But you wouldn’t guess this if you watched our household for a few days, because I am spoiled now. Keoni argues the semantics and says I’m not spoiled, just “well taken care of“–but I suspect most folks would agree with my verbiage. He does all the grocery shopping, cooks three meals a day for the family (every day), brings me breakfast and coffee in bed (every day), does all my laundry (and returns it to my closet according to my own peculiar system of organization), is the sole master of both the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower… I don’t even remember the last time I shaved my own legs. I am spoiled. And purring instead of prickling.
What happened to the prickly-and-independent Me? I can only guess (and this was the topic of our conversation the other morning) that it’s Keoni’s acknowledgement–celebration, even–of my capacity for independence that relaxed me into allowing and enjoying his care-taking. I don’t have anything to prove with him–he already believes in me.
He’s also enthusiastic about sharing knowledge with me–and for the first time in my adult life, I don’t feel threatened by being taught. I’m learning to handle a pistol. Today I learned how to change the oil on the car. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s so clearly an intellectual equal that makes this so easy. It might sound counterintuitive, but I was more fierce-and-prickly about these things when I was an admittedly “dominant” partner—in my first marriage it was a joke between us (in friendlier days) that my Ex was the “chick” in the relationship, and I was the “guy.” Too much truth to it, unfortunately—it was not a relationship of equals, in too many ways, and I was always walking a fine line between “taking care of shit” and not making him feel threatened by me. Is it ass-backward that that was the time in my life when I was the most protective of my position as a-person-who-could-manage? Maybe… it’s because I didn’t have the luxury of lost-ness or “weakness.” If I didn’t step up, nobody would.
My first husband… didn’t have anything to teach me. In fact, he drove me kind of crazy with the things he couldn’t understand. His lack of a grasp of the basic (intuitive, I would have thought) principles of physics hampered activities ranging from home-improvement projects to sailing, I couldn’t talk about literature with him, and his response to being asked to read my writing was to get grumpy. His first year of teaching biology, I wrote his lesson-plans for him, and explained them every morning, and got into a shouting match with him on the Evolution unit when he wouldn’t treat the word “theory” in its scientific sense. Anything that he didn’t do, he made a point of belittling. My cross-country running wasn’t a real sport, my Master’s degree in creative writing wasn’t a real thesis, my stay-home-motherhood wasn’t a real job. (Though when I went back into the work-force and he was faced with summers at home, the kids went right into daycare. Hmm.) I was in a constant tug-of-war with myself between flaring up in defensive anger when my contributions were belittled, and “dumbing myself down” to appease his insecurities.
Today, in contrast, when I was struggling to loosen the nut on the oil pan, I could freely comment that I needed either some more muscle or some more torque. (Since we didn’t have a wrench with a longer handle, Keoni lent me the muscle, and then I got right back under the car.) I spent fourteen years editing myself at home rather than saying what I knew. Maybe that’s why I was wired to be so desperate to show “I know!“–and so loathe to admit when I didn’t.
I did nothing but stunt myself with that, and I’m joyful now to be growing again, and learning. Joyful to be with someone who has things to teach me, and who is open to new things from me as well. And joyful that MOMMY can change the oil… now.