My husband, Ben, and I have entered into a battle of the martyrs. Who has the tougher job- me, the stay at home mom, or him, the working parent? Of course, I am the clear victor in this battle, which everyone understands, with the exception of Ben.
I don’t know if all marriages wage this war, but I’m pretty sure most couples with children have met on this battle field. What is it about kids that cause us to enter into debate over who has it worse? Especially when we agree that having our children is the best thing we’ve ever done.
The first casualty seems to be our sense of humor. Ben and I have always ribbed each other for fun. You know the type of jokes I’m speaking of, the ones told with a wink and met with a kiss. Swap the words “wink” with “undercurrent of tension” and “kiss” with “indignant rage” and you’ll understand how things have slightly shifted over the years.
Last night, Ben was grilling hamburgers while I got out the dinner dishes. I have recently become fascinated with this thing called Netflix. Perhaps you have heard of it. It allows you to watch television shows and movies right on your tablet!
I was watching an episode of “Louie” while setting out the plates. My kids are still young enough to fall prey to the Witching Hour, particularly Kellen who has not determined whether or not he still needs a nap. On this day, he opted for no nap, which means the final two hours before bed are a series of fights with his brother, stumbles over toys resulting in tears, and near tantrums for no apparent reason.
I had paused the show about ten times in ten minutes to deal with tattles, minor scrapes, searches for superhero gear, and a few other minor-to-me-but-detrimental-to-them, issues.
It wasn’t that I needed to watch the show. It could wait until after bedtime. What I needed was ten minutes without being needed.
Ben brought in the food from the grill and asked “so how is the show?”
“It would be great if I didn’t get interrupted every five seconds to take care of a kid.”
“Oh man, you’ve got it so rough,” he ribbed.
I know you are reading this and shaking your head thinking “Ben, why did you go there?” But he did. It was a joke. I know it was a joke. But I only heard “you are a neglectful mother who does nothing but watch tv, hang out with your friends, eat cookies and complain about how rough it is.” I’m sure you can imagine the diatribe that followed, the one where I listed every activity and chore I had done that day, ending with me red in the face with anger and waiting for Ben to proclaim his everlasting gratitude for having such an amazing wife.
No such proclamation came. We ate a silent dinner. Later, I gave him a hug and we each apologized. Remember when little tiffs like this led to awesome makeup sex and two weeks of getting along? We were back at it less than twelve hours later.
This time, Ben showed me a sprinkler head that needed to be fixed. Coincidence or cosmic joke, a few of my mom friends have made comments about their husbands fixing sprinklers lately. It was my turn to be the ribber, telling Ben I thought dads broke sprinklers on purpose to get some alone time. Ben held up a finger and sternly advised “Stop right there.” Did I stop? Nah, I told him to get a sense of humor. So much for that “World’s Best Wife” mug I had my eye on.
Are we like this all the time? No. There are plenty of laughs, kisses, and jokes in our house. I remember watching older married couples when we were dating. They always seemed to be snapping at each other or making backhanded comments. I wondered when they lost all respect for one another, when the wonder over their luck to find a mate gave way to the daily grind.
I think it is one of the trappings of marriage. Your partner is the person you can be 100% you with- you can complain about your shitty boss, joke about your complicated families, show your stretch marks and back hair, and fart underneath the covers. Perhaps all the honesty somehow overshadows courtesy. You become so engrossed in being yourself, you forget to be the the best version of yourself.
Underneath it all what we really longed for was for the other person to see how devoted we were to the success of our family and be appreciative. Not so hard, but sometimes impossible.
Maybe it’s time to cool it with the jokes, and get back to manners. Revisiting the charm and kindness that made us fall for each other ten years ago. If that fails, I can always channel my energy into eating bon bons and spending his money that grows on the tree outback.