Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Paychecks, Menopause, and Pathetic Husbands; Drama in Three Acts

ACT I

My wife Molly has a BS degree in Child Development. When we first started dating, she worked at a childcare center which our community ran for many years. After we were married, she was a sort-of gofer/secretary for one of our community's 'elders'. When she was six months or so pregnant with 1F, she left the for-pay workforce, and took up the ultimate 'Job In Her Field' - developing children of her own. So for the next fifteen or twenty years, when folks would ask me, "Does your wife work?" I'd answer, "Not outside the home for pay."

And so it went. About ten or twelve years ago, she got in on a very part-time gig proctoring state licensing exams. Guys who want to get licensed as plumbers, or electricians, or whatever, have to take a state exam to get licensed, and Molly is part of a crew of women who do the check-in procedures, and then walk around during the test, making sure everyone stays on the straight-and-narrow. Her proctoring gigs are two or three days in a week, three or four times a year, so it isn't too demanding in terms of family time.

The proctoring gigs sort of came and went; whenever we had another baby, she'd have to take a year or two off from proctoring, until the baby could be left for a whole day. Even so, as sparse as the jobs were, it was a fairly benign thing.

In 2000, she got in with Board of Elections (or whatever it's called), and started working elections (yeah, Bush v. Gore was her 'learning curve'). She's one of those folks who checks your name against the list of registered voters, and hands you the ballot, and gives you the little 'I Voted' sticker when you're done. She also gets to be in on taking the ballot box downtown to get counted by the official vote counters. Those are pretty long days, and thus fairly demanding on the rest of the family, but it's only for one day, it pays really well, and it only comes around every couple years.

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Last year, when my employer's continuing viability became suddenly very uncertain, it seemed prudent for Molly to get more regular employment, just in case I suddenly had none. So she looked around a bit, without much success (the same economic forces which were placing my continued employment in doubt were also rendering available jobs for her scarce). One day, she subbed at the daycare center attached to the Catholic school our kids attend, and that resulted in an offer for a regular job at the center there. It was only eight hours a week, and the hourly rate was pretty low, but under the circumstances, it was better than nothing.

She got a line on doing some house-cleaning, which in turn led to a gig with a friend of hers, who brought her in for some jill-of-all-trades work doing cleaning, administrative, and even some handy-woman stuff. Which was maybe half a day per week, but again, better than nothing.

This fall, the childcare center increased her hours from eight to fifteen, and gave her a small raise. And then, another friend of hers, who has multiple sclerosis, asked her to come in for a few hours every morning to help her with stuff around the house. It's not really nursing-type care (and Molly is not a nurse, so that's cool), but it does include bathing her and getting her to the bathroom. Molly couldn't do every morning, but she and another woman share the hours. And (say it with me, now) it pays pretty well.

So, if you're keeping score at home, Molly is now up to something like 25 hours a week of outside-the-home-for-pay work.

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ACT II

Molly is 53 years old. She is very bright and energetic, but her energy levels have abated some from what they were in her 20s/30s. She is at the age at which women commonly experience menopause, aka 'The Change of Life'. And she is showing signs that 'The Change' is just around the corner. . .

One symptom of the impending (or, more truly, ongoing) hormone shift has been that she is tired. Way more tired, way more often, than I've ever known her to be. And both of us have struggled just a bit in adapting to this new, less-energetic state of affairs. The day-to-day parameters of our lives have been remarkably stable for many years, but we find that we can't just take a 'business as usual' approach. She needs more sleep than she used to, and she can't cram her schedule quite as full as before. Which winds up putting us in a bit of a bind, because the day-to-day needs of our family life aren't any less than they ever were. The kids and I have gotten used to Molly carrying a pretty large share of the load, and when she can't carry as much as she used to, it's a challenge to 'redistribute' the work-load to account for her new energy level.

Which brings us to the present day. Molly has less energy than before, and she's working more hours outside the home than ever before, but the demands of home life are the same as they ever were - the same number of meals need to be prepared, the same amount of laundry needs to be done, the same number of kids need to be chauffeured to doctor appointments, sporting events, etc, and etc, etc, etc. . .

Do you perceive the problem? We've been trying various approaches to the 'distribution' problem, mainly involving the kids doing their own laundry (we've even instituted a Sunday evening 'Family Fold-In/Movie Night'), helping with the food-prep, and things of that sort, which, in the past, Molly could easily handle all by herself, but not any more. And I've tried to pitch in more, where I'm able; which is a large part of why I used to read three or four books a month, but now struggle to keep up with my two remaining magazine subscriptions.

But, asking people to make new sacrifices which they've never had to make before, can take a while to get 'institutionalized', and at least at first, they can be somewhat, um, uneven in the execution.

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ACT III

One of the starkest ways in which this hits home for me, personally, is that, at the end of the day, Molly is much more likely to be tired, than what I've been used to. For many years, we've had a regular pattern of Monday evening husband-wife meetings. Not 'Date Night' (although that could certainly qualify), but mainly just some dedicated time to touch base with each other on the things we need to be in communication about. Schedules, budgets, the kids' lives, goals we have for the family, etc. And heck, just for the two of us to sit down and talk to each other about anything at all, is a good thing, and setting aside some committed time for it, helps to ensure that it actually happens. . .

In recent months, however, our husband-wife meetings have been a bit less regular than is good for them to be. Some of it couldn't be helped - other things came along, at school or wherever, to usurp the time. But sometimes, we just weren't very diligent to make it happen, and the time slipped away.

After 29+ years of marriage, we're pretty familiar now with what happens when we miss too many of our husband-wife meetings - things get out-of-sync, stuff that should run smoothly starts being frantically thrown together on the fly at the last second, and we start getting cranky and irritable with each other. We've been through a few cycles of it, and by now, we recognize the symptoms.

And, by a couple weeks ago, we were recognizing the symptoms. And so, we agreed that that week, we would make a concerted effort to have our husband-wife meeting, and to have it be a good one, not slapdash or careless. I made a point to leave work in a timely fashion, not staying late to 'tie up the loose ends', we had dinner together with the kids, the cleanup got done, the next day's lunches were made, Molly read to the little guys before bed, and all was in readiness for our meeting. So, we retired to the bedroom (which is virtually the only 'private space' we have these days), and stretched out for some relaxed meeting-time.

And Molly fell asleep.

(You could see that coming, couldn't you? Yeah, well, I didn't.)

All the good vibrations, all the concerted effort, all the we-need-to-reestablish-communication-so-we're-not-all-cranky-with-each-other. . . gone, with the Sandman.

And, I'm sorry. . . I got pissed.

Not that I should have. Not that her falling asleep wasn't completely understandable in the context of what-all is going on in her life. Not that it was remotely constructive of anything. But I did.

And so, in the time-honored tradition of mature husbands down through the ages. . .

I pouted.

(Some of you may recall the last time I posted about pouting; and you know, don't you, that I post about ALL of my whiny, self-centered pout-fits, whenever they happen, every three years or so. . .)

And it was a goooood pout. A full-bore, I've-got-a-good-head-of-steam pout. The next morning, I walked out the door without kissing Molly good-bye, leaving the breakfast she'd made for me sitting on the table, not even taking the lunch she'd made for me (because, you know, I didn't want her to put herself out on my account) (you know, it never makes nearly as much sense in hindsight). And I stayed late at the office, so she'd be gone to her women's-group meeting before I got home. Then I went to bed early, and was asleep before she got home (and Molly, in the best tradition of The Golden Rule, will NEVER wake me when I'm sleeping). And the next morning, I repeated the cycle.

I didn't stay quite so late at the office that day (she had nothing on her calendar for the evening, so she'd be home no matter when I arrived), and as I drove home, I took some of my idle drive-time to turn to prayer, and I 'heard' God speak to me.

"You're being stupid," He said. "Stop it."

Oh. OK. I guess I am, aren't I?

"Yes, you are."

OK; I'll be done now.

"Good!"

God can be so Paternal with me, sometimes. . .

And so it came to pass that I walked in the back door, through the family room, and into the kitchen, where Molly was busy making dinner. She looked at me, warily. I greeted her, sheepishly.

"Hi," she said. "Are you done being mad yet?"

Yeah, Sweetheart, I'm done.

"Oh, good!" Then, "What the heck was that all about?"

And I suddenly realized - she didn't even know what I was upset about! Sheesh! What's the good of a pout, if the person you're mad at doesn't even know why you're mad? I mean, it's pretty pathetic when you invest so much energy in a good pout, and all you get for it is, "What the heck was that all about?"

(*sigh*) I know; I'm such a Drama Queen, sometimes. . .

So, we had our dinner, we fixed our relationship, and even covered most of the husband-wife-meeting stuff that we'd missed two nights previously.

And it was very good. . .

13 comments:

Cocotte said...

I can be a drama queen as well. I'm glad you worked it out in the end.

We've gone round and round about me getting a job. I feel guilty not earning $, I'm a bit bored some days, I'd like to use my mind, etc. However, Husband knows that there would be a shift in burdens and it would land on him. I think he's finally convinced me it would do more harm than good for me to work. At least while we still have kids at home.

And just a btw - has Molly had her thyroid (TSH) level checked lately? That contributes to being tired more than anything.

aphron said...

Men tend to pack away their frustrations until they suddenly unpack in inopportune time. Not really passive/aggressive (although that's what your were doing, sorry). Just unable to understand their emotions and so unable to intelligently talk about them.

Sailor said...

Glad you did realize you were being a bit ummm, how did you put it? ;)

We all need those moments, good that you had a reminder though, and made it all up!

for a different kind of girl said...

I'll come clean and confess that I can be a drama queen, and while I'm not necessarily proud of that fact, it happens. It just does. It's tough having a part time job and then coming home and trying to get all the tasks done that would or could have been taken care of during the day. Toss in a a night or three when I'm a single parent, and then there's homework and basketball practices twice a night, and, well, yeah, pass me the crown.

Not always, but it happens.

Glad you worked things out. The communication issue is huge when this type of thing crops up.

lime said...

kudos for eventually being willing to get over yourself and apologize. kudos to molly for forgiving the pout.

but forgive me, i did laugh when it became apparent the pout was wasted because she didn't know why you were angry.

Trueself said...

Aw geez, a good pout wasted yet again on someone clueless as to why one is pouting. I think that happens quite frequently in relationships actually. However, mostly I've seen women do it to men not the other way around. So men can be drama queens too, eh? And can't even use PMS as an excuse. Tsk. . . ;-)

Desmond Jones said...

Cocotte - You know, we used to talk about Molly getting a job as we approached our 'empty nest' years. But we won't hit those until our mid-60s. . .

The thyroid thing is at least worth looking into; thanks.

Aphron - Hey, good to see you around these parts again!

Is that high-falutin' psycho-talk for 'I was acting like an ass'?

Sailor - Well God said I was being 'stupid' (altho I admit that that could possibly be my own flawed interpretation of what He was saying. . .)

faDKoG - Drama Queens of the World, Unite!

And you are so right; when Molly and I were engaged, our marriage-prep class listed the 'Three C's' of a successful marriage - Communication, Communication, and. . . um. . . oh yeah; Communication. Which, love-struck newbies that we were, was really good for us to hear. . .

Lime - Thanks. See, every once in a while (every three years or so), I just need to let y'all know that we don't live in this ethereal cloud of unearthly light, in our marriage. Repentance and forgiveness really are keys to making it work. And of course that implies that there are things we need to repent and forgive each other for. . . Shocking, I know, but it's true. . .

Truey - You know, Molly and I often joke (altho, it's really more true than just a joke) that, of the two of us, I'm often more 'stereotypically chick-ish' and she's often more 'stereotypically guy-ish' - I'm way more inclined to be a Drama Queen than she is, and she's more inclined to just have 'emotional' stuff slide past her than I am. And mostly, I think that winds up working in our favor. . .

(And heck, even in the bedroom, she's more inclined to 'wham-bam-thank-you-sir', and I'm more inclined to taking our time and savoring it. Just, you know, in case anyone was wondering. . .)

Suldog said...

Make-Up Sex is always amazing! I especially like to wear some rouge and false eyelashes and...

Oh, you mean "make-up" as in being forgiven? Never mind.

Good story.

Desmond Jones said...

Suldog - (*ba-doomp!*)

Glad you liked it. . .

flutterby said...

Oh man... that was quite the pout gone to waste. But, really, not wasted... cause it made us all smile reading about it!

Great story and good lesson, too. Life is hard sometimes. And we all gotta do what we gotta do to get by. Even falling asleep.

;)

Desmond Jones said...

Flutter - So at least it wasn't a total waste. . .

Those adjustments can be hard to negotiate, sometimes. . .

FTN said...

Geez, you *are* a drama queen. :-) Such passive-aggressive avoiding the topic at hand! Only pout AFTER you've had an argument describing why you're mad.

What I read here:

-Molly kisses you goodbye every morning.
-Molly makes breakfast for you.
-Molly makes your lunch.
-Molly's "juices" get flowing from things as simple as a roomful of plumbers.
-Molly's "juices" get flowing from things as simple as talking with you once a week.

This is where *I* pout and mention that none of those things are remotely true in my marriage.

See how I made that all about me?

Desmond Jones said...

Nicely done, FTN. Nothing like a post about being a Drama Queen, to bring all the other Drama Queens out of the woodwork. . .

But, you're right, of course - I have many, MANY more aspects of my marriage for which to be thankful, than I remotely EVER have to complain about.

Which, come to think of it, is more-or-less what this blog is supposed to be about in the first place. . .