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.
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.
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.
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. . .
(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.
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. . .