Tag Archives: home owning

Happy Anniversary To Me

26 Sep

“Dear husband,” I said, “it’s been a year.”

“No!” he answered. “Really?”

“Yes. A whole year at the end of this month,” I said.

“But what about that time our daughter had a sleep over and our son didn’t come out of his cave for hours?”

“Oh. My. God,” I said. “It hasn’t been a year for THAT! And don’t tell me it feels like it!”

“Well, then I’m at a loss,” he said.

Normally, I’m the one who forgets anniversaries, particularly my wedding anniversary. I got married on either the 16th or 17th of October. Never can remember which. So, whenever anyone asks me when I got married, I say, “Saturday. It was a Saturday.” My husband has the PhD in History. He remembers the date and rolls his eyes when I don’t.

It has been a year since I started writing and publishing Snide Reply. At the risk of sounding like a Holiday Letter, I thought I’d go through some of my old posts and update you on some of the more popular. For those who jumped on the Snide wagon later in its run, I’m including links to the original posts.

I started running just a couple of months before I started blogging. At that time, I could run about 3 miles. I am writing this having run 9 miles this afternoon. Of course, I can barely get out of my chair to hobble to the kitchen and refill my teacup.

I still don’t have an attractive website. I have a really cool domain name and I have a website. The two shall not meet in my lifetime. See, the website is totally lame. I built it myself when I had no idea where my life was going. That happens when you make plans and life does that mice and men thing with them.

I have a better idea where my life is going these days so maybe it’s time to re-tackle the website. To my endless stupefaction and glee, I am now a parent columnist. Me! The self-admitted queen of parental immaturity. Ok, so it’s only been a couple of weeks, but a girl has to start somewhere. Look at Jenny McCarthy! Her parenting qualifications are . . .what?  Oh, yeah, she posed naked and had a baby. Do you think T. Berry Brazelton ever posed naked?

The worst I’ve done is go commando thought the pharmacist who knows has moved on to Wal-Mart. Actually, I may be going commando again soon. And my husband had to skip the briefs at least once. Laundry used to be his responsibility and lawn mowing was mine. We tried to get our son to do the lawn-mowing thing because he hated doing the litter box thing. He wanted nothing to do with the lawn because it was, as he said, “outside.”

“Look,” I said. “you either mow the lawn or you do the laundry.” Ha! I thought, now I have him.

“Cool!” he said. “I love laundry! Laundry smells awesome!”

So, now my husband mows the lawn and my son does the laundry. We have realized, though, that having a teenage boy with ADHD responsible for keeping us in clean undies was probably not our best parenting move. Many is the time a load made it into the washer and stayed there . . .and stayed there . . .and stayed there. Our son has learned that laundry only smells awesome if it makes it from the washer to the dryer in fewer than 24 hours.

The portal to hell is still outside our front door. The dog is still insane. The cat is on a diet. So far, so good. He hasn’t broken anything out of spite. He may have taken a nibble or two out of the fish, though, which is looking rather ragged of late. The end is likely near, as evidenced by his tendency to swim sideways. I predict he’ll go to the great toilet bowl in the sky before the end of the year.

I’m still a pretty bad Buddhist, according to my kids. My son pointed out to me just a few days ago that a good Buddhist probably wouldn’t call the driver who cut her off a “freaking idiot.” I’m better about the cyclists who fly past me on the prairie trail. I no longer mumble obscenities at them. I am saving my obscenities for the people who are treating the prairie as their personal cutting garden these days. My daughter suggested I try out a nearby trail that runs through an equestrian center. I’m pretty sure even Buddha couldn’t keep his cool running behind horses, but then again, it would definitely keep me mindful and aware.

As my episodes on the prairie illustrate, I still have anger issues. I still hate liver, read crap and get jealous, too. But, I haven’t taken a serious trip to Funky Town in a while. My son is ok with “Spithead” and no one has puked around here lately. My kids are still pikers when it comes to sibling rivalry.

I am overjoyed to report that the shed never went up. The cosmos aligned in a gigantic “I told you so,” when my neighbor hired someone to survey the property line. I left the hot pink flagging tape which proved the line did, indeed, fall exactly where I said it did as long as possible. We found, in fact, that we have a lot more property than we thought we did. My neighbor and I have entered a sort of cold war, though. He no longer speaks to me and his children run like rabbits whenever I come out of the house. I’m thinking it just needs a little more time and a lot more of me being the nicest, most cheerful person I know how to be. Stop laughing; I can be very cheerful.

I’ve made lots of people laugh in the past year. I think I’ve made some cry. I know I’ve hurt feelings, unintentionally of course. Still, I’m more careful about what I write and how I phrase things. There are certain things I’ll never write, at least not here and not as non-fiction. But I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading.

Thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for a truly wonderful year.

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It’s Always Greener

6 Jun

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” the note said. “It will take time, but we can fix this.”

I knew there were problems. Hell, everyone on our courtyard could tell there were problems.  But I really didn’t think my lawn was so bad that the TruGreen® guy needed to leave me a personalized note.

The physical move from Oak Park to Naperville, IL covered only twenty-three miles. The cultural move, however, was more like going from a hippie commune to, well, to an All-American mom-and-apple-pie suburb in all its suburbity.

In Oak Park, where herbicides are only slightly less maligned than Agent Orange, my “if it’s green, it’s a lawn” attitude was applauded. In fact, if you’re not green in growing your green, you’d best not come outside until the sun goes down.

Mine was a typical Oak Park lawn. In short, I pretty much ignored it. It got mowed once a week, fertilized twice a year with an all-natural lawn food, and was watered when it rained. Sure, there was grass in my grass, but there were also some dandelions and a little crabgrass. In the shady areas, there was some Creeping Charlie and even some nut sedge. It was all green, it all mowed. It was a lawn.

In Naperville, lawn growing is a competitive sport. It’s not enough for the lawn to be green here; it should be a particular shade of green. A “good” lawn consists primarily of a single species of grass: Kentucky Blue. It’s really more of a dark blue green, but you get the idea.  The problem is that Kentucky Blue is the Naomi Campbell of the grass world. It requires copious amounts of exactly the right kind of attention or it does the herbivorous equivalent of flinging a flip-phone at you.

While a good Naperville lawn is a monoculture, mine is a veritable botanic garden of all that is low-growing and green. I’ve got Blue grass, of course, along with dandelions, some little creeping things, some other little creeping things, some ferny-looking creeping things, some thistles and lots and lots of clover.

I like clover. Clover is the right color. In fact, I think white clover leaves are an even nicer shade of green than Kentucky Blue grass. Clover has really cute little flowers. When I was a little girl, I made wreathes and garlands of white clover blossoms. My daughter makes them now. Clover is even an indicator of nitrogen—the stuff that turns grass green—in the soil.

The biggest reason I like clover, though, is the bees. Clover is perfect food for bees, especially honeybees. And honeybees are endangered. In grad school, I wrote an entire integrated lesson plan for third- through fifth-graders focusing on the importance of healthy honeybees to our food production capabilities. When I see clover, I see orchards full of fruit trees pollinated by happy little honeybees.

My neighbors? Not real big on clover. In fact, when they see clover, I’m pretty sure they see weeds. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if clover didn’t also spread so readily. One of my neighbors did not want clover in his yard so, in a pre-emptive strike, he sprayed my clover. He did this without asking while I was standing right there in front of him. Just took out his nasty Weed-B-Gone pump and blasted away at the clover on my side of the property line. I think I said something like, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. I’ll pull the clover out before it gets to your yard,” but I was thinking something like, “You presumptuous son of a goat!”

Well, the clover died. And left a very large dead brown spot in the middle of my front lawn. I left the spot there, hoping my neighbor would feel terrible about defacing my property. He never mentioned it. Finally, one day I began raking away the old dead foliage, preparing the soil for seed. Now, I may not be the best lawn-grower in the world, but I know how to prep a seedbed. I finished the raking, watered the soil to soften it and left the soil loosening for the next day. Imagine my surprise when I found that the bare spot had been seeded over. My neighbor had apparently felt guilty after all. He didn’t feel guilty enough to plant decent seed, however. This became abundantly clear when the new grass came in fluorescent green. He told me it would turn darker when it got older. It did not. It merely got taller. Eventually, I had a three-foot diameter circle of glow-in-the-dark grass in front of my house. Because the fluorescent grass was also stiff, after I mowed it, it looked like someone had stuck bright green toothpicks in the lawn. I lived with the toothpick lawn for an entire summer. My only consolation was that my neighbor used the same cheap, crappy seed to spot seed his own lawn. While I had a circle of fluorescence, he had little tufts of bright green toothpicks through his lawn.

The radioactive green grass has since died off, giving way to other things greener and hardier, including clover, but I’m thinking it may have altered the genetic makeup of my horticultural haven. Recently, my daughter came running into the house squealing, “Mommy! Mommy! I found a four-leaf clover!” Well, of course I thought she had smooshed two clover stems together to make them look like one four-leaf clover. But she hadn’t. In her hands, she held a perfect four-leafed clover. She gave it to me and ran outside to find more. “That’ll keep her happy for a while,” I thought, but she was back in the house in a matter of minutes. Turns out, one particular spot in my yard is full of four-leaf clover. My daughter and her friend even found a five-leaf clover.

I’m not a superstitious person on the whole, but I’m thinking the TruGreen® guy is going to have to find another yard to spray. In fact, the only way he’s welcome back is on his knees, looking for a six-leaf clover.

Copyright 2011 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

Neighbors and Naked Barbies

25 Apr

I like to sit on the deck looking at my garden. Some people find gardening relaxing. I’ve found that looking at the garden is actually much more relaxing than working in the garden. I particularly like to look at the garden in the morning and especially on significant days. So, it’s no surprise that Easter morning found me sitting on the step of my deck sipping a mug of hot tea while I surveyed my yard. What was surprising was the sight of three naked Barbies playing on the neighbor’s swing set, which sits just on their side of the property line.

My daughter’s Best Friend lives in the naked-Barbies-on-the-swing-set house. In fact, the naked Barbies are hers. I wasn’t so much surprised to see the Barbies as I was surprised to see them on the swing set. They had been lounging on the chaise in our gazebo for the past week or so. Saturday night we had celebrated Passover with friends of ours we seldom see. They have a daughter who is close in age to ours. When these two meet, they form that fast, frenetic bond that only children who rarely play together achieve, as if they need to pack years’ worth of activity into three hours or so. In the maelstrom of their interaction, the Barbies somehow went from the chaise lounge to the slide and whatever you call that thing that two kids swing on facing each other.

I smiled when I saw the Barbies and I knew Best Friend’s mother would smile, too. We have informally vowed to leave the area between our houses fenceless so things like naked Barbies on swing sets can happen while the children flow freely from one yard to the other.

These are the best kind of neighbors. I consider them my reward because I also live near the worst kind of neighbor. Best Friend lives directly behind us. Worst Neighbor lives next door. Worst Neighbor bought the house and moved in with his wife and son. Every couple that has lived in the house has divorced and it wasn’t long before Mrs. Worst Neighbor and their child skipped out of the country.

So now I live next door to Mr. Single Worst Neighbor. Given the current real estate market and the fact that he lives in “The Divorce House,” I’m pretty sure we’re in it for the long haul with Worst Neighbor.

Worst Neighbor, being single, neglects many things in his house, most notably his dog. I’m sure the dog was purchased to appease Mrs. Worst Neighbor but as the dog is the Worst Dog, the purchase was for naught.  We’ll call Worst Neighbor’s dog “Lucy,” because that is her name and I don’t care about protecting her privacy.

Frankly, Lucy doesn’t need privacy. She’s the neighborhood tramp. One particularly difficult day, I was pouring out my troubles in a phone call with my best friend. As we dished and drank our coffee I was beginning to chipper up, until I spied Lucy on my back deck and my own dog on Lucy. “I’ve gotta go!” I said, “Pogo’s humping the bitch from next door.” I separated the dogs and returned Lucy to her home. She was out and about soon afterward. Pogo lay whining in his cage.

In an attempt to contain his canine strumpet, Worst Neighbor installed an electric fence, but did it himself and did it wrong. Lucy continued to roam the streets, looking for love. Last year, Worst Neighbor finally had her spayed and I held out some hope for a more peaceful life for us and for Lucy. It was a dark and stormy night when my hopes were dashed. Really. It was dark and stormy. It was night. And there was Lucy, whining at my back door. I called Worst Neighbor. He asked me to hold on to her while he finished having dinner with friends. We don’t call him about Lucy anymore. We call Animal Control. Maybe Worst Neighbor and Lucy will be getting divorced soon.

Much as Worst Neighbor vexes us now, he is not the Worst Neighbor Ever. I believe that honor goes to the neighbors whose back porch rotted after years of neglect. With no safe way of getting from their back door to the garbage dumpster, they simply dropped their trash out the door into the yard where it accumulated. Eventually, of course, it attracted vermin, which were then attracted to the warmth in our house. I found them frolicking in the laundry hamper one memorable morning. Exterminators and health department officials got involved.

My husband insists even they are not the Worst Neighbors Ever. To his mind, the Worst Neighbor Ever was the woman who lived in the apartment next door to his in graduate school. Or, I should say, “women,” as the person in question clearly suffered from multiple personality disorder. Every other night, just about 2 am, she would argue with herself, screaming and railing. Eventually, she would kick herself out of the apartment, slamming the heavy metal door on herself and waking the entire building.

Sleep deprived, my husband called the landlord, who refused to believe him. Out of desperation and sleep-deprivation, my husband took to calling the landlord every time the women next door kicked themselves out. The landlord caught on eventually, answering the phone and immediately hanging up, but never evicted the woman/women. My husband moved out six months early but his middle-of-the-night phoning binge established a life-long habit of relieving pent-up frustration through creative, albeit hostile, retribution.

Lately, the Best Neighbors have been dropping hints about moving, mumbling such selfish nonsense as needing a guest room for visiting grandparents. Our declining property values have forestalled what is probably inevitable, but Mrs. Best Neighbor assures me that they are taking us with them when they move. I hope this is true. I am far too old to discover what could be worse than living next to a promiscuous pooch, a vermin farm or the local psych ward.

In the meantime, I’ll sit on my deck, survey my quarter acre of the American Dream and ponder where the naked Barbies will pop up next.

Little Tract House on the Prairie

21 Feb

I had an interview with a creative talent agent recently. She was young. She was hip. She was urban; definitely a City Chick. “All of your work is really old,” she said. Ever cheerful, I said, “Ah, but I have a blog. I write and publish every week. It’s funny and lots of people like it.” She seemed impressed that I had been doing it for months.

She asked to see my blog. Her eyes shone when she pointed to the computer in the room and said, “Well, let’s take a look at it!” I pulled my blog up on the computer. “So, what is your blog about?” said City Chick. “It’s a humorous take on life in the suburbs,” I said. City Chick’s eyes glazed over like she’d taken a trip on a Krispy Kreme conveyor belt. Her mouth fell slack. You could hear the pigeons in the park thirty floors down.

City Chick didn’t read one word of my blog. That week’s post has one of my best lines in it but City Chick didn’t care; my blog is about suburban life, therefore it is of no interest to City Chick,

I used to be a City Chick. I lived in Chicago for years, both as a single and a married chick. My husband and I had a terrific apartment. We both worked downtown and took public transportation. Everything we wanted was within walking distance, including the beach. Like all proper City Chicks, I disdained the suburbs as a cultural wasteland. Then, my husband lost his job. Doing a little accounting, which is about how much accounting I can tolerate, revealed that we’d be better off owning a home. After a brief detour, we bought a house in Oak Park.

Oak Park is the suburbs for people who don’t want to think they live in the suburbs. There are nice parks, beautiful old homes and plenty of public transportation. Oak Park served us well for many years, though my husband might disagree. We had a beautiful old home. He would tell you that we had a mouse-infested old money pit. Oh, and the roof leaked. The roof leaked almost the entire nine years the house owned us. At one point, the roof leaked into the living room, the dining room and the family room. Many thousands of dollars later, the roof only leaked in the family room above the fireplace and only if it rained really hard. It wasn’t raining the day we sold the house.

A number of circumstances lead to our move from Oak Park. Finances played a role, as did the school needs of our son and the societal needs of our daughter. I made a list of our wants and needs. I wanted a big yard. My husband wanted a new house. Our son needed school programs for gifted children. Our daughter needed to live near other Chinese people. One location fit all our needs: Naperville.

Naperville. I was barely able to hide my derision. Surely, there must be some mistake. I, former City Chick, could not possibly move to Naperville. If any suburb were to me the epitome of suburban-ness, it was Naperville. Still, my research couldn’t be denied. The schools were good, my research said. The houses were affordable, my research said. The Chinese community is the largest outside of Chinatown, my research said. I will check it out, I thought. Surely it will be hideous.

So, I checked out Naperville. I found that a river runs through it, quite literally, giving the downtown area a quaint charm. I found houses I could afford that my husband would want to own. I found good schools. I found lots and lots of Chinese people. My research wasn’t flawed. We moved to Naperville in 2005.

I have a love/hate relationship with Naperville. Our house is relatively new but lacks in character. Still, there are no mice in the basement, the roof doesn’t leak and there are no carpenter ants, probably because there was no real wood used in the construction. Maybe some day a genetically mutated ant will emerge that grows to gargantuan proportions living on a diet of engineered wood. Until then, my windowsills will continue to act like pop-up sponges, growing larger with every heavy downpour.

The schools are terrific. There are good parks, though a shade structure or two would be nice in the newer ones. You can practically hear the children sizzle as they clamber over the play equipment. The downtown area is cute and we even have an Apple Store. Now, if they could just solve the parking problem.

Before I moved to Naperville, my image of the Naperville woman was a white lady in mom jeans, driving her silver minivan full of children to swim meets, piano lessons and soccer practice. While there are lots of minivans, the women and men behind the wheel are every color of the ethnic rainbow and speak every language imaginable. At one point, the families on our cul de sac (of course I live on a cul de sac . . .it’s Naperville!) included Taiwanese, Indian, Guatemalan and us. I worked at a preschool where I taught Spanish to Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and Korean children. I think there were four white kids.

What I love most about Naperville, though, is the wildlife. City Chick may have it over us with nightlife, but it really gets wild out in Naperville. Chicago has its pigeons, Oak Park has its rats, Naperville has nature. One evening, early on in our life here, I overheard my daughter making coyote noises on the deck. When she got an answer, I hustled her into the house. In the city, people walk their pocket dogs because they have no yard. In Naperville, people walk their pocket dogs to keep the hawks from turning them into lunch.

When I lived in the city, I rode my bike along the lake and cursed the runners on the bike path. In Naperville, I run in the prairie preserve where I curse the cyclists and horse riders. But I can’t stay vexed for long. I fell in love with Naperville on the prairie trails. At the end of a long run last fall, I rounded a curve then struggled up a hill. Before me lay acres of burnished copper grass, swaying in the wind. The sky was clear, the sun was gentle. I was hot and sweaty and utterly alone with nothing but the land the way it was hundreds of years ago.

City Chick may look down her nose at my suburban life and maybe some day I’ll move back to Chicago. But, right now I’ll trade the Crobar (people still go to the Crobar, right?) for my little tract house on the prairie.

Tidy, Whitie!

10 Jan

When I graduated from college, I moved back home but I couldn’t wait to get out of what I saw as my mother’s house.  I moved out on my own as soon as possible and never moved back. I’ve been a homeowner for nearly 20 years now and a mother for more than 15. I can say with all honesty that I would give my wood-burning fireplace and my private master bathroom to live in my mother’s home again. My mother’s home was immaculate; my home is, as we say, a pig mess.

Coats were hung in my mother’s home. Counters were clear in my mother’s home. Floors were grit- and stain-free in my mother’s home. Chrome shined in my mother’s home. My home? Not so much. There are sweatshirts lying on the couch and jackets hung from the backs of chairs. Papers are stacked in a precarious pile on the kitchen counter. While the dog patrols the kitchen floor, he doesn’t do it for aesthetic reasons. No. My home is decidedly a pig mess.

I’m not proud of my pig mess, but I’m really at a loss as to how to eliminate it. If I knew what my mother’s secret was I would use it. My mother worked, had kids, had friends, took lessons, even had hobbies. In short, we aren’t talking June Cleaver here. The problem is, I don’t remember what my mother did.

I have no idea how my mother got the house clean or even when she got the house clean. I don’t recall her dancing around the living room with a dust rag and a can of Pledge singing the “Lemon Tree” song. I saw Santa Claus more often than I saw Mr. Clean. I never saw my mother with a mop in her hands. I have no idea how the toilets got clean. I have no memory of my mother cleaning anything other than my mouth out with soap over sassing back.

I never thought of myself as a pig. When I lived alone, there was the occasional “oops, I left the dirty dishes in the sink while I went out of town” thing, but I generally lived in a clean, neat environment. Even after I got married, our home was usually clean, certainly never embarrassing.

Then we had a child. Children themselves are small, particularly when they are infants. They fit in your arms quite nicely. They can easily be carried around in a carrier or sling or duffle bag or whatever the hell kind of thing babies get carried around in when you happen to have your baby.

The problem with children, obviously, is the stuff that comes with them. Eventually, you move into the “stuff goes in but never goes out” phase of parenting. Sure, the kids outgrow things and things break, but new stuff comes in. Our son has outgrown the toys with itty-bitty parts phase, just in time for our daughter to enter it. Now, instead of stepping on Legos in the middle of the night, we step on Littlest Pet Shop figures. Both are equally painful. Our son hasn’t given up hoarding, though. Once, we couldn’t get our son to bathe enough. Now, he bathes every day, using a clean dry towel from the linen closet each time and depositing said towel on his bedroom floor.

I fear my children’s slovenly habits have influenced me. I no longer leave just my shoes lying around. Now, I leave papers on the counter where I’ll see them and remember to do whatever it is the paper reminded me to do. Right now, there are two checks, a note from my daughter’s dentist, three library books, a magazine renewal form, liner notes from two CDs and a recipe all sitting in a pile by the telephone where I will see them and remember to deposit the checks, call the dentist, go to the library, renew the magazine, put away the liner notes and get the ingredients for the recipe. The pile has been there for two weeks. There is similarly justified clutter throughout the house.

I used to say that I was tired, I was busy, I had two kids, I was in grad school. . . all to excuse my pig mess. But, I’m no longer in grad school and I’m not particularly tired. I still have two kids and I’m kind of busy, but I don’t really think those excuses can fly anymore.

See, my neighbor has two kids and she’s pretty busy and her house looks great. All the time. I would really like to hate her, but I can’t. She’s a great neighbor and she doesn’t flaunt the fact that her house looks great. In fact, she doesn’t think it looks so great at all. That is probably why it always looks good.

I think another reason her house always looks great is she cleans it. In the summer, I like to sit in my gazebo with a cup of tea in the morning and read the newspaper. Sometimes, when I finish the newspaper, I’ll refill my cup. Then, I’ll need something else to read, so I’ll go get a paperback. I’ll sit in the gazebo, drink my second cup of tea and read my book. Then, I’ll hear a sort of whining noise coming from the neighbor’s house. It sounds familiar. I focus on it and realize my neighbor is vacuuming her house. “Hm,” I think. “Maybe I should vacuum something. Maybe at the end of this chapter.” You know the rest.

One day, I decided that my house was messy because I didn’t put my things away, thereby giving my children the idea that they didn’t need to put their things away either. So, I have been putting my things away. I cleared the space next to my bed of a shopping bag full of paperbacks, several out of date magazines, a pair of shoes I thought were lost and six half-finished knitting projects. I successfully broke the habit of putting things on the steps rather putting them away immediately. I have gotten myself down to one pile of junk in the kitchen. My kids are still slobs.

I will never know how my mother did it. I’m sure it involved lots of cleaning and straightening that I will probably never master. I know this means that I will never live in a home like my mother’s. When I have that hankering for the peace and calm that a tidy home provides, though, I’ll go knocking on my neighbor’s door. I promise to wipe my feet on the doormat.

By The Book

29 Nov

Somewhere, perhaps in the Library of Congress, there is a pair of books. One is titled, The Dad Book. The other is titled, The Mom Book. I don’t think anyone will argue with me because who really knows what’s in the Library of Congress anyway? I figure maybe the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but it’s a pretty big building, so there must be more than just that.

I know the Mom and Dad books exist because my friend, Kate, said so. If Kate says a thing is true, it either is, or you want it to be. Kate is just like that. The Dad Book, according to Kate, contains all of the things that are the Dad’s responsibility in the standard American suburban household. The Mom Book contains all of the things that are the Mom’s responsibility. The Mom Book is thicker.

Of course, the The Mom Book and the The Dad Book were written many years ago, before Moms became self-actualized and liberated. My own mother became liberated when I was about ten. I know this because she took me to a women’s self-actualization group meeting. This was a meeting in which women discussed the many roles they had in their lives and how much they hated many of those roles.

Though my mother became self-actualized and started working, she still adhered to the The Mom Book, or tried to, for a while. Eventually, my sister was given her own version of the The Mom Book; call it the “My mom works so now I have to iron and make dinner” book. My mother said my sister liked helping. My sister says something like, “I was 11 and I was ironing, for crying out loud, and just because I was the oldest.” I was very glad to be the second child.

I know some Dads cook. In our house,  The Dad Book did not include cooking, unless the cooking was done outdoors with open fire. The Dad Book also included fixing things, mowing the lawn and drinking beer afterward. We had a neighbor who liked to mow his lawn early in the day. Eventually, he and my father developed a competition to see who could mow their lawn the earliest. This put the “drink a beer afterward” rule in serious jeopardy of breaking the “don’t drink beer before noon” rule, but my dad adapted.

In my own house, The Dad Book and The Mom Book seem to have fallen off the shelf and had their pages put back haphazardly. But I have not rebooted my default responsibility settings. I grew up with a traditional Dad doing the traditional Dad things and a slightly less traditional Mom doing traditional Mom things.

I expect my husband to do the things my dad did. Problem is, my husband was raised in a home where the children were not exposed to the dirty workings of home care and maintenance. He was raised to read important books, listen to important music and converse on a range of culturally significant topics. I was raised to wipe the counters down before considering the kitchen clean-up completed. Which skill do you think is more useful in a modern suburban home inhabited by two adults, two children, a dog, a cat and a fish?

Our Mom and Dad book confusion is complicated by the fact that I lived alone for many years before entering a relationship that involved actual sharing of living space. Hence, all household responsibilities were my own. I quickly tired of asking male friends for help with Dad responsibilities. If I needed a shelf installed, I had to call a friend. If I needed a bookcase built, I had to call a friend. Eventually, I realized that I was calling male friends more for their tools, than their muscles.

I decided that the reason I couldn’t do Dad things for myself was I didn’t have that most Dad of things: the power drill. One year, my mother asked what I wanted for Christmas. I said, “A power drill.” She laughed and got me a “cute little sweater.” The next year, she asked what I wanted for Christmas. I said, “A power drill.” She didn’t laugh, but I got a cute little sweater anyway. The following year, I told my dad, “I want a power drill for Christmas. Mom is going to want to get me a cute little sweater. I want a power drill.” I got a power drill, and a cute little sweater.

With lots of cute little sweaters and a power drill, I was the empowered woman. I built my own furniture, I installed my own shelves, I screwed . . well, you get the drift.

Then I got married. I assumed my husband would be able to use the power drill at least as well as I could. Instead, I got a husband who can’t use a screwdriver without hurting himself. I had no idea that there is an addendum to The Dad Book. It reads: Any one receiving The Dad Book who also has earned a Ph.D. may, at any time, disregard the entire contents of The Dad Book. My husband has a Ph.D.

One winter day, last year, I heard a strange noise in the kitchen. It sounded like a constant, intermittent “whoosh.” I followed the “whoosh.” It took me to the basement. It took me, in fact, to the sump pump. “Sump pump” is not mentioned in my copy of The Mom Book. Actually, anything with “sump,” “pump,” “hose,” “outlet” or “filter” in its name is, and should be, listed in The Dad Book. My husband believes that “sump” is a word created so that children learning to read will have something to rhyme with “pump” and “rump.”

I Google’d “sump pump.” I Google’d “repair sump pump.” All of the results were ugly. Sump pump repair is only marginally less gross than toilet plunging, also listed in The Dad Book. I did what any self-respecting woman married to a man with a Ph.D. would do. I called a plumber. The plumber fixed the sump pump. Because the plumber has the traditional version of The Dad Book with no Ph.D. addendum, he was able to tell me how to avoid seeing him next winter.

It is winter again. I have done what the plumber suggested. I am hoping not to see him. In the meantime, my husband will spend the winter doing one of the only things he willingly does from The Dad Book. He will build roaring fires in our fireplace then fall asleep in front of them while watching a football game. Maybe I need a copy of The Dad Book?

Hapless Husbands

22 Nov

I have been married for more than 18 years. Before you congratulate me, consider that a great deal of staying married is simply being too unmotivated to get unmarried. When the going gets tough, and the going can get pretty tough sometimes in nearly two decades, I have defaulted to a “well, let’s just wait and see what happens here” attitude. So far, the going has gotten much better. Of course, it hasn’t been easy but a little patience and a lot of forgiveness have kept this institution intact.

In addition to patience and forgiveness, there has been a lot of humor in my marriage. Most of it has been intentional. But, I’m fortunate to be married to a man who also does some really stupid stuff.

I understand that it takes a special kind of woman to air her husband’s stupid laundry. I am that kind of woman, but I’m not alone. I’ve found that many other women live with husbands who do really stupid things. I do not mean to exclude gay couples. I am sure that there is a lot of stupidity in every relationship, gay or straight. I can only report on what I know, so if you live with a person who does stupid things but isn’t your husband, just insert that person’s name where appropriate here.

Laundry seems to be the source of a lot of stupid things that husbands have done. My own husband has shrunk cashmere sweaters. He has turned white loads pink. He has failed to remove paper tissues that wound up in tiny pieces all over black pants and shirts. In fairness, these aren’t truly stupid things; they are just the actions of an uneducated launderer.

I have a friend whose husband believes that he knows how to use bleach. He adds bleach to the laundry and to the wash water for the dishes. He has bleached silver-plated cutlery. The cutlery didn’t like it. Once, their dog retched on an antique wool rug. He used bleach and the garden hose to clean it. The rug didn’t like it. My friend didn’t like it.

I think a lot of the things that my husband does he does out of ignorance, but some things he just doesn’t think through. Instead of emptying the wastebaskets then taking the trash to the curb, he took the wastebaskets to the curb. I didn’t notice the problem until, on trash morning, I went to throw out a tissue in the powder room. I turned, tossed the tissue and watched it land on the floor. Putting two and two together, and knowing the garbage truck was due any minute, I ran to the curb. I was too late. The garbage man, who is probably someone else’s hapless husband, took the wastebaskets. I no longer own decorative wastebaskets.

I have another friend whose husband isn’t so much stupid as he is a little lazy. While mowing the lawn, rather than move his baby daughter’s new purple ball, he nudged it with the mower. The baby cried for hours after watching shreds of purple plastic rain down on the lawn. My husband once kept our infant son in his wind-up swing for five hours. It was his first experience caring for our son on his own while I went out. He was confident everything would be fine. I left, had fun and came back home five hours later. When I left, the baby was in the swing. When I came home, the baby was in the swing. Every time the swing wound down, my husband would wind it back up again. He claims our son suffered no ill effects. I say tell it to the therapists we’ve been paying for since he was five.

I’ve heard of lots of husbands who pretend to be asleep. My own husband does this when the children come into our room in the morning. He has the kids fooled, but not me. Even when I tell them they can get Dad to make their breakfast because Dad has arms and legs and is just pretending to be asleep, they leave him lie. They claim he is grumpy in the morning. Maybe I’ll start telling them to shut up, go away and make their own darn breakfasts.

I know of a husband who pretended to be asleep through an entire burglar alarm malfunction. The alarm malfunctioned. The husband slept through. The wife reset the alarm. The alarm malfunctioned again. The wife reset it. The alarm malfunctioned again. And again. And again. The husband slept. The wife looked up the problem on the Internet. She attempted the fix suggested. It didn’t work. The husband slept. The wife tried shutting off the appropriate circuit breaker. In the process, she caused every clock alarm in the house to go off, except the one by her sleeping husband. The burglar alarm still wouldn’t shut up. The husband still slept.

Eventually, the wife, accompanied by their daughter, dug through the cobwebs in the basement, moved the refrigerator in front of the burglar alarm control panel, then discovered she needed a flat-head screwdriver. The husband slept. The wife could not find a flat-head screwdriver, so used the end of a saw blade to open the box, find the battery and end the beeping siege. The beeping husband slept on.

My favorite stupid husband trick involves the slightly lazy purple-ball mowing husband. He lives in a beautiful old house that has a wood-burning fireplace. On occasion, the odd bird will fly down the chimney and need assistance in leaving the home. My husband, when asked how he would handle the situation, said he might open all of the windows in the family room and swat at the bird with a broom until it got the hint and flew away. Not too stupid, I thought, and the kids would love the show.

My friend’s husband, though, is not just lazy, but inventive. Faced with the bird, he did indeed get a broom. Then, he held the broomstick out to the bird and spoke encouragingly to it, hoping to entice it to hop on the handle. He has become, of course, the butt of many a family joke. I can picture his wife and children taunting him with, “Here, Birdie, Birdie, Birdie. Hop on the nice stick, Birdie.”

Having dumped on my husband and the husbands of others, I suppose its only fair to reveal my own stupidities. I have slept through picking up my daughter at preschool. I continue to expect my son will spontaneously hug me and say, “I really love you, Mom. Thanks for all you’ve done for me.” I let my children convince me we needed a cat.

The dumbest thing I’ve done though is arguing with my mother-in-law. For years, she pushed every button I had and I let her. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I eventually smartened up and got along with her for the last year of her life. For years, my husband forgave my stupidity. Pretty smart guy, huh?

Copyright 2010 Janice M. Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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