Tag Archives: male female relationships

Oy, Tannenbaum

6 Dec

I am old enough to be my daughter’s best friend’s grandmother. This does not humble me, but it proves that certain arguments are ageless. You see, the mother of said best friend, separated from me by a generation, has the same memory of why we had artificial Christmas trees growing up: our parents had one of the worst fights we can recall while shopping for the tree. The next year and every year after, our families each had a fake tree.

I remember something about a very cold night and a JayCees tree sale in a parking lot. I can picture my mother vividly: pursed lips, dagger-flinging eyes, her arms crossed tightly over her body, purse clutched to her stomach as she stomped to the car. I remember being very cold and the trees being very imperfect. My mother was from Georgia and liked everything just so. You do the math.

I had real Christmas trees once I was on my own. Granted, most of them were pretty “Charley-Browny,” scraggly things that I somehow managed to convince myself looked pretty good covered with pink and aqua glass balls and tiny white lights. Hey, it was the 80s.

Once I was married, the combined incomes meant bigger, nicer Christmas trees. Our first Christmas, we lived in the heart of the city and shopped like big city Christmas tree shoppers. We went to a local garden center and bought a beautiful balsam fir after just a few minutes of blissfully agreeable tree inspection. The garden center then delivered the tree and set it up exactly where we wanted it. Where was the fighting?

The next year, we no longer lived near the magic garden center with the incredible Christmas-tree-setting-up elves, but we found a nice lot and bought a nice tree. We took it home. It was then that I realized something I should have known all along. My husband had no idea what to do with a Christmas tree. Of course not, he’s Jewish. Why would he know? The year before, his lack of Christmas knowledge wasn’t an issue. Without the magic tree elves, though, it was pushed to the fore. I was on my own in Christmas tree setting up.

While I felt sorry for myself, married to the Christmas clueless, my friends and relatives had the opposite problem. Their husbands thought they knew everything.

Consider the woman who reports that every year, for many years, her husband would insist that their giant tree would fit into the discount marketer Christmas tree stand. Most people who have Christmas trees have this stand. I believe it is made in China at a wok factory. Every October, the wok factories in China retrofit thousands of woks, painting them bright red, adding green legs and three eyebolts and selling them to unsuspecting Americans for $12.95. My friend’s husband would insist that the tree would fit in the stand, that the tree would not fall over. My friend would say “It will fall over.” My friend would take bets. Her husband would put up the tree, balance it, and then the two of them would watch it come down, at first slowly, then with increasing velocity. My friend would laugh uproariously. Her husband would curse.

My sister’s family regularly put a tree at least 12 feet wide into the wok every year. Why? Because a proper Christmas tree stand, one that will safely hold up a tree more than 6 feet tall, costs at least $100 and has things like Army-grade straps and ratcheting gears. My sister now owns one. So does my bet-taking friend. I have another friend whose husband nails their wok stand to a large piece of plywood, hoping to stave off the military Christmas tree stand. It’s only a matter of time, though. Their trees are often 15 feet tall.

Over the years, it became clear to me that, if we had a tree or we didn’t, my husband would be fine. There would be no gaping hole in his December if a large evergreen were not sacrificed in the interest of holiday décor. With my typical maturity, I decided to pout. Well, I thought, if it isn’t important to him, then I’ll just do it without him.

One year, my son and I accompanied my sister’s family on their annual “Cut your own” foray. It was fun. I have a terrific picture of my brother-in-law helping my son cut down a tree. Another year, Mr. Christmas Clueless came with us. Naturally, that was the coldest year since we’d begun cutting our own tree. On the way to the lot, our son came down with a fever. But, he didn’t want to leave without a tree. So, we got him to the car, laid him down on the back seat and brought pre-cut trees to the car for him to select.

Though I had gotten my husband back into the selection process, I still didn’t have a Christmas-savvy set up assistant. I was still on my own in struggling with the wok, testing the strands of lights, replacing burnt out bulbs, etc., etc., etc. The pity party continued.

Then the pre-lit tree was invented. I swallowed my real-tree insistence and bought one. I was in Christmas purgatory. Not quite heaven, because my husband still thought the tree was just “nice,” but no longer in the hell of setting it up all by myself.

Last year, the lights failed. No biggie, I thought, I’ll take the old ones off and put new ones on. That’ll be cheaper than buying a whole new tree. And, it was. Though I lost an entire day and a few ounces of skin as I clipped away the wires, scratching my arms on every branch. The tree looked pretty good with its colorful new lights.

This year, I realized, I had been released from the tyranny of the pre-lit tree. Though they are convenient, pre-lits are also expensive. If you’ve got one, you’re going to use it. And you’re going to have the same tree every year. The exact same branches in the exact same places at exactly the same height.  Every year. This year, I can buy a real tree if I want to. And maybe I will. I know my husband won’t argue. In fact, he’ll probably say it’s “nice.”

Copywrite © 2010 by Janice Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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?

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