A few months ago, my dad became exceedingly angry at my brother over what my brother considered a rather innocent remark. S. bore witness to the scene and sided with my brother, agreeing that my father’s anger was completely disproportionate to the comment. The three of them, along with my uncle, were at deer camp, and after a couple of evenings of tolerating my dad’s addiction to cable news, my brother wanted to change the channel to something on the travel network. My dad took umbrage at the suggestion and D., by all accounts with humor, said “We don’t all want to continue listening to you yell at the tv for days, dad.” This was all it took for my dad to storm out of the cabin and stew for hours until finally at some point a peace gesture was made and he decided spending the last few days at camp with his son, son-in-law and brother-in-law were better spent companionably.
This was not the end of the argument, though.
Several weeks later my parents came down to visit me and my dad recounted the story, which I had already heard from D. and S., but I acted as though I knew nothing about. As he grew more and more angry over the comment, he turned to my mother and basically accused her of telling my brother than he yelled at the tv, thus talking about him behind his back, because why else would anyone think he yelled at the television?
Now, my father has spent a good portion of his life hollering back at the t.v., and anyone who has spent an hour with him knows this. From cable news shows to college and professional sports to television programming with frustrating plots, my dad makes his opinion known, loudly and with emphasis. It is simply part of what makes him who he is, and I often believe this outlet, along with a life-long dedication to exercise and regular cocktail hours, has kept him as healthy and alive as he is. The shocking thing to me isn’t that he was upset when D. pointed out this habit to him – no, what’s most surprising and has only come to light recently is the fact my dad really and truly believes he doesn’t, ever, do the thing of which he was accused. He believes truly, in his core, that he not someone who yells at the tv and so this impression D. holds couldn’t have come from years of bearing witness – it had to come from my mom, talking behind his back.
As members of his family, and I am sure many of his close friends can attest, we have seen my father argue with newscasters and those they interview, swear at Tea Party members, coach football, basketball and baseball with confidence and gusto, and drive himself crazy over the “lack of plot” in “Brothers and Sisters.” There is a huge disparity in how my father behaves and how he sees himself, and this makes it an impossible argument to solve: my mother will never be able to properly defend herself against my father’s accusation, my father will never believe he engages in arguments with the television and my brother will never be able to believe that my father doesn’t recognize this behavior in himself. Everyone has mostly moved on from this discussion although references to it crop up every once in a while.
Like most people, I like to think I have a strong sense of self, or at the very least a good grasp on the kind of person I am. I don’t go around claiming, like many women I know, to be the kind of person who “just needs to be on the go”, I don’t call myself a control freak and if I did, it wouldn’t be with pride, I think I am particularly good at taking care of myself and those around me but perhaps not as motivated as I should be, some of the time – I am not overly task-oriented.
At least, this is what I thought until recently, when, at eight months pregnant, I broke the metatarsal bone in my left foot and after two visits to the doctor was ordered on strict rest if I wanted it to do anything remotely like heal by the time I go into labor. “No grocery shopping. No driving. No running last minute errands for the baby. Work from home or take time off if you need to, but we can’t do anything for you as pregnant as you are and so the only way it will heal is if you stay off it,” my doctor said. “By the way, we should schedule you for a cholesterol test a couple of months after you have the baby – pregnancy can change your cholesterol.”
She’s so annoying.
I am following the doctor’s orders to the best of my ability but this means (what I consider to be) an unfair amount of work has fallen to S. in this last month. To be fair, we have turned down offers from my parents to come move in and help us out, as well as offers from friends for extra assistance, not because we couldn’t use the help but because at this point the offers seem like they would be more work for us than actual relief.
So S. is in charge, not only of working his day job and getting dinner on the table, but of doing the laundry, changing sheets, walking the dog and taking care of the last minute items I had planned on doing for our daughter’s arrival, like having the car seat installed and putting the finishing touches on the nursery, all because I played one rogue game of fetch with our dog. I thought, I truly did, that I could be the kind of person who embraces such orders from my doctor – that I am the type of person who puts healing before things like household chores and work, but I am here to tell you, this is not so. Or, at the very least, it is incredibly hard to do.
Relying on S. is frustrating, and he is probably one of the best husbands in the world on which to rely. I could ask him for anything…more dvds from Blockbuster, a book or two from the library, a chocolate milk shake – and he would drop what he is doing to take care of my request. But I don’t ask these things of him because his workload is already so significant and while I believe truly in our vows of taking care of each other through sickness and health, I don’t believe in abusing that promise.
And yet, it’s so hard to let go of the expectations I had for this last month of pregnancy, even though S. says that is exactly what we both need to do in order to joyfully welcome our child into our home. I was so certain the nursery would be perfectly appointed, the kitchen rearranged, the bathroom stocked with baby bath supplies – I had in my mind a place for every piece of baby-equipment we received. My workload at the office would be complete and perfectly squared away with absolutely no projects left unfinished and I would, of course, still be walking around the park every day, at least two or three laps – the exercise combined with my working life more than enough to keep my pregnancy weight gain modest.
You know what they say about making plans and God laughing…
I truly saw myself as someone who might relish being taken care of for a few weeks – certainly, at the beginning of the pregnancy, I fantisized about this kind of situation. As it turns out, I’ve had to allow myself, on more than one occasion, the luxury of crying. I spent yesterday organizing and categorizing baby clothes, and took a few too many trips down the stairs, which in turn pushed my pain back to near day-one levels. I have done things for myself I should have let S. do, and even as I type this I feel my anxiety rising over the fact that S. will be doing the grocery shopping today, not me. I mean, this is a man who graduated law school after serving on both moot court and law review and continuously finds himself promoted at work, and yet I don’t feel confident putting the kind of cereal I want on the grocery list because I don’t think he’ll be able to find it. I would laugh at the absurdity if I wasn’t so earnest in this belief.
It turns out, who I think I am, versus who I actually am when push comes to proverbial shove, are two very different people, too. Not only do I want control, I enjoy it when I have it, and every time I sacrifice a bit of it to S. or to a co-worker, I find myself in a minor state of mourning. All of my laid-back, take-things as they come theories fly right out the window when I actually am required to lay back, take things as they come and allow myself to heal.
All of this does make me wonder, though, about the claims we make about ourselves versus who we really are on the inside. Verbal declarations about perfectionism, or lack thereof; deeply held beliefs about how we do or don’t behave; whether we are moody or high-spiritied or free-spirits – I think more often than not we give voice to the kind of person we want to be, which is most often not who we are, at all. S. and I always joke that if, during a job interview the person who will be your boss claims to not “micromanage” he or she will end up doing just that, more than you can ever imagine.
For now, I’m willing to admit I want more control than I ever realized, and letting go of certain “perfect” standards in order to embrace the here and now is so much harder than I ever would have imagined.