Monday, November 28, 2011

The Home Team (Cleveland Post, September 22, 2011)

Sometime in our first year of marriage, my husband gave me the most wonderful gift.

I was on my high horse about something, something that seemed important at the time. I proceeded to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that I was going to do what I was going to do. My tone said quite plainly that he had just better like it because I would fight for it if necessary.

When I stopped to catch my breath, he looked at me, a little puzzled, and said, "I am on your side, you know."

That shut my mouth.

Courtship being over, I had assumed I would face opposition. I expected my judgment to be questioned. I expected a preemptive strike to expose as-yet-to-be-identified threats to him or his honor lying hidden in my idea. Such was my experience.

Not his. His default assumption was that I would look after his interests no less than I would look after my own. There was no opposition. He trusted me. Wow.

On the one hand, this should be a "Well, duh!" moment. After all, marriage is supposed to be about two becoming one, "gettin' hitched" to pull as a team.

But as I got to thinking about it, I realized how loudly the teamwork message got drowned out in popular culture. Marital conflict is fertile ground for comedy, and comedy sells way better than earnest romance.

It is, after all, 'the battle of the sexes." On TV, it was Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, Archie and Edith Bunker. The battle grinds on in the long-running comic strips, like Hagar the Horrible and Beetle Bailey.

Sneakiness was a key plot element. One spouse was always trying to get away with something behind the other's back. I guess children can relate to wanting something they are told they can't have, presumably by someone who knows best.

Cartoons taught me that the wife always had a frying pan with which to beat her husband over the head when he came home late. The animated clanging and warping of the frying pan was hilarious. So, when my oldest brother and I played house, I procured my mother's 10" cast iron frying pan to use as demonstrated on TV. No, I never actually hit him with it. At least, I don't think I did. If I did, it wasn't that hard.

Marriage stereotypes show up in advertising, too. There are the ads where the wife saves the oblivious husband from a trip to the store and nasty computer viruses, or the dad only gets his family's attention when he buys them new phones.

Then there are the ones about money, where the wife comes home from a shopping spree, hidden by all the packages. These female fiscal irresponsibilities are often pitched as payback for the male transgressions: new, cool, expensive, unnecessary, and (if the guy's on a roll) totally useless gadget.

Over and over again, on television and on the radio. They are meant to sell products to adults, but they unconsciously convey ideas to children. And they wouldn't work if they didn't hold an element of truth.

Selfishness. Suspicion. Distrust. Superiority. There was no doubt that Ricky and Lucy loved each other, but for some reason, love didn't lead to trust. And it sure didn't lead Ricky to help Lucy pursue her dreams.

"I'm on your side." Wow.

Recently, I have realized this is an important message for children to hear, too. There is a parent-child version of the conflict. With the start of school, we've been going through a difficult spell. The first couple of weeks it seemed like every conversation, every reminder turned into a battle.

Son: "I want to wear my camo shorts on Friday."

Mama: "Okay, put them in the laundry so I can wash them."

Son: "Gahhhhhhhhh! I hate putting things in the laundry! That's too hard! Why do I have to everything?"

Poor kid. Precious time taken up with things he hates to do, no time to do the stuff he wants to do. It's enough to make a child think the whole world is against him.

Realizing this, I took him aside one afternoon and reminded him that I was, in fact, on his side. And I pointed out how my reminders and discipline were there to help him learn how to make time and space to do the stuff he wanted to do.

I don't know if he heard me. I'll keep trying.

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