Saturday, January 20, 2007

Wow, I'm wordy when I'm mad

Waking up at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. and not being able to go back to sleep has lost all its charm--if it had any to begin with. I'm still angry about something my mom said yesterday, which is why I can't sleep, I'm sure. Also, I might be doing a little cussing, so fair warning for the faint of ears . . . uh, eyes. Whatever.

My parents and I were driving back from the license branch; I don't remember what we were talking about exactly--something about unexpected expenses, probably. Out of what seemed like complete left field, my mom asked, in a snippy tone, "Does Kevin help you AT ALL with finances?" A) None of her damn business, and 2) WTF?

I realize my mom has no idea what the real world is like for most people; except for the first year of marriage, when she worked while my dad finished his degree on the G.I. Bill, she's never had to work a day in her life. My dad worked for the same company his entire career, made decent money, and got a damn good pension and retirement benefits, so she hasn't had to worry about juggling bills or, well, much of anything. My dad handles everything, including a lot of the housework since his retirement and her constant aches and pains started. She's never had crushing, neverending guilt and worry gnawing at her over whether she's spending enough time with her child because she's a single mother trying to keep a roof over that child's head, food in the refrigerator, and shoes on his feet. She's never had to go back to work at 9:30 at night, after yawning through reading a bedtime story, because she stopped working at 3:00 to help her son with homework and cook a real dinner for a change instead of throwing frozen chicken nuggets in the oven (see guilt, above). She's never had to see her biggest client fold, with no warning, after a corporate merger and have a main source of income dry up suddenly, and then overcome innate shyness to pursue new clients aggressively.

Gah, so what am I saying? Right, her concept of the real world is pretty skewed. I could go on and on about Kevin's disadvantages growing up and how they affected--and still do--his adult life, but I don't have the time or heart to get into it. Suffice it to say that supporting a family with the kind of jobs that are open to you when you don't have a degree or other training is difficult, yet he managed to support a wife and two small kids during his first marriage and somehow find time to start a mail-order business making rubber stamps (with no business training, either). He's a hard worker and extremely intelligent, but his "higher" education is self-taught.

Now take the wide disparity in our earnings. My hourly fee for editing is roughly 4.5 times his hourly wage. In addition, he has child support for his son and daughter, so about half his paycheck goes straight to his ex-wife. Family and Social Services has determined a certain amount for the support of two kids, and it makes not one bit of difference how large a percentage of his pay that amount is OR that his ex-wife earns about double his pay. So is it fair to split our expenses straight down the middle? Hardly. We've worked out an equitable financial arrangement, the details of which are no one else's business, particularly my mother's. Do I ever wish I had a partner who could take care of me financially or at least take more of the burden off my shoulders? Of course. I'm human--and even a whiny one at times.

What my mom doesn't seem to see are all the other burdens Kevin handles to try to make my life a little easier. Since I met him, I think I can count on one hand the loads of laundry I've done. I cook dinner only on nights he's working. He does the bulk of the daily cleaning and spends a good chunk of his days off running errands, making repairs, grocery shopping, doing yardwork, and the million other tasks that make up running a house and a family. He takes care of vet appointments and cleaning up the hair, vomit, and various other unpleasant byproducts of four pets.

When Daniel's waited until the night before a due date to begin a school project and discovered he needs poster board, Kevin's the one who makes the mad dash to Wal-Mart before closing time. When I'm sick, he takes care of me lovingly and competently. After the nightmare of going through stomach flu, bronchitis, and killer colds alone when I was single and had no help with child care (or me care), that's not a luxury I take for granted. He's there for me when I'm depressed, discouraged, scared, worried, or one of the other 100 Moods of Lisa, and when I'm frantically working to meet a dealine, he gets the hell out of my way and tiptoes into my office occasionally with coffee or a sandwich. He's loved and cared for Daniel without once crossing the line of trying to take the place of Daniel's father. He's proud of the work I do, and after eight years together, he still gets excited when he sees my name listed in a book's front matter. He's even taken my pub copies to work and shown them off to co-workers (much to my embarrassment). When do you think was the last time my mom asked me anything about my work? If you said "never," you win!

I'm sorry if this entry is scattered and incoherent, and right now, I'm wishing like hell I'd said all this to my mom. I was so taken aback at her rudeness that I just snapped "Of course he helps me financially, as much as he's able to!" And then, because I broke my parents' cardinal rule of no raising one's voice or showing anger *gasp* openly, she changed the subject and started chattering about Hallmark stores and the clothes my sister just bought and other topics no one but her gives a damn about while I sat there fuming. TANGENT ALERT: You think I'm kidding about her listing the clothes my sister just bought? I wish I were, but I'm dead serious. Linda bought a red suit, a black blazer, khaki pants, a white blouse--her clothing taste is as exciting and varied as she is--oh, who the hell cares?

My point--and I've got one or two in here somewhere--is that money isn't the only contribution a man (or woman, for that matter) can make to a relationship. You would think a woman who was a housewife all her life would understand the value of those tasks that don't result in a paycheck but do keep a home and family running with some degree of order and harmony. You would think she'd be proud that I've built a business and an impeccable reputation with clients, but she shakes her head because I've neglected to dust my baseboards and forgot to send a birthday card to my Great-Aunt Eunice, who I met precisely once, 39 years ago. If I were a bigger person, I'd feel sympathy that she didn't have the opportunity to go to college or find a career and that she can't see beyond her own nose to understand a life that isn't exactly like hers. I'm still too angry to be that magnanimous, however.