Monday, May 21, 2012

The Yin to My Yang

So tell me if either of these scenarios sounds familiar.  

Scenario one: You, Hubby and the kids all have hectic itineraries. You’re all scheduled to be in and out of the house in crazy combinations of dates and times. The kids are young yet, so it’s really up to you and Hubby to keep things straight and make sure everyone is juggled with precision. Except…Hubby seems to be about as clueless as the kids about when things need to be done. You find that having to remind him when he needs to cart which kids to which events is yet another thing that falls solely on your shoulders. You have inwardly and/or outwardly been very angry with him for not being on top of the household schedule like you are. After all, he lives there and those are his kids, too, right?

Scenario two: It seems like you’re the straight guy of the two parental units. It feels like you’re the one who nags about homework and chores and bedtime, while Hubby is the one who gets the good cred for wrestling with the kids and throwing them up into the air (and catching them, of course!) and making funny faces and hilarious bodily noises and getting the kids to belly laugh with his ridiculous antics. You have inwardly and/or outwardly been angry with him for making you look like the heavy, like a big, fat party pooper. After all, you’re taking care of all the important stuff and he just gets to play. In the eyes of the kids, you’re the meanie and he’s the fun one. It’s unfair and WTF?!?!

Both scenarios absolutely played out at our house. While Hubby and I rarely fight, I sure started a few good ones out of my frustration with these situations. Then two things happened, though not in the order I would have liked.

 The first thing that happened is that Hubby took in all of my griping and bitching about the imbalance of it all and decided to make a change. He took it up on himself to make a calendar of everyone’s commitments and post it in a central area so we can all see what’s going on. He updates the calendar regularly and now sometimes even beats me to the punch when we’re talking what’s happening on a certain day. He also started taking care of some of the serious business with the kids. He assigns chores and keeps to bedtime deadlines and hands down discipline, if needed.

 The second thing that happened is that I changed my perspective. I got to thinking about how I got mad at Hubby because he wasn’t as good at something as I was (managing the family’s schedule) and then I turned around and got mad at him when he was better at something than I was (having fun with the kids). Did someone say something about unfair? It finally occurred to me that the fact that we don’t have the same strengths didn’t have to be a bad thing.  We weren't on opposing sides: we had each been contributing our strongest skill sets toward the same goal.  Where I might have lacked, he stepped up; where he was unsure, I led the way.  He was the yin to my yang.  We bolstered each other's talents and natural inclinations and, by being good at different and separate things, we 1) didn't step on each other's toes (you know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen) and 2) we were able to cover a lot of ground as a parental unit.  And, in the end, our family got the benefit of the best we both had to offer. 

He will probably always be the one the kids think is more fun.  Well, truth be told, he is more fun, by far.  But it's me they ask for when they want to be sung to sleep.  I might still be the one who can keep the master schedule in my head at all times, but he'll always be ready and willing to execute the logistics any time I ask.  When the clouds of selfishness and  self-pity are lifted, the view is truly clear and bright.

I only wish I had gained my new way of seeing things before I harried poor Hubby as much as I did.  But in the end, we both learned and grew from the experience.   Ha!  I write this as if it was something that has run its course.  It hasn't.  We're still in the thick of it and it still demands our attention and energy.  But now that we've righted the ship, I think we're in for some smooth sailing. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hybrids, Hair and Hope - Part III: Hope

Continued from Parts I and II

I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like I've taken an emotional beatdown from the all the doom-and-gloom over the economy.  

There were times when the news was downright horrifying.  How many stories were there about families who went from comfortable, dual-income living to dual-unemployment, burning through their life savings in a matter of months and facing foreclosure?  I read a story about a mom who said money was so tight and food was getting so expensive that meat and fresh produce were luxuries that she and her kids couldn't afford anymore. 

Close to home, people we knew lost their jobs and our local food pantry was adding more new families each week.  Our own family was affected and Hubby and I had to make some tough decisions about how to stay afloat financially.  I told our kids so many times that we were going to be careful about how we spent our money that they started asking me if we were going to run out.   That was my biggest fear, too.

When the-tightening-of-the-belt begins in earnest, it takes some fortitude to face the new limitations.  Stick to the budget - no extras at the store, no eating out.  Toys, clothes and entertainment aren't even in the budget, and cross your fingers that the cars won't need fixing and that no emergencies come up.   You hope you're just riding out the storm, but you wonder: what's going to come along and change things for the better?  The future seems like a grey unknown and it all starts to feel like a too-heavy coat that you can't take off.  But the worst of it is the feeling of isolation.  We don't tend to broadcast our personal financial statuses, especially when they're not going well, so at those low times, we feel like we struggle alone.

Then slowly, the silver linings start to show themselves.  No eating out means healthier meals and finding new homemade favorites.  No entertainment budget means more family game nights or other snuggly stay-home activities (and really, what could be better?).  "Back to basics" starts to seem like more of a smart concept and less of a punishment.  

I was at this point of starting to accept our circumstances and making the best of things when I looked around and noticed that not only weren't we so alone in the world, but that we were also in good company!   From out of nowhere, it seemed like everyone was making do and getting by.  But not with oppressed spirits.   People were flying their frugality flags loudly and proudly!  They began to wear their thriftiness like a badge and become card-carrying penny-pinchers.  

The very best part: everyone wanted to share their tips and tricks for getting through the rough spots.  They shared their couponing strategies (heck, they even made a reality show out of it!), their upcycling ideas and countless other pointers on how to cut costs.  From the least of ideas that only serve to make life a little brighter (like letting our hair grow and braiding it when we couldn't afford the salon) to revolutionary ideas designed to help us stretch a dollar (like fuel-efficient cars), it's been a grand testament to our organic, ingrained desire to take care of each other when the going gets tough.

I think it speaks to the resiliency of the race - the human race, that is.   Okay, so maybe we let things slide from time to time and get ourselves into a world of trouble.  Maybe we go through rough patches where we seem collectively apathetic.  Toward everything.  But by our very nature of being human, we're not perfect.  I know, as one individual, I tend to run in cycles between being (occasionally) awesome and (more frequently) ridiculous, with a vast expanse of ordinary in between.  But I always like to think I'm making my way back to awesome by learning from my mistakes and finding ways to do things better.  Extrapolate that across all the other individuals on the planet, and you've got a world of folks who try, and sometimes fail, and try again to be the best they can be.  For both myself and the rest of the humans, I'd like to think we're on an upswing.  I like to think there's hope for us, yet.