My husband is kind, generous, flexible, hard-working, honest, deeply loyal, and a steadfast protector of everyone he cares about, and every day he works to become a better human being, husband, and father. But sometimes the way he expresses himself makes me want to poke him with a spork.
(Before we continue I would like to acknowledge that, given the motivation, Jack could make a long list of unfathomable things I say and do every day, but it appears that he has better things to do with his time.)
Here’s an example. The other night he was cooking dinner.
Me: “Fish and green beans just doesn’t seem like enough. Is it too late for me to make some sweet potato fries? . . . Oh, never mind, it would take a half hour and it’s already 7:00.”
Jack: “What the fuck do I care? You gotta be someplace?”
Now, this is Jack’s way of saying, Sweetheart, I’m not in any hurry, you go ahead and make whatever your heart desires and I’ll have a beer and wait until you’re ready before I start cooking the fish. But then I remembered I was living with the bastard child of W. C. Fields and Sam Peckinpah.
So I made the sweet potato fries, and when they were just about done, Jack put the fish on.
Jack (admiring his work): “That looks pretty fucking good.”
Me: (shouting) “I HOPE IT STAYS DOWN!”
I’ve learned, over time, that instead of being offended by Jack’s — let’s call it aggressive solicitude — I’ve found that countering it with brutal honesty, spoken with comically elevated intensity and volume, lets me avoid feeling like I’ve been run over by a Brooklyn-bound F train. (Note: it doesn’t work if I’m actually upset, because then I just sound mean and it turns into a fight, so if my feelings have been hurt I say, “Thanks a lot, Sarcasmo,” and he says, “What? I was joking!” and I say, “Oh, I see, it was a joke that didn’t contain any actual humor,” and he says, “I think you need something to eat,” and I say, “THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.”) So there’s no eye rolling involved, nor is there smarminess. Think less Tim Gunn and more Lee Van Cleef.
What was I talking about?
(And yes, those are 8-ounce filets of escolar wrapped in bacon and being fried in butter, because we win at eating paleo. This was easily a week’s worth of fat and protein for the average adult. But even with some green beans and slivered almonds on the side, it just didn’t seem like enough to me. Thirty minutes later, when I developed gout and burst out of my jeans, I remembered that I don’t actually have to eat everything on my plate and that leftovers are a wonderful thing.)
Anyway, Jack and I often get oddly pleased with ourselves when we have these exchanges, maybe because, as two people who grew up with a fair amount of domestic conflict, it feels great to have (weird but) honest confrontations that wind up with civilized outcomes. But I can’t imagine what we’re teaching Jackson when we talk to each other this way. Maybe we’re teaching him to listen for the subtle shifts between giving someone shit / speaking the truth / slipping into conjugal despair? In the past, when Jack and I have actually argued with each other, Jackson has yelled from his room, “Stop bickering, you two!” The boy can make us laugh out loud with his shrewd observations on our weaknesses, so best case scenario he’s learning to tell it like it is. (Worst case, he’s going to need a really, really tough girlfriend.)
Oh yeah, you need some mushrooms on that.