Sunday, 29 September 2013
We remain true to who we are...
Whenever we inform anyone that both Husband and I are only children, we always receive the same response: "...interesting..." It is often held that only children are incompatible mates, but after sixteen years together, I've noticed that we were raised quite differently and we each exert our only-childness in individual ways. Perhaps it's a gender issue between raising a boy or a girl. Perhaps it's generational as Husband's parents are 12-15 years older than mine. Perhaps it's cultural between growing up in England or the States. It's just very different...
Husband's parents were in their very late 30s when he was born and he became the centre of their world. They were of modest means and he wasn't spoilt with material things, but they doted on him and practically waiting on him hand and foot his entire life. If he wanted a snack or a cup of tea, they'd fulfill the request at the snap of a finger. If a particular item of clothing needed to cleaned, his mum would run the machine right away. He could leave dirty plates next to the sink with the knowledge that his parents would do his washing. It has taken me years to break him out of this mold, and one of the reasons why it is so hard to visit with his parents, is that I am forced to watch him regress.
In contrast, I showed up in my parents' lives a day and a month after my father's 30th birthday and when my mum was only 27. They were the first of their friends to have a child and as they once explained to me; "We weren't going to be one of those couples whose lives revolved around their baby. We integrated you into our life." My parents continued to travel and visit with their friends and at a early age, I learned how to entertain myself. That was the first of my lessons on self-sufficiency. When I was 6 or 7, I started packing my own school lunches. At age 10, I was doing my own laundry and by age 12, it was my responsibility to mow the lawn and clean my bathroom. As a result, I've always appreciated the motto, 'if you want something done right, do it yourself!' To my own detriment, I don't like to delegate any tasks, even when I should.
Husband's parents arrived on a Monday afternoon. When I can, I'll go into work early in the morning, as I find I'm much more focused during this time. By the end of the day, I'm mentally exhausted and I struggle to complete my charting and other tasks. Not that night. I was in the zone; whipping through my notes and working through my results. I looked over at the clock. 7 PM. I needed to face reality: I was avoiding going home.
I texted Husband and offer to pick up some take-out on my way home. "No. Just come home." he replied. As soon as I got in, he announced that we would go pick up dinner. I clearly saw his motives; he wanted to stop for a beer while waiting for the food and he wanted to get even with me for arriving late. As soon as he closed the door, my house was filled with an awkward silence. I was listening to cars pass down my road, hoping each one was his.
My parents arrived two days later. They're a welcome buffer, but the contrast between his parents and mine emphasizes the awkwardness of the situation. Husband is very close with my Dad and the two can talk endlessly about baseball, DIY projects, beer, grilling...just about anything. My mother simply adores Husband. The four of us will engage in conversations while his parents quietly observe. You have to invite them to offer any dialogue, which is usually a single sentence containing a few words.
Nonetheless, we were anxious to have my parents serve as our 'wingmen' and we were disappointed to learn they had other plans. In the two days before we were to depart for Hawaii, my parents booked up their time with my aunt (my father's sister) and my cousin. Husband was especially upset as he was assigned to umpire a very competitive collegiate field hockey match (which was being televised on ESPN-7) and he really wanted his parents and mine to watch him. Despite explaining that we would be spending a week with my parents and that my Dad has limited time to visit with his sister and niece, Husband was still sulking. "This is my day" he whined "It's supposed to be all about me..." Thus confirming he's still the little boy who needs to be the centre of attention.
Meanwhile, I had the day off, although I went into to the office very early in the morning to wrap up some loose ends before going away for a week. On the rare occasion when I have a day off, I always try to swim with the noon group as a treat for myself. This day would be no exception. I arranged with Husband that I would drive his parents to the game when I came back from swimming, as he had to arrive at the field an hour before the start time. When we were both ready to leave, we realised we didn't have anything to offer his parents for lunch beyond leftovers.
Guilt consumed me as I drove to the pool. I'm selfish. I'm a bad daughter-in-law. I'm a bad hostess. I should have taken my in-laws out to lunch en route to the game. Despite acknowledging these feelings, I proceeded to my swim class (perhaps my coach sensed my guilt issues, as she delivered a rather punishing workout). I ducked out of practice early, but felt that the remaining sprinting sets would have been less painful than the upcoming car ride.
As I drove back home, I noted that although Husband and I are successful, confident reasonably well-adjusted people; we are flawed. He's an attention whore and I'm self-centred. As it is our strict intention to only have one child, what traits will we be passing on to him or her? Would I be too much my like my parents and raise a child who is distantly independent? Or after waiting so long for the opportunity, would be be more like his parents who place their child on a pedestal? How can we correlate the strongest aspects of our upbringing and mitigate the weaker ones?
My in-laws were literally waiting at the front door, ready to leave when I returned from swimming. I left the car unlocked and they packed the folding chairs into the boot while I changed out of my swimming gear. When I walked out to the driveway, they were both sitting in the back seat. That just says it all. I pointed out a few landmarks, but the drive was essentially in silence. Guilt ... eased.