Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No More Tears

I have a new theory on my role as a husband and father. I think my main job, when it all gets boiled down, is to keep my wife from crying.

Let me back up a little… I don’t like irrigation. That probably goes back to high school, when I worked for a summer on my uncle’s farm in Oregon. My buddy Scott and I went and spent an entire summer “moving pipe” in the potato fields of the fertile Willamette Valley. (Pronounced will-LAMB-et, not WILL-ah-met, for all of you non-Oregonians.)

Moving pipe involves grabbing the middle of a 30-foot long, 4-inch diameter aluminum pipe, picking it up and shaking it loose from its attachment point to the next pipe, curling it up to chest height like a tightrope walker’s balance pole, high-stepping over fifteen rows of waist-high potato plants, and setting it back down. Repeat the process for eight to ten hours a day for two months.

I won’t tell you I hated it, but “liked it” isn’t the right term either. Scott and I ended up having a good time overall, and we were in great shape at the end of the summer. While the experience may not have done much to illuminate our future career aspirations, it certainly did serve to give both of us a really good idea of what we did not want to do for a living, and a strong desire to go to college.

During college, I ended up having to take a few engineering-related classes on irrigation and irrigation theory. I had had enough irrigation practice up in Oregon to outweigh any irrigation theory that some professor who never moved a pipe in his life wanted to tell me about, so I wasn’t really very interested in hearing what he had to say. There are some things that text books just can’t teach you, like how to get a whole bullfrog out of a 1/8-inch diameter sprinkler hole at high pressure. I suffered through the classes and moved on.

Fast-forward to today, and you likely know my stance on home irrigation. I simply do not like to spend my time or money operating and maintaining a sprinkler system. Especially for something that is not a crop, and has no possibility of paying me back for my investment. Only the social convention of suburban houses having year-round short, green lawns keeps me from shutting off my sprinkler system entirely and letting the grass go native. I would do it in a heartbeat if the neighbors would cooperate.

I am willing to bend to social pressures when it comes to the lawns, but the very first thing I did when we bought our house was to shut off the drip irrigation system that was responsible for the trees and bushes. I was not about to waste time and money maintaining a system of tiny plastic hoses meant to water things that, in my opinion, should be able to fend for themselves. That was all fine and dandy until a week ago.

We had a long, hot summer here in Northern California, and a few of the leafier plants in our backyard ended up a lot more brown than green. My wife had made a few comments to me about them that went in one ear and out the other, but last week at lunch, she sat me down and said flatly, “I want a drip system for the backyard plants.”

When I said, “No way,” she cried.

Now, she claimed it was not my refusal to irrigate that started her tears. She claimed that my rebuff was simply the last straw on a large pile from a frustrating week, but I know better.

Apparently the appearance of the plants around the back fence of our yard is tied directly to her self worth, and it embarrasses her to have dead ones. I, on the other hand, could not honestly care less about them. When people come over to our house, I am not the least bit ashamed of the dead yellow bush in the corner. In my mind, it is the bush’s fault that it could not survive a summer in this climate, not mine. That bush is the one that should be ashamed for being weak.

She doesn’t see it like I do.

I was very taken aback by her tears. While she does have a long track record of tricking me into doing home improvement projects using deception and false naiveté, my wife is not one for employing emotional blackmail just to get her way. It was obvious that her desire for green shrubbery not only outweighed mine considerably, but was a much more serious concern to her than I had realized. Or not realized.

I don’t like it when my wife cries. I especially don’t like it when I’m the one who made her cry. So, guess what I did last weekend?

When I flipped the switch on the electronic sprinkler timer in the garage, and the drip line valve came on, our backyard looked like the grand finale of the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Water was shooting straight up into the air from under almost every bush and tree. I hate drip line systems.

I ended up spending $64 at Home Depot for the supplies to patch the 18 geysers and replace the 16 feet of main line that I had torn out during a fencing project last year, thinking foolishly that I would never use it again. Shows you what I know.

It seems to have made her happy that she can now have green plants all year long. But, I didn’t do it to make her happy. I did it to keep her from crying. I will attempt to make my wife happy as often as I possibly can, but if I can keep her from crying, I think I’m really doing my husbandly job.

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one that I think extends to all my roles as a husband and father, and will help me keep my eye on the ball, long term-wise. For instance, if I’m great at my job and make a ton of money, my wife will be happy. But also, if I’m marginal at my job and make a marginal amount of money, she’ll still be happy. However, if I’m bad at my job and get fired, or let my emotions get the better of me and quit one day, we’ll have no money. If we have no money, she and I will have to stop eating so the kids don’t starve to death, and that will make her cry, because she gets very cranky if she doesn’t eat. So, I need to maintain a marginal or better rating at work, and keep my job.

Another good example is our kids. If I do my job with the boys, and all three of them grow up to be something awesome, like astronauts, or doctors, or beer brewers, then my wife will be happy. But even if I do just an OK job with them, and they turn out to be just accountants, or managers, or computer programmers, she will still be happy. However, if I totally neglect them, and they grow up to be jobless ne’er-do-wells, she will cry. So, I need to make sure I do my part to make sure they grow up to be fine young men.

The way I see it, I need to focus on maintaining a level of operation as a husband and a father that strives to reduce spousal crying to a minimum, or in a perfect world, eliminate it altogether. If I can do that, I think I’m doing my job. If that job has to involve drip irrigation from time to time, then so be it.

Home improvement and career issues aside, I will be concentrating most heavily on the boys. I need to keep a sharp eye on them and make sure they’re heading in the right direction, because, as I said, if they grow up to be unemployed lazy bums, she’ll cry. But if they really take a wrong turn and grow up to be lawyers or, worse yet, politicians, we’ll both cry, and I do NOT want that!

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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