taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

At 21, when I got married, I had it all figured out. Marriage, after all, was just a word. And how could a single word define the whole spectrum of relationships that people call marriages? My husband and I agreed: the tidy little box that most people found themselves in after five, ten, twenty years would never, ever be us. Our marriage would be seat-of-the-pants, completely defined by us, flexible and adaptable to our changing and growing selves.

And then we had children.

Children change everything. People say that all the time and you think it's bullshit, a cliche, but it's true. They have so many needs, 90% of which conflict with yours. And so marriage becomes, slowly but inexorably, about the children--because everything is about the children. After a while, you almost forget your own name, in the flurry of dinners and holidays and bedtimes and the steady trickle of money out of your wallet. You find yourselves alone, and you talk about the children. You lay awake at night wondering about their school, their friends, their reading ability, the amount of time they spend watching TV, the food you feed them, and most of all, what they'll say about you in therapy in twenty years.

And so it begins, the tidy little box. Because after all, the tidy little box is actually about serving dinner at 6 pm, and making sure you're dressed appropriately when their friends stop by, and keeping the house nice so that they grow up in a decent environment, and going to bed on time so you can wake up to tend to them.

And most of all? It's about providing consistency, which you've been told is the absolute baseline of good parenting. Consistency. And what is consistency but dull, mind-numbing routine? Doing everything on a schedule. Reacting the same way, over and over again, to the same stimuli. Repeating the same messages, so they get through. Showing up to absolutely everything. Remembering to answer the same question the same way, every time it's asked. Setting rules. And following them.

After a while, you wake up and it's no longer a marriage--it's a daycare center. It's your job. There's no room for such navel-gazing conceits as personal growth. The very words--personal growth--make you laugh derisively. Oh, those silly single people, with their desire for happiness! Don't they know you have to let that go eventually?

I've begun to understand that for most people, being dull and complacent isn't a default position; it's a coping skill. It's a way of saying, I accept this. I accept that I am no longer here and present, I accept that my needs are less important, I accept the endless days of work and home, the futility of cleaning the yard of leaves, the christmas trees that all blend together, the dinners that taste the same. I will sigh myself into bed and maybe dream. Because it's for the children.

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