Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The last time I posted was October 5, which was not only the day after our farm tour adventures, but also the anniversary of Jeff & my first date. The twelfth anniversary, to be exact.

Spending twelve years as someone's friend-girlfriend-fiance-wife teaches you two things: first, that you get to know a person you see or talk to daily for twelve years pretty well, and second, that no matter how well you think you know a person, you can always discover something new.

One of the more challenging parts of marriage in my opinion is learning to share your life and your home with someone who was raised in a different family. (That sentence sounds like I'm advocating incest...not my intention). And keep in mind that Jeff and I come from relatively similar backgrounds (families with similar values, Midwestern, Dutch ancestry, etc.). Despite the similarities in our upbringings, we are in many ways very different. We do things in different ways, because our families did them in different ways. In my family, dirty dishes that you plan on hand-washing go into the sink, in the side unoccupied by the dish rack. In Jeff's family, they go on the counter next to the sink. For the longest time, it drove me crazy that Jeff would leave his dirty dishes on the counter, particularly in our first apartment which had literally no counter space. I just thought he was being inconsiderate, because every knows that dirty dishes go in the sink. Then I started paying attention to the way things were done at Jeff's house, and I figured it out. This is also how I solved the Mystery of the Rubber Bands on the Doorknob. In Jeff's home, when they would get their newspaper, they'd remove the rubber band from around the paper and hang it in the nearest and most convenient place: around the closet doorknob. For Jeff, this translated to: rubber bands are stored on doorknobs. I couldn't figure out why on earth Jeff was taking rubber bands out of the desk and hanging them randomly on doorknobs around the house. Then I went to get something out of the closet at Jeff's parents' house and felt rubber bands...the rest is history.

When Jeff and I were first married, I had already given him the nickname Captain Distracto. This aspect of his personality manifested itself in many different ways. One good example is what would happen when Jeff got home from work. When I got home from work, I would: kick off my shoes, set my briefcase (back in ye olde days of an office job) by the coat rack, hang up my coat, hang up my car keys, and go to change my clothes. Every day, same thing, same order. Five minutes, tops.

When Jeff got home from work, it was as though he were a man suffering from amnesia who had forgotten what one needs to do to shuffle off the coil of the working day. Frequently, I would find him a half-hour after he got home, still standing by the door, holding his briefcase and car keys, still wearing his shoes and his coat. Other times he would manage to kick off his shoes, but would be wearing his coat or carrying around his keys in his hand hours later. On the occasions he managed to shed all the work-day items, they would rarely end up in the same place twice. We had a key rack, but he'd often forget to hang his keys up there, tossing them into his coat pocket or on top of the radiator instead. His coats would accumulate in a pile on top of an armchair, mere feet from the coat rack.

The evenings with Captain Distracto were funny, but the mornings after were stressful. "Where's my wallet?" he'd ask, worriedly. "Have you seen my keys?" Inevitably, he was running late, and the daily scavenger hunt for his items rarely helped matters.

A couple of days ago, I was reading through a magazine. I came across an article about focusing and concentration. As a student, this is a hot topic for me. The article analyzed several ways in which people lose focus, and offered ways to combat these. It also included a handy little quiz. You were to rate your relation to the questions on a scale of 0-3. As I began reading the questions, I started to apply them not just to me but to Jeff. And since he was sitting right there, I decided to rope him into responding for himself.

The quiz included statements like these: I wander from one task to the next without completing them. It seems much harder for me compared with others to take care of daily tasks. My home and office are cluttered and messy. I tend to run late.

Check, check, check, aaaand check.

The one that made me pause was this statement: I have difficulty developing routines for me or my family.

This is one of those things about Jeff that I've only really learned about lately. Specifically, since Charlotte was born. Because before Jeff took on the role of stay-at-home parent, I really was the partner who developed and tried to keep routines for us, such as they were. I love a routine. I like to go to bed at around the same time every night and get up at about the same time every morning. I like meals to be at specific hours. I like to know where things are going to be.

Jeff, on the other hand, is a routine-breaker. Bedtime one night is midnight. The next it's two a.m. Then he'll to to bed at 9 p.m. the next night. He'll make a sandwich at four in the afternoon because he skipped lunch, and then won't have room to eat dinner at six.

In the six years we were married before Charlotte was born, I learned to deal with this routine-less existence of Jeff's. If I was making something special for dinner, I'd inform him well ahead of time and remind him through the day so I wouldn't be disappointed that he had no appetite. I'd try not to be bothered by the fact that we rarely went to bed at the same time, and, in fact, learned to fall asleep better without Jeff trying to do the same just a foot away.

But after Charlotte came along, I started to realize how this lack of routine might be detrimental. When I went back to school when Charlotte was a couple months old, I was terrified that Jeff would forget to feed her, forget she needed a nap, a diaper change. I made charts, very specific charts with feeding times and nap times and how much to eat and how long to sleep, etc. I would get home and check how much milk was left in her bottle and quiz Jeff about how long she had slept.

My fears might have been a bit overboard, but they were not entirely unfounded. There were times I came home and found Charlotte hadn't eaten anything while I was gone, or that Jeff had forgotten to give her a nap. But for the most part I was only gone for a couple of hours, not nearly enough time to starve her or scar her for life. And usually when I walked in the door, I found them happy and playing, usually surrounded by more toys and child-related detritus than I even realized we had.

Still I would preach the gospel of the routine, of schedule. "Children need routine and order," I said time and time again. "They crave it. It tells them there is order in the world. It's comforting, familiar."

And in many ways, I was (and am) right. When Charlotte's routine is normal, when she gets to bed at 7:30 p.m. and rises on her own at 8 a.m., when she has the same options for breakfast and lunch and knows she can snack at the normal times, she seems happier and better behaved.

But I have to admit that I love coming home from school these days to find Charlotte wearing some bizarre ensemble, surrounded by random snack foods and playing a crazy, creative game with her equally strangely clad father. Jeff rarely thinks to comb her hair, to match her socks to her shirt, to wipe the breakfast oatmeal off her face. He often forgets that it's lunchtime, only realizing after she asks for yet another graham cracker that she's probably hungry. But he never, ever forgets to find some way to make their everyday existence fun and adventurous. Which in the end is more valuable to me than routine.

Here's the link to the article about focus, and the quiz.


Kim D. said...

LOL. This post was funny. I can relate to some of these same differences -- especially where the dirty dishes go (although we're opposite; I say the counter and Luke says the sink).

Love your writing. You make it all the more real.

Anonymous said...

My favorite is the picture -- I laughed out loud!
Jill A

momdadtig said...

Too funny....
He's definitely carrying the rubber band thing to its extreme! They only found a home on that ONE doorknob when he was growing up!! And it was the INSIDE of the doorknob--their secret little hiding place from the rest of the world! Congratulations on achieving compromise...., hoping things are also going well in that department with the newlyweds!

Jana said...

Mom Tig: I know! That's why it took my so many years to figure out WHERE on EARTH the rubber band on the doorknob thing came from!

To be honest, he doesn't do it much anymore. But it's such a fitting example, I couldn't resist.

Mark Tig said...

Wow, you can describe Jeff so well. I can just picture his day-to-day activities with Charlotte. That is awesome. I miss you guys.