Tuesday, December 25, 2007

T'was the night of Christmas...

Back from the folks' house. Pondering the various nuggets that clacked through my head over the course of the holidays. Trying to be a good spouse and a good father. Doing OK overall, I think...?

A restaurant glitch turned into a series of discussions about child development and empowering a ten year old to develop his own problem solving skills. The conversation was healthy, but one of many things I couldn't say was what bothered me most about our son's behavior was him acting how his mother and grandmother do. How do you have a constructive family conversation about parenting and throw that meatball into the mix? I don't know, so I didn't.

Most of our "family time" is spent watching TV. Or, more precisely, the three of us in the same room with the TV on with me on my laptop, working (work or homework). When conversation interrupts the television Grandma, mom (and at times, our son) spend a third of their energy lodging complaints and critiques of the people on the TV, or the idiots they've been exposed to lately in real life, or the world in general. It's a pattern that applies to much of the social interaction in the family. It pains me to see our son display that tendency. The afore-mentioned glitch ensued because I happened to be sitting between our son and my wife (a rare condition indeed) and so I couldn't ignore his comments. I thought I was helping him solve his problem, instead of merely complaining about it. Perhaps I didn't assist correctly, or perhaps he needs to learn not everyone wants to listen to him gripe about trivial, easily fixed problems. It seems to me the vast majority of people he'll encounter in life will not cheerfully enjoy him grumbling for no good reason, and prefer not to be around him. It would sadden me for him to lose relationships or friends before they've even formed due to this weakness that we could easily fix now, early in his life.

Not that I should be giving friendship advice. I have few friends, and only hang out with people for fun a couple times a year. But I guess I'll save that for another day. Back to my complaining about other people's complaining... -ponder-

At best the complaining is lovable in a quirky sort of way in very small doses. More frequently it is to be actively avoided, meaning that I leave the room. It pains me that to whatever extent we're molding our son, we're doing so in a direction that I can't imagine other people will be drawn to throughout his life.

My mother offered a comparison of mom & dad's different complaint styles, which was interesting, but I don't think their differences scratch the surface of what I see in our family. After only a few years of marriage I've already adopted the same survival instincts my wife's father uses. This usually means, simply, leaving the room. Frequently avoiding being in the same room, or actively ignoring chunks of the "conversation" seem to be cornerstones in my arsenal of marriage survival tactics.

"Survival" was a harsh choice of words there. It's not bad. I love my wife very much. But, many days, I don't want to be around her. Since we don't spend much time together I guess that works out. I wonder how many married people feel this way?

I'm afraid we're molding our son into someone I won't want to hang out with. I fear he and his mother will feel the same way about me.

So I guess that was nugget #1. Perhaps #2 was at the bowling alley when our son was getting extremely frustrated because he went on a long gutter ball streak. I couldn't care less about competitive sports. We were just there to have fun. But his mood went so dark so quickly I was surprised. I decided that a couple "you'll be fine. Just relax" suggestions, trying to be encouraging, ignoring his over-reaction was the best thing to do. So I did, and only felt slightly cruel. The world isn't always roses, toughen up a little, right? His mother fawned over him far more than I did. After one particular gutter (# 15?) I felt awful, seeing how deeply upset he really was. I wasn't being supportive enough...? But what was I supposed to do other than offer "you're fine. Don't swing the ball so far back, you're losing control on the way down," and other such quips. I wish he wasn't so heavy. Having to swing the ball around his body the way he's forced to do has to make it harder to be any good.

He switched lanes and got all excited when he knocked a few pins down. "See?! I just needed to be in *this* lane." I laughed and felt awful for it. I tried to cover that slip on many of his subsequent throws. I spent much of the next hour feeling like a bad father.

#3... while my wife actively engaged my father in conversation about diet and food alternatives while we were at their house on the drive back home she snapped at me when I started to compare the calories in a bag of popcorn vs. a bag of potato chips. I literally had three words out of my mouth before she shut me down. I don't understand why she actively engages my father in lengthy conversation about his stack of diet books and comparing the calorie counts of bagels vs. english muffins; yet our son continues to eat mostly junk food with no controls, continuing to gain amazing amounts of weight, and I can't say three words without her cutting me off. She does the same thing at his tutoring facility too. She smiles and is ultra-professional and happy with the staff their in his progress reviews, sugaring over that "we should really read more with him at home," yet we don't read to him at all. Or make him read. Almost never. It's like she short-circuits their concerns with a slick sales pitch about how we're working on it, or we're going to. When we're not and we don't. I don't understand.

I guess that's enough for today.


BrotherBemused said...

As painful as it may be to disclose how you feel about the contradictions in your marriage, it may be ultimately less painful than failing to bring them into the open. There is risk in this option, but at least it holds the possibility of mutual exploration and growth, while suffering in silence usually leads only to further unresolved hurt and subsequent distancing. Maybe in some non-confrotational manner and setting you could ask "Could you help me understand why....?"

___j said...

My general strategy is a very slow movement in the right (according to me) direction. I learned in our first year that there are many things I can't ignore or they build into an eventual explosion. Some things I no longer confront, but slowly nudge in a workable direction over the extreme long term (months, years).

I pick my battles and battle intensity carefully. There are good days (like today!). Relatively few bad ones. And I think my emergency release valve is functional and healthy...

There are a few topics I've abandoned all hope on. We're not agreeing to disagree, I simply stopped trying to broach the subject since a few stones refuse to be turned.