Sunday, June 6, 2010


When I was a girl, my mother told me that the reason women do more cleaning than men is because "men don't see the dirt".  If women wait for men to see the dirt, so that they will clean it, it's the women who will have to suffer through a long drawn-out period with an unbearably dirty house.

I remember thinking at the time:  Oh, I can outwait a man.  I can not see the dirt.

In this one small circumstance, I was right, and my mother was wrong.

There are some ways in which I inhabit stereotypes of masculinity.  There are some ways in which my husband is more in tune with what's been pigeonholed as feminine.  I would love to report that he sees the dirt so quickly, and then takes care of it so seamlessly, that I can amble in like the bumbling husband on a sitcom or a commercial for dish detergent, and find only clean counter tops and streak free glasses, and never goldfish crackers ground into the floor, but alas, in this regard, we are more like a caricature of two men married to one another.  Neither of us particularly notices the dirt.  Or, if we notice, the sight does not move us enough to keep things constantly sparkling.  Like I said in my last post, we catch as catch can, and content ourselves with mediocrity.

No, this is not really about housework, which is equally shared in our home.  It's about emotional temperament.

And in this, I have always felt more male than female.  I am detached, and compartmentalize my feelings.  When I struggle emotionally, I withdraw.  Typically, I am even-tempered and slow to anger.  When angry, I am logical to a fault (and I do mean a fault.  It's incredibly annoying to argue with me!  I have all the answers, and what's more:  I'm always right.).  I want to process quickly, find solutions, and move on.  I am also inattentive and oblivious to my surroundings.  I don't notice things like new haircuts, or outfits, or where in that pile of crap on the countertop my keys could possibly be hiding.

My husband is very emotional.  He feels things deeply, and is quickly moved to anger, frustration or sadness.  He processes with his heart, rather than his mind, and there is no place for logic when emotion is at the fore.  He often calls himself a "moody bastard," and I do my best to bite my tongue, so as not to shout out: hear, hear!  Still, I coddle, and cajole while he's in the clutches of these moods, and although it can take a while, he eventually works his way out of their grip.  He is, on the other hand, incredibly attentive to detail, and notices and remembers little things about people and places that I easily overlook.  He also finds my keys and sunglasses all the freakin' time, and without bitterness.  I moved directly from my mom finding my things, to my husband, and if left to my own devices I think I'd have to get multiple body piercings and hang all of my belongings directly on my own body.  Knowing me, this still might not be sufficient.

I was talking with my sister this weekend.  She has a daughter three months younger than my son.  She's due with her second baby three weeks before I'm due with mine.  She has a feeling she's having a boy this time, and thus far, no strong feelings for me: I'm just curious about whether I'll have a boy or a girl.  We were talking about gender, and the expectations and reactions it provokes in parents, as well as other people.  Her daughter is a beautiful girl, and people stop her all the time to tell her how adorable she is.  My sister is concerned about this because her daughter (not yet two), is beginning to get dressed in the morning and then turn to her mom and ask: adorable?  I thought it was interesting because that's something I don't even think about with my son.  Sometimes I say to him: you're just so CUTE!  But he's never picked up on it or repeated it back to me, and to worry about it simply never crossed my mind.  I don't anticipate a lifetime in which he'll be judged first and foremost on his appearance.

My son has my temperament, and for this I am grateful.  There are many things I hope he inherits from his father: his artistic aptitude, work ethic, cooking skills, superior visual-spatial abilities, creativity and problem solving, his good looks, and the way he throws his whole heart into everything he does.  But I'm glad he has my sunny temperament, and I'm grateful I inherited the same temperament from my father.

So now comes the time when I admit something I'm not particularly proud of.  If my son were to have inherited his father's temperament, I think I would indulge him, the same way I indulge it in my husband.  An emotional temperament is the flip side of sensitivity, and so I can forgive it in the male species, where sensitivity is considered a rare and coveted trait.

But if I have a girl with her father's temperament?  I think it will be hard for me to be equally accepting.  Because girls are stereotypically sensitive, emotional, moody.  Because I am not.  Because I don't really get people who are, and I don't expect to get boys and men, so I can chalk it up to the great unknown, and be happy my husband is so loving and attentive.  Because my husband will never be a teenager under my care, and my son will be a stranger in a strange land while he navigates teenage boyhood, where a daughter will be walking a path I walked once, and it might be harder to separate myself from her.

This is all empty conjecture, at this point.  Perhaps I will have another boy.  Perhaps I will have a girl with the sunniest of spirits, and she will make my son look like a great big grump in the shadow of her perpetual cheer.  We won't know, for quite some time now.  But it's funny how we wonder, and worry, and weigh possibilities in the interim, while we wait.  Or at least I do.  My husband is less likely to follow every "what if" to its possible outcome.  I'm the one always imagining what the future might be, tracing endless narratives to their various conclusions, weaving tales to tame the unknown.  And isn't that just like a woman?  ;-)

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