Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Letting It Go

This is my husband.  He's 73 years old this year.  When he was 59, he suffered a massive heart attack and - unable to continue in his job - took a medical retirement.  

We were not in any way financially prepared for my guy's early retirement so, quite literally overnight, my husband went from being the primary wage earner in our household to being "chief cook and bottle washer," while I went out to work. 

Fortunately for both of us, my mother-in-law had provided her boy some solid cooking and housekeeping skills, and a stint in the navy had further refined them.  More importantly still, my fella took on his change of roles with a willing heart.

Not-so-fortunately, I found that I was less than willing to let "my jobs" go. I had very specific ideas about what constitutes a well kept house and a well managed kitchen. The house was never clean enough to meet my standards, I was annoyed by clutter that my guy didn't seem to see, and I was frustrated that he couldn't seem to adapt from cooking for hundreds as he had in the navy, to cooking for just the two of us.  

My husband - poor guy - was depressed at not being able to return to the job he loved, and discouraged by my constant criticism.  He was bored with housework and, because retirement had come upon him so unexpectedly, lacked hobbies or interests to keep his mind occupied. His self-esteem took some very hard knocks.

I wish I could tell you that we sat down and discussed these problems like enlightened adults, but that's not what happened.  

I sweated the small stuff.  I wrote daily chore lists (in minute detail), planned detailed menus and left very specific cooking instructions, phoned home often, worried constantly, and generally drove us both crazy.

My fella responded with tantrums: Great, towering black rages that took the form of shouted abuse in very public places.  He never struck me, but his anger was so palpable that strangers often stepped between us, worried about impending violence.

Then I got sick, and stayed that way for quite some time.  The chores I'd been fussing about for so long were either done by my husband, or left undone altogether.

And the world didn't end!

I came to understand that just breathing in and out every day is a tremendous gift.  We both realized how very few of the things we worried about were actually essential to life itself, and we discovered that - even with all we'd been through - we still love each other deeply.

Things are better now:  I'm back at work and my husband is once again managing the home front.  We've established a daily routine that seems to be working for us.

We're not perfect by any means. I still obsess about things undone, and my guy is often still bored by domesticity.

The difference?  

I remember (most of the time) that the world won't end because dust bunnies hide under the bed, and I'm grateful for the chores that do get done. I thank my husband privately and praise him publicly for his hard work.

My change in attitude brought about its own set of surprises:  
My guy takes more pride in his role as householder and, as a result, pays more attention to detail. He's learning to cook for two instead of two hundred and two, and he's taken to romancing me with sweet, thoughtful gestures that bring joy to my heart and a smile to my face.

They can be lessons hard-learned, but it's funny how life often teaches us exactly the things we really need to know.