If you’ve ever been in any sort of serious relationship, you have probably played the Game of Chicken. The only question is: what kind?
My husband, Dan, is a far better cook than I am. Hands down. When we were dating, Dan would invite me over to his bachelor pad and cook me all sorts of impressive things. Dishes that involved sauteing. And mincing. And lightly browning. And sometimes even whisking. He cared about everything from the ingredients to the presentation. (And still does.) My approach to cooking is a bit different. As far as I’m concerned, the meal is a success as long as nobody gets hurt. No bones in the salmon? No chipped teeth? No salmonella? YOU’RE WELCOME. Suffice it to say, when Dan would visit my apartment years ago, I would take a quick inventory of what was in my freezer, throw something together, leave out whatever ingredients I didn’t have and (in most cases) simply apologize for the result. Voila: dinner. Sort of.
What impressed me more than what Dan cooked for me, however, was knowing that he made these sorts of sumptuous meals for himself. On a regular basis. In fact, whenever I visited him, I would see a bowl of his leftovers in the refrigerator. Now, I should probably mention that I am not always the most observant person. Case in point: someone once smashed into the side of my car while it was parked and I didn’t even notice until I realized that I couldn’t open the driver side door. Yeah, just not that observant. So it took me a while to notice that, “Hmm. Dan ALWAYS puts his leftovers in the same bowl”. Oh well, I thought. He’s a man of habit. And it was a few more weeks before it occurred to me that, “Dan’s bowl of leftovers is ALWAYS in the same exact spot in the fridge.” And then, with the little mice finally running around the wheel in my head at a fast enough clip, I had that awful, “Aha!” moment. And confronted him.
Me: Dan, how long has this bowl of leftovers–
Dan: DON’T TOUCH IT!
Me: I thought you just kept making different things and putting them in the same–
Me: I thought that top layer was rice or–
Me: So, you mean that same bowl has been sitting there for–
Dan: I’ve lost track of how long.
Me: Are you thinking of ever, oh, I don’t know, taking it out and cleaning it?
Dan: I’m afraid to.
And so, I give you the Game of Chicken. I don’t think that little science experiment in Dan’s fridge was premeditated. Or done for my benefit (in case, for example, we ever got married). Nonetheless, on some level, it was a brilliant move. And established my husband as the Kung Fu Master Black Belt Gold Medal Summa Cum Laude Full Professor Obi Wan Kenobi in the game of Cleaning Chicken. In other words, Dan made it quite clear that he is willing to let things go a LONG time before cleaning them. (I suspect he is often waiting to see if they simply decay or walk away on their own first.) What does this mean? This means that he never has to clean anything. Because he instinctively knows that I will blink first.
Let’s say, for example, that Dan leaves his dirty socks on the living room floor. (Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that he does this EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.) He knows that I will pick them up. Eventually. Because he would be fine leaving them there longer than I would. FAR LONGER. He would be fine leaving them there when we sell the house. For the next family to enjoy. Whereas after a day or two of looking at my husband’s dirty socks on the living room floor (and seeing my one-year-old Emma, holding a sock in each hand and desperately trying to give them back to him: “Dada! Dada!”) I inevitably decide that it is less annoying to just put them in the laundry basket myself. Dan knows that it will bother me more. And I will take care of it. GAH. (And, yes, that word you are searching for is ENABLER.)
After careful observation of my husband, I have concluded that one cannot be the Kung Fu Master Black Belt Gold Medal Summa Cum Laude Full Professor Obi Wan Kenobi of Cleaning Chicken without developing one crucial skill. Selective blindness. If you simply do not see the dirt (lint on the carpet, crumbs on the table, mold on the bowl that has been in your refrigerator for three months) it makes it even easier to ignore. Until someone else takes care of it. Teach me, Oh Great One, your ways of Not Seeing.
Of course the great travesty here is that whenever Dan actually does clean something he does a MUCH better job than I do. Dishes sparkle. Things emerge pristine. Whereas my motto is usually, “Get it done, get it done, get it done,” Dan takes his time. Uses the right tool for the job. And doesn’t stop until the job is done to perfection. (Maybe THIS is what actually inhibits him from cleaning more often . . . ? Nah. I’m sticking with selective blindness.) I rush through it so that it’s off the list. And if I missed a spot? No big deal. I’m sure I’ll be washing, scrubbing, sweeping that thing again soon. I’ll get it then.
But don’t feel too sorry for me. I may be out of my league at Cleaning Chicken, but I am a serious competitor when it comes to other forms of the game. Like Cap Tightening Chicken. (Apparently, I never tighten the cap on the juice bottle adequately. In my defense: this has only caused one or two juice disasters . . . and think of all the time I’ve saved!) Or Dishwasher Loading Chicken. (According to Dan, I load the dishwasher in what might be described as a random, chaotic, and thoughtless way. I prefer to characterize my style as “artsy!” and “creative!”) Or Book Reshelving Chicken. (Let’s just say that it may be less important to me that books are returned to the correct location on our shelves– after they are yanked out by our children– than my far more literary husband.) Or Cleaning Hair Out of Shower Drain Chicken. (Look, I’m the one GROWING and WASHING most of the hair in this relationship. I. CAN’T. DO. EVERYTHING.) Whatever. These things don’t matter to me. But, apparently, they do to Dan. So he fixes them. Relentlessly. He just. Can’t. Stop. Himself.
So what does any of this have to do with parenting? I suppose that parenting with someone is inevitably an endless stream of divisions of labor. Who is going to do what. Moment to moment. Sure we could talk it all out. Or make a big long, exhaustive list of what needs to be done and then call dibs. Or we could simply do what we know will get to us first if it’s not done. And done right. So, Dan has always been the one to make the kids baby food (ever since he realized that I would just feed them the jarred stuff). And I do the kids laundry. And neither of us bathe them. (YES, I’M JOKING . . . mostly.) You get the idea. Okay, enough blogging for now. Dan has been awfully quiet and meditative recently. Could he be developing a new skill? Like Diaper Pail Emptying Chicken? Or, worse yet, Diaper Changing Chicken? Oh, HELLS NO. I must beat him to the quick.
I do not see the dirty diaper.
I do not smell the dirty diaper.