How do you handle the mental load of partnered life?

For those of you with partners, of course.  Unless you have a personal assistant!

In married life, especially when you have kids, there are often things that you have to do or get done.  Appointments to manage.  Places to be.  Things to sign up for.  If it were just you, you’d take care of all of those things (assuming you’re not in the “personal assistant” bracket).

Once you’re married you have to coordinate things and someone has to remember things.  But it doesn’t have to be you.  In “traditional” marriages, the wife takes care of these things.  She even takes care of the husband’s social engagements.  She keeps track of everything, makes all appointments, and is responsible if something is forgotten or missed.

That type of arrangement makes economic sense on the whole.  It makes sense to have one person taking care of everything so the other person is free to think about other stuff.  It’s a division of labor and one person specializes in appointments and filing paperwork and so on.  There’s no accidental double-booking unless the person in charge does that double-booking, and presumably that person will notice.  It doesn’t have to be the wife, but it makes sense to have one person in charge.  That person doesn’t have to be in charge of everything– it might make sense for one parent to take care of all the adult stuff and another all the kid’s stuff, or one person the house stuff and another the school stuff.  There’s lots of different ways to arrange it that are both egalitarian and efficient.

We don’t do that.  We are both in charge of almost everything.  We have little black books that we coordinate.  We have a list on the refrigerator for groceries.  I do take care of all the bills (even DH’s credit cards, though he is responsible for reviewing it each month for fraudulent charges) and DH is mostly in charge of the cars (even mine, though since I’m the one driving it I’m more likely to notice when the sticker says I should get another oil change), but for the most part, and especially for the kids part, we both take care of everything.

I noticed this lately when I emailed one of my colleagues about a play-date.  Our kids go to the same school and are friends and I know him but I don’t know his wife.  He forwarded to his wife and she emailed back.  Similarly, we got a birthday party invitation for another child who is DC2’s age from another colleague’s wife, not from him.  Usually the invitations for things go to me via email or to our joint junk mail account, but to DH by text because I never have my phone with me.  With DC1’s best friend whose mother is super-mom, and often on-call, we’re equally likely to get a text playdate from the dad or the mom (and occasionally the college-age uncle who babysits for them)!  Generally we email the dad, but just because that’s the email address that pops up first (alphabetical order).

There’s drawbacks to our non-method.  We have to consult each other.  We have to make sure our books are synched.  (Yes, we could have a calendar in the kitchen near the grocery list like my family did growing up, but that would be an additional thing to update!  Once DC1 is old enough do start doing hir own social calendar, we may switch to that.)  It’s extra effort, extra time, and extra mental load that only one person could have.

But there’s also benefits.  The biggest benefit is that when we forget to do something or forget to go somewhere, it’s both of our faults.  It’s hard to be mad at someone for forgetting when you forgot too!  Also with both of us needing to remember and both of us checking our planners and our shared junk email account, there’s a bit of overlap and perhaps a greater possibility that one of us will remember or notice even if the other doesn’t.  I’m not sure if that works, but we’re both so busy I bet either one of us would forget just as much if it was just on us all the time.

#2 doesn’t have kids, so this is much easier.  We delegate, and we talk.  For example, we just moved to another state.  This requires SO MUCH COMMUNICATION, folks.  I mostly coordinated that, since I have the time, but he has most of the money.  Every day we would say, what do you need me to do for this move?  Did you hear back from the movers?  Did you pay the security deposit or shall I?  We have a joint savings account, and we need to talk to each other about planned transactions because of Regulation D.  We share spreadsheets and lists in Google Docs (drive).  Sometimes we IM each other during the day, and then we each have a chatlog of what we talked about.  It can certainly get tedious having this conversation every day — there was a point during the moving process where I lost my shiz because he asked me about tasks one too many times — but mostly it’s been working for us.  We’ve also found in other areas (e.g., kitchen) that it’s helpful to put one person explicitly in charge– doesn’t matter who– and that person directs and delegates to the other.

 

For those of you with partners, how do you divvy up the mental load of planning and deciding and answering and filing?  For those of you without, what methods do you use to keep track of everything that needs to be done?

On family photo books and posterity

So I was browsing blogrolls the other day, and came across the question, “Have you ever wondered how to take your photo books from blah to great?”   Well, no, can’t say I have.

But hey, more power to her.  Some families are more into photo albums and photos more generally than others.  And hers definitely look great.  We’re so far in the other  direction that we didn’t even hire a wedding photographer.

We have an album from our wedding that my MIL made. NOBODY LOOKS AT IT. It will probably be looked at again if/when our children get married. Or have to do a school project that requires pictures of us. Maybe it will bring us solace in our old age, I dunno.  Does anybody ever look at wedding photo albums after the first year of marriage?  (Not counting the obligatory wedding day photo that all my male colleagues have next to their computer monitors.)

Every once and a while my MIL clears out her stuff and sends us a ton of old pictures that she took for posterity but no longer wants around her house, because photos are really best enjoyed in small quantities.  Maybe three years ago she sent us a huge amount of pictures from our wedding that didn’t make it into the album.  We’ve got those too.  I don’t think we’re ever going to organize them.

We take pictures, though not as many as a lot of families, and I like having them electronic.  We’ve occasionally crafted picture calendars as Christmas presents for the grandparents, though currently my SIL has declared that to be her thing.  I also like having pictures date-stamped because it makes it easier to tell who (DC1 and DC2 look remarkably alike) and when and so on.  That hurts their potential as works of art, but helps in the posterity realm.

I value the ancient photo album that some ancestor of mine put together, with my grandmother showing up only as a baby.  And it was neat to flip through old pictures of my parents a few times when I was a kid.  We’re also the keeper of DH’s grandma’s old family album, possibly because we would ask her about her genealogy work before she had to downsize.  My in-laws’ current decoration scheme is family pictures (and every time we visit, we get formal pictures done of the entire extended family), so I know very well what my DH and his family looked like as children.

But I don’t think we need a photo book or album for every year or every event or whatever.  As a side-note: I had an ex-boyfriend whose mom had decorated with every single one of his formal school pictures (framed) in order in a line around her living room.  That felt like overkill, even just showing pre-K through 12.

So, I dunno, I guess our immediate family is sparse with the pictures (unlike, say, DH’s family).  We have a few here and there and not all of them are presents made at school or framed gifts from the in-laws (though admittedly, most of them are).  And we’ve got electronic pictures on the internet that are backed up occasionally, and hard-copy photos from the in-laws and from various school pictures.  In theory it would be nice to have one picture album, say, documenting our marriage and our children’s entire childhood.  Maybe DC1 or DC2 can put one of those together in a decade or two.  Then we can show it to their potential significant others and their future children.  More than that might take up too much valuable shelf space.

Where are you on the photo album continuum?

Ask the grumpies: Obligation to house a sibling?

Kellen asks:

Let’s say I have a sibling, older than me, who has received enough bail outs from our parents that they don’t want to bail this sibling out anymore. That is–they want to help, but they feel like it’s enabling said sibling to continue not standing on their own two feet.

Now, sibling just moved to a small town very far away because sibling’s partner moved there for work. Sibling has no job, no money, and maxed out credit card. Sibling would need financial help to even pay for the gas and probable car repairs needed to drive across the country to move close to the family. One suggestion from parents is that sibling must stay in the small, far away town, find a job, even if it’s bagging groceries, and save enough to pay sibling’s own way.

Now, here I am, in a very good spot in life, just made it to saving 50% of my income this month. I don’t know if it’s good for sibling to stay in this small town with no money, and learn to hold down a job, or if, as family, there’s some obligation to help sibling get to where I am and stay in my (sort of) spare room (which is really our office/living room space) while sibling finds a job around here (in the big city).

Also, sibling has a degree as an elementary school educator + a masters degree in something like team-building activities (?), but has been trying to work as a general contractor. So sibling is not completely without qualifications, but kind-of without qualifications to do the kind of work sibling likes (working outdoors, doing labor). Also, I only know people who work in offices, which sibling has 0 experience with, so I can’t really help sibling find a job.

So, this is the kind of question that if the grumpies could answer it, they’d be able to sell the answer and make millions and millions of dollars, maybe billions once you add in speaking tours and private consulting with very rich people.

In terms of whether or not you have an obligation to invite hir to where you are and stay in your spare room.  The answer there is no.  It sounds like your sibling has worn out your parents and they may be right that ze needs to figure things out before someone else comes to the rescue.  And it sounds like sibling probably isn’t in a situation where your help would actually be help rather than enabling.  Sibling is an adult.  There aren’t children involved.  Your parents have tried to help and have decided that that kind of help isn’t helpful.  What you can offer may not be helpful either.  Your parents may be right that sibling has to hit bottom and build hir way up before ze can actually make use of any help you could give.  They may be wrong, but it’s not like their decision has to be a permanent one.  Time will provide more information.

We can also tell you from personal experience that it is seriously irritating to house a user.  Housing someone like #2 when she needs it is great!  She’s thankful and does chores both asked (without complaint) and unasked and is basically a pleasant person to be around, and she gets stuff done that she came to do and so on.  Housing someone who is used to being bailed out gets seriously annoying when he doesn’t hold up his end of what he’s supposed to be doing, complains that you don’t keep the a/c low enough (and that he’s the one who has to move his car morning and evening to comply with the HOA) even though he’s not paying rent, assumes he’s staying longer than you thought you had agreed (say, until the out-of-state house sells), and wastes all his money on things like fast food.  And you get to hear how his wife won’t move to town and get a job because then she’d lose free babysitting from her mom that you suspect the mom didn’t exactly agree to.  It is super stressful.  *koff*

You do probably have a familial obligation to keep your ears open and keep in contact with your parents to make sure that someone is keeping a long-distance eye on said sibling.  But you do not have an obligation to invite hir to live with you.  And if said sibling seems to have turned things around a bit and seems to be on a path where it’s clear that you can help in some way that doesn’t have the potential to majorly blow up, then it would be nice of you to help.  And if said sibling hits a true rock bottom, it would be nice of you to help your parents pay for attorney’s costs or counseling costs or for you to help said sibling get into whatever (government or nonprofit) programs or systems that might help.

So we can’t tell you what to do, but we can give you permission not to invite your sibling to stay with you when your parents have given many second and third and fourth chances that seem to have hurt rather than helped.

What say you, grumpy nation?  Got any better advice?

Fond grandparent memories

My MIL threw a party for DC2 when they visited this summer.  She rented a pony.  A PONY.   DC2 still talks about it– ze got to ride the horsie and feed it carrots and its mouth tickled hir hand.

My mother says she can’t compete with that and will stick to sending books (which are much appreciated!).  I can’t compete with that either.

But what are grandparents for, except spoiling kids?

I have fond memories of my grandmas (both grandfathers died long before I was born).  My one grandma had birds and would give me a banana every time I visited, which was often when we lived in the same state.   She eventually died of a stroke caused by a broken hip she got fighting off a purse snatcher in her mid-80s.  She was a tiny little woman who looks a lot like my sister.

My other grandma was considerably younger and thus more active.  In between stints with the Peace Corps, she made great chocolate chip walnut cookies and lived in fun places with barn cats or pools and lakes for swimming. (Until she moved to a boring little town in the midwest.  We still visited.)  She was the spoiling grandma– every time I went to her house there would be a new toy or dress for me.  When I was little and she lived in the same state she’d hide the new toy in a cupboard for me to look.  She gave me a much-desired Lemon Meringue Pie doll.  Once we went to the candy store (Fannie Mae!) and she let me buy one of every candy that they had (except the expensive pecan rolls).  My parents were upset with me for letting her do that, but what could be more magical than buying one of every candy in a store?  She didn’t seem to mind– she reminded my parents that she saw grandparent’s main job to spoil the grandkids, something my mother has repeated to me.

We lost her a few years ago after a decade-long struggle with Alzheimers, something my husband is dealing with with his remaining grandmother now.

But our memories remain.

What memories do you have of your grandparents?

The first time I met you

You remember these stories as well as I do, maybe better, but let’s revisit them in front of a bigger audience.  :)  Audience, imagine us as teenagers, which is something we once were.  The setting is a boarding high school.  Try to remember…

 

The first time I met you, it was after school in the evening or maybe in the day on a weekend, no it couldn’t have been a weekend.  I don’t recall exactly, but there weren’t many people around.  You were sitting alone in a “pit”– those mini-coliseums leftover from when our school building was an open school.  You were depressed.  I asked what was wrong.  You told me you’d asked a girl to a dance and she’d said no.  (Many years later she would come out as lesbian, which is the only possible reason I can think of that anyone would not be attracted to you, but then, I’m biased.)  I said generic that’s too bad you’ll find someone some day kinds of things and moved on with my life.  You moved on with yours.

Several months later, I want to say three because that’s a good number, I met you a second time.  Your roommate, for some reason I can’t remember, probably because I’m getting old, threw me a birthday party.  I think because my birthday is really close to your suitemate’s and that struck him as cause for celebration.  I was in a lot of classes with him and he was a fun guy in the way that precocious tweens are funny to real teenagers.  As his roommate, you were invited.  We talked some, though I don’t remember about what.

Every night between study hours and the time when they locked the dorms, a group of us, mostly from my science class, including your roommate, would roam around the campus in order to stave off cabin fever.  Sometime after my birthday you figured you had classes well enough under control and could start socializing more.  So you joined your roommate on these walks.  By the time your birthday rolled around, I knew you well enough to get you a present (though I don’t remember what it was… maybe Twizzlers?  Probably the only present I’ve gotten you that didn’t suck.)

Oddly, people started dropping out of the walking group and it ended up being just the two of us a few nights here and there.  You were so funny, talking about D&D and GURPs games as if they were real.  Almost a stereotype, except for not looking the part, with your tall, dark, handsomeness.  (Not that I dwelled on that back then.)

One weekend I decided to stay at school instead of going home.  It was the most fun I’d had that year.  We hung out, you and your roommate and some of your hall mates and I.  We ranged all along the off-campus area we were allowed to visit, and maybe a few places out of range.  We enjoyed the spring and being young enough to still roll down hills.  I broke up with my first boyfriend (from home) that weekend.  I still liked him as a friend, but I didn’t love him.

One night you kissed my hand saying good-bye on a walk.  One of those silly gallant things someone who loves living in fantasy worlds might do, meaning nothing by it.  And suddenly I realized I loved you.  I’d had no idea.  No idea.

I thought maybe you liked me too.  I was pretty sure.  I mean, who kisses someone’s hand without meaning something by it?  Turns out you do.  But I didn’t know that until ages later, when we were established enough that it was only minorly embarrassing to me.

Time passed, and we had more walks just the two of us.  And we had one of those conversations where I thought I was saying one thing, and you thought I was saying something else, and your response made sense in my context and in your context as well (another thing we discovered ages later)… and somehow we were dating.

I remember you seeing me off the first time when my mom picked me up, and she asked if we were dating and I said yes.

These memories used to be stronger, and they’re fading with time.  I feel like that song in Gigi, ah yes, I remember it well.  There’s so much life that’s happened since then.  We’ve spent well over half our lives together, and those baby and toddler years take a toll.

My love for you has not diminished.  I’m still that giddy 16 year old whenever we touch (especially when our progeny keep us physically apart for too long, or when I get to spend the week working from home while the kids are in school).  I still spend huge amounts of my day thinking about you.  But there’s so much more now, that there wasn’t then.  You’re still the most fascinating and attractive person I know, but you’re also a comfort and a support and a partner and a father to our children.  (And an accomplished cook!)  I can’t imagine life without you.

I love you so much.

Our child, the biter

If you recall, DC2’s wonderful daycare went out of business because they mismanaged a theft and couldn’t meet operating expenses.  As a stop-gap measure, we enrolled DC2 at DC1’s private school’s associated daycare until ze hit 18 months and could enroll at the next youngest Montessori preschool in town.  Doing this was nice because it was one stop shopping for both kids at drop-off and pick-up.

However, although the private school daycare was not a bad daycare, it was also not a great daycare.  The kids weren’t mistreated, rules were followed etc., but it didn’t follow the guidelines for high quality daycare.  It didn’t follow the minimum guidelines either, but instead of a 4/1 teacher ratio for kids DC2’s age, there was a 6/1 teacher ratio.  And instead of involving the kids in setting up and cleaning up like Montessori schools do, generally there was one teacher cleaning up or setting up and the other teacher interacting with 12 kids all at the same time (or with just 1 kid at a time while the remaining 11 were on their own).

On top of that, DC2 went from 4 teeth to 12 teeth during hir duration at that daycare.

The lack of supervision plus the teething plus DC2’s personality… not a good combination.  The main teacher often said it wasn’t a big deal and sometimes the other kid deserved it, which, of course, didn’t make us feel any better about the situation.  They introduced DC2 to pacifiers (ironically at an age that most parents try to remove the pacifier).  Eventually we got enough bite slips that we got called in for a parent-teacher conference with the preschool director and the school director.  Ze wasn’t malevolent, they said, ze just bit when ze was protecting hir stuff or someone crowded hir too much.

The solution we came up with was to offer to pay for a third teacher in the room for a month during DC2’s prime biting hours.  (DH graphed out the bites and discovered a pattern to the timing– mainly when the kids were least supervised.)  $581.31 brought the student-teacher ratio down to 4/1.  The head teacher for the room was ecstatic.  DC2 only bit twice during that time period, once when the third teacher was sick and didn’t show up, and once at a non-standard time when there was a fight over a toy.  DC2 was caught almost biting a few times in addition to that.

Having the third teacher there also made the room much more like a high quality daycare.  The kids became more animated and less likely to stare and crowd any parent who came in.  (Seriously creepy the way they did that, poor neglected kids.)  DC2 also stopped screaming bloody murder when dropped off. It was tempting to continue paying for the third teacher after the time was over (and DC2 did bite a couple more times after that), but at that point we’d already put in our month notice for the change in daycare.

There hasn’t been a single bite at the new daycare.  It is very much like the old daycare.  There’s two main teachers and plenty of floaters.  There are 10 kids and 2 teachers in the room and a third teacher (a floater) is usually there during the main hours.  Kids don’t fight.  When they disagree about toys, the person who has the toy has property rights and the other kid is reminded of that and redirected before a fight can occur.  It isn’t accepted as something that kids will do (and that sometimes results in biting) like at the private school’s daycare.  DC2 happily waves bye-bye when DH drops hir off in the morning, and for a week or so was having such fits when I picked hir up that I wouldn’t be surprised if the teachers thought I beat hir.  (Though part of that was that ze wanted mommy milk right away, but their parking lot isn’t really big enough for me to feel right taking a space during busy pick-up times so we can nurse, especially given that home is less than 5 min away.  DC2, if you weren’t fussing, we’d already be at home and you could be having as much mommy milk as you wanted!  We solved this problem by having me pick up DC1 instead.)

My thought, though this is certainly no randomized controlled experiment, is that good quality daycares have only limited biting because the kids are busy and conflicts are managed before they really become conflicts.  Some kids have greater propensity to bite than others, but it’s still really the daycare’s responsibility to take care of that.  But who knows!

In memorium

We got two amazing cats when we finally moved into an apartment that allowed them.  Little Kitty and Big Kitty.  We’d initially gone to get Little Kitty and decided she needed a companion.  Big Kitty was in her room at the shelter.  A big soft short-hair calico, mostly white with small black and ginger patches.  When we came in the room, she was sociable, gave us some love and pettings and then after a while went back to her little house area.  After checking out the other cats, we decided she was just right… loving and sociable but not too clingy.

Her sheet said she’d come from a house with too many cats and that she loved dogs and children.

The women at the animal shelter said she had a heart condition and they didn’t expect her to be adopted.  They hadn’t even listed her.  We’ll take her anyway, we said.

We gave her heart medication each day.  DH picked up her prescription refill today.

She was a beautifully behaved cat.  She didn’t go on counters (except when she thought we weren’t looking and then would jump down if seen), and never understood why we let Little Kitty jump on them.  She mainly just tolerated Little Kitty, but she also taught semi-feral Little Kitty how to do important cat things, like how to meow.

Big Kitty always wanted to be alpha cat, even though Little Kitty doesn’t understand social hierarchies.  Sometimes Little Kitty would accidentally become alpha, which was always funny because Little Kitty was about half the size of Big Kitty and really had no idea what was going on with the dominance games.

Big Kitty liked hard catfood a lot, and deferred to Little Kitty over who got first dibs on the soft food because that’s the one thing Little Kitty would defend, and it’s easier to keep your alpha status if you don’t have to fight for it.

Big Kitty’s short hair turned out to have a longer undercoat in the winter.  She was the softest kitty imaginable.  We had to make sure she had special catfood because she’d throw up most kinds of high quality food, but Little Kitty needed something high quality to keep her fur from getting dry.  We won’t have to buy Purina One Sensitive Systems anymore.  We also had to ration her food because otherwise she’d throw it up (and she’d get overweight).  After many experiments with water pistols and so on to try to keep her from waking us up wailing for food, we set up a catfood timer.  We’ll have to reset that for one cat, or just get rid of it since Little Kitty never overate anyway.  Or maybe Garage Cat will start sharing with Little Kitty now that Big Kitty is no longer keeping him in the guest bedroom.  I suppose we could move his stuff now.  These words seem so cold but my heart is breaking so hard every time I think about how things are going to change.

DH was her favorite.  Occasionally she’d try to take my side of the bed so she could be with him.  But she’d give it up grudgingly.

She was super cuddly with me when I got pregnant both times.  After DC1 was born and before we started cosleeping, we’d close the door because Big Kitty loved the Pack N Play and you don’t want to accidentally smother a baby.  Big Kitty would wail outside the door to be let in.  It was so much easier to sleep when we gave that up.

As advertised, she was great with children.  Wonderful with both babies.  She started swiping a bit at tail pulls and so on when DC1 got old enough to know better, but with DC2 she didn’t even mind those, especially since we’d give her hairball treats after each new indignity.

She was great at finding missing kittens when we misplaced them.  She’d guard and hiss, but was never actually mean to the four stray cats.  She used every one of the extra litter boxes.

She had her favorite spots in the house.  DC1’s bed, both on top and under.  The corner of my closet.  The armrest on the overstuffed chair.  She won’t be there anymore, even if traces of her soft white fur still remain.

At 4 something pm when DH was home, she started panting and meowing and her back legs didn’t work.  While I got the kids, DH called the vet and then another bigger vet and got her in the carrying case and took her to the hospital.  She’d had a stroke and was in a lot of pain.  A heparin shot would loosen that and she might survive, but given her heart condition, it was unlikely she would make it after her blood started flowing again and even if she did, she’d continue to have strokes.  DH had to make a decision and he couldn’t contact me because my phone was dead, so he called his mom.  Big Kitty was in pain and didn’t know what was going on and he petted her and said goodbye.  When I finally got home and called him I couldn’t understand what he was saying because he was crying so hard.

The vet has said many times that Big Kitty has lasted longer than any other cat she’s seen with this heart condition.  She wasn’t an old kitty, but she was middle aged.  Still spry, but not quite as much as she used to be.  Without the heart condition, she probably would have had many more years, but with the heart condition, we’re lucky we’ve had her this long.  They asked DH to donate her body to the state vet school because of it and DH decided to do that.  They’ll send us a cast of her paw in return.

It’s so hard to believe she won’t be around anymore.  She’s gone suddenly with only an hour or so of pain; she didn’t waste away.   If we didn’t have to change anything I could just pretend that she’s in a different hiding spot than where I’m looking.  I wouldn’t have to know that she’s gone.  She’s lived a good life and was a wonderful kitty.  We will miss her so much.

Good-bye, Big Kitty.  We will always love you.

Big Kitty's last photo

Big Kitty’s last photo

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