Friday, October 2, 2009

Funny--Or Not--'Cause It's True

Someone who learned about my blog anew yesterday asked me who I give gold stars to, and why.

"For good deeds?" she suggested.

"No," I said, "just in moments when I see that people are trying."

I thought more about it, though, after she walked away. I mean, I think everyone is trying in one way or another and, yet, I don't give out stars to everyone. Why not? What stops me from pulling out the stars for every Jack, Jim and Josephine that looks like they might need one? Aside from the fact that I think handing them out en masse weakens their affect, I also realized that my reasoning for remembering to pull out a star in conversations with certain people is often entirely selfish, simply about what I received from the exchange.

Thinking back on the stars I remember giving most, the bulk of them have been awarded in moments when someone makes me laugh. If I get a good guffaw from what someone says, really throw back my head and give it the full expressional brunt of my amusement, I will almost always think to reach for a gold star. I love to laugh, can't laugh often enough. I am so grateful when someone helps me get there. A gold star is their reward.

Digging deeper, though, I have to stop to think about why I laugh when someone says something. Seeing my children begin to be extremely funny and understand even subtle humor, I realize it is not an easy thing to understand, it is complicated, nonsensical even much of the time. But, as my husband often says after he laughs about something, quoting Homer Simpson, "it's funny 'cause it's true!"

I guess if I were to have to pick the reason I laugh the most, it's because someone says something that rings so true, that I've thought about a million times but never managed to put into words or been brave enough to say out loud, honestly and with conviction. Take an exchange I had with a friend the other day. We were sitting, having coffee, chatting about what was new, including his wife. She is, not unlike myself or any of the women I know, always in search of what she can do to try to feel better, about her job, about her self, and yes, about her marriage. He looked tired about the eyes as he talked about her efforts, pushing out his lips and shaking his head in mock defeat.

"Look," he said, somewhat angrily, "we men worry about shit too, but we just don't talk about it all the time!"

"Why not?" I asked."Maybe that's the problem...maybe you need to express yourself more, maybe that would make her feel better," I suggested.

"Oh, sure," he said, fully animated now, gesturing wildly, with slight maliciousness but a smile, "I'm going to open my mouth? Why would I do that? I just know, then, that the second half of the conversation is going to turn completely toward what I have done wrong, why it's all my fault!"

I burst out, causing a stir at the booths around us, head straight back. It was funny because it was so, so true. My husband, once a highly talkative man, has become mute often in the face of my wrath, knowing that a single false word could trigger me toward what he could have done differently, what he did or didn't do. What's worse, though, is that I make him talk, force him against his will to engage because, much as I have been accused of monologuing, I actually don't like one-way conversations when I'm trying to communicate with other people. So then he contributes something and it's nearly always wrong, not what I would have him say at all. I realize all this and yet...and yet...Sad. I don't know why women do this, why men put up with it. In our defense though, ladies, we often have valid points, I'm just not sure we do ourselves any great service by making them all the time. Constant criticism of husbands, as with children, can only serve to make a bad situation worse.

A little kindness and understanding keeps the lines of communication open. The reverse is also true. A friend of mine at the gym is always, always complaining about his wife. He does a stand-up routine in which he paints her as the pathetic housewife: She doesn't work, she doesn't cook, she doesn't clean, she doesn't even share his bed. She's useless, he says. In this case, it's not so funny, 'cause it's true.

Why stay married I often ask? Not that it's any of my business, but he seeks me out to tell me about it, so I figure I have the right to ask.

"For the kid," he says.

"Right, I'm sure you guys hating each other is really good for the kid," I said.

"Well, what am I supposed to do, go to the poor house? It's a financial decision..."

I shook my head. Something's gotta give, I thought. And, then, it occurred to me.

"Come with me," I said, gesturing to him to follow me as I walked over to the cubby to get my bag. I pulled out two of the biggest gold stars in the pack, slapping one on him and giving him another, for his wife.

"Give this to her, please," I said.

He scoffed. "What has she done? She doesn't deserve this, she's useless," he said.

"And she will continue to be if you keep calling her useless. The two of you need to get it together, stop being so mean to each other! I am not going to talk to you again unless you tell me you gave it to her, and with grace!" I said, walking away. "I know you can do it."

I'm not so delusional as to think a gold star could solve a tough marital situation in and of itself, but it might be a step toward showing faith in efforts expended, a step toward reinstating hope. I'll keep my fingers crossed, and I'll keep giving out gold stars, just in case they could help.

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