Posted by: Kate | March 5, 2008

Apparently I Look Like I Know What I’m Doing

I spent the day horizontal yesterday, not feeling exactly horrible so much as deeply, intensely apathetic. I barely had the energy to blink both eyes at the same time. If it weren’t for a responsible and sweetheart husband, my children would have eaten granola bars and dust bunnies for dinner and gone to bed whenever they saw fit, clutching lollipops in their sweaty little fists after watching six hours of television.

I was not my best self, which includes not being a great mom, and that’s fine. Illness happens, and I’m a firm believer that the measure of a good parent happens over the course of a lifetime, not a day or a week. They’re not out tying squirrels to firecrackers yet – and I don’t think that’s just because all of the squirrels have either frozen solid or moved to Cancun – so they’ll be fine.

In the evening, I got a call from a good friend. We’ve never lived near each other, but have managed to stay in touch, sometimes daily and sometimes semiannually, despite that pesky geography. I enjoy her company enough that – are you ready for this? – I voluntarily stayed at my mother-in-law’s house for a week to help my friend after a surgery. I didn’t want to sleep at my friend’s house and add more bodies and more chaos to the mix, so we slept at mother-in-laws and spent days at my friend’s. Seriously.

Anyway, my friend and her family have spared me the risk of ever having to sleep at mother-in-law’s again, as they have recently moved to Florida. And my friend is overwhelmed and stressed with a number of things, and she called just to vent and figure out what to do next. There was such a juxtaposition there, of me being too blah to get off the couch and yet seemingly together enough to be worth calling in times of crisis. It’s a good thing, and I’m glad that she trusted me enough to call.

There’s just something to that, this idea that I have it all figured out. At least enough to be worth calling when things aren’t cute and happy and fun. There are those who know me well – Willem, you hush – who could enumerate long lists, the kind with Roman numerals and letters and numbers all in a hierarchy, of the things I do poorly and make unreasonable mistakes with.

But some stuff, I do have figured out. There’s a certain humor and narrative flow to the stories of someone completely clueless and flailing about in a desperate muddle in every aspect of life, even if it’s a pretend cluelessness with an underlying sense of I act this way to seem approachable but really we know my kids are going to grow up to be scientists and Presidents while yours will have ankle bracelets and tattoos. My relationship with Willem is solid, my kids are turning out to be enjoyable little people, and I have friends I can rely on. These all have come about as the result of a lot of thought and work and effort, and I’m proud of them.

The thing is, I have this stuff figured out for me. Just for me. I can guess what might help in your life. I can tell you what I would do or say if I woke up in your shoes one day. (After, of course, saying, “Oh, sorry I wore shoes in bed, I’ll change the sheets.”)  But I can’t know what would work for you, and I have to trust that you’re more of an expert than I am. So when you end up staying with the unmotivated partner, ignoring your own health symptoms, putting off major life decisions because choice is scarier than passivity, I have to accept that.  I’ve left friendships in which I saw behavior I just couldn’t accept, and I imagine, in each case, we’re both better off for it.

Willem was talking about one of his classmates the other day. She’s unhumanly driven, career-obsessed, and a perfectionist, but she also sits down on the floor to talk to my kids and was the only adult to make herself a tie-dye t-shirt at Emily’s last birthday party. Just an odd mix of adult and child mixed in. She is single, with a string of unusual (trying to, well, bend a proponent of Straight Edge) and inappropriate (rumors of affairs with professors) relationships.

She and Willem were discussing a former classmate, who is recently married and has a new job. At one point, the topic of finances came up. “She and her husband share a bank account,” she whispered. “Can you imagine such a thing? Combining everything? Nothing separate? I could never do that. What if things went wrong?”

Well, actually, yes, I can imagine it. It’s what we do, as well. Willem may have accounts that I don’t know about to fund his clandestine goat-shearing operation that I also don’t know about, but what I do know is that both of our names are on our bank statements and mortgage. His classmate would, I’m sure, be appalled to know that I don’t even know how to log on and check my accounts online, because I just trust Willem to deal with it.

More to the point, though, is the broader implication this woman has communicated over time. She acts as though there are rules for relationships, hard and fast rules, universally applicable ones. (Ones which, of course, she follows and no one else quite can.) She can’t imagine people thinking otherwise.

This is where we diverge, because every time I think I have found a firm rule, someone presents me with a counterexample that seems to work for them. One of my friends is in what I would consider to be a wildly uneven relationship, in which the husband seems barely able to function without a list in hand, and yet they’re happy and sneaking up on nine years of marriage. Another is married to a gun-toting homophobic and loves him to pieces. There are lots and lots of relationships in the world that I don’t understand, partners I can’t imagine choosing, but it works for them.

I’m grateful to have figured out what works for me, and am happy to share whatever perspective I can with my friends. But at the end of the day, I can’t offer much more than an ear and some suggestions, because you know you better than I do. And I’ll trust your expertise.


  1. I typed a long response, and then I realized I wanted it as a post for my own blog. 😀

  2. Poacher.

    ‘Sokay, I’ll still respect you in the morning.

  3. Most of Husband’s co-workers are shocked that we share an account and that I take care of all the finances. They all have seperate accounts from their spouses.

  4. I’ve found something similar, except as it pertains to parenting. I had all sort of “opinions” and “advice” before I had LouLa. As a teacher, I’m sometimes expected to give that sort of thing. After I had her, my mantra has been, “Hey, whatever works for you…” There are still times when I see that “it” isn’t working, but I bite my tongue more often.

  5. I truly can’t believe you don’t know it all 😉
    I have to admit though, almost every bit advice you have given and I used thus far has worked, and I thank you for it and so does my family…otherwise I’d be in a padded room and you would have been caring for me (or hopefully someone as good as you.) THANK YOU for being there.

  6. I think friends in distress or dilemma appreciate a little judicious advice, rarely take it mind but mostly, they want an empathetic soul at the end of the line. It’s a rare gift to walk a mile in another’s shoes and one I deeply admire and hope I have. The beauty of advice is that it can be taken or ignored but had you not provided it, no alternative may be available. Keep listening and advising Kate

  7. I think you are right – those hardcore rules we live our life by don’t work for everyone…. I’ve found the same thing for my kids. One rule that works for my son does not necessarily work for my daughter. I’ve had to adjust.

  8. However you want to divvy up the responsibility, I think it’s important to know how to handle the finances, like logging into accounts to make sure the mortgage payment cleared, if Willem becomes unable to do so (illness, travel, etc.). My father has shown me his finances on his laptop, and we’ll probably go over that again sometime soon, so if necessary, I can take over them.

    I will probably never completely combine my finances with anyone else’s, but I don’t think it’s bad or stupid, just that i’ve been doing it on my own for a few years and like knowing what the details are.

  9. yoooo

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