Monday, August 1, 2011

Breaking Some Gender Stereotypes

Jennifer and I recently celebrated our sixth anniversary. Six big ones. (But only one little one thus far--though at two years old, and consistently in the 99th percentile for height, weight, head circumference, and naturally-released, constant energy levels, he feels like a big (good) one as well.)

For me, marriage has been like teaching: I've always loved it, but I think I learn a heck of lot more about it the more experience I get. And there's no way to learn without doing it. As much psychology, relationship, and literary fiction as there is that deals with strong marriages--there's no substitute for the real thing: learning by doing, as the poet Roethke once told us.

So here is one of my big lessons from year six that experience has taught me: it's good to break gender stereotypes.

Our son is a good example of how breaking gender stereotypes has brought Jen and I a heck of a lot of happiness. Tyler loves two things in life with a passion as deep and as profound as the Atlantic Ocean: his baby doll and his uptrucks. He carries his baby doll (a female whom he named Bob the Builder) around with him everywhere he goes. He pushes Bob on the swings; he gives Bob a thousand kisses a day; a pushes Bob gently down his small backyard slide (and, admittedly, laughs when she falls over and bumps her head all the way down; but then Tyler is there to pick up Bob, caress her head bruises, apply a few band-aids, profusely kiss the injuries, and then continue on).

Lining the fence in our backyard (here, called a garden) are seven yellow construction vehicles--yellow dump trucks; yellow uptrucks (diggers); yellow cement mixer trucks; yellow backhoes. He runs them through the dirt and delights in their carrying capacities.

I think Tyler's passions demonstrate something Jen and I have come to accept about ourselves in our marriage: we enjoy breaking gender stereotypes. It just feels...right.

Case in point: The Plough Pub. It's July 30th, 2011, and we're out for our anniversary night. My mom and two brothers, Michael and Matthew, are babysitting while Jen and I get out for the night. Walking like a couple giddy in anticipation of a full meal without mentioning the words "poopies," "itchies," or "snots," we arrive at the pub barely able to remain calm. But we do. We keep calm and carry on through the beautiful white oak door of The Plough.

We snag a table by the window, discuss what we'll start with for drinks and our meals, and I make my way up to the bar. I order a martini for Jen, a pint of Timothy Taylor's for me. I saunter back to our table, drinks in hand and food order placed.

I am a husband heading back to this wife, thrilled to have a long conversation about dreams, emotions, and emotional dreams. Jen takes a sip of her martini and finds it a bit too sweet, which enables me to gladly switch with her, secretly pumped about a sweet martini, and there we sit, a man drinking his sweet martini; his wife a pint of Yorkshire's finest local ale.

Case in Point (B): Our neighbors let us borrow an electric hedge clipper. Having landscaped my way through high school, I am jazzed about using the thing to trim our relentlessly misbehaving hedges. I work for about ten minutes, then ask Jennifer if she'd like to have a go.

Jen takes the hedge trimmer and Tyler and I watch--in sheer amazement--as Jen goes to town for the next hour, creating a masterpiece of our hedges. Beauty. Perfection. No limb of any hedge a millimeter longer than any other. She's a natural. (Meanwhile, Tyler and I had quite a blast giggling like, well, toddlers.)

Case in Point (C): The obvious, I guess. I like what I'm doing. Really. So does Jen. Sure--we each miss what we were doing before. I sometimes get that longing to be back inside of a high school or middle school classroom; and Jen has that urge to spend the full day with our guy, attending playgroups and chatting about poopie endlessly (that latter part I may have made up). But neither of us would want to change a thing.

It works.

It fits.

Even though people look at us like one of us isn't being honest, or one of us is somehow hiding some deeply honest desire (me to scale cliffs and Jen to nurse a kid till he;s five or something like that), we're not. There's something that just fits together, and in this sixth year of marriage, I'm grateful beyond words for a wife who has both passion and compassion, both strength and nurture, that work all together in this balance that I can only call love.