Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Does This Look OK?"

Can we establish that men will never understand women, and vice versa? Perfect, thanks.

Wait a minute, let me revise that. Women understand men just fine, only we don't like what we've found and spend our lives trying to change them to suit our emotional requirements. And men understand women a lot of the time, they just can't be bothered analyzing our emotional instability.

Having recently attended a wedding with most of my high school and college friends, the majority of whom are married as well, husbands and wives and all their psychoses were a frequent topic of conversation. And, while many aspects of marriage and partnership were discussed, one dilemma in particular cropped up several times. After much serious thought, a panel discussion, and even a few drunken sobs, my friends and I compiled some ideas, with which I have constructed this quasi-thesis. Hey, it's worth a try.

The question: What am I supposed to say if the wife asks, "Does this look OK," and I don't think it does?

The answer: Lie. No, seriously, just lie (in most cases; I explain below).

She has just spent the past hour getting ready, picking something out, doing her hair, putting on make-up and jewelry, and slipping into heels. At this point, she's not looking for your opinion; if she wasn't sure it looked good, she wouldn't be modelling it for you. She's just looking for validation. And, since confidence looks better than any name brand, it's in everyone's best interests to do your best validating and move on. She thinks she looks good, now it's your job to reinforce that.

If you hate the style or color, that's irrelevant. You're a guy, after all, and probably know less about women's fashion than she does. If there's something you think might look better on her, too bad. Cross your fingers and hope she wears it next time around, but never suggest alternates after she's already made her decision. That black dress she pours herself into that you happen to love, will look terrible if she's not comfortable in it or doesn't believe she looks her best.

Now, having said all that, there is an exception to this rule that is crucial. You don't want to be insulting, but sometimes it's necessary to hand out a little tough love. You're her husband, and the only person who is permitted to dole out the brutal honesty she'll sometimes need. I suppose there are underlying body-dysmorphia issues simmering somewhere beneath the surface of this circumstance, but that makes it no less your problem than it is hers, since you're the one who has to be the bearer of bad news.

Sometimes when she sees an outfit, she loves it so much that the common sense screaming "don't buy it!" is drowned out by the flood of endorphins created at the sight of such a beautiful outfit. Even after she gets it on at home and sees that it's very obviously too small, comfort, practicality, and resignation are thrown out the window in favor of primal spite. She will wear that dress if it kills her, and there is little you can do to change her mind.

Little, but not nothing. This is the only circumstance when telling her she looks bad is acceptable. Trust me, despite her resistance to reason, she doesn't actually want to be seen out among other women with even a miniscule muffin top hanging over her belt. She doesn't want to be "that woman", the one other women are laughing at because of her ill-fitting outfit. So, tell her you're saving her from that, and that she'll thank you in the morning (she won't, but tell her that anyway).

This is no time for an unsteady hand, husband. Be assertive and be clear, without being hurtful or using descriptive terms you don't understand. "You can't wear that, dear, that silky stuff makes your butt look like a hot air balloon," is not what she wants to hear, but, "Honey, every time you see a woman in a dress that tight, you make fun of her," might be a better start.

Women are not like you when it comes to getting dressed, guys. We don't smell our clothes to see if they're clean, and we don't have to ask you whether or not something matches. We know how to use an iron, when an outfit needs a scarf, and where to buy the perfect t-shirt. What we do not want, being the brimming encyclopedias of fashion that we are, is a misplaced two-cents from someone who dressed like Kurt Cobain before we came along. For the most part, we know best. You guys get power tools, we get clothes, so don't burst our bubble unless it's absolutely necessary.

A New Adventure

If you hear wailing sirens in the Tamarac area after lunch on Wednesday afternoon, don't be alarmed - I'm sure they're only coming for me. September 9 is my baby's first day of pre-school.

How does this happen? I know it's a cliched question, but it truly feels like he's too young to be going anywhere without Mommy. However, I'm very aware of the real story within the story: he's perfectly ready; it's Mommy who's got the cold feet. And, thankfully, his first independent foray into the world is being facilitated by the very best person for the job.

Last year at this time, when I had a busy three-year-old, someone suggested I enroll him at Fun Time Kindergarten. I definitely wasn't ready to let him go that early, but I started asking around to find out what the place was like in preparation for the following year. I've talked to dozens of parents, and every single one of them has repeatedly sung the praises of Fun Time.

And not just, "yeah, it's a good pre-school" praises; kids who have spent a year or two with Miss Tammy have never forgotten her. They send her Christmas and birthday cards, they drop in to visit, and some even cry to go back to her class when starting Grade Primary. Imagine what a force you'd have to be in a child's life to account for that kind of admiration years after the fact! Stories like those I've been told are what gave me the confidence to send him this September.

Every night before bed, we tell him a story, and since I secured his spot in June, that story has had to be about school, as per his instructions. He's nothing if not a fan of repetition, so the story is basically the same every night.

"We'll get up in the morning and have breakfast, and then..."
"But Mom, what's for breakfast?"
"Lucky Charms, maybe. And then we'll put on a new shirt and new..."
"But Mom, what shirt?"
"Maybe the one with Mickey Mouse on it. So, after that we'll put on some new..."
"No, the one with Buzz Lightyear on it."
"Buzz Lightyear it is. So your new Buzz shirt, some new pants, new sneakers, and we have to remember your school bag."
"And we have to remember to put some extra clothes in my school bag 'cause in case I get dirty."
"Yes, we do. And then we'll get in the car..."
"No, I'm going on the bus!"
"No, honey, you can't go on the bus. Mommy has to drive you."
"Your father is dead meat when he gets home. Anyway, we'll talk about the bus later, ok?"
"So, we'll get to the school and who's going to be there?"
"Miss Tammy."
"And who else?"
"Miss Tina."
"And who else?"
"Lots of kids who are gonna be my new friends."
"Right. And then what do we do when we get to the school?"
"First, I have to hang my jacket up and my school bag, on the hook that has my name on it. Then I have to give you a big hug and a big kiss and go in the class and see everybody."
"Right, and where is Mommy going to be?"
"At the grocery store waiting to come pick me up."

Every night for the past three months we've had that conversation. And as of Wednesday, it will be something he actually gets to do.

I know I should only be happy about his new adventure. He's going to learn so much this year, from socialization to songs to writing his name. He's going to go on field trips, make crafts, and get progress reports. I'll even get to see the cutest graduation ceremony ever at the end of the year. What makes me nervous is being without him.

We play a lot. We crank the music and dance around the house when it's time for me to clean up. We make a huge mess baking cookies and he helps me dry the dishes when we're done. We go to the park and the mall, we play super heroes and cars, and sometimes we just watch TV. But, whatever I'm doing on any given day during the week, I'm used to doing it with him.

It's going to be really difficult to get used to him going on an adventure without me, but I'm leaving him in good hands. My baby's not a baby anymore.

The Common Goal

In Canada, when someone decides to have a baby, it's a often a complex decision. Aside from the various social factors that have to be considered, the big question always comes up: "Can we afford it?" Food, diapers, child care, clothing, college - all those things add up fast. But, luckily, one thing we never have to wonder or worry about is the actual up-front cost of pregnancy and childbirth.

If I had been living in Maine four years ago, here's roughly what it would have cost me to have my son: $1400 for pre-natal appointments, $6200 for the birth itself, another $2400 for a 2 day hospital stay, $600 for ultrasounds, and $250 for a post-natal check-up. The total is $10,850, and that's for a run-of-the-mill pregnancy. Any mother or baby complications or health issues make that number skyrocket.

Arrangements can usually be made to pay the bill over time, and the average cost of a monthly post-partum hospital bill is $800. Imagine that. On top of stress, pain, discomfort, sleep deprivation, and the sometimes staggering everyday cost of this new human in your house, you're also faced with an extra $800 bill every month.

Health care is absurdly expensive in the United States, and childbirth is only one example. If you have a broken ankle, it's going to cost you, from the doctor's treatment, to the X-ray, to the cast. If you need stitches, that's going to cost you. Even if you go see a doctor and there turns out to be nothing wrong, that's going to cost you, too. If you go to the emergency room without health insurance, they can (and often will) refuse to treat you.

Living in Nova Scotia, it's hard for us to wrap our heads around paying for health care. This isn't to say we take advantage of our system (for the most part), only that we can't imagine a world where anyone is sick because they can't afford to make themselves well. That's not the kind of people we are around here. We have fundraising benefits to help those who have fallen on hard times, and often put ourselves out, if only temporarily and on a small scale, for the sake of someone else.

So, is that the root of the U.S. health care crisis? That American citizens are so selfish they'd see their neighbors suffer before giving up an ounce of personal comfort and security? Or, are they so fearful of government control that they're willing to settle for health industry corruption for the sake of avoiding some perceived socialism?

I'm don't subscribe to Michael Moore's politics in most cases, and I usually disagree with his method of delivery, but his movie "SICKO" is one of the most compelling films I've ever seen. It examines health care models in Canada, France, Mexico, and other countries, and compares them to the United States. It shows us milling in and out of doctor's offices and emergency rooms without paying a cent. It shows the French enjoying their paid, mandatory 8-week illness recuperation time. And between the personal accounts of poverty causing death and bankruptcy due to sickness in the U.S., there was a noticeable tone and attitude among American taxpayers throughout the movie: they want and need things to change.

That's why I am annoyed at the opposition to President Obama's proposed health care plan. The same people who crave change are preventing it for reasons that, quite frankly, are petty and just plain not good enough.

Sure, maybe it's a good idea for health care to be regulated on a state level. Maybe a government run, tax-exempt system would damage the private sector irreparably. There are probably dozens of provisions in the proposed Bill which need to be tweaked and even a few that have to be completely re-written.

The point is, for the first time in a very long time, someone in power is trying to put in place a system which would help the most unfortunate Americans and avoid negatively impacting the others. Obama is not perfect, but his intentions are clear - health care for all, so as to eliminate the current, long-standing crisis. And what does he get for his efforts? Resistance from Conservatives at every turn, bad press, and even heckling in an open session of Congress.

It's time for Americans to forget about partisan politics for long enough to look at the big picture. Representatives from both sides of the aisle are capable of putting a system in place that will truly help people, and it's about time they get their acts together and do it, with Obama leading the way. No one should be sick just because they're broke.