- Take a drink every time I enter a room but have no idea why I came in.
- Take a drink every time I ask, “Where’s my _________________?”
- Take a drink every time someone asks, “What’s for dinner?”
- Take a drink every time I pick up someone else’s dirty dishes.
- Take a drink every time I sit in front of the computer but forget what I wanted to google.
- Take a drink every time my husband can’t find his phone.
- Take a drink every time my daughter asks for a new toy.
- Take a drink every time my son can’t find his shoes.
- Take a drink every time I have to pee in the middle of the night. (counterproductive?)
- Take a drink every time I sit down to write but forget my train of thought.
Back in the day, my father liked to introduce my sister and me as the smart one and the pretty one. He never said who was which. My sister and I argued about it for decades. Neither of us wants to be the smart one.
My father was a natural comedian whose favorite form of humor was anything that mortified his children. He’d play with words, or toss ethnic (Jewish) jokes and cringe humor into conversations for the sole purpose of embarrassing me. Dark comedy and gallows humor was his particular favorite. A few hours before he passed away from cancer in the hospital he still made wisecracks and told my sister to “go to the nurse’s station and find out what time people die around here.” I’m certain my insurance salesman father missed his calling.
Comedy is important in our family. Our personal currency increases when we make each other laugh. My brother is great at physical humor, my three nieces are sarcastic and ironic to perfection. My nephews make clever observational humor, and my kids crack me up on a daily basis without even trying. We don’t make jokes that are mean spirited or insulting. Nobody gets their feelings hurt or is put on the defensive. We are mostly self-deprecating or point out daily absurdities. I think it takes a certain amount of intelligence and self-esteem to be funny, and the ability to slip into the third person. Plus we are excellent laughers. I absolutely love being around my siblings and their families.
My mother wasn’t funny, though. At least I don’t remember her that way. She rarely cracked jokes or found things ironic. She was beautiful, so her personal currency was her looks and assertiveness. But, boy oh boy, could my father make her laugh. She burst out a belly laugh if my father tripped, she smiled and rolled her eyes at his corny puns, but the best part was he could make her laugh when she didn’t want to. One time, my mother was arrested (for disrespecting an officer and then resisting arrest, which she totally did) and my father went to the station to get her. He approached the cell, and with the protection of her behind bars said, “Again, Elaine?” (He would never have said this if she was within swinging range.) Only my dad could come up with a punchline this brilliant at a moment like this. My mother couldn’t help but laugh.
My father was lean and fit from years of doing his own yard work. His eyes reflected his mischievousness. He seemed like he was up to something. He exuded cool. But he wasn’t classically handsome. He looked like Larry Fine when The Stooge wasn’t in character, or maybe a version of Bob Uecker. He’d say about himself, “If you’re going to have a nose, it should be a big one.” When I was a teenager I didn’t understand why my mother, who looked like Natalie Wood and could have married anyone, chose my dad.
She said my father was the nicest and funniest man she ever met. Nice and funny — two qualities that are very underrated. People look for wealthy, handsome or successful. Nice and funny usually lands someone in the friend zone, and oddly it was my mom who wound up spending time there. Growing up, my dad was best friends with her older brother and my mom was the annoying younger sister who hung around them. He didn’t pay her much attention until he returned from WW2 and realized she had grown up. He continued to hang around the house, but with the purpose of making my mother laugh. It didn’t take long for them to fall in love.
I love this story because it reminds me that my parents had no pretense about one another when they got married. They knew each other well, and loved one another for their heart and not their surface. Their marriage lasted ’till death did them part — not that my parents didn’t fight — they did, but they fought with the passion and security of two people who knew they would never separate.
Which is the same way I fight with my husband.
Had my parents ever met my husband, a comedy writer who worked in film and television and now teaches at a large university, I’m pretty sure my dad would have liked him. My mom, on the other hand, would have been slow to warm up since he’s from a different ethnic background (not Jewish, but she’d eventually realize he’s “Jewish on the inside,” as I sometimes describe him).
But here’s the important thing — every day my husband makes me laugh, even on days I don’t want to, or when I’m so angry that I can’t stand him. Also, he laughs at my jokes, and when he does I feel appreciated and understood. In these moments, I remember I married a man who truly “gets” me.
I wound up marrying the nicest and funniest man I ever met, but (thankfully) looks nothing like Larry Fine.
I guess that makes me the smart one.
“Do I drain the water before adding the cheese powder?” This question was posed to me by my husband very early in our dating relationship. I thought it was a joke but he was serious. He had no idea how to make mac-n-cheese from a box and instead of reading the directions he asked me for help. After rolling my eyes I’m sure I took over making dinner.
My husband can do a few things in the kitchen like pour cereal, make a sandwich or nuke a Lean Cuisine, but if it requires the cooktop or turning on the oven he’s helpless. Last summer I got so fed up with him saying things like, ‘Those scrambled eggs look good. Can you make me some?” I finally walked him through the one minute process and now he makes them every morning. I understand the phrase “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Except in our house it’s “Get off my nerves and scramble your own damn eggs now that you know how.”
I love my husband and he works very hard for us. I give him tremendous credit for holding a full time job with a helluva long commute, finishing a second advanced degree while also completing a long-term side project. Still I can’t help but wonder if over the years I’ve morphed into a helicopter wife. He rarely makes a decision without consulting me — from the mundane to the important — I am his constant sounding board. He shows me his outfit before he leaves for work and never sends out a project before I read it. He checks with me before he buys things — until he goes off the rails and gets a three foot tall Yoda greeter holding the sign “Welcome, You Are” — and we are reminded why he must check with me before he buys things.
Helicoptering starts slowly in a relationship and builds over time. When we started living together he’d load the dishwasher in such a haphazard way that I’d redo it. I go to the grocery store because if my husband shops he comes home with half the Hostess aisle. I took over the driving because I couldn’t stand the herky-jerky nausea inducing way he’d press and release the gas pedal. It’s progressed to a point if my husband had to endorse a check the bank probably wouldn’t cash it because the signature won’t match.
Does this make me a Helicopter Wife? What is helicoptering anyway? And is it always bad? We are familiar with the term as applied to parenting. The helicopter mom is always hovering waiting to swoop in and fix even the smallest of problems, leaving a child unable to eventually navigate life’s hiccups by themselves. I’m no psychologist, but this sounds like co-dependency and the ultimate goal of parenting is to create a person who can function independently. So maybe helicopter parenting isn’t so good.
But what is marriage if not the ultimate co-dependent relationship? I depend on my husband for things and he depends on me for different things. Put another way, there are certain things I’m good at and certain things he’s good at and we generally stick within our respective wheelhouses. For example, I cook; he kills bugs. Hence, we are co-dependent. But it gets more confusing — if helicoptering is co-dependent then is co-dependency a form of helicoptering? Is your head spinning yet like mine? Is the dress blue or gold?
Anyhoo — back on subject — sometimes I feel my husband deliberately does a task badly so I will take over and let him off the hook. Anybody can load a dishwasher, yet he refuses to learn how to do it properly. Similarly, I’m incapable of learning how to turn on the lawn mower. (It’s a button, but still.) If I ever figure it out (wink, wink) and have to mow the lawn I guarantee I’d purposely leave so many undone patches it would look like a drunk five year-old did it.
Ultimately, I’m confused about what a Helicopter Wife actually means. It sounds controlling and micromanaging, but I don’t think I do these things. I actually give my husband a lot of space and sometimes don’t even know where he is. Maybe a Helicopter Wife is protective? I’ll fess up to that. If so, then my husband is a Helicopter Husband because he walks on the side of traffic whenever we cross a street, ready to swoop in and take the hit from a runaway car.
I think what it comes down to is we are two helicopters hovering over this life we made together, each filled with various emergency services and ready to swoop in, take over and save one other when we are too tired, unwilling or unable to take care of something ourselves.
And that’s pretty much sums up our co-dependent marriage.