Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wife Rule #48: No RHIP Here

My wife spends a lot of time up at night with the baby, doing things that she alone can do. So I try to be extra helpful in the morning. Part of my responsibility is to find suitable "babysitting material" for the kids, so that they will stay quiet and away from my bedroom while I get ready for the day, and my wife and baby sleep.

On Saturday mornings (like today), preserving peace and quiet can be especially challenging, because all four of my non-baby kids are at home for the long haul. This morning I really wanted to get some exercise in, followed by some intense work in the yard in the cool of the morning. Knowing how disastrously things can get out of hand when neither parent is refereeing for 45 minutes or so, I decided that extra-strength babysitting material was called for: possibly a full-length feature movie. So I gave very explicit instructions to the kids:

"I'm going to run to the canyon and back. I need you to all be nice and quiet and not fight and not whine and not argue and to stay away from where Mom and Charity are sleeping." I looked at their four angelic faces, staring intently at me with anticipation of what they knew was coming. "So you guys are allowed to turn on cartoons."

"Yes! Yeah! Allright! Yee-haw!" they sang back in chorus.

Watching cartoons is the ultimate carrot in our house for good behavior, but there was more to my foolproof plan (I am so clever sometimes, I even amaze myself). I continued, "If you guys ever get into an argument about which cartoon to watch, I want you to turn on a movie instead." I knew they would probably be arguing about what to watch within five minutes after I left, and I figured the movie solution would squelch any bickering before it blew up into full-blown brawling. I chuckled at my ingenuity, having just bought my wife and myself two uninterrupted hours of peace.

Whoa, I almost forgot the most critical part of the plan. We'd better agree on which movie they're watching now, or the whole thing would inevitably collapse. "Let's decide on the movie," I beckoned, and started calling out movie names.

Let's see, try gender-neutral ones first: "Lady and the Tramp!"

"Yes." That's one... "Uh huh." Two! Could we have a winner? "I hate that one." Dang.

"Kronk's New Groove!"

"Uh huh!" One. "Yippee!" Two! "Nope!" Dang. "You always say no!" That's true. "No I don't!"

This predictable cycle repeats, until finally they agree on a movie. It's not the preferred movie for any of them, but it's an acceptable solution for all. I think this compromise will work.

I look at my watch: Hmmm. Only five out of my planned seven minutes was spent bickering about picking the movie. Not bad. My morning was looking pretty good so far.

I went back to the bedroom to quietly put my running clothes on. When I came back two minutes later, on my way out the door, I overheard the following exchange:

Click click. "I want to watch this cartoon."

"No! I hate that one!" Click.

Then my oldest child intervened, remembering the rules of the deal: "You guys, we all have to agree. No fighting," she wisely counselled them. Then she added impatiently, "Now give me that remote control." Click.

I smiled as I exited the house. That's how it often goes with my kids, and sometimes that's okay. RHIP, Rank Has It's Privileges, my career-army grandpa used to say. It's not really fair, but in the army, or in a house full of young kids incapable of effectively reasoning through problems on their own, sometimes a pecking order can be useful to resolve conflicts and preserve the peace. In these situations, such a simplification of the rules just works.

That said, our marriage definitely won't work that way. For my wife and me, conflict resolution needs to occur with a spirit of mutual cooperation and sacrifice. Neither one of us holds rank to trump the other. We are both accountable to a Higher Power for the way we treat each other.

Perhaps there's some symbolism in the scriptural account of how Adam and Eve were created. After Adam was created, the scriptures say that God took one of his ribs and made Eve (see Genesis 2:21-22). Note that it wasn't part of Adam's head, making Eve superior to him. Neither was it part of Adam's heel, making Eve inferior to him. Eve was taken from Adam's side, next to his heart, in what I believe to be a symbolic gesture of the equality and partnership the first couple were to achieve.

So when my wife and I have a disagreement, we can't simply grab the remote control of the TV of Life out of the other's hands, and push all the buttons we want to. We need to compromise, compromise, compromise. Sometimes that means giving up the cartoons we want most, in favor of the movie we can both agree on. We need to talk it over, work it out, make it do, or do without.

And doing without sometimes is okay with me; the TV is on too much anyway. Who turned that thing on in the first place?


chelse said...

Ya! I'm the first one to post a comment! I quite enjoyed this post and I'm happy that you and Brooke are equals, but I do submit the idea that it royally stinks to have the oldest always decide. The youngest Always gets thrown around with no say at all. I mean look at Andrew. How many times does Dawn or Rachel ask what movie he wants to watch. Sure, he might not care now, but one day he'll open those pretty blue eyes and realized he's gotten ripped his whole life. and believe me, it won't be pretty. it's lucky I'm so normal right now!

Jenny and Al said...

I hate the whole idea of RHIP! Just ask Lisi how many times she told me that I got to pet the "bum" half of the kitty while she got to pet the head, or how many times she claimed that my stuffed animals were actually hers! I demand equality!

LuckyMatt said...

All right, all right, you caboose children. Settle down. You guys have no idea how many privileges you guys get that the oldest kids don't get. Parents have more wisdom, more money and less energy, so you get better parenting, more stuff, and you get away with murder. But you guys don't have any idea...and that's the definition of "spoiled." I figure it all balances out in the end (by which I mean the bum end of the kitty).