Posted in Family, Home

Something to Prove (or… “MOMMY can change a tire!”)

My hubby and I were having a thought-provoking conversation the other day, about the (sometimes) delicate balance between care-taking and independence.  He knows me well enough to understand that I have a sort of fierce pride in the knowledge that I can take care of myself.  In the year that I was single, I bought my own house, worked on my own landscaping, mowed my own lawn, kept the tires rotated and oil changed on my own car, made my own meals, managed my own bills, took my own vacations…

changing oil
changing the oil this morning… “I either need some more muscle or some more torque!”

There’s a story that has pretty much become a family punch-line, about the afternoon when my son Christian (seven at the time) and I arrived at my car in the supermarket parking lot and realized a tire had gone flat; Christian’s reflexive response was to wail, “Oh no–we don’t have a man with us!” To which I replied (with a fair amount of heat, it must be admitted), “OH noMOMMY can change a tire!”    I did change the tire (refusing several offers of help, in fact–on fire to prove a point) and we went on our way.

Four years later, any conversation on the topic of what-moms-are-capable-of-doing is likely to be punctuated by Christian roaring “Mommy can change a tire!” (and then collapsing into giggles). Evidently I made my point…

All that to say… I’m a person who can get unreasonably prickly at any implication that I’m incapable of doing things for myself.  Keoni and our sons joke that I’m “one of the guys,” and it’s true that I have a strong tendency toward some stereotypical guy-traits… I’ll refuse to go to the doctor until my chest-cold has turned into walking pneumonia, I can’t bear to ask directions when I’m lost, I’d rather spend hours trying to figure something out by myself than simply ask someone who knows, when I argue with someone I’m all about logic and dismissive of emotion…  I always wanted to be the girl who took care of her own shit.

But you wouldn’t guess this if you watched our household for a few days, because I am spoiled now. Keoni argues the semantics and says I’m not spoiled, just “well taken care of“–but I suspect most folks would agree with my verbiage. He does all the grocery shopping, cooks three meals a day for the family (every day), brings me breakfast and coffee in bed (every day), does all my laundry (and returns it to my closet according to my own peculiar system of organization), is the sole master of both the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower… I don’t even remember the last time I shaved my own legs. I am spoiled. And purring instead of prickling.

changing oil
Like my funnel? A soda-bottle dug out of the recycle bin and cut in half… Household on a budget! :)

What happened to the prickly-and-independent Me? I can only guess (and this was the topic of our conversation the other morning) that it’s Keoni’s acknowledgement–celebration, even–of my capacity for independence that relaxed me into allowing and enjoying his care-taking.  I don’t have anything to prove with him–he already believes in me.

He’s also enthusiastic about sharing knowledge with me–and for the first time in my adult life, I don’t feel threatened by being taught. I’m learning to handle a pistol. Today I learned how to change the oil on the car. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s so clearly an intellectual equal that makes this so easy. It might sound counterintuitive, but I was more fierce-and-prickly about these things when I was an admittedly “dominant” partner—in my first marriage it was a joke between us (in friendlier days) that my Ex was the “chick” in the relationship, and I was the “guy.” Too much truth to it, unfortunately—it was not a relationship of equals, in too many ways, and I was always walking a fine line between “taking care of shit” and not making him feel threatened by me. Is it ass-backward that that was the time in my life when I was the most protective of my position as a-person-who-could-manage? Maybe… it’s because I didn’t have the luxury of lost-ness or “weakness.” If I didn’t step up, nobody would.

My first husband… didn’t have anything to teach me. In fact, he drove me kind of crazy with the things he couldn’t understand. His lack of a grasp of the basic (intuitive, I would have thought) principles of physics hampered activities ranging from home-improvement projects to sailing, I couldn’t talk about literature with him, and his response to being asked to read my writing was to get grumpy. His first year of teaching biology, I wrote his lesson-plans for him, and explained them every morning, and got into a shouting match with him on the Evolution unit when he wouldn’t treat the word “theory” in its scientific sense. Anything that he didn’t do, he made a point of belittling. My cross-country running wasn’t a real sport, my Master’s degree in creative writing wasn’t a real thesis, my stay-home-motherhood wasn’t a real job. (Though when I went back into the work-force and he was faced with summers at home, the kids went right into daycare. Hmm.) I was in a constant tug-of-war with myself between flaring up in defensive anger when my contributions were belittled, and “dumbing myself down” to appease his insecurities.

changing oil
#79 was our son’s football number last year (and Keoni’s before him)… He says this year he’s going to be #13–our lucky number!

Today, in contrast, when I was struggling to loosen the nut on the oil pan, I could freely comment that I needed either some more muscle or some more torque. (Since we didn’t have a wrench with a longer handle, Keoni lent me the muscle, and then I got right back under the car.) I spent fourteen years editing myself at home rather than saying what I knew. Maybe that’s why I was wired to be so desperate to show “I know!“–and so loathe to admit when I didn’t.

I did nothing but stunt myself with that, and I’m joyful now to be growing again, and learning. Joyful to be with someone who has things to teach me, and who is open to new things from me as well.  And joyful that  MOMMY can change the oil… now.


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

20 thoughts on “Something to Prove (or… “MOMMY can change a tire!”)

  1. Sounds so familiar to me. I have to do my best to give things out of my hand too, but I’m also missing the muscles sometimes. The only thing my husband has to do is to lend me his muscles sometimes, let me do the work and shut up :)
    Great you are getting spoiled now, I think you deserve it!


  2. I think it is the healthiest for a relationship when you have a blending of skills – and if the attitude underneath is “I take care of him and he takes care of me” it matters less who does exactly what.


  3. Kana, it seems to me that you found your other half–Keoni. Maybe that is why both of your names start with “K.” ;) I very much enjoyed reading your story of self-reliance. As I sometimes tell my husband, “we are capable of a lot, just that we tend to do only what it’s needed.”


  4. Can I just say: Tomboys ROCK! Independence ROCKS! and YOU rock! I just adore you! In our house, I have to clean out any science experiments in the fridge else the hubby yacks all over. There is nothing in this world sexier than a guy who can hold a conversation with you. That’s all there is to it.


  5. Loved this post. As someone that is embarking into a new marriage after being single for a few years….I hear what you are saying. I hope my new situation will be like yours….it is a bit terrifying to let anyone have any ‘power’ in my life but me. You are an inspiration. (I can change the tire too!_


  6. Wow. Your hubby sounds like my wife’s dream man. I think it’s better if she doesn’t read this blog. :)


  7. I spent a lotta years in inequitable relationships too … looking back, perhaps the lesson was to help me to name my power in spite of all that passive/aggressive opposition. In’it nice to know we get it right in the end?! :)


  8. I totally get this. My Grandma – who was widowed for over 40 years – had to do everything herself, and I really emulated her example. But it is so nice to know someone’s got your back, and you can split up the labour because you don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore!


  9. I never wanted to be the kind of woman who had to depend on a man to do something for her. I used to change my own oil, I changed my own tires (when the lug nuts weren’t over-tightened), had jumper cables and knew how to use them, used my tow hitch to pull people out of snow banks.

    All that to say a couple years ago I was on one of my first post-partum outings without the baby and came out of Target to find I had a flat tire. And it was raining. You better believe when the teenage employee asked if he could help me, I let him. It’s all about knowing when to accept help. It took me a very long time to understand that concept and I’m still working on following through on it! Sounds like you’re ahead of the curve!


  10. When I was younger, I did it all. Mostly because I was in relationships with men who did NOTHING. At about 30, I married a man who does it all… and have since had zero desire to change the oil, or a tire, or cut the grass… Although, I do still trim trees and skim the pool, along with my laundry duties! haha :-)


  11. Seems like we lived the same life my friend. I did all those things with my ex and guess what? My husband Phil spoils the crap out of me AND I LET HIM! I was with my ex for almost 16 years. So I feel you.


  12. For many years after my daughter and I were alone, I agreed to do anything. My biggest accomplishment was putting together the BBQ out of the box. My daughter was about six. She told EVERYbody how smart I was because I could put a BBQ together. Lately, I’ve become somewhat complacent–so what! I’m retired and my son-in-law is young. To preserve family politics, I let him do what he wants so I don’t have to correct him—I have opinions but I keep them to myself to keep the peace.


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