A Tivo box brimming with new fall shows has left me not only with many options, but also reflecting on those options and what we ultimately choose to watch. In my home, shows fall into three categories: his, hers, and ours. The his and her shows are what you’d expect. The ones that I find surprising are the ones that make it into that murky “ours” category. My husband, Mike, has a very tight work schedule, leaving us little tv time together. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that we usually cram this in with our dinner before he heads off to bed around 8pm so that he can get up around 4:30am for work. Prior to our Tivo days, this generally left us watching something neither of us really liked but that we both agreed to so that we could share these moments of distractions and decompression.
Now that we have Tivo, I must admit, I am often surprised at what we both want to watch. Sure, we have our comedic staples with most of America, like “The Office,” “The Middle,” and “Modern Family.” But we also choose some shows that I am continually surprised by. For instance, we watch “Toddlers and Tiaras,” and “Dance Moms.” Now, let me mention here that my husband is not short on testosterone. He’s in the military. He’s frequently trying to convince me to go to a gun shoot with him. We have a garage full of motorcycles. He loves plowing through the woods on his mountain bike totally oblivious to how sweaty and dirty he is. For our honeymoon he wanted to go camping.
Mike’s abundance of testosterone is not the only thing that makes our enjoyment of these shows surprising. I myself have a pretty low thresh-hold for reality tv. I also don’t like being reminded that most people my age are focused on procreating. Raising children was a destination that I looked forward to with great anticipation and fondness but have found myself detoured away from. So, you would think, that shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras,” and “Dance Moms” would be receiving three angry-red thumbs-downs instead of season passes on our Tivo box.
What is going on here? Let me go back to the statement in the first paragraph, that my husband and I spend this time distracting and decompressing. We want some relief from the heady topics that have weighed our thoughts down throughout the day. Some of these are specific to each of us as individuals and some are shared.
I can lend a supporting ear to my husbands work stressors but they are ultimately his. I can also not fully understand what it means to be the “well-spouse.” Or to be so dedicated to my country and my family that I never feel like I’m fulfilling my obligations to either enough.
Mike, on the other hand, can see me struggling with my health, but cannot fully understand what it is to be the one with the chronic illness. He does not know what it is like to have to fight with your body to be productive, or to have your mind feel so foggy that you can’t think clearly. He cannot completely grasp the difficulty of feeling worthwhile and maintaining hope with innumerable days spent on the couch. He does not know what it is like to lose so much of who you are that you no longer feel like the same person.
However, both our lives are altered and we face those changes together. In our vows we committed to caring for one another in sickness and in health. Granted, neither of us thought sickness would be the predominating experience or would trump our plans for a typical life-path. We thought of sickness as a bump in the road, not the road itself. Now that we are on this chronic-illness road, we face the task of holding together our marriage when over 75% of relrelationships in our situation fail. In this regard, we both yearn to do more for the other person’s diminished happiness and lost dreams but innately feel our limitations.
We also have friends and family for whom we are concerned, care about and whose company we enjoy. Together we pray for these people but are often frustratingly limited to do more for them or to maintain regular social interaction. We frequently have to cancel engagements and are thus afraid to make commitments. We’ve also missed many important events. Due to these canceled commitments, what is viewed as a lack of reciprocity on our part, and because many people don’t know how to relate to our situation and thus choose not to relate, we have both lost many close friends.
As a couple we also deal with the more general side of chronic illness and life. We attend doctors appointments, need to get food on the table, keep our house cleanish, and wait for the next shoe to drop, as life has taught us it will.
Whatever our specific individual and family stressors are at the moment, certain reality programing seems to hit the mark. Realizing that our lives have not played out in a “typical” way does not seem quite so bad when we watch moms competing with their own toddler-daughters for how many crowns they can win. We obviously aren’t the only ones mourning our lost lives. Debating whether or not to take a pain killer so that I can function doesn’t seem so drastic when I see a 10 month-old bottle fed a red-bull so that she can make it through a pageant. Feeling appalled at parents teaching their daughters that beauty or success is more important than being a good person makes me realize that perhaps I am still at least part of who I used to be. Anger at parents forcing their daughters to risk permanent injuries
before they’re even teenagers is easier to face than my own anger at the mounting permanent side-effects from my medications. I may not have much of a choice when it comes to my health, but at least the decisions are mine and made with an adult-mind-set. Spending money on travel expenses to and from Johns Hopkins and medical bills doesn’t seem so outrageous compared with the exuberant amounts thrown into costumes and training for kids who aren’t even sure if they enjoy the activity.
The truth is, my husband and I have a lot of “unbelievable” and “crazy” things in our lives. We like to sit down together and gawk at how unbelievable and crazy other people’s’ lives are. And, due to my limited preference for reality tv, “Toddlers and Tiaras,” and “Dance Moms” are shows that we agree on. We both find it important to share our “decompression,” in order to help keep us out of that scary 75%. And what can bond you like rewinding and replaying a three-year-old taking a dive off the stage because she couldn’t see through her fake lashes? Do we believe these kids should be in these shows? No. But we also wouldn’t choose for me to have a chronic illness. We’ll enjoy the silver lining when and where we can.