"But you can do in half a minute what it takes me a half hour to do!" That was my latest salvo in our ongoing struggle to figure out who had what responsibilities in our marriage.

I really don't believe it's Marilyn's responsibility to help me get dressed in the morning. But sometimes I get to feeling sorry for myself. Sorry I have cerebral palsy. Sorry my muscles don't do what I want. Sorry it takes me so much more time than the average person to do the things I HAVE learned to do.

The type of cerebral palsy I have is called athetoid. It basically involves a lack of coordination and little control over voluntary movement. But I have all the involuntary movement you could ask for. I mean, if I could get paid (at a very cheap rate, mind you) for my involuntary movement, I could retire at a very young age indeed. For example, if I want to move my hand from point A to point B, my hand nearly always goes from point A through points Z, F, H, and God knows where else, before reaching point B. I also have some spasticity, which is a compounding factor. This is like overcoming resistance on the way from point A to point B. Sometimes the resistance is great. At other times there's no resistance to my motion at all.

I must admit that about once a decade I execute a movement that is sheer perfection. There's no resistance. No wasted movement. I think about it once and, boom, I'm there. On these rare occassions I stop what I'm doing. Awe sets in. Not awe over what I've accomplished. Awe at the power of physically able people. The power to make their bodies do what they want almost every time. Amazing.

Anyway, Marilyn made it very clear before we got married that she was not a caretaker. She reinforced this point on the third day of our honeymoon. We were at the giant caldera of Haleakala volcano on Maui. After we had seen the small museum there we turned our attention to the trail into the caldera. Too steep and narrow for me. But she loves hiking and said goodbye. I went back to the small museum and learned a lot. I read every letter displayed in a case, on a plaque, or on a wall (even "MEN" and "WOMEN"). Twice. I strolled around the parking lot. Twice. I marveled at the vastness of the caldera. Numerous times. And I got sunburned. Getting sunburned at that altitude is easy, even for a guy from south Louisiana who likes to think of himself as cajun. After three hours, and having reassured herself of her autonomy, my Marilyn came happily hiking home.

Yes, if there's one thing I know about Marilyn, it's that she didn't marry out of a need to take care of me. And I believe that's good. That's healthy. I'm proud of having learned how to do so many things for myself. I'm proud that she doesn't have to take care of me. So why do I periodically get mad at her for not helping me enough?

Jealousy. When I was fourteen or fifteen I got into a fight with my best friend over a girl. I got pounded. Swore I would never be jealous again. Not because I got pounded, though that was reason enough, but because I almost lost a very good friend. Ah, but at that time I didn't realize that jealousy has many disguises. Now I'm older and wiser. I retract my oath never to be jealous again!

Sometimes I'll struggle getting my sock on for 15 or 20 minutes. She'll help me because we have to leave NOW and, presto, it's on. Sometimes she wants me to come to bed at a reasonable hour (translate that "early") and take my bath in the morning (which doesn't leave time for me to also dress myself in the morning.) On these occasions she dresses me completely. Undershirt, undershorts, shirt, pants, socks, and shoes. The works in five minutes. It takes me about an hour to do that same stuff by myself.

So I get jealous that she can do things so much faster than I can. If she would dress me in five minutes (okay, ten to fifteen minutes) instead of my taking an hour to dress myself, she'd be helping me greatly by freeing me to do less mundane things, right? After all, what's five minutes (okay, ten to fifteen minutes) to her when she can do things so much more quickly, right? I knew you'd come over to my side.

Now that you're on my side, can you argue? I don't argue very well, especially when Marilyn starts making valid points. Oh, I try to convince her, and myself, that the things she brings up are "beside the point", but they aren't. Like, How much cooking do I do? Zilch. How much cleaning do I do? Near zilch. How much grocery shopping do I do? I go with her when I feel like it. How much gardening and laundry and errand-running and negotiating with repairmen do I do? You got it. Not much.

I'm not a total slug, though. I do work, pay bills, figure out the budget, and provide great companionship and support (Marilyn uses the word great, so I'm not bragging).

The bottom line is that Marilyn has a lot more to do than I do. She may be able to do things more quickly than me but, because she has to wade through so much more stuff, we each end up with about the same amount of leisure time. This realization always stymies my arguments and makes me appreciate anew the wonderful wife I have. She is wonderful in a lot of ways, one of the most important being to help me remember that I'm better off working at my independence.

Still, if only I didn't have to spend that hour dressing myself...

Glenn P. Hebert
Circa 1990

This essay is, of course, free for the viewing and/or printing for individual use. Printing for the purposes of distribution is prohibited without express written consent of the author, Glenn P. Hebert .

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