There is much ado these days about the relationship between girls' expectations of womanhood and the lives they ultimately lead.
It seems fulfilling these expectations can be quite a task, with subconscious forces working an almost irreconcilable conflict between the conscious desire for independence and the neurotic need to be dependent on a man. The disparity between expectation and fact even has a name, the "Cinderella Complex," artfully coined in Colette Dowling's book.
Boy's expectations do not seem to be such popular stuff for scrutiny, at least insofar as the roles they play as husbands and fathers. Most boys, I suppose, expect to become men leading a life of work outside the home, returning to the warmth of a family.
To a degree, my fondest expectations have been met. I have a charming wife and 9-month-old son, both quite capable of performing in the roles I envisioned years ago. Yet there is a real difference between what I expected and what I got. This disparity causes me an irreconcilable conflict between my conscious need for a wife and family and the subconscious desire to cling to prolonged bachelorhood.
I call this the Jim Anderson/Father Knows Best Complex, and no $12.95 treatise is necessary to trace its origin. Its existence is explained by the simple fact that my return from work roughly coincides with the grand finale to "Arsenic Hour."
Arsenic Hour is a term of home-made origin. It refers to the hour and one-half before infants and young children eat dinner. This period sometimes commences as early as the end of the afternoon nap, when baby is sick and tired of being cared for and entertained by mother and demands an unbelievably high degree of original and creative stimulation. Baby is not cute at this time.
Arsenic Hour is marked by periods of prolonged moaning interspersed with inconsolable crying jags. It usually ends with the serving of dinner. This horror is compounded by mother, who is equally sick and tired of entertaining baby all day and is having an Arsenic Hour all her own.
While women are the most frequent victims of Arsenic Hour, I have served my time. My wife graciously reserves weekend Arsenic Hours for me and generously provides me with a detailed account of her daily Arsenic Hour experiences. Hence my desire, sometimes overpowering, to unload the both of them.
The pattern is usually the same: Baby awakens from a nap around 3:30; parent immediately scouts out all available toys. They work for about 15 minutes. Changed locales, stories, games, carrying around, swinging, songs and pulling the dog's hair use up another 45 minutes of hard-earned peace. There you have it -- awake from a nap at 3:30, activities over at 4:30, still over an hour to kill before dinner. The final act to Arsenic Hour has arrived.
Now what? I once tried an early dinner for baby. At the time, this idea seemed brilliant. What I managed to accomplish was to transfer Arsenic Hour from 4:30 in the afternoon to 5:30 the next morning -- a mistake I make no more.
Some years ago, a grape-juice manufacturer invented the concept "Valley of Fatigue." According to the ads, this valley occurred in the afternoon when folks were too pooped to effectively continue the day's activities. A swig of grape juice, it promised, would lift you from the pits of this valley and return you to a state of happy sensibility and clear thinking. "Valley of Fatigue," likely the simple result of low blood sugar, should never be confused with Arsenic Hour. Nothing eradicates Arsenic Hour, least of all unfermented grapes.
You may have another name for this clearly identifiable period of time. "Trauma Hour," "Satan's Revenge" and "Blood Alley" are just a few I have heard bandied about. One particularly lugubrious friend has coined the term "Death Hour." While the hyperbole may seem a bit ominous, you get the drift.
The lack of a cure for Arsenic Hour is no reflection on heroic attempts at eliminating this curse. One friend found this period successfully combated by wheeling her baby around shopping malls. She literally wore out the wheels of two strollers tooling around every arcade in the metropolitan area, no mean feat on the slick surfaces at most malls.
Another friend found the car to be of temporary assistance. Like it or not, every day at 4 p.m. she got into the car with baby and started driving. Needless to say, this cure has become quite expensive.
A neighbor regularly packed up the kids, went to a friend's house and had a couple of beers. To the extent she participated in Arsenic Hour her plan was quite successful. Arsenic Hour continued along its relentless course, only she didn't care.
I no longer sneer at parents whose children are glued to television sets in the late afternoon. I pray for the day my son will be entertained by Hong Kong Phooey or some other ridiculous cartoon character. I no longer criticize mothers who hand over the baby as soon as an even marginally ambulatory father enters from work. The temptation is irresistible.
If I walked in the door and found my son screaming in his playpen and my wife curled up in the closet I would be horrified but not unsympathetic. I know how hard it is even when I am lucky enough to have avoided it at the office.
I am told these are the best times with a baby. That the weeks and months when a child is under one year of age are the easiest and most pleasant. These days are in fact wonderful. But Arsenic Hour reduces the happiness quotient substantially. I long for the day when my son is in school and more on his own--when he can handle his Arsenic Hour independently and leave me to handle mine.
I had hoped the teen-age years would be more relaxing for parents; when children are fully capable of self-starting and carrying out their own activities. This may not be true, but only mark the beginning of another erroneous expectation. My sister informs me that her years with teen-age children have given rise to the term "Arsenic Decade."
I can hardly wait.