I know a woman who is a grateful wife. She has been one for years. In fact, her gratitude has been as deep and constant as her affection. And together they have traveled a long, complicated road.
In the beginning, this young wife was grateful to find herself married to a man who let her work. That was in 1964, when even her college professer said without a hint of irony that the young wife was "lucky to be married to a man who let her work." People talked like that then.
Later, the wife looked around her at the men her classmates and friends had married and was grateful that her husband wasn't threatened, hurt, neglected, insulted -- the multiple choice of the mid-'60s -- by her job.
He was proud. And her cup overran with gratitude. That was the way it was.
In the late '60s, when other, younger women were having consciousness-raising groups, she was having babies and more gratitude.
You see, she discovered that she has a Helpful Husband. Nothing in her experience had led her to expect this. Her mother was not married to one; her sister was not married t one; her brother was not one.
But at 4 o'clock in the morning, when the baby cried and she was exhaused, sometimes she would nudge her husband awake (wondering only vaguely how he could sleep) and ask him to feed the boy. He would say sure. And she would say thank you.
The Grateful Wife and the Helpful Husband danced this same pas de deux for a decade. When the children were small and she was sick, he would take charge. When it was their turn to carpool and she had to be at work early, he would drive. If she was coming home late, he would make dinner.
All you have to do is ask, he would say with a smile.
And so she asked. The woman who had minded her p's and q's as a child minded her pleases and thank yous as a wife. Would you please put the baby on the potty? Would please stop at the store tonight for milk? Would you please pick up Joel at soccer practice? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
It is hard to know when gratitude first began to grate on my friend. Or when she began saying please and thank you dutifully rather than genuinely.
But it probably began when she was tired one day or night. In any case, during the car-time between one job and the other, when she would run lists through her head, she began feeling less thankful for her moonlighting job as household manager.
She began to realize that all the items of their shared life were stored in her exclusive computer. She began to realize that her queue was so full of minutiae that she had no room for anything else.
The Grateful Wife began to wonder why she should say thank you when a father took care of his children and why she should say please when a husband to care of his home.
She began to realize that being grateful meant being responsible. Being grateful meant assuming that you were in charge of children and laundry and running out of toilet paper. Being grateful meant having to ask. And ask. And ask.
Her husband was not an oppressive or even thoughtless man. He was helpful. But helpful doesn't have to remember vacuum cleaner bags. And helpful doesn't keep track of early dismissal days.
Helpful doesn't keep a Christmas-present list in his mind. Helpful doesn't have to know who wears what size and colors. Helpful is reminded; helpful is asked. Anything you ask. Please and thank you.
The wife feels, she says, vaguely frightened to find herself angry at saying please and thank you. She wonders if she is, indeed, an ingrate. But her wondering doesn't change how she feels or what she wants.
The wife would like to take just half the details that clog her mind like grit in a pore and hand them over to another manager. The wife would like someone who would be grateful when she volunteered to take his turn at the market or his turn at the laundry.
The truth is that after all those years when she danced her part perfectly, she wants something else. She doesn't want a helpful husband. She wants one who will share. For that, she would be truly grateful.