Psssst. Hey. Over here. It’s me, Lucy, writing from my new digs in an undisclosed location. See, this week’s Wife Swap was supposed to be another big culture war – religion, this time, I think. Exactly the kind of thing I complained about in my last recap. And lo and behold, this Wednesday rolls around, and where’s the holy war that was on the TV Guide? Gone. Instead, we got the old “differences in parenting and lifestyle” kind of swap. Coincidence? I think not. So I’m laying low for a bit, until they stop watching me. *looks over shoulder*
This week, we have some literal treehuggers versus corporate go-getters. The Cedarquist family – Keith and Nancy and assorted kids – live, literally, in a tree house in Vermont. It’s more like a regular house built around some saplings, but “tree house” sounds way cooler (even though it's not actually up IN a tree. Posers.) Nancy says that Keith’s great-great-grandfather died in a “tree accident” and so it’s like they were meant to live in a tree. Obviously Nancy has an imperfect understanding of how people generally react to the objects they blame for tragic deaths. The Cedarquists built the house themselves, they have no well and no electricity (solar) and no central heating – Nancy gets up every two hours at night to feed the stove. They’re way out in the back of beyond and get no visitors in winter. Keith works at a paper mill, but Nancy stays home with the kids, whom she home-schools. Well, in the sense that they’re at home. The schooling part is rather haphazard. The Cedarquists have a root cellar and so much food stored that they could stay in the house for months without going to the store – although why they’d even want to try is beyond me. Nancy believes that women are meant to run the household and raise the kids, while Keith thinks he won the lottery in such a domestic wife. He does no housework and no discipline; Nancy proudly says the dogs don’t even respect him. Looks like his wife doesn’t either. Nancy hopes the swap will teach Keith how to discipline the kids more.
Nancy will be swapping with Christy Oeth. The Oeths – Christy, husband Mike and various kids – live in Pennsylvania. They run their family like a business, on a very regimented schedule. Christy’s very Type A and works at a finance company, putting their youngest kids in daycare. Mike is working from home, and also does the cooking and the shopping. He has the grocery list in database form and has imported a map of the grocery store to speed efficiency. The Oeths both attended Harvard and are instilling in their children a sense of the importance of education. Christy loves her job, but realizes she’s missing a lot of the children’s childhoods. She hopes the swap will teach her to relax some.
A Woman's Work Is Never Done, And Her Mouth Shall Always Run
As usual, the women will live by the rules of the house the first week, and impose their own rules the second week. They get some time alone in each other’s house to poke through closets and judge laundry piles, then read a manual they left for each other describing the running of the house. As usual, Nancy and Christy are predictably surprised by the way the other lives her life; Nancy hates that Christy’s 15-month-old is in daycare, while Christy is not thrilled at the idea of roughing it with no contact with other people. She’s also surprised Nancy does all the discipline, while Nancy’s not real happy with Christy being the breadwinner of the family.
Their first meeting with the families goes just fine, although Mike decided to invite friends for dinner and Nancy quickly launches into a loud diatribe about how amazed she is that Mike does all the cooking and how she thinks that’s a woman’s job. A man eyes her and says stonily that he is a stay-at-home dad, thank you very much. Not one to embarrass easily, Nancy asks if that’s a theme in the neighborhood and whether they put it on the sign. Way to make friends, Nance.
Back at the treehouse, Christy is having trouble controlling six kids while taking care of the house, particularly without Keith’s help. She’s running so far behind in Nancy’s routine that Keith goes to bed before she finishes the dinner dishes. Throughout the night, an already-tired Nancy gets up every two hours, like clockwork, to put wood in the stove.
On her first morning, Nancy must take the youngest Oeths to daycare and then go to work. She’s never done the first, and she hasn’t done the second in 17 years. She’s upset about leaving them at daycare.
Meanwhile, Christy’s first morning is spent making pancakes – badly. Keith, well-trained to believe a woman should inherently know such things genetically, makes fun of her, and suggests they didn’t teach cooking at Harvard. They don’t teach it at his paper mill either, but we’ll get to that. Christy’s in tears at his callous attitude, and says she’d rather give birth than do Nancy’s chores. Keith is outside playing with the kids, and a frustrated Christy says he needs to grow up and take responsibility for his family.
Speaking of things they do teach at Harvard, Nancy is on her first day at Christy’s job. Since her “skill set” consists chiefly of making a mean peanut butter sandwich, she is sent to take minutes in a board of directors meeting. In a move that might help explain why she’s been out of the workforce for 17 years, when her oldest kid can’t be more than 11, Nancy spends the meeting doodling, and when she’s called upon to read someone’s comments back, she’s unable to do so. She later says she knew she’d mess it up, as she isn’t a Harvard graduate. I would point out that a Harvard graduate wouldn’t be relegated to note-taking, and that Nancy could have done the job just fine if she’d condescended to try.
In the treehouse, poor Christy IS trying, but devoting one’s attention to cooking does not make one a good cook. She’s made something involving an apple that Keith again makes fun of, while his own children mock him for making stupid jokes.
When Nancy gets home from work, Mike asks how the day went. Nancy says she’d rather spend six months in her own life than one day in Christy’s. Mike says it’s tough on Christy too, putting the kids in daycare and all, but that she makes the sacrifice for the family, for their future. Nancy says he can’t put the kids on a spreadsheet and plot out their future and think that takes care of them here and now. She leaves the room in tears.
Even when Keith isn’t around to be snide, Christy finds Nancy’s lot a hard one. She’s having a hard time home-schooling the older kids while the youngest two run wild, and the chaos is driving her crazy.
Maybe she did it on purpose, maybe not, but Nancy manages to oversleep. Mike arrives home from the gym one morning to find the kids up, trying to make their own breakfast, while Nancy snoozes. He says she should have been up and tells her they’re running way behind. She sniffs that she’s not Christy, and when Mike asks if she’s going to work, she says she doesn’t know. (another clue as to why Nancy is not in the workforce). When he points out that people go to this thing called “work” to “pay the bills,” Nancy storms out and slams the door behind her. If this is her reaction to any kind of criticism, it’s no wonder Keith refuses to contradict her at all in the tree house.
And Now For Something Completely Different
It’s time for the wives to impose their own rules on the households (and trees).
--The Cedarquists will have an open house to meet their neighbors and have some social interaction.
--The youngest kids will go to day care so she can concentrate on teaching the older ones.
--In the interests of working as a team, Keith will do the cooking.
--Keith is also to assert some authority and stop behaving like the seventh child.
--She’s quitting the job and staying home to home-school the kids. (which Mike says is ridiculous).
--She bought musical instruments as part of this instruction
--They’re going to buy chickens and build a coop as a family. (What two Harvard grads are going to do with chickens in a suburb with $100,000+ homes, she doesn’t say)
Mike gripes that all of Nancy’s “fun” ideas are meant to pit the kids against him, the un-fun dad.
With the Cedarquist youngsters in daycare, Nancy – and, oddly, Keith – is free to home-school. The kids themselves admit they got a lot more accomplished without the babies, although I suspect it’s also because they’re without Nancy.
Nancy’s first “lesson” involves taking the Oeth kids to a farm to pet horses and pick out their new chickens. She says she prefers to use “hands-on” methods of teaching children. Mike, looking like he’d like to get his hands on Nancy’s throat, says he’s waiting to see an actual lesson with, perhaps, a pencil.
Naturally, as chickens are wont to do, the new Oeth pets run wild in the house, crowing and pooping as if they were in their own coop. Funny how chickens make themselves at home that way.
Keith thinks of all the rules, Nancy is least likely to accept the daycare one. But, he sees the benefit to the older kids of being educated in a semi-quiet and structured environment, and thinks perhaps he’ll try to talk to Nancy about it. He misses her and he cries. Christy thinks he’s getting it, that the kids need better parenting. Left to Keith’s own devices, they might get it, but Christy hasn’t met Nancy.
The Sweet Lullabye of the Snare Drum
Nancy, meanwhile, is conducting a music “lesson” that is chiefly comprised of trying to produce noise. Unfortunately, she continues this while Mike tries to put the baby to sleep. He asks Nancy and the kids to quiet down, and then proceeds to get furious when they don’t. He tells Nancy that the next time she so blatantly disregards the needs of one of his children, it’s back to the tree house with her. She says he doesn’t understand what she’s trying to teach the kids.
But the fighting in the Oeth house isn’t over. Unimpressed with the quality of education Nancy is providing, Mike is breaking a rule and sending his children back to school. A brief “are too/are not” debate about this goes nowhere, but does result in the kids getting on the bus the next day. So, Mike wins. He says they weren’t getting the focus they needed (although really, one week off wouldn’t kill them).
In the tree house, Keith is doing laundry and cooking. Apparently they don’t teach cooking at his paper mill – har har – because he has managed to char some ribs beyond recognition. He realizes that he has taken for granted all that Nancy does. Later, Christy tries to help Keith discipline the kids, giving him a crash course in being firm and threatening punishment. It works fairly well; he feels like it’s baby steps, and Christy says he did fine.
After Home-School-Gate, things are tense in the Oeth house. Evidently Mike spent a whole day in a huff, and wouldn’t look at Nancy, and she says she never wants to feel that way again. He misses Christy, and says she’s a stronger force in his life than he realized. Nancy is thankful for realizing she’s happy in her life and doesn’t want the big house and all the things Mike has. They cry, they hug, etc.
The tree house has been flung open to the neighbors for an open house, to end the Cedarquist family’s isolation. And the Oeths build the chickens a house, a la Extreme Home Edition. Mike says he’s realized the family needs more fun and more family activities.
As the swap ends, Christy says she’ll miss the Cedarquist kids, while Keith thinks he might talk to Nancy about changing their lifestyle somewhat – maybe keeping the babies in daycare.
Always a Garbageman, Never a 'Santitation Specialist'
The two couples face each other across the table, and Nancy turns out to be even more bullheaded than she has seemed up till now. Christy says she feels like the kids aren’t going to be prepared for college if they choose to go, which Nancy hears as, “your kids must go to college or they’re worthless.” She says that if her kid wanted to be a gay garbageman, that would be fine with her. Keith, the more rational of the two, understands what Christy is saying, but Nancy just has a big chip on her shoulder and keeps interrupting. She feels like the Oeths have belittled her because she isn’t college-educated. It’s not that, it’s just that she’s loud and tacky.
Nancy also says she felt sorry for Christy when she took the kids to daycare. Mike agrees they need to do more as a family. Keith says he’s done a lot of growing up, and feels he and the kids have taken advantage of Nancy.
Oh, and when they get home? Nancy declares there will be no day care. Keith looks at her silently. So much for any balls he might have started to grow while she was gone.
We're Having Fun, Right on Schedule
Since the swap, both families have made changes. Keith and the kids are helping out more, Nancy is relaxing some, and she and Keith are going on their first vacation without the kids.
The Oeths are focusing a lot more on fun, family activities (check Mike’s spreadsheet, he probably can’t help blocking out time for it: “7 to 7:30 p.m., gymnastics in the family room.”)
Are we running out of wives? Next week it’s “Vacation Swap.” A family that goes on skiing vacations will swap with a family that vacations in an RV. Um, ok. I’m fine with anything that doesn’t return us to the culture wars. But I’m going to stay in my undisclosed location a little longer, just in case.
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