In praise of modern families, and bickering.

27 Mar

For some years now, Mrs Chook and I have shared a house, The Dog, and a domestic life, for the most part, harmoniously. At first we were the subject of  some salacious speculation in our village, especially when my separated second husband came to visit one Christmas because he was lonely in Sydney, got sick, and thoroughly overstayed his welcome.

At the time I was unaware of the gossip because I didn’t care. It always surprises me that anybody would be interested, but unconventional domestic arrangements still frighten and confuse some people. This is why we can’t have gay marriage. Frightened and confused people are preventing it.

Our main method of dealing with domestic tensions is to bicker them out. We are perfectly comfortable with this, though a friend recently refused to travel in the car with us because she said our bickering reminded her too much of travelling with her parents.

Real bickering contains no malice. Indeed, it demands love and affection as a prerequisite. In their absence, it ceases to be bickering and becomes acrimony. I concede, though, that for some, the demarcation line can be obscure.


We have complaints against one another, mostly small, but they can be the most aggravating. For example. We never eat breakfast together. I eat mine at peculiar times, and usually at my desk or roaming. This morning I ate the last two caper berries before Mrs Chook got round to food. I had no idea they had her name on them, and frankly, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference if I had, because I wanted them. Mrs Chook informed me she had been looking forward to those berries, and there was a brief and futile dispute, because, eaten.

This goes the other way, usually with chocolate. I only feel like chocolate sometimes, while she likes it all the time. So when I finally get around to thinking I’ll have chocolate, I go to the cupboard and it’s all gone. I keep meaning to hide some, but I always forget.

Yesterday she “accidentally” wore my blue Speedos (the same colour as hers, we bought them at the same time in the sale at the Speedo shop) even though there are two sizes difference between her and me. She swears she didn’t take them out of my swim bag and that I left them on the washing line but whatever, I got to the pool later with no cossies, and the pool is 30 minutes drive away.

The week before she got around all day in my bra, same situation, bought together cos sale, again, two sizes difference between her bra and mine, but did that stop her? She didn’t even notice. I had no other clean bras and she’d gone to work.

Some winters ago she put my favourite blue jumper in the washing machine and shrank it beyond all redemption. That still hurts.

A few days ago I completely forgot I was boiling eggs, until I heard something that sounded like gunfire, ran upstairs to see what was happening, and found four eggs exploded all over the kitchen walls and ceiling, and a saucepan that went into the tip pile. Mrs Chook did not remonstrate with me for my carelessness. She even helped me clean up, though this is not the first time I’ve done that.

One day last year, she didn’t turn the gas off properly & when I lit it there was this explosion and all the hairs on my arms were singed. She then put up an enormous notice on the kitchen wall that read “TURN OFF THE GAS.” I added “FUCKING”, twice.

She says I don’t listen. She says I look as if I’m listening but she can tell my head is somewhere else altogether and sometimes, to test me, she asks me half an hour later what she’s said. I usually make something up. She says she has to make an appointment with me to discuss domestic matters because I’m always too engrossed in something. She says I am very difficult to live with at times, and that she gets sick of me never paying attention.

On the occasions when we go shopping together, we almost always get into a fight. I loathe shopping. My idea of shopping is to throw everything I think we might need into the trolley times two, so I don’t have to come back anytime soon. Mrs Chook, on the other hand, likes to read the labels and see where everything is coming from and what’s in it. This shits me to tears.

We have successfully bickered our way through every one of our differences, even big ones, every time they arise. There have been tears, and occasionally someone throws something, but it has always been negotiated down to bickering, if at times with tissues.

The best bickering always ends in Shut up. You shut up. No you shut up. I said it first. You fucking didn’t, I did. Well I’m saying it now. I don’t care. Shut up. You shut up. Don’t tell me to shut up…until The Dog bites somebody. There is much to be said for allowing the inner child out at such times.

Three of my dearest male friends have also successfully shared living arrangements for over two decades. Some years ago the five of us took an apartment together in Barcelona for a few weeks. Three of us were giving papers at the Universitat de Barcelona, & the others came for support and the fun.

We’d never stayed together for longer than a night or two. We had no idea how it would work out, but the apartment was just off Las Ramblas, a ten minute walk from the Universitat, cheap, and we had enough faith in our good natures to feel reasonably certain we could pull it off.

Mrs Chook and I thought we would have to curb our bickering, given we were all in close quarters for several weeks and not everybody understands our method of loving one another. For the first few days we took it outside, and bickered away happily while we gazed at Gaudi’s architectural feats, and ate tapas at various bars. Then we gradually became aware that our friends were tossing good-natured abuse at one another, going much further than we had yet dared, and we were amazed. At dinner one night, we brought the subject up. We admitted we’d been afraid they’d find our manners unseemly. They admitted they’d feared the same. They said most people didn’t understand how they talk to one another, and they had to be careful. They said they felt they’d taken a great risk, shacking up with us for all this time, and worried that at the end of it we might not like them anymore.

On the contrary, we assured them, we were learning so many new ways of bickering, and it was wonderful! By the end of our stay we were just one big happy bickering family, hell, we even learned to bicker in Spanish.

It’s such a cliché, to claim that there are many kinds of love. If one is open to the experience, it seems often to come from the most unexpected quarters, inconvenient, disturbing the settled, demanding acknowledgement and expression, dangerous and confronting, as well as offering  happiness, safety and refuge.

There as many kinds of families as there are kinds of love, in my experience. I love the family my friends have made. I love the family Mrs Chook and I have made. In neither situation has marriage or children played a part in the creation, but in both instances the original units have expanded until they contain many more sentient beings.

Next Wednesday, our family’s latest baby will be born. Mrs Chook and I will be there, as will her or his two other grandmothers. The baby’s grandfather and me, divorced now for more years than I care to consider, will drink champagne together and congratulate one another on the family we made. He will get a little drunk, and as usual hug me too hard for too long when no one is watching. He, his second wife, Mrs Chook and me, will be sharing the care of  our grandchild Archie, while his parents have a few days in peace with the new baby.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen this kind of life.

Love, actually.

32 Responses to “In praise of modern families, and bickering.”

  1. zerograv1 March 27, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Love this post – real life!


  2. helvityni March 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    Beware of label-readers, there would be more than bickering if my mate started reading labels on cans of toms.
    I can handle someone who is naive enough to think that little plastic containers of micro- wave-able Malaysian tucker actually contain some chicken, besides two spoonfuls of rice; when he’s not looking I fling them back on shelves. I let the pre-cooked super market lasagna stay, even if I know it’s horrid….I let him find out once again how bad it really is, whilst I eat the salad and some Italian bread , looking smug, when he admits that it’s not edible…no bickering 🙂


  3. Anonymous March 27, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Jennifer this is so beautifully life-affirming, and so perceptive!

    Yes, I always say that I’d rather go hungry/thirsty than go shopping.

    Hmmm, and my partner always ticks me off for drinking the booze she’s reserved for cooking. I tell her it’s because I can’t cointreaul myself!

    (Sam Jandwich here by the way. My work IT system seems to have decided Sheep is too subversive…)


  4. Anonymous March 27, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    I am missing your bickering at present ! But off to the impressionists here in Prague. Enjoyed this post it made me smile and I could just about hear you two from here !


    • Jennifer Wilson March 27, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

      Ahahaha! You always say we sound like an old married couple! I miss you too.


      • Hypocritophobe March 27, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

        Do you finish each other sentences,when in company?
        Do what you tell the other ‘half’ not to do?
        (And cop the lecture?)
        Mumble under your breath just so you ‘think’ you have the last word?


  5. hudsongodfrey March 27, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    That was great. I have a similar dissertation I’ve delivered from time to time on swearing properly and terms of endearment that include some of the foulest language you’re every likely to encounter.

    Did you ever have one of those moments during a bickering session where your opponent landed a verbal blow that actually made you laugh. Or maybe you stopped to say, “hey that one actually hurt”, and were met with profuse apology. I think those are familiar moments for many and oddly treasured even if there are many more times when the old blood pressure could have done with a break from the routine clash of egos.


    • helvityni March 28, 2013 at 9:27 am #

      Hudson, the bickering gets so silly at times, that the only way out of it is to laugh….
      Yesterday I found five strawberries in our mini veggie patch, I ate one and told hubby how nice it was.. Save SOME for me, was his reply.
      I threw all FOUR at him…

      Silly bickering indeed.


      • hudsongodfrey March 28, 2013 at 10:59 am #

        The five second rule definitely applies in relation to throw strawberries. Definitely still edible 🙂


    • samjandwich March 28, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      Hudson, you just reminded me of a terrific argument I had with my brother once upon a time.

      me; you’re a […]
      him: are not
      me: are too
      him: are not
      me: are too
      him: are not
      me: are too
      him D2

      Chirpy little fellow always stops you in your tracks…


      • hudsongodfrey March 28, 2013 at 11:00 am #

        Bicker in Star Wars code you must not!


  6. paul walter March 27, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    The eschatology continues to defeat me. The Dog gets a single mention and nothing of Jane.
    Guadi’s architecture is all right, but wouldn’t it be expensive to travel half way round the world just to look at a termite mound in Barcelona?


  7. 730reportland March 28, 2013 at 2:13 am #

    lt`s pointless reading the labels. They won`t tell you if it contains horse-meat.


    • paul walter March 28, 2013 at 6:26 am #

      Chick-a-Filly,or Filly of chicken. delightful on a freezing colt morning.
      Gelding the lilly..


      • helvityni March 28, 2013 at 9:30 am #

        The Dutchies might even be looking for a piece of horse meat in the can, makes them homesick..


        • paul walter March 28, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

          No doubt, if it comes from IKEA, they will have it as filly mignon, curried of course, with just a dab of Philly cheese.


          • Hypocritophobe March 28, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

            I prefer Black caviar,although I think I got ripped off.It tasted more like fish.


            • paul walter March 28, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

              EXCELLENT comment, must for get the this case made from the real thing.


  8. paul walter March 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    Apolgia Typos..”must’nt forget” horse radish. Hors d’ouvre!


    • Hypocritophobe March 28, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

      Falafel lap was murdered.


      • paul walter March 28, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

        And then used in a delicious mare-nay.
        Only trouble was,afterwards everyone got a dose of the trots.
        Had they used the saddle, it may have made a great roast.


        • Hypocritophobe March 28, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

          You can lead a horse to water, and with enough veges make a bloody big soup!


          • paul walter March 29, 2013 at 4:01 am #



            • hudsongodfrey March 29, 2013 at 10:52 am #

              You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.
              Dorothy Parker, When asked to use the word “horticulture” correctly in a sentence


              • Hypocritophobe March 29, 2013 at 11:05 am #

                Devils oh Whores back!


                • hudsongodfrey March 29, 2013 at 11:28 am #

                  Which brings us neatly back to recipes for whores, or was that horse meat.


          • redjos March 30, 2013 at 12:08 am #

            You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead!


  9. Hypocritophobe March 29, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Well if someone gave me a horse for Eggster…
    I’d call him????

    A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
    And no one can talk to a horse of course
    That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Egg.

    Go right to the source and ask the horse
    He’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.
    He’s always on a steady course.
    Talk to Mr. Egg.

    People yakkity yak a streak and waste your time of day
    But Mister Egg will never speak unless he has something to say.

    A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
    And this one’ll talk ’til his voice is hoarse.
    You never heard of a talking horse?

    Well listen to this.

    I am Mister Egg.
    Sorry to be such a nag.


  10. paul walter March 31, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    “I am the egg-man
    You are the egg-men
    I am the Walrus”


    • paul walter March 31, 2013 at 6:52 am #

      Walrus pie, anyone?



  1. Welcome to Monday ~ 1 April 2013 | feminaust ~ for australian feminism - April 1, 2013

    […] No Place For Sheep writes about the diverse ways in which families gather and function (and bicker!). […]


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