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Playing the Blame Game

Sometimes it's easier to point the finger than take responsibility. It sure feels better; at least for a little while.

Four-month-old Ashton had his eyes clenched and mouth wide as he screamed. The bawling wouldn’t stop and I was getting frantic. The noise was annoying, but I was most concerned about Isaac, my sleeping 2-year-old who I desperately didn’t want wakened from his afternoon nap. Naptime is sacred.

“Shhh, shhh, shhh, c’mon boy, pleeeeaaaaase,” I bounced and bucked Ashton on my hip. I hummed a tune manically. “Waaaahhh … Waaaahhh!!!” Ashton was just getting warmed up. My eyes darted about the room, searching for a solution.

That’s when I noticed the window was open wide. On an otherwise quiet Saturday, our neighbors were being treated to an all-out scream fest. This hollering wasn’t slowing, so I went to close the window. Big mistake. I tugged the cord to raise the Venetian blind so I could reach the window latch, causing a disastrous chain reaction.

The cheap plastic blind snapped, causing my hand to jerk against a box fan that was perched on my desk, which toppled against a 32 oz. plastic MEGA cup that splashed its entire contents — ice water — onto my laptop computer.

“Waaaahhh … Waaaahhh!!!” Forget the neighbors, now the screams were mine. Ashton and I shrieked in unison, rage uniting father and son. Instinctively, I added choreography and we lurched and spun around the room, incapacitated by anger. I still don’t know what Ashton was so mad about. But my computer was fried, my afternoon ruined, and I knew there was only one person to blame — my wife, Sonja.

Don’t ask me why I blame Sonja when things go wrong. But at this particular moment, with my beloved about 30 miles away, it seemed completely logical to take my frustration out on her. She shouldn’t have allowed me to be in this situation, I thought, in between much wailing and gnashing of teeth — gnashing of tooth, in Ashton’s case. It was Sonja’s fault because she had gone shopping with her sisters, leaving me with a raging baby and a defective window covering.

I know it makes no sense, but in 10 years of marriage I’ve often pointed my finger at my wife when a) accidents happen, b) I do something stupid or c) any other time I’m in a foul mood. Often I blame her when I can’t find something I need, like my keys. In my mind she’s always shuffling things around the house like she’s the mistress of a domestic shell game. If I can’t find an item it’s obviously her fault. Then I find my keys in my bag, pocket or on the counter and realize I’m a fool.

I know I’m not the only guy who plays the blame game. The first recorded instance is virtually as old as sin itself and suggests blaming the wife is in our very DNA. Way back when, in the Garden of Eden, do you remember Adam’s reply when God asked if he’d eaten the forbidden fruit?

“The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it,” Adam said, probably with a lot of conviction. I feel you, Adam! You’re a real man’s man, in an original sin kinda way. Indeed, blaming the wife may be the second sin committed in the history of humanity. That’s quite a legacy, boys. And now, it’s been passed to me.

A few days after drenching my laptop, Sonja and I partook in an activity that’s cleansed couples throughout the ages — Egyptian ear-candling. For those who don’t live in California, or shop at organic food outlets or wear clothing made of hemp, ear candling is a homeopathic method of cleaning the ear canal. I had never tried it, but like every rational person, I figured my ear canal needed some work. Naturally, raking a Q-tip over my eardrum seemed a bit abrasive. So we decided to use fire.

Ear-candling is dangerous and requires trust so it’s not recommended for newlyweds or children, and especially not for newly married children. It involves one person lying on his side and sticking an 11-inch cone of papery wax, the “candle,” into his ear. Then his partner lights the protruding end of the candle on fire. The smoke and heat create a vortex that melts the earwax and sucks it from the inner ear into the cone. Gross? Absolutely. But I couldn’t wait to try it. I was imagining the coolness of hearing in the equivalent of Dolby THX. Earwax begone!

Ear candling has its obvious risks, but we’d been married almost a decade so I assumed we were golden. Sometimes, these assumptions can ruin marital bliss. But I ask you, what kind of a marriage do you have if you can’t stick a flaming cone into your spouse’s ear?

We were eager to begin and I jumped to go first. Sonja gathered towels to protect me from the flame and fiery ash that would be inches above my face, as I lay on the floor on my side. Sonja started placing towels over my head, but I stopped her. Ever the committed sports fan, I wanted to watch Monday Night Football. My interest in the game also clouded my judgment about my apparel. I was wearing sweat pants and a cotton V-neck undershirt.

So there I am, head on a pillow, lying on the floor with a lighted candle sticking out of my ear. The burning waxy cone sounds like a firestorm’s penetrated my skull. I’m nervous — especially when Sonja says anxiously that a tower of hot ash is growing as the candle burns toward my face. This is making it hard to pay attention to the game, I note.

Normal ear-candling procedure calls for the assistant to neatly trim the finger of sizzling ash so it falls harmlessly into a bowl of water. However, when Sonja snipped the ash, the scorching residue fell into the gaping neck of my undershirt. Football was suddenly unimportant compared to my searing flesh.

“Ahhhh…Hot! Hot! Hot!” I hissed. I had the presence of mind not to overreact, because a blazing torch was still protruding from my head. But I felt every point of connection as the blazing ash broke into bits and tumbled in a mini rockslide down my shirt. My flesh smoldered from my shoulder to my armpit and all the way down to my love handle. At this point, the Green Bay Packers could’ve danced the hokey-pokey in my living room and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Sonja apologized profusely and quickly extinguished the flaming candle. I sat up and surveyed the damage. My undershirt was spotted with an archipelago of singed holes and my skin was dotted with blistered burns. I was so angry there was only one logical thing to do, pile guilt on Sonja. I made some comments I now regret; about how she should’ve been more careful, blah, blah, blah.

But I quickly realized my own culpability in the situation and apologized. Anyone who volunteers to put a flaming candle into his ear, then forgoes protective measures to watch football, doesn’t have grounds to complain if there’s an accident.

God used these two experiences — dousing my computer and the ear-candling disaster — to reveal to me my tendency to blame Sonja for accidents and my own poor choices. I’m not sure how I got into this habit; I know it’s contrary to my wedding vows. I know I didn’t stand in front of a minister and 300 people 10 years ago and say, “I promise to love you, protect you and get grouchy when we’re lost on a road trip.” Maybe couples should start making their vows after they’ve been married.

Of course I still play the blame game — I’m not a saint. But I catch myself now, and have learned to apologize to Sonja when it happens. In case I ever think I’m clear of this tendency, I can always take off my shirt and observe the faint scars that are still visible on my chest.

Copyright 2004 Marshall Allen. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Marshall Allen

Marshall Allen is a journalist in Pasadena, Calif. He and his wife, Sonja, have two boys.

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