So my kids’ wonderful little progressive elementary school has a monthly “sing,” at which all the grades get together and sit crisscross applesauce on the floor and sing songs in the lobby while the parents join in. Many are songs I learned at summer camp, or old labor movement ditties with a few from the Paper Bag Players tossed into the mix. It’s very sweet, but of course you hear the lyrics totally differently when you’re the grownup.

This week, I was following along on the handout with “There’s a Hole in the Bucket.” For those who never learned it, the first few verses are:

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry dear Henry

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza,

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

The song goes on like that for, I don’t know, 15 verses, with Liza patiently suggesting various tools and repair options to address every obstacle Henry raises to fixing the bucket; each solution yields a new unforeseen reason why it will be impossible to fix the bucket and she suggests something else. (Full lyrics here.) This frustrating cycle of learned helplessness continues until at last, it becomes clear that double dumb-ass Henry is ill equipped to take any one of Liza’s many excellent suggestions and run with it. He ultimately concludes that the only thing that can fix the bucket is the bucket itself. You can just picture Henry sitting there in front of the game with a beer in one of those foam holders hollering excuses into the living room where Liza sits doing their joint tax return.

Anyway, the song comes full circle, and everyone laughs at what a knucklehead Henry is, and then we’re on to “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore.”

Yeah, OK, but what about Liza?  I always wondered that, from the very first time I sang the song at Jewish camp in the Poconos.

At this point allow me to state for the record (and by “for the record” I mean for my lovely and not-at-all Henryesque husband Paul) that the dynamic in my marriage in no way resembles that of Henry and Liza, who, according to the notoriously unreliable Wikipedia, must have been Germans circa 1700.  Not only does Paul need to be forced to relax, if there were a hole in our bucket, I would be the last person Paul would ask about it. And buckets being inexpensive relative to our income (especially compared to that of a German peasant in the 1700s) he’d probably just head to Home Depot for a new one.

So, is Liza to be pitied as the long suffering wife of a pea-brained and/or lazy clod? Or is she an enabler–by indulging his lack of initiative, is she at least partly to blame for the fact that the bucket, which of course is symbolic for their socioeconomic status, will likely always have a hole? Other theories?

I’m not sure what this has to do with being a Formerly, except I’m pretty sure this is formerly what many more marriages looked like than they do now. At least I hope so. Here’s my first verse of the new updated song. Please add your own!

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Not my problem, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry

Not my problem, dear Henry, deal with it yourSELF

Photo by: Erich Ferdinand, CC Licensed