I went down, early morning, to get my coffee supplies, which usually I would have prepared the night before. This morning, for the first time in months, he got up (at dawn, as usual) without giving me a kiss. (A 😘 I’d once asked for, thus orchestrated.) (Damned auto-keyboard, I type k-i-s-s, but for some reason it turns into winky-face blowing a heart from its lips. The machine is making me look sweeter than I am, lol/101.)
We’d had an argument the night before, also rare, since we try to follow my grandad’s marital advice, never go to sleep angry.
I’ve been grouchy, suffering Internet withdrawal. When I’m not being reactive online, turns out I switch to being reactive offline. Recent months of relatively tranquil green seas are getting turbulent again, on the home front.
When I come down, I see him sitting at the table with a coffee and a tear-off-sheet notepad, making his list of to-do’s for the day.
My heart softens with love for him; the diligent and hard-working person he is. I hug him lightly from behind, kissing his nut-brown forehead, tanned from working outside with the boys on April weekends. “You’re such a good man.” I know I shouldn’t label, but it’s an old habit passed down from my often-praising parents; and he certainly is a good man. I admire his list, in written in block letters, far neater than mine have gotten over the years, and each item with a checkbox drawn beside it.
Contrary to his usual modus of utter efficiency in all things, he hand-writes the same things every day. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Exercise. Chores. Walk. And then a couple or several other key tasks which change daily.
I’d shared this trick with him (learned online) years ago: the daily three MIT’s. I don’t use it anymore, possibly to my detriment, possibly not. He still uses it. He gets a lot of stuff done this way. His energy is machine-like and blows my mind with its difference from mine, which is more like a wave or like a tide. There are elements of both that I like.
Let it be said in my defence that apart from breakfast, I get a lot of those same things on his list done, and other things as well, just by the list in my head. And the breakfast issue can be waived, by me, since when he wasn’t home during the week, before the quarantine, the kids ate breakfast themselves — multigrain boxed cereals that I’d leave on the table the night before.
Now that he’s home, on weekdays, he cooks the kids oatmeal — another habit he’d learned from me, pre-kids, which all but one of our kids strongly dislikes, so I don’t bother with anymore, tired of dealing with bowls of leftover hardened mush, and I don’t ever encourage force-feeding, beyond obligatory tastes of what is on the plate, and withholding desert if some reasonable portion of meal was not eaten.
The lunches and dinners on weekdays, and sometimes weekends, are, with rare exceptions, prepared by me, and are mostly whole-grain, vegetarian, balanced but heavy on the veg and grains. On the weekends, more often than not, T mans the kitchen. Sometimes cooking with meat, and usually heavy on the fats. From observing him over the years (he’s a doer not a teacher), I’ve learned to cook a lot of delicious things. His mother was an excellent cook, and passed this skill on to him, though she hardly ate anything. She would prepare us a meal and watch us eat, way back in the old days. May she rest in peace.
So I’m staring at his list, over his shoulder, as I hug him, on this morning which is unusual due to my own broken routine, with genuine admiration and affection.
And then, as I move to the counter to prepare the coffee press, I ask, as a remembered afterthought: “Where did you get those tear-sheet pads? I was looking for some in [the local grocery store] yesterday, but didn’t see any. I want the bigger ones, so I can write longhand first drafts like some of the pros do. Thought I’d try that, to make it easier to stay offline.” (Understandably, he’s not happy that I spend so much time tapping into a screen, *even* if I’m offline.)
“I got them on [major online store]. But the kids’ old school notebooks would be good for that.”
“They have stapled bindings. I’ve tried it, for whatever reason it doesn’t work. If books are going to have bindings I need them to be spiral, like I used to use, so they lie flat when open. They didn’t have those at C4 either. I guess you could use the old schoolbooks for your lists, though, too, couldn’t you,” I then add pointedly, admittedly annoyed.
“I was, for a while. But ripping the pages out from those bindings is so darned annoying.”
(Here, I should have said “Yeah,” then wandered off. 20/20 hindsight, or in-the-moment foresight, if one takes the time.)
The subtext issue in my head is this: why the double standard. It’s a repeated theme in our relationship, or at least it feels that way to me. In my usual, overly-quick-to-react way, I try to express it:
“Well, it’s the same for me. I feel kind of annoyed that you suggest the notebooks, though you won’t use them yourself for the same reasons… you know I use old stuff whenever I can. That’s why I keep a drawer of it, available for all of us, in the supply cabinet. Obviously I would use the notebooks if they worked, but they don’t, that’s why I asked where you’d bought the tear-sheet pads.”
I look for a mug, but there are none in the cupboard above the coffee supplies. I begin unloading the dishwasher.
“I was just trying to help,” he says, clipped and dismissive.
Once again, my mouth speaks before my brain can get hold of it. “And I was just asking where you bought that notepad, which would be a help to me in my writing.”
“How do I make this stop? Why do I keep having to apologize for putting my fix-it hat on? I mean, it’s ridiculous….” his voice is angry, getting louder.
He wants it to stop. I heard that. I also feel bad for having instigated an argument. So I don’t say anything. I continue unloading the dishes, while he continues ranting. I want it to stop too. It’s a catch 22. He apparently can’t read my thoughts (how odd!), yet my saying anything is the opposite of what he wants. What do I do? Finally he ends in,
“You’re doing W’s chore. If you do that, he has no chore to do.”
I hadn’t remembered that, as I’d absentmindedly reached for a cup.
I feel upset. Last night, tidying up after dinner and loading the dishwasher had also been W’s chore (he who loads it, should also empty it, so that loading errors can be recognized and corrected over time). Yet T had done it, even though I’d asked him not to, saying I would take care of it (either ensuring that it gets done by W, or doing it myself, since T worked at the home office all day). T had wordlessly ignored me, continuing to clean, while I then left the kitchen to mediate wild and loud wrestling matches between the boys, during wind-down time. It requires the attitude of a drill sergeant and not the Sound of Music, unfortunately (this is learned through years of trial and error), so I’m not very fitted to the task, but I do my corporal best. Which also gets more difficult, now that three of each of the four boys out-mass me.
The dishwasher is a relatively recent acquisition. For the first 10 years here, and in every place we’d had before that, we did the dishes by hand. I liked it that way. I love doing dishes, actually; I find it meditative and I like the feeling of my hands in the soapy water; but I taught the boys to do it, thinking it would serve them (and others) well, to know how, and to learn to contribute. Oddly, the less there is to do, now with the dishwasher, it seems the less they want to do it, or perhaps it’s the less I feel inclined to get them to do it. It requires different skills; puzzle-solving skills. So funny, that something so simple is at times so complicated. But what’s the point of using the dishwasher if the dishes don’t get clean? So puzzles must be solved. Also fun, but getting the kids to understand that it’s fun might take another 10 years, and by then, half of them will be gone, I suppose, if we teach them properly how to fly. So I lose interest in what feels like wasted energy, when I’d rather hear the sound of love and laughter than whining. I know it’s wrong. Sue me.
Anyway. Back at the coffee counter. I can’t say anything that will win this argument with this person — my chosen partner for life — at this time. Arguments, imho, can’t be won anyway, unless both people end up satisfied and amicable, or at least agreeing to disagree.
“I was only trying to help,” I say. Then, realizing it seems like I’m parroting what he himself had said before, though that wasn’t my intention, I add, “I’m sorry. I’ll leave the kitchen.” I’m trying not to sound resigned, curt, offended, defensive, but there is a problem, in that: I’m *not* trying to sound loving, truly apologetic, amicable, understanding. Because I feel upset. So I fail.
He begins to rant again. I know I should “show,” here, not “tell,” but I’m too tired now to write the ranting part, and they’re his words, not mine; I don’t want to misquote more than I may already have. I have disturbed him, and his admirable, zen-like, pre-kid morning routine. I can strongly relate to that. And I do feel bad about that. For both of us. Nothing I can say will make it better at this moment. Nor, I feel, should I walk out while he’s “expressing himself.” Maybe he’ll stop, if I give him my full attention. That’s what he’d implied he’d wanted, isn’t it? For this to stop.
I put down my coffee things. I turn toward him, stand with my back against the counter, hands at rest, fingers folded lightly in front of me, trying to make my body language as neutral as possible. (Lol… again, failing for trying too hard.) I make direct eye contact, for a change, as I watch him talking. I feel like a volcano. But I try to listen like a mountain. He says it’s ridiculous. I agree, but I don’t say so, since it will only continue the argument.
He stares at me with what feels like pure disgust as he continues to spit his words. I stare at him from eyes that feel like lava turned to stone, willing it to stop.
It stops. I pick up my coffee things. I leave the kitchen. I come to write.
Now it’s time for me to leave again. But in truth I only want to be here. With the page. Or somewhere else, away from technology, alone with the kids. Or online, one with technology, listening, and talking, and feeling heard.
The funny thing is, the more I do the latter online, the nicer my mood and thus my and my family’s time is, offline. And somehow, my mundane or sometimes world-fearful existence becomes something akin to a beautiful life.
But when I’m offline, I’m being razzed by my nearest and dearest for having been online. Even though I’m fully honest about it, and even though everyone else around me is online, too — though less honest or perhaps aware of it, in my view. The difference is that they (my husband) are working and/or interacting (also socially) with online work friends; or, they (our kids), more often than not — aside from a bit of required homework and some coding — are playing online video games and/or hanging out with video-game friends.
I did not bring the recent giant TV screen, nor any of the kids’ technology, into the family household. Except the e-readers. If it was a single-parent household, and me at the helm, they and I would have always shared the same computer, thereby forcing online navigational togetherness between them and me. I’m not saying it’s better, but very different, and for me, more manageable, and we would then do more offline things, organically.
It’s a catch 22. Or it’s a something wonderful becoming. A melding of energies, perhaps or evidently both necessary. We have to wait and see.
I’m doing this very weird thing that is more rare (outside of this and other word-focused communities), much as it feels natural to me: writing, and/or reading and hanging out with reader/writer friends. But I don’t get paid, and it’s not the societal norm. So does it have value?
It’s the silent question I always want to ask of others, as a way of shaking my inner fist, begging for validation. But I already know the answer.