House Divided by 30
My wife skillfully redirected a simmering fight by calling me the “yin to her yang”, which she later described as extending an olive branch. It hit a soothing chord in my amygdala and I followed along like a puppet, suggesting we were like Shaq and Kobe. That made her feel good too, hopefully thinking about championships trumping differences rather than a one-way ticket to Miami.
So our Friday night was not only salvaged but elevated to the tune of Bud Lights and rosé, the first 45 minutes of Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans building sexual tension in “The Gray Man”, and her seducing me in the bedroom in a surprise swap of subject and direct object.
We’re doing great. We have a strong marriage.
We’ve had some monster fights. The conclusion several times was we need therapy, but inevitably feelings recede too fast to overcome inertia. I am no longer mad over our most recent conflict and concede it was a well-that-escalated-quickly moment.
I was upset about water bottles. She didn’t acknowledge the severity of the issue, and I made it known we shouldn’t feel boxed in by this dream house we’re building, that we could sell it for an immediate profit.
Naturally she wanted clarification on what I meant, and I just kind of reiterated we didn’t have to keep the house and feel trapped. It was mostly bravado and anger, but I also spoke truthfully my remaining life feels short, and I’m not the type to accept being unhappy without doing something about it.
I’ve gone there a few times during arguments and will remember to pump the brakes next time. It’s not productive, and I’m starting to sound like the boy who cried wolf. Comedian Akaash Singh has a great bit about the difference between fights early in a relationship, when the sky is falling and you question whether you’re going to make it as a couple, and fights during a healthy marriage, when you can feel free to storm off before anticlimactically returning to your shared residence.
My wife and I have been married seven years and have two young children. That’s called overhead. Deciding to turn this ship in another direction is going to take more than a water bottle.
Just so you know though, there are eight water bottles for two kids. They each break into four pieces except the YETIs, which justify their price tag by consolidating into three. That makes 30 parts I was staring at trying to integrate into an efficient formation in the top rack of the dishwasher. They don’t dry easily either, and I correctly assumed no one but me would make the consistent effort to keep the straws and mouthpieces matched properly.
To be clear, these are reusable bottles filled only with water for two tiny bodies. Do our kids have like, multiple heads?
I thought my wife and I had agreed this new house was the perfect blank slate to start being intentional with our purchases. Our parents aren’t hoarders but they have accumulated so much stuff over decades, the functions of certain areas of their homes are compromised.
Most problems in life don’t happen overnight. They are the result of repeated behavior. I don’t want to gradually fill this house with stuff we don’t want. I don’t want to live that way. Clutter and waste both stress me out, which is a challenging combination when there is a package at the door every other day.
What I desperately want to avoid are Monica closets, which can take the form of boxes, cupboards, drawers, under the bed, entire garages, any space where unneeded things are stored haphazardly in oblivion. I hate Monica closets because they’re dishonest. They allow the pretense of tidiness at the cost of organization and responsible consumerism.
I am anti-materialistic at the cost of pretense. Check out this sick outfit from head to toe:
Her new hat covering my $15 haircut
Unintentional whiteface thanks to mineral sunscreen purchased on sale at Target
A perfectly fine woman’s shirt, one of myriad she wore sparingly before discarding
Cargo shorts that have lasted so long they’re back in style
Dress socks possibly from a 99 Cents Only Store in 2010, if not earlier
Boat shoes from Nordstrom Rack, 2009 vintage
Meanwhile the UPPAbaby stroller in the background is a more easily foldable version of a $1200 one we already have. I was not consulted on the essentially redundant purchase. We have two giant strollers that could double as golf carts for kids who like to be held or roam.
My wife and I differ on many things, and it can be hard. The one just begging for professional help is validating emotions. I genuinely struggle to reconcile this with attributes I admire and want to cultivate in us and especially our children: problem-solution thinking, logical and fair analysis, both high self-esteem and expectations, growth mindset, good decision-making and behavior independent of ephemeral feelings.
I know the modern school of thought is men have been conditioned to suppress emotions to appear tough. I’ve read Brené Brown and dig the idea of seeing vulnerability as strength. I understand sometimes people just want the space to be heard rather than hear my attempts at solving their problem.
But I also need to be authentic to who I am. I want to make things better. My wife knows I’m a dead end for complaining about work because after empathizing with her discontent, I don’t see what else there is to say except speak up to your employer about what can be changed or find another job.
Let me cherry-pick what I consider a shining dad moment. Magna-Tiles are colorful, snappable toy pieces that come in big easy shapes, kind of like Legos for dumb kids. Mine really like them, no offense to my offspring or anyone else’s. (But they probably can’t read if Legos are too hard.)
My 4-year-old was adding to his magnetized masterpiece when part of it collapsed. He started screeching in frustration these hilarious pterodactyl sounds and was ready to go Bobby Knight on anything within reach.
His mother started her usual nurturing spiel, describing what he was feeling and how it’s OK to feel that way, how she feels that way sometimes too. No noticeable effect.
Then I launched into some shoddy explanation about the weight of the roof and load-bearing walls. And wouldn’t you know, not only did Joffrey calm down instantly, he was fascinated and engaged in a conversation about it.
Now, this was a lucky edge case diffusing a tantrum with architectural curiosity, but I see proof of concept. I want to prepare my kids for the world out there that does not care about their feelings. My wife rightly points out we should make them feel safe at home to explore feelings precisely because the world out there does not care, that if I shut down those conversations they will stop coming to me for them.
The philosophies aren’t mutually exclusive of course. It’s just hard to find the right blend sometimes. My hope is our children will benefit from having two often unlike-minded parents, maybe take the best of both, and remind us to see it in each other.
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