“What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.” – Leslie Knope
Every toy that my husband, Akash, picks up with a sigh hits me like a mini, personal, attack. My own insecurities kick in: Another one you missed? Why is it so hard just to put things back in their place? Akash shakes his head as he tosses two cap-less markers in the garbage, long dried-out after days, maybe weeks, of being abandoned under the kitchen table. What a waste.
Of course, I am happy that things are getting picked up, but I also see it as a hurried gesture to erase the day. The trail of muddy footprints we left leading to and from the kitchen as we washed off rocks we found while digging for worms in the yard. The Jenga towers we built now strewn across the floor like rubble. The pile of books a mile high because we couldn’t decide which one to read. The heap of wet clothes in the corner because “we” decided it would be fun the turn the bathroom sink into a hot tub. I realize it sounds crazy to complain about a partner that cleans too much, but sometimes I feel like he sees all of the dirty dishes in the sink, but not the delicious meal they yielded.
For his own sake, I’ve often wished he could just come home, flop on the couch, open a beer and we could revel in the beautiful chaos we’ve created. Instead, he sees a scene that needs to be restored in order to operate, and he hasn’t quite adopted my new motto of “A clean house is a sign of a wasted life.” To be fair, I know he doesn’t expect to come home and find us polishing the furniture and pressing our linens. He values fun and spontaneity, just as long as that sh*t is picked up afterwards.
After his twelfth sigh, I reach a breaking point. “You know, I am sooo sorry that we didn’t put the markers away, but you should see the beautiful Valentine we drew for you!” I snark, a little louder than I intended to. My husband doesn’t skip a beat. We have had this fight many times before. This is what happens with you mix a slightly-anal, minimalist, Capricorn with an eclectic, overly-sentimental, Leo who has a tendency to hoard. We are two very different people trying function and thrive in the same household while we build a life together. It’s a daily and beyond worthwhile chore (pun intended).
“I just think we could put some best practices in place to set ourselves up for success.” he says. There are a few more words about systems and putting things away and then I hear it a second time “Best practices.” and again “Best practices.” Best practices??! If he says best practices one more time, I swear I’m going to rip my own face off. “What is this? Am I in a staff meeting right now?” I retort. “The reason you even have time to clean up in the first place is because I went to get our son from school, bought groceries, and already started dinner.” Aaaaand, we’re off. The classic tit for tat standoff.
Just when I thought tension couldn’t get any higher, the shrill sound of whistles cut through the living room. And let me tell you, nothing alleviates tension quite like two children blowing whistles at random piercing intervals. How did they even find those?! I intercepted them the second that I found them in their stockings and put them high on the bookshelf. Seriously mom, whistles? This must be some sort of grandma payback. My heart breaks a tiny bit as I look at my two little referees who have paused their blowing just long enough to tell us to stop fighting as they wave their skinny little arms in the air. “We are not fighting.” I say. “We are just discussing something.” But I know that my response is futile. Kids are experts in tone, and they know immediately when something is off.
While Akash and I continue to bicker, our almost five year old son, Roman, decides to forage through the marker graveyard for one that still has some life left so he can make a Valentine for his best friend, Fleur. A few minutes later he asks if we can walk across the street to deliver it. “Sure, buddy!” I say, happy that he is still in the spirit of love. “Can I see it?” He hands me the piece of red construction paper and explains that the girl is Fleur. When I ask if the other person in the drawing is him, he says, “Oh no, that’s someone with an X in his mouth as a reminder that you shouldn’t yell.” Whelp, Happy f*cking Valentine’s Day.
I stare at that little stick figure with an X across its wide open mouth for a long time. At first it makes me feel really sad. It is like a blaring PSA for how not to scar your children. Don’t argue in front of your kids…The More You Know.
But the more I ponder it, I come to the conclusion that yelling is a part of life. Fighting is a part of life. And, thankfully, so is resolution. We can be so quick to avoid conflict that we forget that it can make room for a deeper understanding to emerge. Although it may be instinctual, we cannot hide our kids from all of the hard stuff, and it’s not realistic to keep it hushed behind the closed doors of our bedroom. Conflict doesn’t have to be malicious though. It can be fair, justified, and transformative, and I want our kids to see us come out on the other side of it.
That said, I still have mixed feelings about fighting in front of our innocent littles. My sweet, passionate, mamma is half Italian and half Scotch-Irish and legend has it that they lost all of their wedding china within the first year of their marriage while my dad perfected the art of ducking. However, when it really comes down to it, there are only so many hours in the day and the kids are almost always around. If we don’t lay it all out in the moment it happens, it’s only going to fester and then will most likely explode on what I like to call fight night. Fight night begins as a date night, until you start to bring up all of the things you don’t want to talk about in front of your kids and end up spending a lot of money just to sit across from your partner, seething over beautiful plates of food and expensive cocktails.
In an effort to avoid the fester, Akash and I are attempting to bring things up whenever they bother us. Perhaps it will go smoothly, but if it does escalate, we just have to remember to try and fight fair. There is an art to it which we are still trying to master. We are not perfect and that’s okay. Kids can learn just as much from our flaws as they can from our strengths as long as we’re open about them. Case in point, it has been a little over eight years since we got married and all of our dishes remain intact.
Marissa B. Niranjan understands that some days you just have to care louder than others and that’s okay because it’s never too late to say sorry. Thanks, Beibs.