Chapter Four: Don’t Make It Into a Big Deal.
With that first big fight after having our baby an invisible barrier was breached. Gradually, over the course of our first half-year of parenthood, our arguments became not exactly frequent, but much less unexpected than before. Granted, they were quiet fights, usually–no yelling, no slamming doors.
But they were definitely still fights.
On the surface, the topics were few—sort of a greatest hits situation: Matthew’s long hours at work, my long days at home, undone chores. But now we had an even bigger problem: even when we weren’t actually arguing, there was an atmosphere of impatience.
In other words: we were moody.
Day by day, small annoyances were piling up, much like the dishes in our increasingly neglected kitchen sink. Misplaced belongings. Forgotten diaper bags. Car trouble. All the things that get under our skin even when we aren’t already on edge were accumulating, taking on greater significance for their number. Matthew’s bad attitudes caused my bad attitudes and vice versa, until we both felt we were the one being wronged the most. As a new, often overwhelmed mom I desperately wanted Matthew to be the strong one, to put a smile on his face and “take one for the team.” But that isn’t how relationships work, is it? I had to be the better one, the more enlightened one, the more mature one. Me. If I wanted anyone to. Only me.
And so, as month five approached, the tension that had once been rare and easily forgotten was now our default mode; grumpiness had become our new normal. This scared me, and rightly so; I’d always said I’d never be one of those wives, the kind that seeths quietly and avoids looking into her husband’s eyes. When I started actively seeking the hidden significance of every questionable remark, looking for reasons to be mad, I knew it was time to make an adjustment.
That adjustment came on a warm summer morning, when Matthew was mowing the lawn and Poppy was sleeping. I was using the quiet time to clean the kitchen and to reflect a bit. Okay, not reflect. Worry.
I’m avoiding the big fights most of the time, I thought. I’m keeping a positive outlook on Matthew’s character, giving him the benefit of the doubt. And yet, the annoyance is still there; underneath it all, I’m still angry. How can I learn how to just let the little stuff go?
I turned to the dishes, rinsing them hastily and placing them in the machine while watching Matthew out the front window. He was wrestling with the push mower, the one I opted to buy over the gas-powered kind, which meant that whatever went wrong with it would be my fault.
Here we go, I thought. He seems frustrated. He’s probably going to take it out on me.
Unfortunately, the hasty assumption wasn’t wrong.
Matthew let the mower fall from his outstretched hands. Then he kicked it and stormed toward the house.
Unbenownst to him, however, I was ready; in the seconds it took for him to get to the front door, I ‘d come up with a plan. Recalling my desire to reduce the annoyance that was clawing at us both, I decided that no matter what, I wouldn’t overreact.
I wouldn’t get defensive. I wouldn’t make it a thing.
I would just let him be mad, and say nothing.
“Whatever possessed you to buy a manual mower?” Matthew said, predictably, entering the kitchen. “With our huge lawn, and all our pine trees? What a ridiculous waste of money that thing was. I’m getting rid of it. Today.”
My internal reaction: bristling, hot-headed self-justification. My external reaction: do I flatter myself to say I was bemused? I didn’t frown, didn’t smile. I just looked at him and tilted my head. Maybe I raised my eyebrows, too.
Matthew paused a moment, waiting for the response that didn’t come. Then he stormed down the hall to the TV room. I took a deep breath—one, then another. I was behaving well, but I was still upset.
Why is he blaming me for the lawn mower not working? I fumed. He’s being seriously irrational. He’s taking something small then blowing it out of proportion at my expense. It makes me feel so disrespected.
I placed the last dish in the machine. Then I went outside to retrieve the mower.
It looked as abandoned as I felt.
For the next half hour, I struggled through the tall grass, picking out the pine cones when they got stuck. As the lawn slowly improved in appearance, my sour mood shifted, too, and by the time I returned the mower to the garage, I had some perspective.
After washing up, I joined Matthew in the TV room and smiled at him over the screen.
“Don’t let the lawn mower get the best of you, Hon,” I said. Hearing this, Matthew’s mood changed perceptibly.
“Thanks for finishing up,” he said. And then he smiled. It was his way of apologizing, and I knew it.
What was I so worried about, anyway? I wondered. My husband is wonderful, and he loves me. Yes, he was disrespectful. And emotional, and unfair.
And he was also just being human.
Read the rest of the series at Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.