Thursday, May 05, 2011

In which I am nearly a harpy and instead take a deep breath

Unfortunately, when Nick says something that rubs me the wrong way or feels like an attack – no matter how he means it – my inclination is to get all shrill and sharp and evil.

I speak before I think and I get all verbally stabby and it is very not helpful.

And then, no matter how innocuously he may have meant it, he feels attacked, because he has been, and then he gets angry and unkind and then it escalates.

Sometimes it ends with stomping around, but sometimes one of us can snatch control of the situation and say, wait, stop. I love you. Let’s calm down and talk about this.

Which makes us actually constructive. I am really working to be more CONstructive and less DEstructive.

So last night, when he was looking for the wooden pronged grill scraper thingy, and he asked if I’d seen it, I thought I knew what he was talking about and said it was outside.

But it turned out I was thinking of a different wooden pronged thingy.

At which point Nick, who was frustratedly looking around on the counter, which admittedly has a lot of shit piled on it, said, “It was here when I last used it. And since we never put anything away, it must still be right around here.”

And I, I looked up from emptying the dishwasher – you know, putting the dishes AWAY – and took a deep breath.

Even though it infuriated me. Because yes, this was a dickish thing to say.

And here’s how the harpy in me wanted to respond:

“Really, asshole? Because half the shit on the counter isn’t YOURS? Because I haven’t been PUTTING THINGS AWAY while you’ve been stomping around looking for the stupid fucking wooden pokey thing? Because I don't PUT JORDAN’S CLOTHES AWAY? Because you happened to run out of underwear the other day because SOMEONE ELSE DIDN’T PUT YOUR UNDERWEAR AWAY? And have you ever thought that if you’d get rid of some of the UGLY SHIT THAT I BET YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE BUT YOUR DAD GAVE THEM TO YOU we’d have more room to put OTHER THINGS AWAY?”

But the truth is, we do have piles of stuff around, and much of it is my fault. And Nick is tidier than I am, and the mess probably irritates him more. Also, he has just as much right to hang onto his crap just because his dad gave it to him as I do. Also, maybe he actually does like its.

And I don’t always need to bring family into it. Even though I do think they’re often to blame.

But do I have to assign blame? No, I do not.

So instead of taking the ugly, talons-forward, carrion-shredding approach, I took the breath. And said, “C'mon. That’s not fair. I do put things away. And I may not do a great job, but I do TRY.”

Because you know, Nick will do these grand clean ups. Or he’ll move big stuff, like furniture – things that I am unable to move. And he’ll get all stompy when I say something critical about something completely unrelated because he’s doing so much work.

And he does work. He works really hard at the office, and then he comes home and works.

Whereas I do a lot of small regular things that you don’t really see. Like washing Jordan’s food tray every time we turn around. And cleaning up his toys and books. Which he immediately dumps all over the floor again. And unloading the dishwasher. And loading the dishwasher. And washing clothes.

Yes, I suck at folding them, and they pile up and it’s a disaster. But sweet Christ, I do TRY.

It is not that I do so much, but these things that are easy not to notice, because they’re so quickly undone and need to be repeated. But they’re totally endless and effortful and tedious and suck the fucking life out of you if you dwell on them.

So then when someone says that you never put anything away, it makes you want to snatch the wooden pronged thingy for cleaning the grill out of his hands and beat him about the head and face with it.

But the breath. The helpful breath. And the constructive approach. It puts you on the same team. And it’s incredibly nice to feel like you are on the same team as your partner.

And thus we agreed that our house is a disastrous construction mess, and it is HARD. And that this weekend we’ll try to clean off the counters and put things together for a garage sale. And we will each get rid of some stuff.

And this feels good to both of us.


  1. Oh. My. God. we have this EXACT fight (both the screechy harpy and screech free versions). have you bugged my house? cuz if you replace "wooden grill scrapy thingy" with "cellphone" or "tongs" or "the baby", it must be wednesday at my house. weird.

    point being, i can relate, a little too much. and have nothing to offer other than empathy and congratulations for being mature (for once? zing!)

  2. I think the thing that surprised me about myself, in these situations, is that I'm much more harpy-prone than I thought. And how superhuman the effort to be constructive can seem. At least as superhuman as the effort to put things away, or resist the nutella jar, or balance my checkboook, if not all three put together.

    In other words, I am impressed.

  3. You are SO living my life! (minus the construction) My DH is very neat, I am more messy and it drives him crazy. He makes the same kind of blanket statements and I get stabby as well. I'm always telling him that he only notices what DOESN'T get done. What about the eleventy billion things that I DO? And like you, I TRY, but to be that neat is just not in my nature. Ah well. We've been married 8 years, so we've worked through it for this long. . . :) Have a great weekend!

  4. Heh, Lisa, I think you hit a nerve! You certainly did with me, I actually found myself crying reading this. I'm not exactly sure why -- maybe because I'm still not great at doing the deep breath + say something constructive thing. I'm much more likely to just not say anything because if I do say something it will not be pretty. And oh my god, still haven't figured out how to not take everything personally. Anyway, so many things about this post are just extremely familiar. Right there with you.

    Also: I keep telling myself there will be plenty of time to have a clean house once my babies are out on their own. Right now it can't be the priority.

  5. THese conversations might be the reason why I should preserve my singleness.

  6. Way to be a grown up! It's so easy to be snarky, I know this from firsthand experience, but the energy expended to be constructive? Totally worth it. Every time!!

    For the record? Time doesn't seem to make this easier. We're at 24 years and still fall into the stabby trap from time to time. :-)

  7. good plan to have a garage sale! but my *real* comment is to say how much i love your use of "stabby" as an adjective :)

  8. I'm still working on catching the breath so I don't start with the snarky. Congratulations to you!

  9. The monotany of the endless cleaning up drives me to drink!
    I too try so hard to be a tidy-kiwi but seems to always fall short when the bad house pixies mess up my house all the time.

  10. This is why one of the luxuries I will allow myself (should I ever feel I have the money) is a regular housekeeper. Not the live-in kind (waaay too indulgent), but maybe a twice-a-week, laundry-dishes-bathrooms-floors kind of person. I anticipate the money spent will be TOTALLY worth it.

  11. This sounds like the fights we have in our house. I'm normally good at letting it roll of my back, but sometimes that harpy just comes out swinging..."what do you mean I NEVER..." It's us at our ugliest.

    If I could figure out how to not have this fight, my married life would be much smoother!

  12. Coleen - For once is true. I don't manage this very often. But I am trying!

    Jessica - I never, never expected to be so harpy-prone, as you nicely put it, but oh, I am. Putting things away is hard, and not reacting sharply is even harder.

    cla517 - The problem is that your nature is your nature. Nick works on eating healthy, but it is a struggle for him. I work on being tidy, but it is a struggle for me. For him tidy is second nature - just like the eating thing for me. Once I explained it to him this way, it made more sense. Not that these things don't regularly drive us batshit crazy about each other...

    Laura - Sorry to provoke tears. I am terrible at it but trying to get better. I don't know why it's so hard to just PAUSE and not react immediately, but it is, it so is!

    And honestly. All these clean up things just have to be redone and redone and redone. There are so many more interesting things in life to do.

    Kate - There is much to be said for singleness. I should've enjoyed it more.

    Stevie - Snark is easy, and so satisfying as it's falling out of your mouth. But takes so much work to repair. I learned this recently. I'm still learning it, actually.

    LJ - There's a neighborhood garage sale approaching and we want to participate. Hopefully we get it together. And isn't stabby the best word??

    SheLikestoTravel - These moments are few and far between, so thank you, but I'm writing about a rarity. I am trying to do more of this, though.

    Go-Betty - A tidy-kiwi! So cute! I'm never going to manage tidy, especially when I have a child working against me at every turn.

    J - We have someone who cleans every two weeks. But two times a week would be amazing. Oh, amazing. Daily would be even better. :)

    Ginger - I'm not great at letting things roll off. I wish I were. Because the harpiness just makes things worse, immediately.


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