Ask anyone who knows him, and they’ll tell you that my husband Tim is a very laid-back individual. When the kids were little, they would climb all over him, pull on his ears, yank on his chest hair, and honk his nose continuously. Meanwhile, he could continue carrying on a perfectly civil conversation with another awestruck adult, and he would be completely unfazed by the kid’s attacks. He’s so laid-back that the kids figured out long ago that if they want his attention, yelling “Daddy” once will not do the trick. If they really want him, they have to yell, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
Opposites attract. If a kid is climbing on my husband in another room, I’m the one who gets irritated. It’s as if I have backwards sympathy pains. I can almost feel the kid yanking on my imaginary chest hair. I think Our Divine Creator built Tim with endless, soft nerves, and I got shortchanged with a few tiny, hyper-sensitive, bitchy woman ones. It's pretty unfair.
The same goes for how we sleep. Tim could sleep through a hurricane. He’ll lie down, watch a few minutes of a blaring television, and pass out within seconds into peaceful, restorative sleep. A mere four hours later, he's up grinding coffee and whistling like the Old Spice Guy.
I wake up when someone coughs in Louisiana. My nighttime ritual consists of a game of Words with Friends with my mom, followed by a few minutes of Facebook stalking and Googling search strings like, "homemade remedies for hiding varicose veins". I require white noise and a dark room, and once I'm asleep, would prefer to stay that way for at least eight hours (if not ten).
It should be no surprise that my husband and I handle our emotions differently as well. While Tim is larger than life and has a laugh that’s a cross between a machine gun and Bert from Sesame Street, for the most part, he doesn’t show big emotions. If I ask him if he’s excited, he’ll say, with zero expression, “This is me excited.”
Tim spends most of his time in this calm state. Yet, when you push his buttons hard enough, he gets really, really angry. Not scary angry, but the kind of angry that you would rather avoid because when it happens, his mere aura makes the dog whimper. Lucky for us all, this only happens about three times a year.
Year-round, I’m all about big emotions. I cry almost daily, and it’s for a variety of reasons: it’s a sad cry, a sappy cry, a cry from breaking a toe (I break toes frequently). When I'm cracked up, I laugh so hard I wet my pants. I get wildly irritated at Ford F-150 drivers. But I don’t get angry.
Through the years, Tim and I have had many rounds of “emergency” couples counseling. It’s usually due to my irrational emotional outbursts coinciding with Tim when Tim is Angry. This is an ugly time for us, but we’re smart enough to know that when this happens, we need to call our therapist, Steve. When this happens, Steve, a gentle, green-eyed hippie who still rocks a goatee, reminds us that we’re better off engaging in long-term counseling. And every time, we stay with it until we’re feeling better, and then we quit again.
The last time Tim and I sat down for another emergency session, I swear Steve rolled his eyes behind the cloud of patchouli-scented candle smoke taking over his small office. I half expected him to fire us as clients at that very minute. But because he’s so wonderfully serene, and probably partially enjoys the cartoon that is Tim and Amy's Marriage, he took a long cleansing breath instead.
“Amy,” said Steve, in the voice of a slightly high yoga teacher, “You express sadness very well. It’s your default emotion. Yet you don’t seem to connect well with anger.”
What did he mean, I don’t connect well with anger? This made me so angry, I burst into tears.
We left with homework. Tim was asked to work on being a little softer with me, something I’m sure made Tim want to go skipping through a meadow of daisies to celebrate. Large, emotionally neutral men absolutely love working on being soft!
My homework was to explore being angry.
Like all families with two teenagers and an elementary-aged kid, our weekends are jam-packed. In between school functions, laundry, play dates, fixing cars, grocery shopping, drinking wine, going to the gym, parties, and more, making time to clean the house is nearly impossible. I’m serious! Yet somehow Tim makes it happen. While I’m off schlepping a kid somewhere, or meeting friends for lunch, Tim is often the one doing the housework.
Last weekend was like many others: too many commitments, not enough time, and a house with embarrassingly dirty floors. But we had priorities, so as my 9-year old and I threw on swimsuits to meet friends at the pool, I asked Tim to join us.
“No, I’m going to stay home and do the floors,” Tim said.
“Aw, but I feel bad!” I said, insincerely. (I really hate doing the floors).
“That’s okay,” said Tim, “Someday you’ll do the floors.”
That’s right, my husband said, “Someday, you’ll do the floors.”
My daughter stopped in her tracks and turned around, eyes wide. I know she was expecting me to burst into tears, because that’s what I do. But this time, my feelings weren't hurt. I was going to explore what it feels like to be angry.
It took a second for the anger to start kicking in. First, I told Tim in a huffy, irritated tone that he should take our daughter to the pool, and chitchat with the moms, and that I would stay home and do the floors. He laughed.
Tim’s laughter fanned the flames of my inner angerball. I continued getting ready, and carried the swim bag outside to the car. If this were a movie, this would be the scene where I began to morph into a slobbery madwoman.
But I had to explore containing my anger, mainly because a 9-year old was present. I decided that there was no way in Hell that my husband was going to do the floors that day. "Someday" was going to be today, dagnabbit! This anger was feeling great!
I calmly went into the house and gathered up our mops, and calmly carried them to the car. I continued shuffling my daughter in the right direction while I found the vacuum cleaner and began rolling it out to the front porch. My daughter stood in the front yard, confused and a bit tickled. My husband watched from the kitchen, and I know he won’t admit it, but for a moment, I think he was a bit afraid.
“What in the WORLD are you doing?” he asked, staring at me from the kitchen.
“I am going to the pool,” I said, sweetly. “And then I am going to come home and do the floors.”
“You DO realize that you’re acting like a crazy person, don’t you?” Tim asked.
“Yes, I do,” I said, smiling sarcastically. “This is a story that our kids can tell at Thanksgiving. And you know how I don’t get angry? This is me, ANGRY!!”
And with that, I slammed the door as hard as I could, and met my daughter outside, where I effortlessly shoved a pretty heavy Hoover vacuum cleaner between the bucket seats of our SUV. We buckled up, and by the time we were a block away, my daughter and I were laughing so hard I could hardly drive.
There are plenty of lessons here. It’s not the best parenting move to act like deranged nutcase in front of your kid, even though we all do it at some point. I also learned that adrenaline can help you heave a heavy vacuum cleaner in between bucket seats, but later, after you've been swimming, pulling that same vacuum cleaner out in 102 degree heat is a big old pain in the buttskie.
But most of all, I learned that for a mere $150 a month, I can hire help. And while other, more qualified individuals are taking care of our embarrassingly dirty floors, my husband and I can go see a movie where we don’t have to talk to each other, and leave the drama to the pros.