Day 90 - Breakfast with My Old Self
Yesterday morning I went to breakfast in the hotel we are staying in - it was one of those serve it yourself kind of deals and it was crowded, the throngs of people trying to choke down some rubbery eggs and coffee before they rush out to see the Elephant seals do absolutely nothing...
A nice man who was holding the door for everyone set my mood to something other than a frenetic pace. He had a warm smile and a manner about him that was calm and loving. He radiated joy. It was contagious. I hold his manner responsible for my thoughts about what happened next...his joy and loving kindness the fertile soil for what my mind saw in the next few moments.
I got some granola and yogurt, a cup of coffee and got a table while my daughter and her friend vied for the much coveted waffles. As I walked toward an empty table, I passed a small table with two young girls sitting at it. One about 8 the other maybe 5. The younger of the two, preparing to enjoy a steaming cup of hot chocolate. As I passed, she saw that that lid was not on completely and tried to correct this issue. Of course, she did this correction with the finesse of a five year old so the hot chocolate went everywhere. All over the table and quickly the floor. All over her sisters plate. All over her.
Since I was the closest adult, I jumped in. Making sure that the child was ok and not scalded. I was easy going once I saw that she was not injured by the hot beverage. I grabbed some napkins and began to clean up the mess. Talking to her and telling her it was ok and it was no big deal. Hot chocolate spills all the time. I told her that only the very cool people wear their hot chocolate and this would likely become a local fad. She looked at me with distant bemusement. Wary of the stranger, grateful for the assistance.
All of the above occurred in probably less than a minute. It was less than a minute before the child’s parents came rushing over. The mother in hyper overdrive immediately. So much so that it made me think that she probably was always pretty close to a meltdown. She was joined by a father and two other young girls. The mother began to fuss about the mess and then proceeded to blame the father for leaving the child unattended with the hot beverage. She really let him have it. The kind of rant that you could tell from his response he was used to receiving. He sheepishly murmured words of acknowledgement and things likely not to further piss her off. She spun around the room like she was lit of fire and in search of water. Loudly, complaining about the mess and the whole situation. She not one time checked on her daughter to see if she was ok. The woman totally consumed with embarrassment, the need to blame her partner and attend to the relatively contained and small mess that a cup of hot chocolate can make.
The woman’s reaction out of proportion for the situation. Her sternest with her partner, exemplifying some deeper issues in the relationship. The four girls stood idly by while their mother spun out and their father retreated to some distant place men go.
The little hot chocolate covered girl kept looking at me, so I winked at her and then mouthed “It is ok. Really.” She seemed to need the reassurance if only from a stranger.
The mother, still in hyper warp, commanded all the the children to finish gathering their breakfast while she sent the father off on some errand that he seemed to welcome and hate at the same time. Quickly the family was whipped into shape, hot chocolate remnants only on the little girls pajamas and off they went for a day that was starting out to be less than stellar.
I had one of those out of body experiences as I watched this all unfold. I was overcome with empathy for the entire family. I saw them as if from above, supplanting myself for the mother as I could not ignore my own over reactions to minor things when my children were little. Well and still sometimes today. Teenagers bring the gift of under reaction - today while I do still get irritated at my children’s unwillingness to pick up after themselves - I am hyper aware that they could be high, drunk or pregnant all the time so that kind of keeps things in check. I have been brought into orbit by my fear of an alternative reality that is many parents actual reality.
What I saw was a family in chaos created by a family system that was designed and started because of the two love the parents had for each other. Yesterday, that love was nowhere to be seen. The mother hard, irritated and tyrannical in her treatment of her loved ones, especially the father. She treated him like he was an imbecile. Her attendant who failed miserably. He was not an equal parent. He had no depth and weight. He was only there to provide support to her and follow her orders. She sent him away like an errant child is sent to bed with out dinner (back when that was not child abuse and actually a form of parenting).
I could hear her internal dialogue...”Why does he always do this? I gave him one task - get the child a cup of hot chocolate. He couldn’t even do that right! I have done everything for this trip. Made the reservations, packed, managed the home front in our absence. I have done it all. Now the kid is covered with hot chocolate and it is all his fault. I can’t rely on him for anything. He is incompetent. How could I have been so stupid to think that he would ever amount to a worthy partner. I am in this alone. FUCK! I am all alone, handling everything, all the time!”
The father seemed apologetic and annoyed at the same time. He was cowered in his manner, trying desperately to keep his wife from launching into a full scale panic attack. He used subdued tones and spoke little. He did not confront her about the way she treated him. He just took it. Allowed himself to be marginalized. He took his leave of the breakfast room like one would take being dismissed by the Queen of England, quickly and grateful to still have his head.
I could almost hear his rebellion as he walked away, the thoughts in his head so loud that I could almost hear them. “What a fucking bitch! Who does she think she is? Ordering me around like her servant. I am so done with her and this marriage. Fuck her!”
Now I have no idea that this was what was going on in either parent’s head. However, if I was a betting woman (and I am) I would bet my last dollar that my fictionalized dialogue was not far off from the one that was playing out in each parent’s head.
Besides being uncomfortable to watch, it was also painful for me to witness. Painful because I could not avoid seeing myself in this woman. Making a big deal over a small deal. Getting all bent out of shape over almost nothing. I sat there feeling like my covers had just been pulled. It would have been really easy to be judgmental like the lady at the table next to me. She whispered to me in a conspiratorial tone “Wow, she is wound tight!”
But I didn’t feel judgmental. I felt sad. I felt compassion. I felt this overwhelming urge to go find them and say the following:
Husband, you do not deserve to be treated like this. You seem like a good guy and you are trying. I can see it. I can tell. You love your family and are doing your best but are fatigued by your wife’s perfectionism and unwillingness to bend. You have become a person you do not like because you so cow to her moods and harsh words. You are lost and feeling like you want to run away or have an affair or just disappear. You are terrified to rock the boat because that just makes this whole ordeal worse. You feel unseen, unheard and stuck in a marriage that feels more like a prison than a home. This is not what you signed up for.
However, this woman that you saw fit to marry is drowning in her own self created domesticity. She is overwhelmed and striking out because she is lost and has no idea what she is doing. She is doing her best and failing every day. At the end of her long days, she is tired. Like bone weary first trimester pregnant tired....all the fucking time. I know you are tired too. You both have a lot on your plates. But she is lost in her roles of wife and mother. She has little, to no connection to the woman you met and fell in love with. She has wholly left the proverbial building and your whole family life is dependent upon you standing tall and lovingly taking her in your arms and holding her so she can cry those pent up tears of frustration. She may not be able to let you. But you have to try to reach her. You owe her that. If you try and fail, at least you know you tried.
Wife, stop. Just stop. Sit down. We are going to have a chat. No, you have nothing you need to do right this second. We are talking because I am going to try to help you enjoy your life. You are clearly missing it. First of all, I can see you are tired. I can see you are wrung out. You give all day long to everyone around and have nothing left. It is clear to me that you have been running on empty for a long, long time. I am sorry. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. In fact, I used to be you. Rocketed into orbit over the slightest thing because your life already so jammed with too much of everything and not enough of something you can’t really identify. You are killing it but the price you are willing to pay too high. Stop trying to make everything perfect. It isn’t ever going to be and you are ruining your relationships with the people who matter most to you because you are insisting that things be perfect. You are making the mistake a lot of women make - get everything you could ever hope for then ruin it by demanding that everyone match your version of them. They are never going to be able to do this. They are their own people and wonderful people at that - slow down and see them for who they are, appreciate them for who they are. Or you are going to lose them.
Your husband needs your attention. He needs a wife. You have made him your handmaid. Stop. Or he will leave. Right now, I know you kind of want him too. He is irritating and ineffective. Leaving would seem almost better, then you get to be in charge and can hire someone to do what you tell them to do. However, you have to see what you have done to him. Making him your handmaid. Stripping him of worth and power. Taking away the woman he loved and replacing that woman with a cold, tyrant who is never, ever satisfied. Right now, you need to take him into the bathroom and fuck him in the shower. Show him how much he means to you. Show him you still desire him and want him and need him. Leave the children in front of the fucking TV and grant him and you an xrated shower that is likely long overdue. Hell, give him a blowjob too.
Husband and Wife - please find a way to come together. Find a way back to each other. See in each other that each of you is trying their very best. Trying so hard that you are fucking it all up. Husband, she is overwhelmed - take over because she cannot ever let you. You are going to have to wrest control from her because she can’t let go. Wife, he is marginalized. He is being whittled away until there is no man left. Just a beaten dog of a man who barely lifts his head up when you walk into the room, so afraid that you will commence the punishment again. Stop it. See him. He is the man you fell in love with and had four children with. He matters. He is important. He needs you to stop being a mother for a minute and show him that he is important to you. The dishes, laundry and all that other domestic bullshit can wait. But he can’t. He has been waiting too long. Make him wait again and he will be so far gone reaching him will be near impossible.
Of course, I didn’t say any of this. But I thought it while feeling so much compassion for the entire family. I could see their end in their present. I knew their reality because I lived it. I hear the same story told in the broken marriages that arrive in my office every single day. Some of them doomed from the beginning, but others, on this path that assures they either end up in a loveless, sexless partnership, feeling resentful and contemptuous towards the person they professed to love forever or spend thousands (sometimes millions) in divorce court.
I felt so much compassion for the fact that both of them were so steeped in their versions of reality that they will likely end. I felt so much sadness that there was really nothing that could be done to stop it. I saw myself in the woman and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like who she was which made me own the fact that I didn’t like who I was in my own marriage. I could see my own errs in full effect and relief. It was as painful to watch almost as much as it was painful to live.
While I sat there single, on the other side of the domestic divide, I realized how every much my own marriage played out in this manner. How much I was that woman who was not a bad woman just in way over her head. I saw my husband in that man. Not a bad or incompetent man, but lost and marginalized by the force in which I mothered. I wondered if I had been capable of seeing this then if it would have made a difference. Would we have been able to alter the course? In my marriage, there were other things wrong so probably not. But it made me think about how many couples this might help. How many are lost and maybe could just use a little help to see their partner. I know marriage counselors offices are full of couples embattled by the same issues. The same drama. I know they seek solutions and remedies to why their marriage is such a drag, their partner such a disappointment.
In that moment, what struck me was that what was required was a changing of perspective. A dropping of the storyline long enough to see the other person from a new perspective. One that allowed for another narrative.
So I sat in the busy breakfast room filled with other families in the same predicament. I closed my eyes and radiated out to them all the wish that they be granted the ability to see their partner in a new, less fractured light. That they be given a glimpse into the soul of their soulmate. That instead of allowing the minutia to dominate the day, that they instead look closer at what they are being shown...I wished for the men to see with amazement all their wives accomplished in a day. To realize they are giving all they have which doesn’t leave anything left for them or themselves. I wished for the women to see that they are pushing these good men to the sidelines. They feel powerless and out of the loop. While sex is not a panacea cure all, it certainly would foster a reconnection.
So I sat in the midst of the crazy breakfast room, mired in passing familial drama. I prayed for clarity and connection for them all in whatever manner and way that might work for them. I prayed they be spared the hell that comes from inattention. I prayed they all find a way towards each other and away from the internal storyline, that while often true, is not helpful. I felt compassion for them all, including myself and my own dismal failures that landed me to a place where I sat alone in a family soaked breakfast room.