My family has a ritual we perform whenever the phone rings. First, we freeze. Then all of us, from various parts of the house, yell simultaneously, “Where’s the phone!?!?”. Everybody then runs randomly, wildly, in all directions, trying to trace down the source of the ring. After dashing madly upstairs and downstairs, rummaging under cushions and papers, and looking through the laundry, someone finally locates one of our three portable phones. By this time it is too late. So we check messages instead.
And then the girls and I experience The Lecture from my frustrated husband. It goes something like this: “There are three phones in this house and three floors. One phone per floor. If everybody just put the phone back on its cradle when they used it, we wouldn’t have to panic!”. And we all hang our heads in appropriate shame.
But I think the problem isn’t only that I leave things lying around the house; it’s that Keith doesn’t understand women. When he talks on the phone, he talks on the phone. That’s all he’s doing. It’s easy for him to put it back! When I talk on the phone, I’m chatting with a friend. And making dinner. And folding laundry, checking my email, making my bed, and occasionally even trying to get dressed. When I’m finished the phone call, I’m never anywhere near the phone’s cradle. If Keith multi-tasked like me, he’d understand.
Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for him, because I’m starting to realize that some of the things that I get upset at him about are really my issues. Imagine that it’s a Saturday morning, and we’re planning to go cross-country skiing with the kids. As soon as I wake, I start to list in my head all the things that need to be prepared: the kids have to find their snow pants, and I know Rebecca’s been missing a snow glove since last month; we need to pack a bag with water and some snacks, and we’d better bring some extra scarves and hats in case we get too wet. A few band-aids wouldn’t hurt, either. Obviously we’ll have to do the dinner dishes from last night, since we all know I can’t leave dishes in the sink if I’m leaving the house. And since we’re going out anyway, we may as well go by the library, because the books are due on Monday!
I go in search of my family, who are downstairs playing the Wii, having a grand old time. My blood pressure starts to rise. Do they expect me to do everything? Then I discover they haven’t even had breakfast yet. Why was Keith just playing with the kids instead of giving them their marching orders?
Yet no matter how much I may wish it, they are never going to have all the stuff that goes into keeping a family together in their heads the way it is in mine. And maybe that’s okay. We all have different roles to play. When it comes to the kids, I’m more like the General. I’m scanning for threats, planning future battles, and mapping out supply routes. Keith, on the other hand, is the crusty sergeant. Usually he’s just goofing around with the troops, but when there’s a specific task to do, he can bark orders with the best of them.
What I’ve learned is that when we have a big day ahead of us, I just need to communicate to my husband all the things I think need to get done. He crosses off what’s unnecessary, talks me down, and then organizes the rest. Instead of fuming at him for not thinking about it in the first place, I’ve started sharing the load. It works so much better.
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and as much as we may yearn for a romantic fairytale, the truth is that regular life often conspires to tear us apart. Yet we have two choices: we can keep blaming the other person for not acting more like we do, or we can accept that we’re different, and love despite it all. I think the latter works so much better. After all, if it weren’t for my husband, I never would find the phone.