“Is something wrong? Are you mad at me?”
I can perceive with pretty good accuracy when my husband is upset with me. I feel unspoken emotions radiating from his eyes, burning into my skin like a laser beam meant to connect with my heart.
He is quiet. That never bodes well.
The kids are anything but quiet. They’ve started a sing-song whine about being hungry, and my belly growls as I sit cross-legged in the warm spot on our leather sofa. It is closing in on 6 pm, and I don’t want to pry myself from my comfortable cocoon of apathy. I don’t want to make dinner, but I’d prefer it over a tough conversation with my husband. I predict he will ask me to engage in household operations, of which I want the hefty break I feel I deserve. I maintain eye contact, bracing for what he might say.
“Yeah, I guess I am frustrated.”
“Why? Is it because I am sitting here on this couch with my notebook, and it is a beautiful day outside? I am designing some journal pages so I can organize my thoughts.”
Already I feel defensive tension building an armor in my shoulders and loading the cannon in my mouth. Fog begins to roll in over the beaches of my mind.
He glances at the notebook on my lap. The page is covered with freshly drawn grid lines to mark off blocks of time each day–the product of many precious moments that might have been put to better (more practical) use.
“Are you going to copy that whole thing down, every day for the rest of your life?”
Snark. That’s it. His lack of tact is a red alert that his intentions are more hostile than loving. My shield goes up, and my emotions start flying. I am not capable of hearing anything besides the narrative I am spinning in my brain.
Why is he so hostile?
I never allow myself to fully consider the potential root of his frustration. I am playing defense and looking out for number one.
Surely I am not in the wrong here.
I do what I always do in those situations: I stay silent. I trust my armor a whole lot more than my ability to deal with the fallout caused by the words I might hurl from my loose cannon.
He doesn’t understand.
I can’t remember anything. I need a type of memorization-free organization for my thoughts.
It feels like the essential details of everything I am responsible for are falling through the cracks.
Someone told me that motherhood is the equivalent of 2.5 jobs.
But I can’t use this “multi-tasking mom” excuse anymore…I probably use it too much.
I have no idea how to communicate this in a way he will understand.
I’m just going to be quiet.
I am in the soup.
I remember the last time we made soup together. It was an entirely different climate than the one I stand in with him today. The air was warm and amicable between us. We were together. I stood at the counter chopping onions, carrots, celery, and broccoli and scraped them into the flame-colored cast iron pot. The hot oil instantly made the vegetables roar like a stadium filled with fans. My husband washed the dirt from the beets he pulled fresh from our garden.
“Smells good already,” he said with a contented smile.
“Yes it does, I have a feeling this soup will be delicious.”
The satisfaction, camaraderie, and unity between us were palpable. We continued to add ingredients to the pot, and the delightful smell of our collective effort in the kitchen wafted down the hall, enchanting the noses of our kids. They came charging in.
“Whatcha makin’, Mom?”
“I love soup. It smells so good.”
Warm kitchen. Warm soup. Warm feelings.
But here I am in a different kind of soup––a pot of emotions dissolving together the way ingredients in the edible kind no longer resemble themselves after being on the heat for hours and hours. I hate it here. Self-doubt runs rampant because nothing is what it seems anymore. I can’t tell if I am feeling is anger, injustice, embarrassment, or contrition. It is probably all of those things. I need to process them one at a time, but that seems impossible to do in the soup.
He maintains eye contact and stands his ground. I try to think of how to respond to his baited snarky comment, but I can’t nail anything down. The fog in my mind is chowder-thick, and I am lost without a tether or a beacon, unable to find any emotional landmarks to get my bearings. My mind retreats, and every thought avoids the conversational standoff between my husband and me.
What should I make for dinner tonight?
That makes sense.
I fight the impulse to shut down completely, but being silent and paralyzed feels like the safest thing I can do. I don’t know what is heads or tails in the soup. Thoughts and feelings mutate in a chaotic mix. I stand in the middle of the soup, unsure where to step without being hit by a swirling thought (irrational or honest) or emotion (exaggerated or pure). If one of the crazy feelings or thoughts ram into me, I fear it will permanently lodge itself inside. It feels impossible to get out of the soup with the truth attached to me instead of some hyped-up near-truth (lie), so I am silent and still.
I take a breath. Calmly, I find words to articulate the truth behind the reason I am holed up here on the couch, painstakingly drawing new lines over the printed ones, my brain lit up like a Christmas tree with ideas of how these new journaling pages could provide a way to keep my thoughts–my life–organized.
“My mind is foggy. I am working on these pages to try and make sense of what’s in my brain.”
“You say your brain is foggy. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think writing makes your brain foggy. You get stuck in your mind. I guess that is why I’m not always very excited about your choice to write.”
My writing habit feels like it might as well be a smoking habit in my home. It’s offensive. I hate that.
“I like writing. It is a way for me to get things out of my brain and onto the page.”
“But you spend so much time in your head trying to say just the right thing. You don’t talk to me…I miss having someone to share my life with. You used to tell me about your dreams, but you don’t anymore. I need a partner.”
I need a partner.
Those words kill me, because “partner” is exactly what I signed up to be. Years ago, I stood upon an altar, his hands in mine, and promised to be his partner. I meant every single word from the bottom of my heart. But here I am twelve and a half years later, and he is telling me I am not showing up for him in a meaningful way. I thought I was doing alright in the Partner Department. Still, as he spoke, I realized he wanted more…more conversation, more connection.
Part of me knows his observations are not meant as a criticism, but it feels painful to hear them anyway. I know he has a genuine concern about how I emotionally disappear from conversations and sometimes life in general. Down deep past all of the hurt, I sincerely appreciate his feedback, but I drown myself in guilt and shame as penance for him having to bring it to my attention in the first place. I want him to be proud of me always.
My husband’s courage to share the ways that he needs me to be present in our relationship has opened my eyes. I realize that I do find it easier to write than to verbalize my thoughts, and in so doing, I retreat further into the soup. I understand his frustration. Writing steals me away from him because I confide in the page, who gives no reciprocity or argument. He wants me to dump the contents of my heart upon him–soup free. He wants to know me. Writing isn’t the problem, retreating into my own private world, and never coming out again is the problem.
He breaks the silence again.
“Time is our most important resource. I think if you just chose to get out of your head and take action, then you wouldn’t be as foggy.”
He may have something here.
The truth is, he is articulating how I felt as I drew page after page of identical grid lines into my notebook.
The time I am spending with this project would be better used if I just did one of the things I am planning to write down to remember in the future.
There is no time like the present.
He shifts, balancing his weight equally on his legs in one confident yet subtle movement.
“Besides, you are a really capable person. You have a lot to juggle, and I know I don’t know exactly what it is like for you. But, I do know that being a parent is hard. I really appreciate all you do here. Just talk to me about what you are thinking, I miss feeling like I really know you.”
I nod and close my notebook. I admire his tenacity to keep crossing the bridge to my heart, even when I am defensive.
“You are right.”
As the notebook closes, silently, I feel the fog begin to lift. Love seeps into the space recently filled with animosity and fear. His heart for me, is love. Even behind the words that come out a bit snarky, he bravely looses an arrow of love, meant not to harm but as an invitation to take a step out of apathy, fear, and self-doubt and into the light.
I realize all I might need to do to get out of the bowl is to simply act, and more importantly, to communicate. Verbalizing my ideas gives them an identity and helps me to better understand and deal with them. Additionally, sharing my thoughts and feelings is actively participating in a partnership with my husband.
I slide the notebook vertically between two books on the bookshelf and walk away.
“Thank you for talking with me. I appreciate everything you’ve said…I appreciate you.”
“Okay. Time to make dinner. How about soup?”
There is a lot of nourishment in soup, especially if the central ingredient is love.
Jenni Van Winkle lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.