Tuesday evening last week – the first time Joe was able to eat bread in eight days because of Passover – we’d planned to go out to a new, local burger place near our house.
And unfortunately, due to my only having four hours of sleep under my belt (I had a rare, Monday night review to write the night before), my patience and temper were running short.
So during dinner, while Lily expressed no interest in the hummus or the chicken nuggets that came to our table, my fatigue kicked in and I got angry. (Ridiculously, though I normally sympathize because I was the pickiest of ALL picky eater kids, I initially wigged out that evening because I know Joe gets stressed out when Lily shows no interest in any food we put in front of her. Oh, the irony.)
My pissy mood was infectious, and Joe and I soon found ourselves in one of those tense, public moments – truly rare in our marriage, believe it or not, despite Joe’s great affection for arguing (for God’s sake, he pursued a career in it) – when you think, “Wait – we’re fighting? What are we fighting about? Who knows? But I’ll be DAMNED if I don’t respond and stand up for myself!”
In the midst all of this slightly hushed bickering, Lily kicked off her shoes and refused to put them back on, leading Joe to pick her up like a bale of hay – so she was horizontal, resting on one of his hips – and carry her outside the restaurant. Absorbing everything a little more slowly than I normally would, I signed for Joe’s credit card and gathered the styrofoam leftover boxes, red-faced and nervous (I’m not exactly a natural at confrontation, which is one reason these things happen rarely).
The barbs continued on the walk home until, after a moment of silent fuming, Joe said, in a more normal tone, “Um, it looks like our girl is REALLY poopy.”
And indeed. Lily, who appeared blissfully ignorant while walking home in the springtime sunlight ahead of us, had poop bursting out of her diaper and pants at the waistband. I thought about how Joe had carried her out of the restaurant, and I looked at Joe’s T-shirt, which was striped with poop stains. “Your shirt – ” I started, and Joe looked down, while my hands flew up to my hair (Lily had been on my shoulders moments before).
We both groaned in disgust and laughed. And in this instant, we traveled through an escape hatch from our stupid, sulky argument about nothing to a place of lighter-than-air levity. I thought, “That’s nice. Having a kid may sometimes spark arguments you wouldn’t otherwise have, but a kid can provide the antidote, too.”
We made our way down our block, covered in human filth and stinking like a family that lives in the sewers. We all changed clothes, got Lily in her pajamas, and put her to bed.
And I wish I could say that I was wise enough to take this moment of grace that Lily provided and that I tucked the argument away as a thing of the past.
But as we helpless neurotics tend to do, I obsessed, at the first opportunity, over what had been said at dinner, and what hadn’t, so that when Joe came downstairs from putting Lily to bed, I re-opened the subject. This led to re-kindled anger on both sides, nastier things being said, and a tentative ceasefire declared before bed.
It’s natural for me to not just let things go. I’m methodical and thorough, and while this is a great advantage in my work, it can be taken to ludicrously self-defeating lengths in my personal life.
So I’m trying to learn the lesson of this experience, which, loosely translated, goes like this: if your kid has the good sense to poop her brains out (or similar outlandish gesture) while you’re arguing with your partner, grab that opportunity to be distracted from the pointless nitpicking at hand, run fast and far away from it, and do your absolute damnedest to not look back.