After my wife slams the door in my face, yelling, “Just forget it!” I pause for a moment. Her outburst leaves me stuck between doing nothing and earning her ire or doing something and still earning her ire. Apparently, sensible discussion about how I can work around this is not to be had right now.
The peaceful interlude in my life is officially over.
I trudge back upstairs wondering if maybe it is now me who is Job’s younger sibling.
Brigitte has Charlotte on her lap in my writing desk chair, rocking her back and forth. Charlotte’s face leaks sad tears and I know that we have reached another low when she wails, “I can’t take it anymore.”
I invite them to come with me to the living room and the big sofa. We sink into the cold leather and snuggle together. The late afternoon sun streams in and warms us quickly. One daughter in each arm, I get the full story.
Charlotte is tired of being yelled at by her mother and not being able to (metaphorically) hit back. She doesn’t understand why I have told her not to provoke her mother. She had a bad taping in Band this week and got a lower chair than she deserves and she had a bad test result yesterday. She is not allowed to tell her friends about our problems yet but they have have noticed she is quieter and more withdrawn. Yesterday, one of them called her “boring” and left her to talk to someone else. In her distracted state, she bumped her head in the bathroom. She can’t sleep properly and is always tired. And so she can’t take it anymore.
Brigitte is as understanding as ever, often as or more mature than most adults. (If only Amélie were as mature as her too.) Brigitte soothes her as only best friends can; these two sisters have no idea how much closer they are compared to most. Sometimes I discuss problems point-by-point to try to shrink the list. Today I know it’s time just to hold on and be understanding.
I ponder what to do. There’s no point going over old ground and explaining to Charlotte that rebuking her mother has no good outcome. If my wife is pushed too hard, she will definitely walk out. She might walk out anyway soon, but I don’t want her to feel pushed out. She has to make her own decision about whether to stay.
Charlotte is right. This isn’t working and something has to change. After Brigitte has calmed down, I wander back downstairs and knock on my wife’s bedroom door. Sealed off in the basement, she rarely invites me in, except as a maintenance man to fix something. Today she opens the door a few inches and waits silently.
I ask where exactly I am supposed to take the kids on short notice. My New York City plans didn’t work out as hotel rooms filled up while I tried to get the dumb hotel web-site to let me redeem my thousands of points rather than pay NYC prices for accommodation. She says she doesn’t care, that we should simply go away for a few days and leave her in peace. I point out that the nicest place within a few hours drive of here is this city I am standing in, and the kids are quite OK with simply staying in town and being tourists for a few days. There are some museums we haven’t gotten to, and ten-pin bowling and ice-skating outings can involve their friends too. She repeats she doesn’t want us home for the whole spring break vacation and slams the door again.
In my defense, I decided weeks ago that perhaps a few days in NYC would be good for the girls, but no-one was terribly keen on it at the time. I pursued a hotel room, working with a friend to try to figure out how to get a cheap rate as a Government contractor, then looked at using points I’d accumulated with Hilton.
As time ran out, I gave up, deciding to plan further ahead and cram 3 days of tourism into a 2-day weekend in May. When my wife learned that we were going to stay in town, she got mad. I tried to understand why my idea was now her demand. I got exasperated and asked, “Well, if it’s so important to you to have the freedom, why don’t you go away for a few days instead of us?” That’s when I was told — ambiguously — “Just forget it!” and had the door slammed in my face the first time.
There’s something very wrong with her. She’s lost a lot of weight, her stunning smile is rarely seen, she ignores or shouts at our sweet children who are trying so hard to understand and cope that my heart bleeds for them when they are rebuffed or rebuked.
This can’t go on much longer.
Patience seemed the rational option back in February. But now Amélie doesn’t come back to visit from college, kind Brigitte has no good things to say about her own mother, and Charlotte is ready to check out completely.
When Amélie finishes college at the end of April, her return may well add fuel to the fire as she is no slouch when it comes to verbal sparring. She’s not going to take kindly to the new maternal attitude in the house.
Perhaps, for me, rough winds do shake the darling buds of May…