Like a Stradivarius

Last week, I assumed a conscientious, thoughtful wife demeanor. I entered the kitchen with purpose, but not to belittle nor cause defenses to arise. "Michael," I calmly started out, pleased with my nonthreatening tone, "We need to talk." He stopped what he was doing, looked me the eye, no computer screen, no iPhone in sight. All these years of programming have finally begun to pay off. "Yes," he said. His voice was strong, maybe a bit on the defensive, but able to listen. Good. "Look," I continued, "I have a slight suggestion. Now, I don't want you to respond right away. Let me say my piece and walk out of the room, think about it for a while, and we'll talk about it later." I came up with this system because neither one of us is good when cornered with a slight suggestion. And sometimes living with it, even for one day, takes the edge off. "I know how busy you are running the theatre. I am aware that theatre hours demand most of your evenings. However, I think it's important that you be home for one family dinner during the week."

My tone was pleasing even to my ears. I got the information across. I did not accuse. I showed an understanding for the demands of his job, all the while sharing a concern about the family meal. I turned to walk out, but before I was able to leave the kitchen...

"The thing is we're opening a show this week...''

"No. Just think about it. Your kids miss you and would love to see you at dinnertime." Once again, I turned...

"And I'd love to but the sound designer just quit and..."

"I said think about it." My voice pitched higher than I would have liked. I modulated, "I understand this is opening weekend. So, maybe you can find an evening next week to be with your family, which I know is one of your priorities." Okay, I admit, that last bit was un peu bitchy. "Now, let me leave the kitchen for the sake of our marriage."

"But next week we're starting another family series and I need to be..."

"STOP!" exploded from my mouth with the power of Vesuvius back in the day. "I spelled it out for you. Don't say anything and let me get away. And if you had to respond, which is a really bad idea, how bout 'great idea, Hutch' or 'let me think about it, Hutch.' But that's it! For God's sakes, husband, learn to play me."

Two days later, Sebastian was giving me the raspberry. What started out as cute soon became torrential. Droplets of spittle machine gunned out of his mouth at a furious pace. I told him to cease and desist. But caught up in the fun of spraying my visage with saliva, my son was oblivious to my growing anger. There was no help for it, once again I erupted, "STOP! Look at my face. Is this moist face happy?" He answered no. "Of course not. Because this is Papa's mad face. Study it closely. If you see my face beginning to look like this, then it would be smart to stop. Read my behavior, kid. Learn to play me. "

My daughter, Maxie, wanted a graham cracker before dinner. "How do you ask?" I prompted, feeling generous. Pleeeease, she plaintively whined. I didn't like her tone and asked her to try again. She interpreted my request by whining even more earsplittingly than before. Pleeeeeeeeeeeezzzzz! My generosity started to slip. I tried to get her to actually look at me, to use round tones and utter a more appealing please. But she refused with three year old (next week) belligerence and turned to stone. So, I said, "Maybe I'll give you a graham cracker if you say 'You're the best Papa in the whole wide world'" I thought this would break her sullen mood. Besides I love the way she says it. It sounds like You're in bed Papa with da Hawaiian ho. But she refused to play. She started crying and getting hysterical. Generosity gave way to irascibility, so once again... "STOP! You're not quite three, so I'll make this simple. There will never be any graham crackers ever until you make Papa happy. Learn to play me."

I may be setting myself for a future fall. But I realized something. I need to be heard. I need to be respected. Even if my family only pretends to listen to me and mutely nods to my well thought out pearls, I am sure I could derive some sort of solace. But when they start speaking before I've tacked a period to my sentence, when they cut their eyes or ignore me, the same volcanic anger that denied graham crackers and spit games might just take me over the edge. And none of us wants to see where that goes.

So with a little eye contact and a comprehensive ear, play me. Finesse me. Manipulate. Cajole. Fandango. Whatever it takes, pacify my moods with a veneer of understanding.

At some point, I may realize this tactic does not really work. But for now, my dear family. For now...


Kelli said…
LOL! That's great!
I agree, family dinners are extremely important. Remind your husband that President Obama is "home" for dinner from 6:30-8:00. If the president can make it, so can he!

I once had a 2 hour stand-off with my daughter about saying "May I please" instead of "I want." She's 3.

I understand your feelings. Good job!
surprised mom said…
Great post! I can relate! However, teenagers may take "play me" to a whole new level. Be careful what you wish for . . . I hope your family has learned to read your mad face. It sounds dangerous.
Di said…
It is SOOOOOOOOOO important to be heard. For you and for your family.

I love your tactic with Michael and plan to employ it myself.

And for Maxie, my friend has a great way of dealing with her kids and civilizing the way they ask for things, along the lines of "I hear you want a graham cracker, and when you ask for it properly, I'll be happy to give you one." (Having defined properly before, e.g. no whining, etc.) Her kids are great about that now, use "may I x," hardly ever whine and when they do, it's because it's 2 hours past bedtime and they're roasted, toasted and fricasseed, for example.

And I've got nothing but sympathy and agreement for the machine gun of spittle.

Sounds like your a good dad to me.
Out-Numbered said…
That's a tough one. I work late all the time too and we have the same "talk". The thing is... Being on the other side, I get angry when my wife suggests stuff like that because I feel like she assumes I'm not trying to make it home early. There is no place I'd rather be than home with my munchkins. But sometimes it's not that simple. Good post though. I'll play you anytime sir...
After reading your blog for these months, it is so clear that you are a master wordsmith - and most likely the most wonderful PaPa in the whole wide world!!

And attractive, too!

May I please have a graham cracker?

Amy said…
Isn't being a wife sometimes a real bitch?

Every once in awhile, I have to remind my Mr. Right that I don't have a job that gives raises or bonuses or that offers accolades of any sort and that I need acknowledged every now and then. *sigh*

I hope you get your family dinner at least once a week.
Heidi said…
I think your request for a weekly family dinner is definately reasonable.
Most of the time my hus understands me and plays me, but other times he just twists things around to make it about him.
My daughter get's the game but is just pre-teen enough to be miserable instead.
My son is 5 and acts like your daughter with the crying business if I push him too much.
Thanks for sharing, I had a good laugh.
Anonymous said…
I tell my kids that rather than blatantly ignore me, I'd much rather than smile and nod and pretend to care. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. It is a dance.
Ivanhoe said…
I actually think that your new strategy may work. Can I please have the graham cracker? :o)
Man, we're all just dying for someone to get us, aren't we??
I think graham crackers are pretty good incentive.
Hillbilly Duhn said…
I think it's difficult to set aside our needs and desires when trying to be the magnet that holds our families together. We sometimes get over looked, ignored, stepped on, used... whatever the case may be, it's easier to get a handle on it before the meltdown, then after.

However, being played is a very loose term, maybe if they just listened to a few notes of the song...

Sounds like you're handling things just fine to me...
I've got it!!

Make your "family meal" Saturday mornings at 9:00am! Learn to make a variety of wonderful breakfasts! The theater can't possibly need him then!

Woman with kids said…
I've taught the boys that sometimes, everybody has a "yes dear" day. Don't argue with me, regardless of how insane I may be type of day. Lord knows the boys have them A LOT. Just say yes dear and Do What I Say. And no one gets hurt...
viridian said…
Oh yes, I hear you. But I'm a stranger in the blogosphere. I send you best wishes with family life.
Vodka Mom said…
How is it that WE all can hear you......

It's the whole forest for the trees, or lost in the forest, or some damn forest thing.

i think.
Shannon said…
Great post - I can SO relate! I recently discovered your blog and enjoy your perspective - we are 2 moms so its nice to hear about your life as a 2 dad family.
TeacherMommy said…
"Learn to play me"--I may totally need to use that one. Goodness knows the kids need to learn it. They're driving me frickin' BONKERS these days.

Just found you off a comment you posted somewhere...I think I'll be coming back to visit.

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