It’s the Little Things

My mom is getting a new kitchen, so as a result she’s been looking at sample after sample after sample (after sample, after sample) of paints, countertops, cupboards and asking everyone around for their opinion.

“You’re getting new counters?” I was surprised, Mom’s counters are sparkling white.

“Well, I’ve always liked the way the white brightened up the kitchen, but the countertops are so old that you can’t set anything down on them without getting a stain.” She lowered her voice, “and your father, he’s always setting his coffee cup down totally oblivious, meanwhile I have to get out the soft scrub every day.”

I kind of chuckled. Ever since my dad retired, Mom has had a hard time adjusting to him being around. Mom has been retired from the mainstream workforce for a quite a while already, her main job being the keeping of the grandkids when they are too sick for school or their parents need a babysitter or a grandkid needs a ride and the parent is double booked. And, of course, the looking after of the grandparents. That keeps her fairly busy, just not busy enough not to notice every time my dad sets his cup down on the counter and leaves a ring.

“And,” she said, “he is always dumping his coffee out into the sink, but then he never rinses it out so then I have to clean stains off the sink.”

I sighed inside.

“Maybe you should tell him, perhaps he doesn’t know he’s being annoying?”

My mom made a face and shook her head like that was a lost cause so why even bother?

I may not be retired, trying to adjust to being home with someone all the time but I do know exactly how she feels. She had a way she did things, and a way she kept things, and an order to her days and weeks that became completely irrelevant when my dad started always being there. I am sure quite a few of you know what I mean, if you’ve ever moved in with someone else.

When J and I moved in together, we had three kids under eighteen and varying degrees of custody. I had been living alone with my daughter since two days after she was born. I woke up that morning, the baby in the cradle in the bedroom with me, to find her father passed out in HER room on the floor, crack pipe in the ashtray. I woke him up with what one might call “screaming like a banshee” if one wasn’t so worried about being PC. After I shuffled him out the door, I called my brother in law, who came over and changed all the locks for me.

There was a brief period of under a year where I let someone stay at the new house I had purchased, but it didn’t work out for various reasons and aside from that, it was just me and Bunny and, since she was a kid, I was in charge.

J, he had been living in his house for three years at the time we decided to consolidate households. We had a rocky start, this living together business. The little things were getting the best of us. For instance, I consider it an act of aggression if you take my laundry out of the dryer and leave it in a ball on top of it. J, on the other hand, was very particular about the fact that I did not tuck the shower curtain back in after my evening bath and he had to do it in the morning. I am only telling you a couple- believe me, we were both keeping a list.

Eventually, when one too many times J said something about the shower curtain, or me leaving a light on, I blew up. I told him he was being like my dad and that I was grown woman and had lived in my very own house for nine years before that without needing someone to dictate my every move and anyway it wasn’t like he was perfect Mr-always-forgetting-his-underwear-on-the-bathroom-floor.

For a little while after that we both tried really hard not to do all the things we had rattled off that made each other mad. But now, seven years later, we’re much more relaxed. We’ve weeded out what really is not THAT important in the grand scheme of things, and we’ve kept the ones that are REALLY important to the other one. We know each other’s faults (well, what we consider faults) and we accept them. Mom’s only a year into this retirement thing.

After talking to my mom, I was sitting at the kitchen counter working, and I happened to notice my coffee cup was leaving a stain on the kitchen counter. Then it occurred to me how every Saturday morning (when we’re not at the lake), J always makes coffee, then gets out the Clorox cleaner, bleaches the white countertops and scrubs the sink.

OMG, I am the spouse that leaves the coffee stains on the counter! To make up for it I cleaned the whole kitchen from top to bottom that night. J might be really good at countertops but I am the one who cleans on top the cupboards and cleans out the fridge and scrubs the floor. We all have the things we are good at.

My mom emailed me and said, “I just have to tell you, I never said anything to him, but twice now I have seen your father pick up his cup and then get the rag and clean up the ring. Will miracles never cease?”

A few days later, at dinner, I told J about the conversation with my mom and how I realized I might be the one leaving coffee rings on the counter in an annoying way and he said,

“And you also are always dumping your creamy coffee in the sink, but I am the only one who scrubs it,” (This is a misperception on his part), “and also, do you think you could clean the lint filter on the dryer a little more often?”

I gasped. I had no idea these things were bothering him. But wasn’t it true there were things that bothered me that I didn’t bother mentioning because, really, why fight over something so seemingly trivial when there are actual problems (Quite a lot) in the world?

I told Mom last weekend how J had confirmed that yes, I was in fact, the annoying coffee ring leaving spouse and that J had also added a few extra to the list.

“See, it’s the little things!” she said.

I don’t agree. It’s the little things only if you let it be.

A therapist one time (During the blending of the family stage of our lives) told us that our relationship was a bubble, and that we shouldn’t let anyone or anything into that bubble. At first, when something annoying would get into our bubble we would say out loud, “We’re not letting _______ into our bubble.” It worked by reminding us to pick our battles. Is it worth letting it into your relationship bubble to wedge itself between you? Eventually we didn’t have to say it out loud anymore, we just did it. It’s actually a lot easier and happier life, if you can let those little things go.

I have confidence that Mom and Dad will get used to being home together again after a spell. In the meantime, I’ll have to tell Mom about not letting coffee rings into their bubble.

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