We’ve turned a corner of our dining room table into a diaper changing table, and I was changing Eddie’s diaper there yesterday morning when he reached up, tried to grab my cup of coffee, and knocked it over sending its contents spilling out onto my lovely blue and white checkered table cloth.
“Eddie!” I snapped, trying to upright the cup and limit the damage while making sure he didn’t roll off the table. “Jesus Christ. It’s all over everything!”
I heard the sound of my own voice and was disgusted. I’ve turned into the kind of person I wouldn’t like. If I was watching the exchange in a movie, I’d root for the kid. And yet I couldn’t stop myself.
“Why do you have to touch everything?” I said, feeling like a heel with every word I uttered.
He touches everything, and his little flipper hands are better for knocking things over than for picking things up. When I was wrapping Christmas presents last month, I spread everything out on the floor, and in just two minutes, he crinkled the wrapping paper I was about to use, grabbed the tape, unrolled all of the ribbon, crushed the shirt box and tissue paper I’d neatly laid out, and I kept losing the scissors because I had to keep them out of his reach and inadvertently, kept them out of my own.
Last night as I cooked dinner, he knocked over the bucket of recycling, found a bottle of wine and despite my having emptied it, he managed to spill its residual contents onto the floor and then sit on it, staining his onesie and new sweater. This morning, he knocked over the cat’s water bowl, spilling all of its contents onto the oak floor and soaking the edges of the antique rugs. And while I had him cloistered in the bathroom with me after taking my shower, he unrolled the toilet paper and then fished his hands around inside the toilet bowl that I thankfully had just flushed. He then crawled over to the garbage pail and turned it upside down, emptying the hair, dental floss, nail clippings and other detritus I like to keep hidden out onto the floor. Thankfully, I don’t do much entertaining in the bathroom.
It’s all normal. He’s doing nothing wrong except being a child, and he’s a wonderfully curious one at that. And having a cat already trained me to not leave small, important items like pearl earrings or keys or flash drives on shelves or countertops she can reach unless I want to spend hours searching for them in the cracks and crevices of my house. The rules for a baby are a similar but slightly expanded version: I can’t put any thing, any where, ever. And yet knowing this, I still snap when he knocks something over, and then I hate myself for doing it.
When my husband, Bruce, got home, we had a fight. It should have been about money because it’s tight right now, but it was about the fact that he didn’t read the email in which I told him about money being tight. And I only knew he hadn’t read it because he said, “I’ll write the check to the insurance company from our joint account” – the account I’d told him was tapped out.
“Didn’t you read my email?” I asked.
“What did it say?”
“Read it,” I said.
I was annoyed. I don’t have a lot of time these days. I have a babysitter for three hours a day, and in that time I’m supposed to write my freelance articles, my blog, do the laundry, the bills, and anything organizational I can remember, as well as doing the food shopping and cooking dinner. It was in that time slot that I fired off about four emails to Bruce that involved housekeeping matters – mostly budgetary in nature – and it appeared he hadn’t read them. I don’t have time these days to do things twice.
“Just tell me what it said,” he said.
“Read it,” I said.
“Fuck off,” he said as he turned on his blackberry.
“Did you just say ‘Fuck off?’ “ I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Nice,” I said and walked into the kitchen. I didn’t like the way he spoke to me, though I knew I couldn’t take too strong a stand as it could easily have been the other way around. I’m usually the one with the foul mouth and bad temper when we argue. He’s just taken my lead.
As I washed the dishes, Bruce stood in the middle of the living room searching through the emails on his blackberry and found the one about the checking account. He said he couldn’t find it because I had put the information in an email that started out talking about insurance. It appears I need to keep my emails to one sentence or he loses interest, because Bruce is now doing in our virtual conversations what he does in our live ones: listening to only the beginning of what I say. The rest of my thought drops to the floor like a dead limb. Just tonight, I tried to say something and when I got to a certain point in my explanation, Bruce cut me off. I tried to say it again, and again Bruce cut me off before I could finish. It’s like wearing bell bottom jeans that are a tad too long, and the person walking behind you keeps stepping on them.
The truth is, I usually get mad when I feel slighted, and I usually feel slighted when I’m getting down on myself, and I usually get down on myself when I feel like I’ve done something wrong, like being a bad parent by yelling at my son. So I yell at Eddie, I feel bad, I think I’m a jerk, then Bruce comes home, ignores me, I lash out, then I feel like a jerk, and because I feel like a jerk, I get frustrated and so when Eddie spills my coffee, I get mad, and then I feel bad, and the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round.
When I went to sleep, I dreamed of a social studies teacher I had in high school named Mr. Hoffman, who wore sleeveless vests and a comb-over, though his hair was brown and the big sweep of bangs that lay over the top of his head like a crown was gray, making it particularly noticeable. I had a special place in my heart for Mr. Hoffman because he was the only teacher who paid any attention to me. I felt like flotsam in high school, bobbing up and down in a sea of students completely unnoticed, but Mr. Hoffman and I would have heart to heart chats, about school and friends and life, and he thought I was smart and special. In my dream, I bumped into Mr. Hoffman in the lobby of a hotel. When I saw him, I was very excited and ran over to him. He didn’t remember who I was.