Ever had a vacation fight?
I have a wonderful wife. Heather has been an awesome partner through 23 years (and counting) of marriage. We have a beautiful daughter, interesting careers, and a very satisfying family life.
Sometimes, though, like many married couples, we fight like cats and dogs. Well, at least like cats. (We have three cats. When they are not happy with each other, they let the entire neighborhood know it. Have you ever heard a pissed-off cat yowling, hissing and spitting at his or her brother at 2:30 a.m.? It's hideous. On second thought, maybe Heather and I are not quite that bad or that loud when we fight, but you get the idea.)
Anyway, we don't fight often, but, I can't lie, when we're both under stress and tired, we are apt to blow. Vacations can represent the Perfect Storm. I don't mean we explode at each other while sipping adult beverages on a warm beach somewhere. No, our blowups usually materialize when we've been up early and we're under the gun to make it somewhere. Or we've been driving multiple straight hours and we're stuck in traffic.
I am not sure about you, but the older I get, the less patience I have with the world. When things don't go well (a late flight, jammed traffic, or loud idiotic people around me), I tend to feel a tad . . . grumpy. It then builds. Add to that the stress of trying to get somewhere and, well, I can sometimes snap and push Heather's buttons.
Here's the secret. I really know how to push Heather's buttons. Most (all) spouses do, right? I know what switch to hit to make her feel confident, what to manipulate to make her feel happy, and, unfortunately, what buttons can really set her off. (Think yowling, hissing and spitting cat at 2:30 a.m.) Now, trust me, I usually stay very far away from those last buttons. I may look slow on the uptake, but I am not that slow.
Except for when I am tired, stressed out, and under the gun to get somewhere. And then, voilà, the little devil gets on my shoulder. The wrong buttons are sometimes pushed.
Case in point. Before we had our daughter, we had to catch a flight for Paris, France. We flew out of Los Angeles International Airport. We left with plenty of time to get to the airport (we thought) and then . . . Southern California happened. Traffic came to a halt. We were in a parking lot that used to be a freeway.
Time ticked away.
We finally started moving . . . and . . . got into another jam. We moved again . . . and . . . found another parking lot on the freeway. I was gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter. We eventually got under way. However, time was really against us. We arrived at the airport, got parked and headed inside. We were still okay so long as we could get through security and keep moving.
The security line was the longest and slowest I have ever seen.
We had finally exited the freeway and we were inside the airport, but we were stuck in our fourth traffic jam of the day. This one did not involve any automobiles, just a lot of very grumpy passengers staring hard at their watches, tapping their feet, and shooting evil death-rays at the security people (whom we could see waaaaaay down the corridor that seemed to stretch to France).
And now we were really short on time.
We inched our way towards the security checkpoint. I went first and I got through okay and everything should be fine and I am getting on my shoes again and adjusting all of the straps for the carry-ons and I am just waiting for Heather to get through and I am checking my watch and if we can just get Heather through and keep moving we should be okay but "Oh, my God," . . . they flag her for an extra security check.
Heather. The terrorist.
A TSA agent took Heather off to the side for a wand. This agent looked tired and angry at the same time. It was exactly how I was feeling.
Luckily for us, Heather had not brought any explosive devices with her or chemical nerve agents. The TSA agent waived her through and we started the long walk towards our gate. By this time, our plane was boarding and we were still trying to get through LAX. This was when we still carried our carry-on luggage (no wheels). They were heavy. I was carrying everything. We had a very long way to go and then . . . suddenly . . . we . . . could . . . not . . . find . . . our . . . boarding . . . passes.
I explained to Heather--very politely and in the loveliest tone of voice possible (a point which Heather disputes)--that my dear bride last possessed the missing passes and it was clearly her fault for misplacing them. I advised her (again very sweetly) that she should find the passes post hast so we could board our plane.
If you don't realize, I can employ a certain tone of voice that I know will send Heather over the edge. Sometimes, like when I'm standing in the middle of LAX in the midst of chaos, that tone just pops out on its own. Well, mostly on its own.
As soon as I said the words (and, yes, my tone of voice was probably not the best), I knew I was in for it. Because this is a family blog, I can't really repeat how Heather responded to me. Needless to say, I am sure any children in the immediate vicinity of our "debate" that day in LAX would have learned a few new words. Don't forget, Heather was a criminal defense attorney for many years. She can out-curse drunk longshoremen. I have seen it. It's epic. There are many reasons why I married this woman.
A sanitized summary would go like this. Heather explained to me (not so politely--at least that's how I remember it) that the mistake was mine, she had not misplaced any passes, and I was undoubtedly a lobotomized Neanderthal. We animatedly discussed the point for a minute or two. I recall one or both of us gesturing vigorously with our hands as we tried to convince the other who was to blame.
It didn't help. We could not find the passes.
We dug through her purse (again) and went through our carry-ons. There was a lot of frantic zipper action and rummaging. No luck. In digging through my backpack, I ended up dropping my CD player. Yes, I had a brought a CD player. This event happened well before our almost nine-year old daughter was born. Prior to this trip, Heather had suggested that I should buy an MP3 player, but I had resisted. Who needs newfangled technology when your current system works perfectly well?
My precious CD player, which I think I had all through law school, shattered into several pieces when it bounced off the floor of LAX. There went my music for our hop across the Atlantic ocean. At that point, it didn't seem to matter. We were doomed to miss our flight to Paris. So long fresh baked croissants. So long midnight walks under the moon next to the Seine. So long Eiffel Tower. It was all slipping away.
Except . . . the passes turned up.
Now, the important thing to remember here is that it's not about blame or assigning fault. I don't think anyone should point fingers or make the other person feel bad.
If you must know, I found the passes stuffed in the zipper pocket of my cargo pants. They were underneath my wallet so I had not felt them the first time I searched through my pockets. As I pulled the crumpled papers out, I recalled that I had haphazardly jammed the boarding passes into that pocket as we had approached the security conveyor belt for the x-ray machines. I had needed my hands free. We had to get all of our bags, shoes, belts and wallets on the conveyer belt.
In this day and age, we still have to remove our shoes? Really? We have technology that can scan through my thick skull. TSA can't get a machine that can scan through my Nikes?
When I got through the security check, and started redressing myself and getting organized, I had placed my wallet back into that pocket on top of the passes. I completely forgot about them while I had waited for Heather.
Heather, to her credit, was very sweet about it. She gave me that look (the same one she gives now as an exasperated mother when our daughter does something idiotic), she turned abruptly, picked up her bags, and she continued walking.
We made it to the gate while the plane was still boarding. My broken CD player went into the trash can. We boarded and collapsed into our seats.
Paris was fabulous. If you haven't been, you should go. It really is chic and the food is as good as advertised. Probably even better.
I received good advice at my wedding. Married couples are bound to fight. When it happens, you should fight naked. It keeps the fights shorter and it's much easier to then make up. That sage advice, however, does not work well in the middle of LAX.
In hindsight, I think the answer is give yourself more time to get where you're going, and remember that it will all work out. It usually does at least. However, whatever you do, don't stuff your boarding passes into your pocket, forget about them, and then suggest to your bride that it is her fault. That, my friends, is a mistake.
By the way, when we got back, Heather bought me an MP3 player. I must admit that it was much nicer than my old CD player. The sound quality was perfect and it was very easy to use. Even a lobotomized Neanderthal could figure it out.