I was at work on a Sunday when I got a text from Mel, “I’ve officially lost it today.”
I went to work early that morning and would be there until late. Before that message, I got one that read, “Church was just great today.” She was being sarcastic. It was the rolling eyes emoji that gave her away.
Mel, being the hardcore mom that she is, took all three kids (at the time, ages 1, 6, and 8) to church by herself. I’ve done this before, so I know being in a church bench with those three little nutjobs feels like being trapped in a hot cage with wild animals wearing a suit and dresses, their little teeth spackled with saltine crackers.
“I need to poop.”
Times a bazillion.
That morning she sent a picture of Norah in a blue and white Queen Elsa play dress sitting on the living room floor screaming, butt up in the air, feet and head down, almost like she was in some angry Disney Princess-themed yoga pose.
I sent back, “I’ve heard about goat yoga, but angry princess yoga is new to me.”
I thought I was funny.
Turns out I’m not.
She texted back, “Not in the mood” along with a red angry faced emoji.
I’m sure the whole day, from getting the children up, to getting them to church, to sitting through church was horrible. To make matters worse, we're Mormons, which means church lasts for three hours.
I kid you not.
I once read online that three hours of church with three kids under 10 is comparable to competing in an Iron Man.
(Please don’t tell my bishop I wrote that.)
I’d been putting in a lot of hours at work lately. I worked for the athletics department at a university, and during the summer I managed summer bridge programs. These were programs that help students straight out of high school make the transition to college. They take hours of planning and programming. There was also the fact some of my student athletes viewed college classes like I might view a part-time fast food job. They just weren’t that invested, and my job over the summer was to get them invested. Let’s just say I was pretty popular.
I’d been working weekends and evenings, and when I was home, I wasn’t really there. I was stuck in my phone, answering text messages from student workers. The hope was for all of this to be temporary. I'd still managed to make it to church except for this Sunday. I didn't like being away from my family on Sunday.
It was a new job, and Mel and I were both adjusting to it, which meant I got a lot of messages like the one above from Mel.
The crazy thing is, I always referred to it as “my new job.” I talked a lot about my new responsibilities and stresses, but honestly, were it not for Mel caring for our children during the day, there’s no way I could’ve taken a job with such a crazy schedule. So it really was “our new job.” When I worked evenings, Mel worked evenings. When I worked weekends, Mel worked weekends.
Naturally, I didn’t think about any of that when I got Mel’s text.
I never do.
I thought about the stress of my new job and felt a pressure in my chest. A tenseness that I couldn’t really define, so I stopped making jokes, and I got angry. I thought to myself, “I have got so much going on. I don’t need this.”
I felt the tug of war between work and home.
As a father, I feel this every time I miss a soccer game for a late night work meeting, or I miss a parent-teacher conference because it happened during the day, or when I miss a scout court of honor, or when I can’t make it home for dinner. I wanted to be home, spending time with my family, but I also felt a tremendous responsibility to support my family and be successful.
I looked at Mel’s text and I felt the pressure all the more.
I wanted to call her and tell her I was frustrated at work and that I wished I could be there. I wanted to tell her I was sorry. I wanted her to tell me a few good things that happened so I could feel better. I wanted to leave work and fix her problems. But I knew none of that would change a thing.
I was stuck at work.
She was stuck at home.
So I paused for a moment. I considered what she might actually be saying.
Thinking back, Mel’s intention wasn’t to make me feel bad. She wasn’t complaining either.
She was venting.
This is something that took me a long time to understand.
There is a difference between venting and complaining. Complaining is asking for change. When Mel complains, she wants me to present her with an alternative. Venting is getting it off your chest. This is where Mel just wants me to listen to her frustrations. This is the same as when I come home and complain about students I work with. I don’t expect Mel to solve the problem (although sometimes she does help me think through a situation).
What I want is for her to listen and understand.
It was in that moment that I did something I almost never do. I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was overreacting.
I know… pump the breaks. I’m admitting it.
“I’m sorry,” I sent back. “I love you. We can talk about it tonight, when I get home. If you’d like.”
“I love you, too,” she wrote. “I’m just venting. Yes, let’s talk. That would be nice.”
I put the phone down and thought. The funny thing is, I’d heard about the need to vent before. I’ve seen it played out in a million movies and sitcoms showing the humorous differences between men and women. But as silly as all those shows might seem, the reality is, sometimes the hardest and yet most beneficial things we can do as husband and wife is to quiet our own fears and desires and just listen.
This is an excerpt from Clint Edwards’ hilarious book of apologies, I’m Sorry… Love, Your Husband. It’s a wonderful summer read. Click here to buy a copy.