It was one of our morning business meetings where Howard and I discuss the day and decisions we need to make. I explained to him an opportunity that was related to an event. He stared at me blankly. I re-explained twice before what I was trying to express became clear to him. No idea whether I was being unclear, or whether his brain was not parsing what I’d said. No way to determine which without a third party or a recording of the conversation.
I looked away from that frustration to glance at my email, where I saw that the business opportunity I’d just explained had sold out and was no longer available to us. It reminded me vividly about a much more important task associated to this event that I’d also been late in taking and for which I was still awaiting a satisfactory resolution. Cue feelings of failure.
I stepped away from the computer and into the kitchen, trying to recalibrate my day. I stood looking out the window and thought about the other things which currently feel like failures: the laundry (while clean) has been heaped in baskets for weeks, forcing both Howard and I to play “mining for socks” every morning. I was supposed to have a conversation with my son this morning about a thing he’s been doing that frustrates his sister. The conversation may or may not trigger an anxiety meltdown. And then there are the tasks that have lingered on my To Do list weeks past the original date when I assigned myself to have them done.
I decided to squelch all of that and go take a shower. Perhaps I’d be better able to do things once I didn’t feel gross.
This was the moment when Howard walked up the stairs, and I heard the shower turn on.
I stood by the sink, listening to the water of the shower. Howard had no way of knowing I’d been about to go shower. I hadn’t said an of my thoughts out loud. Recalibrate again. Maybe I could go fold the laundry while he was showering. That would be a nice surprise for him when he got out and I would have reversed at least one failure.
I walked up the stairs just as Howard stepped out of the bedroom door and placed the empty laundry basket outside.
Here we need some back-and-fill info. Howard and I have had previous conversations about the laundry. Processing and folding laundry is one of the household tasks that stresses Howard and breaks his brain. As near as we can tell it has to do with sorting a jumble of like items. We haven’t been able to train his brain to react differently, so laundry is my job and he takes on different household tasks that don’t break his brain. Having to mine for socks is exactly the sort of brain breaking activity that we try to avoid for him. Thus the laundry piles are very guilt inducing for me because my failure to fold laundry puts Howard in a brain-breaking position every single morning until the problem is resolved. Howard does not get angry about the laundry pile, but sometimes the only way for him to find socks is to dump the contents of the laundry basket on the bed so he can spread out the mass and better find socks. Howard has apologized for this basket dumping behavior, worried that it seems like a passive aggressive attempt to tell me that I should really fold the laundry now. I told him that I understood why he did it and it was okay.
But there he was deliberately placing the empty basket outside the door with an air of frustration. Dumping to find socks was one thing. This was something else. In that moment it felt like being slapped in the face with my laundry failures just when I’d planned to come and fix them.
Howard turned and went to shower. I began folding the laundry angrily. It turns out that laundry is not an activity that lends itself to angry venting, not like hammering or clattering dishes. There are not satisfying noises or solid motions. It is all softness and precision. I stewed the whole time Howard showered. Angry. Feeling like a failure.
This is the part that young Howard and young Sandra got wrong so very often. Young me would have not recognized how much of my anger was at my own perceived failures and she would have chosen more accusatory language. I did better this time. When Howard exited the shower I said
“So it turns out that dumping the basket on the bed is fine, but when you place the basket outside the door it feels like you’re scolding me.”
Howard said, “Yeah. Sorry about that. When I went to dump the basket, one of the speakers (from our music system) fell into the basket and I tripped over the basket, so I was mad at the basket and put it outside the door. I didn’t realize the action had a subtext until I’d already done it.”
I then cried a bit about all the things that were really upsetting me and Howard listened. He apologized that he couldn’t fix any of it. I told him I didn’t need anything fixed, I just needed to be told I wasn’t terrible.
Then I showered, and as expected, it helped me feel better about all the things.