when parents fight


My hands were full with a sleeve of diapers and two books. You were sitting on the bed with our little man. I heard you say, "They laughed at you? Well, that’s their problem, not yours, buddy." You and I had talked about it earlier in the day–that Lucas said he didn’t tell the kids at school about his first baseball game, or the special ball he got, because he said, "they laugh at me."

I heard you speaking to him before I walked in. But once I did, you said, "Mama, come here now." Said isn’t really the right word, but barked is overused—demanded works. "Mama, come here now," you commanded.

"No," I said from the bathroom, "I have to put these down first." I didn’t put things where they belonged, didn’t straighten up, didn’t even flip on the light. I was standing beside the two of you in only a matter of seconds. Not minutes, seconds. It wasn’t good enough.

"Stephanie, when I tell you to do something, you do it!"

I stood there with that line, staring at you. I still can’t believe, not only that you would say that to me, your wife, but that when we spoke of it later and I repeated it back for you to hear, you agreed that you’d said it, and saw nothing wrong with it. It gets worse.

"You are not the boss of me," I responded. I wasn’t shouting. Still, I shouldn’t have said anything. I sat on the bed.

"This is important; you come here now. You don’t drop things off in the bathroom first."

"They were heavy, and I’m here now."

"This isn’t about you, Stephanie, Jesus!" With this, I recognize how explosive the situation is. "I’ll be right back," I tell Lucas. Abigail is racing, bottomless. Waiting for me to take her to the potty. I leave the room. You follow me.

"Don’t" I say. But you do. You follow me. You are enraged. You’re not backing down. If I had looked for it, I could have seen a pulse throbbing in your neck. I can’t remember what you screamed next, with Abigail racing around us. I just wanted you to stop, but you wouldn’t. I tried whispering, telling you to please "shhhh." I tried to put my hand over your mouth, which was a mistake.

You grabbed me by the wrists, pushing them away. "Get your hands off me," you raged, as if I were the abusive one. I didn’t know what to do, how to end it as fast as possible.

I turned in the other direction. "I need to walk away from you now," I said, attending to Abigail, trying to get her on the potty. You followed me. I turned away again, back to the kids’ room.  "Just go away," I said. "I’ll put them to bed. You’re out of control."

"No! I’m not going anywhere." Then to Lucas you said, "I’m here for you, buddy. But your mother, she doesn’t care about you."

I don’t care how enraged you are. There is no excuse for this, ever. It’s not just that you’ve said something so damaging to him, so insulting to me, but you still have yet to apologize. You have yet to say, "I hate myself for getting that out of control. It’s unacceptable, ever. I need to never, ever do that again. Not only because it’s hurtful to you, but it’s hurtful to this family, to who I want to be." You’ve said none of it. In fact, you want an apology from me, for not following your orders fast enough. For how I "made another excuse, complaining that things were heavy, instead of immediately attending to the situation." Or in your words, "Putting yourself, Stephanie, over anyone else. It was all about what you perceived of the situation, and it didn’t matter how strongly I felt about having you sit down that second."

I didn’t say another word to you. I took Abigail to the bathroom, helped her with her pull-up, told her to climb into her bed. You said again to Lucas, "Your mother only cares about herself." I ignored you. I sat with Lucas, as you tucked Abigail into her bed.

"The kids at school laughed at you?" I asked, repeating the part of the story I knew.

You continued, "Don’t tell him what happened! Why wouldn’t you ASK him? Jesus!" With all I had I resisted telling you to back the fuck off and let me be his mother the way I am, stop telling me what to say and how to say it. Stop giving orders. I didn’t say anything. I listened to Lucas, who, when I asked him if he’d tell the kids at school about his baseball, he said, "They’ll laugh at me, and throw my baseball out into the street, where a car will run it over." I wondered if this was something he’d seen on television. At school, the playground is in a courtyard, nowhere near cars.

"If they laugh, say ‘Hey, thanks, it’s a fun story,’ because you know what honeylamb? You’re a funny guy. And you’re smart. And generous, which means you’re really good at sharing. You’re an excellent singer. And what else are you?"

"I am…"

"Go on."

"I am important."

"That’s right. You are very important, and you matter. You can do anything you want to do." And we continue with our bedtime ritual. And I’m thankful for starting this ritual, ending our day with all that was right in it. Speaking of our favorite parts, and reminding them how special they are to us. But I’m acutely aware that all the positive talk in the world can do nothing to combat dysfunctional parents. I sing them to sleep, you hug them, get them water, we leave the room together, and walk off separately.