On branches and weeds

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?”

A casual glance through the front window. “Nope.”

“Okay.”

My husband and I had been having this same conversation for four months. The two trees in our front yard were so over grown that the leaves were only inches away from the ground. One exceptionally long branch was hanging over the street, waiting for a strong wind to knock it into one of our neighbor’s cars. Our yard was a hazard and an eye-sore. We both knew it and we both wanted to do something about it. We looked into hiring a landscaper. We had seen several trucks on our block and they had all very helpfully stuffed their cards through the screen door. Still, every offer seemed too expensive. In my eyes, the logical thing to do would be to trim the trees ourselves, but we didn’t have the tools or friends we could borrow the tools from.

“Besides,” my husband would always say. “Our trashcans are too small to fit that big branch and all of those leaves. They would just end up in a big pile in the back yard, and I don’t want to have to deal with that.”

I asked if he could borrow some tools from work since they sometimes have to do landscaping around their billboards. I volunteered to help him so that we could get the task done quicker. I suggested renting a dumpster to put the branch in. I did everything in my power to make the job sound easier than it was. There was always a good reason why he couldn’t ask his boss about the tools or why this weekend wasn’t a good weekend to take care of the yard or why renting a dumpster wouldn’t work. Meanwhile, the wind kept blowing and the rain kept coming and before we knew it, there was a jungle of weeds in our backyard tall enough to touch my hips. I started pulling them myself but the task was daunting, especially since four hours of pulling weeds had barely put a dent in the sea of plant parasites in our backyard.

I didn’t want to nag him. Nagging men doesn’t ever seem to work. I watched my mother do it and it only ever seemed to make my dad angry. He would make his decision/do that one chore/buy that one appliance/paint the fence/file that document/get rid of the clutter in the backyard when he was good and ready, and no amount of complaining or begging was going to change that. (He always did get it done, just not when my mother wanted it done.) I tried nagging my little brother about his chores in the years after my older siblings were out of the house, my parents were both still working, and it was just the two of us on Saturday mornings. Mom had given us both responsibilities and I had done my share. I didn’t think it fair that he got to laze around and told him so. It would take an hour of his day tops to do his laundry, clean his room, and take out the trash. But no! He didn’t feel like doing it right then so he wasn’t going to do it. I would yell and scream until I had no voice and no dignity, and he would still sit there, very calmly, and say, “Nope. Don’t wanna.” (My little brother and I get along great now, by the way.)

The same thing pretty much happens with my husband. Neither of us have ever gotten angry enough to yell at each other, but we’ve gotten frustrated and annoyed with each other when I ask him do to anything repeatedly and he doesn’t do it immediately. Every time, he has stated very clearly that he heard me the first time and he does indeed plan on doing that thing I asked him to do, just not at the exact moment I would like this thing to be done. At times, I’ve been able to remember that I love this man and I chose to marry this man and, with that choice, I also vowed to respect this man whether he drops what he’s doing to do what I want him to do or not. And at other times, I simply stew in the corner, muttering under my breath about the “stubbornness of dwarves.” (Hobbit reference to those of you who are raising your eyebrows right now.) As you have probably concluded, the former response is the more mature and loving response, and the one I think we should all strive to achieve in situations like these.

So I decided to be patient despite the fact that the yards made my stomach turn every time I looked at them. He knows it bothers me, I reasoned. To some degree, it bothers him too. I just have to wait until it bothers him enough to push him to do something about it. That’s not to say I didn’t gently prompt him now and then with the, “Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?” question. But I don’t think he considered that to be nagging because he never became frustrated or upset with me when I asked.

Finally, the blessed day arrived when I pulled into the garage and looked over at my husband’s truck to see heavy duty gardening tools. Once inside, I saw my husband sitting before the TV, playing his video games, with the curtains drawn away from the sliding glass doors. (Usually, he keeps the curtains closed because he claims the light from outside causes a terrible glare against his screen.) It was a wonderful sight to behold; a clean-cut back yard without any sign of weeds. I expressed my joy by falling into his lap, throwing my arms around his neck, and kissing him repeatedly. I might have been a tad overly dramatic, but I have no regrets.

He trimmed the trees the next morning. I raked up all the leaves and thinner branches for him and we filled our trashcan plus two large garbage bags. He took out the chainsaw and cut down that dangerously long branch. Then he cut it into smaller pieces and we loaded them into the bed of his truck. We took a little trip to the landfill and bid a very short farewell to that branch. Then it was off to Smashburger for a date we couldn’t afford. While I’m usually very frugal and disciplined about going out to eat when we really shouldn’t, I was happy to charge it to the credit card. And while I’m usually very self-conscious about the way I look in public, I sported a messy high pony tail, an old Spider-Man T-shirt, jean shorts, and my running shoes without a care. Because our yards were clean, our trees looked beautiful, my husband was in a good mood, and we were eating great food.

“In the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” I don’t know who Khalil Gibran is, but he’s a wise man. I think sometimes I get so caught up in being a wife that I forget to be a friend. I could’ve said something along the lines of, “Finally!” or “It’s about time you finally got this done!” or “If you’d just listened to me four months ago, this would have been done by now!” but that would’ve changed the day completely. It would’ve led to an argument. Instead, we were able to work as a team and enjoy lunch afterwards, teasing and talking and just being together. As a couple but also as friends.

I’m so thankful that my husband and I can do things like that. We can work, run errands, do chores, even sit together in the same room (him playing his video games, me watching Gilmore Girls on the laptop), and be refreshed. Together. And I think it’s because of the way we choose to respond to one another in potentially upsetting situations. Did I have a right to be mad? I think so. Did he have a right to lay into me for asking him about the yards every so often? No matter how gentle or nice I was about it, I was still repeating myself so, yes, he probably did have a right to become frustrated with me. But I know my husband; he’s not a lazy, good-for-nothing, moocher who waits until I get tired enough to just do whatever it is I want done myself. He had a timetable that was different from mine, and respecting that brought forth good results. And he knows me; he knows my intentions are good, even if I sometimes let my emotions or other circumstances get the best of me. The key, I think, is remembering the truths about each other and using those truths to shape our responses.

I don’t pretend to know everything about marriage. After all, I’m still a newly-wed. (We’ll be celebrating our second anniversary at the end of May. Woohoo!) But I think we’ve got a good thing going on here, and if I can share it with others, maybe even be of some help, I will.

Communication

I usually do the dishes in our house.

Despite the fact that both my husband and I make dirty dishes, the kitchen is my domain and he “wouldn’t know where to put the dishes anyway” if/when he ever got the overwhelming desire to clean. (Insert an eye roll from the wife right here.) But every once in a while, I’ll come home to find that the once large pile of dirty dishes is now gone, there are clean dishes in the dishwasher, and there are random plastics lined up neatly in the drying rack. I always make a big deal when I notice this in the hopes that my big hug, kiss, and a thousand thank-yous will encourage him to surprise me with a clean sink more often. Well, Monday after work was no different. He only got around to loading the dishwasher and left the plastic Tupperware containers for me to wash, but I was still thankful because most of the work was done.

Too lazy to actually take the dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away in their proper locations, I resorted to taking out the silverware I needed right from the washer. (We always run out of silverware before we run out of plates, cups, or bowls for some reason. At times, I think we just need to buy another 48 piece set of silverware, but I’m not so sure that would really fix the problem…) Anyway, it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I ran out of clean bowls and reached into the dishwasher for one. There was still chocolate syrup in the supposedly clean bowl I held, quite a bit of it. Which lead me to the dreadful conclusion that, if this bowl was still dirty, every other dish in the washer was too. (Insert gag reflex here.)

Whenever I load the dishwasher, I always run it whether it’s a full load or just half of one. I do this so that we can at least have some clean dishes at the end of the day. So, when I noticed my husband had loaded the dishwasher on Monday, I assumed he had run the washer as well. I was mistaken. As I washed the chocolate syrup from the bowl, I experienced a series of emotions ranging from anger to exasperation to self-pity to resignation. I know what people say about assuming. I concluded we were both at fault in this situation.

When I got back from work and found my husband gaming on the Playstation yesterday, I told him what happened as graciously as I could manage. His expression of horror and disgust was further proof that he had not done this terrible deed maliciously and, after he apologized profusely for the eighteenth time, I reassured him that it was all right. He explained that he was in the habit of leaving half-loads unwashed in the dishwasher with the hope that more dirty dishes would come later and he would be able to run it with a full load, thus saving water and soap. I asked him to please just run the dishwasher every time for peace of mind and he promised he would. We had a laugh about it later and I said the same thing I always say when something like this happens.

“We need to work on our communication.”(For those of you who don’t know, this is a quote from Independence Day, when Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are flying the alien aircraft.)

It’s funny to both of us whenever I say this because, when we were dating, we were so sure we had that communication thing down. We talked about everything. Literally. He found out about my problems with dairy and constipation the first month into our relationship. He texted me while he was on the toilet numerous times and wasn’t embarrassed to inform me when he had a surprisingly large bowel movement. We thoroughly discussed the pros and cons of home birth versus hospital birth and the possibility of aliens. We talked about what we would do if we won the lottery or were stranded on an island. We shared about our dreams (the ones we had while we were sleeping and the ones we wanted to accomplish in the future) and voiced every random question that flitted through our minds. When I did or said something that bothered him, he’d let me know in the nicest possible way and vice versa. We just had that kind of relationship.

Still, certain bits of information seem to fall through the cracks now and then. It can be frustrating, but mostly it’s humbling.

Our friends and family have commented on the ease of our relationship. I can count the “big arguments” we’ve had in our three and a half years of knowing each other on one hand, and even those can’t be considered big when compared to the fights other people have. I mean, we’ve never raised our voices at each other or thrown things at each other or spent a night apart to “cool off.” In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever gone to bed angry at each other. It was a struggle to admit he was right and his ways were best at the beginning of the marriage (I’m not just saying that; 99% of my husband’s methods have proven to be smarter/more efficient than mine.) But I was able to overcome my pride and get over that after a few months. There are things he does that bother me, but he’s made an effort not to snap his fingers to get my attention or whistle for the dog when I’m standing right next to him (he whistles through his teeth and it’s the LOUDEST sound I’ve heard to this day) or turn the water ice cold and jump out of the way while we’re showering together.

These trivial things we “suffer” through might sound small to other couples, but they mean a lot to me. These little things are what keep me from getting a swollen head and thinking I have a perfect relationship. They help me relate and be compassionate to other wives. They are the funny stories I can share with my single friends much, much later, when neither my husband nor I harbor negative feelings toward the matter/event. They are what makes my husband and I human. So, when you look at it that way, you can say that miscommunication and mistakes are things to be thankful for. (Insert cheesy thumbs up here.)