The Big Man has a big pet peeve, which unfortunately correlates with one of my persistent faults. He hates it when people act “snappish,” i.e., lose their tempers suddenly, speak harshly.
I get aggravated very easily, and I’ve been working hard all year to try to curb my snappishness—both by removing sources of aggravation (a messy apartment, being hungry or overtired, etc.) and by better controlling my behavior.
In pursuit of this goal, from time to time, I’ve found myself giving little tutorials to the Big Man on How Not To Aggravate Gretchen.
Here’s an example. Last week, the Little Girl skipped her all-important nap and then fell asleep during a car ride with her grandmother. When the Big Man and I walked into the apartment at about 6:00 pm (this was MLK Day), the Little Girl was asleep on the sofa, still in her coat—one hour before her bedtime. She looked extremely cute, but we recognized the ticking time bomb.
The Big Man started firing questions at me, like “Well, should we wake her up, or try to put her to bed for the night?” “Is this going to screw up her sleep schedule?” “Do you think she’ll wake up incredibly early if we put her to sleep now?” etc.
This is the kind of situation I find very aggravating. First of all, I had no idea what the right strategy was, and I hate struggling with that kind of decision. Second of all, I had no idea what the consequences would be of whatever we did. Third of all, I hate to have someone firing questions at me. And under any scenario, we were likely to have a crying, crabby baby on our hands for some period of time.
So I must confess that I answered in a very snappish way.
Later, when peace was restored, I tried to deliver to the Big Man #5 in that series of lectures on How Not to Aggravate Gretchen. Surprise, the Big Man wasn’t any more interested in Lecture #5 than he’d been in #1-4. I was annoyed, and then it hit me: I am the one who should be listening to this lecture! I should be paying more attention to the specific trigger situations, so I can be on my guard.
If I’d recognized my pattern, maybe in response, I could have managed to make a joke like, “Well, whatever we do, it’s bound to have a bit of unpleasantness involved,” and let it go.
Buddhist teaching emphasize “mindfulness”—the skill of not just being present in the experience of the moment, but also observing yourself in the moment.
I need to stop lecturing after the fact, and start being more mindful in the moment.
And in any event, none of our fears were realized. The Little Girl woke up as soon as I tried to put her in her crib, ate dinner, went to sleep at the usual time, and didn’t wake up until morning. I was more bothered by my own fussing than by her fussing. Oh well, next time I will be sweetness and light.