Yesterday we set off on a happy family bike-ride in the balmy Good Friday sunshine. What could possibly get in the way of us having a lovely relaxed afternoon together?
Before we even set off, Ava and I had come to blows - over what she should wear. At 9 years old she seems to be careering headfirst into pre-puberty and is becoming almost as frustrating to live with as Ethan - though I love them both dearly!
As soon as we arrived at the place we'd planned to cycle, we met someone we knew. The guy was with his daughter who is in Ava's class at school. She and Ava inevitably wanted us all to cycle together.
The girl's dad subtly tried to gauge our reaction and asked which way we were planning to cycle. 'We're going this way,' came Ethan's very definite, un-subtle, 'no-room-for-negotiation' reply! I knew Ethan wanted it to be just us. I knew the unplanned, unannounced presence of these other people was hard for him to deal with - and maybe I should have let it go. But I just couldn't help myself, the unfriendliness and awkwardness in the air went against everything in my nature... 'We can go either way really,' I said, sensing Ethan glaring at me, 'it doesn't really matter to us.'
We stumbled over each other in politeness for a while - Ethan giving off negative vibes, me encouraging this guy and his daughter to join us and the poor guy trying to read through our conflicting lines and do the right thing! He went down the route of us both going our separate ways at first and he and his daughter cycled off, only to stop a few yards on, obviously wondering if they were the ones now being unfriendly, to say 'We could all ride together if you like...?!'
The upshot of it was that we cycled together for a while. It was frustratingly slow progress as we had to keep stopping because Sam's legs were tired. It was in a conversation during one of these stops that I was struck anew at how difficult it can be to have a decent conversation with Ethan. And also, with an 'average' bloke there for comparison, how negative and bitter he can sound.
The topic came up of when the kids are due back at school following the Easter break. Ethan responded in a grudging tone 'I'm surprised they've not shoved an Inset day on the end of the holiday.' We talked about how they're only back for a few weeks before they're off again. Then how there are only 7 weeks before the school year is done. The context was 'hasn't the time flown?' and I know Ethan was just trying to join in but his contribution of 'They're never there,' just sounded unpleasant: It was the unfortunate combination of his choice of words and tone of voice. Probably, my expectations and preconceptions colour how I hear him too. But Ethan's comment ended the conversation. Neither of us N/T's could think of anything cheery to say to that.
It was shortly after that stop-off that Sam gave up entirely. He was on a bike that was too small for him, his legs were working like the clappers to keep the wheels turning and he was just knackered! He let his bike fall to the ground and started crying.
Ethan responded the best he could. He tried to encourage Sam. But it didn't come out very tenderly. Again, the combination of words he chose and tone he used, meant he came across as impatient and irritated. Unfortunately for Ethan, his reaction looked worse in light of the up-beat, encouraging and positive solution-finding response from the other dad, who proceeded to push the back of Sam on his bike as he rode along beside him.
Poor Ethan. It must have been hard to see another bloke sorting out his own son so effectively in a way that Ethan struggled to achieve. I was short and critical with him too, having had my senses and emotions awakened to what other people's husbands and dads are like. Without a direct reference, you often forget how tense your family life is compared to other people's.
We did, at least, talk things through a little bit when we got home (which, incidentally, was hours later as Sam ended up with a flat tyre and had to walk the last mile!)
I'm pleased to say that Ethan was in touch with his emotions and said how he struggled with someone else pushing his son on his bike and how he'd struggled also with these unexpected guests joining us in the first place. He stopped short of saying that this guy's presence highlighted his shortcomings and made him feel uncomfortable - but we both knew it.
After fourteen years of being married to Ethan and a few years prior to that dating him, I do love him, but sometimes in a resigned kind of way. And I know how hard life can be for him. Sometimes, when he's trying hard to fit in and be sociable, I feel a surge of love and affection for him. But, other times, when faced with the sociable, easy-going, up-beat ease of other people next to the awkward, gloomy tension of Ethan, I find myself looking at him through other people's eyes and just seeing someone abrupt, negative and difficult to get along with. It's tricky when that person you're seeing in such an unattractive light is your husband.
And I know this blog might seem like just a tool for criticising Ethan and moaning about my lot in life. I don't mean it to be. As I've written before, I'm an N/T partner with plenty of difficult-to-live-with traits of my own. It's just that I happen to be the one writing this blog, hence Ethan comes in for all the criticism. I should get Ethan to write a post about how frustratingly chaotic, emotional, illogical and demanding I am to live with...make myself vulnerable for a change...
...watch this space!