I’d prepared a carnic (picnic in the car) to eat on the way, I’d convinced Ethan that there would be enough snow on the hills to sledge and I had a rucksack filled with gloves, balaclavas and extra socks. Whilst I prepared everything I thought we might need, Ethan lingered (as he does) over his morning routine of time sitting on the loo with his Iphone followed by a lengthy shower.The time came. We extracted ourselves from church swiftly and headed for the hills. Unfortunately, it seemed, everyone else was doing the same. The queue started as soon as we hit the main road. I, in forced cheeriness, tried to make the best of it with comments like: “doesn’t everywhere look pretty in the snow?” and “who’d like another piece of pizza?” Ethan, when he bothered to speak at all in-between sighing loudly, said things like “We’re going to be stuck in this queue for at least another 40 minutes” and “Great [meant sarcastically]– now it’s snowing. This is going to be pleasant.” He made no effort to join in general conversation and looked thoroughly hacked off for the entire journey (more on Ethan’s face which seems to be frozen in an expression of gloom another time...). After a while, my irritation at him had built up sufficiently for me to blow a fuse. I told him he was selfish and miserable and spoiling everyone’s afternoon, that we couldn’t do anything about the traffic but what we could do something about was our attitude, that I was sick of being the one always trying to jolly things along while he did everything he could (knowingly or not) to drag everyone down, that the very times that things don’t go to plan are the very times we need to support each other to make the best of things. I was shouting and close to tears. The kids witnessed it all and the subsequent mood for the afternoon seemed set.
When we finally got into the country park, I spotted a hill where a few kids were sledging and suggested we park there. As Ethan went further along the road to turn round, I spotted another hill, closer to the official car-park where people were sledging and suggested that we went there instead. Ethan snapped at me “Can we just stick to what’s been agreed please?” – unable or unwilling to bend and flex with circumstances.
Finally, we got to a hill. From the moment we got out of the car Oliver (aged 4) started moaning that he was cold and wanted to go home, Sam (aged 6) started crying when snow went down his welly and Ava (aged 9) spent the whole time desperate for a wee! In-between all the moaning and arguments we had some nice moments (Ethan made a snowman with the boys - which Oliver then proceeded to kick down making Sam cry, Ava enjoyed the sledging - until the sledge went over a tree stump and broke and Ethan and I found an acceptable way to take our aggression out by throwing snowballs at each other – it even had the effect of seeming to the kids that mummy and daddy were having fun together!)
Why is it so hard to have fun together as a family? Either the kids moan and argue or Ethan is miserable and withdrawn (or both). The eternal pessimism of him gets under my skin and frustrates me hugely so we argue, so the atmosphere between us is tense, which I’m sure plays a part in the kids behaving as they do.As is the cycle, Ethan apologised afterwards for the way he behaved. He says he felt really angry (all it had taken was a traffic jam to create this anger) and he couldn’t snap out of it. I appreciate the apology – but am getting a little (a lot) tired of the pattern: Ethan gets angry/frustrated/gloomy over tiny things (just life, really) and makes no effort, which causes an argument between us, which ruins our family time together. Repeatedly saying sorry after the event doesn’t quite cut it.
And yet, what can I do but accept his apology (and apologise myself for my outbursts of temper and the hurtful things I say) and keep on going? I have to believe that we’re both capable of better, that we’ll both keep trying, that – one day - we’ll go on a family outing and, even if there are a few hiccups along the way, I'll report back that we had a lovely time.