Stuff Theory

A very close friend of mine once came up with something called Stuff Theory: something to do with there only being so much stuff in the world, a kind of twist on the theory that there is only so much matter in the universe, that it can be neither created nor destroyed. The difference with the Stuff Theory is that it also applied to the metaphysical and abstract: like thoughts and emotions, behaviors and pathologies.

I know I’ve butchered the broad strokes of this Stuff Theory, and I know you’re wondering where I’m going with this, but there is a point. This recent move to Minnesota stretched the limits of my Stuff.

For the eight weeks before we moved, my wife traveled for every single one of them: that included all of the time that we were trying to sell the house, and trying to figure out what we were going to do regarding the children, whether or not to stay in Walnut Creek until or even through the summer, or to simply pull up stakes and move to Minnesota as soon as the house was sold.

As many of you know we chose the latter. Six days after selling out house we were living in temporary housing six miles from our new house, and the boys were in a new school, spending the last four weeks of the school year not really worrying about their school work, but taking the time to meet new kids and see what this new place was all about.

Three weeks before we moved, however, was the real indication of how much I had reached the limits of my stuff.

I had met one of my wife’s colleagues a year before, and we had found a lot of things in common. We always talked about hanging out and having a beer together, but never found the time. Three weeks before moving we found the time and a plan was made to go to his house for a small party. No kids. Just adults hanging out. That my wife had been traveling as much as she had made me thirst for this night even more than I might have.

The plan was for a Friday night, which surprised me that my wife would say yes to such a thing, since she never likes going out on a Friday night. After a week of work, especially a week of traveling, she just wants to stay home and hang out with her kids.

This night proved no different. As she was driving home from the airport she called to suggest that with everything going on, and with already having a baby sitter, maybe it would be better for the two of us to go out for a quiet dinner. Usually I would agree, but this night I replied, “I love you, but I don’t want to talk about your work, or my work, or the kids, which is my work, or how anyone’s dealing with the move, or anything about the family.”

I had had enough. During all of this, the responsibilities I had in the community had not stopped, my client was asking for me to do more work, there were added responsibilities at home trying to make sure the sale of our house went through, and there was still everything else that came with typical day-to-day life. I was living the cliché: not seeing the forest through the trees. All of this compounded meant that on this night, I was already set on a path towards self-destruction.

We went to the house of her colleague. It was a blast, and, eventually, I was blasted. My wife had had enough, but could see I hadn’t. The plan was made for me to stay and crash in her colleague’s guest bedroom, and off she went.

I think it may have been as much as an hour later – I really don’t know – but my wife called in a panic. She had closed the cat in the garage door.

I was pissed. Not because of the cat, but because the one night I had out, where I didn’t have to worry about waking up and feeding my kids, or worry about cleaning the house (which many would argue I don’t do well anyway ), or any of the other things that come with being the parent who’s always home with the kids, was being cut short.

If I closed the cat in the garage door while she was traveling, I’d have to figure out a way to take care of the cat, and make sure the kids were safe at home. Why couldn’t she do the same? Why couldn’t she just consider me traveling for the night?

She came to pick me up from the party to bring me home so someone could be home to be there for the kids, which in hindsight is quite ironic, and, evidently, I let her have it.

I remembered being in control and eloquently articulating my displeasure. From what she tells me there was a lot of choice language in a very loud voice that erupted from my mouth.

And she only told me this later in the afternoon of the next day when my stomach and head had slowly stopped making me pay for my irresponsibility the night before.

In the middle of it all our oldest asked me, “Dad, do you have a hangover?”

I thought, “This is just great. Nice example to set for your kids.” I answered, “Yes. This is a hangover.” And then I raced back to the bathroom.

“Wow,” he said as he followed me. “I don’t ever want to look as bad as you do. That must really hurt.”

From the mouths of babes, right? I guess the only thing I can feel good about from that moment is that this is the only time he has seen me that way. And not to sound self-righteous, but it was easily the first time in twelve or fifteen years where I had let myself get that out of control

The early afternoon came and my wife and I sat down and talked about what had happened the night before. That she was as understanding as she was I still find hard to believe. We talked very calmly and openly about how I had reacted.

At first she thought my vitriol was about my having resentment towards her, that her job was what was dragging us away from Walnut Creek. Because not all of my synapses were online yet, I loosely, but not very convincingly agreed with her, with one of those sheepish “yes dear” answers men often have for their wives.

As the conversation continued, however, we got down to the Occam’s Razor of it all: the scientific principal that the correct answer to a problem is most often the most simple. I had resentment, but not on the level that my wife was thinking. The resentment was almost adolescent.

OK. It was adolescent.

She could go out at night – even if it was for work – and not have to worry about anyone except for herself for that moment. I never had any time, unless I had a babysitter for the night, and then I had to remain totally in control of everything, and limit the activities of the night since I was paying for every moment that I was away.

Did my perception totally disregard the fact that when she was away she was working 14 hour days, and that when she went out for dinner or drinks afterwards, that, because of her position, she had to keep even a tighter lid on her behavior than I did? Yes. Absolutely. I already admitted that my position was adolescent.

For this night in question, however, I reached the limits of how much stuff I had available: stuff for myself, stuff for my kids, stuff for my clients, stuff for the community, stuff for my wife, stuff for me. I’m not proud of it, but given how my wife and I dealt with it – how my wife chose to deal with me – I’m no longer beating myself up for it. I guess that counts for something.

Who knows, maybe it’ll help with how much stuff I can deal with in the future.

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