When you live with someone long enough, they can do things, even little things, to really get on your nerves.
Growing up with my two sisters we fought over clothes, bathroom time, and whose turn it was to do the dishes.
Husbands are also a great source of pet peeves; never refilling the toilet paper roll, leaving wet towels on the furniture, and flossing their teeth anywhere but in the bathroom.
And my late mother, she HATED when you’d read a book without a light on behind you. If you really pissed her off Mom would usually react one of two ways:
- Respond sarcastically to questions like, “Where are you going?” with, “Crazy, that’s where!”
- The silent treatment.
Mom was a pro at “2.”
These pet peeves and others are minor inconveniences we put up with every day. Whether it’s finding toenail clippings or coffee stains on the counter for the 1,876,435 time, we supposedly love these people and are willing to bite our lip because we know their good qualities far out weigh the bad. Besides, none could be so irritating as to cause a mental break, right?
Then comes Charlie.
I love my dad. He’s often thoughtful, funny, and tolerates me eating his food and using his washing machine while I’m visiting in exchange for home cooked meals, cleaning, and, I assume, my sparkling personality. That said, however, Charlie also has some seriously grating aspects to his personality that can be beyond irritating and could nearly drive a sane person to tears.
Perhaps that’s what was causing Mom to go ‘crazy’?
I’ve begged him, I’ve pleaded. Still no change in his behavior.
“Dad, could you please turn the music down?”
“DAD. I’m sitting right here. You really don’t need to yell.”
“Could you PLEASE STOP leaving your wires everywhere? Someone is going to trip over them and kill themselves!” (Close calls happen about a half dozen times a week.)
“Are you aware you just said ‘Son of a bitch’ five F*CKING times in the last five F*CKING minutes?!”
The thunderous snoring. The TV at full volume, coupled with his refusal to replace the battery in his hearing aid. The pointing at his non-existent wrist watch at the stroke of 12 noon and 6pm to not-so-stubbly indicate he’s ready for me to make food. I’ve bitten my lip and lived almost blissfully with all of these “minor inconveniences” for weeks. Then the day came when I discovered the biggest potential Dad-related pet peeve of all: A disrespectful sound used to cut me off in mid-conversation. That’s when I mentally broke and the Mexican Standoff or, in our case, German Standoff began.
Shortly after I’d arrived for my summer visit home, Charlie had generously given me space to work. Despite being somewhat confined by computer towers, 10-year-old unused kitchen tiles, and a giant stack of phone books, I was still able to use my laptop and sewing machine in relative peace. It was a passable solution, for a while…until Dad decided to move his computer repair hobby onto the kitchen counter…just 3 feet to the left of my workspace.
For 8-10 hours a day he’d BANG on machines, shout or mumble obscenities, and play card games and country music so loud you could hear it across the street. Then, of course, there’s the bulldozer-style napping which takes place 3 feet to my right. (See previous post titled The Art of Taking Naps and Killing Your Children.)
For weeks I said nothing. I bit my lip as I always do. It’s his house anyway, I reasoned, so I made do. I tried headphones. I worked late at night. I even went to a local café with WiFi, but that only worked half the time.
Finally, I knew I had to do it. He’d given me the space to work and that’s exactly what his constant noise and distraction was preventing me from doing. So, I politely approached Charlie and asked if he could help me find a reasonable compromise.
“Dad, I’m just asking for…”
“Excuse me? Dad, that is so rude…”
“Oh, okay. I see. You want QUIET, eh?” Yeah. It is so on!
*Cue Clint Eastwood, Spaghetti-Western theme music*
[The 6 min finale of the movie is like Ken Shamrock vs. Dan Severn at UFC 9, only if Big John McCarthy was allowed to carry a gun.]
The Silent Treatment
As I learned early on from Mom, there are few things more frustrating than someone intentionally ignoring you and, for three days, the house became a virtual black hole of conversation.
Day One: Charlie, without admitting defeat, took all of his crap off the kitchen counter.
Day Two: Several times a day I hear him trying to find me in the house, only to pretend he was looking for something else when he does.
Day Three: Dad no longer indicates meal times and instead looks longingly into the refrigerator as if to suggest he’s incapable of heating up leftovers in the microwave.
Charlie’s daughters are far better at the silent treatment and he knows it. We learned from the best.
But three days later and still neither of us had broken the standoff? Who would shoot first to declare the winner?
During this period of temporary quiet I thought about aspects of my own personality that might become someone else’s pet peeve. I know sometimes I ask questions or for instructions, but my brain translates the answers into what I want to hear so I end up doing things ass-backward. Annoying, yes, but will this trait eventually turn me into Dad who chooses not to ask questions at all?
Like, remember the time when he wiped a woman’s laptop hard drive without asking if she needed a backup?
Or how about the time when he chopped Mom’s favorite hydrangea bush down to a ground-level stump because he didn’t know how to prune it? Oh, you didn’t know? Well, he did that too.
We all do shit that gets on each other’s nerves. Sometimes we overreact, but most of us recognize, more often than not, that in the grand scheme of things wet towels and bread crumbs are not worth getting worked up about.
Was I being too hard on Charlie or not hard enough? Would he call for a truce or should I end the standoff for the sake of household harmony?
Then late on Day Three, during one of the times Dad was searching for me around the house, he caught my glare through the front door. I was reading a book on the porch in the quickly fading sunlight and looked up when I heard the screen door creak open.
“I’m heading to bed now,” he said with a slight apprehension in his voice. “Okay, Dad” I replied, “Goodnight.”
Charlie then turned to close the door, but he paused for a moment and turned on the lamp behind me. He and Mom shared the same pet peeve, but this time I think he was actually just trying to help me see better.
It’s not a victory, but I’ll take it.