For a family to work, I really think it’s important to have one spouse who can just roll with it when things go wrong. I want to be the chill spouse. I am not.
We went on vacation last week, flying from the West Coast to the East Coast with our 3 kids. The first leg of our journey involved a lengthy drive to the airport, a shuttle from long-term parking to the main building, a jaunt through airport security with 50 tons of baby foods and other liquid items all neatly packed in quart-sized Ziplocs and a 4 hour flight from Seattle to Detroit.
Before we left home, in an attempt to be the chill spouse, I asked Dan to make a pact with me. No matter what happened on the vacation, we would see it as a fun adventure. If we smashed our rental car or our plane broke down on the runway, we would make it fun and we would not freak out. He agreed because he’s cool like that. I think we even pinky-swore.
However, after making it through airline security and checking in with the travel planning app on my phone, I noted that our flight was running 20 minutes late. So we went potty (we “went potty” instead of “using the restroom” because there were three small children with us), we took pictures of the kids in the main terminal and then followed the arrows to our gate. And we kept following them, down elevators, onto train platforms, through underground tunnels, up escalators.
I could never remember going to a terminal so far away from the main airport buildings. It took fifteen minutes short of forever. Here I will add that I was too cheap to check any bags so the 5 and 7-year-old were each pulling a wheely suitcase and Dan and I were each wearing a large backpack, pulling a wheely suitcase and taking turns pushing Wanda in the stroller. Wanda had quite the entourage.
When we finally arrived at our gate, we found our airplane already boarded and the doors closed. We had missed the flight even though we could see it right out the windows.
And I freaked out.
Are you kidding me?! The plane’s right there?! I can see the PLANE! We woke up our three children at 4:30 this morning and I want to get on that plane NOW!
Dan, who generally hates travel, put a hand on my shoulder and smiled, “It’s all an adventure, remember?”
I wouldn’t say this calmed me. It did make me remember how much I like him and it helped me put on a calm face for the kids and the airline workers but inside I was still a basket case. I stood in line at the ticket counter and fought rage at the woman in front of me. I had to reschedule our flights and whatever she was jabbering on about could surely wait. It surprised me how hard I had to fight for control.
And all the while, Dan and my little group of adventurers sat and talked and laughed, even though I’m sure it was hard for him. We ended up getting moved to a flight an hour later that still got us into Detroit in time to make our connecting flight to Philly so we could drive down to the beach to meet up with my family.
The only impact of the missed flight was to make for a better story and I felt silly for planning to be so calm and then failing so quickly.
I thought a lot about it throughout the vacation. Why was it that I blew my top when the first little thing went wrong, while Dan remained positive and confident? How could I be so determined to stay sane and help everyone else have a great time and yet struggle so hard to keep my cool?
I came to two conclusions:
One – I think every marriage needs one spouse who is positive, calm and in control or the whole thing will fall apart. It doesn’t need to be the same person every time but you can’t both lose it simultaneously or your children, sensing your weakness, will go into a frenzy of highly unpleasant proportions.
Two – Sometimes it’s okay to just fake it. Kids aren’t stupid. Spouses are even less so. They will likely be able to tell that you’re faking it but they may just appreciate the effort and they’ll hopefully learn a little something about controlling themselves and getting their Pollyanna on, especially when it’s most difficult.
So who’s the calm one in your family? Is there someone who’s grounded and keeps things in perspective? Is it you?