Harmony, Disharmony, Repair, Repeat

“Mom, have we repaired yet?” I can hear my twelve-year-old daughter now. I think I have created a monster.

Every relationship, albeit one with your partner, child, friend, coworker or neighbor, can be pinpointed at one of the three places – harmony, disharmony or repair.

Harmony is the fun phase. We are skipping through the daisies. All is well with the world. We are both in a good place so our relationship is in a good place. We are playful, free, safe and at ease. Emotions are regulated and for the most part, there is peace, creativity, laughter and joy.

But, we are human. Trying to get along with another human being who is not us. Shit. Along comes disharmony. One party becomes disgruntled, injured, frustrated or hurt and then like dominoes, the other party often quickly follows suit. Emotions flair and we wonder where those daisies went to. Tension and conflict arise and we are all of a sudden disconnected. Our relational engine has clogged and gunk is quickly accumulating. Not so fun anymore.

Two things about disharmony. First, disharmony is inevitable. It’s called relationship in real life. To have a relationship of any depth or length and not have disharmony is called denial. Secondly, your relationship can be in disharmony and you may not know it. If your partner is in disharmony, the relationship is in disharmony. Sorry to be the one to tell you but that’s just the way it is.

Thus, the success of any long-term relationship relies not on avoiding disharmony but on the partners’ ability to repair effectively. Having no repair tools and/or choosing not to use them is a recipe for the demise of the relationship. Or at least one for a limited connection that we choose to avoid and not grow further.

Do you have repair skills? If not, get some. Having a stocked tool box can come in very handy in navigating the complicated world of relational living.

The Not-So-Magic Kingdom

I know. Put me on the “bad mother” list. It took until my kids were teenagers for me to check the box for that mandatory childhood Walt Disney World vacation. It was the earliest I could manage the trip to Central Florida. Mickey and Minnie just had to be patient – I am the customary late bloomer.

After all this time of anticipation was “The Land of Magic where ‘all our dreams come true’” really as it is advertised? Hardly. In what was supposed to be all thrills and smiles, life as perfection … it was really just fancied and prettied up normality. I guess you can’t take humanity out of the princess. Mostly what I observed were overly tired and screaming toddlers being forced to smile for the camera yet one more time, exhausted parents who looked like they were on an expensive never-ending walking marathon and endless crowds with envied eyes for the FastPass+ Line. I think I got my money’s worth in people watching alone.

At one point, my daughter and I gave up our planned agenda (you really have to have one) to go “princess spotting.” It should be a new sport. We veered from Tomorrowland back to Fantasyland just to snap pictures of random girls that were donned from head to at least knee in perfect costume, all in hopes of attracting their dapper prince. (The shoes tended to be on the casual side – a major fashion faux pas for true princesses, I imagine, but, hell, this is the 21st century and Disney World is not easy on the feet.) Most adorned girls even had the hair thing going – greased back in a tight bun with the faux diamond tiara topper. We were impressed with their determination, if not downright jealous. We wanted to shed our shorts and t-shirts for their more glamourous life. One that guaranteed our dreams would come true.

Instead, we settled for reality Disney. A teenage son who chose to stay in the hotel room and order pizza rather than experience the Magic Kingdom. An angry mother (that be me!) who stupidly reminded him how much money this trip was costing me. A rainy day at Epcot with cheesy Mickey Mouse ponchos, extra and useless flimsy soaked paper maps, included. A deaf Uber driver who gave our grouchy and tired selves cold water, breathe mints and a warm smile at the end of a long day. A must-buy action photo on Splash Mountain, the woman in front’s hilarious flying Kramer hair, an added bonus. Countless roller coaster rides – all guaranteed motion sickness for me (“where is the closest vomit bag?”) while simultaneously bringing sheer joy to my daughter (“let’s go again, mom!”).

You get the idea. Even in make-believe, fairy dust and all, reality wins. We are stuck being human, having a human experience. Did my family and I have a perfect vacation in a perfect place? Absolutely not. We fought. We made up. We laughed. We sang out loud. We ate too much. We spent too much. We embarrassed ourselves. We embarrassed each other. In seemingly endless lines, with sweat dripping, we were miserable. Yet, in unexpected moments of my son’s spontaneous humor, we peed in our pants. Our adventure was far from ideal but it was wonderful.

Yes, life demands inclusivity. Even Walt Disney himself could not create a flawless world.

Now, if I can just get some fairy with a magic wand to zap that into my thick head, I am sure I can walk off happily into the sunset. Do you think that’s possible?

More Than Small Talk

Even as a little girl, long before a wider world I knew, something was not quite right with me.

I recall large family gatherings, the ones where endless amounts of feeling-stuffing food was passed around freely, yet not a single word of meaningful conversation ever went alongside. “Mmm. This sure is good,” was about the extent of any verbal exchange. No matter how tasty the food was, the emotional emptiness left me longing for more. My young and yearning heart wondered what was the point of this full-blown charade. Why bother? I wanted satisfying food. I wanted to stand up and scream, “is anyone having a real thought or feeling? Am I the only one that wants more here?” But, I never did. I was too cowardly. Or too well-trained. So, I learned to swallow my unhappy feelings and my desire for deeper connection along with the green beans, mashed potatoes and pecan pie.  

When I left home and wandered north, I discovered that superficiality is not just a southern quality. I had a former in-law who, I swear, epitomized the phrase “psychotic chatter.” That woman could talk incessantly about everything while talking about absolutely nothing that would lead to emotional connection between herself and another person. She never even looked up to see if you were paying attention. Let’s just say, I did a lot of knitting during those years.

Ironically, as I grew to appreciate my need for in-depth contact and learned the skills to engage in such, I have grown more tolerant of the value of small talk. It can start conversations and build rapport. But, at least for me, it will only ever be an appetizer.

Tantalize my taste buds but bring me home to some substance. Something I can put a fork in and it will stick to my bones. Don’t leave me with talk of the weather and the latest office gossip. I want to know what stirs your heart. What you have lost. What you dream about. What keeps you up at night and what gets you up in the morning. Take me to those places and then we can truly dine over a real meal. Together.

Yes, that. Pass me that, please, even on a flimsy paper plate and I will be dining like a true queen.