It’s Not Me, It’s the Turbulence

by Chris on May 4, 2010

Saige and I recently finished reading a book together called “Change How You See Everything: Asset Based Thinking,” a book for teenagers with the mission of equipping its readers to learn how to focus on the positive instead of the negative in every life situation. It wasn’t really anything either of us hadn’t heard or already believed, but I loved how well organized the book was in restating truths that need to be repeated and reinforced in both of us.

We approached the mid-way point of the book, and it started asking questions and challenging us to identify and set goals to improve ourselves in the future, not by dwelling on our weaknesses but by emphasizing our strengths. I felt Saige begin to feel overwhelmed and retreat into her own anxieties, and I asked her if she wanted to take a break. She quickly responded with a simple “Yes” and got up to go to the bathroom, so I reluctantly, but supportively, put the book away and pulled out my Kindle to continue reading the grown-up version of the same book.  I understood that she needed a break, but I was hungry for the information contained in the book and wanted to feel like I accomplished something during the flight.

Saige returned to her seat and started watching her video podcasts on her iPod. She was watching a recent episode of “Old Jews Telling Jokes.”  After enjoying the punch line, she wanted to share it with me. She gave me the ear buds to her iPod and told me to watch it, so I put my book down and gave it my attention. After we fiddled with the volume, I watched and listened to the joke, chuckled at the punch line, and returned the device to Saige. I reset my mental context and resumed my reading. Saige, who I believe must have been unaware that I was struggling to focus on my task at hand, later asked me to watch something else. I smiled and let her in on my desire to stay on task, and she obliged with a smile. I wasn’t sure if her smile was covering up a feeling of neglect, or if she truly understood supported my intent. Shortly thereafter, she shut down her iPod and laid in my lap where she slept for about an hour while I continued to read. I absolutely love it when she cuddles up to me and falls asleep on my lap, and I was happy to care for her while I forged ahead in my latest learning adventure.

I didn’t see it at the time, but in hindsight I suspect that she began to feel overwhelmed by the content of the book and the emotions it was evoking in her, and after taking a short break in the bathroom, perhaps she returned to her seat desiring to escape into comedy and other forms of entertainment on her iPod. When she wasn’t successful at getting me to join her, she escaped once again into her sleep.  This is something I understand since I believe I did the very same thing later that night.

As we began our final descent toward the Portland airport, the plane encountered some heavy turbulence. The seatbelt signs came and the captain announced that we were almost home, so I nudged Saige back into consciousness so she could buckle up sand prepare herself for our final walk through the airport. The final approach was so bumpy that on a few occasions Saige thought we had already landed. I think for the most part we all trusted that this was “normal” and nothing to worry about, but there is always that sliver of fear knowing that this could be it and maybe we won’t make it through. I had a couple moments like that and remember myself thinking, “If this is it, it sure came at a perfect time! Kids are taken care of and I just had the time of my life with the girl of my dreams for a week in Chicago!”  We eventually landed, and I could feel the relief of everyone onboard that we had returned to mother Earth safely.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that as the weight of our jumbo jet hit the runway, Saige was feeling the weight of the world return to her shoulders.

As the plane taxied toward our gate, I gave my brother a short text letting him know that we had landed. He responded with an acknowledgment that he was on his way, and I responded with the word “Awesome.” That seemed to rub Saige the wrong way and she suggested that I sent another message thanking him for the ride. With tongue in cheek and a smirk on my face, I suggested that she write me out a script if she wants to tell me what to say. She seemed to take my retort in the manner that I intended, and snapped back with a smile, well then tell him that Saige says thank you. I was putting my phone away and responded to her suggesting that she tell him herself when she sees him. As is often the case, I found myself smiling back at her, who was no longer smiling back. She seemed so disappointed in me and shocked at my “behavior”, which puts me a very uncomfortable and unwelcome position. I tried playfully changing the subject, with a play on the whole “scripting” theme and said, “You’re just jealous that I’m a better writer than you.” That was not received well at all, and after a minute of silent treatment she let me know that I really hurt her feelings with that comment. I tried to reverse the damage by smiling and honking her nose, and she smiled and said “honk” in response. I thought to myself, “Yes! Crisis mitigated! We can continue on toward a happy evening together!”

So we got up together and exited the plane, and as we entered the airport I noticed that she was trailing behind me a few paces. This made me feel really uncomfortable and I waited for her and held her hand. She responded with a squeeze of warmth and for a moment I felt encouraged that we were ok.  I then realized that she wasn’t talking or smiling, and that her headphones had returned to her ears at some point in the past few minutes. I playfully pulled the ear bud closest to me from her ear, and she looked up at me, annoyed and asked what I did that for. With a smile I said “stop being anti-social. Let’s talk about something!” She snapped back “what do you want to talk about?” It was at that point that I realized she was pissed, which in turn pissed me off because I felt it was so unfair. I thought perhaps she was punishing me for my comment about being a better writer. I thought she knew how much I admired her writing and had even mentioned earlier during the flight that I though her strength in writing was much stronger than mine. But maybe that wasn’t even what set her off. So rather than start yet another battle, I retreated and gave her the ear-bud back. I had hoped that she would go ahead and turn it off and talk to me, but instead she just put it back in her ear. I was now all at once aware of the coldness toward me and realized that I had been holding her hand all this time. I released, and she returned to her following distance behind me all through the airport.

When we got outside, she told me she needed to sit, and relocated herself to a nearby bench. My brother had just texted me that he was there, so I remained on the sidewalk to watch for his vehicle. When he told me he was stuck in a long line, I went over to Saige to try once more to resolve this most recent divide that grew between us so quickly. I wish I could remember the dialog, but I remember it being very one sided, with me trying to find common ground and her determined to be defensive and leave me feeling like I meant to be hurtful, which I couldn’t be further from the truth.

She sat there, hurt and distant, and I got the final text from Charlie telling me her was approaching. I thought to myself, how unfair this is, that she would take this time to be so negative and upset, just as I introducing her to my brother for the first time.  Hoping to minimize the damage that her behavior might do to Charlie’s first impression of her, I put my game face on, and tried my best to foster some positive conversation while Saige remained silent in the back seat.  Later during the ride, she reached out to me and caressed my ear lobe, and I immediately responded by holding her hand, emitting as much love as I could through the connection.

When we got back to Saiges home, I thanked Charlie for the ride and so did Saige, no scripting necessary.  We went inside and, while at first I was hopeful that the turbulence from earlier in the evening had somehow worked its way through, it became clear to me that I was mistaken.  I felt trapped and mildly depressed that we were still stuck in the storm that never should have developed in the first place.  I don’t know when, but I fell asleep soon after I hit the pillow, perhaps hoping that the winds of misunderstanding might calm down before I woke up.

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