I became aware of the subtle shift of power in my otherwise peaceful family home right at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was around the time we started to realize how naive we had been to think we would be home for two weeks, and then everything would just go back to normal. The kids were home from school, and my wife and I were lucky enough to be able to work from home, so when the world shuttered everything up, my family of five, plus my dog and cat, settled in for a long semi-claustrophobic quarantine. The trouble started simply enough.
Neither me nor my wife are morning people, but with three daughters under ten years old, and the aforementioned dog and cat, we carve out alone time where we can. To that end, we have a morning ritual that requires a little effort. Every day we wake up at 6:30, shuffle down to the kitchen and try to drink our coffee before the kids wake up. I started to notice that sometimes, when I got downstairs, my wife was already sitting in the living room, sipping her coffee in my favorite mug. This was not a shooting kind of war, but it was a war, a war for limited resources, a war for hearts and minds. Indeed, a fight for the delicate balance of power.
Ironically, the idea of “my coffee mug” was introduced to me by the very person that is now muscling in on my mug. My pre-marriage coffee mug selection was based strictly on size and relative confidence that it was clean-ish. Early on in my marriage I was summarily instructed as to which mugs are “her mugs,” and which are “my mugs.” This is not the proverbial hill I wanted to die on, so fine, the “Saint Anselm” mugs: hers. The old Dunkin’ Donuts mugs that we got for free: mine. Things moved steadily along for about a decade, marital bliss.
The morning of my epiphany, I stood looking at her thinking, Didn’t she use that mug yesterday? Or was that the day before? When was the last time I used it? The cabinet door can barely shut because there are too many mugs in there, so it was statistically impossible that the mug was used two straight days. I assumed that I was being paranoid and decided to let it go. The mug in question is not glamorous, mediocre at best really, not like the shiny blue “Late Show with David Letterman” mug, her favorite. My mug is half white and light blue and says “Dunkin’ Donuts” on it. That’s it. Who knows how these things happen? No one ever means for these things to happen. They just do.
A few mornings later, I grab the chipped mug that is just about one ounce smaller than all of the others, causing the coffee to dribble onto my hand enroute to the living room. Unusually the dishwasher is cracked open. My favorite mug must be in the dishwasher I assume. “Good morning.” my wife says, looking at me from behind my favorite mug as she takes a sip. Is she mocking me? We have never discussed the mug in question, but clearly an old Dunkin’ Donuts mug falls into the “mine” category. Right? Was that Good morning or Good morning? Unsure of her motives, I suspiciously eyed her as I drank my coffee. I decided that just because I might be paranoid doesn’t mean that she is not intentionally using my favorite mug to establish her dominance. Something needed to be done.
That evening, I intentionally put the contested mug in the back of the cabinet, right behind the “I came to party” mug. I dash down the steps the next morning like a seven-year-old on Christmas morning and there she sits, my life partner, the mother of my children, drinking coffee yet again out of my favorite mug. Her eyes watching me as I freeze.
“What?” she says.
“Nothing, good morning” I grumble, trying to appear as indifferent as possible.
She coolly says, “I made you a coffee, it’s on the kitchen counter.”
I return to the living room with my coffee in the mug we had gotten for free at Field Day at our kid’s school years ago, only the “e” of the logo still visible. We watch the news for several minutes quietly, the kids will come crashing down the steps soon.
I turn to her and say as casually as I can, “I like that mug.” “Yeah me too.” she answers.
The Cold War continues.