In my Ideal Life, I am a person whose children have age-appropriate chores and life skills.
I tend to let things fester. Because I am a people-pleaser and don’t want to give people a reason to be displeased with me, I will take on a lot of hurt feelings, of resentment, of irritation before it comes to a head.
But when I can’t take it anymore, I lash out like Mount Saint Helens, destroying everything in my wake.
Mountain out of a molehill
I was at a breaking point recently, during which I found myself singing (in the style of a Broadway musical) “F@%# you!!!! F@%# you!!!! F@%# you!!!!” while I turned t-shirts, underwear, socks right side out before I hung them on the line to dry.
I am guessing that a normal person does not pull out all the most vulgar profanity whilst simply turning laundry right side out. But apparently, I am the kind of person who does.
Just for reference, In my Ideal Life, I am a person who keeps perspective and doesn’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
So as of that instant, I was failing miserably at my Ideal Life.
I finished turning all those things right side out. I hung them up to dry and then a little voice in my head said, “What was that?!”
Here is genuinely the answer I gave: “This is proof that they don’t love me.” (Uhm, they left their socks, t-shirts and underwear inside out. This has nothing to do with how they love you.)
The little voice prodded, “How is this proof?”
“I have asked them three hundred times to simply turn things right side out.” (Still, this isn’t proof, is it?)
“Okay,” the voice gently censured. “Not sure that it deserved that song you were just singing.”
“They never listen to me!” (This is getting warmer. I have often said that I feel unloved when I don’t feel heard.)
“So what are you going to do about it?” the voice asked my irritated, volcanic self.
That is about what was to be expected. The more something bothers me, deeply, in my heart, the less likely I am to actually deal with it. I cannot explain why, but it is a pattern of avoidance behaviors for which I could possibly be GOAT.
“You should really mention it again,” the little voice said.
When you know you have to act…
Every so often, those thoughts pop into my head and they carry the power of a moral imperative. It’s how I knew I needed to start dealing with my shopping problem. It’s how I knew I needed to deal with my post-partum depression.
As I pursued my “Extend an invitation to one person every week this summer” challenge, my friend Izabela came over for tea with her nearly six-month-old baby. I was fresh off this little Broadway-style GOAT extravaganza and told her about it.
And she asked me “is it really necessary to turn things right side out? Who does it bother if the socks are inside out?”
Well, how about that. The voice of reason wears red glasses. Yes. Indeed. I seemed to be the only person bothered by this. So in theory, these little boys are okay with wearing their clothes inside out. Or at least with righting them just before they put them, if it ever got to that.
What I needed to do was to unhook my emotions from this peg.
Giving them a heads up
We must only demand that which each individual can give,” said the king.Le Petit Prince, Antoine de St Exupéry
At lunch I sat the boys down and told them that from now on, if they did not right their clothes when they removed them, I would not be doing it for them. They claimed to “always do it”, because, according to them: “our clothes are always right side out when we put them on.” To which I desired to make a sarcastic comment about “oooh, laundry magic!” But I calmly told them: this is your job now. There is no laundry magic anymore.
I felt like I had just won at parenting. With the little voice in my heart that had questioned my vitriol, and the wisdom of a friend, my emotions were now unhooked from the peg. Sure. The proof would be in the pudding, right? But I felt like I had been fair.
Yes, Virginia, there is laundry magic
When my biggest scalawag went to get his pyjamas on, he carefully folded the clothes he removed, carefully righted everything.
I felt so loved when I saw him do it. I wish I could express how warm and deeply joyful my heart felt when I saw that neat little pile of right-side-out laundry. My eldest scalawag doesn’t like snuggles or kisses, and it took absolutely every ounce of my self-control to not scoop him up and kiss him to pieces. I know his love language is words of affirmation, and so I said things that I knew he would understand: he is such a careful steward of his things. I was proud of how well he listened. And I told him that I felt loved by his obedience.
Do you know what he did when I said that? He put his arms around my neck and hugged me for a really long time. I do not know to what magic I can ascribe that moment of bliss, but I do believe it will be one of the highlights of my summer.
I know that I can’t count on him being so applied every single time he gets ready for bed. He’s five, almost six years old. We’ve got a lot of bedtimes between now and him being a grown-up.
But we made a teeny, tiny little bit of progress today.
Here’s to making my family life less unbearably complicated, starting by addressing the little things that cut deep.