An Insufficient Response to the Election

(Everyday Bravery, Day 18)

I don’t know about you, but the results of last week’s election have left me feeling completely overwhelmed.

First it was the election itself: While I wasn’t totally shocked that Trump won, I was surprised, and I swear it’s taken me lots of mental heavy lifting to adjust from my Clinton-framed view of what the next four years might be like to a Trump-framed view. As I said on Facebook the morning after the election, “I always considered both prospects for the presidency to carry some big negatives and some less-negatives. I’m now trying to get used to a different set than I anticipated.”

Then there are the reactions of my loved ones – everything from despair to giddiness. Many have been thrust into something like mourning. Some are struggling to grapple with what has happened. Some are grasping at straws, trying for something, anything that might undo Trump’s election. Some have taken a more productive course of action, setting the stage for four years’ worth of opposition. Others seem to be pinching themselves, delighted that a culture that has been so dominated by one (progressive) view of the world has been disrupted. They’re eager for their chance to be heard.

(Read the rest at the Catholic Review.)

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This post is the eighteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month From October through however-long-it-takes-me-to-get-to-31-days I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Working With My Weakness, Part Two

On Monday, I fessed up to a week’s worth of mommy meltdowns. I’d shouted, I’d sought solace in the liquor cabinet (not much – I promise), I’d run away from my family, waving my arms in the air while making what my boys would likely describe as monster noises.

I was a real gem to be around, I’m telling you.

In the post, I attributed the meltdowns to my easily overstimulated/overwhelmed/distracted self. I said that I’d been failing to account for my weaknesses – parts of me that I know are there, but which I’ve tended to wish away rather than face head-on.

Since then, I’ve received welcome commiseration from fellow moms-to-littles, who say they share my struggles. And I’ve received words of comfort from more experienced moms, who remember what it felt like to be overwhelmed when they too were in these trenches.

But the best message came from my lovely sister-in-law, who posted the following video to my Facebook page:

Kid President! Who doesn’t love him?! (Thank you, Lisa, for the boost. I promise to do something fun with the boys in your honor.)

More fun than this.

More fun than this.

In Monday’s post, I also promised a follow-up. It was supposed to be “tomorrow,” which was foolish of me to say, considering I was to be out of the house for most of the day on Tuesday and Wednesday (and I was in the middle of a miserable sort of cold). Mea culpa. Let’s just chalk this up to yet another of my weaknesses: a terrible sense of time.

Which brings me back to the follow-up post. This post. The remainder of this post is addressed to those of you who, like me, do NOT have it all together. It will be of no use to the well-organized, the efficient, the minimalist, the unflappable.

This post is for those who struggle with sensory overload, distraction, and a general inability to deal with more than one thing at a time. It’s for those of you who want to find a better way, but who keep finding your counters covered with clutter and your trash cans overflowing. It’s for those of you who only seem to remember important tasks while you shower and who never seem to be able to locate the right combination of shoes and socks to get your children out the door on time.

I’m on a journey and I want you to walk it with me.

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That is, I don’t have this thing figured out. I’ve just thought about it (quite a lot), and I’ve asked myself some questions that you might consider asking yourself.

On a few counts, I feel like I’ve found solutions that work well for me. On others, I’m making progress. But there are a fair number of challenges that I continue to stew on, having not yet come up with good enough plans for addressing them. I’m working on it.

All in all, I suggest four steps for figuring out how to work with our weaknesses:

1. Go back and watch that Kid President video again.

No, seriously – take the opportunity to smile (and cry?) and remember that your children love you, distracted/disorganized brain and all. Make a mental note to be silly with them, to dance in the kitchen or sing in the driveway – or go do it right now! Allow it to give you some perspective on this whole thing.

2. Think about your own particular situation in great detail.

What are your triggers? Which small things contribute to your stress? Which parts of your home or your schedule trip you up? How do you use your physical space? Are your rooms and things arranged in such a way that they help or hinder your peace? How do your days and your weeks tend to proceed? Are you a morning person or a night person? How do you feel at different times of day? How much solitude do you need? Which of your family’s schedules – work, school, etc. are non-negotiable and which can be adjusted? Do you have a hard time remembering things? When do important ideas pop into your head?

3. Identify some potential solutions and try them out – but not all at once.

There’s no use in thinking you can devise a perfect system, let alone implement it in one fell swoop. So start small. Can you make a tiny tweak that will address one particular trigger? Go for it. Think you have a strategy for addressing a bigger issue? Try it out. But don’t bite off more than you can chew: you don’t want to feel like giving up because your plans prove to be too much for you. Small successes are still successes.

5. Adjust, add, and adjust some more. (Forever and ever, Amen.)

If a plan isn’t working out quite right, make an adjustment. When you’ve settled on one good solution, tackle another problem. When circumstances change, adjust your strategies along with them.

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As far as I’m concerned, those four (well, maybe just the last three) are probably the most effective steps to making useful changes in your life: Think. Solve. Adjust.

How simple is that?

As I’ve been going about all this thinking and solving and adjusting, I’ve landed on several strategies that I’ve come to realize are essential to me. And who knows – maybe you’ll find them useful too. So here they are, along with some particular examples of what I’m doing, or what I need to do.

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Be strategic.

We have a large home. Inevitably, when we’re getting ready to rush out the door, or while I’m changing a dirty diaper, or as I’m juggling a half-dozen tasks at once in the kitchen – I realize we’re missing something. No one has socks. Shoes have gone missing. Diapers and wipes have not been replenished. The box of Kleenex is empty.

These are each small things – almost insignificant. But when they happen right in the middle of the crazy/loud/demanding hub-bub of caring for home and children, they can become the very straw that breaks the camel’s back. So as much as possible, I try to anticipate these small stumbling blocks and be strategic about avoiding them.

Now, don’t get me wrong – my house is pretty much a wreck right now – so it’s not like I do any of the below perfectly. I just try to do them well enough to prevent me from losing my mind.

The boys’ shoes are kept in a basket by the back door. Most of mine and Brennan’s sit lined-up right next to it. Their socks (as well as their underwear and pajamas, because we dress the boys for bedtime downstairs) are kept in a changing table located in the family room. (It is way easier to hop over to the family room for last-minute socks than to run all the way upstairs.)

We also keep lots of spare diapers and many, many packages of wipes in the changing tables. I keep some in my purse and more in a little back-pack, ready to grab for hours-long trips out of the house. We keep a couple boxes of Kleenex just out of sight so we don’t resort to swiping from the napkin holder until we make the next trek into the Great Upstairs.

I keep my car keys and sunglasses in the same place every day. I keep a grocery list on the fridge. I keep my drawers and cabinets orderly – all so that when I’m in a rush, I can find what I need quickly and easily.

I even keep (and this might be the idea I’m most proud of) a notepad on the master bathroom’s counter. Because wouldn’t you know it, I tend to do my best thinking and remembering while I’m brushing my teeth or taking a shower.

These are all piddly little things – but they’re real, effective solutions to problems that used to trip me up on a regular basis.

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Keep to a weekly rhythm.

I’ve known for a long time that I have a laundry problem. And I’ve known for a long time that in order to make that chore less intimidating, I needed to do a little laundry each day. But it’s only been a couple of months since I’ve (finally!) landed on a strategy that works for me.

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I do at least one, preferably two loads of laundry per day. If I’ve got my act together, the full baskets are set in the hallway the night before and the first load goes into the washer before I’ve even gotten the baby out of his crib.

But if I don’t have my act together, it’s not such a big deal, because Wednesdays and Saturdays are for sorting and catching up.

I plan to establish a similar schedule for cleaning our home, but I’m not there yet. (Mostly because the rooms are currently too messy to clean. Crazy, right? See below.) When I do come up with a schedule, I’m going to aim for the same rhythm: schedule work for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; reserve Wednesdays and Saturdays for catching up. Which brings us to…

Build in opportunities for catching up.

In addition to my can’t-handle-stimulation and shuts-down-easily weaknesses, I’m also a perfectionist. So a huge stumbling block for me is that when I don’t get something quite right, or when work starts to stack up faster than I can get through it, I tend to shut down and just refuse to do anything more. This tendency has been the death knell of pretty much every schedule I ever set up in the past.

But now!

Now, I have finally hit upon the realization (HOW could this have taken me so long?!) that I need to anticipate that particular stumbling block and build its solution into my schedule. That is, catch-ups.

So far, it’s working like a charm. No one week has looked “perfect” on the laundry front, yet in the months since I began my 4 Days On / 2 Days To Catch Up schedule, the chore hasn’t once stressed me out. It’s felt consistently manageable, and (wonder of wonders) we’ve consistently had enough clean (even folded!) clothes to wear.

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He’s unimpressed.

Reserve the right to reset.

A major problem in our household (which is also attributable to the perfectionism thing) is the glut of deep-cleaning/organizing projects awaiting my attention.

I love the idea of doing frequent touch-ups so that deep cleans are unnecessary. But that requires you to actually start from clean. We’re far from there. (Maybe some folks know how to chip away at a cleaning project bit by bit, but this perfectionist’s instinct tells her to go big or go home.)

In the course of my daily life, though, I generally don’t have time to go big. Most days, it’s all I can do to keep up with the feeding/changing/cleaning that is absolutely necessary; cleaning my bathroom tub feels like a luxury.

But do you know what’s recently occurred to me? The concept of a “reset.” Next week, I’m hiring someone to watch the boys for several hours so I can “hit reset” on some cleaning/organizing projects that have been sitting around for too long.

I reserve the right to do so again – and again and again. If I can’t get a project done in the course of my everyday life, then clearly I need to step away from my everyday responsibilities to get through it. And if I have to hire someone to take those over for me for a few hours while I work, so be it.

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Set aside time for the little things.

Here’s a place where I have an idea of what I need to do, but I haven’t yet properly implemented it.

My most obvious problem (and I know I should be loathe to admit this – look away, Mom!) is our overflowing trash cans upstairs. I enter our bathroom at night to get ready for bed, and there it is: a trashcan overflowing with Kleenex and dental floss. But I’m too tired to deal with it, so I don’t. In the morning, I’m rushing to do just what I have to do, so the trashcan gets bypassed again. Then I may not return to the space until that night, so the cycle is repeated.

I know what I need to do. I need to set a particular time to walk through the house and take care of the little things: empty the trashcans, replenish the changing tables with more diapering supplies, make the boys’ beds, wipe down the counters, tidy up a bit. Not doing these little things stresses me out, yet I fail to make time for them.

I tried the walk-through thing for a short while and I loved its results (I even enjoyed the work), but it didn’t last long – I think because I chose the wrong time of day. I keep meaning to try again at another time and see if it sticks.

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Protect the time for yourself.

I think this one may be the hardest. It’s certainly the one I’m worst at.

I have a pretty good idea of how I should structure my day so as to best secure my health and my peace: I should get up early. I should take a few quiet breaks during the day (and a solid, several-hour break once or twice a week). I should get our family through dinner at a reasonable time. Each evening while my husband puts the boys to bed, I should head up to our room to unwind and ready myself for the next day. I should get to bed at a decent time and get a good night’s sleep.

But it pretty much never goes this way. I tend to stay up too late, so I get up too late. I run behind on all the day’s major events and by the time I’m done with our (also late) dinner, all I want to do is sit still in front of my computer. So I stay up too late again and the cycle continues.

I need to make a better effort to change this.

But I also need to (and I think this was mostly the culprit behind last week’s meltdowns) focus on my needs for solitude and space during the day. Pretty much anything I do that requires thought (since I’m mostly incapable of focused thinking when I’m surrounded by my children) has to be done at night, when the boys are in bed. But then, not only can I barely keep my eyes open, but I feed that unhealthy cycle of staying up too late/getting up too late/etc. And if I try to fit in such things during the day when the boys are up, things tend to go badly. (See last week’s meltdowns for Exhibits A through C.)

So last weekend after the meltdowns, I talked to my husband and we agreed that I’d try to hire a mother’s helper this summer. Nothing is settled yet, but I’m hoping to get someone here one or two mornings a week to take charge of the boys and give me some (quiet!) time in which to think, write, and re-charge.

I really think it will help. I really think all of these strategies will help. I just need to keep working on them. I need to keep adding and adjusting and adding some more.

Forever and ever, Amen.

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Working With My Weakness

Last week included a higher-than-average number of meltdowns at our house. Not my boys’, mind you – my own.

One day I informed Facebook of my misery by announcing that I was researching au pair programs. (I was about 95% joking, but the remaining 5% was engaged in some serious fantasizing about how amazing life would be with live-in help.) Later that night I ushered in the boys’ early bedtime with a plea for cocktail recipes. I was tempted to follow one friend’s advice and just take a swig of each bottle:

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Another day I ran around in a serious (and probably very scary) frenzy, shouting and shooing the boys out the door to an appointment. I was nearly wild from the pressure of getting everybody dressed, feeding lunch, brushing teeth, loading bags, wiping bottoms, and pinning down a certain (screaming, thrashing) baby in order to change his poopy diaper. In my mind, I screamed “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND PEOPLE WHO ARE ABLE TO ARRIVE ON TIME!” In the car, I forbade the boys from speaking for the first few minutes of our trip so I could focus on calming my bad self down.

Yesterday evening, I put an end to hours of (my own) agitation by plopping the baby in the stroller, taking the boys over to my husband (who was working in the garage), yelling “I’M GOING TO LOSE MY MIND!” and running back to the house empty-handed. (I literally ran, waving my arms and jumping around like some sort of madwoman.)

They deserve better.

They deserve better.

I’m not cut out for this.

It’s all I could think as I came back inside from the garage: I’m not cut out for this. I love my boys. I love being a mother. I love taking care of my home and my family. I believe that I’m the right one for the job. But I am not cut out to do it every hour of every day.

My brain can’t handle that constant stimulation. There comes a point in any given day around here, on any given task, when I just shut down. I sit surrounded by my work and by others’ needs and I fail to see a single thing I could do to make the situation any better.

I feel paralyzed.

I’ve already said it about a million times on this blog, but I am very easily overwhelmed. For heaven’s sake, I can hardly function in Target – let alone a shopping mall – I’m so affected by the overabundance of sights and sounds. So a day’s worth of demands and arguments and diapers and meals and chores and interruptions and interruptions and interruptions… they often put me on what feels like the brink of sanity.

Like this. And this. And this.

Thank goodness for sweet boys.

Thank goodness for sweet boys who bring flowers to their mama.

Goofballs

Goofballs.

Not that it really matters, but I’m beginning to think that this thing about me is maybe an actual, diagnosable thing. (Lately I keep hearing about adult ADD. Could that be it? I’m honestly not inclined to find out.)

Why doesn’t it matter? Because whether or not anyone else views my thing as a thing, I have finally accepted it as a part of who I am – just as inseparable from my personality as my love for people or my inclination to broadcast my opinions. And after years of being frustrated with myself for my highly-distracted, easily-overwhelmed ways, I’ve finally (mostly) stopped beating myself up over them.

I’ve stopped telling myself that my personality is my fault. I’ve stopped convincing myself that I can just get over an elemental part of who I am.

I’ve started to figure out how to work with my weakness.

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How? I’m giving it – them (I have many) – a lot of thought. I’m trying to understand how my weaknesses interact with my experiences and responsibilities. I’m strategizing ways to minimize their effects.

I’m paying attention to my triggers – the things that shut me down or heat me up. I’m doing little things to address the little ones. I’m chewing on how I should resolve the big ones.

I’m recognizing that clutter and unfinished tasks are deadly powerful (and harmful) stimuli to me.

I’m acknowledging that when I don’t take care of myself, I’m ill-equipped to handle not only the stimuli, but also the people I love.

And (after my week of meltdowns) I’m finally accepting that I indeed need help in caring for my children. I don’t need a lot of it, but I do need a few reliable daytime hours a week when I’m not ‘on.’

So I’m working on it.

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Tomorrow, I’ll provide some examples of how I’m going about this work. (You know – in case any of you happen to share my particular weaknesses – or enjoy watching the sideshow that is the frazzled, overwhelmed, procrastinating, perfectionist, impatient, stay-at-home mommy trying to deal with herself.)

But until then, I’ll ask you this: Is there a part of you that trips you up? If there is, do you face it head-on, or do you wish it away?

Twenty Minutes (But Not Really)

It’s a blue-skyed, balmy 57 degrees this afternoon, so the boys are outside playing, enjoying the beautiful weather.

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Let me re-phrase that: I’m enjoying the boys playing outside in the beautiful weather. They’d rather be inside watching a movie, but I told them their choices were outside play or naps in their beds. Surprise, surprise: they chose the former.

I have a million things on my to-do list, but thought I’d take a quick twenty minutes* to post a little update on the blog, because: Quiet! Ohmygosh it is never quiet around here! Boys outside, baby napping, and this the first quiet, awake, non-committed moment I’ve had in a week!

I’ve got to sit here and savor it a bit.

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We’ve been very busy lately – the typical Christmas stuff, plus commitments and medical appointments and then, for the baby, a hospital stay. The poor, pathetic little thing has pneumonia. He came home on Saturday after two nights in the hospital and fortunately, he’s already most of the way back to his usual happy, peppy self. Brennan and I are slowly (slowly) recovering from all the sleep we lost during the ordeal.

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But anyway, I’ve been meaning to note my relative absence from the blog over the past couple of months. And here I am, so here we go!

The thing is, I am an easily-distracted, easily-overwhelmed, easily-overstimulated kind of gal. And I’ve come to realize that I need to get a handle on the things in my life that distract and overwhelm and overstimulate me. Like, really need to – actually need to – not just acknowledge that I need to and promptly move on to something more interesting.

When I try to live my daily life (namely, when I try to mother) in the midst of those distracting, overwhelming, overstimulating things, I fail. At so much. I have too little patience, I enjoy too little time with my children, and I have far, far too many meltdowns.

A few weeks ago I told my boys that I’d be back in a minute: I just needed to take the baby upstairs to put him down for his nap. After I changed his diaper, I set the baby down on the rug with a few toys so I could wash my hands. But then I noticed some bins of clothing that I hadn’t put back in their place, so I went to move them. Then I noticed how dusty that corner of the room was, so I decided to sweep it before I put the bins away. Then I went into the laundry room for the Swiffer, where I remembered that I hadn’t yet switched over the laundry. Then I had to retrieve a laundry basket so I could get the already-dry clothes out of the dryer. Then, just as I started emptying the dryer, I heard (1) the boys erupt in a massive fight downstairs and (2) the baby screaming, tired, ready for his nap.

I ran downstairs, yelled at the boys, and ran back up, flustered. I still needed to wash my hands. I still needed to take care of the baby and the bins and the sweeping and the laundry. I’d wasted all that time, gotten nothing accomplished, and worked myself into a tizzy. This is completely typical behavior for me.

I know there has to be a better way.

So I’m trying to deal with the background noise – the unfinished chores lingering in each room, the fluid schedule, the tasks I’ve been telling myself I’ll get to for far too long, the disorganized ways in which I deal with the information and the responsibilities that come my way.

I’m nowhere near through, but I’m making progress. It’s come at the expense of blogging, spending time on social media, communicating and getting together with my friends, and pretty much any other fun thing I can think of.

For the past couple of months, I’ve tried to find something constructive to do with just about every spare moment I come across. Goodness knows that I could be in this mode for a year and not quite end up where I need to be, but my plan is to push through as well as I can ‘till the end of December. Come the New Year, I’ll try to stretch my legs a bit, to occupy this less-cluttered space (both physical and mental), and see how it works for me. I certainly can’t keep up my current pace forever.

So while you’ll hear from me a few times before then, I probably won’t get into a regular blogging routine until January. I’m hoping that by then I’ll have dealt with enough of my issues to operate on a more organized, more peaceful level.

Hoping.

Wish me luck! And in the meantime, I wish you a blessed Advent, a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.

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* Ha! Did I really think I could get away with that? It took an interrupted two hours, full of potty breaks and crying babies, smashed fingers and late naps chosen over outdoor toy clean-up. C’est la vie!

On Perspective… And Laundry

When I do laundry, I tend to do all of the laundry. As in, every article of clothing my boys own. All of our towels, every sheet, and all of the items that my husband and I wear on a daily basis. It’s not unusual for me to do six loads in one day. (I’ve done twelve loads in a row more times than I care to admit.)

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Why do I take pictures of such things?

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No wonder I find laundry to be such an overwhelming task.

Yes, I know there are solutions to my problem. I know that I really just need to take the whole thing bit-by-bit. But I seem to be stuck in that all-or-nothing cycle: waiting until the laundry piles up, finally tackling the whole mountain at once, and then running away from the task. Rather than taking the initiative to make life easier on myself, too often I just sigh and groan and berate myself for landing knee-deep in stained shirts and soiled sheets. Again.

This Sunday, I visited my grandmother: my spunky, 90-year-old grandmother who personifies the following approach to life at an advanced age:

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My Mom-mom had a little gift for me. “See this?” she said. “This is what I used to wash Sue’s laundry when we were living over the funeral parlor. I’d wash her things with it every day.” (Sue is my father’s older sister, who was just a baby when my grandparents lived in a small apartment over their little town’s funeral parlor.) Mom-mom was smiling. “You can even have the dirt!” she laughed.

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The simple device hit me like a ton of bricks.

At home, I had the following waiting for me: three baskets of unfolded clean laundry, at least four more baskets of dirty laundry, and a newish, 2nd-floor washer and dryer. Oh, and boxes of disposable diapers. Because I know myself well enough to realize that cloth diapering might just push me over the edge.

Let’s recap here:

  • Modern-day laundry facilities on the same floor as our bedrooms + plenty of clothes and linens + disposable diapers = an overwhelmed Julie
  • A small washboard + only a few pieces of clothing + rudimentary cloth diapers = a contented Mom-mom

And that’s just the laundry. I have a dishwasher and a microwave and children’s television programs to occupy my boys when I need a break. I have plenty of space. I have the means to purchase as much good food as my family can eat. I have adequate heating and cooling, plumbing and electricity. I have a husband who changes diapers and cleans bathrooms.

My grandmother’s father abandoned her family when she was a toddler. Her mother was left to return to her parents’ home with their three small girls. They lived in the attic, where there was no heat in the winter and far too much of it in the summer. They shared the rest of the house – and its one bathroom – with Mom-mom’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the many railroad workers my great-grandmother fed on a daily basis. Mom-mom’s role in the family business was to stand on an overturned bucket at the sink and wash the workers’ dirty dishes. Later, my grandmother would raise six children in another one-bathroom house: this one the size of two of my fourteen rooms, combined.

So, do I feel like an ungrateful wretch, or what?

Kind of. Certainly that simple washboard – and my grandmother’s amused, happy face when she gave it to me – put me in my place a little. It reminded me of how fortunate I am. It made me view my household tasks differently. It made me think that I should approach my responsibilities with a little more perspective.

Now, I’m not big into unnecessary guilt trips. I’m not one to think that everything that is wrong is happening right now, right here: a symptom of excess in my own age and society. No culture has ever been without its struggles and sins. And just because I don’t share the particular stresses my grandmother experienced, it doesn’t mean I don’t have any.

It’s so easy to become overwhelmed with the daily tasks involved in caring for children and keeping a home. Undertaken individually, of course, the tasks aren’t particularly difficult: making a meal, changing a diaper, doing the dishes or the laundry – all simple things. But in real life they rarely are undertaken individually. Children sit on your feet and crawl between your legs while you cook dinner; they buck and kick and twist while you change their diapers; they whine and brawl while you work to ensure they have clean dishes and clothes. With good cause, we parents feel like we’re pulled in a hundred different directions. It’s understandable that we become overwhelmed.

But we still have a choice. We can choose to sulk and angst and convince ourselves that we just can’t win. Or we can choose to let all that frustration roll off our backs. Far too often, I do the former. Some people seem to be able to survey the mess in their homes, their uncooked meals, and their disheveled children and let out a good, hearty laugh. God bless those people. I am not one of them.

I’m the perfectionist, OCD type who sees flashing neon signs over every toy lying on the floor, every sink of dirty dishes, every scrap of dirty clothing: “WORK, WORK, WORK,” the signs say. I am easily overwhelmed, and I find all those signs, along with the chorus of calls and screams and roars from my boys, overwhelming. So I either attack all that work with abandon, or I shove it to the side and pretend it doesn’t exist (all the while feeling guilty). The former is not sustainable, the latter is not healthy.

But Mom-mom’s washboard gave me an idea.

I need to approach my work differently. I need to have more perspective. I need to relax. Not as in “Relax! This stuff doesn’t matter anyway!” But as in “Relax. This stuff isn’t nothing – it’s not something to be gotten over. It’s necessary work, worthy of your time and attention. It’s your part, your version of the same important work that women have always undertaken to care for their families.”

Regardless of whether I’m doing one load of laundry or twelve, I should be more at peace while I’m doing it. I should be grateful. I should remember the alternative: not just of a sentimental-looking washboard, but of generations of women who did (and still do) their washing in buckets and basins and rivers. I should sort and transfer and fold our clothes with care. I should use those moments to remember, to ponder, to imagine – not to berate myself. I should feel honored to have a small measure of labor that echoes those who came before me.

A little over three years into my role as mother and homemaker, I’m continuing to learn more about myself every day. I’m a better mother – a better, happier person, I think – than I was when I began this important work. I still frustrate and disappoint myself on a daily basis, but I’m improving. Slowly (slowly) but surely.

Thank you, Mom-mom, for that lovely washboard, and for all it represents.

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