Thank you so, so, so, so, so, so much for your advice and/or commiseration and/or sympathetic ear (er…eyes?) on the post about…what should I call it? The swirling vortex of chaos that is life as an adult? Yes, that sounds good. Remind me to trademark the phrase.
As I reread your comments, let me see if I have everything straight: I do indeed need to wake up an hour early *groan*, and also two hours early, plus hire a housekeeper, and clean as I go, and devote one day to meal-planning, and re-re-recommit to Fly Lady again, and get a bigger house, and get a smaller house, and get a live-in grandparent, and teach my children the fine art of toilet cleaning, and drink as much water as Cameron Diaz, and throw my t.v. out the window, and lower my standards so far they’re underground, and take drugs, and be a shark. Is that all? I think that’s all.
(If you haven’t read the comments, you should. Gold stars all around.)
The thing is, even if every single tidbit shared wasn’t good advice specific to my situation, it’s all good advice for someone, and of course I think we can all appreciate it on the level that is Hot damn, how nice it feels to be reassured that a lot of us are struggling with basic, stupid, everyday-function stuff, even if we’re all struggling in different–whether slightly or vastly different–ways. We’re not alone! Now everyone put one hand into the circle and on the count of three chant with me: Ya-ya, ya-ya, ya-ya sisterhood! (I never read the book, so I don’t know if that’s even relevant here, but I figured chanting we needed a team cheer.
Random aside: A few weeks ago, I was possessed by some mischievous demon (it’s the only explanation) and I decided it would be a fun thing to learn Jan’s cheerleading audition from that one Brady Bunch episode where…Jan…auditions for cheerleading. I don’t know what I was thinking (was I going to…bust it out at a party or something? I honestly have no idea; like I said: demon), and although I’m happy to report I didn’t actually spend any time pursuing this “goal,” I did make the mistake of writing out my intention on a scrap of paper, which I unwisely left on the kitchen table in plain sight of my husband, who saw it and made me explain what “learn Jan’s cheer audition” meant and then, rightly, pointed and laughed until I threw a dish towel at his head.
There’s no point to this story except perhaps to prove that I’m a repeat-offender embarrassment to myself but people still love me in spite of it and that’s nice.
But back to the life-chaos vortex and advice-giving: Earlier this week I had to (had to) give some advice to an author who was having a hard time letting his book go off to the printer because he wanted to make sure every tiny, insignifcant, no-one-will-ever-notice-that thing was absolutely perfect, to the point where he was driving me bonkers (although for a price) and, more significantly, risking his book not being printed in time for a coordinating art exhibition, at which he hoped to sell the vast majority of the copies. I ended up having to be really straight with him and say, “Look, no one’s going to care if it’s perfect if they never see the book because you didn’t get it printed in time.” I shared with him some advice my wisest-of-the-wise boss gave me: “Books don’t get ‘perfect,’ they get ‘done.’”
Now, “done” means something slightly different when you replace “books” with “housework” or “email correspondence” or “craft projects [that are not for work],” or whatever. (If you care, in the first instance “done” is an adjective, in the second a past participle. I think? I’ve already spent too much of my precious time thinking about it.) But parts of speech aside, “done” is still “done,” and the overall message is the same: You do the best you do and then you stop and move on. And sometimes “best” won’t mean “the best you’re capable of in the best-case scenario” but “the best you’re capable of in a real-world scenario.” And sometimes that real-world “best” is really, really far from what anyone would call “best, objectively.” As someone who’s in the business of professional perfectionism, this is hard to remember and even harder to put into effect, but maybe, just maybe, if I don’t try to perform this “intentional imperfection” in a completely perfect way, I might have some success with it. And now my brain resembles a pretzel.
Also important to remember: Sometimes life is not “and” but “or.” It sucks, but it is what it is.
I think what it comes down to is that I feel so happy and lucky both emotionally and professionally that I get frustrated when the outside doesn’t match the inside. It’s kind of a reverse Dorian Gray, where my heart and home are full of love and sunshine but my hair is in knots and the children are sticky and the floor is covered with mystery crumbs. The bedroom floor, where no one ever eats. Even though all the Stuff that Really Matters is the quiet eye of the tornado, it’s hard not to focus on the tornado, you know? I look at all the swirling madness and then I look at someone who’s pulled together and whose children dress like J Crew models and who leaves weekly reviews on GoodReads and who churns her own butter from the goats she keeps out back, and the way I translate that in my head is “If she has time to do all that ‘extra’ stuff, she must be totally on top of all the basic stuff that I can’t seem to manage, even while sacrificing things I consider ‘extras.’”
But of course that’s not true. The woman who has time to perfectly accessorize every outfit does not necessarily have a spotless kitchen. The woman who has time to create elaborate scrapbooks for each of her children doesn’t necessarily know where her car keys are. There are women out there who seem to do it all, and who seem to do it all well (I know some of them, and they’re lovely, and also possibly wizards), but those people are not the majority. The majority of us are…us. (Is us?) We the majority are not getting enough sleep, our bathtubs could use a scrubbing, and we have things lurking in our refrigerators that are pushing the line between from fuzzy to furry.
(I also know there’s a not-small contingent of people who spend a lot of time making the outside look good as a way of making up for/covering up the mess inside, and I’m definitely glad I’m on the other side of that shiny gold coin of discontent, thank you very much.)
We’re us, and that feels good and right (ya-ya!), but we’re also those other women, at least some of the time, aren’t we? Sometimes we’re the mom who has clean hair and full makeup and a cute outfit. Sometimes our children are dressed in adorably trendy clothes. Sometimes we make dinner spreads straight out of Saveur, with dessert too. And sometimes–maybe even most of the time it happens?–we’re choosing those things over laundry and/or yard work and/or dealing with the stack of mail two feet high. Sometimes we even choose those things over sleep, although I will probably always struggle with that one.
“Maybe you’d have more time if you spent evenings working rather than relaxing with your husband.”
“Maybe you’d have more time if you didn’t cut your kid’s cheese slices into animal shapes.”
“Maybe you’d have more time if you didn’t write 1700-word blog posts about how you don’t have enough time.”
These aren’t things people have said to me (at least not directly), but these are things I say to myself all the time. It’s like I tell myself I don’t deserve those little things, those “extra” things–clean hair, cute lunches, an hour staring slack-jawed at a glowing screen–if I have papers to file and dishes to handwash and kid clothes to mend and emails to respond to. And work to do. As a freelancer, there’s always work to do.
But that’s the thing: As a parent–hell, as an adult–there’s always work to do. If I wait until all the must-do are done, I’ll never, ever get to the want-to-dos. If I wait until the house is perfectly clean to have guests over, we’ll never have guests over. If I wait until the attic is organized before I allow myself to play with my kids, I’ll never play with my kids. And I want to play with my kids. But I also want the attic organized. (Hamlet, I have your rub right here.) But for me, right now, this is an “or” instead of an “and” situation, and I just need to remember that I’m making a choice, and that in making that choice I’m not merely choosing the option but choosing its consequences as well. Instead of grousing about the attic being a mess, I can say, “The attic is a mess because I chose to play with my kids instead,” and that makes me feel better. I mean, the attic is still a mess, and I’m not happy about that, but I’m happier that I chose to play.
This is the evening after Wombat’s birthday party (during the day) and before Simon’s birthday party (that same night) (I know, right?). The house was trashed with plates of food and empty glasses and toys and crafts and decorations, and we had a few friends coming over in a hour, and this is what we did about it:
It was a trashed house but a happy house. We chose this. And we cleaned up the next day. (More or less.)