Every day I wake up to a checklist panting in my face. Every day for my entire adult life. I never considered questioning it. Bottomless need? Multiplying demands? Expect only this, nothing less, certainly nothing different. Tasks on the to-do list comprise a responsible life.
Little holes in the bag of rice gave it away. Three and half years living in this place, and here was the first sign of uninvited guests. On our next trip to town, we stopped at the hardware store for traps. Despite Bug’s insistence that we buy the $39 ultrasonic pest repeller, I opted for Tomcat traps. A four-pack for four bucks.
We smeared on peanut butter and tucked it into the cabinet corner. The next morning, we heard a snap. Big brown eyes, white fuzzy belly, limp broken body. “Oh, he’s so cute,” Bug said sadly. Into the weekday rush we crammed this death. We shrank it down to fit. School, work, a morning meeting and already late. I dumped the trap, mouse and all, into the garbage. Another dab of peanut butter on a clean trap, and off we hustled into our overfull day.
Are you willing to use the power you have in the service of what you say you believe?
We’d scheduled a White House tour for the morning after the election. My 10-year-old son was already excused from school for the day. Through the night, the red stain bleeding across the map tangled me into a knot of sleepless apprehension. It drew tighter every time I reached for the phone to pull up CNN. As the unreality of our new president crystallized into fact, fear of what will happen to our nation, to my neighbors and our shared home — and the uncertainty about how to be a mother through it all — metastasized from compulsion to obsession.
Having hit all the deadlines for Phase 1, I steered eagerly into Phase 2. Blocks of writing time for the season ahead peppered my calendar. Accountability buddies jumped on board. To celebrate the milestone as well as the momentum, My Mister dipped into the Treat Jar and agreed to host a game night.
Then on the second-to-last day of the first month, my project ran aground.
He blocks the dryer, wild eyes and a grin. I duck, pump, shoot. His wet boxer shorts whip past his ear and splat against the back wall of the drum.
“Oh man!” He turns and yanks a shirt from the washer tub, untwisting its rope of an arm from a pillowcase. He cuts in front of me and pivots. Past my block, he fakes then scores. “Yes!” Fist in the air.
We can do so much better. For the past few years, our patterns were stuck enough to seem hopeless. This past June, I made the choice to cultivate a more loving home.
After a long summer that included a stretch of five weeks apart, my son is back. This is the first night of his 4th grade year that he is spending with me. The evening coincides with a parent-teacher event. This means my boy runs wild around the neighborhood with his pals for a few hours before I have to leave him behind. He comes in, flushed and breathless, and parks himself in front of his video games. I lock the door behind me.
When we stop trying to find the solution, the solution finds us. The idea of “adding in the good stuff” is all the rage healthy living. Don’t worry about giving up cheese fries and soda. The pull of the food industry is powerful, and fighting it grinds our sense of efficacy down to sawdust. Instead, do a few leg lifts while brushing teeth. Put leafy greens beside whatever else is on the plate. Keep the focus on adding the wholesome.
This same bubbly counsel showed up in a recent parenting class. When an attendee began slipping down the shame spiral about their ineffective parenting, the instructor reminded us not to worry about what we’re doing wrong. “Do more of the good stuff,” she said. Put special time on the schedule. Focus on connection over correction.
Eventually (the theory goes) these little bits of goodness will crowd out the destructive patterns.
If this works with diet and family, why not mental health?