I have a theory. I’ve been developing it over the last few years. It’s called “what’s one more sock?” It first appeared in my life as an absent-minded thought at some point after my first child became mobile, sort of a “huh, I feel like my house is always messy.” That observation grew into a taunt as I threw myself into stay-at-home-mommyhood with its endless hours of pushing trains around a wooden track (hello, Thomas). It mocked me as I spent a chunk of each day picking up toys, folding laundry, washing dishes, and moving piles of stuff around (I’m particularly talented in that area). What had started as a detached remark became a full-fledged heckling when my second child was born, and I soon realized that the rules had changed, and what used to matter, well…it maybe just wasn’t going to be that important for the next 18 months or so.
So here it is: when my house is clean and someone leaves one sock on the floor, it’s a problem. That sock messes with my clean house mojo, and it will not be tolerated. Although I would like to think that whomever left that offending sock there will pick it up, it will most likely be me, so as to leave my neat and tidy living room landscape undisturbed.
Let’s just say, however, that I live with 3 boy/men. Two of these boy/men have a very strong passion for itty bitty square things that cause me anxiety (and really hurt to step on). I completely identify with Will Ferrell’s character in The LEGO Movie. Bring on the kragle (I’m kidding/not really). The third man/boy works from home, which means dirty dishes magically appear on the counter at various points throughout the day. An unobstructed view of my living room floor is like a desert mirage in this reality of daily life.
Enter the “what’s one more sock?” theory. It’s my reasoning for how things can spiral out of control so quickly in such a short span of time. If I leave a dish in the sink, it gives everyone permission to leave dishes in the sink. Or on the counter. Or exactly where they finished their last bite. Pretty soon the cat is dropping her food on the floor and flinging water all over the place. My spacious kitchen counters are soon littered with mail, school papers, and various to-do and shopping lists, and pajama pieces are left strewn about the kitchen island as evidence of our weekday morning battle to get everyone to their required places on time, fed, and clothed. I attempt to salvage the cleanliness of my kitchen by moving some piles into the dining room (I could seriously teach classes on “cleaning by way of moving piles of crap around your house”). The kids use this as an excuse to drag out all of their markers/crayons/colored pencils/drawing paper, and they add that to the mix. The family dinners that I so enjoy and believe in now become scattered affairs with the adults at the island (= permission to eat standing up, check your cell phone, or read while dining), the kids at the IKEA table that’s too small for my giant 8-year-old (= permission to walk around the kitchen while eating, creating a nice trail of crumbs for the ants with whom we cohabitate), or Jerry in the living room watching the football games that never seem to end (= I receive occasional grillings from the children on why Daddy eats in the living room when we aren’t allowed to eat in the living room. Good question, go ask him).
When things start to get cluttered, which happens almost immediately after I clear a space or a room, who cares if there’s one more sock on the floor? I mean, if there are 2 laundry baskets worth of clothes strewn about the house, what’s one more sock?
I’ve noticed that this theory applies to other areas of my life too, like fitness, food intake, time management, and juggling responsibilities. When school started this September, Jerry and I realized something had to give, at least for a month or so while we adjusted back to the school schedule. I gave up planning interesting meals, and we forged ahead into a repetitive menu of tacos, Subway, Papa Gino’s, frozen Indian food, quesadillas…anything easy, quick, and not requiring too much thought was ripe for the picking. When Dylan got tired of Subway, I knew it was time to rein it in. When I fall off a wagon, any wagon, it’s very easy to “what’s one more sock” all over myself. I find myself on a bit of a nacho bender lately. Oops.
On the other hand, when I clean things up, I crave that feeling. I have a lot of interests and I juggle a lot of things, all of which are important to me, and not all of which can be attended to in a typical week of my life. This week I got some things handled that I haven’t been handling–you know, those things that we spend so much time fretting about, and if we just sat down and did the damn thing, we’d free up so much mental and emotional energy? Yeah, I did a couple of those this week. It felt great, like all of my socks were paired with their buddies, not a mismatched soul in sight. And as I sit here writing this, I know that who I am and what I’ve created in the world is a life where things will NOT be neat and tidy very often. It’s such a conundrum for me, and I think maybe for many other humans. It feels SO DAMN GOOD when life is in order and all my tasks are crossed off my list, but I’ve realized I’m chasing an illusion. The holidays can easily become a blur of activity, between the parties, the shopping, the creating, the preparing. I stay more focused and grounded when I bring intentionality to my life. This holiday season, I’m choosing to be comfortable IN PROCESS. Stopping things in the middle makes me SO uncomfortable. I was reorganizing some areas in my house the other day, and I had to stop halfway through to pick my kids up from school. As I got in the car and drove away, my chest felt tight, my airways felt constricted, I was having a hard time breathing deeply. I had a physical reaction to stopping in the middle of the project I was 4 hours into. In school I pulled all-nighters to write my papers, I didn’t seem to know any other way. When Cooper was 9 months old, pulled an all-nighter in mid-December to finish designing the 14 different calendars I send out to friends and family for Christmas prezzies. What a terrible idea. All-nighters in college: not so bad, especially if you can nap the next day. All-nighters when your primary responsibility is caring for 2 tiny humans: miserable! After that I took a 2-year hiatus from the calendar. I’m back at it, but I’ve had to accept that I will be interrupted many times between the beginning and the finished product, just as I am with almost everything else in life these days. My life is not set up to complete most projects in one sitting, it hasn’t been for many years (hello, potty training!), and yet I hold that out as a carrot that’s worth chasing. How fabulous (and maddening!) that I’m part of a team that has been collaborating on a book for many years–it will be 9 in January–and we are STILL working to get it out there in the world.
When I get uncomfortable in these coming weeks, and I want to turn on my overdrive mode (which, quite honestly, gets things done but at the expense of my family, my sanity, and my health), I think I’ll do the mash potato. I have no idea why that popped in my head, but it won’t leave. Does Pigpen do the mash potato when they all dance in the Peanuts cartoons? I would love it if I could think of something cooler than the mashed potato, but really, that’s probably the point. The mashed potato it is! Now I just need to watch some youtube videos so I can learn the proper technique… 😉
The “what’s one more sock” side of my bedroom.
The “zen timeout” side of my bedroom.
I’m pretty sure the dance they do is the mashed potato. Just sayin’.