Monday, May 21, 2018

on the pursuit of a perfect life

The world, or at the very least the internet, seems to be perpetually telling me that if I simply do A, B, and C in the correct order, things will be... Easier.  Better.  Maybe perfect.

I find it all too easy to fall into this way of thinking, and I'm finding that it only leads to frustration.

If I could just implement the right method of organization, my house would be tidy and stay that way for more than a half hour.  If I would follow the right parenting advice, my children would frustrate me less, if at all.  If I use a weekly chore chart, the cleaning tasks like mopping and bathtub scrubbing will start happening regularly.  If I follow the right baby advice, my baby will sleep easily and often and will do this by herself.  If I paint all the rooms in my house the right shades, my life will be brighter and therefore happier and my pictures of my children will all be instagram worthy.  If I declutter according to the right methods, I'll experience a lightness of soul previously unknown to mankind.  If we establish the right budget and use the right budgeting app, we'll begin easily socking away thousands of dollars a month for our future.   If I avoid distractions and maximize my time, I'll get everything done with time to spare.  If I follow the right diet and exercise plan I'll look the way I've always wished I looked.  If I find the right health guru whose advice I can follow, I'll achieve health for my children and myself and we'll be impervious to the really bad and scary stuff in life.  If I can force myself to be in a good mood, if I can muscle my way through these difficult days by sheer force of will and do it with a smile to set a good example, my kids will likewise be cheerful and love one another and get along well and be cooperative at all times.  If I manage my time better I'll have time to practice scales and etudes every day and thus keep my violin playing in tip-top shape instead of scrambling to get ready for gigs as they come along.  If I'm more productive during certain designated housework hours, I'll have ample time to read novels like so-and-so who reads a hundred books a year.  If I could only have a newer and faster computer, I'd be able to organize our photo storage and also blog more frequently to record our family memories.  If I do a capsule wardrobe, I'll finally look sophisticated and amazing all the time instead of tired and lumpy.

You get the idea.  It goes on and on.  I find myself constantly imagining that if we could just get the right system in place when it comes to so many aspects of our life, well then, things would be easier.  Maybe not perfect, but good.  And the internet in all its glory perpetuates this idea, that with the right system (oh, and it might cost you money, by the way), everything will be a breeze.

Perhaps the worst of the lies -- if I just tried harder...!  Worked more...!

* * *

What really needs to be said, instead of all these If-Then statements, is that it's just hard.  There is no simple "If you do this thing, everything will be easy, breezy, beautiful."

Of course, I'm not saying we shouldn't strive to improve our habits, our homes, our lives.  I'm not saying that minimalism, or fitness, or a tidy home, or kind and loving children, are not things worth striving for.

I'm just saying that there isn't an Easy Button, and I need to stop telling myself that if I could just {fill-in-the-blank} then at last I could stop being stressed and frustrated.  As though there's an external solution to it all, always just out of reach.  {Ironically, I think the very process of constantly being in search of a fix for it all actually contributes to my frustration!}

* * *

If you have children, it's hard.  If you're a homeowner, it's hard.  If you have bills to pay, it's hard.  If you're breathing, this life thing, it's hard.  There's not a magic solution to make it all easy.

There is no perfect system to make human babies sleep easily and alone.  Biology, human nature, years of evolution, call it what you will -- small humans are wired to need their parents' touch, often, and for many years of their life.  It's a long road.  Personal space is a thing of the past.  Sometimes that's snuggly and wonderful, and other times it's hard.

There's no perfect organizational system that can eliminate the basic fact that children have stuff and that their stuff, in the process of their play, will end up all over the place, and will need to be put away many times each day.  They will need help in this process for many years as they begin to learn habits of tidiness.

There's no way to change the reality that feeding five people three meals a day creates a lot of dishes, all of which need to be washed.  I can carve out specific times in my day that work the best for the washing of these dishes, but it will continue to take time and work.

Likewise, there's no way to change the fact that five people, three of whom are rather young, create a lot of laundry needing to be washed.  I may decide to minimize our wardrobes and declutter our closets in an attempt to mitigate the Mt. Everest of laundry, or I may long for a washer and dryer on the ground level of my home rather than in my basement, but I cannot completely "fix" this "problem" of laundry no matter what methods I employ.

There is no amount of minimalism that could possibly make my house look like a Pottery Barn catalog.  Pretend houses occupied by imaginary people don't have real stuff.  Real people, even people who eschew excessive amounts of toys for their children or regularly purge their closets, have stuff, and stuff occupies space.

There is no budgeting app that will double our income and grant us a sudden influx of disposable money to be spent on vacations or a cleaning lady or a lawn service.  There isn't a budget plan that will magically allow me to work less and thus be less stressed.  Sometimes you really are being almost as frugal as you possibly can, and it's still hard.

There is no parenting book that can make it easy to be in charge of the nurturing and raising of young children.  There is no method that is fail-safe or fool-proof.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with little people.  You can't put in a quarter and push a button and get a guaranteed result.

There's no fitness program that will deliver lasting results in the sense that you can just stop your efforts for a bit and coast, or go back to stress-eating ice cream every evening when your kids go to bed instead of working out.

There's no perfect diet that will eradicate all illness and disease for myself and my children, no supplement that will grant us guaranteed perfect health and long life.

There's no book you can read or method you can employ that will make getting along with all the people you're living in very close proximity with a blissful, peaceful, dreamy situation every single day.

* * *

Life is just hard.  It's good, but it's hard.  This evening I've already spent longer than I wanted to putting the baby to sleep and then 50 minutes later, I had to go resettle her, and again just now, another 50 minutes after that.  I've already been up and down the stairs more than a half dozen times, thrice intervening while my four-year-old was getting out of bed and getting into things she had no business doing at all, let alone after bed time. Today I emptied my six-year-old's bowl of throw up at least ten times (I lost count), and since bedtime we've added twice more to that number.   This is how my evenings often go, when I'm home and not out working at a gig.  Even if I'm not doing chores, even if I'm trying to claim a moment to think and write, like tonight, I'm interrupted over and over.

What little time I had that felt "free" today, I spent folding clean laundry and then watering dead patches of our lawn in the mostly baseless hope that it could revive itself or that the grass seed I sprinkled in some patches would somehow actually grow this spring, unlike in past falls or springs when I've attempted this process.  I walked the perimeter of our yard and asked Nathan if we'd ever have the time and money to tear down the ugly, very ugly, oh-so-ugly tiny screened in porch with ripped screens and rotting floor boards that currently graces the back of our house, and to build a beautiful and functional porch I could sit on with the girls and hang our swing on, so we could swing together on warm days, toes dangling, making memories.  He shattered my dream with the reality that we are years and years away from being able to do anything like this.  The back portion of our house, which looks rather like someone parked a double-wide in our backyard, glued it onto the original brick house, and walked away, is here to stay for quite some time.  It doesn't matter that we have dreams and ideas for how to fix things up; we can't possibly make many of them become reality for a very long time.

It's not that the dreams and plans for things to be better really don't matter -- of course they do.  The parenting articles I read really do inspire me to be a better parent, little by little, one baby step at a time.  The homeschooling articles or books I peruse do gradually fill my arsenal with ideas so that I'll be slightly more prepared next year than I was last year.  The work Nathan does on fixing up our house really does make a difference.   The efforts I make towards minimizing our possessions really do help things feel less cluttered and overwhelming -- for a while, anyway.

But it's never going to stop being difficult.  And the working out of this life, the difficulties along with the joyous moments, is slowly sanding down some of my rough edges.  {Although, to be honest, some days it feels like the difficulties just make me a worse person than I used to be, and on those days, I find myself illogically resenting my children and my life for bringing out my true colors and making me deal with my ugly bits!}

The only thing I can do with the difficult things is to allow them to be what they are, even as we continue to look for solutions or strive for improvement in some areas.  I can embrace the reality of these days, so often somehow both busy and monotonous at the same time.

* * *

When I look back through the recent pictures on my phone, I see dandelion crowns, smiling faces, children skipping through fields.  I see small faces peering over picturesque rock walls at the faces of brown calves, and I see videos of my baby daughter calling me "Mama."

But too often the pictures in my discontented heart are of a mama who weighs more than she wishes she did and is a bit too squishy about the middle.  A home that is always too messy and is closing in on me somehow.  A car that is frustratingly filled with hastily shed sweaters and rain boots, finished drawings and other scraps of paper, granola bar wrappers.  A yard that is unattractive and insufficiently inviting for summer barbecues and childhood play.  Relationships that are frustratingly imperfect.  Children that require every moment of my attention on some days, sweetly and maddeningly so.

It's not an If-Then statement with a simple output, but the closest I've ever found to a fix is just this one little thing:


Thank you, God, for this baby who needs me so much and brings so much joy to our family.

Thank you for this house with all its imperfections and even its crumbly bits and flaking paint.  Thank you for the people it shelters, my family, and for the friends it welcomes to share time together under its roof.

Thank you for a life steeped in music, even if much of it is scrambling for a moment of hasty, last-minute practice, and the rest of it is young violin students who don't practice quite enough adding to the chorus of chaos.

Thank you for my body, which grew three children and nourished them, and which continually allows me to care for them, and to climb stairs and mow the lawn and go for a jog and play the violin and do so many other things.

Thank you for my messy, messy car and even messier house, because as a friend once said to me, the only place that's perpetually tidy and organized is a graveyard.  This mess means life.

Life isn't an If-Then equation.  Life isn't a mathematical proof.

It's so much more.