When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lot of things. Let me rephrase that. My Grandma wanted me to be a lot of things. She’d parade me around in front of her friends, parish members, random people in the grocery store, and tell them in her sassy mid-Western accent, “This one, she’s a smart one. She’s going to be a lawyer. Isn’t that right, Laura? Tell them you’re going to be a lawyer.” I told them I was going to be a lawyer. What else was I supposed to say? She would smile and beam with pride and pull out the Sunday paper and make me read it to her friends, because apparently I was the only five-year-old she knew who could do that. I swear she carried a pop-up podium in that giant purse of hers for occasions such as these. “Her IQ is 150!” All of her blue-haired, white-gloved friends would gasp and touch (and pinch) my cheeks like I was made of gold. I couldn’t stop them, but someone needed to stop her. That whole IQ story was concocted completely by her well-meaning imagination, but I couldn’t be the one to break her spirit and tell her I’d never even been tested. She may still think I’m a genius, and there’s no need to correct her now.
Becoming a lawyer sounded fancy, professional, and certainly attainable. Heck, I was a female child of the 80s – I could do anything! I pictured myself sitting in my big city corner office in my smart suit and Markie Post hairdo. Although it became the automatic answer whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I did not become a lawyer. My husband will tell you I missed my calling in the art of debate, but I had a much more important purpose to fulfill, a career many girls only dream of.
I became a model.
Hold the phone! Nobody told me this! Where was my fat paycheck and skinny magazine cover? Somebody get me my runway! And my agent! Now!
Ok, so I didn’t become THAT kind of model, but in all fairness, no one ever TOLD me I was any kind of model at all, except for maybe when I was young and reminded I was “setting an example for my little sister so behave!” Now I’m the one repeating those token parent phrases, and by repeating I mean saying the same ten phrases a million times a day every day of my life, but that’s a story for another time.
I’ve been parenting for a LONG time, so it’s embarrassing to admit that only in recent years have I really realized how much my children follow me, in spite of their every effort not to. I guess Grandma was wrong and I’m a slow learner after all.
One of the areas I worry the most about modeling properly is the amount of “stuff” I take on. I’ve mentioned in past posts I tend to overbook, overschedule, and overdo the activities in my life. It’s a four-step cycle and it goes something like this:
Step one: I say “yes” to every request, every volunteer task, every need that’s not my own, until I wake one day drowning in insurmountable piles of endless tasks with no obvious starting point because there are just so many.
Step two: I freeze. Sometimes it’s so bad that I take a good look around at everything I have to do and am immobilized. So I do absolutely nothing, except for maybe binge watch my latest Netflix addiction. Basically, I choke.
Step three: I take my overly full plate of responsibilities, scrape it all into the trash can, put my plate in the sink, and tell myself I’ll wash it later.
Step four: I forget everything I’ve learned and sworn I’d never do again and repeat step one. I never said the process is effective. I just said it’s a process. I told you I’m a slow learner.
It wasn’t until I moved my oldest daughter into her first apartment this summer that I realized just how much damage I’d done. While unpacking her plethora of clothing items (this kid has clothes for DAYS), we established an effective system of sorting, hanging, folding, and putting things away. One of my tribe members was even there to help. That’s at least one good thing I taught my girl: many hands make light work. However, when we encountered an item that didn’t yet have a designated home or task that literally would’ve taken moments to remedy, she told me, “Don’t worry about it, Mom. I’ll do it later,” and tossed said item aside.
There it was. It’s one thing to hear yourself sound like your mother, but it’s another to hear your daughter sound like hers.
“I’ll do it later.” I tend to say – and do – just that. I get so focused on one task that I can’t step outside of it for even a moment to do a little maintenance task that would take seconds to remedy but ends up getting stacked with the other litany of items that may or may not get done weeks or months later. It’s not procrastination at all. I just tell myself I’m “too busy” to take a step that will save me time in the long run. What in the world kind of logic is that?
My husband, on the other hand, is meticulous. His drawers are always organized down to every last labeled and rolled t-shirt. The minimal papers on his desk are always perfectly lined up in mini-stacks of two or three sheets, evenly spaced and all parallel to the edges of the desk. It’s sick. Every time I walk into his office, I fight the urge to move them all just a hair out of place just to mess with him. Ok, I might not ALWAYS fight the urge.
Confession: I currently have at least 12 different piles of “stuff” to do randomly stacked in various places in the house, places I walk by multiple times throughout the day and groan at because the “pile fairy” I ordered never showed. I guess I should know better than to count on pixie dust to solve my problems. Grandma would be so proud. If this process continues, you’ll see me in the not so distant future on an episode of Hoarders unable to leave my bedroom because “the papers took over like Kudzu!” I sure hope reality TV is never my claim to fame.
As I’ve mentioned before, this whole turning 40 milestone is based on the premise of taking charge of my life and focusing on what matters. The trouble is, I can’t SEE the things that matter due to the large forest of piles I’ve planted, and THAT is a sad, sad thing.
So I’m not doing things later anymore.
I know lifelong habits are hard to break, but the longer I wait, the more difficult it becomes, and this girl isn’t getting any younger. Not to mention this whole being a model thing brings a lot more responsibility than I imagined. Did you know I have people who actually want to BE like me, at least four little people, if only part of the time. Even if they don’t want to be like me, they inevitably will be in ways they won’t see coming. Trust me, I know.
I’m teaching my kids by example, which means I need to regularly reassess what kind of example I am. Sure, I can try to set standards for behavior and deed, for fitness and responsibility, but I also need to teach them to avoid the pitfalls, and overextending is a very scary hole to dig out of. I’m still digging.
I’m only human and they are, too. I don’t want my daughters to saddle themselves with so many extraneous tasks that they can no longer pursue their dreams or take care of the family they long to support. I don’t want my son to learn it’s the norm for his wife to overextend herself with obligations to the point of exhaustion and tears.
To my children, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I’ve taught you it’s the norm to pile so much on your plate that it all comes falling off, or in my case, tasks willingly jump off to save themselves. I’m sorry if I’ve taught you that frantic and frenzied is the way of life, because it doesn’t have to be. Life isn’t always easy, but it’s meant to be enjoyed, so don’t plant your own joy-blocking forest.
Start out slowly. Take the time to figure out how new activities fit into your schedule and don’t add any more if you’re already feeling maxed out. Master those activities and say no if someone asks for more than you can give. There’s always time to try new things in the future and there’s no shame in pacing yourself. In fact, it’s wise to do so. It’s a lot less difficult to ease in to one or two things at a time than to try to peel away 10 things too many once you’re committed.
The time is now, not later, and I believe it’s never too late to model positive examples for our children, no matter their age. I’m no genius, but I can see the forest for the trees. I don’t want to be that old dog with no new tricks, so I’m going to keep working on me. And my piles.