Thursday, January 17, 2013

Half empty, half full

I'm sitting here on the couch next to a laundry basket that is half empty, surrounded by scattered piles of folded clothes. Half empty, half full.  That's where I am right now.  I'm overwhelmed, in a word.  I'm oddly capable of superhuman calm in the face of early-morning toddler freak outs or when the five-year-old picks up a piece of salt off the sidewalk and puts it his mouth.  Then something little happens -- a fork falls off the table at dinner or someone pushes past me brusquely on the escalator at the train station in the morning -- and I feel like I'm just going to lose it.  Even if it doesn't quite make it out of my mouth, inwardly I'm screaming, "What the hell is up with you people? Common courtesy on public transportation! The proper usage of silverware! The foundation of civilization as we know it!"  I want to stamp and scream.  Instead I take a breath, I hold in the outburst, but then it just comes out later as a rant to a colleague or as barked orders at my husband.  Or worse, my patience with the kids abruptly evaporates, I yell, and I lose all the points I'd gained before.

Half empty, half full.  When it's a basket of laundry, half empty is the better way to look at things, and this suits me.  Empty leaves space for something else, and that's exactly what I think I'm missing right now.  I don't write here on my blog anymore, and then as I'm falling asleep at night or when I'm running through the Forêt de Saint Cloud on the weekends the words fill up in my head and they have no space to spill out into.  I want everything to look orderly and eloquent and happy so I write nothing.  I like to tie up my posts with cute little one-line endings.  Life isn't like that.  Life is messy.  You start making room for the words that want to come out and the mess comes out, too.  But that's exactly what I need to do if I want to know where I'm going, if I don't want to suffocate, if I want to sort out and make sense and feel useful and remember the big moments and not turn around in a year and wonder why I didn't appreciate or even notice 2013 while it was happening.  

So I need to write.  So I need to write not so perfect, y'see.  Because the perfect gets stuck, and the perfect keeps me up at night, and the perfect doesn't let me breathe, and the perfect doesn't let my kids have any snapshot of who they are right now in 20 years when they happen upon a printout of this blog or something.

All that to say that I think my focus will shift, then, from being clever here to just being present here. Even when I've got laundry to fold. Here goes. 

I pick up Le Petit at after care these days, and he almost always has a new drawing to show me.  I have to drag him away from the cup full of pens because when I arrive he's absorbed by completing the final touches: coloring in large patches of green, his favorite color ("But we have a green marker at home, too," I argue) or writing out his name with the 'S' written backwards.  Most of the drawings are maps. Lately they don't represent anything I recognize, but that's OK; I need maps of any and all varieties, because I have no idea where I'm going.

Work is both overwhelming and unsatisfying.  I have plenty to do and some of it is interesting, but I feel like I don't know where to start.  Once I've started, I make slow progress.  And when I'm done, there's inevitably something I forgot.  I'm drowning in details and feeling unsure of myself, and I'm not certain that what I'm overwhelmed by is so valued, anyway... in short, I'm in a funk.  No advice please on how to get out of it, because I think the value will be in my figuring that out myself (if I can).

So as we're walking home tonight I asked Le Petit about his day, and since I figure the sharing should go in both directions, I said, "I had kind of a bad day myself."

Why? Well, my husband's sick with a stomach flu and the trains were messed up and a bunch of other things, but what I told Le Petit was mostly, "I have to do something at work, and I'm not sure how to do it, and that makes me scared."

"But," I added after reflection, "It's sometimes good to do things you don't know how to do." 

Le Petit thought about this, then said (in French): "Often I finish an activity after all the other kids are done."

"Oh?" I ask, trying to keep my voice neutral.  The teacher had mentioned this to me, without alarm, earlier this year.

"Yes.  The other kids are in circle time or playing, and I'm the only one who is still working."

As usually happens when Le Petit starts to share something that I desperately want to learn more about, I want to jump in and drag the details from him, complete his sentences, drown him in questions.  Interrogate.  But I stop myself.  It wouldn't work anyway.

"And... how do you feel when that happens?" I hold myself back but he still doesn't answer.

"Frustrated that it takes you so much time, or... proud that you stuck with it and finished?" I venture.

"Proud," Le Petit says resolutely.  I'm not sure that he's not just saying it to shut me up, but I go with it anyway.

"That's good.  It's... it's important to learn to stick with things even when they're hard.  Learning how to do that is one of the most important things you can learn.  It's learning to learn.  Because most things are hard when you first do them."  

Le Petit says nothing, we're almost at our front door, and I'm waxing eloquent here, for myself as much as for him.

"And you never stop learning.  That's one of the best things about life." 

I'm not sure I ever learned this lesson.  Or let's just say I'm in the thick of it now at age 36.  It's like I'm at step five of a ten-part story problem.  Half empty.  Half full.


Wonky73 said...

What an honest wonderful post.

Laurie said...

Yes, yes and yes.

Jac said...

I'm looking forward to more of your not-so-perfect posts.

I'm constantly struck by how cathartic conversations with my kids are. So often I find myself explaining things to them that I am really explaining to myself.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

Thank you all! So I woke up this morning much happier than yesterday, mostly thanks to getting this all out there. More to come..

Cloud said...

Late to the party, but... you aren't by chance weaning, are you? That sent me into a major funk, and I didn't really catch it very quickly.

My 5 y.o. is always the last to finish, too, at least on anything that involves coloring. It is because she wants it to be perfect.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@Cloud - I actually weaned about two months ago, so it isn't that (although I did try to pay attention to my emotional state at the time). No, I think this is just a plain ol' not sure what I'm doing funk. Lots of decisions coming up...

Yeah, I think part of Le Petit's taking extra time to finish is perfectionism (and wanting to do things HIS way), and the rest is just being a bit of a dreamer.