Saturday, September 26, 2015

When is a Bowling Ball Just a Bowling Ball?

Teenager #1's bowling ball came in the mail the other day, and this puts me in the middle of a parental dilemma. It's possible that I may be assigning too much significance to this delivery, but, as the last 18 years has taught me, there is a hidden meaning behind most things which leads to a cause and effect quandary that can be crippling. I'm sure you've already guessed that I will now elaborate.

Teenager #1 spends his weekdays 45 minutes away at school. When the ball arrived I texted him the news in hopes of brightening his day since yesterday was hellish and hideous for him(Hidden meaning #1). His response was to ask if I could bring it out. This seems like a simple logistical question, but, in the immortal words of Admiral Akbar, "It'a a trap!"

My day was busy, but there was a window of time when I could bring it out. Would having the ball in such close proximity, however, create a distraction from work he has to catch up on (one of the sources of hellishness and hideousness); or, would having the ball there give him a little boost and make him feel a little happier thereby making catching up on work a more palatable prospect? (Hidden meaning #2)

What message am I sending though if I take time out of my day to drive this bowling ball all the way out there? Am I telling him that no matter what, I will drop everything and rush to give him whatever he wants creating the sense that his needs are above all others thereby heightening any sense of narcissism and potentially unleashing another Donald Trump on the world? Or am I communicating that I understand and am attentive to his needs and am willing to put in the extra time because he is important, valid and worthy consequently upping his self-esteem and putting the steps in place to provide the world with another Stephen Colbert? (Hidden Meaning #3)

The answer, as it often does, presented itself when he texted back saying he would drive home and pick it up. So I drove the ball out. Why? Why would I do that when he was willing to take it on himself to pick up the ball? Because the 90 minutes of driving back and forth was 90 minutes less for him to do homework.

Cause: I drove the ball out

Effect: As you've probably guessed, not only did he still not do his homework, he also never thanked me. He did not go bowling either.

Status Quo was maintained and the only expense was the time I lost to worrying, scheming and driving. So when is a bowling ball just a bowling ball and when is it a metaphor for the potential for growth and maturity? I have no idea. There have been many bowling balls in my parental history taking on many forms like birthday dinners, timely laundry so the right shirt is ready on the right day, volunteering at the snack table or to sew costumes, and so on. I seem to be obsessed with making sure my kids know I love them; and, as usual, it has nothing to do with them.

Travel back in time with me, if you will, to an era when a self-absorbed teenage girl sat on the windowsill looking out at the backyard as landscapers replaced a huge fallen tree with one newly bought, picked out with loving detail by my mother. The aforementioned teenage brat watched this effort with resentment in her heart because the the acquisition of this tree took priority over picking up my, I mean her, repaired watch, an errand she had been assured would happen earlier in the week, and again on the day before, and again on that very morning. Toss into the mix a recent divorce and the fact of being child number six, and suddenly this forgotten watch was more than just a bowling ball (Hidden meaning #4).

I remember that moment with a fair amount of shame and perspective. Shame at realizing that I, in fact, was just as selfish and myopic as all teenagers; perspective because you just never know when a gesture-small, medium or large-is making a permanent imprint. Loving someone is not easy. Though the reality of the love seems an absolute, there is a difference between knowing you are loved and feeling you are loved. Effort does need to be made, complex algorithms of cause and effect must be calculated, bowling balls have to be interpreted and mistakes and overreactions need to be allowed.

Life would probably be simpler without love and bowling balls. Less interesting, but simpler. Less messy, but simpler. Less time spent driving and fretting, but simpler. Less catch-your-breath-jaw-dropping-heart-growing-three-sizes-that-day-awe-inspiring, but simpler.

I'll take the bowling ball.

Monday, September 7, 2015

I Finally Get why I Have to Clean the House

I am not good at cleaning. I can straighten admirably, but I am only serviceable at cleaning. I have long struggled with the impact this deficit has on my validity as a human being.

According to many marketing campaigns I should not only like cleaning but delight in it. It should add a spring to my step and a song to my heart. Apparently, there are even some brooms and mops whose efficacy is so great they can pull double duty as dancing partners while still buffing the floor to a blinding shine. When I buy these brooms, however, I am amazed at their lack of ballroom experience, and their stark ordinariness in comparison to all the other mops and brooms that are in cleaning supply limbo in my basement. I fall for it though, time and again. I am an easy sell since I will try anything to invigorate myself to battle dust, mold and grime. Time and time again, though, I am left disillusioned and depressed as I am reminded that a sponge is really just a sponge, no matter how fancy it looks; and no matter how hopeful I am, a sponge will not propel itself. No matter how shiny and full of promise the tools of the trade are, I still have to use them.

My resistance to the simple necessity of cleaning is not rooted in any complex psychological darkness or any sense of rebellion against a perfect mother; it simply stems from the fact that I find the whole endeavor interminably boring. There are literally thousands of things I would rather do. And that confession immediately reveals the simple truth that I do get what it's like to be a teenager.

I am petulant in my refusal to clean on a regular or even minimally acceptable basis. I am singularly focused on that knitting project that I have to finish before I mop. I am lazy in my insistence that I will just watch this one episode before I vacuum. I am too tired from work to break out the Endust and the microfiber cloth. I am too stressed at all that is expected of me to engage with the Windex. I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the filth that I do not know where to begin.

Singularly Focused
Too Tired
Too Stressed

Sound familiar?

And of course I feel better once I clean. I feel accomplished and self-righteous and proud and competent and, for a shimmering instant, whole. And I promise myself never to let it go that long again, to never let it get that far out of my control. I vow to do a little bit each day and have a weekly schedule and keep up with the routine. And of course I keep none of my promises; because there are so many more interesting things to do.

So Teenagers #1 & #2, I do get it. I know you think I am full of shit and my cute little cleaning metaphor proves nothing because your life is so much more complicated than Swiffering. And you will never admit that I understand because that might open the door to the possibility of change or the concession that I am right about something. I get that too. But I do get why you don't want to do your homework, and why you don't want to read Frankenstein, and why you don't want to show your work on your Algebra II worksheet.

I get it. But there are things in life that you have to do, even if you'd rather stick needles in your eyes (yes, that's the 3,754th on the list of things I'd rather do than pick up a toilet brush). Have to's will always be there, they will often suck, but they are rarely as bad as you thought, and completing them can actually make you feel good about yourself.

How's that registering on your bullshit meter? About as high as everything else that you won't understand until you do; and then you will thank me silently so I will never know that you know I was right.