Bits of Apple
Bits of apple, sticky and sweet, are scattered across the coffee table.
I will wipe the table, again, even though I just wiped it five minutes ago.
No, I will wait.
These are messes of motherhood that have been a strong thorn in my side not only because of the added labor but because of the symbolism that leads to so much anger within me. I know as a therapist that anger is often a feeling that is masking another. So I take a deep breath and take off the mask. What I am feeling? Out of control.
My initial reaction is to take control. To rush to the table, start wiping it down, and exhaustively sigh in front of my son showing him my exasperation. But I know that although that brief interaction will not have much large of an impact on me will stick around in my son’s head and heart. An intention to play and explore connected to an annoyed and exasperated mother. A sense that attempts to have fun and be creative brings about conflict and anger in the relationship that matters the most to him. And that just isn’t worth a clean table.
So I step back today and wait. I have to start to see these bits of apple differently because they happen every day and I cannot be feel out of control like this any longer.
I haven’t felt really in control since the day before I gave birth. Before I was able to keep order. I was able to make decisions with careful thought instead of feeling like I was always just reacing. I came and went as I pleased, I gave of myself to the things I wanted to and I could count on my housework accomplishments lasting for more than a couple of minutes.
When under stress a fierce type-A personality emerges within me trying to make order and sense of things and fit things neatly into boxes. This goes there, that happened because of this, everything has a place and is right with the world. I can put it all back together. I can fix it.
But you can’t do that when you’re responsible for a human being. Human beings are beautiful, but very messy. So now my coping mechanism isn’t as effective because no matter how hard I try I simply cannot control it all. So I have to reframe my perspective and see this new life as beautifully messy.
I’m starting to believe that western ideals have started to butt heads with motherhood. In my generation women (and men) are raised to believe in individualism, quantitatively measurable achievement, freedom of choices, and adventure. We were raised to poster our lives in front of others for validation of our efforts. “Look at me, look what I’ve done, look where I’ve gone, I’m worthy now.” We believe we control our destiny and we are all destined for greatness.
So when we learn to expect greatness and connect it to our self-worth it’s hard to see it in a messy kitchen, poopy diapers, and a loss of willpower to shower or wear our hair down anymore. We start to feel that we are being controlled by a tiny human and it’s no wonder we feel disillusioned, lost, and chaotic.
But what if we embraced the chaos? What if we learned to love the hurricanes that come our way? What if we started to see the beauty in those bits of apple? What if we unlearned some of these ideals that we held so tightly to as young women and threw them out with the bathwater?
It’s going to be a journey. It’s going to take practice. But each time I take a deep breath and sit down instead of rising to rush in and control I am not only trying to accomplish a better outlook and mood I am teaching my son some new ideals. Sometimes you need to let the universe happen to you. Sometimes not controlling is the most control you have. Sometimes you need to sit with a mess and embrace it for it’s beauty before it’s time to clean it up.
So I look hard at what these bits of apple really mean. A little boy’s attempts to cut it up with a plastic knife because he wants to be like mommy and daddy. A little boy’s security that he can freely explore and create and won’t be punished or yelled at by his mother. A mother’s willingness to let go and enjoy the moment in order discard her anger in a healthier way, even if it’s just for this minute.
It’s time to leave for our nature playgroup. Today we will jump in muddy puddles. I don’t have the proper wet gear or even rain boots. Anxiety creeps in about the mess that will happen and how I’ll handle it all. I take a deep breath. I look at the bits of apple on the table and decide to leave them there. “Let it go,” I say to myself, “it’s not a burden anymore.”