Every time I pull into the driveway after work, errands, or the rare couple hours out with girlfriends, I am greeted by my waving toddler in the window who, at her very first moment of contact with me, grins and excitedly shouts, “Hi Mama!” With her arms sticking straight up into the air, she just waits for me to scoop her up.
From her perspective, at this age anyway, she sees a big smile in return, feels a tight hug, and can’t wait to play Barbies, read books, or go out on the deck to blow bubbles with Mom. What she isn’t aware of, however, is the self-inflicted stress that I’ve developed on my drive home and the ridiculous spectrum of emotions I am about to experience once I set my stuff down.
Oh, how I wish I could just see her; I yearn to be able to block it all out. But that “agonizing” image I concoct in my head while in the car always becomes a reality for me when I walk through that front door, no matter the amount of (MUCH appreciated) time and effort my husband or babysitter puts into tidying: “crooked” books on the shelf, toys in “improper” bins, milk where the orange juice is “supposed to go,” etc. I mean, I miss my daughter like crazy when I’m gone, but I just can’t seem to get myself to focus on what I do truly know to be much more important. In fact, I have actually envisioned being able to pause her, fix the house to my liking, and then hit play again. I know . . . NOT normal. Like, at all.
There are better days than others, and, typically, these occur when I don’t have any pressing writing deadlines or hours of lesson planning to do once my daughter sleeps. But, given my current part-time stay-at-home mom/part-time tutor/part-time writer career gig, these “calmer” days are, unfortunately, quite hard to come by, thus causing a significant, and, admittedly, very unhealthy, decrease in my desire to venture out alone if I don’t have to.
In a constant attempt to be the version of myself I want as the mother of my daughter (and soon-to-be son), I’ve been not only reading The Book of Joy but honestly doing my best to apply its teachings to my daily life. In the chapter concerning fear, stress, and anxiety, the Dalai Lama explains, “Stress and anxiety often come from too much expectation and too much ambition. Then when we don’t fulfill that expectation or achieve that ambition, we experience frustration.” Ha, guilty as charged! He later states, “When we have a clear picture about our own capacity, we can be realistic about our effort. Then there is a much greater chance of achieving our goals.” Although I highly doubt he was thinking of me and my nonsensical desire for “proper toddler toy arrangement . . . and then some,” it definitely does apply.
When I logically think about the pressure I put on myself to have the house neat and orderly at all times, I almost laugh. We rarely have visitors, and when we do, it’s our parents or siblings, all of whom could honestly care less. My husband, although not your typical “man slob” by any means, happily lived alone in our once-“ramshackled” home (complete with “twisted” coffee mugs in the cabinet and “misaligned” water bottles in the refrigerator) before we got married. So, who is it that I’m trying to impress? And why do I care so much? I mean, disorganized things don’t even phase me at others’ homes!
As an English major, I’ve done a lot of reading over the years, and, lately, I’m feeling like a tragic hero in my own life story. Up until I became a mother, I was always praised, and even, more often, rewarded, for my ability to be detail-oriented, precise, and consistent; lately, however, it seems to have become my biggest flaw and definitely one I need to confront soon before it becomes my tragic downfall.
What “stresses” in your life are self-inflicted? What steps have you taken to confront them?