Betty Duffy

Monday, September 12, 2016

Just a Life Free of All Conflict... that's all I ask for...

I spent several minutes this morning trying to decide if I wanted to go to walmart and purchase some cleaning products, and really attack this house with the full force of will and thirty minutes in each room, or if I want to blog. You see what I chose. Though I keep looking around this house and thinking, Someone really needs to do something about this place. And I keep doing nothing, because anything feels like too much.

We pick up every day. It's the darker issues that need addressing, hairballs under the furniture, spiderwebs on the light fixtures, the ceiling fans. These are jobs for someone with lots of time and concentrated energy, which I probably have, but can't bring myself to use on these particular tasks.

It's homecoming week at the high school, so the kids were supposed to dress like their favorite super hero. Only one of my high schoolers takes fancy dress days seriously, so he was dressed like Ironman, and by that I mean, he had on a t-shirt with a picture of a personified iron on it.

The conversation in the car on the way to school was, "If you were a super hero, what would be your achilles heel?" And they were taking great delight in pointing out each other's weaknesses.

They asked what mine would be, and it gave me pause, because I have too many, but apparently I'd spoken enough about some of them because my oldest said, "Mom's would be a plate of dry condiments. Somebody frisbees a plate of crusty mustard at her and she just crumples."

Explanation: My kids eat hotdogs, they leave pools of mustard and ketchup on their plates, they leave the plates on the counter or in the sink without rinsing, and a couple hours later, when I pass through the kitchen I feel like I'm going to barf.

It is one of the few things in my life that always requires immediate action. There's something about the look and smell of dry condiments that kills me every time, and I will actually walk upstairs to find the offender (this is no small thing), and I will march them to the dirty dish and have them handle it. Because I don't want to touch it.

Mayo too. Gosh, it grosses me out. Can't stand it when people toss the mayo knife into the sink without rinsing.

My daughter said her achilles heel would be when she sees people alone; it breaks her heart. She just has to go sit with the lonely person. And I asked her what she does to discern whether the loner is alone by choice or circumstance.

"Why would anyone would choose to be alone?" she said (which explains so much).

"Sometimes I like to sit alone and stare at the wall," said Ironman.

"Well, you're sort of an odd person," said his older brother.

"But the wall is interesting. It has all these specks on it, and if you look cross eyed, they start to wiggle."

And this led to a discussion of Ironman's odd new friends he met in the chess club, with my oldest analyzing each of their oddities and discerning which was his favorite.

"I hope you're not judging other people's oddities and deeming yourself superior," I said.

"I judge other people's oddities," said Ironman, "and I think: this person is very odd, but I'm not sure he's odd enough to be my friend. I'll keep watching..."

I really do sort of treasure our time in the car.

On bad days, they fight ruthlessly over who sits where. We've had assigned seats, and consequences, and people getting left behind because they refused to sit in the way back. We've even had a broken windshield when two of the kids fought for the front, and one of them put their feet on the window to push the seat back forcefully.

It can be a nightmare.

But on good days, the seats aren't an issue, and they'll become uninhibited in their conversation and reveal themselves in interesting ways.

For instance, Yesterday on the way home from church, they took me to task for not disciplining them harder when they are mean to each other. "I wish we could be as nice as the Collins's are to each other," my daughter said.

"Yeah, Josh got grounded from his phone for three days for shoving his sister," said my oldest. "It's like, zero tolerance over there."

"You should get grounded every time you shove me," my daughter said to her older brother (incidentally, these two are the ones who were responsible for the broken windshield, and they did get grounded and assigned to the way back seat for several months).

"If I had a phone, Mom could take it away from me," said my oldest, "but I don't, so...."

And I've thought about this before, that maybe I really should give them something that I could take away in a pinch, so that I have more options for providing consequences to negative behavior, but the rationale, here, just seems... weird and sadistic... Especially considering the obvious solution to their quandary, "You guys know you have control over how you treat each other, right? If you want a more peaceful relationship, you could both make sacrifices and compromises to maintain each other's dignity."

Nope. Too hard. We just want to lose control and have you fix it for us, Mom.

"And I don't want to micromanage your relationship." It occurs to me here, I could be giving them some tools for expressing their feelings when they get angry with each other. If we weren't always under stress and running late when these conflicts happen, I would have them each write down how they are feeling and exchange letters, Retrovaille style.

Anyway, the car is a place of discovery and learning. There's nothing like putting eight people in un-air-conditioned cramped quarters every day for team building.

We also have bicycles, and this has been sort of a fun new activity for us. I used to cycle a lot, did a couple Little 500 bike races in college for instance, and spent most of my teenage years getting to friends' houses and to school on two wheels.

My husband also biked and camped his way up around Northern Michigan and the UP after college for a summer. But since we had children, quite a few of them who were small all at the same time, we quit riding our bikes. I hadn't been on a bike that fit and was comfortable to ride for about fifteen years.

So my husband remedied the situation. He's been outfitting everyone who's able with a bike this year. And he's a bonafide, helmet and lycra wearing cycler again.

Yesterday, we went for a ride--with my husband, my oldest son, and my dad (who's still in pretty darn good shape for being almost 70)--and it was probably the most beautiful day of the year, at the most beautiful time of day, in the most beautiful part of our state, Southeastern Indiana with these curvy, hilly, narrow, rural  roads over stone bridges, and the smell of backyard fires and drying corn fields, and Goldenrod that makes you sneeze. It was almost as if I were crying at the glory of it all, especially considering it was a similarly gorgeous September 11, fifteen years earlier...but I just had allergies, see.

We formed a peloton and drafted off each other to maintain a speed of around 16-18 mph for about 20 miles, and I was so, so tired. When we got back to our road, I had to drop out of the group and piddle the last three miles, which is what I like to do on my bike more than anything else...piddle, not pedal.

Dad circled around for me, "What are you doing? You ok?"

"Yes, I just decided to enjoy myself for the last few miles."

"Enjoyment is beating back your opponent."

So maybe there is some genetic predisposition to competition in our family. I'm just not sure I inherited it.

Anyway, I wrote something for Good Letters. "I Have No Idea Where I'm Going"