I didn’t think much about New Year’s resolutions this year. I have so many revolving goals that I’m always working toward that I didn’t even consider adding something new to the rotation. Eat better. Exercise. Go to bed and wake up earlier. And I’ve been working on decluttering and getting organized since I got married in 2003.
But this week – a totally ordinary week – I had an epiphany. My two boys had been on a break from school for over two weeks. The house was a wreck. The Christmas decorations were (and still are) partially put away in bins that are piled in our living room. Our cat is sick and we have to spoon feed her steroids, but I think that caused some sort of roid-rage because we found a decapitated mouse in our basement. I shudder to think what kind of revenge the mourning mice are planning.
To many people, the boys’ return to school would be a good time to regroup. And yet, their first day back at school, I moved all the furniture in our master bedroom and started painting. I painted for 12 hours for two days. Then, yesterday, (with the painting done) I got home from volunteering at school, cleaned for a bit, and with the boys home, I crashed. I was like a robot who had malfunctioned. Vertical to horizontal in seconds.
I didn’t think anything of it because it’s so normal for me – ping-ponging between Annette Benning in American Beauty and Garfield the cat. I probably would’ve gone on in ignorance if not for this:
I was watching a YouTube video about an exotic food like I often do when I’m worn out (odd…I’m now realizing) and the host mentioned that she’s trying to do 100 push-ups per day for the entire month of January. Then she said, “I’m not doing them all at once. I’m not crazy. I’m doing ten sets of 10.” And my immediate thought was, “Oh, I’d do them all at once.” Nevermind that I CAN’T DO ONE GOOD PUSH UP! But that’s really what I thought, that I’d learn to do push-ups, be awesome at them, and do 100 at once. And that’s when my epiphany occured. I noticed my crazy push-up thought. And then I noticed my prone body. And then I questioned my relationship with reality.
I thought, “Do I do that all the time? Think that I can do more than I’m actually capable of and then crash and burn?” Some memories came to me:
- The time I started started running on a treadmill. After a week of doing it regularly on the “beginner” setting, I thought, “Am I freaking awesome at running on a treadmill?” and cranked that baby up a few notches. After I fell and was conveyor-belt tossed into the wall repeatedly, I thought, “Geez, am I super bad at running on the treadmill?” When my bruised shins heeled and the ankle swelling went down, I think I tried the treadmill twice more, but haven’t touched it since.
- The time I was going to scrape the paint on my whole house. We have a 90 year old house with its 90 year old paint peeling off. I looked into how much it would cost to have the house scraped and painted and thought, “I bet I could do that myself.” So, I bought a chemical paint stripper, found a good book on Audible, and got to work. It wasn’t long before my gloved-hands were burning. That might be a red flag for some. But not for me. I had the entire house to do and I’d only finished about 20% of the side door. However…my plans were soon sidelined when my thumb was so swollen and sore that I couldn’t move it. Apparently, I’d had some kind of reaction to the solvent. My thumb nail was infected and fell off. I was prescribed strong antibiotics. And I learned I was not the painter I’d believed myself to be.
- The time I wanted to move a 4×4 Ikea Kallax to the basement landing – My husband said he’d help me, but I thought, “I think I’ve got this, Champ.” I wasn’t happy to call him for help when I got pinned between the shelving unit and the basement banister and he had to remove the banister to free me.
It’s not just physical things I’m like this with – although they are a little more prominent in my memory because the line between success and failure is so clearly drawn. When I look at our finances from a budgeting perspective, I immediately want to pay off our mortgage. “Okay, everyone needs underwear, one pair of jeans and one t-shirt. Everything else is excess.” But when I’m shopping for clothes, it’s more like, “Everybody needs one of everything right now.” Whatever I’m focusing on at that moment is all-important. Until the next moment comes.
Now that I’m aware of it, I can see how totally bizarre it is! How completely unsustainable to repeatedly try (and fail!) to give 100% to so many different things. How I missed the part about working slowly, devotedly toward a goal. How I was setting myself up for disappointment over and over. When I told my wonderful former principal that I was leaving teaching because I felt like I couldn’t give 100% to both teaching and parenting, I think she had some words of wisdom for me about that being an unrealistic goal. But I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t get that 100% isn’t a reasonable goal for ANYTHING because we’re flawed human beings in a complex and ever-changing world. That it’s progress that counts – not perfection.
So that’s my New Year’s resolution, “Steady there, old gal.” Get comfortable in the middle. There’s a space between novice and expert that I don’t visit often and I’m going to have to get comfortable there. I think I need to listen more. When my mom says, “You shouldn’t lift that cement slab” – it’s not a challenge. When my husband says, “I’ll help you take down the porch when I’m done with work” – it’s not a race to get it done before he gets out of a meeting. The signs were there all along, but I wasn’t listening.
Do you have anything in your life that isn’t sustainable? Any whispers that you’d rather ignore while you keep on trucking?