Stacking Up


My day began with the following conversation, standing in front of the open freezer at 6:00am:

“What do you want for breakfast, Pearl?”
“Waffo.”
“Are you sure you don’t want a bagel instead?”
“Waffo.”

She knew exactly what she wanted. The choices were extraneous. I toasted her waffle and gave her some “peash” (her word for maple syrup, synonymous with “please”). While she sat on her stool and ate, I emptied the dishwasher. This is usually my least favorite household chore, maybe because the minute it’s done, I start filling it back up again. The instant I have some sense of completion, the cycle begins again. Like life, it just keeps happening.

I stacked the plates and put them away. Then the bowls. Then the smaller plates. Then the coffee cups I use mostly for eating copious amounts of premium ice cream. I put away the silverware and the glasses and mugs, leaving for last the dozens of small red, orange, yellow, purple and clear plastic cups that we use for our kids’ snacks and lunches at school and daycare.

These cups have at times felt synonymous with tyranny, other times with drudgery. They’ve symbolized the repetitive nature of our daily existence in a “Groundhog Day” kind of way. They’ve been mirrors for feeling overwhelmed, imbalanced, and filled with doubt about my work/life decisions. They’ve made me worry about phthalates and long for pre-plastic days of milk deliveries in glass bottles.

But today, there were just little cups – if anything, proof of my effort to take things more at face value these days. (Not everything has to be a big metaphor!). I stacked them up in the kitchen drawer that I have emptied out and reorganized dozens of times. These days it’s in pretty good shape – navigable enough. Who knows how it stacks up compared to anyone else’s drawers.

I could become very easily convinced that other people’s whole lives are more one thing or less another than mine. And they probably are. The question is, so what? The little cups are just little cups. They serve a purpose. They carry no other significance. My life is my life. How organized my kitchen is has nothing to do with all the value and purpose inherent in my existence. I completely get into trouble the minute I allow myself to think it’s supposed to be different. If I had MORE (money, patience, cupboard space, etc.) or LESS (clutter, confusion), my life would surely be BETTER. I would be better.

Well, it wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. You already knew that, and so did I. But it’s not so hard to forget when we’re pummeled with images of domestic bliss and perfection, perfect women with perfect kids and kitchens. Yech.

We hung out as a family all morning instead of being “productive” and tag-teaming the whole day. With four kids and two double strollers, we walked with a neighbor down to Viva Espresso. Yummy muffins and lattes, kids running ahead and picking up trash and throwing off their coats to the balmy weather (it is over 30 degrees!). When we got home, Aviva and her friend hugged goodbye, giving each other several quick kisses on the lips and bursting out laughing after each one. Hallelujah for girlfriends.

To stacking up, I say: No, thanks. As soon as I feel that old temptation, I just imagine comparing our kids to other kids as a way of raising them and cringe. If I’m really true blue about self-love, I had better treat myself the same way I treat them. And that goes something like this. Last thing at night we whisper in their ears. “We’re so proud of you. You’re growing up so well. You’re just right. We love you so and we love being your parents. Thanks for choosing us.”

Loving them – being the parent who is the person I want to be and the person who is the parent I want to be – reminds me every single day that this time we have here is not about stacking up. It’s about strong coffee and weak sunshine, mouth kisses and girl giggles. It’s about growing up so well and being loved for that.

7 thoughts on “Stacking Up

  1. bella says:

    what perfect words for me to have, hear, receive today.
    This stacking up, yeah, that would be an endless cycle of never managing to succeed.
    yesterday was a day, not so much of not feeling myself measure up, but of touching my limits and parts of me that are hard to see, and wouldn’t you know, they are enough too. Love really is enough. And we parent ourselves.
    For who you are, thank-you.
    much love.

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  2. meg says:

    Ah Jena-
    This resonated so strongly. I walk around all the time looking at the clutter and the crap in my life and saying–YES THIS IS THE PROBLEM. If only I could be more orderly, more organized, more neat, have more time and less on my to do list blah blah blah. And yesterday I spent an hour emptying and reorganizing MY plastic container drawer–trying hard not to make those damn tupperware containers a metaphor. (mismatched, no tops, etc etc) So funny.
    Yes the cups are just cups. The mess is just that–papers, things that haven’t been put away. They are not symbols unless we make them so.
    Thanks for this…and Happy Birthday!
    xo
    Meg

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  3. Shelli says:

    Hi – I just found your blog through Bella, and yes, I agree with her. This is an excellent post, and “If I had MORE (money, patience, cupboard space, etc.) or LESS (clutter, confusion), my life would surely be BETTER. I would be better.” is something that I have found myself thinking from time to time. In fact, my kitchen is a cluttered wreck! Thank you for reminding me that it just doesn’t matter. I look forward to reading more of your work.

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  4. Chloe says:

    I don’t think I can hear this message too many times. Yes, we are enough and we do enough. I loved this post and how you described the cups as simply cups, not metaphors for something greater. I had to laugh a little in recognition. As I read the words you say to your children the little hairs on my arms stood on end. If only we could all hear that each night before falling asleep.

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